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THE SITUATION ROOM

Tropical Storm Fay Hits Florida; Obama Challenges Attacks on Patriotism

Aired August 19, 2008 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And happening now: Barack Obama warns John McCain to stop challenging his patriotism. There is a sharp new defense, as the Democrat appears to be losing some ground to Senator McCain on national security. The best political team on television is standing by.
McCain goes to new lengths to show his support for offshore oil drilling -- the photo-op designed to fuel doubts about Senator Obama's energy policy.

And Fay's slow and punishing trek across Florida, a new hurricane watch right now for a storm packing heavy rain, winds and tornadoes.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States of America and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me be clear. I will let no one question my love of this country. I love America.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I love America. So do you. And so does John McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Barack Obama hitting back hard at John McCain on patriotism, the Iraq war and Russian aggression.

CNN's Michael Ware is in the combat zone in Georgia right now. We will go there in a moment.

But, first, Senator Obama's take on that conflict, as well as his own love of our country, his audience, the Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting in Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: For months, I have called for active international engagement to resolve the disputes over South Ossetia and Abkhazia. I made it crystal clear before, at the beginning of, and during this conflict that Georgia's territorial integrity must be respected, and that Georgia should be integrated into transatlantic institutions. I have condemned Russian aggression, and today I reiterate my demand that Russia abide by the cease-fire.

Russia must know that its actions will have consequences. They will imperil the Civil Nuclear Agreement, and Russia's standing in the international community -- including the NATO-Russia Council, and Russia's desire to participate in organizations like the WTO and the OECD.

Finally, we must help Georgia rebuild what has been destroyed. That is why I'm proud to join my friend, Senator Joe Biden, in calling for an additional $1 billion in reconstruction assistance for the people of Georgia.

These are the judgments I have made and the policies that we have to debate, because we do have differences in this election. But one of the things that we have to change in this country is the idea that people can't disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism.

I have never suggested that Senator McCain picks his positions on national security based on politics or personal ambition. I have not suggested it because I believe that he genuinely wants to serve America's national interest. Now, it's time for him to acknowledge that I want to do the same.

Let me be clear: I will let no one question my love of this country. I love America, so do you, and so does John McCain.

When I look out at this audience, I see people of different political views. You are Democrats and Republicans and Independents. But you all served together, and fought together, and bled together under the same proud flag. You did not serve a Red America or a Blue America -- you served the United States of America.

So let's have a serious debate, and let's debate our disagreements on the merits of policy -- not personal attacks. And no matter how heated it gets or what kind of campaign he chooses to run, I will honor Senator McCain's service, just like I honor the service of every veteran in this room, and every American who has worn the uniform of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, some strong words from Senator Obama only six days before the Democratic Convention gets under way in Denver.

And as he prepares to reveal his vice presidential choice perhaps any day now, the Obama camp confirms the senator plans an event in his home state of Illinois this Saturday at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, where he actually launched his presidential campaign, no word on whether he might be joined by a running mate.

But we do know more about the convention speakers roster. Sources tell CNN Al Gore will deliver remarks on Thursday. That's the same night Senator Obama accepts the Democratic presidential nomination.

Let's get back to Russia's show of force in the Republic of Georgia right now. The secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is joining with her NATO allies in calling for a quick withdrawal of Russian troops. And in a joint statement following talks in Brussels, NATO is warning that regular contacts with Moscow will be impossible, impossible, until there's a full pullout.

CNN's Michael Ware is in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi with an update on the military situation -- Michael.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Russia's high-stakes military brinkmanship continues here on the ground in the war in Georgia, with all indications that the Russian troops and their armor are staying put.

On the western front, on the Black Sea coast, Georgian officials say that the Russian troops reentered the all-important seaport town of Poti. There, according to the Georgian officials, the Russians took 21 Georgian military police officers prisoner, and transported them back to the Russian strongpoint just outside the town of Senaki, 30 kilometers from the coast.

On the eastern front, the Georgian officials report a standoff between Russian troops and Georgian police at a Georgian military barracks. According to the officials, the Russian troops tried to enter the barracks, but were prevented. When they left, they vowed to return with more forces, according to government officials.

Meanwhile, in the Georgian city of Gori, currently under Russian occupation, there's still no sign of the Russian troops pulling back. Indeed, a Georgian vice prime minister has told CNN that a Russian general there on the ground informed him that his troops may establish four permanent checkpoints in the city in undisputed Georgian territory, none of which bodies well for bodes well for a rapid resolution to this conflict -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michael Ware is on the scene for us in Tbilisi. It looks like this crisis will continue.

Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota says he wouldn't attend his own party's convention if it wasn't in his backyard.

Coleman was talking about his fellow Republican senators who say they are not going to go to the GOP convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. He says they are staying home -- quote -- "only because they have tough races" -- unquote. Coleman also faces a tough reelection bid this fall, and probably should be concerned about tying himself to a damaged Republican brand as well.

As one GOP congressman put it earlier in the year: "The Republican brand is in the trash can. If we were dog food, they would take us off the shelf." That's a quote. So far, several senators say they are skipping the festivities in St. Paul. They include Senators Pat Roberts of Kansas, Susan Collins of Maine, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Ted Stevens of Alaska, Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina. That's five sitting senators out of 49 who will be no-shows.

And the number of Republicans who want no part of the convention is actually higher, because three retiring Republican senators aren't going to attend and there are two other Republican senators who haven't made up their mind yet.

One political analyst says during the conventions, those senators running for reelection won't be able to campaign anyway. He says the reason they are not going is they are afraid of being associated with party figures who are unpopular in their states, you know, people like President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

So, here's the question. What does it mean when more than 10 percent of Republican senators are refusing to attend their own convention?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack, for that.

Iraq is using some of its oil billions to buy U.S. weapons. The shopping list ranges from machine guns to tanks and attack helicopters. But could some of those weapons wind up in the hands of insurgents?

John McCain takes his presidential campaign to an oil rig to push for offshore oil drilling. You are going to hear what he is saying, raw and unfiltered.

And it's the storm that just won't quit. Fay leaves a trail of damage and flooding across Florida. And that may be just for starters. We have the forecast.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Iraqi military right now paying lots of money to buy some very deadly American weapons, and it can't wait to get its hands on more. But will those weapons be safe once in Iraq?

CNN's Brian Todd has been investigating.

Brian, what is the concern?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the concern is that they're going to be falling into the hands of America's enemies in Iraq. It's already been a big problem. And it looks like now there are going to be more and more U.S.-made weapons in many sizes streaming into Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A battle-tested bruiser, the M-1 A-1 Abrams tank with night-vision technology and a proven track record, soon, Iraqi soldiers may be driving these same tanks that defeated them in the Gulf War and again in the 2003 invasion. There's a deal pending for the United States to sell Iraq 140 Abrams tanks for more than $2 billion.

According to Pentagon records, the Iraqis have already spent more than $3 billion on U.S.-made weapons since early last year and just in the past few months have been trying to push through sales totaling more than $10 billion. This is money from Iraq's oil sales now being used to buy tanks, attack helicopters, grenade launchers, machine guns. A nonproliferation group that has been critical of the Iraq war says the purchases themselves aren't the problem.

TRAVIS SHARP, ARMS CONTROL & NON-PROLIFERATION CENTER: Iraq has a very bad track record for keeping the weapons that come into the country from getting into the hands of insurgents.

TODD: Insurgents who might then turn around and fire on Americans with U.S.-made weapons. U.S. military officials tell CNN losing control of the weapons has been a problem. But they say they have recently placed teams of Americans with Iraqi forces, training them how to track those weapons.

The weapons are tracked linking their serial numbers to soldiers' digital photos, fingerprints and iris scans. Once outside expert agrees the tracking has improved recently and he says the sales of weapons to Iraq should continue.

DANIEL GOURE, LEXINGTON INSTITUTE: This is a reflection of fact that the Iraqi army is being stood up. That is, we actually have a lot of units in combat, doing their job, and as they go out in the field, particularly leading the counterinsurgency operations, they need more equipment, equipment that otherwise we would have to provide.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And Dan Goure hits on a point that's been made for generations. If the Iraqis don't buy these weapons from the U.S., he says, they will certainly buy them from other countries which aren't going to be as concerned about tracking where those weapons go once they sell them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian.

John McCain is shifting his focus from foreign policy today back to a top concern for voters, high fuel prices. The Republican toured an oil rig off Louisiana to drive home his call for new oil drilling.

Ed Henry has been looking into this part of the story for us.

This is another opening he sees against Barack Obama.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And the optics of this, Wolf, John McCain getting on an oil rig, literally, it certainly allows the Obama camp to charge that he is a tool of the oil industry.

But the McCain camp insists he is on the right side of an issue that impacts millions of Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): Images are crucial in any campaign. So, for better or worse, John McCain has now attached himself to this massive oil rig 150 miles off the coast of New Orleans.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A whole lot of oil and natural gas, as we speak, they are producing 10,000 barrels of oil a day.

HENRY: A dramatic way for McCain to lambaste Barack Obama's skepticism about boosting offshore oil and gas drilling.

MCCAIN: Senator Obama opposes new drilling. He said it won't solve our problem and that it's -- quote -- "not real." He is wrong, and the American people know it.

HENRY: Obama has said he is open to such drilling, but only as part of a broader energy fix that includes electric cars and other alternatives to oil and gas.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to fundamentally change how we use energy in this country, fundamentally. We have to do it because we are sending $700 billion to foreign nations. It's a huge transfer of our wealth.

HENRY: McCain also wants to boost alternative fuels, but does not want to wait to move forward on offshore drilling. And the American public seems to agree. A CNN/Opinion Research poll last month found 69 percent of Americans favor an increase in offshore drilling. But the poll also found only 51 percent believe more drilling will reduce gas prices in the next year, a point environmental groups have jumped on to defend Obama.

GENE KARPINSKI, PRESIDENT, LEAGUE OF CONSERVATION VOTERS: Senator McCain's plan is a shameless hoax. And he should know better. New drilling in protected areas offshore is going to do nothing to reduce gas prices.

HENRY: McCain insists an all-of-the-above approach is needed to deal with the current crisis.

MCCAIN: We all know that conservation will not put us -- will not be sufficient to put us on the road to energy independence.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Now, Senator McCain also points out that Barack Obama voted for the 2005 energy bill pushed through by President Bush that had big tax breaks for oil and gas interests. McCain voted against it. Now, the Obama camp, Wolf, says they voted for that because it had money for renewable fuels. And they say if McCain really wants money for renewable fuels and he wants more drilling, he should support the bipartisan plan that Senator Ben Nelson has put up in the Senate right now, the so-called gang of 10. It does both.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Ed Henry, working the story.

Senator McCain spoke to reporters just before getting on a helicopter taking him back to land from that oil rig he spent some time on earlier today.

Here are some more of his comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The nation is sending $700 billion every year overseas to countries that don't like us very much. And, when I'm president, that's going to stop.

We're going to achieve energy independence, and we're going to by -- do it by using every resource at our disposal to get the job done, including new offshore drilling. New drilling has got to be part of our energy solution. It won't solve this problem alone. Alternative energy will not solve this problem alone. And conservation alone will not.

It will require aggressive development of alternative energies, like wind, solar, tide, biofuels, natural gas. And it also requires expanding traditional sources of energy, like clean coal, nuclear power, and offshore drilling, like that done on this rig.

It's been a real pleasure to be out here to see the technology of the United States of America at work, dedicated and professional workers, who come out here two weeks at a time, and work on behalf of their families. But they also do great work on behalf of supplying the energy needs of America's families. I'm grateful for them.

When I'm president, there will be a whole lot more like them, not only here, in the Gulf, but also off of our East and West Coasts. We need to drill offshore. And we need to do it now. If I were president, I would call Congress back into session and tell them to get to work, get to work on the part of the people, and help put us on the path to energy independence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Tropical Storm Fay takes its time punishing Florida. Now it may actually be coming back to bring more misery to a lot of people as a full-fledged hurricane. We have the latest forecast.

Also, war and terror. America's foreign policy crises are affecting the presidential race in ways that Barack Obama may not necessarily have counted on.

And Obama hires a vice presidential speechwriter. Who is he going to hire as his running mate? Our political panel is standing by to tackle that and a lot more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go to the scene.

John Zarrella has covered lots of hurricanes, lots of storms.

John, it looks gloomy where you are there, but I take it, it was even worse just a little while ago?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, no question about it, Wolf.

These squalls have been coming on constantly, and, you know, we have had this rain and wind at about 35-, 40-mile-an-hour range, just tropical-storm-force, for about four hours now and no letup in sight. And when I was down in Key West yesterday, it moved in and out in about an hour-and-a-half. So, clearly, the storm is a lot stronger than it was back in Key West.

And, quite frankly, I was talking to some folks at the Hurricane Center a couple hours ago and they were telling me that Fay has never looked healthier than it does now as it is over land, which is just way strange for storms to do.

But take a look at these trees here. This is the way it's been all day, these palm trees just blowing like this in the wind. The wind coming out of the southeast, blowing sort of to the northwest. The water over here at the Intercoastal just churned up, very, very, very murky, gray, brown water from all that silt on the bottom being churned up.

And, again, Wolf, as you folks were saying, we expect that Fay, when it gets out over the warm waters of the Atlantic out here, will likely become a hurricane again. And a lot of that flooding we saw earlier today, as we drove in here, into Fort Pierce on Route 70, a major east-west artery, heavily flooded in many, many areas. Cars could not pass through it, water up to the lights in those automobiles.

And on side streets, water lapping at some of the doors of some of the houses along those side streets. And that was before we got this additional rainfall, Wolf, that we are getting now, so, likely, additional misery for the people here in the east coast of Florida. And certainly if it becomes a hurricane, and then doubles back and hits the state again, we are going to add some more misery on top of what we already have here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Just what the people in the central and northern part of the state don't need right now. They never need it, but it happens.

ZARRELLA: Yes.

BLITZER: John Zarrella is on the scene for us, as he always is.

And this just in, Tropical Storm Fay is also causing the U.S. Navy to move several ships and aircraft from bases in northern Florida. In all, 24 planes and eight ships are being relocated from stations around Jacksonville. We are watching the story.

A new red flag for Senator Barack Obama. Russia's brinkmanship appears to be a drag on his campaign. We are taking a closer look at Obama's take on the conflict in Georgia and his new defense of his patriotism.

Also, is John McCain planning to spring a vice presidential surprise? There's new buzz about one contender and the possible backlash with conservatives.

And the candidates' favorite places to visit online, we will share it with you right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: war, terror and the presidential race. As America goes from crisis to crisis, Barack Obama is feeling the impact in the polls right now.

Is John McCain seriously considering a pro-abortion-rights running mate? We will hear what Rush Limbaugh and vice presidential possibility Tom Ridge have to say about that.

And Barack Obama keeps everyone guessing about his vice presidential pick. Why has he already hired a speechwriter for his running mate?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

As Democrats get ready to party in Denver, there's new reason for some concern with Barack Obama's campaign. At issue -- voters' weariness about how he'd handle national security challenges.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is already in Denver with the CNN Election Express -- Bill, what are we seeing in the latest polls?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We're seeing the race tightening up and we're seeing one reason why.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The race is getting tighter. Last month, Barack Obama led John McCain by 9 points nationally in the Quinnipiac University Poll.

And now?

Obama is still ahead, but his lead has narrowed to five points. Here's one reason. We've had a 3:00 a.m. moment -- an unexpected international crisis. The Soviet threat may be gone, but a Russian threat has emerged.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE: And in matters of national security, good judgment will be at a premium in the term of the next president, as were all reminded 10 days ago by events in the nation of Georgia.

SCHNEIDER: McCain saw his opportunity and he took it -- vigorously denouncing Russian aggression and warning of the consequences. Obama was more measured in his response.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE: The next commander- in-chief is going to have to exercise the best possible judgment in getting us through these difficult times.

SCHNEIDER: Which candidate do voters believe is better qualified to deal with Russia?

McCain by better than two to one -- more experience in military matters and foreign affairs. Obama argues that judgment matters more than experience. He claims the Bush administration's bad judgment led to this crisis.

OBAMA: We failed to head off this conflict and lost leverage in our ability to contain it because our leaders have been distracted, our resources overstretched and our alliances frayed.

SCHNEIDER: The sudden emergence of an international crisis is one reason Obama is underperforming.

How do we know he's underperforming?

Asked whether they would rather see a Democrat or a Republican elected president, voters nationwide give the Democrat a 12-point lead -- more than twice Obama's five point lead.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Both McCain and Obama spoke to veterans this week. Among veterans nationwide, McCain is more than 20 points ahead, according to the Gallup Poll.

Now, is that because McCain is a veteran and Obama is not?

Partly. But more than 90 percent of veterans are men and most are over 50. Men and older voters are McCain's strongest constituencies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And just to update our viewers, Bill, in our latest poll of polls that's just come out, the average is down to three points right now -- Obama at 46 percent, McCain at 43 percent, 11 percent unsure. So at least this average, as of right now, on the eve of the convention, certainly seems to be tightening nationwide.

Bill Schneider is out there already in Denver.

So let's talk a little bit more about this and some other political issues.

Joining us, our own Jack Cafferty. Michael Gerson -- he's a former speechwriter for President Bush. And Susan Page, the Washington bureau chief for "USA Today".

Jack, what to you make of this?

Because it looks like it's tightening up. And it's tightening up, perhaps, at a time when McCain is going after Obama on national security, where he seems to have an advantage?

CAFFERTY: I think Schneider's standing in the polls is probably going to go down in the next few days based on the hat he was wearing.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: I think that's a given. No question about that.

BLITZER: That's fair. That's a fair point.

CAFFERTY: I think that the point that Obama tried to make, that Russia probably wouldn't have gotten so frisky in Georgia had we not been mired in two other wars and depleted our military under the fine leadership of George W. Bush, is probably a valid point. That same poll, the Quinnipiac Poll, asks voters, what's the most important issue to you in this election?

Fifty-two percent said the economy. The next most important issue was the Iraq War -- 16 percent. The Russia-Georgia dustup wasn't even in the top five. And among people who said the economy is the most important issue, Obama leads McCain by 8 points. Remember the phrase, "it's the economy stupid?"

BLITZER: That's a fair point. And he came out swinging today, Michael, at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention down in Florida. And he really was angry that Senator McCain had been questioning his patriotism.

MICHAEL GERSON, COLUMNIST FOR "THE WASHINGTON POST," SENIOR FELLOW AT THE COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Yes, no that's exactly right. And I do think it may be a mistake for McCain to talk about motivations when it comes to foreign policy, because you can have a counter reaction when you do that.

But he does have some good points -- McCain has some good points to make about Obama's record, particularly on the Iraqi surge. I think that was an important part of the speech, because he opposed it. It's been successful. And he tries to explain that he would still vote against it, even though it has been successful. His position is really tied in knots. That's a point that McCain made, as well.

BLITZER: All right, Susan, they -- I guess they -- what really angered Senator Obama is something like this, when McCain said -- days ago he said: "I had the courage and judgment to say that I would rather lose a political campaign than loose a war. It seems to me that Senator Obama would rather lose a war to win a political campaign."

And that seems to go right at the heart of what Senator Obama today is responding to -- you know, we can disagree, but let's not question our motives and our patriotism.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Yes, I think -- I think even some of us Senator McCain's historic allies and supporters have been dismayed a little by this tone of attack, by saying he's been arguing that Senator Obama is blinded by ambition and he's putting that ahead of country. I think that's very harsh charge for one candidate to make against the other.

But I do think that this Quinnipiac Poll shows this disparity between people saying they want a Democrat elected, but they're not quite sure about Barack Obama. He's taken a week off. It's been an open field for John McCain to make his case.

Barack Obama still needs to kind of seal the deal with voters who want a Democrat elected, who think the economy is the number one issue. They want to be reassured that Barack Obama is the guy who could deliver for them, not just on national security issues -- certainly that's an area of strength for Senator McCain -- but on these economic issues that I do think are the ground on which this election is going to turn.

BLITZER: Since Saturday night...

CAFFERTY: One other...

BLITZER: Yes, ahead.

CAFFERTY: ...point, Wolf, just about the -- about questioning somebody's patriotism. Remember when we invaded Iraq and some of the American citizens had the temerity to question the wisdom of that?

We were told that if we didn't support the war in Iraq, we weren't patriotic.

Remember when the Bush administration chose to ignore the FISA laws and started eavesdropping on Americans' e-mails and telephone calls?

We were told if we didn't like that idea, we weren't patriotic. This is the same old Republican crap that's been around for the last eight years. And it's getting old.

BLITZER: All right.

Let's get some reaction from Michael.

What do you think?

GERSON: Well, I'm not quite sure who told Jack he wasn't patriotic, but I do think... CAFFERTY: The White House told us that.

GERSON: No, that's just not true./

CAFFERTY: Well, it is true.

GERSON: No, it's not. But I do think that there's a problem here for Obama. Every time there's a reminder that the world is a dangerous place and that it's bigger than Iraq, I think John McCain probably benefits. And Georgia did that. I also think that Barack Obama's Europe trip was pretty much a failure. He looked more like Princess Di than JFK, more like a celebrity than a leader. And all those things coming together, they do create an image and a problem for Barack Obama.

PAGE: You know, I don't think that Europe trip turned the election into Obama's favor. But I think it is probably unfair to say that it was a failure. It showed him meeting with world leaders. He, in fact, met with world leaders and was pretty comfortable doing that.

You know, it didn't rebound to his immediate benefit, as I think some of the Obama people had hoped the trip would do, but it didn't hurt his standing. And think over the long haul, it probably helps do that job of reassuring Americans that this is a guy who's up to the job of leading this country.

BLITZER: And he looked pretty comfortable meeting with the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan during that trip. And they seemed to be pretty comfortable with him, as well. The second part of the trip, I think, is where Michael has some concerns...

GERSON: Yes, with Europe. Yes.

BLITZER: ...about the visit to Berlin and all of that.

GERSON: Right.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by.

Would the GOP really accept a pro-abortion rights vice presidential pick?

We're going to hear what Rush Limbaugh is saying and what Tom Ridge, who supports abortion rights -- a possible vice presidential pick -- what he's saying, as well.

Plus, even as Barack Obama keeps everyone guessing about his own V.P. pick, why has he already hired a speechwriter for his potential running mate?

Stick around.

You'll find out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY RUSHLIMBAUGH.COM)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE TALK SHOW HOST: It just would be a shame. It would just be a sad thing if he chooses a pro-choice vice president or even a Democrat, because he could just obliterate all the success and all the progress that he experienced on Saturday night with the wrong choice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Rush Limbaugh speaking to his radio audience and making it clear he would not be very happy if a Tom Ridge or a Joe Lieberman, for that matter, were selected as John McCain's running mate.

Michael Gerson, can John McCain go ahead and pick someone who supports abortion rights?

GERSON: I think it's going to be very difficult. You know, there's a lot of talk about Lieberman in particular. I think McCain would like to pick him. But he voted against Alito and he was pro- choice. I mean it's hard to imagine the reaction of the convention and the conservatives to that circumstance.

John McCain has some political capital with conservatives right now -- pro-life conservatives. Not that much. And it would be very easy for him to squander with the wrong choice.

BLITZER: He needs to energize that base, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Well, I think, you know, he makes a good point.

John McCain has the chops when it comes to the war on terror. He has a huge lead over Barack Obama when it comes to the war on terror.

Now, if he was to name Tom Ridge, a guy who suggested that we wrap our homes in here is clear plastic sheeting and duct tape as a way to protect ourselves from the terrorists, that would tend to undercut his lead, I would think, in that department.

BLITZER: Susan, I know you've done a lot of reporting on this.

Is it likely, based on everything you hear, that McCain would do anything like?

PAGE: You know, I think it's -- this is a choice of his head or his heart. If it's the choice of his heart, you know, he -- John McCain loves Tom Ridge. And he feels the same way toward Joe Lieberman. He would love to have them running with him on the ticket.

But, boy, it's not a choice of the head, because he needs to get those -- he's going to be speaking to a Republican Convention, remember that?

That's Republicans, that's conservatives, that's a lot of social conservatives, that's the base of his party. They're not all that sure about John McCain to start with. I think that -- I think it would cost him a lot in terms of the enthusiasm of the people he really needs to kind of have behind him to choose somebody like a Tom Ridge or a Joe Lieberman.

BLITZER: Michael, put on your hat as a former White House speechwriter. We now know that Senator Obama has hired not only a chief of staff for his potential vice presidential running mate, but also a chief speechwriter for his potential vice presidential running mate.

Is that normal?

Is that usual, to pick these kind of critical positions for someone -- you don't even know who's going to be doing that -- you're going to be working for?

GERSON: Well, first of all, it's the sign of a very tight campaign, a very Bush-like campaign...

PAGE: It's good.

GERSON: ...that has, you know, message discipline. He is saying, essentially, look, it may be Biden or it may someone else, but we're determined the message. And that's the way a presidential campaign -- honestly, an effective one is run. I don't begrudge him that. I think that that's the norm.

Secondly, this person that they're talking about here was a Daschle staffer. And there are many Daschle staffers on Obama's campaign. That actually is a positive thing. Daschle is a good influence in Obama's campaign -- and it would be good for him to have more influence.

BLITZER: His name has often been mentioned as a potential running mate.

What do you think, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Well, I think it -- wouldn't it be nice if you were going to be the number two guy on the ticket if you go to work and you've already got a staff in place?

I mean when I showed up at CNN, there wasn't anybody here to help.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: You just walk in and they say you sit over there. We'll tell you when we need something from you. I think it's...

BLITZER: Jack, you don't need a staff. We've got you.

CAFFERTY: They're covering all the bases. I think that's great.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right, guys.

We've got to leave it right there.

Jack is going to be back with The Cafferty File in a few moments.

Lou is standing by, getting ready for his show, that begins right at the top of the hour. And he's going to give us a little preview of what he's working on -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you.

Tonight, the do nothing Congress earning that title back in 2006. That's when the Democrats took over. Well, it turns out this Congress has passed even fewer laws than the do nothing Congress of two years ago. In fact, this is the worst performing Congress -- this democratically-led Congress -- in two decades. You won't believe how they've been spending their time, your money.

And one state has decided not to grant illegal aliens admission to their community colleges.

Will other states be following the lead of North Carolina?

We'll have the report. And among my guests tonight, veteran "Washington Post" report Michael Dobbs, author of the important book about the Cuban missile crisis -- "One Minute To Midnight," revealing stark parallels to today's geopolitical events.

I'll also be joined by one of the country's leading economists, Pat Choate, who calls the faith-based presidential policies of the last three presidential administrations dangerous business. His best- selling book.

And three of the most popular and insightful radio talk show hosts in the country join us.

And Bing West, author of "The Strongest Tribe" on the war in Iraq, as well.

Join us for all of that at the top of the hour and for the day's news, as well, with an Independent perspective -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Always.

Thanks very much, Lou, for that.

Egypt's parliament building is ravaged by a massive fire.

Firefighters struggling to contain the blaze -- what authorities think is to blame. You'll want to see this.

And where do they go when they log on?

A peek at how the candidates surf on the net.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Let's go back to Carol.

She's monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM -- what's the latest -- Carol?

COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, Ohio poll workers are being told they can't take voting machines home in the days before the November presidential election. The state's election chief says the practice known as sleepovers is a security risk. Now election officials will have to pay to have moving companies transport the machines to the polls for election day.

Firefighters in Egypt battled a massive blaze in the palace that houses the upper chamber of parliament. Helicopters dumped water from the Nile River onto the flames. A fire official said 16 workers and firefighters were hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

And check this out. A nearly seven foot long Burmese python shot and killed by a state trooper along a Michigan highway. A motorist called 911 when the snake kept lunging at his vehicle -- even after he ran over it repeatedly. Authorities say the snake was probably once someone's loving pet.

Ooh back to you.

Oh, that's disgusting.

BLITZER: Thank you, Carol, for that.

COSTELLO: Sure.

BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is what does it mean when more than 10 percent of Republican senators are refusing to attend their own convention?

Sandra writes from Cordell, Oklahoma: "It doesn't take a genius to figure that out. They don't like McCain any better than us Democrats do. The man is not competent to run this country, even if we weren't fighting two wars and having serious economic problems."

Rob in Honolulu: "I remember a Democratic presidential candidate that decided against President Clinton campaigning on his behalf. The Democrats are worse. They would distance themselves and throw loyal Democrats under the bus if they thought it would benefit them. Remember Joe Lieberman. Just wait -- in the near future, Democrats will go out of their way to run away from Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid."

Robert writes: "It means even party regulars are coming to realize political conventions have become totally irrelevant. They're a waste of time, energy and money that could be better used elsewhere and are a graphic demonstration of the same fiscal irresponsibility these people use when they are in Washington, D.C. "

Theresa in Stone Ridge, New York: "It means 90 percent of the Republicans have no scruples."

Maria in Toronto: "I used to take sleeping pills every night. Now I put on a DVD of John McCain giving a speech. It works equally well, it doesn't cost a penny. I can hardly blame anyone who makes an excuse not to attend this year's Republican National Convention."

John writes: "It means nothing that being an invertebrate has nothing to do with your party affiliation."

And Neil in Lake Forest, California: "I think they just don't want to be arrested in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport for having a wide stance."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and look for yours among hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: See you tomorrow, Jack.

Thank you.

On our Political Ticker today, what Web sites do the candidates visit?

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

What's the answer -- Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it seems that John McCain follows "The Drudge Report" and this one, The Barbecue Bible." This is according to a new list at the Google Reader Web site. Google saying they've been working with the campaigns to put a selection of the candidates' reading lists online.

For McCain, that also includes his daughter Megan's blog. She's been on the campaign trail. And then this Web site, JibJab.com, that recently made fun of John McCain and also his Democratic rival.

On Senator Obama's list, he's "The Daily Show" Web site and then he's pretty sports and Chicago heavy -- the Chicago white Sox Web site, NBA.com. And, of course, his own popular blog on his own Web site.

Now how much are they actually reading themselves online?

It was Senator McCain that said last month that it's only now that he's just learning to get himself online. So it's safe to assume that some of his staff is helping -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And if they're really smart -- and I think both of them are -- I'm sure they're going to CNNPolitics.com, as well.

TATTON: Let's hope so. BLITZER: I would hope.

All right, thanks very much.

Making history and making the cover -- Michael Phelps strikes the pose made famous by Mark Spitz. Our Jeanne Moos finds it Moost Unusual. I think you're going to want to see this. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: He's the talk of the Olympics and he should be. But now Jeanne Moos has a Moost Unusual look at Michael Phelps mania.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the battle of the pinups.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's the guy. He's the man. I don't like all that hair.

MOOS: Forget the back stroke -- this is plain old stroking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Phelps' muscles are just amazing. I mean whoa.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And even from a lesbian like myself, that is saying a lot.

MOOS: Everybody was saying a lot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "AMERICAN MORNING")

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the homage, of course, to Mark Spitz.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The picture.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bonus swimsuit edition of "Sports Illustrated".

MOOS: "Sports Illustrated" photographer Simon Bruty had only 10 minutes to get the shot to recreate the pose from the famous 1972 poster of Mark Spitz with his seven gold medals. The trick was to capture the eight dangling from Phelps' neck.

SIMON BRUTY, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED" PHOTOGRAPHER: Angle of the dangle -- yes, that was definitely the problem we had. Basically, we used gaffer (ph) tape to stick them together.

MOOS: "Treasure Chest," the magazine called it, though some complained.

"Why is he wearing a halter top?" joked someone on the Web site Gawker -- less medals, more flesh. Isn't that hitting below the belly button?

BRUTY: Trust me. He's wearing a suit.

MOOS: So was Spitz.

(on camera): He's got a nice little Speedo, though.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I ain't looking at no Speedo. I'm looking at the medals, girl.

MOOS (voice-over): Not since Mr. T....

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Victory!

MOOS: Not since Flavor Flav with his clocks have we seen such chest adornment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:

And almost everyone preferred the Phelps photo.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's fresher looking. I think this guy is a bit cheesy with a mustache.

MOOS: Spitz had a few supporters.

(on camera): Which pinup do you prefer?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mark.

MOOS (voice-over): Talk about raising eyebrows -- imagine you're at the Beijing Games and you happen to look like Michael Phelps.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY BBC)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody thinks that I'm Michael Phelps. My name is Steve from -- and I'm from England -- from Great Britain, not Michael Phelps. I've never experienced anything like this in my life.

MOOS: Meet Steve.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I keep telling them my name is Steve Perry (ph) from Great Britain.

MOOS: He's a former Olympic medallist and now BBC pundit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've never felt like a bigger fraud in all my life. No, no I'm not Phelps. I'm not Michael Phelps.

MOOS: At least he's not being mistaken for Mark Spitz, whose 1972 picture was itself mistaken.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, obviously, I mistook him for a porn star, so that's something, right?

MOOS: By the way, the new "Sports Illustrated" does include an actual pinup of Phelps, though there's no mention of Steve Perry (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no. I'm not Phelps. I'm not Michael Phelps.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not Phelps.

MOOS: New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: I don't even think he necessarily looks like Michael Phelps, but he's getting followed over there.

This note that "Sports Illustrated," as a lot of you no doubt know, is owned by our parent company, Time Warner. It's an excellent, excellent magazine.

And you can check out THE SITUATION ROOM screen saver. Stay up to date on the latest political news. And it's easy to do. You can download it at CNN.com/situationroom. I think you might like to do it. I'll see you back here tomorrow.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.