Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Biden vs. Palin; McCain Campaign Abandons Michigan

Aired October 2, 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, to our viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: countdown to the political showdown, Joe Biden vs. Sarah Palin, unscripted, unedited, and under pressure to win tonight's V.P. debate.

Also, a $700 billion cliffhanger hanging in the balance, the ability of Americans to buy homes, cars, even keep their jobs.

And Barack Obama and John McCain have cast their votes on the bill, but some say McCain will suffer politically for voting yes, all that, plus the best political team on television.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN ELECTION CENTER. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In less than three hours, Americans will witness something not seen in some 24 years and that will only have been seen once in this entire campaign, a mixed-gender vice presidential debate, Sarah Palin vs. Joe Biden.

They have arrived in Saint Louis, and they are ready. Tonight's debate will pit a governor criticized for not always understanding her running mate's records against the senator criticized for not always agreeing with his running mate's record.

We are covering every angle. CNN's Dana Bash and Suzanne Malveaux are both in Saint Louis.

Dana, you are following Palin's preparations. Set the scene for us. As I said, we are less than three hours away from the start.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Wolf, the atmosphere here is absolutely electric. I have got to tell you, it almost feels like we are waiting for a prize fight in Vegas, not a political debate in Saint Louis.

But, as far as the McCain campaign, they are trying to publicly downplay the stakes, but, privately, you talk to them, and they fully admit that they could not be higher, both for Sarah Palin and John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): In the battleground Midwest, where undecided voters relate to Sarah Palin's distinctive accent and love for guns, you still hear this...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just think she's really a breath of fresh air.

BASH: But you also hear this...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wish McCain would have picked a better running partner, because I think she's not experienced enough.

BASH: Advisers prepping Palin say their urgent goal for tonight's debate is to restore two things...

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was just your average hockey mom.

BASH: ... the connection she initially established with key voters and energized the base, and confidence in her ability to lead after several shaky interviews.

KATIE COURIC, CBS EVENING NEWS : What other Supreme Court decisions do you disagree with?

PALIN: Well, let's see.

BASH: Evidence of camp McCain's concern, on CNN's AMERICAN MORNING, McCain was never asked about Palin's experience or leadership, but repeatedly brought it up.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, the fact is that she'll do fine tonight. She has experience, she has talent. She has leadership. She has great inner strength. She has an ability to lead that's been proven.

BASH: McCain aides admit Palin has spent countless hours since she was picked cramming on subjects she's never dealt with, from North Korea to the Mideast. But while the issues are more vast and the stage much larger, the reality is Palin participated in some two dozen debates in Alaska and held her own.

PALIN: You're referring to those native leaders as the fringe? I think that that's disrespectful to those who are ready to try a new approach, resolving to resolve the issue.

SCOTT REED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think they have set expectations perfectly. I mean, you guys have all fallen for this trick that she's not capable of putting two sentences together, and I think she's going to prove to people that she is.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, we are here in the spin room, Wolf, but we actually got a moment of candor just a little while ago. And that was from one of John McCain's closest confidants, Senator Joe Lieberman, who said he is concerned about Palin, and that is why tonight is so important.

He actually said that he spent some time with the governor, trying to go over things with her, trying to convince her, like many other people have said, just try to be yourself.

But what McCain aides say they are hoping is that what viewers, what voters get from Sarah Palin is something they have not had yet. And that is 90 minutes of what they call unfiltered access to her, to watch her, to see how she reacts. And that is something that they hope will try to make up for some of the not-so-great interviews she has had lately -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see how she does. Dana, stand by.

Suzanne Malveaux is also watching what is going on. Suzanne, take us behind the scenes. Joe Biden is getting ready for this debate as well. And he has got a lot of pressure that he has got to deal with.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And, actually, the Obama campaign says that he does need to do well.

They are actually convinced, they're confident that he is going to do well. He has a lot of experience in this area. Now, we saw Joe Biden. He arrived in Saint Louis with 14, 14 family members. He has got a big family member, Wolf. A lot of them are here this evening. He went to the hall. He signed a few basketballs. It's a tradition here at Washington University.

Then he did his walk-through on the stage. Now, what aides are saying, essentially, here is they believe that he is going to perform well, but one of the things that really concerns them here is that, if Sarah Palin gets in a couple of those zingers, those one-liners, that she is really going to be able to steal the show and very much the thunder from Joe Biden, and even the campaign message of trying to stick to some hard issues.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Joe Biden in top debate form. This zinger to Rudy Giuliani:

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's only three things he mentioned in the sentence, a noun and a verb and 9/11. I mean, there's nothing else. There's nothing else.

MALVEAUX: Now he's ready to take on Sarah Palin, but the campaign says he won't go after her on her experience or personal life. The strategy is to link Palin to John McCain, McCain to George Bush.

LINDA DOUGLASS, OBAMA SR. ADVISER: It's John McCain's ticket. She is going to be his partner in this, and they will continue the economic and foreign policies that have failed so badly in the last eight years.

MALVEAUX: Biden is expecting Palin will hit him with sharp, pointed attacks. But his aides have advised him, don't take the bate, stick with the substantive issues.

Already, some Palin supporters have charged Biden with sexism, but aides say he's not worried. He's been sparring in debate prep with Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, who played Palin, and he's reached out to Senator Clinton for advice.

DOUGLASS: He's a senator who has debated some of the strongest women senators in the United States Senate -- Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Mikulski, Kay Bailey Hutchison. He debated Hillary Clinton 12 times in the primary. He's very capable and comfortable debating a woman.

MALVEAUX: But Democrats are taking nothing for granted, setting the bar high for Palin in the hopes she'll stumble and make Biden the easy winner.

BIDEN: I have great respect for -- what I hear and watch some of the debating skills of Governor Palin. I think it's going to be a really tough debate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And I asked his top aides if they are concerned about those well-known gaffes, as you know, Wolf, that he occasionally makes.

And they say, look, he is somebody who speaks from the heart, from the gut, that he is authentic. So, the hope is -- the hope is here is that that really is endearing to many of what they are calling average voters. That is what they are looking for. And, obviously, that is what makes him strong, the strong member of the ticket with Obama -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I love the fact, Suzanne, that Jennifer Granholm, the governor of Michigan, as you point out, sat in, played Sarah Palin in these debates.

Not only is Jennifer Granholm, like Sarah Palin, a sitting governor; she's also a former hockey mom and beauty pageant contestant, like Sarah Palin, as well. So, she brings a lot of that -- I guess that down-to-earth level to this kind of preparation. And he's going to need every bit of help as he goes into this debate. Thanks very much, Suzanne. We will be checking back with you as well.

Turning now to the financial drama that is gripping America, it's now a full-blown political cliffhanger -- 435 members of the House of Representatives hold the fate of the Wall Street bailout plan in their hands. How they vote likely tomorrow will likely determine if Americans can keep buying cars, homes, and, in some cases, keeping their own jobs.

Let's go to Jessica Yellin. She's up on Capitol Hill watching this story for us.

The key question, Jessica, do they have the votes to pass this legislation?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, right now, it's looking up. Since you and I last spoke, members of Congress have started to return from their recess, trickling in for a 5:00 vote, giving them a chance to talk to each other. And now the man who is in charge of counting Republican votes, Roy Blunt, says, he is feeling optimistic, but this isn't done.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): These frustrated Republicans say they're not ready to vote for the bailout bill.

REP. STEVEN LATOURETTE (R), OHIO: The number $700 billion continues to be difficult for us.

YELLIN: Many are furious the Senate added new provisions, and they are demanding changes.

REP. SPENCER BACHUS (R), ALABAMA: It's a ludicrous suggestion to say that whatever comes over from the Senate, the House has to adopt.

REP. DAVID HOBSON (R), OHIO: I hope other people who voted yes may be reconsidering where they are when they get the outrage of the pork barrel projects.

YELLIN: The proposed changes are unlikely to be accepted, but their demand is a sign Republicans are not coming on board easily. House leaders are sounding cautious notes.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We're not going to take a bill to the floor that doesn't have the votes. I'm optimistic that we will take a bill to the floor.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: We are optimistic, very cautiously so.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: I think there's a decent shot that this can get through the House, pick up some votes, possibly on both sides of the aisle.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Now, Wolf, CNN has confirmed that seven people in the House of Representatives who voted no on Monday are now planing to vote yes tomorrow.

But there are also members who voted yes who are now opposed to the bill. So, they need to get to a total of 12 additional yes votes total. They have to get this across the finish line. They say, unless they are absolutely confident this vote will pass, this bill will pass, then they won't even hold a vote tomorrow afternoon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jessica. We will stand by. We will watch this cliffhanger in the House of Representatives.

Jack Cafferty is off today. That bailout bill, as you now know, has quite a few extras, what they call pork barrel projects, more than $100 billion worth, including tax breaks for wooden arrows. Where else is that money going? You're going to watch and find out. Brian Todd is standing by.

Plus, Sarah Palin, criticized for her answers in those Katie Couric interviews, how is she handling the pressure and the preparations? We will ask a woman who has known her for years, her former aide, Meg Stapleton. She will be here live in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, John McCain is giving up on Michigan -- that's the word tonight -- setting his sights on other key battleground states. We're breaking it all down for you, the Electoral College map -- John King standing by at the magic map.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: With only 33 days to go until Election Day, is John McCain giving up on Michigan? Is he ceding it to Barack Obama?

A senior McCain adviser tells CNN the McCain campaign is shifting resources right now to Ohio and Pennsylvania, focusing in on Maine as well.

Let's go to our chief national correspondent, John King. He is here at the magic wall.

Why give up on Michigan? He did well there in the primary. Mitt Romney is supporting him there. What is going on?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a very interesting decision. Many Republicans are saying, to announce it, to make it clear so soon is a big mistake.

On one hand, no surprise. No Democrat -- Democrats, I mean, have carried the state of Michigan since 1988, for 20 years now. But this was a state where they thought they could do better.

Let's go to the county map and take a quick look at some of Michigan. This is Bush/Kerry -- 51/48 Kerry carried the state. But remember these two counties right here. This is a place where we thought the economic debate would play out this year. Macomb County, this is the home of the Reagan Democrats. George W. Bush actually just barely carried it four years ago.

Just to the left of Macomb County, to the west, if Oakland County, another place where find African-Americans down here, closer to Detroit, union workers out here, Reagan Democrat types.

In ceding this state, John McCain has fundamentally again now made the electoral map more favorable to Barack Obama. We already have this as leaning blue. We will make it solid blue if McCain keeps spending money. The thing that makes this interesting, the gold states are our tossups right now. We already have Barack Obama at 250, Wolf. You only need 270. And just for the sake of argument, this state here, Wisconsin, was one of Michael Dukakis' 10 states back in 1988. So, if you make that state blue right there -- and I will stop at this point -- look how close Barack Obama gets, given the current dynamics right out here.

By pulling out of Michigan, this is what many believe is the first domino in the economic debate. A lot of the polling has changed in the last 10 days in Barack Obama's favor. If an industrial state like Michigan is now out of John McCain's reach, what a lot of people are asking is, what Pennsylvania? What about Ohio? Republicans view this as a troubling sign.

BLITZER: So, how does he get to the magic number of 270?

KING: That is what makes so it hard for John McCain, because, again, we gave over -- we just decided to give, for the sake of argument, Wisconsin to Barack Obama here. Look at that. It leaves Barack Obama only 10 votes short, 10 electoral votes short, of 270.

How can John McCain get from 189 to 270? He must keep Ohio, which will be very tough, given the economic dynamic. He must keep Florida, 27 electoral votes down here. He must keep Missouri, 11 electoral votes there.

Even if he does all that, he is just back in the ball game. He's not there yet. Virginia is a state Barack Obama thinks he can win. John McCain has to keep it. If he does all that, keep those traditionally red states red, then he would pull into a tie in this scenario with Barack Obama.

And then the fight would come down to Colorado, nine electoral votes. Whoever won that would then be one electoral vote away from the presidency. Colorado, Nevada in the West, take tiny New Hampshire up here in the Northeast, the home of so many independent voters, Wolf, could become the key battlegrounds.

But this map -- and I will go back to where we stand today -- this map is now lopsided in favor of Barack Obama, John McCain pulling out of Michigan, the first domino in an economic debate that, if John McCain doesn't turn around soon, many see more blue on this map and more trouble for John McCain.

BLITZER: John King over at the magic map, he's going to with us throughout our coverage on this historic night. John, thanks very much.

She has certainly been put on the spot during interviews, criticized for her performance. Tonight, she will be in the spotlight.

Is Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, ready for the debate? Let's go to one of Governor Palin's friends, former aides, Meg Stapleton. She is joining us from Washington University in Saint Louis. Is she ready, you think, Meg?

MEG STAPLETON, FORMER AIDE TO GOVERNOR SARAH PALIN: Wolf, I do think she is ready.

I saw her not too long ago and saw her come into the university here, and then take a walk-through, and go up on the stage and take a look at the stage, take a look at the camera angles. She seems confident. She seems very relaxed. She was with her family as she arrived, which is just -- just fuels her and gets her excited. She knows she is an underdog in this race and she's ready to jump in and take it full-on.

BLITZER: Have you actually seen her in some of those sort of rehearsals, those preparatory sessions, where they're asking questions, somebody plays Joe Biden, somebody plays Gwen Ifill, the moderator? Have you actually seen her in action?

STAPLETON: I have not, Wolf. No, I was not in Arizona.

BLITZER: So, you're not familiar with how she actually did.

Let me read to you what her sister, Heather Bruce, told "Glamour" magazine: "It is absolutely phenomenal, what my sister can learn in a short amount of time. What is happening to Sarah Palin right now is like the worst college exam cram period ever."

Are they simply trying to cram too much stuff into her head right now, and that is sort of confusing her or making this a little bit more difficult, which a lot of people criticize the way she answered Katie Couric questions, for example?

STAPLETON: Well, I think in terms of -- you know, she is a journalist above all else, in terms of that is her training and she understands where the questions are coming from. And she is taking the information she is receiving, and she is jumping ahead.

And, for instance, I will just point out what others have pointed out, in terms of why isn't she even talking about the publications she is looking at? And I know that, as a journalist, she is saying, OK, well, I know, if I start going through the publications I look at, then I'm going to get questions about, well, do you know who the owners are? Do you know who they contributed to? And do you know what that newspaper has said about you in the past?

And it leads them down into the weeds, which she likes to stay out of. And so I know that she is focused certainly on a message, and she is focused on that message of reform that she and John McCain want to take to Washington. And I know a lot of that is that she just has to speak to the American people about what she knows.

And that is someone who, as a working mom, continues to work, juggle it all, balance it all, and, at the same time, pump her own gas and shop in the grocery store.

BLITZER: When you say she's a journalist, you're referring to -- she studied journalism in college. And then she was a sportscaster for a while in Alaska. But did she actually work as a print or TV reporter for any extended period of time?

STAPLETON: No, but I think it's that training.

As you know, you start going down the path of -- and through her time in terms of the political career as mayor and now as governor and as city councilwoman, you spend the time with the press and you know where they are going to go, and you know what the next questions are.

And, so, in that training, and as an undergraduate degree, as well as then through her time in politics, she knows the next step in the process.

BLITZER: Here is what Howard Kurtz, who is the host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES," wrote in "The Washington Post" today.

Let me read it to you. And I will put it up on the screen, Meg, and then you will be able to react.

STAPLETON: OK.

BLITZER: "For days now, television viewers have watched Sarah Palin unable to explain the significance of her home state's bordering Russia, unable to name a Supreme Court ruling she disagrees with, unable to name a single newspaper she reads."

And then it goes on to say this: "Her halting, unfocused answers in a series of interviews with Katie Couric have left an unmistakable question hanging in the air before tonight's vice presidential debate: Is Palin going to fall on her face?" Are you worried at all?

STAPLETON: I am not worried. This is the type of forum that she likes, Wolf. This is type of forum where she feels she can really speak to the American people.

We have heard so many levels of criticism here, including the fact that can she even handle complicated matters? Complicated matters in Alaska are oil and gas. Are they suggesting that America relieving itself of foreign independence is not a complicated issue? She has taken that head on. And she's providing energy relief to Alaskans.

She's taken on ethics reform. She has changed the oil tax structure. She is very familiar with the issues of not only the state of Alaska, but the issues that impact the nation and the world.

BLITZER: Meg Stapleton is a good friend and former aide to the governor of Alaska. She is joining us from Saint Louis, where the debate will take place. Meg, thanks for coming in.

STAPLETON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see you soon.

Just over two-and-a-half-hours before the vice presidential debate, but we are also following stories, including a massive search that covered 20,000 square miles could not uncover what a single hiker has apparently found, and the one big question about the disappearance of the billionaire Steve Fossett. Plus, the longest serving member of the Senate on trial, but there's been a major mistake in the case against Ted Stevens, what the judge just said. We have got the news for you and more coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: John McCain then and now. Before the Wall Street bailout bill cleared the Senate, this is what he said. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: It is completely unacceptable for any kind of earmarks to be included in this bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But the bill is padded with pork barrel spending or earmarks. Might McCain's vote for it hurt him politically?

And remember Dan Quayle? Many people thought he lost his 1988 vice presidential debate. Yet, his ticket won the White House race. Might something similar happen tonight?

And Americans will be surely glued to their TVs for the debate. We will be tracking opinions of voters just like you.

Stick around. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now: more than $100 billion in pet project spending tacked on to the Wall Street bailout bill. We are combing through it. Wait until you hear where some of that money is going.

Also, Dan Quayle got sort of poor marks for his vice presidential debate, but it didn't hurt his ticket come Election Day. Will the same thing hold true tonight?

And advice for the candidates from the best political team on television, as we count down to the highly anticipated face-off between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden.

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

Tomorrow, House leaders hope to vote once again on that massive Wall Street bailout plan approved by the Senate last night. But it's still not clear if the votes are there to pass the measure. It's coming back with something extra, as well -- $110 billion designed toward achieving some pet projects -- pork barrel spending as it's called. And some are finding it very hard to swallow.

CNN's Brian Todd is working this story for us -- all right, Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've all heard the rhetoric of the importance of this bailout bill -- the moral stands for it and against it and.

But take a look at the fine print and you'll see it's a lot of politics as usual.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): The Democrat is certain how we got here.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This financial crisis is a direct result of the greed and irresponsibility that has dominated Washington and Wall Street for years.

TODD: The Republican is certain none of that greed had better show up in the final bailout bill.

MCCAIN: It's completely unacceptable for any kind of earmarks to be included in this bill.

TODD: And yet this emergency legislation, counted on to help pull America out of its financial crisis, is up to its ears in provisions that could be considered earmarks -- those unrelated, sometimes wasteful funding requests made by lawmakers, often for their home districts.

In this case, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, $100 million in tax breaks for car racing tracks and nearly $500 million in tax incentives for the movie and TV industry. Watchdog groups say it's hard to determine if the Senate's passage of this bailout was bought with earmarks.

STEVE ELLIS, "TAXPAYERS FOR ALL WEEK LONG, ON SENSE": And I mean, clearly, you didn't need to have this package in there to make it happen. They could have gotten their majority without any of this stuff.

TODD: For instance, $2 million in tax breaks for the makers of wooden arrows for children. That provision was sponsored first by Oregon's Republican senator, Gordon Smith, and this year by his Democratic counterpart, Ron Wyden. It would be worth about $200,000 to an archery company in Oregon.

A Wyden aide tells us this isn't an earmark because Wyden didn't ask for it to be put in the bailout bill, which he voted against, and because it impacts businesses in several states, not targeted to just one.

That doesn't fly with Steve Ellis.

ELLIS: But the bottom line this is, is this is benefiting a very few manufacturers. And I think most of Americans who are concerned about either the bailout package or concerned about the economy are going to be wondering why a provision benefiting wooden arrow manufacturers is catching a ride on the package.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And despite those provisions, which John McCain called unacceptable, he voted in favor of this bill. When we contacted his campaign about this, they called the inclusion of earmarks regrettable, but said he was willing to vote for it because this is a national emergency and it's a compromise that would protect Americans from losing their homes and their svaings -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Let's talk a little bit more about the pork in this the bailout plan. For that, we're joined by our chief national correspondent, John King; our senior political analyst, Jeff Toobin; and our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. They are part of the best political team on television.

John, this is something that Glenn Beck says is going to really hurt John McCain and says, in fact, he predicts it's over for John McCain because he voted for this legislation after saying he wouldn't if there were pork included.

KING: Well, Glenn's argument is interesting, because his argument is on the conservative side, that many conservatives will not now vote for John McCain because they were getting over sort of their disagreements with him on immigration. Now they see him vote for this pork barrel bill.

There's no question there's a lot of conservatives out there saying this is not how it's supposed to work. The government is not supposed to bail out the markets. No question about that.

On the bigger issue, John McCain has lost on the economic debate to Barack Obama over the last 10 days. You see him losing ground. So there's no question the economic question is huge and defining for John McCain.

If Glenn is right, and in addition to losing some Independents and soft Democrats, who now think Barack Obama is better equipped to handle the economy, if some conservatives then stay home, then it's double jeopardy, if you will, for McCain.

BLITZER: Because he needs that turnout from the conservative base, Gloria...

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He does.

BLITZER: ...if he's got a chance.

BORGER: He does. And this was a real problem for him, because he was already on the record saying he wanted to support a compromise. And the way to get enough people on board -- and, again, we don't know because the House hasn't voted yet -- but the way to get enough people on board was to put a lot of sweeteners in it. And I think that it's something that, in a perfect world, John McCain would say no to. But he felt that the perfect couldn't be the enemy of the good, particularly in a crisis.

BLITZER: And his vote in favor is also the same vote that Barack Obama took. But it doesn't look like Barack Obama is necessarily going to get the grief from his base that John McCain is likely to get.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST, "NEW YORKER" MAGAZINE COLUMNIST: I think that's right. But I think also today -- this vote yesterday was a wonderful lesson in how Washington works. Because these earmarks, they're not voted on separately. They are always folded into some other bill that is actually quite popular, whether it's the budget or even the military bill. What happened yesterday was just a more public example of what happens all the time in Washington.

The "Bridge To Nowhere" gets passed not because Congress decides on the "Bridge To Nowhere," they decide to not fight a bigger fight over it.

BLITZER: And somebody puts it in.

It's interesting, John, if you take a look, the original legislation that the Bush administration -- that Henry Paulson sent over was three pages. The House expanded it to about 105 or 106 pages. That was defeated. The Senate now comes back with, what, a thousand pages of this legislation.

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: It's typical Washington.

KING: It's typical Washington. The rush to do this is what started this poison snowball that is now rolling down the hill. And I'm not smart enough to know whether this is going to fix anything, whether this is going to do the right in the long-term.

But isn't it striking that to get conservative votes in the House of Representatives, you have to add spending?

There is a disconnect there. And that disconnect essentially is the road to Washington, which sometimes makes absolutely no sense to people out in real America.

BORGER: You know what they say about Congress -- everyone is a conservative until you get to committee...

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: ...in which case, you're not a conservative, because it's about your constituents.

BLITZER: And so there are some -- some, you know, ideological types...

BORGER: Right. But that's... BLITZER: ...types that are pure...

BORGER: That's the Congressional theory of money.

KING: Not many.

BLITZER: Not many. But there are -- there are some...

BORGER: And sticking to it.

BLITZER: A question to all of you -- what happens if it doesn't come up for a vote tomorrow, because they say, the leadership, Nancy Pelosi is not going to bring it up for a vote unless she knows for certain this time it will pass?

TOOBIN: I think the stock market continues to fall. It fell 338 points today because of this uncertainty. The stock market has made its decision. It wants this bill to pass. Now whether that's true for the larger economy, I'm with John -- I don't know if it's a good thing or not.

BLITZER: But someone is going to pay a price, Gloria, if they don't pass it and the stock market continues to stumble and credit dries up, people can't get loans to buy a car or purchase a house or get a college loan. That's going to have a real impact politically on someone.

BORGER: I think, in the end, incumbents are going to have to explain why this happened. And you see the public opinion was down on the bailout -- or the rescue, as we now call it -- and it's heading in the other direction now, because people are understanding how it's...

BLITZER: Although I think the phone calls and letters and e- mails coming into the Hill, John, are still overwhelming against.

KING: They are. And what lawmakers say is that people don't call up and say atta boy, vote yes.

BORGER: Right.

KING: People call up to say vote no. Opposition always trumps support when it comes to phone banks. And some of these phone calls are organized by interest groups that are against this. Some.

I was traveling the country last week and there were a lot of phone calls who were just average Joes calling in.

The question for all of these members is, if this passes -- and they better not hold another vote with the markets open if they don't have the votes to pass it...

TOOBIN: Right.

KING: ...because it fell almost 800 points last week, which was, I think, an embarrassment of leadership -- a bipartisan embarrassment of leadership to hold that vote not knowing the outcome with the market open.

If this passes this time, Democrats and Republicans better hope that not only is Wall Street and the markets rallying over the next 30 days to the election day, but the small businesses -- the farmers, the ranchers, the people out there who can't get credit right now out in America, they'd better be getting the money they need to turn around...

BLITZER: It better have an impact...

KING: ...(INAUDIBLE) their communities.

BLITZER: ...otherwise a lot of people are in trouble. Guys, stand by, because we're going to continue this.

And we're also going to move on and talk about tonight's huge debate -- expected to be one of the most closely watched ever. But how much will it really matter come election day, November 4?

Plus, your opinions on how the face-off unfolds. How will they match up with other voters? Your opinion versus others -- we're going to try to help you figure that out.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: So how much will Sarah Palin's performance in tonight's debate really matter come election day?

Let's get back to the best political team on television.

Jeff, a lot of us remember 1988. Dan Quayle, the vice presidential nominee, supposedly lost big time to Lloyd Bentsen. But you know what, he still became vice president.

TOOBIN: Do you think if we ask really, really nicely, they'll make the debate three hours instead of an hour-and-a-half?

Because I can't wait. I mean I'm so much looking forward to this. I want it to go on all night.

But you know what?

I don't think it's going to make much difference at all. These vice presidential debates historically never have. And remember the historic Jack Kemp/Al Gore debate?

Well, neither does anyone else. I just don't think it's going to make much difference.

BLITZER: All right...

TOOBIN: But It's going to be extremely entertaining.

BLITZER: I remember that debate. TOOBIN: Well, see, that's the...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Go ahead, Gloria.

What do you think?

BORGER: Well, I think it could, because there was a poll today in "The Washington Post" which said that 32 percent of voters are saying that they are less inclined to vote for John McCain because of Sarah Palin. That's up from 19 percent.

So that could make a difference, not to the base voters of either party, but to those Independent voters in swing states who are going to look at this debate and say OK, is she ready to be a heartbeat away?

BLITZER: And I -- even a couple of my friends, just the other day, said to me -- long time Republicans. They've never voted for Democrats, saying, you know what, they can't vote for McCain this time because they don't believe he put country first by selecting Sarah Palin and they're really disappointed.

KING: First, you forgot the most memorable moment of that debate back in 1992. That was Admiral Stockdale, who said who am I, why am I here?

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Right.

KING: That's what made that debate a memorable one.

You're absolutely right on this point. Never before in my career of doing this -- this is my sixth presidential election. I have e- mails just today from about a half dozen McCain voters who say I need to see that she's a potential president. We're not getting those.

Joe Biden, let's say -- and Joe Biden is a good debater. Let's say he has a disastrous performance tonight. Is Barack Obama going to lose many votes because of that? People will say Joe Biden had a bad night, I'm for Barack Obama.

If Sarah Palin has a disastrous night -- and I assume she will not. I assume she'll do just fine. But if she does, John McCain will suffer and it will be a reflection on his judgment that he picked somebody not quite ready. So the bar is higher for her, the test is higher for her tonight without a doubt.

BLITZER: Because how these two candidates do tonight, these vice presidential candidates, Gloria...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: ...reflects on the top of the ticket very much so. BORGER: Sure, it does, because, as we all say, the cliche is it's the first important choice that a presidential president makes is choosing his vice presidential candidate.

And I think that Sarah Palin tonight, she's got to do more than just survive. She's got to do well. And she's clearly able to do well.

KING: Yes.

BORGER: She is clearly going to portray herself as the person of the people, the person who understands the needs of average voters much more than Mr. Insider, Joe Biden. And Joe Biden will take it to John McCain. So I think it should really be interesting.

BLITZER: How much pressure is Gwen Ifill under? She's the moderator from PBS, someone all of us have known for many years, going back to when she was a political reporter for "The New York Times."

How much pressure is she under because now there are some on the right that are saying her new book that she's releasing early next year indicates that she might not be fair?

TOOBIN: She's a cool customer. She's been in this situation before. She's even moderated debates before. I think this is a totally unfair attack on her. Here she writes a book about the changing black politicians in America.

What's she supposed to do, not mention Barack Obama?

I mean it's a journalistic account. It's not a...

BORGER: It's not even published.

TOOBIN: It's not a work of advocacy. She's a journalist. That's the subject she chose to address.

She'll be fine. I think this is an example of what the campaigns often do. They're working the refs (ph). They're trying to make her worry that she's going to be seen as pro-Democrat so she'll bend over backwards the other way.

BORGER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Is that the way you see it, like that?

BORGER: I know Gwen Ifill. Gwen Ifill is a friend of mine.

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: And she will be fair.

KING: You just had...

BORGER: Absolutely.

KING: You just had a legend in our business on the air, Bernie Shaw, a little bit earlier. And he talked about how he's troubled sometimes by people in our business doing things like this and where do you draw the lines?

Gwen Ifill I've known for 20 years as a friend, as a competitor. She is tough and she is as fair as it comes. Forget about it.

TOOBIN: Bernie Shaw...

KING: She's going to go in and do her job.

TOOBIN: And our friend Bernie Shaw probably asked the most famous debate question of them all.

BLITZER: Right.

TOOBIN: So he knows how to do it.

BLITZER: He knows this business.

All right, guys we're not going anywhere, because we're going to watching this. And I don't know about you guys -- I do know about you guys. We're all really excited, just as millions and millions of viewers will be tonight.

Tonight's vice presidential debate could, in fact, be one of the most watched ever. As you're watching, you'll certainly have your own opinions on how Sarah Palin and Joe Biden are doing.

Let's go over to our special correspondent, Soledad O'Brien.

She's in Columbus, Ohio -- Ohio a key battleground state.

And you're going to be watching with a group of undecided voters, once again -- Soledad, set the scene for us.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We are back in Columbus, Ohio. And exactly right, really a microcosm here in Columbus of the United States.

Now, the 36 people in this room will all be armed with one of these. It's called a perception analyzer or a dial tester. We've got registered Independents, registered Democrats, registered Republicans. Very simple to use.

Take a look. Down here at one, if you dial all the way up to 100, that means you're registering wow, I really like what I'm hearing from the candidate.

If you're not happy, all the way back down to one. That means you're not happy with what you're hearing from the candidate.

You'll be able to see the matching, the corresponding little squiggles on your television.

So watch what I'm going to do. I'm going to go up and then I'm going to go down. And you'll be able to see -- I'm doing it fast so that you can really see the difference on the screen. You'll be able to really tell the difference in how people are feeling about what the candidate is saying.

What we want to know, of course, is how is that resonating?

What they're hearing from candidates, how is it resonating with the 36 people who are in this room?

What they all have in common, Wolf, is they say they are persuadable. They say that even though they may be leaning one way or the other -- they're divided equally, Democrats, Independents, Republicans -- they all feel like they haven't really solidly made their decisions, so they are persuadable.

An interesting thing to think about, though. One thing we saw last time was that any time anybody goes negative, the dial testers go right down. Nobody wants to hear it -- literally within seconds, because this tracks it second to second. It goes right down.

But the role of the vice president, to a large degree, is to be the attack dog.

So how do they navigate both attacking and yet not coming across as negative?

It's going to be very interesting to see how both of those candidates try to work that.

We also are pretty interested in seeing the content, because one of the words that we heard from the panel that was here last time, they felt like they did not get any information. They want specifics. And so it will be interesting to see if they get that, if they respond to it with their dial testers tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. It's going to be fascinating -- 15 men, 15 women in Columbus, Ohio, all undecided. And we're going to see how they're reacting to every second, literally, of this 90 minute debate.

Thanks, Soledad. We'll check back with you.

And we're counting down to tonight's historic vice presidential debate, now just more than two hours away. We're offering you a truly interactive experience tonight, as well. We're going to have details of what we have in store for you online.

Plus, Barack Obama making the mistake no husband wants to make on national television. We'll explain right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's see what's coming up right at the top of the hour. You've got a little preview. What are you working on -- Lou?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we're working on the vice presidential debate, among other things, tonight, Wolf, as you might guess, the final countdown to that debate in St. Louis tonight. Will Governor Palin defy her critics in the liberal national media and do well?

Three of the best political analysts will be joining us to give us their assessment.

And finalized lobbying on Capitol Hill leading to the passage in the Senate of that Wall Street bailout. The House of Representatives now preparing to vote tomorrow on that bailout legislation. We'll tell you about all the so-called sweeteners -- the pork, the pork that some of these elected officials said they wouldn't not vote for.

Top Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman joins us to tell us whether he will support the legislation.

And as our political elites are rushing to bail out Wall Street, they are simply ignoring the crisis that is facing most middle class Americans. They're being hammered by massive credit card bills, predatory lending and a weakening economy. We'll have that special report.

Please join us for all of that at the top of the hour, right here on CNN, and, of course, all the day's news and much more, from an Independent perspective -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: A very special "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" coming up.

DOBBS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: We'll be watching.

DOBBS: They all are.

BLITZER: Thanks, Lou...

DOBBS: They all are.

BLITZER: ...very much.

DOBBS: We've got to thank you.

We want to go right to Fredricka Whitfield.

She's got a developing story, breaking news, I think we can call it -- Fred, what's going on?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is about the adventurer, Steve Fossett. We've been reporting all day that a hiker in the Mammoth Lakes section of California had located a shirt, a sweatshirt and some money and an I.D. believing to -- believed to be involved with Steve Fossett.

Well, now we're getting confirmation that human remains -- some human remains have been found near that wreckage site. We heard from investigators who said earlier today that it appeared as though his aircraft hit the mountain face-on, which would mean that he had likely died upon impact.

Well, now this new information coming out of California that some human remains have been found. Of course, we'll be learning momentarily, perhaps, Wolf, about whether these remains are, indeed, going to be positively identified and connected to Steve Fossett.

The adventurer has now been missing...

BLITZER: All right, Fred, thanks.

When you get that, we'll, of course, get back to you and we'll get more information.

Coming up, Barack Obama has got a special date planned for his wife Michelle. After all, he has to do making up after forgetting what wedding anniversary they were actually celebrating. Jeanne Moos is about to fill is us.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: When you're running for president, there are certainly a lot of things that can slip your mind, like what wedding anniversary you're celebrating. Just ask Barack Obama.

CNN's Jeanne Moos has this "Moost Unusual" report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was bad enough to get it wrong, but to get it wrong with your wife looking on, not to mention the media...

OBAMA: We will be celebrating our 15th anniversary next week. She just about has me trained.

MOOS: Yes, well, if she truly had you trained, you'd have gotten the year right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRAIG FERGUSON, HOST: Barack Obama forgot which wedding anniversary he celebrates this year.

(LAUGHTER)

FERGUSON: Ha-ha-ha, Mr. Perfect suddenly isn't so perfect anymore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: He said it was their 15th. Actually, it's their 16th.

Normally, Keith Olbermann is an Obama fan. But for this transgression, Keith awarded Barack the bronze for worst person in the world.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: All week long, Obama has been making amends aboard his campaign plane, where the press was partying (INAUDIBLE). The senator handed out cookies and made a mantra of his correct anniversary.

OBAMA: It's 16.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE).

OBAMA: Sixteen. It's big.

MOOS: A newly engaged reporter asked the senator the secret to a successful marriage.

OBAMA: A sense of humor.

MOOS: He cited humor, listening and never get so mad you forget you love them so you don't say something that's hard to take back. He kept taking back the wrong anniversary with the right one.

OBAMA: By the way, tomorrow is our 16th anniversary.

(APPLAUSE)

MOOS (on camera): Now, this isn't Obama's first slipup involving a number.

OBAMA: I've now been in 57 states.

MOOS: He meant to say 47. But misstating states doesn't compare with misstating your anniversary. At least the senator says he has a gift for Michelle all picked out.

OBAMA: I've got this whole romantic dinner planned.

MOOS: Though the McCain campaign hasn't yet turned the anniversary gaffe into an attack ad, comedian Jimmy Kimmel did.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you vote for a man who doesn't even know how long he's been married?

America deserves more.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Michelle Obama and I approved this message.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: You've helped, by the way, make our politics pod cast one of the most popular on iTunes. To get the best political team to go, you can subscribe at CNNPolitics.com or at iTunes. And please be sure to stay with us throughout the night for complete coverage of the only vice presidential debate.

I'll be back in one hour. Thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, a very special "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.