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THE SITUATION ROOM
Powerful Union Endorses Obama; McCain Blasts Obama: Addresses Issue of Experience; Interview With Mary Matalin
Aired February 20, 2008 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, more political blows for Hillary Clinton. A powerful group that's been friends to the Clintons would rather not see Senator Clinton in the White House. This, as Barack Obama peels away more votes and assumes Clinton voters.
John McCain increases his delegate lead and his rhetoric against the Democrats. He accuses Barack Obama of doublespeak and demands that Obama keep his word.
And awaiting whoever becomes the next president, problems in Pakistan. Now that its president suffered a major political setback, is it time for the U.S. to loosen up its support for Pervez Musharraf?
I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Right now, a group that's long supported Bill and Hillary Clinton is turning its back on her presidential candidacy. The Teamsters is one of the largest and most powerful unions in the United States. Today, it's passing over Senator Clinton and endorsing Senator Barack Obama.
The union's 1.4 million members could really help Obama pull in campaign cash and turn out the vote. This, as Obama grows his winning streak to 10 straight contests. He won impressively in Wisconsin and Hawaii last night.
By CNN's estimates right now, Obama has a total of 1,319 delegates. Clinton, 1,250. Although she leads in the number of so- called superdelegates, he's way ahead right now in the pledged delegates, those who are elected. Clinton hopes to slow Obama's momentum, and today she reused a familiar tact, saying it's OK to be inspired by her rival. But she says if voters want their dreams to come true, vote for her.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Without dreams, we can't aspire to be great. But without action, we cannot turn those dreams into reality.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But Barack Obama has a message of his own for you and his rival. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Contrary to what she's been saying, it's not a choice between speeches and solutions. It's a choice between a politics that offers more of the same divisions and distractions that didn't work in South Carolina and didn't work in Wisconsin, and will not work in Texas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is following all of this in Austin, Texas, right now.
Candy, first of all, how big of a deal, how important is this endorsement from the Teamsters for Senator Obama?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's important. It's not definitive to the vote, but it certainly brings help to his side. And if you're going into Ohio, which has more union workers than most states, and you have the Teamsters behind you, I mean, what name says working class better than Teamsters?
They bring boots on the ground, as they say. They can bring some organizational skills. They can bring people out to knock on doors. They can help with the get out the vote effort. They can help raise money and they can bring money to the table. Does it mean that workers will, in fact, follow their union leaders' lead and go vote for Barack Obama? It doesn't.
We saw that in Nevada, when the Culinary Workers Union endorsed Barack Obama and many of those in the union went and voted for Hillary Clinton or caucused for her. So it doesn't necessarily mean that a union leader says, vote this way, and a member does that. But it does bring like-minded members to the table working for Barack Obama at a very critical time, when the working class vote is very critical.
BLITZER: And I'm going to be speaking with James Hoffa, the president of the Teamsters, Candy, in the next hour.
This must be very painful for both Clintons given the relationship, the support they have had from the Teamsters over the years. But let's look ahead to March 4th, 13 days from now.
How much of an uphill struggle does Hillary Clinton face?
CROWLEY: Well, listen, you know, he's 10 wins to zero. She's 10 losses to zero. That is not a position of strength.
But I think you heard what their forward motion is, and that is the same. They believe that they have these two weeks now, a little less than two weeks, to go to Ohio and say, listen here, I'm all about dreams but you've got to have someone to make them become reality. He's basically the empty suit. They believe that her pitch to working class voters, those with incomes less than $50,000, can bring them home. She talked today about, well, some people are joining a movement, but I'm joing the night shift. This is sort of the new rhetoric in her campaign. All of it aimed at bringing back those working class voters that frankly went to him in great numbers last night and in the Potomac primaries as well.
BLITZER: All right, Candy. Thanks very much. Candy Crowley in Austin, Texas, for us.
Tomorrow, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton take part in a CNN debate in Austin. That would be co-sponsored by Univision and the Texas Democratic Party.
It airs live here on CNN beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Airs later tomorrow night in Spanish on Univision. Journalists from CNN and Univision will ask questions. CNN's Campbell Brown will moderate the debate in Austin tomorrow night.
For the Republicans, the presumptive nominee inching closer and closer to actually becoming the nominee. John McCain beat Mike Huckabee in Wisconsin and Washington State in last night's primaries. By CNN estimates right now, McCain now has 918 delegates. Huckabee has 217 -- 1,191 are needed to win the Republican presidential nomination.
What's next for McCain appears to include some stepped-up attacks on the person who could be his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama. Let's go to CNN's Dana Bash. She's watching all of this in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio, one of those March 4th battlegrounds as well.
McCain says Obama should keep his word on a key issue. Explain to our viewers what's going on, Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you'll remember last night, Wolf, Senator McCain, in his victory speech here in Columbus, really went after Barack Obama on the issue of his experience, or inexperience from McCain's perspective, especially on the issue of national security. Well, today, McCain turned his scathing criticism from that issue to the issue of character.
BASH (voice over): With his GOP primary battle all but behind him, John McCain launched his most direct assault yet at Democrat Barack Obama, accusing the candidate running as a reformer of reneging on a pledge.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We either keep our word or we don't keep our word. I intend to keep my word to the American people.
BASH: At issue, whether Obama would agree to limit campaign spending by accepting public funding for the general election. In an op-ed in Wednesday's "USA Today," Obama proposed the Democrat and Republican nominee make a "meaningful agreement in good faith that results in real spending limits." MCCAIN: That's Washington doublespeak. I committed to public financing. He committed to public financing. It is not any more complicated than that.
BASH: McCain is pointing to this survey from a watchdog group he and Obama both filled out this fall. And both said, yes, they would accept public financing.
MCCAIN: Senator Obama did make that commitment in writing. I expect him to -- I think the American people would expect him to hold to that commitment, especially if we want to bring about change.
BASH: With that, the probable GOP nominee is trying to undermine Obama's character, the heart of the Democrat's "I'm an agent of change" candidacy. But McCain is also going after Obama on public financing for a more practical reason. Without spending limits, McCain advisors know they would likely be at a huge financial disadvantage. Look at the history.
Last year, Obama raised a little more than $102 million. McCain raised less than half, about $41 million. Since McCain's political fortunes turned around, so has his ability to bring in campaign cash, but nothing like the tens of millions flowing into Obama's coffers.
BASH: An Obama spokesman responded to McCain by accusing him of abandoning efforts, new efforts, to reform the campaign finance system. That, of course, had been McCain's signature issue, but it is wildly unpopular with the Republican base -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dana, McCain also going after Obama on the issue of experience, specifically in national security. Zoning in on the whole matter of Pakistan. What's happening on that front?
BASH: That's right. That was a big line in last night's speech, talking about the fact that Obama suggested at some point to invade or bomb, as he put it, bomb an ally, in Pakistan.
I asked Senator McCain about that today, because as you know, Wolf, there is some debate inside the Bush administration about whether or not the Musharraf government in Pakistan is doing enough and whether or not the United States should unilaterally act, if needed, inside Pakistan to gel al Qaeda. And the way McCain responded today is very similar to the way Hillary Clinton talks about Barack Obama, saying that that kind of talk, even suggesting or broadcasting, as McCain put it, to an ally, an ally that the United States relies on, he said that is "naive" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: But on two occasions, President Bush has told me that if the U.S. had actionable intelligence on where Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan, he would authorize the U.S. to go after that target, even if it invaded Pakistani sovereignty. That's -- I think that's sort of what Barack Obama was suggesting as well.
BASH: Exactly. And that's the point I tried to ask McCain on here in this very room this morning, about the fact that the Bush administration has not ruled out exactly, as you said, the president himself has done that. And McCain said from his perspective, it is wrong to, in his words, broadcast anything like that to what he called an ally like Pakistan. That's his position.
BLITZER: All right, Dana. Thanks very much.
Let's bring in Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: They're starting to pick up those handfuls of dirt off the playground already, aren't they?
BLITZER: It's going to get only...
CAFFERTY: Oh, man. It's going to be awful.
Hillary Clinton got a good old-fashioned beating in Wisconsin yesterday at the hands of Barack Obama. (INAUDIBLE) to lose, she lost. Popular vote, delegates, you name it.
Obama's taking away Clinton's base. In Wisconsin, nine out of 10 Democratic voters are white. Obama won more than 60 percent of the white male vote, split the women, white women, with Clinton.
He beat her by double digits among voters whose families make less than $50,000. He beat her among voters who don't have college degrees. It gets worse.
Obama did well not only in the cities like Madison, he won large numbers of upper-income liberals there. But he also got a lot of support in parts of the state with lower-income voters and union households. And if you're Hillary Clinton, the worst part is this: Obama's support among working class blue-collar voters in Wisconsin could be an indication there is more trouble ahead for Clinton in the large industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
For example, today's endorsement of Barack Obama by the Teamsters Union. You see where that's going. Oh, and the Independent, Republican voters? Wisconsin had an open primary. Obama won both of those groups by margins of about two to one.
One Democratic pollster told "The Washington Post" there's no question Senator Clinton's now on the defensive. Senator Obama has proven he can win the kinds of voters he needs to win in states like Texas and Ohio. At this point, Hillary Clinton's chances of becoming Democratic candidate for president are hovering somewhere between slim and none.
Here's the question. If you're advising Hillary Clinton's campaign, what would you tell her to do?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.
BLITZER: I wrote about that on my blog on cnnpolitics.com just now as well. We just posted it a few minutes ago. CAFFERTY: The same stuff?
BLITZER: Basically, you know, is it premature to write Hillary Clinton off? You'll have to read the little comment I have. Let me know what you think.
CAFFERTY: All right. I'll do that.
BLITZER: Jack, thanks. Thank you.
John McCain keeps winning contests, but is he winning over more conservatives? Are they finally supporting the man they have been critical of?
I will ask a former advisor to the president, to President Bush and Vice President Cheney, Mary Matalin. She's standing by live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Barack Obama chips away at Hillary Clinton's base of support. You're going to find out what groups he's making inroads with.
And opponents to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf deal him a major political setback. Might they next try to impeach him?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: John McCain is closer to becoming the Republican presidential nominee, so are conservatives any closer to silencing their criticisms of him?
My next guest has had her own issues with the presidential candidate. Joining us now in THE SITUATION ROOM is Mary Matalin. She's a former senior advisor to the vice president and the president, and a long-time friend.
Thanks, Mary, for coming in.
MARY MATALIN, FMR. ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BUSH: Wolf, how are you?
BLITZER: What do you think? You have been critical of John McCain in the past. You liked Thompson, you liked Romney. What about -- what about now?
MATALIN: I am a conservative. And I went with Thompson because he represented the broadest spectrum and the most consistent conservatism in the race. If John McCain is going to be the nominee, we're all going to rally behind...
BLITZER: So you are ready to jump on that bandwagon?
MATALIN: I'm for the most conservative person in the race. And it's -- now everything is relative and relative to Barack Obama or Hillary, whom I would never count out. And he does have a conservative record, and what he's been saying since he has been trying to not just unite but energize the conservative base is -- are things that are sounding right.
BLITZER: Here was a quote that jumped out at me from "The National Review" on February 5th, Super Tuesday. Remember? It seems like a long time ago.
BLITZER: "I don't think he rests comfortably anywhere that conservatives would call home today. If it was true yesterday, it's not true for tomorrow's issues. The ones that he has chosen to take a lead on are the ones conservatives either don't prioritize or flat-out loathe."
BLITZER: Like what?
MATALIN: ... some global warming issues. But he's going...
BLITZER: They loathe that?
MATALIN: Because it's a largely unscientific hoax. And it's a political concoction.
BLITZER: But he believes with Joe Lieberman -- he's co- sponsoring legislation on that.
MATALIN: He's going to have to put together an energy policy that has elements of conservation but productivity, and reduces our dependence on oil. He has said that. Some of the other issues though...
BLITZER: But on global warming he's a true believer.
MATALIN: But he's not going to prioritize that, because that's not where the country is right now. And you haven't heard him prioritizing that.
What you've been hearing him say since he's achieved the nomination -- Huckabee's inertia notwithstanding -- is to prioritize security issues. And on those things, no Republicans or conservatives or Independents or even Democrats have got him on that. On immigration...
BLITZER: So you think the Rush Limbaughs and the others who have been so critical of him will join you and come on...
MATALIN: I'm not -- what Rush and Laura and Mark Levin and the rest of them have been saying is -- they have been advocating for conservative policies, not the least being immigration. And what he's now saying about immigration is we're going to secure the borders first.
What the critics of the critics need to stop doing is attacking the critics with whom are standing up for core conservative principles. They're not attacking McCain. This is not personal.
In fact, he's called by all of them, and we all agree -- he's a hugely honorable man, and highly, fiercely competitive in what's going to be a competitive race. He's a great candidate. And we're happy to rally around him. But in the same -- these same conservatives took issue when President Bush or President Reagan or any other of their heroes have been not towing the line they think are core conservative issues.
BLITZER: You mentioned Mike Huckabee. He's still in the race. He's not giving up yet. In fact, here's what he said earlier. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If this party is so completely incapable of discussing the issues that matter deeply to Republicans, then I'm not its problem. Its problem is it doesn't have a message that it can run on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you think? Is he helping or hurting the Republican Party by staying in this contest?
MATALIN: You know, Rush is helping by articulating core principles and how they apply to current policies. What Huckabee is doing is some sort of self-aggrandizement.
It's mathematically impossible for him to do anything. He doesn't really represent any conservative policies. Who's supporting him are evangelicals, and I think probably half of those, if they knew his policies, would not be supporting him.
BLITZER: But he's not on the issue of abortion and gay marriage.
MATALIN: Well, so -- John McCain is good on those social issues. With the social conservatives, the only issue that social conservatives had with John McCain is one that the courts are adjusting anyway, and that was campaign finance reform. He's good on -- he's good on life and he's good on the other issues they care about.
BLITZER: He doesn't support a constitutional amendment.
MATALIN: Well, we're not in an era where we should be passing amendments. Again, this is -- we are a world at war. We are a world trying -- we're a country trying to compete in a new global economy.
And if you look at Huckabee's record in Arkansas, which the McCain people have been loath to attack Huckabee because they just want to keep him over here, and they needed him to take Romney and everybody else out of the race. Raise taxes, expanding government, that's not a conservative agenda.
BLITZER: Is the age issue a factor? I'm going to play this little clip from John McCain. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: My friends, I'm not the youngest candidate, but I am -- but I am the most experienced.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's say it is John McCain versus Barack Obama, who's only 46 years old. He'll be 72 if he's president.
Is that going to be a factor, you think?
MATALIN: I think it's going to be a factor for Barack Obama. I mean, it's very helpful that John McCain's mother trails around with him and he...
BLITZER: She's in her 90s.
MATALIN: In her 90s. And he's run an incredibly vigorous campaign. He practically went man-to-man to be the comeback kid in New Hampshire. So no one doubts his grit, his tenacity, his perseverance.
BLITZER: Who would be a stronger candidate against John McCain, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton?
MATALIN: You know, the conventional wisdom is Barack Obama, because people are looking at these national polls. I don't think so.
I think she is a much tougher candidate. You know, she is right about Barack Obama. He has not been vetted. The press is largely swooning, maybe present company excluded, but he has not been vetted by the press, he's not been vetted by any Democrats because they all believe in the same thing. It's been a personality contest.
BLITZER: So what would he do to undermine him in a general contest that Hillary Clinton was unable to do?
MATALIN: Well, when you sweep away the soaring rhetoric, which is magnificent -- the best order since Cicero -- but you take that out of there, he's pretty standard issue liberal, way liberal on every conceivable issue. And that's a good contrast.
If someone has added up all of his spending proposals, we are already at $800 billion. He wants to centralize health care. He's a big government redistributionist, liberal. And the Democrats have only won three out of 10 contests in the last presidential, and they have not been liberals. They have been southern centrists. So he's just a great contrast.
BLITZER: Mary Matalin, thanks for coming in.
MATALIN: Wolf, thank you for having me.
BLITZER: We're going to get a very different perspective in the next hour from a man very close to you.
MATALIN: Not about Barack Obama.
BLITZER: About John McCain, maybe. That would be James Carville, your husband.
MATALIN: Oh, I think he likes John.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
MATALIN: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: He's been an important ally in the U.S. war on terror. Now Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's days in office could be numbered after a crushing defeat in the country's elections. We're going to examine how the new government could affect U.S. policy in the region.
And scaling back in Iraq. The top U.S. general in Iraq talks exclusively to CNN about the next steps in the war.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Happening now, a group that's long supported Bill and Hillary Clinton passes her over for Barack Obama. The powerful Teamsters Union today will endorse Obama for president. Teamster president James Hoffa going to be with us exclusively in the next hour.
The nation's missile defense system at the mercy of the high seas. The Navy was planning to shoot down a faulty spy satellite that's hurdling toward Earth with a tank full of toxic fuel. But choppy seas in the North Pacific could prevent the Navy from taking a first shot to take out the satellite later tonight.
And advantage McCain -- with no real viable opponent left, John McCain gets a leg up in campaigning for November's general election. We are going to take a closer look at some of his new attacks on the Democratic front-runner, Barack Obama.
I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
With his victories in Wisconsin and Hawaii and the Teamsters' endorsement, Barack Obama is cutting deeper and deeper into Hillary Clinton's base of support.
Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's taking a closer look at why more and more women, blue-collar and older voters are beginning to switch to Obama.
Bill, what was the basic message from the vote last night? WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, the big mo'. Obama's got it.
MCCAIN: I just want to make one additional comment. And that is about the...
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): You take big bites out of your opponent's core supporters, like women.
MCCAIN: I have been to more than 80 countries, worked with world leaders, stood up to the Chinese government to declare that women's rights are human rights.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SCHNEIDER: On Super Tuesday, just two weeks ago, women voted 43 percent for Obama. In Wisconsin, he split the women's vote with Clinton. Chomp. Seniors have been strong for Clinton. Obama got just over a third of the senior vote on Super Tuesday. In Wisconsin, his senior support went up to 41 percent. Nibble? Clinton is relying on union voters to carry Ohio on March 4th.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You better believe labor will have a seat at the table.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SCHNEIDER: Right back at you, says Obama.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're here because there are workers in Youngstown, Ohio, who have watched job after job after job disappear because of bad trade deals like NAFTA.
SCHNEIDER: On Super Tuesday, voters from union households voted 44 percent for Obama. In Wisconsin, Obama's union support jumped 10 points. Scarf.
On Super Tuesday, she was carrying partisan Democrats. In Wisconsin, he took the bigger bite. Are whites voting for Obama? On Super Tuesday, no. In Wisconsin, yes. The economy used to be Clinton's issue. Now Obama's gobbling up voters whose top concern is the economy.
But is Obama holding his own core groups? He got over 90 percent of African-Americans in Wisconsin. His support among young voters soared to 70 percent, independents up to 64 percent, college graduates 60. Looks like a feast.
SCHNEIDER: What about Latino voters? Hillary Clinton is relying on Latinos here in Texas. Well, Latinos gave her 63 percent on Super Tuesday. And in Wisconsin, well, we don't know -- not enough of them to measure in Wisconsin -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Bill, thank you. Bill Schneider reporting.
She's the first woman in America with a serious shot at the presidency. But, if Hillary Clinton can't win the Democratic nomination, let alone the White House, what will it mean for others in her path who aspire to break the nation's highest glass ceiling, as it's called? This is a story Jack Cafferty spoke about yesterday. CNN's Deborah Feyerick is looking into the matter in more in-depth fashion right now.
Deb, what are you finding out?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, when Hillary Clinton yesterday used the word glass ceiling, there was a lot of meaning before it for many in the women's movement, who see her potential candidacy as the end of a very long struggle for women's rights.
H. CLINTON: And, yes, with your help, we will shatter the highest, hardest glass ceiling, because that's what we do in America. We break barriers.
FEYERICK: Here's how a number of feminist groups see the Clinton/Obama race: a highly qualified woman running for president against a younger candidate with captivating style.
For feminists, like Martha Burk, who has endorsed Clinton, to call it frustrating is an understatement.
MARTHA BURK, FORMER CHAIR, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF WOMEN'S ORGANIZATIONS: Were he female, put lipstick and long hair on him, I don't think he would be anywhere near the presidency of the United States right now.
FEYERICK: Style vs. substance always comes up in politics, even between men. But Burk believes voters judge personality traits differently between men and women.
BURK: Women are perceived differently. They get punished for being competent more than men do, because they're seen as too tough, not gentle, not womanly enough. Conversely, men benefit from gender discrimination.
FEYERICK: Ridiculous, say some critics, like Republican strategist Amy Holmes.
AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is an argument Gloria Steinem tried to make in "The New York Times." That it is preposterous on so many levels, that a white multimillionaire who was married to a former president would somehow have a tougher road ahead of her becoming president of the United States than Barack Obama.
FEYERICK: When Nancy Pelosi became speaker of the House, many women saw it as a major victory. Even so, some feminists point out no woman has ever been chief justice or Senate majority leader. And only 15 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women.
CAROL HARDY-FANTA, UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS: If Hillary Clinton does not get this nomination this year, I think it will be almost impossible for a woman to get elected in the decades to come. I think that she brought name recognition, money, fund-raising ability, an entire Democratic establishment.
FEYERICK: So, could this be a setback for women? Well, hard to say, but critics do say that it's more complicated, that there are other factors at play. Clinton, even with all her experience, brings a lot of negatives to the table. And that has nothing to do with being a woman -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for that. Deb Feyerick reporting.
Pakistan's president is denied what he wanted in a closely watched election. But might Pervez Musharraf also lose his job? We are going to tell you why Pakistan's election could create some new realities.
Also, might U.S. troops now serving long tours in Iraq soon see shorter tours of duty? You are going to want to hear what the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, is telling CNN in an exclusive interview.
And another CNN exclusive -- the Teamsters set right now to pass on longtime friend Hillary Clinton's presidential bid. I will talk to the president of the union about that and more. James Hoffa Jr., he is standing by live to join us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: U.S. troops in Iraq and their families may soon be getting some welcome news.
General David Petraeus, who heads the Multi-National Forces in Iraq, will be in Washington in April to brief the president and the Congress about recommended troop reductions.
In an exclusive interview with CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, General Petraeus suggests the current 15-month tour of duty may soon be scaled back to 12 months. And he says more withdrawals will follow July's reduction of five combat brigades, depending on conditions on the ground.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDING GENERAL OF THE MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: The Army will be able to make an announcement later this spring. We have had discussions about that. And sometime around the time of the testimony, I think that the Army can lay out tour lengths that will be back to what was normal before that.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: That would be going back to the 12-month tours, the rotations in Iraq, which the U.S. Army desperately wants. He also says there will be a pause in the troop withdrawal following this summer, but eventually he hopes to get back to more troop withdrawals.
Turning now to Pakistan, President Bush calls the country's elections part of a victory in the war on terror. But victory is not exactly what the U.S. ally President Pervez Musharraf got from the election. Opposition parties have won enough seats to actually form a new government. That effectively robs General Musharraf of his authority over the nation.
Our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee, is joining us now with more on the very serious ramifications of what's going on. This could seriously affect U.S. relations with Pakistan and the overall level of cooperation in the war on terror.
What's going on, Zain?
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Bush administration may be rethinking just how tight it wants to be with Pakistan's president.
VERJEE (voice-over): The United States has solidly backed its man in Pakistan, but now some U.S. officials say it may be time to loosen up on that support. President Pervez Musharraf is more unpopular than ever.
AITZAZ AHSAN, SUPREME COURT BAR ASSOCIATION: He is not just unpopular. He is the most hated man in this country.
VERJEE: He was slammed at the polls, elections the Bush administration pushed hard for.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The people of Pakistan have spoken, I think, in a very powerful way.
VERJEE: Until now, President Bush has stood by Musharraf, even as al Qaeda and the Taliban are stepping up their attacks, even when Musharraf cracked down on freedoms.
LISA CURTIS, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: I think the U.S. needs to be cautious when it makes statements about President Musharraf, because it's clear that he has become unpopular over the last year.
VERJEE: Musharraf's political rivals, Benazir Bhutto's husband, Asif Zardari, and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may team up and could try to push him from power. They need a two-thirds majority in parliament to impeach him. The United States wants the new leaders to work with Musharraf.
SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: That we would hope to work with whatever government emerges as a result of this election. VERJEE: But U.S. officials wonder, will that new government crack down hard on terrorists? The winners of Pakistan's elections say they want to talk more with militant forces and fight less. The U.S. has taken unilateral action in Pakistan before, using unmanned planes to target suspected terrorists in Pakistan.
VERJEE: U.S. officials also say that President Musharraf has always been stripped of his power after stepping down, Wolf, as army chief. What's happening right now is that they are reaching out to the new general in charge, Kayani. One official says that Kayani is a good friend to the U.S. -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Zain, thank you -- Zain watching this important story for us.
He's the Republican presidential front-runner, and he's wasting no time taking direct aim at his Democratic rival.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
J. MCCAIN: I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure Americans are not deceived by an eloquent, but empty call for change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're looking at how Barack Obama is responding, as Senator McCain sharpens his attacks. And what should Hillary Clinton be doing to put the brakes on her rival's winning streak? What, if anything, can put her back in the driver's seat?
We are watching this and a lot more -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: So, how would a McCain-Obama matchup play out in the election? Let's get to our "Strategy Session" right now. Joining us, Democratic strategist Stephanie Cutter and Republican strategist Rich Galen.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
And let me set it up with this little exchange, a sound bite from McCain and a sound bite from Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I will fight every moment of every day in this campaign to make sure Americans are not deceived by an eloquent, but empty call for change.
OBAMA: When he says that he is willing to send our troops into another 100 years of war in Iraq... (BOOING)
OBAMA: ... then he represents the policies of yesterday, and we want to be the party of tomorrow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, Stephanie, is this a glimpse at what we can expect if -- if -- Obama were to get the nomination?
STEPHANIE CUTTER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Oh, yes, and then some. I think that it's shaping up to be similar to where the Democratic race is right now, change vs. experience.
BLITZER: What do you think, Rich?
RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I absolutely agree with Stephanie. Actually, what -- all McCain has to do is kind of take close notes from what Hillary's campaign does over the next two weeks, as she tries to dirty him up before we get into Texas and Ohio on March 4th. The Clintons, as we know, are not noted for going, as the poem goes, gentle into that good night. They are much more likely to, as -- to end the quatrain, to rage, rage against the darkness.
GALEN: I think that they are going to do that.
BLITZER: What do you think? Do you think McCain could be more effective in chipping away at Obama on this issue, Stephanie, than Hillary Clinton apparently has been?
CUTTER: No, absolutely not, especially with the positions that McCain has taken on the war, on, you know, his skipping the vote on torture last week. I think that voters are looking for change. And McCain looks like he's going to be running the race from 2004. And that's not where the country is right now.
BLITZER: What do you think, Rich?
GALEN: Yes. Well, I don't think anybody knows what's -- what's going to happen. But the -- the reality of it is, is that it is going to be -- the question for America is, are they willing to turn the keys over to somebody like Barack Obama? And my sense is that the answer to that in the end will be no. But we will see how this plays out. This is going to be a lot of fun over the next six or seven months.
BLITZER: What did Hillary Clinton, Stephanie, do wrong? She's lost 10 contests in a row, most of them with pretty significant -- by pretty significant margins. She's still got March 4, Texas, Ohio, and maybe Pennsylvania at the end of April. But what did she do wrong?
CUTTER: Well, I think that there's no one thing that you can point to that Hillary did wrong. I think that Barack Obama is the type of leader for the times. He represents change. And there has been very few times in recent history that Americans are looking for change more so than now. Just look at that -- his over-performance last night. He got 200,000 more votes than all Republicans combined last night.
That's amazing. I think that her resting on her experience and 35 years of work just wasn't enough. Barack Obama had tapped something -- into something in this country early on, and the Clinton campaign just wasn't able to catch up to it.
BLITZER: I think...
CUTTER: The race isn't over, by any means. And we shouldn't declare it over. But the momentum and the delegate count are clearly on Obama's side.
BLITZER: I think it's fair to say, Rich, that a lot of Republicans out there think, on their side, it is over, and, presumably that's why they didn't get the turnout in Wisconsin that the Democrats got. But, if you go back and look at all the contests going back to Iowa and New Hampshire, there have been so many more Democrats who have shown up...
CUTTER: That's right.
BLITZER: ... than Republicans. And that would seem to suggest a lot more enthusiasm on the Democrats' part right now than the Republicans have.
GALEN: Yes, it may suggest that. That might be right. But I -- frankly, I haven't found anybody who can analyze that and say this is what it will translate to in November. What happens -- this is a 50/50 country. This is much more likely to come down to one state, as it has the last two elections, whether it's Florida or Ohio or Pennsylvania or something like that.
But I think this is a 50/50 country. And the -- the benefit for the Republicans right now is, notwithstanding what you're pointing out about turnout, is that, as they coalesce around one candidate -- and, even last night, as you saw the exit polls, even -- McCain even won a little bit amongst the -- the most conservative voters -- that they have -- they have a long time to get the party behind them, get the Republican National Committee up and running, and really build a ground game that Barack Obama or Hillary may be two or three months behind by the time that's over.
BLITZER: Rich Galen, Stephanie Cutter, guys, thanks very much for coming in.
GALEN: You bet.
CUTTER: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: After Barack Obama's wins last night in Wisconsin and Hawaii, the Clinton campaign is fighting for every delegate it can get and going online with its version of the delegate race. Let's go to our Abbi Tatton. She's watching this.
What's on this new Web page, Abbi?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is the facts, according to the Hillary Clinton campaign on delegates at their new Web site, Delegate Hub, using this site to push their position that Florida and Michigan should count.
What that means, then, is that the Clinton goal posts are slightly different from anybody else's, from CNN's, from the Democratic National Committee's numbers. And they made the rules. The Web site is also looking at superdelegates that -- who could be pivotal in this campaign.
They're called here, in Clinton-speak, automatic delegates. Whatever you call them, Clinton still leads amongst this group. And they are using this Web site through clips, through quotes, to say that these superdelegates should be free to commit for whoever they would like.
Now, on that note, Barack Obama has got some online tactics of his own, as he racks up these wins, e-mailing supporters around the country, saying, share your stories about why you support me as a candidate, the campaign saying in this e-mail that they are going to be sharing those stories with the superdelegates, a little bit of gentle persuasion friend
BLITZER: Abbi, thank you for that -- Abbi Tatton watching this story.
A former football star dances to Barack Obama's tune. You are going to find out why "Dancing with the Stars" champ Emmitt Smith showed off his skills for the presidential candidate.
Also, some say that, the longer the fight between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton drags on, the more John McCain benefits. But how would he?
And Hillary Clinton has long been a friend of the Teamsters, but now that powerful union sends this message. It would rather not see her in the White House. I will be speaking exclusively in the next hour with the president of the Teamsters, James Hoffa.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: In today's Political Ticker: A presidential candidate is upstaged by a dancing star. Of course, Emmitt Smith is also known as a former Dallas Cowboys football player, but it was Smith's dancing footwork that was the focus today at an Obama rally in Dallas.
He introduced Obama. Listen to Obama's reaction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Emmitt, what can't you do? You haven't found anything yet. Unbelievable. I'm just glad he's not running for president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And, remember, for the latest political news any time, check out CNNPolitics.com. That's where you can also read my daily blog post.
Jack Cafferty has got "The Cafferty File."
CAFFERTY: I read it.
BLITZER: What did you think?
CAFFERTY: I read every -- it's good.
CAFFERTY: No, it's good.
BLITZER: ... stuff.
CAFFERTY: It's kind of similar to what we're doing right here.
If you were advising Hillary Clinton's campaign, what would you tell them to do?
Vince writes from Mountain Lakes, New Jersey: "In reality, there is very little difference between the platforms of Senator Obama, Senator Clinton. The campaign is about the individual and his or her capacity for leadership. My advice to Senator Clinton would be for her to focus on herself as a person and, by citing real examples, try to convince the people of America that she is ethical, honest, inspirational, human, and reliable. The trouble is, I don't think she can."
Bethany in Edison, New Jersey: "My advice to Hillary would be simple. If she loses Ohio and Texas, she should gracefully bow out of the race to avoid becoming the Mike Huckabee of the Democratic Party. She ought to start working on her future campaigns. Hopefully, her shot at being president won't come until 2016, because I think Obama will win the November election. And if he is nominated, and I believe he will be a great president."
Paulette writes: "It's not over until the fat lady sings. I am a huge Hillary Clinton supporter. I like her problem-solving strategies, her solid communication style. As a teacher, I am also behind her education initiatives, which involve repealing the No Child Left Behind Act and letting the schools and teachers teach the kids, not the federal government. To her campaign, I would simply say, soften up a bit. Let us see more of Hillary the person. But never let your guard down." Conrad says: "Time to learn how to lose gracefully, stop implying states don't count. Consider your party and your future. You don't want to be pegged as a sore loser. And, since you care so much and have all the solutions, go get something done in the Senate to make our lives better."
CAFFERTY: And Mario says: "Dear Hillary, divorce Bill, vote for McCain, retire from the Senate, and write a book."
CAFFERTY: Tough, tough crew, I will tell you.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Jack. See you in a few moments.
To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Barack Obama 10-0 since Super Tuesday with fresh wins in Wisconsin and Hawaii added to his column. Now all political eyes lock on Texas and Ohio, where Hillary Clinton has almost everything at stake.
Also, a sign of Obama's strength, he's coming under increasing fire from the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain. We are going to have details of some sharp new attacks.
Plus, my exclusive interview with the Teamsters president, James Hoffa. I will ask him why his union has now decided to endorse Obama, despite some very longstanding ties to the Clintons.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The Democratic race for the White House entering a critical new phase -- the candidates embarking on a new round of campaigning, Barack Obama with two more wins under his belt and a growing lead in the delegate count.
Take a look at this.
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