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Does the Press Really Favor Obama?; Suspected Mexican Drug Cartel Violence Crosses over U.S. Border; Obama Under Fire for Positions on Iraq and Afghanistan

Aired February 27, 2008 - 19:00   ET


Tonight, the Clinton campaign is accusing Senator Obama of doing next to nothing during his chairmanship of a Senate committee on Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan an issue that Senator Obama has put at the very center of his presidential campaign. We will have that report and the latest on the Republican race and all today's news and much more, straight ahead here tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Wednesday, February 27th. Live from New York, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody.

Senator Barack Obama tonight is under fire on two fronts for his positions on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Clinton campaign accusing Obama of failing to hold a single hearing on Afghanistan since he became chairman of a Senate over sight committee on that war.

Meanwhile, Senator John McCain today mocked Senator Obama for making what he called a pretty remarkable statement about the presence of al Qaeda in Iraq.

We have extensive coverage tonight from the campaign trail and we begin with Jessica Yellin in Duncanville, Texas -- Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Lou, Barack Obama regularly on the campaign trail argues that the war on terror should shift from Iraq to Afghanistan. Well, today the Clinton campaign is charging that Barack Obama has done in their words, next to nothing to help oversee the fight in Afghanistan even though he holds an important position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


YELLIN (voice-over): It's a pointed charge.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have also heard Senator Obama refer continually to Afghanistan. He held not one substantive hearing to do over sight to figure out what to do to actually have a stronger presence with NATO in Afghanistan.

YELLIN: His explanation?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Since I became chairman at the beginning of this campaign, the beginning of 2007. So it is true that we haven't had over sight hearings on Afghanistan.

YELLIN: Thirteen months ago, Senator Obama became chairman that allows him to hold hearings on what he considers a top foreign policy concern, Afghanistan.

OBAMA: Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is stronger now that at any time since 2001.

YELLIN: But he didn't. Ambassador John Rich, veteran staff member on the committee told this was a missed opportunity. The Clinton campaign goes further. Today accusing Obama of being too busy running for president.

They point out Senator Clinton has chaired two policy hearings since she became a candidate. But not everyone agrees. Senator Chris Dodd who endorsed Obama sits on the same committee.

SEN. CHRIS DODD, (D) FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Afghanistan ought to be the debate. Whether or not you were there for a subcommittee hearing or not I think is rather petty.

YELLIN: Obama's campaign points out the senator has visited Iraq and with the Republican Richard Lugar passed legislation to fight weapons proliferation. But no doubt this issue will come up again should Barack Obama face John McCain in the general election.


YELLIN (on camera): Lou, the Obama campaign also points out that Barack Obama attended a full policy committee hearing on the issue, he simply hasn't chaired one on Afghanistan. And Obama in general said what matters as commander in chief when it comes to national security is the judgment and not whether he chaired committee hearings. The bottom line is we don't know how that would go over if he becomes the general election candidate.

DOBBS: Jessica, I don't think we have to wait until the general campaign. The reality is this man for 13 months has had a responsibility to hold oversight hearings on Afghanistan and the conduct of that war and has not done so. And for the national media to watch and say it's been inconvenient because he took the chairmanship at the outset of his campaign. What kind of a response is that?

And Christopher Dodd suggesting there is analog between being responsible for the hearings and attending the meetings? Please, Senator Dodd, don't be so disingenuous. The American people are not complete fools. What is going on here?

YELLIN: Chris Dodd points out himself and it's true, he was beaten up and Senator Biden also was beaten up for failing to do their duties to some extent in the Senate while they were running for president. They were saying it's a tough job running for president and it's hard to hold down both jobs at once. (INAUDIBLE)

DOBBS: It's an even tougher job if I may observe to put on the uniform and go into battle in Afghanistan and Iraq and for our leaders to say they are too busy campaigning to hold over sight on the conduct of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Thank you very much, Jessica Yellin.

Republican front-runner Senator John McCain also blasting Senator Obama on his national security credentials, Senator McCain today accused Obama of failing to understand the nature of the insurgency and violence in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Senator Clinton declared she is optimistic about her prospects in both Texas and Ohio next week. Candy Crowley has our report from Cleveland, Ohio.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: As she moves towards the most critical primaries of her presidential bid, Hillary Clinton's game plan is this. Focus voters on the stakes.

CLINTON: What I feel is happening is that if people are turning towards the big questions that they should have to answer in the campaign. Who could be the best commander in chief. Who do they want in the White House answering the phone at 3:00 a.m. Who is the best steward in the economy.

CROWLEY: As she battles in the primary arena Barack Obama once again finds himself in the middle of a premature general election campaign.

John McCain, his nomination bid predicated on foreign policy expertise and jumped all over Obama's statement at last night's debate that he would return troops to U.S. Iraq if al Qaeda resurges and Iraq is in chaos.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have some news. Al Qaeda is in Iraq. Al Qaeda is called al Qaeda in Iraq. My friends, they wouldn't, if we left, they wouldn't establishing a base. They wouldn't be establishing a base. They would be taking a country and I won't allow that to happen, my friends. I will not surrender.

CROWLEY: The man who makes opposition a cornerstone of his campaign is only too happy to have this argument.

OBAMA: I have some news for John McCain. That is that there was no such thing as al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq.

CROWLEY: It is a preview of a story not yet written. Camp Clinton says and polls support the idea that she could well win both Ohio and Texas this Tuesday. Two big states and one pivotal race and so little time.


CROWLEY: Lou, as everybody know who is followed her, Hillary Clinton is a tireless campaigner and we have taken note of one interesting thing tomorrow. Clinton is going to go to nearby West Virginia from here in Ohio to do a sort of mini poverty tour, the sort of thing that John Edwards did that when he was running. Edwards of course has not yet endorsed anyone -- Lou.

DOBBS: And how did that work out for Senator Edwards?

CROWLEY: Exactly. Exactly. None the less, if you are working for votes here in Ohio with the blue collar voters that really are expected to control this result on Tuesday, it would really be helpful to get an endorsement from John Edwards because he is "popular" in that particular demographic.

DOBBS: Let me ask you something. Because there is an element of cuteness that is starting to permeate the Obama campaign. And it seems I think fair to say a lot of the national media is going along with it. Did the national media let Senator Obama today get away with the remark of he has news that there was no al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain prosecuted a war there?

That really wasn't the issue, was it? The issue is this senator has said he wants to pull our troops out of Iraq with the full knowledge that al Qaeda is in Iraq now. It makes no sense. How do we square all this up?

CROWLEY: That is part of the problem, of course when you have debates long distance. You don't have the sort of connection between what one candidate is saying and the other. But you are perfectly right.

DOBBS: On this broadcast, can we bring them together.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. We certainly try anyway. The bottom line here is that obviously if you are going to pull troops out of Iraq to say you are going to send them back in if al Qaeda resurges, does sort of beg the question, you mean you will leave when they are still there? Because most people think full well that they will resurge there. Obviously I think you will hear more about this, particularly as John McCain begins to push the issue.

DOBBS: Some of this frankly, some of this is so nonsensical that I would hope that the national press corps would take a deep breath and perhaps look at what is in front of them and ask the astonishing thought it may be, a follow-up question and follow up question and sort of round things out with some facts if I may be so critical. I guess I was.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. You may be.

DOBBS: Candy, thank you very much. Candy Crowley as always doing a wonderful job of reporting. Thank you.

On Capitol Hill today, an admission, a stunning admission about the slow progress of the war in Afghanistan, the one which we have not had oversight committee hearings from the Obama chairmanship if I might point that out. The Director of National Intelligence, Michael McConnell told the Senate committee where Mr. Obama used to work that the Afghan government controls only 30 percent of the country now. That after more than six years of fighting and hundreds of U.S. and NATO casualties.

Jamie McIntyre has our report from the Pentagon.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province, British troops are once again attempting to turn the annual Taliban spring offensive into NATO's offensive.

MAJ. DAN CHEESMAN, BRITISH ARMY: Today's the time we're actually going to go and mix it with them. And we'll see if they're ready for us or not.

MCINTYRE: For most of last year, Musa Qala in the heart of Afghanistan's opium producing region was under Taliban control until December when U.S. and British troops again gained the upper hand. The Pentagon argues the Taliban had been knocked back on their heels.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The Taliban occupied no territory in Afghanistan on a continuing basis.

MCINTYRE: But despite the Taliban suffering a string of military defeats, top U.S. intelligence officials say they are still intimidating and thereby controlling a large segment of the Afghan population in the south.

MICHAEL MCCONNELL, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: If it's a face off with U.S. or NATO forces, they lose. How they choose to engage is -- they will fill in in an area when we withdraw or they will influence a village or a region if our presence is not there.

MCINTYRE: In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the director of national intelligence gave this break down. About 10 percent of the Afghan population is under Taliban control. About 30 percent is under control of the government of Hamid Karzai and the rest of the country and is governed by local leaders independent of the national government.


MCINTYRE: So why can't the Taliban be defeated? Lou, U.S. intelligence officials continue to point to Pakistan. Al Qaeda and the Taliban continue to enjoy a safe haven in the ungoverned border regions across the border and U.S. officials say Pakistan has once again shown they are unwilling or unable to take effective action there -- Lou.

DOBBS: And some six years ago it was 100 percent Taliban just about, wasn't it?

MCINTYRE: That's right. The Taliban was in control before the U.S. toppled them. DOBBS: So there's been some significant adjustment and how does that rank as progress or is it in fact a receding influence on the part of the United States and the NATO countries over the past two years? What would be the position of the DNI?

MCINTYRE: The problem is what NATO has shown is when they have a presence in an area, they are able to keep the Taliban at bay and as we pointed out before, they don't have the troops to do that. Every time they move back, the Taliban moves back in and that is a destabilizing influence.

And as you can see, also, more than half the country doesn't have the umbrella of a national government. It's the series of local governments stitched together that's hardly a nation that has the institutions that you need to do something like attack the drug problem which is at the heart of funding the insurgency.

DOBBS: Jamie McIntyre, as always, thank you. Jamie McIntyre, from the Pentagon.

Still ahead here, a rising threat to our national security and public safety from violent Mexican drug cartels.

Casey Wian will have our report -- Casey.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, more suspected Mexican drug cartel violence is crossing the U.S. border. Yet the White House says it is pleased with Mexico's efforts to stop it. We'll have details coming up.

DOBBS: I wish I could say I was surprised, Casey, at the White House's assessment. I'm not.

We look forward to your report and you won't believe the hateful, nasty, insulting language being used by some open borders and amnesty advocates. We'll have a special report.

And Senator McCain facing a new revolt on the right after he took issue with a conservative radio talk show host. We'll have that story.

Stay with us. We're coming right back.


DOBBS: Well, the conservative right in this country, principally the Chamber of Commerce and big business interests love to criticize me and call me names because I don't want them exploiting illegal labor and I don't want them exporting our jobs.

And on the liberal left, the ethnocentric open borders and amnesty advocates are equally quick to brand any discussion of illegal immigration and they attack me. They have even taken to suggesting I am using hate speech because I want to stop illegal immigration.

However on this broadcast we've never opposed illegal immigration, we have never used hate speech and in point of fact, as Bill Tucker now reports, the pro illegal alien lobby is now frequently using insulting and hateful rhetoric.

Listen up.


BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The language in the immigration debate is getting more heated.

JOSHUA HOYT, ILLINOIS COALITION FOR IMMIGRANT RIGHTS: Lou Dobbs and the people like him have unleashed a tsunami of racial resentment and hate in this country which is completely disproportionate.

TUCKER: Opposing illegal immigration while supporting illegal immigration doesn't appear to be acceptable, but using the phrase "Gestapo-like" to describe immigration raids in a congressional hearing apparently is acceptable.

California Congressman Sam Farr who did so refuses to apologize. The congressman's words fit a patter of those advocating for illegal aliens and according to them police who enforced the law are terrorists engaged in something far more nefarious.

REV. WALTER COLEMAN, ADALBERTO METHODIST CHURCH: The failure of the Congress to act has left 20 million people, that 12 million undocumented and four million U.S. citizen children, four million legal and citizen spouses and extended families. Has left them in a reign of terror. Has left them really in an attempt at ethnic cleansing.

HAMID KHAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SOUTH ASIAN NETWORK: We are hoping that our demands are met and this kind of vicious ethnic cleansing is stopped.

RENE SAUCEDO, LA RAZA CENTRO LEGAL: It's immoral and abominable that the U.S. government is terrorizing families.

AQUILINA SORIANO, LOS ANGELES ARCHDIOCESE: It seems that immigration is trying to really wreak havoc within our communities by putting fear, by creating an atmosphere of fear and terror.

TUCKER: In 2007, according to ICE records, 281,000 illegal aliens either left voluntarily or were deported. There are estimates that as many as 20 million immigrants are here illegally. Using those numbers that would be barely more than one percent. Most of those who were deported were criminals in addition being here unlawfully.


TUCKER: Now the supporters of illegal aliens and open borders don't accept responsibility for their own language. Yet ironically they have begun a campaign that is called stop the hate now. And Lou, apparently that memo wasn't distributed to their side of the argument.

DOBBS: It's beyond cute what they are trying to pull here. They are trying to shut down free speech. Their hate speech is perfectly acceptable by their standards and to think about what they are saying, U.S. government agents, Gestapo-like and a reign of terror, to suggest ethnic cleansing.

This is the most racially-diverse society on this planet. We bring in more than two million people legally to this country every year. More than the rest of the world permits in immigration combined and yet these people these open borders, amnesty advocates from the left in particular, these radicals are trying now to turn this debate into something extraordinarily ugly and they are succeeding because they are putting every ounce into it.

Make no mistake. These people and by these people I mean the right including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the left, including La Raza, socioethnocentric interest groups and some of this nation's labor unions are trying to bring back the amnesty that was denied in the U.S. Congress for two consecutive years. They are trying and they may well succeed in overwhelming the rule of the majority because that is their intent.

TUCKER: It is their intent and Lou, when you have an argument where most people have indicated they don't agree with it, the easiest way to start and fight back is to play the race card and play that hate card and say you know what? You're just a hateful person as opposed to engaging in the argument.

DOBBS: Absolutely. And the facts are straight forward. That unfortunately for those who would have amnesty and open borders and dissolve the sovereignty of this nation and have our laws completely ignored, those facts don't help them at all.

Bill Tucker, thank you very much. We will continue to monitor the speech on all sides of this debate. Thank you.

New evidence tonight that the escalating violence by Mexico's drug cartel is again spreading across the border into this country. Police now say the kidnapping and killing of a man in Southern California has all the marks of a drug cartel hit.

Casey Wian has our report.


WIAN: The bullet-riddled body of Santiago Conteras (ph), an illegal immigrant from Mexico was found Saturday in the mountains northeast of Los Angeles 130 miles from the Mexican border. Five days later police say three to five armed men entered Conteras' Southern California home and held his family hostage.

When the auto mechanic returned and he was beaten, kidnapped and eventually killed. Detectives say the murder may be part of a growing trend of drug cartel killings and kidnappings far from the border. Mexican authorities are cooperating on this and other cases and U.S. investigators want more help.

KEVIN SLOTTER, SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, FBI: We need that partnership to continue to grow so as a team, since none of us has jurisdiction in the other's country, we have to come together to get the victims back safely and number two successfully investigate these cases and put these people behind bars.

WIAN: Drug lords have been fighting fierce battles with Mexican troops deployed last year by President Felipe Calderon. Federal forces have arrested dozens of drug traffickers and confiscated huge stockpiles of weapons. Mexican authorities are investigating possible cartel links to a recent bombing near a Mexico City police compound.

They say a couple intended to kill a police official and the bomb exploded prematurely killing one suspect and injuring his companion. The White House praises Mexico's fight against drug and immigrant smugglers.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the president believes President Calderon is making very good efforts in trying to help secure the border.

WIAN: Despite the efforts of both governments, the border remains far from secure.


WIAN: U.S. authorities are setting records for drug seizures near the border. The drug-related violence against Border Patrol agents and citizens of both the United States and Mexico is escalating. There were 2,500 deaths blamed on Mexican drug cartels last year alone -- Lou.

DOBBS: And President Bush thinks everything is just boffo along that border with Mexico, does he?

WIAN: He sure seems to indicate that through his White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. In fact, he says that the answer to all this drug cartel violence is to send $1.4 billion to Mexico over the next three years to help their law enforcement and federal troops combat these drug cartels. That proposal is pending in Congress.

A lot of members in Congress have shown reluctance to approve it because they are worried where that money is going to end up and where that military equipment is going to end up. It could end up in the hands of the very drug cartels it's intended to fight, Lou.

DOBBS: Well, if we look at the trends since this president has taken office to this current evening and project to the end of his administration, it is not a very pretty picture on how that has risen and how drug traffic along the border with Mexico has risen and in fact Mexico now firmly established as the principal source of methamphetamines into this country, heroin and cocaine into this country and marijuana into this country.

WIAN: Absolutely. A lot of people predicted when President Calderon decided to send federal troops in Mexico after the drug cartels, that this violence would escalate. You think that the Bush administration might have been better-prepared for it at the border, Lou.

DOBBS: I think after almost eight years, I don't think any of us would have been overwhelmed with our expectations on any front. Thank you very much. Casey Wian.

Mexico is opposed to any kind of fence along the southern border with Mexico, but doesn't to object to a fence between two Mexican towns. The town of San Nicolas de los Garza wants to build a fence on its border with the town of Guadalupe. San Nicolas residents say criminals can evade local police there by fleeing across the border into Guadalupe. Well, how about that?

Well, up next here, Senator McCain facing new attacks from conservatives after he confronted a radio talk show host comments. We will have that story and Senator Obama facing new questions about a radical pastor at his church or is he so radical?

And an endorsement by Louis Farrakhan and he denounce and rejected both. We'll have that story.

Stay with us. We're coming back.


DOBBS: It just may be that Senator John McCain simply isn't simpatico with this nation's conservatives. Certainly after he blasted a conservative radio talk show host, McCain is in some trouble.

Again, with those conservatives he strongly defended his criticism of radio talk show host Bill Cunningham in Cincinnati who used apparently too harsh language about Senator Obama. For his part, Cunningham said he will no longer support Senator John McCain.

Our John King reports on this little battle between McCain and conservatives again.


MCCAIN: The reason why I had to repudiate that was because it was a campaign event.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is war now and words are Bill Cunningham's weapon of choice.

BILL CUNNINGHAM, TALK SHOW HOST: And I am saying now to John McCain, I am done with you. I may not vote for Hillary, but I sure as hell am not going to vote for Juan Pablo McCain who wants to give amnesty to millions of illegals.

KING: The conservative radio host says it will be this way from now until November.

CUNNINGHAM: John McCain is finding it impossible to connect with conservatives because of what he did to me yesterday.

KING: Unless Senator McCain apologizes for condemning Cunningham and a whole lot more.

CUNNINGHAM: He would have to apologize for McCain-Feingold, apologize for McCain-Kennedy, apologize for McCain-Lieberman, apologize for shutting down Gitmo, apologize for opposing the Bush tax cuts. To say he is sorry and made a mistake, and then I might consider it. But this guy has got a big problem among conservatives like me.

KING: Campaigning in Texas, the senator was in no mood to apologize saying Cunningham is free say whatever he wants, but not at an official McCain campaign event.

MCCAIN: Americans want a respectful campaign and they'll get it from me.

KING: War with conservative talk radio is anything but helpful. And Rush Limbaugh quickly took Cunningham's side, mocking McCain's apology.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK RADIO HOST: I'm sorry. It's uncalled-for in American politics. I take full responsibility although he did it. I didn't even know.

KING: The best McCain can do is try turn the dust up for his advantage.

MCCAIN: We will always do what I believe is right notice matter what the political consequences are, whether it be in the war in Iraq, or things like -- what happened yesterday. That's the only way I know how to conduct my life.

KING: At issue is Cunningham's warm up act at McCain's Tuesday Cincinnati rally.

BILL CUNNINGHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Because now we have a hack Chicago style Daley politician ...

And maybe start covering Barack Hussein Obama the same way ...

All will is going to be right with the world when the great prophet from Chicago takes the stand...

KING: Cunningham is a local legend, invited by local Republicans who know he's a magnet for controversy.

MAGGIE NAFZINGER, HAMILTON CO. REPUBLICAN PARTY: You're playing with a little bit of fire. But at the same time, I don't think anyone expected the comment.


KING: Now those local Republicans say they will now have to work overtime, Lou, to help Senator McCain overcome this new conservative opposition. And you might ask, with all that criticism from Bill Cunningham about McCain's views on illegal immigration, campaign finance reform, the Bush tax cuts, and so many issues, why was he endorsing him in the first place?

Well, he says local Republicans here leaned on him hard. And he that he also had some sympathy for John McCain after that recent "New York Times" story questioning McCain's integrity.

But Bill Cunningham told us today, Lou, no more. Two hundred and fifty days until the election. He says everyday he's on the air, he's going to raise hell for John McCain -- Lou.

DOBBS: For him or against him?

KING: Against him, you can count on that.

DOBBS: Well you know, I think it's funny because as I listen to what -- at least what I heard what Cunningham said, you were there, but to refer to him as a Daley hack or whatever, doesn't seem to me to go beyond the pale of normal nonsense in a partisan battle like this. And, to refer to his middle name, it sort of inspired me, John -- I was wondering, do you know what John McCain's middle name is?

KING: I do know John McCain's middle name. But that, Lou, is not the point. What they're saying is he also used --

DOBBS: Wait a minute. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, partner. Look, tell everybody what his name is. I want to hear it.

KING: It slipped my mind at the moment. I have heard it before though, Lou --

DOBBS: It's Sydney. It's Sydney.

KING: Sydney.

DOBBS: Sydney.

KING: John Sydney McCain. That's right.

DOBBS: And you know what? I'm really very concerned about -- you remember one of the most famous generals in World War II, what his name was? Guy by the name of Bradley. A hero of D-Day. He was named after the Second Caliph of the Sunni Muslim faith and Islam. And the fact is, Omar Bradley was a pretty good fellow.

We are getting into a political correct bunch of nonsense when a man can't even take his given name. Come on. Give everybody a little more credit -- Senator McCain would be -- what I would suggest.

And Senator Obama, I don't think you've got much to worry about, partner. You're running pretty strong and true. So, I think it's going to be fun to see what happens. But I think it's also important that -- I hope we keep our sense of humor and don't get too overwhelmed by political correctness in this campaign. Just a thought.

KING: As you know, Lou, there is a lot going on on the Internet, though, smearing Senator Obama. DOBBS: Oh well.

KING: And Senator McCain says he wants no part of that and thought this was associated with him. So, Senator McCain sets the rules for his campaign and in this case, he's stirring up a bit of controversy because of it. But he says he's going to do it his way, it's his campagin.

DOBBS: You know what? That's what makes America great. Do it your way, Senator McCain. But don't get carried away with that nonsense, would be my suggestion about names and all of this stuff. Enough preciousness is at work this society of ours. I think Senator Obama is a big enough fella, he can handle it.

So far, so good I think we can say, right, John?

KING: If you believe the polls, Lou. But remember, we are just about to hit March. November, the election, 251 days from today. A long time.

DOBBS: You better believe it.

John King, thank you very much. I almost threw a McCain in there for you. John King, thank you very much.

KING: My middle name is not Sydney.

DOBBS: We're not going there partner.

Time for some of your thoughts.

In Oregon, H said: "Hey Lou, I used to be right, then I started leaning to the left. Now I'm disgusted with both sides and decided I'm really an Independent. I haven't looked back since. Thanks for helping me find my way."

Our pleasure and congratulations.

And Ed in Washington said: "Lou, I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. At last I have joined the ranks of Independents. As much as I appreciate the way you inform us on the issues, I get madder and madder and every time I watch your show and realize what's going on with our government and country."

Good for you.

Ken in Illinois: "Give them hell, Lou. They certainly deserve it. Thanks for being America's watch dog. We appreciate it."

We'll have a lot more of your thoughts here later. Each of you whose e-mail is read here receives a copy of my book, "Independents Day: Awakening the American Spirit."

Up next, new controversy about Senator Obama, the radical pastor of his church. An endorsement by Louis Farrakhan that he denounces, he rejects and more. We will have a special report on a rising number of states now taking action on their own to stop our illegal immigration crisis. New Jersey, just the latest. I will be talking with state Senate Majority Leader, Stephen Sweeney, next.

Stay with us. We're coming right back.


DOBBS: Senator Obama, tonight, is trying to distance himself from an endorsement by Louis Farrakhan. The Farrakhan endorsement has also raised questions about the pastor of Obama's Chicago church and his relationship to Farrakhan.

Mary Snow has our report.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Once again, Senator Barack Obama is facing questions about his church pastor and mentor, Jeremiah Wright, of the Trinity United Church of Christ. The questions started at the launch of his presidential campaign when he dis-invited Reverend Wright to speak.

Why the questions? For one, the church's magazine gave an award to Louis Farrakhan last year, saying he "epitomized greatness." Wright also told "The New York Times" last March, he travelled to Libya in 1984 with Farrakhan. And that when Obama's opponents find out, "...a lot of his Jewish support will dry up quicker than a snowball in hell."

Sunday, Farrakhan had words of support for Obama. Unsolicited, said Obama, and he denounced them. As for what he does to reassure Jewish Americans, who widely view Farrakhan as anti-Semitic ...

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I -- some of the strongest support from the Jewish community in my hometown of Chicago and in this presidential campaign. And the reason is because I have been a stalwart friend of Israel's ...

SNOW: While Obama has no ties to Farrakhan, he's found himself explaining his relationship with Wright. On Sunday, he told Jewish leaders that Wright is, "... like an old uncle who sometimes says things I don't agree with." But that he's never heard anything to suggest anti-semitism.

Wright recently retired and Obama says because of that, he wants to be sensitive to his mentor. At his last sermon, Wright made a passing reference to Obama.

JEREMIAH WRIGHT, PASTOR, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: Instead of a statistic, destined for the poorhouse, you just may end up a statesman, destined for the


WRIGHT: Yes, we can!

SNOW: A "Chicago Tribune" religion writer says, Wright's church has been criticized by some for its motto. Unashamedly black, unapologetically Christian.

MARGARET RAMIREZ, CHICAGO TRIBUNE RELIGION WRITER: Some have seen those, the combination of those two things, as a separatist, racist against white people, church. But he does not see it that way and the congregants at the church don't see it that way.


SNOW: Now Obama has been a member of the church for 20 years and says most of the controversial things Wright has said has been directed at African-Americans. He also says he got the title of his book, "The Audacity of Hope," from one of Wright's sermons.

We did try to reach out to Reverend Wright. His office declined a request for an interview -- Lou.

DOBBS: And apparently the Internal Revenue Service looking into whether an investigation is appropriate for the church because of a speech there by Senator Obama. Highly irregular as well. Interesting that no one wanted to talk with you on any side of this.

SNOW: Well Reverend Wright has declined interviews now for quite sometime. I think that he did an interview with "The New York Times" last March after Senator Obama announced his campaign. And I think he did one, and after that, stopped doing them.

DOBBS: OK. Mary Snow, thank you very much.

Well, joining me now for more on this latest controversy is CNN contributor, radio talk show host, Roland Martin from Chicago.

Roland, good to --

ROLAND MARTIN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Hey, Lou. How are you doing?

DOBBS: I'm doing great. I know you are.

Let's talk about this.


DOBBS: You and I have mentioned -- we've discussed the minister here. He is obviously very controversial, Afrocentric. Give us you're -- you know the man. Give us your take.

MARTIN: Well, actually, a couple of things. First, Lou, Trinity United Church of Christ is not being investigated by the IRS. The United Church of Christ denomination is where Obama spoke at their national conference. So the IRS is looking in to the denomination, not the church.

DOBBS: Right.

MARTIN: All right. But in terms of -- in terms of Reverend Wright, first of all he's been the pastor since 1972. He just retired on Sunday. In fact, one of the reasons why he is not talking -- I even tried to get him on my radio show. He's not talking this whole week because they have services every night, celebrating his years as a pastor.

And so, he is considered one of the preeminent pastors in the nation. "Ebony" magazine named him one of the top 15 black preachers of the entire 20th century. So we talk about Afrocentric, what that also deals with, frankly, is a relationship between the church, the black church, historically, as well as the continent of Africa. And so that is one of the reasons why -- so he is considered one of the top experts on the whole issue of the Afrocentric.

And so, he is clearly one of the top pastors of the city. Trinity is one of the most influential churches in city of Chicago, black, white, or whatever.

DOBBS: And to that, how in the world does end up that a magazine published by the church ends up putting Louis Farrakhan as a -- basically canonizing the man in -- not in the literal sense?

MARTIN: Well again, another little detail that -- "Trumpet" magazine was indeed published by Trinity Church. When they chose to become a national, they became independent of the church. Jerry Wright, the pastor's daughter, she's a publisher. But the magazine is no longer under the arm of the church, it's now an independent publication.

But again, one of the things that people don't realize in terms of -- first of all, Chicago is a home of black nationalism. So when you talk about the Nation of Islam, when you talk about the National Black United Front, you talk about various groups along those lines, it has a rich history in terms of that particular group.

So you have a combination there of black nationals in Chicago, in terms of being involved in the political area here -- when Harold Washington ran in 1983, he put together that coalition in terms of all your traditional black politicians and black nationalists, white liberals as well. And -- wants Hispanics to become mayor of Chicago. So it's not uncommon, frankly, for the relationship to be there between Christian churches, as well as the Nation of Islam here in Chicago.

DOBBS: OK, that's a lot of words between --

MARTIN: That's just the truth.

DOBBS: No, no. I'm just saying, it's a lot of words between Pastor Wright, the magazine, the canonization, if you will, of Farrakhan by that magazine and the relationship between Pastor Wright and Senator Obama. What is going on here?

MARTIN: It's very simple, Lou. And that is, Obama is a member of the Pastor Wright's church. And so Pastor Wright -- he was one of the endorsers of the Million Man March in 1995. But here's what is very interesting, Lou. When I watched the debate last night, when Senator Clinton made her comment about he should go further, what a lot of folks don't realize, also, is that in 1995, President Bill Clinton had some positive words to say about what? The Million Man March -- that was led, that was created -- and the key note speaker there, Louis Farrakhan.

The Millions More Movement took place in 2005. President Clinton had some positive words to say about that as well. And so what you have here is a very interesting situation with Farrakhan. There are a number of people who do not like Minister Farrakhan, that is very obvious. But there others who do respect the fact that what they have done in terms of dealing with black men who have been in prison, who have been abusing drugs and alcohol.

And so, you have a different viewpoint of Farrakhan based upon the various deeds. Keep in mind, Jack Kemp in 1996 got in a lot of trouble as a V.P. nominee, Lou, when he praised Farrakhan's focus on self reliance. Jews said wait a minute, hold up. This is Farrakhan you are talking about. So he knows what it feels like to be in a presidential campaign and say anything good about Farrakhan.

DOBBS: Well, the issue here I think, too is -- much of -- I'm going to say it this way and I'll probably get into all sorts of trouble. But much of white America doesn't understand much of black nationalism, the role of Pastor Wright and the Afrocentric movement within the United States, which has been very important as we have seen the emergence of a black middle class in this country.

It's a shame that Pastor Wright doesn't want to talk to folks because that's very important to that understanding. And it's very important too, I would think, Senator Obama, for there to be great transparency now across these issues and the thinking of -- whether it be cultural, religious, societal or certainly political as it relates to both the Pastor and to Louis Farrakhan, for that matter.

And Roland, we thank you very much for being here to give us -- shed some light on the subject.

MARTIN: Not a problem, Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you, sir.

Time now for tonight's poll. The question is: Do you believe the press is giving preferential treatment to Senator Obama over Senator Clinton? Yes or no? Did you see the debate last night, any part of it? Have you seen many of these debates?

Cast your vote at We will have the results here later.

Up next, the Democratic campaign intensifying. We'll be talking about the future of this presidential race. Three of the country's leading political analysts join us here next. Stay with us.


DOBBS: Joining me now, three of the best political analysts in the country. Here in New York, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, "New York Daily News," Michael Goodwin. Syndicated columnist Miguel Perez and contributor to LOU DOBBS TONIGHT. Miguel, good to have you with us. And in our D.C. bureau, Roger Simon, chief political columnist, Roger, thank you.

Let's begin, Michael, with you. It looks like -- first of all, do you believe that Senator Obama got -- is getting a free pass from the press, basically?

MICHAEL GOODWIN, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: In general, I think the press does like him more, yes. But I think that also...

DOBBS: What about the...

GOODWIN: The next question, though, is why.

DOBBS: I haven't decided what the next question will be.


DOBBS: Let's try why.

GOODWIN: There you go.

DOBBS: Let's do a why.

GOODWIN: Good question, Lou. I think a lot of it has to do with the response on the stump that he gets. The huge crowds, the enthusiasm, the young people. I think it is infectious, and even the press has gotten caught up in it. Yes.

DOBBS: How about the debate? Brian Williams, Tim Russert, two guys I respect. I thought they pedalled it pretty softly over to Senator Obama and really, Miguel, went after Senator Clinton, particularly with that sort of gotcha thing. I know they said jump ball and all that nonsense, but what do you think?

MIGUEL PEREZ, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Absolutely. I think she has been getting the first question, it's true, and since yesterday a lot of people have been looking that up, and in fact it's true that she gets the first question, which is always tougher. But you know, as far as Obama, you know, Obama is getting a free ride so far. But I mean, we still have a long way until November.

DOBBS: Well, all we got is where we are.

PEREZ: The ride -- the point I am trying to make is that the ride is going to get a lot tougher for him from now on, especially when he's up against McCain.

DOBBS: All right. Roger?

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM: Can I say one thing about this first question business?

DOBBS: You can say many things.

SIMON: Hillary Clinton says she is ready from day one to be president of the United States, but she's not ready for the first question? I mean, Hillary Clinton loves to answer questions. She has got to be the first in class who was always waiving her hand to answer the questions.

She does best answering questions. I really don't believe that she felt pressed to the wall by being asked the first question. I think this was part of a larger theme, where she wants to appear to be victimized by the press, because it's helpful to her political future.

DOBBS: All right, let's talk about victimized. When Tim Russert says, "do you know his name," but does not ask the same question, referring to the president soon to be of Russia, how does that work, how does that square up for you, Roger?

SIMON: Well, she did know the name. She had a little trouble pronouncing it, but that's OK. I didn't know the name.

DOBBS: She had the amount of trouble pronouncing it that I have with a lot of names.

SIMON: It didn't make any sense to then ask Obama, since she has just revealed the name...

DOBBS: Oh, no, no, I guess the -- it's something you may not be familiar with, oh print one, but in television, there is such a thing as if you didn't know the names, turn to Barack Obama and say, "and his name, Senator?" Just to test it out. Because I can assure you that Tim Russert is adept enough to see the question mark framing in Senator Obama's eyes.

PEREZ: But what was funny about that scene, was that, you know, he threw the question at both of them. She was very anxious to answer, and he -- he turned around and waited for her, because I'm not too sure that he knew the answer.

DOBBS: Well, actually, Tim Russert said, and we looked at this tape a number of times, because it looks like pretty much, you know, you take it if you must, but I'm not going to. If we were going to show this particular moment, Senator Obama turns to his right, to Senator Clinton and says, silently...

PEREZ: Ladies first.

DOBBS: ... pop-up video (ph), your turn, you take it. I'm not venturing forth.

So the issue is here, why in the world as we learned, and I for the first time last night, Michael Goodwin, we haven't had oversight hearings on Afghanistan under the senator's subcommittee. You know, there is a lot of (INAUDIBLE) and nonsense and blather in these debates. That's substantive. That's serious. That sounds inexcusable.

GOODWIN: Well, I'm not sure how much help a subcommittee hearing would be, because I think the problems in Afghanistan and Iraq --

DOBBS: Wait a minute, wait a minute. If I may, Michael, it's not up to us to decide. If you want to dissolve the committee, that's one thing. But Congress is there to provide oversight.

GOODWIN: Right, no, but I think the problems in Afghanistan really have to do with the rules of engagement that most of the NATO countries have. Those countries still have troops there, and there aren't as many as there were. They don't allow them to fight. The United States, the United Kingdom and the Dutch are doing all of the fighting.

DOBBS: So you don't think that whether Obama fulfilled his --

GOODWIN: Oh, no, no, no --

DOBBS: Well, that's the issue.

GOODWIN: Yes, he could do that and that would be fine. But I think the issues in NATO are enormous. And I think we all should be focusing more on what's going on in Afghanistan.

DOBBS: I am giving no one a pass on this, and beginning with President George W. Bush, to be very clear. But I'm not certainly going to give Senator Obama a pass on his responsibility to conduct oversight hearings, simply because he decided 13 months ago he was running for president. Thank you very much -- Roger.

SIMON: Lou, I think you are right that it was a weak answer by Senator Obama. I think you're right that all these people running for president should do the job to which they were elected.

But I have got to say, I have never found anybody in a Democratic crowd or even in a Republican crowd who has said what this country really needs is more Senate hearings. That will solve the problems of this country.

I think Democratic voters know that the Senate has very little to do with conducting the war in Afghanistan, or that if Serbia invades Kosovo, it is going to be the U.S. Senate that does anything about it. I think they sense, if they don't already know, that the Senate hearings are largely just a smoke screen, window dressing to show that Congress has something to do with the conduct of wars, when it really has very little to do with the conduct of wars.

DOBBS: Wow. We are going to be back with more from Roger Simon and Michael Goodwin, both anarchists about ready to tear asunder the United States Senate, the Constitution. Miguel Perez and I will lock arms and defend steadfastly the nation when we continue.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Campbell Brown. Coming up on "CNN ELECTION CENTER" at the top of the hour, we will get the Clinton campaign's first high-level reaction to the news that congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis is switching his support from Senator Clinton to Senator Barack Obama.

We are also looking at the war of words between John McCain and Barack Obama over Iraq, and McCain's new problem on the right. Conservative talk radio hosts getting louder, but not nicer. All at the top of the hour.

LOU DOBBS TONIGHT continues in just a moment.


DOBBS: We are back with our panel.

Miguel Perez, Senator McCain is telling Senator Obama he has got some news for him about al Qaeda in Iraq. Good move?

PEREZ: I think it was good. I think it could even have been better if he had just said, listen, Senator Obama, if you are saying that you reserve the right to fight -- go back to fight al Qaeda, then why are you so anxious to leave? They are there right now.

DOBBS: I thought it was probably the strongest shot against the Obama campaign that I have seen.

GOODWIN: I think both of the Democrats have real problems on Iraq. Both of them are talking about withdrawing the troops, but leaving some behind to protect the embassy, protect the borders, do some strikes. That could be 70,000, 75,000 troops according to one estimate. So I think neither one of the Democrats are being straight or realistic about Iraq, and that is a big problem going into the general election for whoever is the nominee.

DOBBS: And Roger Simon, this fellow Bill Cunningham in Cincinnati is turning out to be more than a warm-up act for Senator McCain. He is furious and he's going to be drawing blood if he can.

SIMON: John McCain knows he's not going to win over the talk show right of his party. That wing of his party hasn't gotten the candidate it wanted since Ronald Reagan. McCain will pander only so far and no more, and I think he...

DOBBS: A man of principle.

SIMON: ... believes that he will make up the votes he loses on the far right with the votes of independents, who admire him for it.

DOBBS: And do you think he's making a correct assessment?

SIMON: I think he. I think getting independent votes, plus some Republican votes, is his path to victory.

DOBBS: Well, if we can see any one of these candidates, Republican or Democrat, quit pandering, I'm all for it. Put me down for that.

Roger Simon, thank you very much. Michael Goodwin, thank you. Miguel Perez, thank you, sir.

Now our poll results, 67 percent of you say the press is giving preferential treatment to Senator Obama over Senator Clinton.

We thank you for being with us tonight. Join us here tomorrow. Good night from New York.

"THE ELECTION CENTER" with Campbell Brown begins right now.