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Obama Confronts Race Issues After Pastor's Comments; Will the Latest Fed Interest Rate Cut Help?; California Cuts School Jobs to Help Budget Deficit

Aired March 18, 2008 - 19:00   ET


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Well thank you, Wolf.
Tonight Senator Barack Obama is delivering one of the most important speeches of his entire campaign. But Senator Obama refuses to disown his former pastor, a pastor who declared blacks should condemn this county and declare the 9/11 attacks retaliation for U.S. foreign policy. We'll have all of that, all the day's news and much more straight ahead here tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: news, debate, and opinion for Tuesday, March 18. Live from New York, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening everybody.

Senator Barack Obama today tried to shift the debate over race and politics away from his campaign and away from his controversial former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Senator Obama called upon all Americans to work together; saying race is an issue this country can't afford to ignore.

Senator Obama strongly criticized his former pastor's incendiary and outrageous rhetoric as both wrong and divisive. But Senator Obama refused to disown Wright. Obama said he can no more disown him than he can disown the black community or his white grandmother.

Suzanne Malveaux has our report from Philadelphia -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Lou, aides recognize this was really the most important speech, the most important moment of his campaign so far, quite a bit of a challenge. They want to move beyond this racial controversy and focus on those other issues, the economy and health care, but they recognize that that is far from certain.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Barack Obama.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas.

MALVEAUX: America's racial history and its divisions are now front and center of Obama's campaign, thanks to the controversial remarks made by his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, who among other things criticized the U.S government and suggested America was to blame for the September 11 attacks.

Standing in front of eight American flags in the city where the Constitution was born, Obama again repudiated the reverend's remarks.

OBAMA: Views to denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation and the rightly offended white and black alike.

MALVEAUX: But Obama also tried to explain his nearly 20-year relationship with his religious leader.

OBAMA: He has been like family to me. He strengthens my faith, officiated my wedding and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms.

MALVEAUX: Obama used his own life experience to explain his struggle.

OBAMA: I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother. A woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe. These people are part of me and they are part of America, this country that I love.

MALVEAUX: Obama addressed the history of America's racism, black anger, white resentment and his occasional expression in the black church. He called for Americans not to ignore the sensitive subject.

OBAMA: The anger is real. It's powerful. And to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

MALVEAUX: Obama promoted a doctrine of self help and reiterated his call for Americans to have faith in change.

OBAMA: The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static. What we know, what we have seen is that America can change.


MALVEAUX: And Lou, so you hear Barack Obama really full circle, trying to bring it back to his original message, his campaign slogan of bringing about change. But aides say do not be fooled. They believe that this issue of race is going to continue to be an issue in this campaign -- Lou.

DOBBS: And Suzanne, do they believe that the senator succeeded in at least trying to successfully stemming the reaction against Reverend Jeremiah Wright and answering questions about his relationship? MALVEAUX: They believe he's done the best that he can with the situation. There was something that we didn't play, which is really kind of a preemptive strike when he talks about the fact that he sat in the pews, that he had heard things that made him uncomfortable that he didn't agree with, that there were times when he really felt absolutely that these were uncomfortable moments.

So if indeed there are tapes and more controversy that comes out -- that he has at least addressed some of those moments -- Lou.

DOBBS: OK, Suzanne Malveaux from Philadelphia. Thank you, Suzanne.

Senator Obama's speech today did not answer questions about why he didn't repudiate Reverend Jeremiah Wright much earlier. It is also unclear whether Obama's speech today will go toward ending the increasingly nasty fight in the Democratic Party over group identity and politics.

Jessica Yellin is on the campaign trail with Senator Clinton tonight in Millersville, Pennsylvania -- Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lou, many of the pundits and the bloggers seem to have received Barack Obama's speech very warmly. Senator Clinton herself acknowledged that this was an important speech, as she put it, but at least unanswered certain questions. Barack Obama has for now turned attention away from his relationship with Reverend Wright and to the larger question of America's history of racial politics and racial divide.

But it does not put to bed many of the unanswered questions about what it is that Barack Obama has heard Reverend Wright say over the years, as Obama himself acknowledged.

Let's listen.


OBAMA: For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in the church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely, just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests or rabbis with which you strongly disagree.


YELLIN: But Lou, some of Obama's critics would say that no, if you hear or they know people whose rabbis or pastors say things with which they strongly disagree and they leave that church or they leave that synagogue. And so this leaves open this big question of judgment.

Barack Obama has centered his campaign on his promise that he has superior judgment. Case in point, he opposed the Iraq war when many others didn't. And so now he maintains that his judgment is so far superior to the other candidates.

They have this opening now to ask where was his judgment, why was he still affiliating himself with Reverend Wright when he knew so many of his controversial comments were coming from his pulpit? And when more comments from Reverend Wright come out, it leaves Barack Obama open once again as Suzanne pointed out to deep criticism that his judgment is not as solid as he insist it is -- Lou.

DOBBS: Jessica, thank you very much. Jessica Yellin reporting with the Clinton campaign.

Joining me now for more on the senator's speech and its potential impact on his campaign, two journalists who have been following Obama's campaign from the outset, Keith Richburg. He is the New York bureau chief for "The Washington Post" and Errol Louis, columnist "New York Daily News", member of the "New York Daily News" Editorial Board and LOU DOBBS TONIGHT contributor.

Gentlemen, let me ask you, and let me start with you, Keith, your reaction, did in fact, in your judgment, Senator Obama put the issue of the relationship with Jeremiah Wright behind him?

KEITH RICHBURG, NEW YORK BUREAU CHIEF, "WASHINGTON POST": Well I think he did the best he could with a bad circumstance. He had to address this. He had to make it into and I think rightly a bigger issue about race in America. You know we'll have to just wait and see if there's any echo of this, if there is still more you know more incendiary sermons that come out.

But I think when you listen to you know what he said, he did exactly what he had to do and I think he should get some points for not repudiating someone who he said brought him to Christianity, who had been a spiritual adviser, so he didn't throw him overboard. But he did you know --

DOBBS: Others however...


DOBBS: ... say, Errol that he threw overboard his grandmother.


ERROL LOUIS, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": Sure. Well I mean look he took a chance you know and it's something you don't see very often in politics. That's what really struck me, was that he talked in very raw terms about topics that normally don't come up at all in national discourse, much less when there's a lot at stake in the heat of a presidential campaign, so I give him big points for that.

He kind of had to do that. I agree with Keith about that. He took a big chance. My suspicion is that at least in these first few days the people who don't want him to run for president, who don't think he should be president, they're going to just go back to their talking points. People who are genuinely I think -- DOBBS: People like Senator Clinton?

LOUIS: People like her supporters. I think she herself will probably just stay away from it, but the people, who are generally on the fence, may be curious about all of this, he gave them a lot to think about. I mean it was almost like a university lecture, this speech he gave today and...

DOBBS: It was a university lecture, but left in question was why last week he said he hadn't heard these things. Today he acknowledged hearing at least some of these things, Keith.

RICHBURG: Well that's right. You know he left himself open to some of the questions about you know when did you know and when did you know it? And the question about, you know why you didn't say anything earlier, why did you allow him to be a member of your advisory, spiritual advisory board on the campaign? So he left open some of these questions.

There were really two speeches there I thought. There was one just answering the critics on you know what he knew about Pastor Wright. The other one was this kind of larger question about race in America, angry black community, the resentful white community and the need to come together, so he's trying to do two things at once.

DOBBS: Do you find that you agreed with his characterization of both the black community and the white community?

LOUIS: I thought he was spot on when he was talking about the black church, at least the mass black church, the kind of church like Trinity in Chicago where everybody is there. There are recovering addicts and there are statesmen and there are lawyers and there are ex-convicts and there are people who think that you know 9/11 was some sort of plot by the government and there are people who are much more rational than that and they all kind of come together --


DOBBS: The more rational people in that church always be the minister?

RICHBURG: No, because I think the minister really wants to reflect kind of all the reviews and the anger and the frustrations and the conspiracy theories that exist in the community --

DOBBS: That's interesting. We're going to be talking about that when you gentlemen come back here later in the broadcast as we discuss race in America and its impact on the Obama campaign.

Keith Richburg, Errol Louis, thank you, gentlemen.

And it's also the topic of our poll tonight. Putting the question straightforwardly: Would you still attend your church if the United States was being cursed from the pulpit?

Cast your vote at We'll have the results here later in the broadcast. We'd love to hear from you.

We'll have much more on the issue of race and politics here.

And the Federal Reserve taking aggressive new action to tackle our economic crisis.

Christine Romans will have the report for us -- Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, the Federal Reserve today again slashed interest rates, continuing its unprecedented action to stimulate this economy and blunt a severe credit crisis on Wall Street -- Lou.

DOBBS: Christine, thank you very much. We look forward to that report.

And Governor Schwarzenegger drastically cutting school budgets in California, we'll tell you why.

And the Supreme Court considering Washington, D.C.'s ban on handguns, we'll examine what could be a momentous constitutional decision.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


DOBBS: The Federal Reserve today, as expected, cutting interest rates, slashing the Feds funds rate another three-quarters of a percentage point. It is just the latest move by the Feds in its effort to restore confidence in our financial system, but will it work and will it benefit our struggling middle class?

Christine Romans has our report.


ROMANS (voice-over): For the staid Federal Reserve Bank, it's unprecedented, slashing interest rates, pumping money into the financial system, even orchestrating the sale of an ailing investment bank.

GREG MCBRIDE, BANKRATE.COM: The Fed is really fighting two battles here. First they have the recession and the softer economy, but more significantly they have the credit crunch. The credit crunch is the movie villain that refuses to die, so they are really pulling out every option, every stop that they possibly can.

ROMANS: The federal fund's target is the interest rate banks charge one another; the Fed slashed that rate by three-quarters of a percentage point to two-and-a-quarter percent, the lowest in almost four years. Even in dry Fed speak, the challenges are daunting. The outlook for economic activity has weakened further.

Growth and consumer spending has slowed and labor markets have softened, financial markets remain under considerable stress, inflation has been elevated. Another rare three-quarter point rate cut, the second in a row, the sixth rate cut in six months.

It's just two days after the Feds secured the sale of Bear Stearns to JPMorgan Chase backed by $30 billion in taxpayer money. It has pumped $200 billion cash into the economy to keep banks lending. Even while cheering the rate cut, some economists said regulators were late to recognize and regulate housing market excesses.

MARK WEISBROT, CTR. FOR ECON. & POLICY RESEARCH: The Fed's move was expected, it's necessary, but it's not going to be enough to mitigate the results of this collapsing housing bubble and the recession that it's causing.


ROMANS: He would like to see more direct help for homeowners. For savers or anyone on a fixed income these falling rates and a rising cost of living will likely hurt the family budget even more and some economists worry now that cheap money could feed inflation at a time of slow economic growth, Lou, that old dreaded -- that dreaded combination called stagflation. Some folks are saying they're worried about the longer term here.

DOBBS: We're going back 30 years, rolling it all the way back in this economy.


DOBBS: And of course the likely impact here is continued pressure on already battered dollar.

ROMANS: Right.

DOBBS: That means that this very much import-dependent economy of ours now will be faced with another round of heavy inflationary pressure.

ROMANS: In the very near term a lot of folks saying the Fed didn't have any other choice. They had to do this today.

DOBBS: Well some tough choices still remain to be made by our policy makers. Let's hope that they can at least step up as the Fed has to this point.

Thank you very much, Christine Romans.

Markets today rallied for a record performance on Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrial soaring 420 points, that's the biggest one- day point gain in five and a half years. The NASDAQ composite up 91 points, the S&P 500 rose 54 points.

Up next here drastic measures in California, tens of thousands of school jobs to be cut by the governor. We'll have that special report and a major speech on race by Senator Barack Obama. Will it help him, the nation or will it hurt him? Our panel of leading political analysts join me here.

Stay with us. We're coming right back.


DOBBS: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California is cutting 20,000 jobs in that state's public school system. Schwarzenegger who went into office promising to fix that state's struggling economy, but the state now faces a deficit of more than $14 billion and mounting problems.

Casey Wian reports.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): School districts throughout California are laying off teachers and other staff, increasing class sizes and even closing schools. All because the state's budget faces 10 percent across the board spending cuts.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget reform effort designed to eliminate the need for future cuts by establishing a rainy day fund will slash about $5 billion from state education spending this year and next.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: I think it is terrible that we have to make the cuts in education, it's terrible that we have to make cuts in higher education because those kids deserve better. And the education community deserves the stability then. This is why this is so important that we fix our broken budget system.

WIAN: Already 20,000 teachers and other employees have received termination notices, and that doesn't even count the Los Angeles Unified School District by far the states largest. Teachers and parents are furious.

STEPHANIE SLIWINSKY, HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER: I do lack seniority but that does not mean that I am disposable or replaceable.

MICHELLE TURNER, PARENT: Our children need a chance, and they have the right to be educated, and not to be used as a pawn in a game of governmental politics.

WIAN: Schwarzenegger is crisscrossing the state trying to sell his plan to business leaders and lawmakers some are not buying it.

DON PERATA, CALIFORNIA STATE SENATE: We're handing out pink slips when we're also asking to hand out visas to bring workers in from a foreign country because our kids cannot do the job because they have not had the benefit of an adequate education. What the hell kind of sense does that make?

WIAN: Schwarzenegger says it makes sense because establishing a budget reserve now will prevent the crisis from escalating. He emphasizes that law enforcement, health care, and all state programs will share the pain.


WIAN: But for a state that ranks 47th nationally in education spending adjusted for cost of living $5 billion in cuts will be especially painful -- Lou.

DOBBS: The state of California, 47th in national rankings on education?

WIAN: In terms of how much money they spend per pupil it's thousands of dollars less, almost $2,000 less than the average state in the United States, Lou.

DOBBS: And a horrible, horrible high school graduation rate. Yet for all the sense you get from California, watching Schwarzenegger's popularity and the Senate and the House Legislature there in California, you would think everything was just ducky and the leadership in California politically were just -- they were just doing fine. It's horrifying.

WIAN: Yes and the education field, it's clearly not ducky, 67 percent is the official graduation rate for high school students in this state. But the actual rate is thought to be much higher than that, Lou.

DOBBS: Absolutely. Thank you very much, Casey Wian.

Time now for some of your thoughts.

Marie in Colorado said: "Senator Obama misses the point about Reverend Wright's comments. The comments are not just about race. They are about hatred of the United States of America. If I had heard anything near this in my Catholic church I would have left the church immediately."

Mark in Texas said: "With almost everyone saying we need to move past what Obama's Pastor has said, I don't think so. It is churches like Obama's that are teaching children to grow up thinking in this way. How can the issue of race ever end when children are brought up in this manner? What kind of man is this really?"

And K. in Georgia said: "Lou, I have had enough of you and CNN as a whole, bashing Senator Obama. What's your fear? Your tone is racist. Who do you think you're kidding? Certainly not the African- American communities, Senator Obama represents all the people not a particular race. Get a grip. Shame on you and CNN! You probably won't show my comments, because you know that I am telling the truth. Signed a proud American."

That signature is what got your e-mail on this broadcast. We'll have more of your thoughts here later and each of you whose e-mail is read here receives a copy of my book, "Independents Day: Awakening the American Spirit".

And please join me on the radio Monday through Friday for "The Lou Dobbs Show", a new three-hour radio show in the afternoon. Go to for your local listings, "Lou Dobbs" on the radio. Up next, Senator Obama trying to move the debate over race away from his former pastor and his campaign and the Clinton and Obama campaigns battling over the so-called redo of the Michigan primary and how about Florida. I'll be talking about that with three of my favorite radio talk show hosts.

And the Supreme Court hears arguments in a case that could affect our right to carry a gun in this country. We'll be examining that and a great deal more.

Stay with us. We're coming right back.


DOBBS: Senator Obama today in a major speech addressed the controversy over incendiary remarks by his Chicago pastor, but the senator has been inconsistent in his reaction to Reverend Wright in times previous.


OBAMA: I have to confess that those are not statements that I ever heard when I sitting in the pews at this church. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in the church? Yes.


DOBBS: Well now back with us, Errol Louis, columnist "New York Daily News" -- Errol, thank you -- and Keith Richburg, New York bureau chief of "The Washington Post."

Thank you for being back with us, Keith.

And turning now to Miguel Perez, syndicated columnist -- good to have you with us.

Miguel, let's start with that obvious inconsistency -- your reaction?

MIGUEL PEREZ, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: That's precisely the problem. I think it was a wonderful speech, very articulate. I think you mentioned in your earlier segment, Errol mentioned that it was a university lecture and I agree.

And I think students should read this, but the problem still remains Reverend Wright and whether he disowns him completely or not and he has not done that today unfortunately. I really think that this was the opportunity for him to really say I disavow completely and he did not do that. It is very hard to break with the language and not with the man.

DOBBS: That's an interesting way to put it -- Errol.

LOUIS: Oh I think he -- you know he's trying to thread the needle. He's going to have a very difficult time. I think the speech will be remembered long after the politics of the moment. The voters I think will decide whether or not the speech was adequate or not.

You know he picked up some votes, lost some, gained some respect, he confused other people. He didn't take the easy way out. The easy thing would have been a 30-second denounciation. I disavow him. I wish I'd never met him. I'm leaving the church tomorrow and so forth. He chose not to do that.

DOBBS: Try these words on for size. I take responsibility for the fact that I did not act sooner and have an expression of utter disgust for the things that Jeremiah Wright said about the United States of America. How about taking responsibility? You think that would have been appropriate?

LOUIS: From what you just said, other than the I regret not saying it sooner, I think he expressed all of those.

DOBBS: I guess what I didn't hear him say, at any time, to Pastor Wright, Reverend Wright, I'm not going put up with that kind of talk. If you and I were in polite company, I would consider church, your synagogue, your mosque, wherever you worship to be a place where there is appropriateness, to sit there and condemn the United States of America in such powerful language, I can't imagine saying, you know, I got a real problem with that.

LOUIS: I think the problem here is that you know what Reverend Wright said is something that was fairly commonly said in the black community after September 11 and beyond.

DOBBS: Why is that? Why in the world would that be said in a black church any differently than the white church?

LOUIS: There's a lot of anger in the African-American community here and I think all black politicians are straddling this kind of line. It's one thing you hear in the black community.

You don't want that to follow you if you're going into "mainstream politics." You're trying to straddle two worlds. That's what Barack Obama is trying to do here.

DOBBS: How is that different, Miguel Perez, than belonging to an exclusionary country club?

PEREZ: It's not. I don't think is it is. Look already Obama has spoken on this issue. This is a very important issue for all of us, race in America. Why aren't we putting pressure on Hillary Clinton to speak on race? Why aren't we putting pressure on McCain to speak on the issue? So that we can judge who sit that we like in this particular issue?

DOBBS: I think it's a particularly good idea you've got.

PEREZ: Thank you, sir.

DOBBS: I don't think it's one where we should have to put pressure. Pressure is how we got here because if Senator Obama hadn't stepped in it with the relationship with Jeremiah Wright, he wouldn't have been making the speech either.

Do you think that's appropriate, pressure or not? Senator Clinton, Senator McCain, step up and tell us what's going on.

LOUIS: I would add to that the press, frankly which has pounced on this issue in a way that they never talk about you know fair housing issues, they 28,000 or so federal discrimination suits that filed year after year after. When it comes to race relations, there's been this kind of shameful silence which he's now, under the worst possible circumstances, trying to break through.

But I think it would behoove all of to sort of you know take this seriously and try to take advantage of --

DOBBS: Let's back up here just a minute. Because on this broadcast, we've been talking about black men, young black men, one in nine being in prison. We've been talking about the dropout rates for young blacks and for young Hispanics in this country. I haven't heard the discussion from these folks who are suddenly talking about race out there.

Where have they been, Errol?

LOUIS: Well, that's right.

DOBBS: The national media and I'll speak for this broadcast and this journalist, we've been talking about race. We've been talking about what's happening in this country to its education systems. These presidential candidates, including Mr. Obama, Mr. McCain, Mrs. Clinton, they've been dancing across issues, rather than standing up and making a very clear position forthrightly before the people of America.

LOUIS: Well I mean two things. I mean one is first of all, you're absolutely right. They've taken the safe path, including Senator Obama, at every turn. What I really meant, though, was that here are about 55,000 black churches in this country.

And Keith and I were talking, you know the sentiments that are expressed by Jeremiah Wright, are not something if you go around and report on the community, and you get familiar with these institutions and these issues, it's not something that should come as a shock to everybody in the mainstream media. People are expressing anger and contempt for policies of the United States.

DOBBS: Is it a shock to you, Miguel?

PEREZ: A little bit. But let me tell you, in my own community, in the Hispanic community, now we have seen this change. The evangelical movement is coming into my community. And for a long, long time most Latinos were Catholic.

Now there's a lot of these Protestant churches we coming up. Now we have reverends, ministers doing the same thing that the leaders of the African-Americans are, motivating the community, empowering the community, getting very political. DOBBS: I've got to stop and give, listen. If you're the Internal Revenue Service watching this broadcast, we want no prejudice on any of the cases that you are hearing being built here by Miguel Perez or Keith Richburg or Errol Louis.

PEREZ: There's a movement in the Hispanic community towards evangelism and those people are empowering the community just like the African American ministers have done talking about politics in church. It's new to my community.

DOBBS: We have race and religion. Where does it leave us?

RICHBURG: It's been there a long time, these divisions. It only kind of surfaces occasionally. 1963 when President Kennedy was killed, Malcolm X came out and said the chickens are coming home to roost. That shocked white America that he would say something like that at a time of national mourning.

It's almost the words that Reverend Wright used when he talked about chickens coming home to roost. It's a very similar language. It's a strain of anger and resentment against the U.S. government that's been there for a long time and it's right on the surface.

LOUIS: Let's not overly racialize this issue. I mean when Jerry Fowl and Pat Robertson said almost identical things after 9/11, you know what you'll find in a lot of conservative congregations is that they might ascribe it to say pornography or abortion but they reach the same conclusion using the same biblical text that you know, people that turn their backs on god will bring the wrath down on this nation.

Throw it into a political context, you get a great big mess. And that's what we've got now.

DOBBS: We've got a big mess but you know it's the kind of mess I think we need to have. I referred to this primary election earlier as a splendid mess, particularly on the Democratic side. It's a discussion we need to have. I think we'll be better for it. I think we're going to be having this for quite some time. I don't think Senator Obama ended a thing with his speech today.

RICHBURG: Well you know, they're campaigning now in Pennsylvania. Wouldn't it be great to see a debate in Philadelphia just about these issues?

DOBBS: Partner, I'll tell you something. I'm not sure I want a debate. I would like to see these people stand up one at a time and honestly, forthrightly declare themselves on these issues and their positions on those issues. Then we'll have the debate. How's that? Can we get it in order?

Keith, thank you very much, Errol, thank you, Miguel, thank you.

And a reminder to vote on our poll. The question tonight is: Would you still attend your church if the United States was being cursed from the pulpit?

Cast your vote at We'll have the results for you in just a few moments.

I want to thank my panel for being honest and straightforward about this very difficult subject for a lot of people in this country. I think it's going to get a lot easier if we do our part.

Up next, hundreds lining up to hear the Supreme Court consider whether or not the second amendment of the constitution really means anything. I'll be talking with one of the lead attorneys in the case, the head of the NAACP, legal defense fund, here next.

And Senator Obama's speech on race, how is it resonating with the public? Three of the nation's top radio talk show hosts will tell us what their listeners are saying.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


DOBBS: The Supreme Court today heard a case that could influence our constitutional right to own and carry a gun. At issue, whether Washington, D.C.'s ban on handguns violates the constitution and individuals rights specifically the second amendment. The Supreme Court ruling will have broad implications for gun ownership in this country, certainly not only in the District of Columbia.

More than 100 people waited outside the court today for the chance to hear the arguments in person, some of them lining up as early as Sunday.

Joining me now, John Payton. John is the director counsel and president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

John, good to have you with us.

And Alan Gura, attorney for several Washington residents who are suing the District of Columbia government over the ban on handguns.

Both John and Alan, in court today.

Alan, let me go to you first. As you were there listening to the justices, what is your sense on the way in which they're leaning on the issue?

ALAN GURA, PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY: Well certainly we have reasons to be encouraged. The justices asked some great questions. They've studied the material. They've thought about this. They understood the arguments well. We have reasons to be cautiously optimistic going into June. Of course, it's tough to speculate but we look forward to the decision

DOBBS: When you say cautiously optimistic, what do you expect that to be?

GURA: Well, I think the court certainly understands our arguments. They understand the other side's arguments the more you look at the arguments, I feel in the coming months as they sit down to write their opinion, the better off I would hope we would come out. I feel good about the argument though.

DOBBS: John, Alan sounds a little careful there in the way he's responding to that for fear apparently that the justices might be listening. But he also said today that the city of Washington, D.C. doesn't trust the people, "doesn't trust the people to protect themselves in their own homes."

Is that a compelling argument in your judgment?

JOHN PAYTON, PRES. NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: No. The reason we fine filed a brief, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, is that the violence that comes from guns disproportionately affects African-Americans and African American communities, especially inner cities and Washington, D.C. is a prime example. We filed a brief to make sure that the people, through the government, can take adequate measures to deal with issues that come out of gun violence.

You can't that say that the government doesn't trust the people. The government is elected by the people and has clearly been endorsed in trying to take adequate measures to deal with, really, at times, horrible violence that comes from guns.

DOBBS: Alan, how do you respond to that?

GURA: Well, the bill of rights exists to protect the people from the government when it overreaches. Of course the government should be able to regulate guns in the public safety interest.

However, totally banning all guns, all handguns, all functional firearms from the home and preventing people from using them in self- defense inside their own homes goes way too far. We're not against all gun laws but certainly a complete prohibition should be coming off the table. It is not allowed.

DOBBS: John, I want to put up a full screen here if we may on gun-related homicides in 1976. Obviously, the argument is that since the ban took effect in 1976, the District of Columbia has seen homicides rise over to the point at the last year the number of homicides was 143. What is your response to those who took forward those statistics on handgun violence and specifically homicide?

PAYTON: Actually the data is quite different than I say gross data. When the law was first enacted, the first studies indicated that in fact comparing the surrounding jurisdictions that had no gun control, there was a net loss of violence as a result of handguns in the districts. That has changed because in fact you know these are fluid borders and guns come back and forth across the borders.

But guns aren't the only method that you try to deal with. There are other things that have to happen I don't think that anybody believes that having more guns is the answer to gun violence in the District of Columbia.

DOBBS: This also raises the question Alan when you look at the same data, when the Supreme Court justices look at the same data and Justice Stevens raised that question today, the proper positioning of crime rates in Washington, D.C. relative to the ban on handguns, what do you expect them to conclude?

GURA: Well if they were to look at the data and the studies that have been conducted, the only conclusion is that the law has been a complete failure. Fifteen years after the law went into effect, D.C. had seen its murder rate triple.

The violence crime rate and murder rate have both skyrocketed since the gun ban went into effect and it's only been in recent years, that they've almost approached those levels that were pre-ban. Washington remains an outrageously dangerous city compared to other cities where people are allowed to defend themselves in their own homes with guns.

DOBBS: You get the last word, John.

PAYTON: Surrounding jurisdictions have put into effect moderate measures of gun control. It's had a very positive effect on what's happened in the District of Columbia. This is about dealing with the violence that comes from guns and having reasonable regulations to try to control guns and therefore, the violence that comes from guns.

DOBBS: One would hope that we would be devoting just as much effort to all of the societal issues that also influence violence of all kinds.

Alan Gura, we thank you for your time. John Payton, thank you, sir. Like you all, we are looking forward to the Supreme Court's determination.

PAYTON: Thank you.

GURA: Thank you, Lou.

DOBBS: Up next, a new primary in Michigan now seems unlikely. What about Florida? Also unlikely. What does that mean for the Democratic Party for the idea of democracy in two of our relatively important states in this union? I'll be talking with three of my favorite radio talk show hosts about that and more next.

Stay with us. We're coming right back.


DOBBS: Joining me now, three of the best radio talk show hosts in the country. They also happen to be among my very favorites. In Portland, Oregon tonight, Lars Larson, KXLR, also heard on Westwood One radio network. Here in New York City, Mark Simone, WABC Radio, an icon, a legend in this city. And Roland Martin, radio talk show host, CNN contributor, a legend in his own right. We won't explain that any further but a legend in his own right.

Well Lars, let me reach out to you in Portland. Your listeners responding to Senator Obama's talk on race?

LARS LARSON, WESTWOOD ONE: Oh, yes. I think we got lead astray a little bit. Senator Obama tried a fast one today. Most of what Reverend Wright had to say wasn't objectionable based on race but Senator Obama is trying to say it's all about race.

It's not about race. It's about hating America. Reverend Wright said some pretty nasty things. I think Senator Obama still needs to explain why he didn't stand up and walk out of the church a long time ago.

DOBBS: Roland, what do you think?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I say Lars needs to stand up and figure out what he wants to do himself, as an evangelical, as a husband of a pastor, there's no way in the world I would sit here and demand of anybody to walk out of the church. Race is a significant part of the conversation.

I think the speech was important because he challenged America on a fundamental issue that we often want to overlook and I think the responsibility is now on us to look at us to how to make America better.

DOBBS: What if I say I'm not going to accept the challenge, Senator Obama? I want you to start explaining yourself. The challenge is on you and how you account for your own actions or inaction in the face of an insult to both the United States and language that rose to the level of hate?

MARTIN: I think if we're going examine a person speaking four of five minutes, we need to look at the totality of the man.

DOBBS: By the way, I agree with that.

MARTIN: Here's the other piece that's very interesting. You know you talk about what Reverend Wright had to say about America's foreign policy but Republicans had a presidential candidate that made the exact same comments, maybe not the same style of Reverend Wright, who rand for president, who is a sitting member of congress, who has more effects on U.S. public policy of than he.

DOBBS: All right. Who are you talking about?

MARTIN: Ron Paul. He made the same points when he ran for president on foreign policy.

DOBBS: We're going to let that one go.

MARTIN: But he did.

DOBBS: He didn't say God damn America.

MARTIN: He didn't. what he did say is that America's foreign policy --

DOBBS: To be real honest with you Roland, if I went through all of the crackpot things that elected officials in this country were saying and not being held accountable for, I would be here for days and days and days. MARK SIMONE, WABC RADIO: It was a brilliant eloquent speech unlike any you normally see in politics. He forgot the basic question. He's not just a normal church-goers. He's close to that pastor. He described the man as family. The other question is, when I go church, I don't want the to hear a criticism of American foreign policy.

MARTIN: That's you, though.

SIMONE: I'll watch the Lou Dobbs program if I want to. It wasn't fierce criticism, it was unfair accusations. Deliberately injecting AIDS into community?

LARSON: The American government injected AIDS into the community?

MARTIN: That's nutty. We also had Secretary of State Colin Powell apologizing for things. Ronald Reagan ignored the congress and allowed us to sell weapons to the contras. That was absolutely legal. You can't argue that the American policy has not caused feels across the world.

LARSON: Why is that coming up in church? That's like me coming here and reading the bible.

MARTIN: Some churches do not believe in war. Some churches do not believe in killing people. This is a person of faith. Why can't a pastor preach those points?

LARSON: I'll tell you why. Obama today said the man was an occasional critic of American foreign policy. No one stepped up about the comment of state-sponsored troubles with the Palestinians. He's dissing Israel for defending itself.

MARTIN: Jimmy Carter.

LARSON: Jimmy Carter is full of it.

DOBBS: Roland.

LARSON: Jimmy Carter is an anti-Semite, too. Well, he is.

DOBBS: I was going to say let Lars talk. You're going to get an opportunity to read from the bible and do whatever else is necessary. We'll be back in a moment.

Let's check in first with Campbell Brown and the "ELECTION CENTER."

Campbell, what are you working on?

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: A lot going on in the CNN Election Center. We're going be continuing the conversation that you all have been having, the politics of Barack Obama's high risk speech on racism in America. Who did he need to reach? Did he connect? And then the next primary state of Pennsylvania. Has it opened up racial wounds in America?

DOBBS: All right. Thank you very much, Campbel.

We'll be back with the panel. We're going to find out if there is going to be a conclusion, a resolution as a result of Senator Obama's speech. And we're going to be talking about what's happening with policy discussions in the Democratic Party, you know between Clinton and Obama, the issues.

We'll get back to that. Stay with us.


DOBBS: Lars, just about two minutes. At this point, what does a Democratic Party doing to itself and its presidential campaign?

LARSON: It's being torn apart. It's kind of tough to say that America's still giant racist nation.

DOBBS: Roland, your thoughts.

MARTIN: First of all, he never said America is a giant racist nation. And he's also said that him being elected president will not all of a sudden solve every race problem.

What he is saying is we need to move beyond that and look inward and solve our problems as well. I thought it was a great speech. He was dead on it. And so frankly, now it's a matter of returning back to the issues that people care about, like saving their jobs, saving their homes. That's what is most important, not what Reverend Jeremiah Wright had to say.

DOBBS: Mark.

SIMONE: Well, he's a great candidate and he's ahead in delegates. He's running against the Clinton machine, so I have a feeling things are going to get uglier before they get better. And then you're going have the superdelegate problem.

I think that's going to destroy the Democratic Party, more than anything else. The idea of these elitist superdelegates supersede the public?

DOBBS: What about disenfranchising those folks in Florida and Michigan? Do you think those votes will just simply become Independents voting for McCain.

SIMONE: They deliberately, knowingly broke the rules knowing they wouldn't be seated. If you don't enforce that, how are you ever going to enforce it again?

MARTIN: I say the people in Michigan and Florida should throw those bums out who sat there and ignored the rules; they're the ones who should pay the price.

LARSON: No, they shouldn't. Lou. the Democrat Party shouldn't be dictating to Michigan and Florida how to vote. Those two states have a right to vote the way they want --


MARTIN: Republicans do it, Lars.

LARSON: It's the Democrat Party that has disenfranchised voters, not the people of Florida. The Democrat party --

MARTIN: Oh, Lars --

DOBBS: Roland, I wish you and Lars were close enough to hug and kiss and make up. But we're going to have to just take an over the air waves hand-shake, gentleman.

Thank you very much for being with us.

LARSON: Take care.

MARTIN: Thanks, Lou.

DOBBS: I -- I'm sorry we couldn't join them in all that --

SIMONE: I'm like a student hoping the teacher doesn't call on me.

DOBBS: Lars Larson and Roland Martin, thank you very much for being with us.

Tonight's poll -- 70 percent say of you say you would not attend your church if the United States were being cursed from the pulpit.

Thanks for being with us tonight. Good night from New York. The "ELECTION CENTER" with Campbell Brown begins right now -- Campbell.