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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Iraq War: Five Years and Counting; Two Democratic Congressman Discuss Upcoming Primary in P.A.; Did Obama's Speech Help or Hurt
Aired March 19, 2008 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, GUEST HOST, LARRY KING LIVE: Tonight, five years after it began, the war in Iraq still rages. And conflict continues on the home front.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No one would argue that this war has not come at a high cost in lives and treasure. Those costs are necessary when we consider the cost of a strategic victory for our enemies in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Clinton, Obama McCain -- which candidate will determine America's future in Iraq?
Right now on LARRY KING LIVE.
Welcome. I'm Wolf Blitzer sitting in for Larry. He's got a well- deserved day off.
Let's get right to it. We have two supporters of two different candidates.
Chuck Schumer is joining us now from New York. He's the Democratic senator -- the senior senator from New York. He supports the junior senator, Hillary Clinton, in her bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination.
And joining us, a major Barack Obama supporter, the former Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle.
Senator Daschle, what would Senator Obama do immediately, if he became president, to bring those troops home from Iraq?
TOM DASCHLE, OBAMA SUPPORTER: The most immediate thing to do is begin phasing out and putting the attention -- the attention where it really has to be, in fighting terrorism -- fighting it in Afghanistan, in particular, addressing the tremendous challenge we face in the Taliban and the al Qaeda...
BLITZER: But what about the al Qaeda presence in Iraq?
DASCHLE: Well, I think that, obviously, we have to address that, as well, but over a period of time. I think the real challenge we face is making sure we have a governmental infrastructure in place. And that's exactly what Barack has been talking about from the very beginning, Wolf.
BLITZER: Because, you know, the argument that the Bush administration makes, if the U.S. were to pull out too quickly, al Qaeda -- which already has a base there -- would simply grow and that would become the new worldwide headquarters of al Qaeda.
DASCHLE: Well, they continue to -- they continue to be a threat and a presence. But we can't be the only ones responsible for the fact that we're going to be fighting there. The fact is that we have a much bigger challenge in Afghanistan.
We have a much bigger challenge in other parts around the world, Wolf. We have to start recognizing, at the expense of that larger effort, we're spending -- we're stymied with our presence in Iraq, and that has to change.
BLITZER: Senator Schumer, here's how the president phrased it today when he was over at the Pentagon, on this, the fifth anniversary, of the start of the war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: The surge has done more than turn the situation in Iraq around. It has opened the door to a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror. For the terrorists, Iraq was supposed to be a place where al Qaeda rallied the Arab masses to drive America out. Instead, Iraq has become the place where Arabs join with Americans to drive al Qaeda out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, does he have a point, Senator Schumer?
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK, CLINTON SUPPORTER: No, I don't think he has much of a point. The point is that ever since we've been there, the president's goal is to let the Iraqis take over and they're no closer to it today than they were before. Our American troops have done a great job. They've brought some security.
But I just visited Iraq over New Year's. And the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds still all dislike each other far more than they like any central government. The central government is held in bad repute by just about everybody. And whether we leave in three months or three years, once we leave, the Sunnis, the Shiites and the Kurds will resume fighting.
And our job is not to be in the middle of this civil war which is not -- even if were to end it, which I don't think we can, that is not a strategic victory against terrorism.
The al Qaeda the president is talking about is different than the al Qaeda of Mesopotamia...
BLITZER: All right.
SCHUMER: ...which is the al Qaeda that's in Iraq. The al Qaeda that bin Laden is in charge of is a totally separate organization. It's in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We're ignoring that and focusing on Iraq, which has much less to do with the war on terror.
BLITZER: Today, Barack Obama, Senator Schumer, delivered a major speech on the fifth anniversary of the war on Iraq. And he repeatedly -- not once, not twice, but several times -- maybe eight times -- he lumped together President Bush, John McCain and Hillary Clinton for authorizing this war.
You were among those who supported the war, as well. You voted like Hillary Clinton did. Does he have a point, Barack Obama, when he says trust him as opposed to Hillary Clinton?
SCHUMER: No, I don't think so at all. The issue is who can get us out of Iraq in a smart, careful, but speedy way. And Hillary Clinton has a superb plan to do that. Within 60 days, she'd begin withdrawing troops. Most of the troops would be withdrawn within a year. We may no longer be fighting a civil war. A small contingent would remain behind, mostly out of harm's way, to deal with terror.
If al Qaeda -- the real al Qaeda or any other group were to set up terrorist camps that could endanger the United States, we'd have enough troops there to take those camps out.
BLITZER: All right...
SCHUMER: But our troops would not be in the middle of the civil war that will be going on whenever we leave.
BLITZER: You heard Barack Obama's speech, Senator Daschle.
DASCHLE: I did, Wolf.
BLITZER: He repeatedly jumped together John McCain George Bush and Hillary Clinton. Is that wise?
DASCHLE: Well, there's one person who has shown real judgment from the beginning on this issue and that's Barack Obama...
BLITZER: But is Hillary Clinton the same as McCain and Bush?
DASCHLE: Well, I think that there's been a lot of agreement between John McCain, Hillary Clinton and George Bush, especially in the early years. Hillary Clinton has, to her credit, taken the right position in recent months. But Barack Obama was there from the very beginning. And I think Chuck is right, they deserve credit for having taken the positions they have. But it was nice to see a leader...
BLITZER: What about --
DASCHLE: ...with the courage and with the conviction and the judgment to do the right thing from the very beginning.
BLITZER: She makes the point and her supporters make the point passionately, he may have given a good speech back in 2002 opposing the war, but once he was elected to the United States Senate, he voted for all those appropriations bills for the war. He really didn't take a leadership stance in opposing the war until he decided he was going to run for president.
DASCHLE: But that's --
BLITZER: That's the argument that they make.
DASCHLE: Well, that is a fallacious argument, first of all, because at several stages through the last several years since he's been in the Senate, he has actually been the first -- or one of the very first -- to lay out a plan for withdrawal, to lay out a comprehensive plan as an alternative to what George Bush is doing.
Hillary Clinton has followed -- to her credit -- she's followed that practice, that leadership all the way through. When Barack Obama has done something, ultimately, Hillary has said me, too.
BLITZER: Well, let me ask Senator Schumer, is your campaign, Senator Schumer, smearing Barack Obama recklessly?
SCHUMER: No. I don't believe so at all. I think the bottom line is that Hillary Clinton has been very smart about this war, about what we should do to get out of it.
She has a concrete plan. Her plan starts removing troops within 60 days. I think that's a lot sooner than anybody -- any of the other candidates has said. It's a smart plan that minimizes the number of troops we need there, but keeps us strong against terror.
That's what the American people want. And I think that it is unfair to -- you know, looking backward doesn't make much sense. It's who can get us out forward in the smartest, best way. And I believe that's Hillary Clinton.
BLITZER: Were you satisfied, Senator Schumer, with Barack Obama's speech yesterday on his pastor and on race in America?
SCHUMER: Well, I think I was satisfied with that. I think it was an excellent speech. And he condemned the remarks of Pastor Wright that were out of line, as he should have. And I'll say this, to Hillary Clinton's great credit, she gave Barack Obama plaudits on his speech.
She said that it was an excellent speech. She was glad he condemned it. And the issues on this campaign, whether in the primary, or, more importantly, even in the general election, should be fought on who will be the best president, who can win, who can have the best possibility of moving America forward, both foreign policy and on economic issues. And I believe on all of those, Hillary Clinton wins.
Senator Daschle, did the Clinton campaign insert the issue of race in this campaign?
DASCHLE: Well, I think race has obviously been an issue over the course of the last...
BLITZER: But did the Clinton people do it?
DASCHLE: I don't want to hold them responsible. I think that they have probably exacerbated the issue...
BLITZER: How? How?
DASCHLE: ...at times. Well, before South Carolina, I think President Clinton made some mistakes. And I don't think he intended to do it necessarily. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt. But it happened. It's happened since then.
But I think that the real issue, as Chuck said, is for us to get beyond that. And I think that Barack did a phenomenal job yesterday. That was an historic speech. It showed the courage, showed the kind of character that we've known Barack to have now for a long period of time.
BLITZER: She challenged Barack Obama today in saying he's got to come clean and forcefully support make-over primaries in Michigan and Florida. And, apparently, at least if you speak to her supporters, he doesn't want those.
DASCHLE: Well, she's had several positions on the primaries in both Florida and Michigan. And I'm not sure which her latest position is. But I will say this. I think it is important to work this out. What Barack has said from the beginning is the states have to work with the party to find some acceptable resolution. We don't want to disenfranchise voters, but we also have to abide by the rules, Wolf.
BLITZER: Senator Daschle, thanks for coming in.
DASCHLE: My pleasure.
BLITZER: Senator Schumer, thanks to you, as well.
SCHUMER: Nice to talk to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, we're going to continue our discussion -- a wide-ranging discussion. We have a panel of experts.
Stick around. Much more LARRY KING LIVE, right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Five years into this battle, there is an understandable debate over whether the war was worth fighting, whether the fight is worth winning and whether we can win it. The answers are clear to me. Removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision and this is a fight America can and must win.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE.
I'm Wolf Blitzer sitting in for Larry tonight.
Joining us, an outstanding of political experts. In Stanford, Connecticut, Ari Fleischer. He's the former White House press secretary for George W. Bush.
Here in Washington, Amy Holmes. She's a Republican strategist who used to work on Capitol Hill. Jamal Simmons, he's a Democratic strategist. He's a supporter of Barack Obama. And John Street, he's the former mayor of Philadelphia, a Hillary Clinton supporter.
Mr. Mayor, let me start with you.
Do you think this issue of Barack Obama versus Hillary Clinton on the war in Iraq -- he was opposed to it from the start, she supported President Bush at the start -- is going to resonate in Pennsylvania, which has a critical primary coming up April 22?
JOHN F. STREET, CLINTON SUPPORTER: Wolf, I think the differences between Senator Obama and Senator Clinton on the war are so nuanced now that people in Pennsylvania, particularly in a primary, are going to recognize that they're both against the war, they're both committed to getting our troops home as quickly as possible. And I don't think that's going to be much of a ground-breaking issue in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
I do think the economy and health care and jobs and this whole housing problem that we have in this country are going to be some wedge issues that make a huge difference in how the voters in this Commonwealth react.
BLITZER: All right, Jamal, you agree?
JAMAL SIMMONS, OBAMA SUPPORTER: Well, I think that the difference between the two of them on the war is actually going to be a pretty big deal. The reality...
BLITZER: In Pennsylvania?
SIMMONS: In Pennsylvania and across the country. The reality is that Senator Clinton has to defend a vote for the war she took, despite the fact that my old boss, Bob Graham and Carl Levin, who are the chairs of the Intelligence and the Armed Services Committee, voted against the war. She chose to side with George Bush and vote for the war. That's something that a lot of Democrats have trouble with.
Now, they both want to figure out how to get us out of Iraq. But the question goes to judgment. And I think that's where Barack Obama has an edge.
BLITZER: You want to respond, Mayor?
STREET: Yes. You know, I think that's a nuanced argument that works well when you're talking to experts. But when you get out into the streets of Philadelphia and you get out into the counties and when -- especially in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, when you get out into the farmlands of -- out in Central Pennsylvania, they're going to be concern about the bread and butter issues that are affecting their pocketbook.
They're going to worry about $4 a gallon for the price of gasoline and the high cost of food and the other things affecting them. And I really don't think the nuanced question of what somebody did four or five years ago is going to be the issue that makes the difference between Senators Clinton and Obama.
BLITZER: And on that issue, Jamal...
BLITZER: On that issue, Jamal, Ohio, demographically, is very much like Pennsylvania and she carried Ohio.
SIMMONS: Well, certainly. And Senator Clinton has already said that she's unbeatable in Pennsylvania. So we have to take them at their word that she's unbeatable.
SIMMONS: The reality is Barack Obama probably is going to have a tough time in Pennsylvania. And I actually agree with the mayor, that I think economic issues are going to be what drives this election, as much as people do care about the war in Iraq -- and today is one of the days they care about it a lot. But the economy is going to be very important.
BLITZER: I think it's fair to say, Ari -- and I'm sure you'll agree -- that the war in Iraq will be a huge issue come November, whoever gets the Democratic nomination. That person's position, whether it's Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, is going to be very different than John McCain's.
ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY, GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, sure. And, Wolf, far be it for me to weigh in on a Democratic primary, but I can't resist. Of course it's a major issue. It's one of the real reasons that's propelled Barack Obama forward, I think. A lot of the people in the Democratic base of the party will never forgive Hillary Clinton for voting in a way they thought was calculated at the time to make her look like a centrist and it has come back to bite her in the Democratic primary.
BLITZER: But you agree that come November, McCain versus Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, the war will be among -- if not the major issue, it will be right up there?
FLEISCHER: Well, I think what will really be the issue the is the war will become a surrogate issue for who will keep America safe. And I think that, particularly with the success of the surge in recent months, a little bit of the sting across the center of the country -- not the Democratic primary voter, but the Independent-minded voters -- a lot of this issue has drained from the public debate. The broader issue is always, in presidential politics, is who can keep us safe. That will be something that will be vigorously contested.
BLITZER: What do you think, Amy?
AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think it's interesting with that 3:00 a.m. Ad that Hillary ran, that when voters were asked, well, who would you like to pick up the phone, they said John McCain. I thought that was interesting.
But voters are going to have a real choice in November, whether the Democratic nominee is Obama or Hillary Clinton, about what we're supposed to do about Iraq and if we should be pulling out immediately, as the Democratic candidates say we should do, or John McCain's plan.
So I think we're going to see real clear distinctions here which, you know, frankly, is a good -- you know, as a good government civics type of person, I think it's a good thing for the voters.
BLITZER: How worried are you, Jamal, that if the surge, as it's called, if it continues, the numbers go down in terms of U.S. casualties, the level of violence stabilizes, shall we say, that John McCain might be able to actually even use this issue to help his campaign by saying you know what, I was one of the architects of that surge?
SIMMONS: Well, one of the issues here for either one of these Democrats that makes it into the nomination is that, first of all, 60 something percent of the American public has said even if we're successful -- if we're becoming more successful, they want to leave Iraq. And John McCain doesn't have a plan to get us out of Iraq.
The other problem here is that John McCain wants the American people to sort of stick around, but we have not seen out of the Iraqis the political will to fix what's going on in Iraq. And that's really the question that I think the Democrats want to focus on. This is a political problem, it needs a political solution.
HOLMES: But I think it's interesting this -- the idea of the surge -- well, that the surge is working and if violence is down, I think it's something that could actually cut both ways, that the American voter could say well, why can't we just take our troops out now, where John McCain is going to have to have the challenge of explaining just what might happen -- al Qaeda reasserting itself in Iraq, Iraq becoming a haven for terrorists.
BLITZER: Let me let Mayor Street weigh in.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Mayor.
STREET: Yes, but you see the war is going to also be translated into an economic issue. When you spent $500 billion -- a half a trillion dollars fighting a war, when we have all of these difficult problems home, domestically, people are going to -- people are going to say we have to get out of that war if we're going to straighten out our economy and if we're going to make jobs for people and if we're going to provide the kind of quality of life people are looking for in this country.
BLITZER: You see, Ari, I think that's going to be a huge issue for John McCain. He's going to have to deal with the cost of this war -- the financial cost of this war. Issue number one is the economy. And the Democrats will say $100 billion a year, $2 billion a week, $3 billion a week -- whatever it's costing, that's money that could be spent on health care, it could be spent on an economic stimulus package, on creating jobs. Instead, it's being spent to help the Iraqis.
And they're -- that's going to be a powerful argument against John McCain -- the financial burden, given the concerns of the deteriorating U.S. economy.
FLEISCHER: Well, what would be the costs if Saddam Hussein were still in power, Wolf? If Saddam Hussein and his sons were still in power -- and as we saw Saddam say in an interview where his interrogator told "60 Minutes" he was still doing everything he could to develop chemical and biological weapons. So I think this is an issue of if this war hadn't been fought in 2003, it would have ultimately had to have been fought in 2008 or 10 or 12...
BLITZER: But he wasn't...
FLEISCHER: ...under Saddam's terms.
BLITZER: But he wasn't developing -- but, Ari, you know -- everybody knows now he wasn't developing chemical or biological weapons.
FLEISCHER: No, well, he didn't...
BLITZER: And he didn't have any stockpiles.
FLEISCHER: He didn't have stockpiles. That's different from...
FLEISCHER: ...he didn't have stockpiles.
BLITZER: Right. They didn't find any chemical or biological weapons.
FLEISCHER: No. But they found...
BLITZER: Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. Wait.
FLEISCHER: They did find...
FLEISCHER: They did find that he had weapons programs, which were seeking to still develop. And as sanctions were falling off with Iraq and the sanctions weren't working, it was only a matter of time, Wolf, before he got them. They're not that complicated or hard to make in many parts of this world.
HOLMES: And to follow on --
FLEISCHER: It was only a matter of time. And that's my point. You were talking about the cost. There also is a cost morally and from a human rights point of view, in addition to defending America, how much longer should we have allowed Saddam Hussein to stay in power?
BLITZER: All right, we're going to take a break.
But go ahead, Amy.
HOLMES: I want to follow-on what is the cost of failure? What is the cost of defeat? Are we going to have to go right back there?
As Barack Obama said, he would send troops back if it was found that al Qaeda was starting to reconstitute itself in Iraq. So I think that's the other cost that John McCain is going to be hitting hard.
BLITZER: All right, Jamal...
BLITZER: ... Jamal and John, stand by. We're going to continue this.
We'll take another quick break. Much more coming up right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's why this administration cannot answer the simple question posed by Republican Senator John Warner in hearings last year -- are we safer because of this war?
And that is why Senator McCain can argue, as he did last year, that we couldn't leave Iraq because violence was up and then argue this year because he can't leave Iraq because violence is down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I want Jamal to respond to Ari Fleischer, who says what if the U.S. had not destroyed Saddam Hussein's arsenal and his capability at that time, the situation, Jamal, would have been a whole lot worse?
SIMMONS: Well, this is a sideshow because we're actually arguing the wrong point. The point was the American people signed up to go after Osama bin Laden and the people who attacked us on 9/11.
The Bush administration took us on a sidetrack into Iraq and Osama bin Laden is still in Pakistan. As Barack Obama said today, you've got a bunch of people saying they'll follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, but we won't follow him into the mountains of Pakistan. We've got to go get Osama bin Laden and that's what the Democrats want to do.
BLITZER: You took your eye off the ball, Ari? You were there at the time.
FLEISCHER: Well, I was, Wolf. And after September 11, as Jamal points out, the American people did want their government to protect us from terrorism and from danger. Any president, after 9/11, who was told that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, he would have said that's fine with me, we'll let him stay in power, I'd have had a lot of problems with that president.
So we went in thinking he had the WMD. Clearly, he didn't. But now the issue is what are we going to do? And if we leave too soon, leave too early and leave in defeat, then I think we do see al Qaeda resurface in Iraq.
FLEISCHER: And that's a real security problem for all of us.
BLITZER: ... Mayor Street, the argument that you often hear -- you didn't hear Ari Fleischer make it just now, but a lot of supporters of the war make the point that yes, there were no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, there was no linkage -- direct linkage between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda and 9/11 or anything like that.
But if you take a look at what's happened since 9/11, there have been major terrorist attacks against the United States on U.S. soil since then. So doesn't the Bush administration deserve some credit for keeping America safe?
STREET: Well, of course. I think we're all very grateful that we haven't had a terrorist attack on this country since that time. But that doesn't necessarily mean that we have taken the correct -- the correct actions in order to protect ourselves.
We're in a war without any real way of getting out. We don't -- we can't even define victory. And we went there under false pretenses. Most of the people of this country think that the rationale for going to war was concocted and it wasn't really established.
We feel betrayed. The voters feel betrayed in going into that war. And so the voters of this country aren't going to give John McCain very much credit because we haven't had an attack, because went and spent a half trillion dollars under circumstances which they think were not justified in the first place.
BLITZER: Ari, go ahead.
FLEISCHER: Well, Wolf, I think, frankly, President Bush's time in office is fading here and we have a three-way choice, at least at this stage, with Obama, Clinton and McCain. And I really do have to say, Senator Obama is really a state senator with very little experience in dealing with these tough federal issues.
And when it comes to his judgment, he sure said he was always against the war. But he also said the surge would militarily fail. He said you'd have to send in 150,000 troops. Instead, we sent in 20,000 and had profound results.
I do question his judgment. I don't think he could be a good commander-in-chief. I think he comes from such a liberal left-wing of the Democrat Party that he really does not represent anything (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: All right, I've got let Jamal respond.
SIMMONS: Well, one of the things that has come up today that we found out is that perhaps one of the reasons why the violence has gone done is because the United States military is spending so much money paying our enemies to not attack.
So what happens when that money dries up? Is the surge still going to be as successful? The reality is the American troops are doing their jobs very well. They are doing the very task that we sent them there to do. But we still have a political problem. We don't have a functioning government that's actually taking care of the country. And we're forced to deal with all these militias.
BLITZER: Amy --
BLITZER: Hold on a second.
Amy, he's -- what Jamal is referring to are these reports -- and they're not denied, in fact they're confirmed by U.S. military personnel, that a lot of these former insurgents, especially in the Al Anbar Province, who were dead enemies of the United States only recently, they're now on the U.S. payroll. They're getting bundles of cash in order to stay on our side.
HOLMES: Well, since the very beginning, when we invaded Iraq, money was a big part of it -- of paying tribal chieftains to rally around the United States. But I think you can't deny, Jamal, that there has been this movement, the Anbar awakening that we know about where -- and George Bush pointed it out today -- where you have Shiites rising up against the al Qaeda-Sunni extremists, saying we don't need this.
We don't need these people here. And that has been a big sea change in Iraq opinion. And what George Bush was pointing out today, a real strategic victory -- well, I shouldn't say victory, but at least a promising development that Arabs are willing to go after al Qaeda themselves.
BLITZER: You know, what you were talking about with the Sunnis now standing up and resisting the al Qaeda...
HOLMES: Right. Yes. Yes. SIMMONS: Well, you know, we've got to keep the Sunnis and the Shia straight...
BLITZER: Yes, right.
SIMMONS: ...because John McCain had a little trouble with that today.
HOLMES: Yes, that's confusing.
BLITZER: All right, we're going to take another quick break.
When we come back, we're going to discuss what happened yesterday -- an historic speech in the United States. Barack Obama speaking openly, candidly, passionately about race in America and his own pastor.
What's the fallout? What will be the impact?
Stay with us. Much more coming up right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Harry Reid and the Democrats said the war was lost last April. They were wrong. They were dead wrong.
Now the question is will we be able to continue that progress to the point where the Iraqis take up more and more of those responsibilities and we withdraw? We're not there yet, at least in my assessment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Barack Obama speaking yesterday on the very sensitive issue of race in America and his own pastor, Jeremiah Wright, for some 20 years. We're going to get back to our panel shortly.
But joining us right now, two members of Congress from Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has a key primary April 22. Joining Congressman Patrick Murphy. He's a Democrat of Pennsylvania. He's an Iraq war veteran, in fact, the only Iraq war vet in the Congress. He's the state chairman of the Barack Obama campaign. He's also the author of the book "Taking the Hill, From Philly to Baghdad to the United States Congress."
Also joining, Congressman Joe Sestak, another Democrat of Pennsylvania. He served with the U.S. Navy for some 31 years. He's a Hillary Clinton supporter.
Let me ask you about the speech yesterday and the decision that Barack Obama made to condemn Jeremiah Wright, his pastor, but at the same time not to disown it. Is that OK with you?
REP. PATRICK MURPHY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Wolf, if you're asking me -- I was there, and I thought it was the greatest speech I ever heard in my entire life. I thought it was historic. I thought it was profound. I think you can sum it up that he's very clear, that Barack Obama says he condemned what he said. And basically when you boil it down, he said I hate the sin but I love the sinner.
BLITZER: That's Congressman Murphy, who supports Barack Obama. What about you, Congressman?
REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I think it was a very good speech. I think what he did was similar to what Senator Kennedy did back in 1960 when he ran. He made sure the public understood that he wasn't going to be working for the Pope as a Catholic, that he was going to be a president who happened to be Catholic, not a Catholic president. So very similarly, we saw the senator say, make it very clear that this was a man who was running that wasn't going to be a black president, but a president who happened to be black.
It's the same way with Senator Clinton. She's made very clear over 15 years with all her service, with her strength and her experience, that she is going to be a person who happens to be a president who is a woman. So let's set the issue aside.
BLITZER: Will the Democratic voters, Congressman Sestak, in your district -- is this issue going to be a factor in the April 22 primary?
SESTAK: Absolutely not. There will always be a segment where it may be there. But we have really moved beyond. I joined up in the military during the Vietnam War when there were racial tensions. I've watched this evolve.
What's happened here over the years, and the senator did it again, as Senator Clinton has done, held up a national mirror that said, that's not who we are; we are better than this. This race, with these two people running, who care passionately about this country, are breaking two glass ceilings. That's what's important about this. Now let's move forward and discuss the issues.
BLITZER: Let me ask Congressman Murphy, if Barack Obama gets the Democratic presidential nomination, will it be a issue in the general election against John McCain in the fall in your state of Pennsylvania? You know your constituents.
MURPHY: I don't think it will, Wolf. I think the far right of the Republican party, unfortunately, will try to exploit that. But I don't think the American people will buy it, not one second of it. They have learned over the years what it takes to lead this country, and unfortunately, some of the shortcomings from the other side.
There's been religious leaders from all different types of backgrounds that have said some hateful things, Jerry Falwell and others. They're very hurtful and hateful words.
I think we need to move beyond that. I think his speech yesterday, Barack Obama, that profound speech really transcended what this campaign is about. It was one of the great moments of electoral politics.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq right now, Congressman Murphy. You served there. How disappointed are you that your colleague, John Murtha, one of the most outspoken critics of the war, has now endorsed Hillary Clinton, looking ahead to the April 22 Pennsylvania primary?
MURPHY: I love John Murtha and I love Joe Sestak and I have a lot of great respect for both these great military leaders. I think what's great about Joe Sestak and John Murtha and I is that you can't find three other guys that love our military more than we do. We have two Democratic candidates for the Democratic nomination that also love our military.
But I think what Barack Obama has done in his time in the Veteran's Affairs Committee -- when he ran for the U.S. Senate, he said we have to change the way we treat our veterans. He's done it. He's gotten that done, helping pass the largest increase in veterans benefits in his short time, the largest increase in 77 years. He also helped draft the Wounded Warrior Act, which said if our soldiers are laid up in Walter Reed, they should never have to pay for their telephone calls or for their meals. That's now how we treat our veterans.
BLITZER: Congressman Sestak, go ahead.
SESTAK: I think the reason John Murtha endorsed Senator Clinton was for a very clear purpose. He's recognized that Senator Clinton has over time properly placed Iraq in the landscape of America's security. She has made it very clear that it's not about Iraq's military security.
It's about America's overall security. She's recognized and pointed out that there isn't any unit here at home in America or anywhere else in the world, in the army, to help protect our 34,000 troops in South Korea.
Second, Afghanistan has created terrorists now --
BLITZER: Congressman Sestak, is Barack Obama qualified on day one to be commander in chief? SESTAK: Not as well -- Yes, but not as well as Senator Clinton.
SESTAK: Very simple, she's had a front-row seat. I was serving in the White House as a Navy captain. I watched many decisions be made. Let me give you an example; Northern Ireland. She watched where it wasn't the military begetting political confrontation.
She saw Ian Paisley, Protestant, and Jerry Adams, Catholic, come together on U.S. leadership and have political commendation, which finally had the militias stand down. That's what she points out is wrong in Iraq.
She doesn't agree with General Petraeus and others that military security begets political accommodation. It's the reverse because of what she saw, and not only had a front row seat, but had a part in northern Ireland. She's bringing those lessons to us as a strong woman who is going to be a great commander in chief on day one.
MURPHY: Wolf, if I can jump in, I think Barack Obama has shown the judgment with this war since day one. The fact is that the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee before the war in Iraq voted against that war, which is a distinction.
When Barack Obama came out against it, he wasn't just this loan wolf by himself. There was a lot of other Democrats that felt the same way. He spoke truth to power and had the courage to speak out when it wasn't politically popular.
BLITZER: When he became a senator, Congressman Murphy, why did he repeatedly vote in favor of those appropriations bills to fund the war?
MURPHY: Wolf, he drafted -- in January of 2007, the Iraq Deescalation Act, which other candidates didn't sign on to.
BLITZER: He voted for earlier funding bills.
MURPHY: It wasn't until the Democrats took hold that we had the funding that was tied to a time line. That's a very important distinction. When Joe and I came to the Congress -- we're both freshmen -- we actually got majority, as you know, for the first time in 2007.
That's when we were able to really change the policy and really the legislation that would come up for a vote, which I think is a great thing. And the fact that Senator Obama authored that bill, which was really incorporated in what we passed in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Unfortunately, though, the president last year vetoed that time line to bring our troops home. The fact is that's why we need a new president. And that president should be Barack Obama in my opinion. BLITZER: We'll leave it right there, guys. Thanks very much, two United States Congressmen from Pennsylvania, Congressman Sestak, Congressman Murphy.
We'll continue this conversation. When we come back, we'll get back to our panel and we'll discuss the political fallout from yesterday's Barack Obama speech. What's going to happen next?
Much more LARRY KING LIVE right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The anger is real. It is 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Amy Holmes, what did you think of Barack Obama's speech yesterday?
HOLMES: I thought it had some skillful parts. It had some parts that I disagree with.
BLITZER: Like what?
HOLMES: Like, for example, when he was talking about what we need to unify to reach that common goal, for me it sounded like a lot of liberal boiler plate. It wasn't really charting new territory, that we need more investments in public schools and so forth, when I would like to see more experimentation with charter schools or vouchers.
I thought the first half when he was really addressing the concerns in the black community and in white community, that he understands both, I thought that was really powerful. When he talked about the key to our success as a culture and moving towards our ideals is actually embedded in the Constitution, in the very fundamental nature of who we are as American people. I appreciated when he said that.
However, I think the problem here is that it made it front and center that he's a racial candidate. That is not going to be good for him moving forward.
BLITZER: What do you mean by that?
HOLMES: I think that Jeremiah Wright single handedly made Barack Obama the race candidate, that he has to reassure white voters that he does not agree with some of the outlandish and flamboyant, and, frankly, slanderous statements that Jeremiah Wright was making.
I think what he can do though is learn from Mitt Romney. When Mitt Romney had to give his big religion speech, he ended up getting really mired in that. It was really a dead end for him. I think what Barack Obama needs to do now is to pivot and start addressing the concerns that Pennsylvania voters, for example, really care about. By doing that, he demonstrates, I understand you. I see where you're coming from, the economy, the housing bubble.
BLITZER: Did he become, as Amy says, the racial candidate as a result of Jeremiah Wright's remarks being publicized as they have been?
SIMMONS: I wouldn't say that he's the racial candidate. What I would say is that Barack Obama is an African-American with a name Barack Obama. It's no secret that he's African-American. There are a lot of people who show up to vote for him who will, frankly, look beyond the fact that he's African-American and vote for him. What Jeremiah Wright did was put these right on the front burner of the grievances that white Americans have against black Americans and black Americans have against white Americans.
What Barack Obama said is, you know what, we can all sit around and point fingers at each other, or we can all grab a hold of the wheel and try to get the car out of the ditch. That's what it is that's going to be really helpful about what he says.
BLITZER: Ari Fleischer, from the Republican standpoint, looking ahead to a general election in November, if Barack Obama gets the Democratic presidential nomination, has this issue been resolved? Will it be at the forefront of the campaign against John McCain?
FLEISCHER: From a moral viewpoint, I don't know how anybody can view himself as a unifier when he has personally decided to stand by the words of a man who called America KKK and said God damn America.
BLITZER: So the answer is yes?
FLEISCHER: Not from a political point of view. I think it really fundamentally shakes up people's understanding of a man who they're really only now coming to get to know. I don't know how to reconcile Barack the unifier with the choices he's made about who he will proudly stand next to, even if he denounces the words.
HOLMES: Here is part of the problem; for every person who saw his speech yesterday or who read the after action reports that gave him great praise for his speech, are a hundred people who haven't yet seen these clips. They'll see these clips and say, wait a minute, who is this guy? This is Barack Obama's pastor? I think this creates a real problem for him.
He can't spend the rest of his campaign trying to talk about this issue. He can't let it also stand alone. He's going to have to focus on what does draw voters to him.
BLITZER: Very quickly. I have to break.
SIMMONS: Here is the issue, Wolf: America is complex and we're all filled with complex people. African-Americans, more than any other group in this country, love America more. Because why? African-Americans loved America when America didn't love us back. That's the part of America that Jeremiah Wright comes from.
I don't know him. But if Barack Obama says there's more to this man than what we saw on television, I'm willing to take his word for that.
BLITZER: All right.
Let's get a preview from Anderson Cooper to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour.
Anderson -- Charlotte, North Carolina right now. You've spoken to the man at the center of all this today, Anderson. Give us a sense of what you have in store?
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "AC 360": Wolf, tonight on "360" our exclusive day with Barack Obama as he tries to put the questions about his former pastor Jeremiah Wright behind him. We talked about that extensively today, about why he kept his family in the church, and whether he thinks some of what Reverend Wright said was out and out unpatriotic.
Senator Obama also slammed the Clinton campaign for, in his words, trying to change the rules on Florida and Michigan. We'll have that and the Clinton's campaign sharp response, plus Senator Obama's message on Iraq and analysis from the best political team on television.
We'll take you behind the scenes of the Barack Obama campaign at this critical time in his candidacy. That's tonight on the special edition of "360," coming to you tonight from the campus of UNC.
BLITZER: UNC, I believe I've heard of that school. Thanks Anderson. We'll be seeing you in a few moments. Anderson Cooper's got an exclusive interview with Barack Obama. That's coming up.
Much more coming up here on LARRY KING LIVE right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back. We're continuing our conversation with an excellent panel on the fallout from yesterday's Barack Obama speech. By the way, Barack Obama is going to be LARRY KING's special guest tomorrow night here on LARRY KING LIVE. Larry will be back for that interview.
Elaborate on what you were talking about, Jamal, on your concerns, if you are concerned, that if Barack Obama gets the nomination, this whole issue of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright could be a huge issue in a general campaign against John McCain?
SIMMONS: Sure. I think it comes back -- I don't think there's -- there's no incentive for Republicans not to talk about it.
BLITZER: Is this a Swift Boat kind of issue that John Kerry faced? SIMMONS: It certainly could be. The way that Barack Obama handled this yesterday was that he really did try to put it in context. In fact, in each one of our families, in each one of our households, there are people who say things that we don't necessarily agree with. I know there are those who say, this was his pastor, not his family.
Anybody who has ever -- I don't want to preach here. Anybody who has accepted Christ and walked down that aisle and joined a church, has felt this very personal relationship to that. For him to walk away from the man that actually changed his life is a pretty profound thing to do.
You join a church. You don't join a pastor. You join a congregation. Even when the pastor says things you don't like -- if you always left the church when the pastor said something you don't like, you would never have a church home.
HOLMES: Jamal, you made this remark and the Congressman made this remark that it's going to be Republicans who bring up. This is going to be brought up if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee. This is going to be brought up in the very first debate he has with John McCain.
The moderator is going to say to Barack Obama, whether it's you, Wolf, or whomever, that, you know, there's a controversy surrounding your pastor. He said this. He said that. How do you explain all this?
BLITZER: Hasn't he now explained it all?
HOLMES: I think this will be coming up in a debate and it will be a whole new group of people watching this debate.
BLITZER: Ari, correct me if I'm wrong. You know the Republicans a lot better than I do. I don't believe that John McCain will want to get near this issue with a ten-foot pole. I don't think he's going to want to get near it at all. There will be a lot of other independent groups who have raised a lot of independent money, will be more than happy to put commercials on the air juxtaposing Barack Obama and the pastor.
FLEISCHER: Wolf, I think you're all missing the point. It's not what Republicans or Democrats or anybody do about this in the future. It's why didn't Barack Obama speak out about it until he became a candidate for president? If the words -- these aren't just things that people disagree with or don't like. These were the most reprehensible, radical things anybody could say.
I can't understand how any fair-minded person could hear them and not walk out and abandon those who say those things, regardless of whether they were running for president or not. It doesn't matter if a Democrat or Republican says it. I don't want anybody to say I would support any institution whose pastor, preacher, rabbi, was saying those type of things.
BLITZER: Jamal is going to answer that question right after this short break. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back. Let's get Jamal's answer to what Ari just suggested. Jamal, it's a tough question. Why didn't Barack Obama respond earlier, before he decided to run for president, against some of the words of his pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
SIMMONS: The first thing he said was that he wasn't present when these extraordinarily inflammatory words were said. He also condemned the words when he heard about the words. He also -- let's think back to when he announced himself for president. He asked Jeremiah Wright not to give the invocation.
BLITZER: In Springfield, Illinois.
FLEISCHER: Wolf, that's not fair. He prayed privately with the Reverend Wright after he said you couldn't go out in public. Then he prayed privately just before he declared.
SIMMONS: You want to make this about Jeremiah Wright. I think what --
FLEISCHER: It's about Barack Obama's judgment.
SIMMONS: We can get caught in these cul-de-sac all the time about these side issues. The reality is the American people have problems that we all need to address.
HOLMES: I think what this demonstrates is that Barack Obama needs to stop talking about Jeremiah Wright, that the longer that he's involved with this, the more questions that are raised -- I don't think he really answered the question of why 20 years, why this man.
What he can do, as I said, the Mitt Romney lesson was, don't get stuck on this. You need to pivot. You need to turn. You need to reach out to those white voters who might hear those things and say, I get where you're coming from. You have economic woes. There are a lot of other things.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Jamal.
SIMMONS: I think that's what Barack Obama is trying to do. Today, he gave a speech about Iraq. He had a town hall meeting where he talked about issues that are of concern to voters. I think when you go into Ohio and West -- sorry, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Indiana, all these upcoming states, he'll continue to talk about voters' issues.
BLITZER: Jamal, Amy, Ari, thanks to all of you for coming in. A good excellent discussion.
A lot more coming up right now. A special edition of "ANDERSON COOPER 360" -- Anderson?
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