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Presidential Candidates and the Olympic Games; American Airlines Cancels Nearly 1,000 Flights; Olympic Controversy may Overshadow Athletic Triumphs

Aired April 9, 2008 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, angry mobs vs protest -- protectors of the flame. The Olympic torch running through San Francisco, as we have been seeing. Chasing it is a public relations nightmare.

There's new pressures for President Bush to skip the Olympics' opening ceremony. Where do the presidential candidates stand when it comes to the Games? We're watching this.

Also, we're watching Hillary Clinton. She has a message for you. She says she can do what her rivals can't do regarding Iraq, if only you elect her president of the United States.

And it may anger you, but it's meant to keep you safe as well: airlines canceling flights and stranding passengers. How long will this happen?

All that coming up, plus the best political team on television.

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

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

We're following the remarkable developments surrounding the Olympic torch run. It's happening right now in San Francisco, but with major, major changes to the original plan. And that has disappointed thousands of people, both spectators and protesters alike. There's massive security surrounding the torch, but there's still been some scuffles between opponents and supporters of China, as well as between police and protesters.

We have a team of CNN correspondents covering the story, including Dan Simon, on the scene for us right now.

Dan, update our viewers who may just be tuning in right now what we know and what we don't know.

Dan Simon, I don't know if you can hear me.

Obviously, he's not hearing us right now.

But let me tell our viewers what we know and what we don't know right now. What we don't know precisely is how much longer this is going to occur. This is the final stages of this Olympic run through San Francisco. We know that it was supposed to start two hours or so ago. It actually started at around 4:20 p.m. Eastern, 1:20 p.m. Pacific time.

The run began for only a few yards when the runner actually ran into a warehouse surrounded by police. We didn't see her for some time. Finally they emerged at a different location, about a mile or so away inland having been driven there for security concerns. And then they did a truncated route through San Francisco, heavily protected by local police, heavily protected.

And, as you see now, they're winding their way down to the final, final stage of this entire, entire Olympic torch relay. It's been quite a spectacular event over these past couple hours or so. We have had extensive live coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM, as you know, from our -- if you have been watching us over the past two hours or so.

The ramifications for the United States, for China are significant right now. And there's a lot of political fallout from what's going on.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, has already called on President Bush not to participate in the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Summer Olympic Games in August. He's going there. The White House has been unclear, has been deliberately vague in saying whether the president will attend the opening ceremonies or he will just attend the Games. There's really no serious call on the United States or other international countries to boycott the Games, but there's a lot of call to avoid attending that opening ceremony.

These are live pictures you're seeing here in San Francisco, as those runners wrap up this run through San Francisco.

The Olympic torch and the relay, bringing it to the site of the Games, is not an ancient tradition. The relay was invented by Nazi bureaucrats for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and was meant to show the Third Reich as an emerging power on world stage. It was given elaborate coverage by the Nazis' propaganda ministry. The route took the torch through the nations that were later conquered by Germany, ending in a spectacular ceremony in which the Olympic flame was lit against the backdrop of huge swastikas, if you remember seeing those pictures.

Today, we learned by the way that the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, has decided he will not attend the Olympics' opening ceremony. That's putting new pressure, as we say, on President Bush to do the same thing. The White House has been vague on what his decision will be.

Meanwhile, where do the presidential candidates stand on this issue?

Let's go to Mary Snow. She's watching this story for us.

Mary, what are we seeing? What do we know? MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the question to the candidates is, should the U.S. boycott the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Games to protest China's record on human rights? Now, so far, Senator Hillary Clinton is the only one of the three presidential candidates to say, yes, the U.S. should.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): In San Francisco, protests over the Olympic torch put the spotlight on China's policy on Tibet and Darfur. On the campaign trail, candidates are being pressed to take a stand on what the U.S. should do at this summer's Beijing Games.

Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Clinton is urging President Bush to follow the lead of the British prime minister.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wanted to commend Prime Minister Gordon Brown for agreeing not to go to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Beijing. And I'm calling on Senators McCain and Obama to join me in my request that President Bush also not attend the opening ceremony.

SNOW: Democratic Senator Barack Obama also says the U.S. should take a stronger stance against China.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In our policy towards China, we have not been consistent enough and tough enough in pushing them to deal with Tibet properly, but also to their continued support of Sudan, a country that has been engaging in genocide against the peoples of Darfur.

SNOW: Obama says he has expressed his concerns to the president, but hasn't said directly whether he thinks the president should skip the opening ceremonies.

The campaign for presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain said in a statement the president should evaluate the situation as it evolves and keeps options open. McCain has condemned China's oppression of Tibet and has called on Beijing to open dialogue with the Dalai Lama. On Capitol Hill, those calls for dialogue were echoed in a House resolution demanding that China end it crackdown in Tibet.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced the passing measure. She says a boycott of the ceremony should be an option for the president, adding:

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: When people consider whether they want to go to that opening party and give credibility and face to the Chinese government, I hope they remember that there's not a party going on among the refugees in Darfur, where people are living in subhuman conditions.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Wolf, clearly, the pressure is mounting, and as of Tuesday the White House left the door open to the possibility of President Bush skipping the opening ceremonies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary, the stakes really are significant right now.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's getting some images from our I-Reporters on the ground in San Francisco.

Abbi, what are you seeing?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, we're just seeing how many groups have been out there today all afternoon in San Francisco.

First of all, from Arthur Hsieh, who sent in these pictures of what he described this morning as an amazing sea of red, Chinese- American supporters of the Olympics out in force today. He said he saw toddlers, great-grandparents all out celebrating, not just the protesters that we have seen this afternoon.

But we are getting the pictures of protesters coming in as well, protesters who are crying to save Darfur, to free Burma. These are pictures from Jennifer Brown, a walk across the San Francisco -- Golden Gate Bridge today, a procession of monks flanked by police this morning.

Jennifer Brown said this was an extraordinary sight, these people protesting China's support of Myanmar. And then all the groups that we have been seeing out there protesting China's policies toward Tibet. These are pictures here just coming in from William Davidson who is out on the streets and sent in this video of I-Report of those protesters who have been trying very hard to follow this torch's progress today to get themselves in the right locations -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Abbi, thanks very much. We will stay on top of this story.

I want to go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File."

Jack, it's been a pretty amazing couple hours.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I have been sitting in my office watching your coverage the last two hours. I have never seen anything like this.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: I can remember 1980 when Jimmy Carter said we weren't going to send the Olympic team to the Games in Moscow because of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, and that had repercussions and implications.

But we didn't have the kind of instantaneous communication capability that we have now with the Internet and satellites. And all of a sudden, this thing just grows right up out of the ground and becomes this huge event. And the people in -- in Beijing, I mean, this is a preview of the kind of thing that they're going to have to deal with on some level, when these Games happen later this summer. I mean, memories of Tiananmen Square come to mind when we had the military finally crack down on those pro-democracy demonstrators.

What's the Chinese government going to do when people who are sympathetic to the folks in Darfur or Tibet dare to venture out into Red Square or one of those main thoroughfares with a Tibetan flag or something?

The Chinese government is going to be in a very, very difficult position. And I have never seen anything quite like this. And it's interesting to think what might be lying ahead in the summertime.

BLITZER: You have got to ask yourself, be careful what you wish for. The Chinese really wanted to host these Olympic Games. Maybe it was not necessarily such a great idea years ago when they were awarded the Games.

CAFFERTY: A lot of people at the time argued against giving them the Games for this very reason.

The other consequence of all of this controversy is the sponsorship. I was reading a thing this morning at home, where some of the sponsors are beginning to get concerned about the controversy surrounding just the running of the torch through the various streets.

If the sponsors get cold feet and begin to back away -- and you can't blame them -- they don't want anything controversial to be associated with their products -- then there's a whole other dimension to this that begins to develop.

The network that's going to -- is it NBC carrying the Summer Games?

BLITZER: NBC, yes.

CAFFERTY: I mean, they paid billions of dollars for the rights to carry these Games. If their get sponsors that say, hey, you know what, we're not comfortable, I mean, it's -- this is going to be quite a story. It may pale these political conventions as we move through the summer.

Anyway, I have rattled on long enough. But you guys have done a great job, I thought, watching the coverage. I enjoyed it.

BLITZER: Thank you.

CAFFERTY: You have to give credit to the Democrats. When they put on a show, it is not boring. Chaotic, self-destructive at times, fraught with melodrama, you bet, but not boring.

In the beginning, it was the inevitability and the coronation as formality for Hillary Clinton. Then Iowa happened, 94 percent white. The only whiter place on the globe than Iowa is the North Pole, and a black guy kicked Hillary Clinton's butt. Suddenly, Barack Obama was a player. Nothing was inevitable anymore.

Clinton right bounced back, though, in New Hampshire, remember, and it was on to South Carolina, where it could be argued that Bill Clinton cost his wife every African-American vote in the state and maybe beyond. Once again, Obama was cruising, cruising right into the Reverend Jeremiah Wright explosion.

But Hillary Clinton rode to Obama's rescue with tales from the tarmac in Bosnia. Along the way, a lot of Democrats have changed their minds, about who they're going to support in this. Actually, more than a lot. A new Gallup poll shows one in four Democrats have switched candidates.

And, at the end of the day, it's Barack Obama who has been changing the most minds in his favor; 19 percent say they switched their support away from Hillary Clinton and to Barack Obama, while only seven percent have gone the other way, away from Obama and to Hillary Clinton.

The mind-changers come in all ages, both sexes, but consist of more non-whites than whites. And most of the switching among non- whites has also benefited Obama. Once African-Americans saw that Obama could win in an all-white state like Iowa, well, the floodgates simply opened.

So, here's the question: Why have so many Democrats changed their minds about whom to vote for in these primaries?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile.com. You can post a comment on my blog.

I think that's a high number, Wolf, of people that changed, flopping around and switching.

BLITZER: Yes. I think you're right, Jack. We are going to continue discussing this later this hour as well. We're anxious to hear what our viewers think in your e-mail, Jack. Thanks very much.

Hillary Clinton appears to be getting more aggressive when it comes to the war in Iraq. Regarding U.S. troops, she says she will do what John McCain and Barack Obama can't do. You are going to find out exactly what she's referring to.

Also, it's Clinton vs. Clinton in a dispute creating turmoil in the campaign. She opposes a controversial trade deal. He supports it. Their financial records may explain what's going on.

And meet Barack Obama's grandmother. The woman who's been the focus of some interest finally makes an appearance for her grandson. You will see it -- all that, plus more coverage of the Olympic torch relay in San Francisco -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And we're just getting this information from the Associated Press, a report from San Francisco, the "A.P." reporting officials are saying that the planned closing ceremony in San Francisco for the Olympic torch at the San Francisco Bay waterfront has now been canceled.

Another one will take place at an undisclosed location, clearly security concerns, as demonstrations there against China's human rights record continues. But, once again, that planned closing ceremony canceled. Another one will take place at an undisclosed location. We will go there live in a moment and update you on what's going on.

But today has also been a day for other important news, including day two for the Iraq war hearings and the second day of testimony from the top U.S. military commander in Iraq and the U.S. ambassador in Iraq.

As you just heard, they spoke to House members earlier today, and General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker echoed what they told senators yesterday, that there's been some significant, but uneven progress in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton talked about Iraq today in Pennsylvania herself. Let's find out what she said.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us right now with more on this part of the story.

Are we hearing something new from Senator Clinton, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, she does seem to be getting more aggressive on the Iraq issue, and making some very explicit comparisons.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Hillary Clinton isn't playing defense on the Iraq issue anymore.

CLINTON: Senator Obama, on the other hand, says he will end the war, but his top foreign policy adviser said he won't necessarily follow the plan he's been talking about during this campaign, that the plan is just words.

SCHNEIDER: Clinton was referring to former Barack Obama adviser Samantha Power, who told the BBC in early March that it would be difficult for the next president to deliver on a firm withdrawal deadline. For much of the campaign, Obama has tried to keep Clinton on the defensive.

OBAMA: But I have been clear that this was a strategic error, unlike Senator Clinton, who voted for this war and has never taken responsibility for that vote.

SCHNEIDER: Anti-war activists once booed her for refusing to set a date certain for withdrawal. But when she questioned General Petraeus on Tuesday, she got pretty aggressive.

CLINTON: What conditions would have to exist for you to recommend to the president that the current strategy is not working?

SCHNEIDER: She was not happy with Petraeus' answer. On Wednesday, she put the question to President Bush.

CLINTON: I call on the president to answer the question that General Petraeus did not. What is our endgame in Iraq?

SCHNEIDER: Clinton now calls herself the only real anti-war candidate, in contrast to John McCain and Obama.

CLINTON: That's the choice. One candidate will continue the war and keeping troops in Iraq indefinitely. One candidate only says he will end the war. And one candidate is ready, willing and able to end the war and to rebuild our military, while honoring our soldiers and our veterans.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Each Democratic candidate is going after the other one's base here in Pennsylvania. Obama has been campaigning for blue- collar votes on the economic issue, while Clinton is going after Obama's anti-war base -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much for that.

Let's get to the Iranian threat right now in Iraq. Five years to the day after that statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Baghdad, is the U.S. exchanging one foe for another foe?

Let's discuss with our Baghdad correspondent, Michael Ware. He's here in Washington in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Once again, you were up on the Hill for a second day in a row watching all of this unfold. Some have suggested -- and I don't know where you stand on this -- that the big winner over the past five years in Iraq has been Iran.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's much more than a suggestion; it's obvious fact. Indeed, the most senior U.S. officials in Iraq have repeatedly told me that is in fact the case.

The American invasion of Iraq, the removal of Saddam and, preceding that, the removal of the Taliban, all amounted to a gift to Tehran on a platter.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: In part because Saddam Hussein was such a bitter foe of the regime in Tehran.

WARE: Absolutely. Iranian influence stopped at Saddam's border. Now that has opened. Physically and in terms of influence, it has spread.

And look who the American-sponsored elections brought to power. All of the major factions of the Iraqi government are linked to Iran.

BLITZER: Mostly Shiites?

WARE: Mostly Shia, but even the Kurdish parties. Indeed, the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, is a Kurd, but he shares a border with Iran. He's got a long association.

BLITZER: So, what you're seeing is that, today, five years later, Iran is a much more formidable foe to the United States in that part of the world than it was when Saddam Hussein was in power?

WARE: Oh, there's absolutely no doubt about that. And that's what's really driving this war now. This is not so much a war against al Qaeda. Sure, it's a war to check al Qaeda's spread. But the real nature of the conflict, of the competition in Iraq today, is America's pursuit of influence vis-a-vis Iran.

BLITZER: If the U.S. were to withdraw, though, very quickly within let's say over the next year, the new president takes office, and they starting withdrawing, what happens then in terms of Iranian influence in Iraq and the region?

WARE: What few checks there are now will be removed. You will see Iran further consolidate its influence. And then you would except to see Tehran expand that and press its advantage. Indeed, this is what America's Arab allies have literally been screaming about since before the invasion.

BLITZER: So, when Jordan's King Abdullah about a year or so ago warned of a Shiite arc emerging from Iran through Iraq through Syria and then into Lebanon to fight, if you will, to be a counter to the Arab Sunnis, what you're saying is, there is some truth to that?

WARE: Well, that's certainly part of Tehran's ambitions. They have very aspirational interests.

First, they're trying to prevent an Iraq from ever attacking them again, like it did under Saddam. And America acknowledges Iran does have legitimate interests in Iraq. But they have interests that go far beyond that. There's long been talk of the Shia presence.

They're trying to not just check Sunni/Arab influence, but to expand their own. And we see them sponsoring Hamas, a Sunni organization in Palestine.

BLITZER: Or Hezbollah.

WARE: Hezbollah, an Arab organization, though it's Shia, in Lebanon. So, you hear people talking about America's strategy to curb Iran inside Iraq. It's a fallacy, Wolf. They're saying that they're relying basically on the divide between Arab Iraqis and Persian Iranians. That's going to be nowhere near enough.

BLITZER: Michael Ware, thanks very much.

And Michael is going to be interviewing General Petraeus tomorrow here in Washington. And we're going to looking forward to that interview right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Michael, thanks very much.

WARE: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, good, Michael Ware, our reporter in Baghdad. He's here in Washington.

We're tracking the progress of the Olympic flame in San Francisco, reports now that the procession is heading toward the Golden Gate Bridge. The AP reporting that the original closing ceremony has now been canceled.

Also, American Airlines canceling hundreds of flights today, and it's causing major repercussions at airports across the country -- 100,000 passengers are affected. We will give you the latest right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, politics threatening to taint the Olympic Games, with growing calls for President Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies in Beijing in August, just as the British prime minister now says he will do.

Also, Condoleezza Rice as John McCain's running mate? We will show you how that hypothetical matchup would fare against another so- called dream ticket, Clinton/Obama, or Obama/Clinton.

Plus, a travel meltdown as the country's largest airline cancels an astounding number of flights -- all of this coming up, plus the best political team on television.

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

Want to go back out to San Francisco right now. The Associated Press reporting that the closing ceremonies in San Francisco have now been canceled, the event moving to an undisclosed location.

Let's get the very latest from our man on the scene, Dan Simon, who's been watching of this all day. It's been about two-and-a-half- hours since all of it started.

What do we know right now, Dan, about the final chapter in this day?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the "Associated Press," as you said, is reporting that the closing ceremony will not take place here at Justin Herman Plaza. That will come as a complete shock to the thousands of people who have gathered here, and they are still here at this exact moment.

They have no idea that that in fact has occurred. They're still waiting for this torch to arrive. They're going to be surely disappointed when they find out that they will not be able to see the torch.

A short while ago, the van just came back on the stage. They had left in anticipation for the torch to arrive. So now we're just waiting for official word here at Justin Herman Plaza that the conclusion of this torch relay, at least at this location, has been scrapped -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on this, Dan. Thank you very much. Dan Simon is on the scene for us.

There's another important story I want to follow right now, and that would be travel turmoil at airports across the United States -- American Airlines canceling some 1,000 flights today, as the airline conducts some new safety inspections. The results? More than 100,000 passengers have been stranded.

CNN's Susan Roesgen has the latest -- Susan.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at last, the crowd here at O'Hare has started to thin out, but passengers are fed up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NATASHA CAHILL, STRANDED TRAVELER: They could have called my cell phone, because they have our number and the itinerary. So, just to get to the airport, packing everything, what a waste.

ROESGEN (voice-over): Natasha Cahill is just one of thousands of passengers stuck in airport purgatory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a big deal because I'm a physician and I have patients to see tomorrow and I have to call and find some people to see them.

ROESGEN: The nation's biggest airline, American, grounded more than 1,000 planes, planes that on average carry 100 people each. That means potentially 100,000 people left standing in line.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They knew this was happening with the airplanes. So, why do we, the common folk, have to suffer?

ROESGEN: On Monday, FAA inspectors checked American's MD-80 airplanes. Those are the mid-range planes used for many domestic flights.

Inspectors found improperly bundled wires in the wheel wells of some of the MD-80s, which could affect the landing gear. So, all of American's MD-80s, a third of its planes, were grounded.

American Airlines' chief executive apologized to passengers. And American says it will compensate those who have to spend the night away from their destinations or fly on other airlines. American insists safety was never in jeopardy.

And some passengers say, better safe than sorry. DON BUZZINGHAM, STRANDED TRAVELER: It's an inconvenience, but it beats the alternative.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which is?

BUZZINGHAM: Having the plane fall out of the sky.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROESGEN: American Airlines says you can expect more cancellations tomorrow. But don't expect to see cheerful flight attendants if you do fly. The flight attendants union says the flight attendants lose money when those planes are grounded and they filed a grievance because they say they're not happy about it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much.

Susan Roesgen reporting.

We'll talk a little bit more about those airline delays later, as well as the massive and controversial changes to the Olympic torch relay that we just saw in San Francisco.

In fact, I want to talk about that right now, as well as the growing calls on President Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies in Beijing.

Let's discuss this and more with our CNN senior analyst, Jeff Toobin. He's in New York along with Jack Cafferty. Gloria Borger is here in Washington.

I'm going to play a little clip of what Hillary Clinton says about boycotting the opening ceremonies and then we'll discuss.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I think you've got to separate out the Olympic movement, which is an international sporting event that's hosted every two years in the summer and winter by a host nation. And that's why what I've called for is a government to government response. I believe that the president should not attend the opening ceremonies because that is giving a seal of approval by our United States government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So far, Jack, we haven't heard specifically from the White House whether the president will attend that opening ceremony. He's going to Beijing to watch the Games. Barack Obama hasn't taken a specific statement -- a position on that yet, either.

What do you think about this growing call to boycott the opening ceremonies?

CAFFERTY: Well, I think, you know, that based on China's record in some of these places, like Darfur and Tibet, that you could justify boycotting the opening ceremonies.

But the bigger issue is how do you separate the Games from the politics. And I don't think you can unless you establish a permanent home for the Olympics in some place like Geneva, Switzerland. I mean it's a small global village we're a of now. And whoever is going to host those games, you can bet, you know, your allowance that there's going to be somebody who's coming to the games that doesn't think you've done the right thing about X, Y and Z. And I don't know how you avoid combining the politics with the athletics.

BLITZER: The theory, Gloria, as you know, in awarding China the venue, the host -- to be the host of the Olympic Games was that international responsibility would make them a more cooperative partner globally on many of these issues.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, how has that worked out?

CAFFERTY: Sure.

BORGER: Not particularly well. And, you know, the opening ceremony, Wolf -- and I think Hillary Clinton said this does put that stamp of approval on the host country. And so I think the president is kind of staying back and keeping his options open. That's what John McCain said the president ought to do in a radio interview today.

Hillary Clinton has already come out and said you ought to boycott it. The prime minister in Great Britain has said that he would boycott it. So I think the president's hanging back and perhaps trying to use this as some leverage with the Chinese.

But the question of whether it should have been in China in the first place, it's a little late at this point, you know, to try and revisit that. It's there.

BLITZER: What do you think, Jeff?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think the hosting of the Olympic Games is a political act. And whether it was the Nazis in 1936 or the Chinese communists in 2008, they are all using it to promote their country. And if we want to take a stand against that kind of repression, not going to the opening ceremony is a very appropriate way of doing it because it doesn't penalize the athletes at all.

The athletes can still compete. But it does say the United States government doesn't approve of the Chinese government. And that seems like a very appropriate message to send right now.

BLITZER: One of the arguments that some of the pro-China elements is making, Jack, is that this is a very different China today than existed 10 years ago, certainly 20 or 30 years ago. This communist regime today is almost like a capitalist regime. They're a huge economic superpower and that we have a lot at stake in maintaining this economic relationship with China. CAFFERTY: Well, I don't know if China is any different, but our relationship with China is certainly different. We're in hawk to the Chinese up to our eyeballs because of the war in Iraq, for one thing. They're holding hundreds of billions of dollars worth of our paper. We also are running hundred of billions of dollars worth of trade deficits with them, as we continue to import their junk with the lead paint on them and the poisoned pet food and export, you know, jobs to places where you can pay workers a dollar a month to turn out the stuff that we're buying from Wal-Mart.

So I think our relationship with China has certainly changed. I think they're basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they've been for the last 50 years.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right. Jack, stand by. I want everybody to stand by. We have a lot more to talk about, including a battle of what some voters would call their respective dream tickets -- McCain and Rice versus Clinton and Obama -- or even Obama and Clinton. We're going to show you who comes out on top, at least according to one brand new poll.

And the first glimpse of Barack Obama's grandmother. You're going to find out her new role in his campaign.

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

(COMMERCIAL)

BLITZER: Some see it as a Republican version of the dream ticket. That would be John McCain and Condoleezza Rice as a running mate, although both of them seem to be pooh-poohing that possibility.

Here's the question: How would they fare against a Clinton/Obama ticket or an Obama/Clinton ticket, for that matter?

Let's discuss with the best political team on television.

All right, I'm going to put the numbers up on the poll. There's a brand new WNBC/Maris Poll. Among voters in New York State -- Hillary Clinton's home state -- it shows this. In a hypothetical match-up, McCain/Rice 49 percent, Clinton/Obama, 46 percent. Another hypothetical match-up, McCain/Rice 49 percent, Obama/Clinton, 44 percent.

In other words, McCain/Rice in New York State wins both of those so-called hypothetical match-ups.

Gloria, let me start with you. What do you think?

BORGER: I don't know what to make of that. That maybe Upstate New Yorkers don't like Hillary Clinton. You know, I think this dream ticket that is developing on the Republican side is really a dream. I don't think it's going to happen for lots of reasons. I think Condoleezza Rice would only remind people that it might be a third Bush term, which is exactly what John McCain doesn't want. She's also very liberal on social issues, Wolf. That's not going to help conservatives. So, it's a lot of fun.

BLITZER: It might help with Independents, though.

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: You know, Jack, that dream ticket on the Republican side...

BORGER: It's a lot of fun, but not going to happen.

BLITZER: That dream ticket on the Republican side could be a nightmare for the Democrats if this WNBC/Maris Poll is accurate.

CAFFERTY: Well, it seems to me that -- didn't they -- haven't they done some hypothetical national match-ups where McCain without Condoleezza Rice is seen as beating either Obama or Clinton by a point or two?

BLITZER: Yes. They're -- I've seen that, too. Yes. Very tight.

CAFFERTY: So, I mean, I think --

(CROSSTALK)

CAFFERTY: I don't think we can put much stock in these. One, it's a statewide poll. Two, we don't know who the Democratic nominee is. And, three, once the Democrats have figured out what they're going to do, they can start focusing on identifying John McCain rather than let John McCain identify himself.

So I think these poll numbers are going to change a lot in the next couple or three months.

BLITZER: Jeff, you live in New York state.

TOOBIN: Yes. And it is surprising to see any Republican doing well in New York State, which is about as blue a state as exists. One thing worth remembering is that it's really hard to run for president or vice president. And, you know, we think someone's But, hey, and they're going to be a good candidate.

Remember Fred Thompson? Everybody thought, wow, he's going to run for president.

BORGER: No, who is he?

TOOBIN: And you know what?

BORGER: I don't remember him.

TOOBIN: And he was an awful candidate because it's really hard to do what McCain, Obama and Clinton are doing. And there's no evidence that Condoleezza Rice is interested in doing it or would be any good at it. CAFFERTY: Well, she's good at getting her picture taken. That part she...

TOOBIN: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: She's mastered that.

BORGER: Look, you don't know what someone would do if it were handed to them, though, you know? It's kind of a tough thing to turn down.

BLITZER: I don't know a lot of people who have turned down the vice presidential running mates.

All right, let's talk about American Airlines, Jack, for a moment.

I'm going to play a clip from a spokesman from American Airlines. A thousand flights canceled today, maybe a hundred thousand passengers stranded and they're looking for other ways to get where they want to go.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN GARTON, AMERICAN AIRLINES: We're, you know, extremely sorry for this great inconvenience. You know, we are humbled by the loyalty of our customers and we are very, very disappointed to ever let them down. And we know how difficult this has been. Whether you're on a leisure trip or a business trip, this kind of interruption is truly unacceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: They're inspecting some planes that moment have any problems --

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: They're inspecting some --

BLITZER: This is a serious business, Jack.

CAFFERTY: -- They're inspecting some planes to see if the wiring in the nose wheel is a threat to the ability of the airplane to land. I've got no problem taking a flight tomorrow if you're checking my airplane to see if it's safe or not.

Yes, it's inconvenient. But so what? I -- you know, we've had these stories in the last few weeks about whether the FAA has been aggressive enough in doing their job...

BORGER: But -- CAFFERTY: Do the job. Inspect the airplanes. When they're all safe to fly, we'll all climb on them and go somewhere.

BLITZER: What do you think, Gloria?

BORGER: Well, but I think that's the problem that's underlying all of this, which is that the FAA didn't do its job. There was that controversy with Southwest Airlines. And now they want to -- they're going to start doing their jobs and so the airlines are running scared because they know they're going to be overregulated for a while.

That's the way these things work. And so American Airlines does this. I'm all for checking out airplanes, don't get me wrong. But I think, you know, the FAA needs to just do its job all the time.

TOOBIN: But the larger issue here is whether the government works anymore.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BORGER: Well...

TOOBIN: This is the government where, you know, the bridge in Minnesota fell down, that orchestrated the response to Katrina. This just reminds people, I think, that the government doesn't work as well as it should. And I don't know if that's going to help Democrats or Republicans, but it really does bother a lot of people.

CAFFERTY: In this case, it's going to hurt American Airlines.

TOOBIN: Well, it should.

BORGER: Right.

CAFFERTY: (INAUDIBLE) I understand.

TOOBIN: You know, this is not a -- this is not any way to handle your maintenance issues. You should -- they have regular maintenance.

BORGER: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: (INAUDIBLE).

BORGER: But this is what happens when the regulators get too close to the people they regulate. And that's what happened with Southwest. And now where the pendulum is swinging the other way and everybody is going to get inspected all the time because the FAA didn't do its job properly in the first place.

BLITZER: All right, a good point to end this on.

All right,

Gloria, Jeff thank you. Jack, stand by for "The Cafferty File."

Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming on at the top of the hour.

Hi, Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Hi, Wolf. Thank you.

Much more on the presidential campaign tonight, our worsening economy and a stunning setback for the Bush administration in its fight for a so-called free trade deal with Colombia.

Also tonight, a new threat to the American dream and our middle class -- many banks are now ending their student loan programs. We'll have that report.

And rising anger over illegal alien gang violence and the outright failure of many local law enforcement agencies to round up illegal alien gang members. We'll have that report.

And among my guests here tonight, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Congressman Bennie Thompson, who's trying to stop the Homeland Security Department from securing the homeland. I'll be talking with Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, as well, author of The Real I.D. Act, about the refusal of some states to comply with that law.

Join us for all of that and analysis of the presidential campaign at 7:00 Eastern right here on CNN -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: It should be a lively and informative show.

DOBBS: Indeed.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Appreciate it, Lou.

So why have so many Democrats changed their minds about who to vote for in the primaries?

That's our question this hour. Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail.

Plus, the surprise phone that caught one prominent Clinton supporter off guard. We'll explain, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our political ticker, glitz, glamour and dollars -- Elton John has it all. Now Hillary Clinton is hoping some of it will rub off on her campaign, especially the dollars. Sir Elton will host a big Clinton fundraiser tonight at New York's Radio City Music Hall. It's all part of the battle of the stars the candidates have been waging to help them attract voters. There should be a big crowd there tonight. A pollster called a voter in Pennsylvania last weekend, but that was no ordinary voter. It was the governor, Ed Rendell. The pollster began asking the governor his thoughts on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, apparently unaware it was the governor on the other end of the phone. Rendell is a huge Clinton supporter, as you know.

And In a touch of irony, the governor tells "The Patriot-News" newspaper that the pollster asked him, "Did Ed Rendell's endorsement of Hillary Clinton have any impact on him," to which Ed Rendell said -- and I'm quoting now -- "Absolutely."

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is moving to change in procedural rule so that Congress will not have to vote on a free trade agreement with Colombia this year. President Bush submitted the agreement to Congress yesterday. Now Pelosi says she'll propose scrapping a timetable requiring Congress to take up trade agreements within 90 legislative days. The White House says the rule helps U.S. officials negotiate with foreign governments.

Remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can check CNNPolitics.com. The ticker is the number one political news blog on the Web. That's where you can also read my latest blog post. I posted one just a little while ago.

Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: How does some pollster get through to the governor of Pennsylvania? I'll bet if you or I tried to call him, we couldn't reach him in a week.

BLITZER: I would hang up the phone right away.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Come on. But I mean somehow -- I guess maybe it's one of those automatic dial things.

All right, the question this hour, this is interesting: Why have so many Democrats changed their minds about whom to vote for in the primaries?

Twenty-five percent of the Democrats -- excuse me -- have switched candidates in the last several months.

Joyce in North Carolina says: "I was so enthusiastic about the possibility of having a woman president in this country in the beginning. However, her 'mis-remembrances' -- I know a three lettered word for these. And the thought of a threesome -- Hillary, Bill and the poor vice president -- are a deterrent."

Elaine writes: "Maybe it's because Americans have realized that if they really want change instead of the status quo -- which they've had for decades -- the only choice is Barack Obama. It's time there was someone other than a Bush or a Clinton in the White House, don't you think?" Colleen in Charlotte, North Carolina: "I haven't. I've been planning to vote for Hillary since she entered the race January 20. I'm still going to vote for her May 6 in North Carolina. My twin 18- year-old sons and husband are going to vote for Obama. In November, we're going to vote for the Democratic candidate. So there's no mind changing at our house. We know what we want and it's out with the Republicans, pure and simple."

Ron in Oregon says: "Many Democrats changed their mind about voting for Obama when they learned that Dick Cheney was his cousin. Many more changed their minds about voting for Hillary when they found out she subjected her 15-year-old daughter to enemy sniper fire in Bosnia. It turns out Hillary was safer that day than Dick Cheney's hunting partner."

Annie in Sandusky, Ohio: "To quote Bill Clinton, 'You'd better vote for the candidate that tells you to think and hope.' That would be Barack Obama."

And Stacy in Fairfax, Virginia says: "Because they're two of the best Democratic candidates to run at the same time ever."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile. Look for yours there among the hundreds that are posted.

Are they going to cancel the rest of this Olympic Torch thing, do you think, Wolf? There's some talk they may just wrap it up.

BLITZER: They were thinking about that. You know what, it might not be a bad idea, unless they're going to be wrapping it up in China. I suspect there won't be many demonstrations there.

CAFFERTY: No, no, no. The streets will be empty. And everything there is the way they want it.

BLITZER: It would be very smooth, very smooth.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right, Jack.

See you tomorrow. Thank you.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: We're going to go back to San Francisco live next. We've been following that Olympic Torch as it has been making its way through the city.

Dan Simon is standing by. It's getting close to its destination, we think.

And also coming up, we're going to have more on a typical white woman. Barack Obama's grandmother is appearing in a campaign commercial. That's what she's been called. Jeanne Moos will have a Moost Unusual look at what's going on.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Three hours ago, they started that run out in San Francisco, the Olympic Torch.

Let's update our viewers on what we know right now.

Dan Simon, give us the very latest.

SIMON: Well, Wolf, we just got official word here at Justin Herman Plaza that the closing ceremony was canceled. They just announced it on the loudspeaker, telling the thousands of people who have gathered here. A lot of looks of disbelief.

The crowd is starting to thin out a bit. Keep in mind, it is rush hour here in San Francisco, so the streets are going to be clogged.

In terms of where the Torch is, we don't know exactly. We don't have total confirmation. But we think it might be on a bus 19th Avenue headed south from the Golden Gate Bridge. That might put it going toward the airport.

We know that there's supposed to be a closing ceremony at an undetermined location -- at least that's what the mayor says. They will have some sort of closing ceremony. We're just not entirely sure where that's going to be.

But, nonetheless, it has been a very chaotic day here in San Francisco. You'd be hard-pressed to call this a successful Torch Relay, but then again, it might beat the alternative, considering you had thousands of protesters on the street who were ready, seemingly, to create some havoc here on the streets. So, I guess from the city's point of view, they would rather have it be like this than have a repeat of what you saw in Europe -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Next stop from San Francisco, Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Dan Simon, thanks very much.

Barack Obama told a story about his white grandmother to illustrate a point about racism during a key speech last month on race. Now she's actually appearing in a commercial for her grandson.

Jeanne Moos takes a Moost Unusual look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Finally, we meet her -- if only for four seconds.

MADELYN DUNHAM, GRANDMOTHER OF BARACK OBAMA: Well, I think it's given him a lot of depth and a broadness of view.

MOOS (on-camera): Who do you think that might be?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John McCain's mother.

MOOS (voice-over): Try Barack Obama's grandmother -- the one he made But, hey, in the speech about Reverend Wright and race.

OBAMA: I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother.

MOOS: The one Obama said had on more than one occasion uttered racial stereotypes.

OBAMA: That made me cringe.

MOOS: The one her grandson described with those three little words.

OBAMA: But she is a typical white person.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I think it would be nice if he showed greater respect for white people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He probably shouldn't have said that, but I understand totally what he means.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's the first one who put it bluntly like that, OK? And, actually, he just nailed the whole thing.

MOOS: But we don't want to revisit all that. We were just thrilled to actually glimpse Obama's grandma in one of his latest commercials featuring some of the women in his life.

DUNHAM: And a broadness of view...

MOOS: A glimpse so quick that one person posted, "Did I actually see Barack's white grandma or am I recalling a subliminal image?"

And after critics had accused Obama of throwing grandma under the bus for focusing on her to talk about race, the commercial reignited that catchphrase: "Good to see she came out from under the bus to help out her ungracious grandson. Now he can throw her back under there. Signed, GranniesAgainstObama."

But, hey, not so fast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obama grandmamas unite.

MOOS: There's an actual pro-Obama Web site, where you can buy items like a grandmotherly cushion that says I'm an Obama grandmama. On the other hand, the grandma controversy spawned merchandise emblazoned "typical white person" or "I'm a typical white person appalled by Obama's racism" or "typical white person for Obama."

As for the controversy... UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel bad. She -- he wants the publicity, but she doesn't.

MOOS (on-camera): Look it, she must not be too mad at him or she wouldn't be in his commercial.

(voice-over): Besides, Obama's 85-year-old grandma isn't exactly typical. She was the vice president of a bank. She can probably handle the phrase that's been dogging her.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thank you, Jeanne.

You've helped make our politics podcast, by the way, one of the most popular on iTunes. To get the best political team to go anytime, this is what you can do. Subscribe to CNNPolitics.com or go to iTunes.

Thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We'll see you back here tomorrow.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.

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