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Governor Mike Easley Says Clinton 'Can Deliver'; The Electability Argument; Iranian Government Responds to Hillary Clinton

Aired May 1, 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: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, a new jolt to Hillary Clinton's campaign, as she and Barack Obama wrestle over ways to bring down gas prices.

Could Clinton pull off an upset in North Carolina next Tuesday? I will ask the governor, Mike Easley, if he can deliver for his candidate next week.

And John McCain's Iraq problem. His critics are advertising his support for the war on the anniversary of the president's so-called "Mission Accomplished" speech.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, along with the best political team on television. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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

Democratic superdelegates are feeling the squeeze between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. While some still have not made up their minds, others are changing their minds. Today, a former ally of the Clintons is jumping from her camp to Obama's.

Let's go to CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley. She is in South Bend, Indiana, watching the story for us.

Candy, an interesting development.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.

And it comes, as you know, at a very good time for the Obama campaign. It has been a rough six weeks or so. And what they most would like to do right now is begin the post-Wright period. And this may help to do that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): A psychological boost and a superdelegate for a beleaguered campaign.

JOE ANDREW, FORMER DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I'm changing my support from Senator Clinton to Senator Obama.

CROWLEY: Joe Andrew is more than a switch-hitter. He's a triple, a former Clinton supporter, an Indiana native, and head of the Democratic Party in the Bill Clinton era. He says the gas tax debate is emblematic of why he moved to camp Obama. Though it seems like a surefire voter-pleaser, Obama is opposed.

ANDREW: Barack Obama took on the heavy and difficult political task of doing what is right on an energy policy and an environmental policy, and not what is politically expedient in order to give a quick pander to Hoosier voters.

CROWLEY: The gas tax dispute has emerged in the midst of a struggle over the working-class vote. Obama argues it would drain money from the federal fund that fixes roads and bridges and only save consumers 30 cents a day.

A number of economists side with Obama, also arguing a tax holiday could encourage Americans to drive more and maybe drive the cost back up.

On the politics of it, he's trying to use the issue to paint her as just another politician.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: After John McCain made the proposal, I guess Senator Clinton thought it was going to poll well, so she said, me too. I will do the same thing.

And, so, now it's the McCain/Clinton proposal to -- to suspend the gas tax.

CROWLEY: Clinton argues, her program doesn't touch the Highway Trust Fund, and any relief is better than no relief. Politically, she sees this as a way to frame him as an out-of-touch elitist.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But I find it frankly a little offensive that people who don't have to worry about filling up their gas tank or what they buy when they go to the supermarket think that it's somehow illegitimate to provide relief for the millions and millions of Americans who are on the brink of losing their jobs, unable to keep up with their daily expenses.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: The problem, of course, is that neither one of these candidates will be president this summer, when there would be this gas tax holiday. So, this is much more a debate about politics than practicality -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A moot debate, some might say. All right, thanks very much, Candy, for that.

While Democrats try to figure out who will face John McCain this fall, the Republican's critics are trying to fill the void. McCain is campaigning in the battleground state of Ohio right now. That's where our chief national correspondent, John King, is as well. John, he's got really a nice head start on the Democrats, but there are Democratic allies who are trying to fill the void a little bit.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is remarkable, Wolf.

Consider the contrast. While the Democrats are slugging it out and slugging each other, John McCain this week will visit five critical November target states, Cleveland, Ohio, a city in one of those states. Of course, he's now moved on to Iowa, on his way to Colorado. He was in Florida and Pennsylvania earlier in the week, McCain talking to blue-collar Democrats, trying to court independent voters, trying to focus on November.

But, as Clinton and Obama go at each other, as you noted, some on the left noting this is the five-year anniversary of that now infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech by President Bush, trying to nudge Senator McCain and the issues debate back to Iraq, territory that is much less favorable.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that...

KING (voice-over): The stage to himself in another November battleground, John McCain looking to make the most of a golden opportunity.

MCCAIN: There are those who are convinced that the solution is to move closer to a nationalized health care system. The key to real reform is to restore control over our health care system and restore it to the patients themselves.

KING: At the Cleveland Clinic, health care dominated the discussion.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

KING: But McCain also welcomed a chance to address blue-collar concerns that foreign trade and globalization mean lost jobs.

MCCAIN: We have failed. We have failed miserably to give education and training to workers.

KING: Critics, though, suddenly are making a more determined effort to knock McCain from his careful script.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MOVEON.ORG AD)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Major combat operations in Iraq...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: This what the liberal group MoveOn.org promises will be a million-dollar ad campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MOVEON.ORG AD)

NARRATOR: Now we need to know how long we would be in Iraq if John McCain were president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A half-million-dollar Democratic Party ad buy also centers on McCain and Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE AD)

NARRATOR: If all he offers is more of the same, is John McCain is right choice for America's future?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: McCain disputes he's more of the same, noting his early criticism of the Bush-Rumsfeld approach and advocacy of the surge policy in place now.

MCCAIN: And I think that history will judge me that the fact that I thought it was wrong and I knew what was right.

KING: But history's judgment will come long after the November election. And McCain tries to turn any Iraq question into a debate about what comes next, not the past five years.

MCCAIN: I said, as you well know, more than a year ago, I would much rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. And I still stand by that statement. My knowledge and experience, which Senator Obama and Senator Clinton do not have, dictate to me that we must succeed, and the strategy is succeeding, with spikes and with enormous difficulty and enormous sacrifice.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now, despite that recent spike in violence in April in Iraq, Wolf, Senator McCain says he's convinced the surge is working and the United States must stick with that policy, but all that violence in recent days and weeks a grim reminder that, no matter what any of the candidates for president say about Iraq, they have absolutely no control over the situation and how voters will judge the mission in Iraq come Election Day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John -- John King in Cleveland.

Americans are taking another potent election-year issue to the streets today. Thousands of people across the country are protesting crackdowns on illegal immigrants. Right now, there are rallies and marches happening in Los Angeles and New York. Demonstrators are calling for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, an idea supported by John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama.

Let's back go to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Wolf, thank you.

"Mission Accomplished," that was the wording on the banner prominently displayed behind President Bush on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln five years ago today. Bush appeared in a flight suit, you will recall, before a cheering crowd and said, "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended."

I wonder if he would like to tell that to the families of the more than 50 U.S. troops who died in Iraq last month, the deadliest in seven months. And this month's first fatality has already been recorded. Today is May 1.

The war is now in its sixth year. We have lost 4,064 troops, most of them killed long after the president said major combat operations were over.

Only the Vietnam War, the war in Afghanistan, and the Revolutionary War have lasted longer than the war in Iraq. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed. Millions have been displaced. The Iraqi army, which was supposed to be able to stand on its own by 2006, pretty much worthless.

During one recent battle, more than 1,000 Iraqi solders simply ran away, leaving the fighting to their countrymen and of course to the Americans. Today, U.S. and Iraqi troops are engaged in fierce fighting against Shiite militants in Baghdad's Sadr City. That's a fight that began in March. More than 900 civilians and militants have died since that battle began.

The White House admits that it's, "paid the price" for the "Mission Accomplished" banner, but not nearly as high a price as the men and women of our armed forces have paid.

Here is the question: What will it take to accomplish the U.S. mission in Iraq?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack. Jack Cafferty, thank you.

Know who is with you and against you. Now that another superdelegate has switched sides, North Carolina's governor says, brace for more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MIKE EASLEY (D), NORTH CAROLINA: I think there's going to be a lot of switching going on back and forth between now and Denver.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I asked Mike Easley if he can deliver North Carolina for Senator Clinton in five days and if either Democrat can win in a state that often votes Republican. Apparently, Iran wants the candidates to know it's listening. And Tehran is reacting to the recent tough talk that's been delivered by some of the candidates.

And disturbing images before, during and after those train attacks in London nearly three years ago. You're going to see what the jury saw today.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In only five days, two more important contests will be decided. But what won't yet be decided is who will be the Democratic presidential nominee.

One primary that day is in North Carolina, where Barack Obama right now leads in the polls, but where Hillary Clinton remains determined.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joining us now from Raleigh to talk about Obama and Clinton's race, the North Carolina governor, Mike Easley. He's endorsed Hillary Clinton in this race, did it only within the past few days.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

EASLEY: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Obama, at least right now, he is ahead in the polls among Democrats in North Carolina. You took the step to endorse Hillary Clinton. I guess it took some -- some guts. Why not Obama?

EASLEY: Well, I actually have been working through this in my own mind for a very good while.

I wanted Hillary to run long before she did. You know, John Edwards was in the race from North Carolina. He and I are friends. And I knew, at some point, he was going to get squeezed out, given the dynamics. And, when he did, I had a conversation with Hillary. And knowing her background, knowing her plans for turning the economy, her ability to lead, be resilient, probably, the one who can get started the quickest, put a White House together immediately, and make the changes we need to get this economy moving again as fast as possible, those are the things that took me to Hillary Clinton.

I have got a lot of respect for Barack Obama, the campaign he's run. A lot of his -- his supporters are good friends of mine. But I just felt like, at this time in our nation's history, we need somebody who's ready to go right away with a good economic policy.

BLITZER: All right.

Can -- can she win? Can she beat him in your state, North Carolina, next Tuesday?

EASLEY: Yes, she can.

I don't know -- I don't know if we're going to get there. I hope we are. We can just keep trying. I don't have a machine to put together out there, like some other states do. All I can do is go out, introduce her to the people I know, and let her tell her story, because what she's doing, making the connection between the economy and education, raising the level of knowledge, talent and skills, so that America's economy is secure, not just now, but in the future, in years beyond, so that we are the masters of our own economic destiny.

That's what Hillary Clinton is about. People appreciate that here. They have been through it. They have seen us transition through all the loss of these textile jobs to China. They know it can be done. And they know that she has the ability to do it. She's got the smarts. She's tough enough. And I think she's the one ready to lead the country.

BLITZER: The most recent Mason-Dixon poll in North Carolina among likely Democratic primary voters has Obama at 49 percent, Clinton at 42 percent, unsure nine percent, a seven-point split right now.

But it was a lot more a few weeks ago. You're the governor. You know, the governor has a lot of clout in these kinds of things. Do you think you can deliver?

EASLEY: Well, I think she can deliver for herself. All I can do is go out and introduce her to the people I know. I'm not always right, but they know I won't mislead them and I will tell them what I know about her.

BLITZER: Senator Obama and his supporters make a fair point, that he's done well in a lot of those so-called red states, states where the Democrats in presidential elections normally don't do very well, rarely win.

Would he be a more effective campaigner in your state, North Carolina? Who would be more electable against John McCain come November?

EASLEY: Well, I think we can win with -- with both candidates. I really do.

And I really -- I think Hillary's message is going to resonate better here. It doesn't matter that much, you know, in the general whether you win by one point or 10 points. But what I'm focused on is not so much the margin of victory we might have with one candidate or the other. What I'm focused on is which one can get the job done, turn the country around the quickest, which one can put a White House together, not get bogged down with distractions, and get that agenda through immediately.

And, you know, she has been fighting for the same things now for 20, 30 years. And she's not let up. She's not going to let up. She knows how to -- to work through all of these otherwise distractions to make sure that they don't occur. That is what I think giving her an advantage, that experience and that tenacity that -- you know, she's still showing it today, Wolf.

(CROSSTALK)

EASLEY: Everybody keeps counting her out. She keeps coming back.

BLITZER: He did get a good endorsement. Joe Andrew, a former chairman of the DNC, switched from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama today. What do you make of that?

EASLEY: Well, I don't know him, and I don't know why he switched.

But I think there's going to be a lot of switching going on back and forth between now and Denver. It's going to be interesting. I don't think it's all that bad. I think it's good for the American people to have to get involved, to have to make tough decisions, to recognize that this is their country, and they're going to have to stand up and pick a good leader to make sure that we get -- we get back on track.

BLITZER: So, you think...

EASLEY: And I think Hillary's the one who can do that.

BLITZER: Do you think it will go to Denver?

EASLEY: Me, well, I hope I don't have to. I hope it's resolved before then. But, if not, I will be there. Now, I like Denver. Don't get me wrong.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: No, no, I know you will go to Denver.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I know you will go to Denver. But I wonder if it's -- I'm asking if you think it will only be decided at the convention in Denver.

EASLEY: OK. I'm sorry. I misheard you.

I don't know. I think it will be decided before then. That's what my gut tells me. But I don't think it's the end of the world if it goes to Denver. People worry about that. They think things are going to come unglued, and that, you know, we will all be fighting.

But, at the end of the day, Democrats are one big happy family. We know we can beat John McCain. We know we have the right prescription for turning this country around and especially getting the economy back in shape. And that's what Hillary is focused on.

BLITZER: All right.

EASLEY: And that's why I'm focused on Hillary.

BLITZER: She's lucky to have you as a supporter, Governor. Thanks for coming in.

EASLEY: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: They're disturbing images. They involve terrorists planning their attacks before those London train bombings nearly three years ago and the immediate aftermath. You're going to see what a London jury saw earlier today.

And eye-popping profits for the world's largest publicly-traded oil company. How much did ExxonMobil make? You are going to find how much in three months and for every second.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In London today, disturbing video images from the trial of three men charged in connection to the 2005 transit system bombings.

Juliet Bremner takes a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JULIET BREMNER, ITN REPORTER (voice-over): The computers packed onto the underground station at Liverpool Street could have no idea that amongst them was Shahzad Tanweer.

Seconds later, he would detonate his bomb, killing himself and seven of them. The first plumes of smoke can be seen. Then the station fills with a cloud of dust, debris from the explosion in the tunnel. Any remaining passengers run for cover. These CCTV pictures were part of a catalogue of disturbing images played to the jury.

Above ground in slow motion, commuters on the bus immediately ahead of the doomed number 30 turned, startled by another explosion. In the entrance to the British Medical Association, whose offices overlook Tavistock Square, at the spot where the bus was blown apart, there was more CCTV.

This time, the court saw staff waiting at the start of a normal working day diving for cover as the bomb goes off. The prosecution say it's necessary to show such graphic pictures to illustrate the appalling nature of these crimes.

Earlier in the day, the jury was shown three of the bombers on a dry run for their deadly mission, a (INAUDIBLE) nine days earlier to map out a mission that would eventually claim the lives of 52 people.

Juliet Bremner, ITV News.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton has something new to back up her claim that she can win in November. Would she be a stronger candidate against McCain than Obama? The best political team on television looking forward to the fall.

The soaring cost of food is leaving a sour taste in the mouths of some lawmakers. But what can they do about it?

And the man who suggested Hillary Clinton has testicular fortitude explains himself and his colorful remark. Is that really what he meant to say? You are going to find out right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, Iran responds furiously to a threat from Hillary Clinton. Is she vying with John McCain to see who is the bigger hawk when it comes to Iran?

And find out what McCain is saying about "Mission Accomplished" five years to the day after President Bush's now infamous aircraft carrier speech. We are going to talk about that and more with the best political team on television.

Plus, a warning to Congress: Rising food prices may soon pose a bigger threat to Americans than the soaring price of gas.

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

The Iranian government is furious with Hillary Clinton over remarks about how she would handle an Iranian attack on Israel.

Let's go to Brian Todd. He's watching the story for us.

What are these Iranian officials, Brian, saying?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they're calling what Senator Clinton said irresponsible, among other things. This is after she's gone to extraordinary lengths on the campaign trail to show just how tough she's prepared to be on Iran's nuclear program.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Fresh confrontations with Iran, this time on the campaign trail. Hillary Clinton gets brushback from the Tehran regime over remarks she made the day of the Pennsylvania primary on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Asked how she would respond if Iran gets nuclear weapons and even considers attacking Israel:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA")

CLINTON: We would be able to totally obliterate them. And that's a terrible thing to say, but those people who run Iran need to understand that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: In a letter to the U.N. secretary-general obtained by CNN, Iran's deputy ambassador to the U.N. calls Mrs. Clinton's statement "provocative, unwarranted, and irresponsible, in flagrant violation of the U.N. charter."

He says his country has no intention of attacking any other nation. A Clinton aide points out, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has called for Israel to be wiped off the map. And the aide says the U.N. letter is an attempt to change the subject from that.

But on the same ABC program on the same day, Barack Obama was also critical of Senator Clinton's language.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA")

OBAMA: Using words like "obliterate" doesn't actually produce good results.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Clinton's aides say what it does produce is deterrence -- making clear to Iran how serious the consequences of an attack would be. All three presidential candidates stress their first goal is to prevent Iran from even acquiring nuclear weapons.

But recently, Hillary Clinton's talked tougher than Obama or John McCain on what she would do if Tehran got them and threatened U.S. allies. Analysts say this underscores how politically difficult Iran really is for the candidates.

JON ALTERMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I don't think anybody is sure how to deal with Iran. And the fact is, Iran has a presidential election of its own coming up in June 2009. And that may change the tone.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is still in power after that election, the only candidate willing to meet directly with him is Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton wants to engage with the Iranian regime, but won't meet with its president. John McCain wants to keep sanctions in place and not go any further than communicating with Iran through America's European allies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Senator Clinton, Brian, has some other ideas about trying to deter Iran. TODD: She does and they're pretty far out there. She wants to not only deter Iran from attacking Israel, she says she'll also protect allies like Saudi Arabia and Egypt from Iran, if those nations agree not to secure nuclear weapons. The other two candidates won't go nearly that far.

BLITZER: Brian, thank you.

So who's actually more hawkish when it comes to Iran? Would it be Hillary Clinton, would it be John McCain, would it be Barack Obama?

Let's discuss that and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's here in Washington. Jack Cafferty and Jeff Toobin, they're in New York.

Jack, I'll throw it out to you. What do you think?

CAFFERTY: I happen to agree with Senator Clinton's position on Iran. We probably don't have the right to tell them they can't develop nuclear weapons. But what we can do is say, look, long-term you can be part of the problem or part of the solution.

And if you choose to be part of the problem and cause trouble, we'll show you what trouble really is all about with a capital T.

It worked in dealing with the Soviet Union for a lot of years during the cold war. The threat of mutually assured destruction kept ever body's nukes in their pocket.

Now, Barack Obama has probably got not a bad idea, which is you don't get anywhere by just fighting, you have to talk to these people. But I think, you know, you start the conversations after they understand, in no uncertain terms, that isn't going to happen. And if it does, you don't exist anymore.

BLITZER: Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, the notion that the Iranians are complaining about saber rattling from Hillary Clinton because she used the word obliterate if they were to consider attacking Israel is kind of a joke. I mean it was Ahmadinejad, as Brian Todd pointed out, you know, who said that Israel should be wiped off the map. So come on. This is ridiculous. And she was saying that we would -- that we would respond if Iran considered doing that.

BLITZER: What do you think, Jeff?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think that letter was like an in-kind contribution to the Hillary Clinton campaign.

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: It's only a good thing to be thought of as an opponent of Ahmadinejad. BORGER: Sure.

TOOBIN: But the point is I think all three candidates are more or less in agreement that an attack on Israel would be essentially the equivalent of an attack on the United States.

The problem is, how do you stop that? How do you stop their weapons development?

And I think the Bush administration has struggled with the issue. And I expect these three candidates -- whoever wins -- will struggle, as well.

BLITZER: And I think Jack makes a good point, that a cold war is obviously a lot better than a hot war, if you will.

All right, Jack, let's talk about the battleground states, some of them, at least -- Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania. There's a new Quinnipiac University poll that shows these hypothetical match-ups -- snapshots right now that may not necessarily mean much in November. But right now, superdelegates are paying attention.

In Florida, Hillary Clinton would beat McCain 49-41. Obama would slightly lose -- 44 McCain, 43 for Obama.

Let's go to Ohio right now. Clinton beats McCain in that battleground state 48-38. Obama, once again, slightly lose, 43-42 percent.

In Pennsylvania, they both do well against McCain. Hillary does, better 51-37, Obama 47-38.

If you're a superdelegate, should you be paying attention to electability in battleground states -- Electoral College states that could make the difference between the White House or not come November?

CAFFERTY: I think Ohio and Florida might be some cause for concern. I don't think -- based on the dramatic rise in Democratic registrations -- that Pennsylvania is as much of a battleground state as it was, for example, in 2004 and 2007. The Democrats may be on the verge of putting that in their column for the long-term.

That being said, even in Ohio and Florida, eventually it's going to be a Democrat. It's going to be Clinton or it's going to be Obama running against the Republican agenda of John McCain. And my gut feeling is that any Democrat who has any kind of respectable credentials will do just fine running against the record of the Republicans in this country over the last eight years. And I don't think it's going to matter that much which one it is.

BLITZER: What do you think, Gloria?

BORGER: You know, the issue to me here, if I were a Democratic superdelegate, what I'd be worried about is electability, of course, of their candidate. But, also, I'd be looking at these poll numbers of John McCain and I'd be saying gee, this guy is doing better than I thought he was going to be doing. I mean you have a president with a popularity rating at 28 percent.

And that's because McCain is a candidate -- if you look at all of these polls we've seen in the last couple days, people like his values. They think he's patriotic. They think he tells the truth. And they like him.

And, you know, the irony here is we thought that the Republicans were going to have a hard time consolidating. It looks like the Democrats are going to have a hard time uniting around a candidate. And that's a problem.

TOOBIN: Well, you know, the Clinton campaign had a conference call this morning with Geoff Garin, their strategist, and Howard Wilson, the communications director, to tout exactly these numbers. And the question I had was these are numbers in April.

What presidential election in history has the same numbers in April as they do in November?

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: I mean I just think this is absurd to think that a handful of points either way now has much of any bearing on how it will come out in November.

Now, I don't know which one of these is a better, more electable candidate. But I think those polls will be close to meaningless come November.

BLITZER: All right, fair enough. Let's continue this conversation after a break.

It's a speech that comes back to haunt President Bush every year. Now John McCain is speaking out about that so-called "mission accomplished" speech.

Does he blame the president for it?

Plus, if you think high gas prices are bad, brace yourself. Food costs could soon skyrocket.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: John McCain offering some defense for President Bush on this, the fifth anniversary of his so-called "Mission Accomplished" speech.

We're back with the best political team on television.

Let me play the exchange that Senator McCain had with a reporter on this subject earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Do you blame President Bush for speaking in front of a banner like that?

MCCAIN: Obviously, the presidents bear the responsibility for it. And we all do.

But do I blame him for that specific banner?

Of course not. I can't -- I have no knowledge of that. I don't -- you know, I can't -- I have no knowledge of that. I can't blame him for it.

But I do -- I do say when statements are made -- a few dead- enders, last throes -- then those are, as opposed to a banner that just appeared, those are direct statements which were contradicted by the facts on the ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's referring, as some of our viewers probably remember -- a few dead-enders, Jack, statements that Donald Rumsfeld called them a few dead-enders.

CAFFERTY: Right.

BLITZER: Last throes -- Dick Cheney said the insurgency was in its last throes, as you recall. What's going on here?

CAFFERTY: Well, you know, that banner serves as annual reminder of all of the miscalculations that have gone to make up the war in Iraq. You know, we're in the sixth year now. It's longer than the Revolutionary War, the war in Afghanistan or the Vietnam War. There is no solution in sight.

John McCain himself has said it might require American military presence in Iraq for a hundred years.

You know, that banner is a very small, but not insignificant reminder, of how horribly wrong our foreign policy went about five years ago.

BLITZER: Gloria?

BORGER: Well, you know, this -- this kind of a delicate dance that McCain is doing really shows you the problem that he has, because he doesn't want to alienate the conservative base that is still very, very loyal to George W. Bush.

So what he is saying is I don't blame the president per secure, but I blame all of those bad folks that the president appointed and actually kept in office, like Donald Rumsfeld, like Dick Cheney.

And so it's going to be a very, very difficult balance for him to keep, as he goes against a Democratic presidential candidate sometime in the fall. He can do that now, but he's not going to be able to do it in September.

TOOBIN: You know, Wolf, just by coincidence, five years ago today I was at the White House researching a story for "The New Yorker," interviewing people. And I happened to be there literally as the plane landed on the aircraft carrier. And I saw everybody come out of their offices and watch and this sort of amazing feeling of triumph and success.

And, you know, that is a core moment in recent American history. I mean this is an event that everyone is going to remember from the Bush presidency.

And I think John McCain is going to struggle with this until November, of how to separate himself from that poisonous legacy...

BLITZER: And it...

TOOBIN: ...because it is just not something that is a very happy memory for many people.

BLITZER: And, Jack, what a contrast, that day five years ago and today.

Who would have thought, five years later, we would be doing a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll that showed how is Bush handling his job as president?

Twenty-eight percent approve, but get this -- 71 percent disapprove of the way he's handling his job. That's a record. That's even a higher disapproval number than Richard Nixon had at the height of Watergate.

Who would have believed that five years ago, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Well, it's amazing. And, coincidentally with what Jeff was saying, the morning -- or the day that Bush landed on that aircraft carrier, I was watching it in my office. I was doing "AMERICAN MORNING" that morning. And I told my producer, Sarah Lee (ph), to watch it. I said this man will be re-elected. The Democrats better not even bother putting anybody up to run against him in 2004.

BORGER: Right.

CAFFERTY: That was the feeling of patriotism and success that emanated from the flight deck of that aircraft carrier, because we still didn't understand that we were being sold a bill of goods. We were all caught up in America went over there, it was a short war, our guys will be coming home soon, we've won, this is a great president.

We had no idea.

BORGER: You know, and I remember watching it -- just to finish it -- alongside a Democratic political columnist who was really worried about the political ads that the White House would be able to run against Democrats using that picture of "mission accomplished" with the president walking in his flight suit. He thought it would be devastating for Democrats at the time.

BLITZER: It shows what, you how politics and situations can change oh so dramatically.

BORGER: You bet.

BLITZER: All right guys, thanks very much.

Jack, don't leave. "The Cafferty File" is still coming up.

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

Lou, what are you working on?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you.

Coming up at 7:00 Eastern here on CNN, we're still celebrating National Law Day. Today is National Law Day. You probably wouldn't believe it's Law Day, however, if you were watching, say, cable news networks and other broadcasting groups, and, of course, pro-illegal alien groups and left-wing groups, all holding protests and demonstrations today. Those open borders, pro-amnesty activists all out demanding the federal government stop enforcing U.S. immigration laws. They had just about 10 percent -- just about 10 percent of the turnout as last year. We'll have complete coverage for you from around the country.

We'll also be reporting on one community defying the federal government and the rule of law, establishing a safe haven for illegal aliens. The City of New Haven, Connecticut -- the first in the nation to give illegal aliens identity cards. And we'll report on something the pro-amnesty crowd refuses to acknowledge and that this country is the most -- namely, that this country is most welcoming nation on this planet for all immigrants -- legal and illegal.

And we'll have very latest for you on what is now a statistical dead heat in the Democratic contest for the presidential nomination.

Join us for all of that and more, all the days news at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Lou. See you in a few moments.

Blame, blame for skyrocketing food prices.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: While the economic message we're getting out of this administration sounds like let them eat cake, I assure you it is much more expensive cake than you were eating when President Clinton was in office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You're going to find out why sky high gas prices may only be the beginning.

Plus, Congress threatening to subpoena former top presidential aid Karl Rove. We're going to tell you why.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In today's political ticker, President Bush is urging Congress to approve $770 million in new money for global food and development programs. The money would help alleviate dramatically escalating food prices that threaten widespread hunger around the world. But the White House says most of the assistance would be sent to Africa. The money is being included in a broader $70 billion Iraq War funding measure that the White House sent to Congress today.

Congress wants to know why Americans are paying so much for food. A joint committee is looking at how rising food costs are hurting middle class families. The chairman of that committee, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, puts it this way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHUMER: While some might be telling us to make lemonade out of the lemons this economy has given us, even this is going to be more expensive. The price of lemons has gone up nearly 50 percent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Schumer says rising commodity and energy costs are to blame for driving up food prices.

The House Judiciary Committee is threatening to subpoena the former White House adviser, Karl Rove. The panel is giving Rove until May 12 to agree to testify about the corruption case against the former Alabama governor, Don Siegelman. Democrats are investigating whether Rove and other Republicans influenced Siegelman's prosecution. The former Democratic governor was convicted of bribery and sentenced last year to more than seven years in prison.

And Ron Paul's loyal supporters helped him become a presidential fundraising genius, setting records. Now they're putting him on the best-seller's list. The Republican's latest book has climbed to the top of Amazon.com's list of top sellers. It's entitled "The Revolution: A Manifesto". It's even out-selling the latest selection from Oprah's Book Club.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out CNNPolitics.com. The ticker is now the number one political news blog on the Web. And that's also where you can read my latest blog posts. I posted one just before the show.

Jack Cafferty has got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Yes, I was taken with Chuck Schumer allowing himself to be photographed holding a pitcher full of lemons. There's something poetic about that.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour -- in conjunction with the fifth anniversary of "Mission Accomplished" -- What will it take to accomplish the U.S. mission in Iraq?

Colin writes from Idaho: "We already accomplished the mission several accomplishments ago. Saddam no longer in power. There were no WMD. The Iraqis held elections. They elected a government. If completing the mission means eliminating every last terrorist, we may as well declare Iraq the 51st state. For every terrorist we kill, we exponentially create more. Bush's idea of a democracy in Iraq is a Starbucks on every corner and Iraqi soccer moms hauling their kids around in a Chrysler minivan."

Courtney in Connecticut: "To quote Yogi Bera, be careful. If you don't know where you're going, you might not get there. If you could refresh me on what our mission was and currently is, I might take a shot at this question. As it stands, I see only one action that could ever be deemed an accomplishment when it comes to Iraq -- complete troop withdrawal now."

Mike in New York: "The time line depends on what you declare the mission to be. If it's enough stability for us to declare victory and leave without total chaos resulting, that's probably a few years away. If it's turning Iraq into a stable democracy, we may need several generations. Japan and Germany had little or no democratic experience prior to the end of World War II. It took a generation of occupation to change the population's mind set. It can be done, but the American public doesn't have the patience for that."

Dan in Chantilly writes: "It's kind of hard to answer that with Bush changing the definition of victory every couple of weeks. If we're looking to make a stable, peaceful democracy, then no, we're not going to accomplish that. If we're looking to just extend this out until January and then blame the new guy or girl when it all falls apart, then, yes, we're on track for that."

And, finally, Don from South Bend, Indiana, where they vote on Tuesday: "We need to secure the borders of Iraq, stop the constant new insurgency from the outside. Then we need to flush out all the insurgents that are there and defeat them. It's very sad because we can't afford to be there and we can't afford not to be there."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and look at the blog there.

Did I say that right?

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: Yes, CNN.com/caffertyfile. We post hundreds of the responses we get to each of these questions and you can read them all. There's -- maybe you'll find yours. BLITZER: And this guy Don says you've got to secure the borders of Iraq. I guess we have trouble securing the borders of the United States.

CAFFERTY: Yes. We don't -- that's not what we do. It's not in our repertoire. Securing the borders, that's not our job.

BLITZER: See you tomorrow, Jack.

Thank you.

CAFFERTY: OK.

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton receives a Moost Unusual compliment. Jeanne Moos finds out just what one supporter means when he says she has testicular fortitude.

That's just ahead, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Democratic presidential candidates are doing everything they can to seem to be in touch with blue collar America. But when it comes to coffee, that can be very complicated.

CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a Moost Unusual look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Forget Coffee Mate, we're talking Coffeegate. It's all over the Internet set to music...

Populist Hillary versus coffee machine...

...Hillary battles a coffee machine.

They say Hillary can't use a coffee maker?

(on-camera): All because she was doing a photo-op at a gas station, then went in to get a cup of cappuccino, as she wondered aloud to an aide.

CLINTON: You didn't have to put the money in?

MOOS (voice-over): Now, we timed it. Hillary only fiddled around for 11 seconds before she got the coffee to start coming out. But that didn't stop critics from comparing her fumbling...

CLINTON: There you go. There it is.

MOOS: ...to the time George Bush, Sr. didn't seem to know his way around a grocery scanner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just cross this (INAUDIBLE).

MOOS: And just like Bush, Sr., Hillary is now being pilloried. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR: It's 3:00 a.m. And your children are safe and asleep.

Who do you want answering the phone?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: But answering the phone is easy compared to this.

(on-camera): And these coffee machines are finicky sometimes. The other day at a car dealership, I thought I broke the machine -- pushing all the buttons trying to get it to give me a cup of coffee.

(voice-over): As one person posted, have you ever had gas station cappuccino?

She is lucky she couldn't get that thing to work. Though, in the end, she did. So don't let Coffeegate grind you down, Hillary. Remember what that Steelworker's Union official said about you being someone...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That has testicular fortitude.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, that's exactly right. That's what we've got to have.

MOOS: What we've got to have is an explanation for where Paul Gibson got that memorable phrase.

PAUL GIBSON, USED PHRASE 'TESTICULAR FORTITUDE': To be honest with you, I have a sister that Hillary Clinton reminds me of and she would use that her -- to me in a joking way.

MOOS: Gibson says Hillary seemed to like it and he's got nothing to apologize for.

(on-camera): I thought maybe you meant to say intestinal fortitude.

GIBSON: Nope. Testicular.

MOOS: It's a tough word to say, though.

GIBSON: Yes, it is. You've got to be careful with it.

MOOS (voice-over): Especially in front of the national press. Testicular could to go nuclear -- make that nuclear.

And here's something else Gibson said.

GIBSON: I am sick and tired of the Gucci-wearing, latte- drinking, self-centered, egotistical people that have damaged our lifestyle. MOOS: Right. That's why he ended up endorsing a French vanilla cappuccino-drinking presidential candidate.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Leave it to Jeanne Moos.

You've helped make our politics podcast one of the most popular on iTunes. To get the best political team to go, subscribe at CNNPolitics.com or iTunes.

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

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

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