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THIS WEEK IN POLITICS

Reporting the Week's Political News

Aired May 25, 2008 - 13:00   ET

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


TOM FOREMAN, HOST: Do not turn off your TV. This report is coming from the political front lines, where a war of the worlds is erupting between Democrats and Republicans, a war over how the U.S. should deal with future threats in a dangerous world from places like Cuba, Iran, and North Korea. Voters looking for a new commander in chief, run in terror, as words like appeasement and cowboy diplomacy flash across the battlefield. Don't panic. It's only THIS WEEK IN POLITICS right after a look at what's in the news, right now.
(NEWS BREAK)

FOREMAN: Welcome to THIS WEEK IN POLITICS. I'm Tom Foreman. You could call it a war of the world visions. America's foreign policy became a battleground this week. At issue, should the next commander in chief make America safer through weapons or words? And can we risk being wrong?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's dangerous. It's dangerous to America's national security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: The politics of fear was in full swing this week. Republican John McCain ripping into Democrat Barack Obama over talk about talking with the leaders of Cuba.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Unconditional meeting with Raul Castro. These steps would send the worst possible signal to Cuba's dictators.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Because in Florida, where the two parties are going to battle for every vote in November, Cuba is still seen as an enemy only 90 miles away. The Democrats were hitting back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have never said that I was prepared to immediately normalize relations with Cuba. If we could see progress on a whole host of issues, then we should move in the direction of normalization, because what we've done over the last 50 years obviously hasn't worked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that we should have full diplomatic engagement where appropriate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: And in Washington, where Cuba hasn't exactly been on the foreign policy front burner, suddenly the White House announced that Americans can send cellular phones to Cuban friends and relatives, despite the current embargo. Cuba isn't the only point of disagreement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: The president blasted Democrats for even suggesting talking to Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We have an obligation to call this what it is, the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Still, some Democrats, notably Obama, see room for negotiation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: George Bush and John McCain have suggested that me being willing to sit down with our adversaries is a sign of weakness. It's a sign of appeasement. Their way has not worked.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your home, take shelter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Fear has always been a powerful weapon when it comes to foreign policy and presidential politics. The missile gap, the evil empire, the war on terror. But American voters right now are facing real choices on how to proceed in this war of world views. And real consequences could follow.

Here to help us navigate this world of trouble, Politico senior editor David Mark joins us from their Virginia headquarters. And with me in our Washington studio is Gerald Seib, assistant managing editor of "The Wall Street Journal."

And Gerry, I'm pretty sure jumping off the sofa won't save us from world catastrophe.

GERALD SEIB, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Tempting thought, but I don't think it will work now.

FOREMAN: But this really is emerging as one of the genuine dividing points between the Republicans and the Democrats in this election.

SEIB: And you know, Tom, it's an important one. It may seem like it's an artificial or maybe phony argument. Should you talk to somebody or not, how important can that be?

The truth is, it's a really important distinction in American diplomacy. Should you take the chance of legitimizing rogue leaders because the benefits of actually for probing for opening with a country like Iran might be worth it. That's a tough call. And it's been debated a lot for the last 40 years in American foreign policy. And it really does matter.

FOREMAN: And David, one of the things that comes out here is that both sides are a little bit talking past each other. Because the truth is, our government all the time is doing back door communications with governments that officially we're not talking to.

DAVID MARK, POLITICO: That's right. It's kind of presented as an all or nothing proposition. But as you say, even Ambassador Ryan Crocker over to Iraq has sat down with the Iranians. Maybe not the level of having the president and the leader of Iran talk, but there are these lower level negotiations going on already. So there is a lot of precedent for it.

FOREMAN: Condi Rice and Secretary Gates have also talked about the need to talk to other countries. What do we talk about in these back door conversations?

SEIB: Well, first of all, I think you have to remember where this debate started. This was Barack Obama saying in a debate, would you as president sit down with the leaders of rogue countries? And he said yes.

There is a difference between the president making that step and people like the Secretary of State or lower doing the same thing, because there is a sense of lending legitimacy to people. Maybe the U.S. doesn't want to lend legitimacy to, by having the president himself or herself do the talking. So that's the first thing.

The second thing is, there is a lot of discussion on practical steps with countries like North Korea or Iran going on right now. I think the key in those talks, the way the U.S. is structured now, is they're about specific things, practical things, not overall relations.

FOREMAN: Senator Joe Biden, the former Democratic candidate, really lit into the president over the way he has approached foreign affairs so far. Take a listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: This has been the single most ineffectual, incompetent administration in the conduct of foreign policy in modern history. And the idea that they're asserting that the Democrats would be weak on foreign policy, I find preposterous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: David, this certainly does seem like a bit of an Achilles heel for the Republicans, because the Democrats are going to point to the past eight years and over and over again, say show us where your foreign policy has been so great.

MARK: Well, that's true. And that's just the line of attack that we hear repeatedly from Barack Obama, saying -- praising John McCain's military history, but then saying he would essentially be a third Bush term in terms of foreign policy.

And Democrats have their own weaknesses. They've been targeted as being soft on national security weaklings for many election cycles. And they've lost. So they've got to watch out as well.

FOREMAN: Gerry, let's look at the future a little bit here. Here are the global stances the candidates have been talking about here. Clinton opposes meetings with Cuba and Iran without preconditions. McCain opposes meetings without preconditions with Cuba and Iran, for example. And Obama says he's willing to meet with Iran and Cuba without preconditions, but only after careful preparations. Boy, that seems like a very careful parsing of words.

SEIB: It is. And - yeah, and well I think the Obama stance in particular is becoming parsed more carefully as we go along here. I didn't say necessarily no preconditions, I said I'm willing to talk. We do need to prepare the ground. We shouldn't let -- have talks that might go off the tracks.

I think the overall thing for voters here to watch is, what's the gut impulse of the leaders? What are the gut impulses of the candidates? That's really what's coming out here, an urge to use diplomacy or an urge to use perhaps the strength of America to win an advantage in the world. I think that's the more important thing than the fine details of this conversation.

FOREMAN: David, is this really about avoiding stereotypes in some ways, isn't it? The Democrats don't want to seem weak. The Republicans don't want to seem like war mongers.

MARK: That's right. And when Barack Obama talks about meeting with these leaders of countries that aren't so friendly with the United States, it's not like he came out and said this in a policy speech. He was asked about this in the debate. And he gave presumably an honest answer. And he's kind of backed away from it several times now.

But this is something that the Democrats have to be very careful. They've been vulnerable on this in the past. And they don't really want to open themselves up one more time to being tarred as being weak on national security.

FOREMAN: Gerry, what's the best thing that could come out of an administration that said we will talk to the enemies of ours in the world?

SEIB: Well, I think the first thing you try to look are openings to make things better or openings to increase America's advantages.

The second thing that might happen, frankly, and this is why Barack Obama is an interesting messenger, he's seen around the world as more of a citizen of the world than some past U.S. presidents. If there was a more U.S. diplomatic posture, I think that would be received kindly by a lot of American allies. And there would be some residual benefit, not with our enemies, but with our friends who want to see the U.S. more engaged across a broader diplomatic front.

FOREMAN: But David, what's the down side of all this? I mean, one obviously would be that a lot of people who would like to see America in a position of strength, might see this as more of a leveling of the field, as us just being a player on the world stage, not the dominant player.

MARK: That's right. The implication is that just by sitting down across the table, you're lending an air of legitimacy to Raul Castro, or Ahmadinejad, or the North Korean leaders, whoever it might be. And you're in a sense giving something away just by being on an equal playing field. And that bothers a lot of people. And a lot of voters are very sensitive to that.

FOREMAN: And that's not even getting into the issue of terrorist groups affiliated with these governments. So that's for another time. Thanks, Gerry. Thanks, David.

Still to come on THIS WEEK IN POLITICS, is Hillary Clinton running behind because she is a woman, or because she is "that" woman? On this Memorial Day weekend, will our troops in Iraq get the homecoming they deserve? And did the powers of good defeat the forces of evil in the great commuter race? Take a look.

Three reporters, three ways to work a car, the subway, and yes, the totally righteous biker, lean and swift in his pursuit of victory. Congress may not know how to tackle the energy crisis, but we do. High energy versus hydro carbons. No superdelegates, just spokes and spunk. The winner, well for that, you'll just have to wait. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: Guys and Dolls, the sound of a gambler in search of a sure bet. In horse racing, it's called the dead cert or a mortal lot. In politics, a sure bet is called electability. And our devil's dictionary defines that as a quality that all candidates have until the press decides they don't. And you can only see it in the rear view mirror. Here's an example. Rudy Giuliani had so much electability, that he didn't bother to campaign. And that didn't work out so well. But now despite all those devilish delegate totals, Hillary Clinton is still arguing that she has more electability than any other Democrat.

So we brought in Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis. He worked on the John Edwards campaign, but is now undeclared, and CNN political correspondent Candy Crowley, who I suspect had some declarations of her own when she found out that for all of her campaign troubles, she was not going to Puerto Rico for the latest.

Both of you take a listen to what the candidates said this week about this question of electability.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Look at what we have to do to win. Look at the states I've won. Look at the states I'm leading in. Look at the electoral map. It is clear, I am the stronger candidate against John McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Don't buy into this electability argument. You know, go with who you think best represents your vision of where America needs to go. And if you do that, I'm absolutely confident that that person will win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Candy, the numbers are so against Hillary Clinton at this point. The real issue seems to be whether or not Barack Obama has an electability problem. Does he?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the issue is for superdelegates, does he. I think it's going to be hard for her to argue if he wins that she's more electable. I mean, there's sort of something there that doesn't jibe.

Listen, I think what the problem is now is that we totally underestimated when this campaign started out that undertow of change that people really wanted. Disaffected, the people who have never voted for. Young people that had no interest. They do now.

So I don't think we're looking at the same template that we've looked at before. Will he lose voters that she might get? Perhaps. Are there voters there who she might not get but he will? Yes. I just don't think the polls mean that much right now.

FOREMAN: Chris, do you think that undertow is strong enough to carry him forward if old guard Democrats don't like him? People who liked her won't support him?

CHRIS KOFINIS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, I mean, I look at it two ways. He doesn't have electability problem, he has a former first family problem. You're talking about the most dominant family in Democratic politics, the Clintons. Former president of the United States, former First Lady. Very popular senator in New York.

Imagine if John McCain was running against Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan. I mean, how well would John McCain do? I mean, I think that is an underestimated fact, which is why I think you have -- she has incredibly strong affinity, strong support amongst classic blue collar Democrats.

I think the other part to it is, listen, there is a clear sweeping movement of change in this country. People really want to go in a new direction. The Obama campaign I think has rid that - you know, has rided (sic) that wave, you know, all the way from the beginning. We've really, I think, milked it for incredible gain. The Clinton campaign I think missed that boat last year. They tweaked their message, but it's clear that a current is in his favor.

FOREMAN: And one of the big complaints of Hillary Clinton right now is that there's not enough change on one particular front. She was complaining this week about sexism, saying that she is being somehow cheated out of this election in effect. Take a listen to what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: The idea that we would have a presidential campaign in which so much of what has occurred that has been very sexist would be just shrugged off, I think is a very unfortunate commentary about the lack the lack of seriousness that should be applied to any kind of discrimination or prejudice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Candy, I've had this discussion with many people this week, many of whom say, oh, yes, it's obvious, and many of which say, I have no idea what she's talking about. What is she talking about?

CROWLEY: She's talking about first and foremost the media coverage. That's what they're most angry about. But media coverage, as you know, covers a very broad spectrum of things. Commentators, journalists, just the facts, ma'am, sort of people.

So -- but they think that the commentary of particularly on cable has been very sexist. You know, they...

FOREMAN: (INAUDIBLE).

CROWLEY: Well, you know, they believe that things were said about her, you know, implications that she's the "B" word, were -- have been, you know, put out there. Remarks about her husband and their troubles. Columnists they think have really - have said things about her that they would never say about an African-American in a similar circumstance. They claim there's been more sexism in this race than racism.

FOREMAN: We have to turn very quickly to yet a couple words about John McCain and all of this. John McCain had to dump his association with some pastors over the whole notion that they were saying things that were untoward here. He got in bed with these guys because they wanted the vote from the religious part. Going to help them, hurt them, what do you think, Chris?

KOFINIS: I mean, it's going to hurt him. And I mean, but at this rate I'm starting to wonder whether any politician is going to go to church again...

FOREMAN: Yes.

KOFINIS: ...the way this is happening. I mean, listen, this is a problem for him, because he came out pretty hard against Senator Obama and hit him really hard on the Reverend Wright thing. Now he - you know, he clearly has an issue with two pastors and some pretty despicable remarks made by Reverend Hagee. Does this end up becoming a big issue in November? I don't think so. But it does -- I think what it does do is nullify the Reverend Wright issue and kind of puts it in the background.

FOREMAN: The whole thing. You never talk about politics or religion. You get in trouble. Thanks for being here, Chris and Candy both.

Some weeks, it is hard to tell the difference between campaigns and comedy. More on that in just a moment.

But first, this week's clearly comic moments in our political sideshow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a potential pandemic of cute. Hello Kitty, who rose from a lowly coin purse to appear in over 50,000 products, is now saying, hello, Japan. The country's tourism minister announced that the fictional feline will be a government envoy, getting kids around the globe to beg their parents for a Japanese vacation. Lacking a mouth, Hello Kitty had no comment.

Your honor, as my next witness i'd like to call high gas prices. A judge in Texas canceled a hearing on the state primary process because he didn't want to see all those lawyers wasting $4 a gallon on gasoline to repeat in court what they had already filed in written form. The legal profession better watch out. If rational thoughts like these take hold, $4 a gallon a gas could cost them a lot of $400 billable hours.

And speaking of our government hard at work, the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution declaring May 13th as Frank Sinatra Day. The bill's sponsor Democrat Jose Serrano (ph) boasts that he has downloaded over 2,000 Sinatra songs on his iPod. Now, if only they'll approve this fitting classic as the Congressional theme song.

We'll do it our way, and be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: Something about this year's campaign has come to our attention, besides the fact that everyone appears to have developed happy feet. What we've noticed is that a sense of humor now appears to be a requirement for high office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART: Have they given you one of those titles? I think what's the president, trail blazer?

MCCAIN: I think mine is jerk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Oh, the campaign, it's going very well. Very, very well. Why, what have you heard?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nothing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Earlier today, I bowled a 39.

DAVID LETTERMAN: Yeah, go get 'em.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: To explain all this falderal, I'm joined by a man who's been known to crack a joke or two himself, radio talk show Ben Ferguson, who can probably tell me what falderal means, because I'm not real sure.

BEN FERGUSON: I just want to know if you're going to dance today. You've got a big stage right there.

FOREMAN: Yes, maybe later on. Let me ask you a question. Do you think it's worse in this day and time since politicians have started doing this, to run afoul of the Sunday morning talk shows, or to run afoul of Jay Leno?

FERGUSON: Oh, I think it's run afoul of Jay Leno, unfortunately, because more people watch that show and it's funny. And we want to know that the guy we're going to vote for has a sense of humor.

But you look at what it's really boiled down to, is a lot of people believe that the main reason, or one of the little reasons that had a huge impact on the Kerry-Bush campaign was more people when polled said they wanted to have a beer with George Bush than John Kerry. And that's what's happened now with late night TV. You see all these people that are dying to go, they've missed debates this year. Fred Thompson missed a debate earlier to go on Leno. I mean, you look at this during the primary. It's can I get on the big shows that make me look funny, make me look like a person. Maybe people will just go, you know what? I don't know what he stands for, but I like that guy.

FOREMAN: Back in 2000, George Bush went on the David Letterman show. And I want to take a look at this, because this is the sort of thing that people at one point would not have even considered doing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Number one, tax relief for all Americans, except smart alec talk show hosts.

LETTERMAN: Hey, wait a minute.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

It really does seem, Ben, like some of these guys have a real flare for this, and some don't. And if you don't in this day and time, it's kind of like Richard Nixon not being good on TV.

FERGUSON: Yes.

FOREMAN: It's going to kill you.

FERGUSON: No, it's an X factor. And that's the thing that you can't teach someone is if you're going to be president of the United States of America, you have to be able to be funny and make people like you on these big TV shows.

And if your candidate can't do it, he won't make it out of the primaries. We've seen dead, you know, duds in the past. Look at Bob Dole. How many people were yelling at him, be yourself, be funny. And after he lost, he went on the Letterman show and he was hysterical. He did the Pepsi commercial with Britney Spears. It was hysterical, but he tried -- he just couldn't do it during the election.

And it cost him a chance at the White House. So these guys have to go out there, men and women have to go out there and be funny and make people like them. And to me, it's scary that it has that much influence on who people will vote for is how funny he was last night on "Saturday Night Live" or one of these big shows.

FOREMAN: It's kind of a risky edge that they walk here, though. I remember Mike Huckabee early in the campaign was a funny guy.

FERGUSON: Yes.

FOREMAN: And then people started saying, yes, but he's too funny. He's not serious enough.

FERGUSON: Yes, no, I mean, you look at guys like that where they can become jokes. I mean, look at Howard Dean. He was funny. And then he did the, you know, the big grunt that we all remember. And that was the end of his campaign.

You look at Ross Perot and it helped him being funny when he said I'm all ears. He actually got a boost in the polls.

So there's a fine line between being the life of the party and people going, is it too much so? And is that the type of guy I want in the White House? And I think that's where all these campaigns are trying to find where is that fine line. Because you watch, the closer it gets to election day, the more they pull back from these type of interviews. But early on, it's just get the face time, get in the funny magazines, do the goofy things that make people like you, so you can survive until close to November.

FOREMAN: You know, it strikes me that these aren't really without risk either. Think about John McCain this week. He was on Ellen's show. And he got asked about this question of gay marriage.

FERGUSON: Yes.

FOREMAN: Listen to the end of this. It was kind of tense for a while.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Well, I've heard you articulate that position in a very eloquent fashion. We just have a disagreement. And I, along with many, many others wish you every happiness.

ELLEN DEGENERES: Thank you. So you'll walk me down the aisle? Is that what you're saying?

MCCAIN: Touche.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Ellen, of course, engaged to her partner. But that's the danger of this, isn't it, really?

FERGUSON: That may be the first time that John McCain ever wished he was Dick Cheney during that interview. I mean, yes, I mean, that's the X factor. I mean, we saw where Ellen likes to have fun with people. She had President Bush's daughter on there and said, all right, let's call the White House and talk to your dad. And she goes you're going to get me in so much trouble. You know, don't put this number out over the air when you're dialing.

I mean, you know, there's that you don't know what they're going to do. Jon Stewart has done a lot of this and the others. Colbert have made a living out of asking the odd off the wall question to see if you can survive it in a way. So if your guy's not good on his feet, I wouldn't put him on one of these shows like "Ellen" and - because it could be a big, big crash and burn night for sure.

FOREMAN: I'll tell you, sometimes we get some great answers out of all that. Ben, good for joining us. Come back and see us again. We'll have some more fun.

Still to come, big bikes, flex cars and sticking it to the Saudis. Can we really do that?

But first, our favorites from the web, our weekly look at viral videos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) FOREMAN (voice-over): It was a week for unidentified flying objects. Well, some could be identified. A Hungarian student threw eggs at Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer.

STEVE BALLMER: That broke my train of thought.

FOREMAN: Protesting a deal between Microsoft and his government, clearly a hard-boiled guy.

And we could identify the flying body part that interrupted Russian politician Gary Kasparov, but we're not going to. Let's just say that Kasparov said it showed how his opponent's arguments were below the belt.

And finally, a very verbal bird. And you thought the candidates were going to drive you crazy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obama, yes, he can, yes, he can.

FOREMAN: We'll fly right back at you in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: Memorial Day in Washington, D.C. Happens every year, thousands of motorcyclists rumbling through in tribute to the nation's veterans, missing and fallen fighters. It's called rolling thunder, which would be a good name for the fight going on in Congress over changes to the GI bill, which has provided education to millions of veterans since World War II.

To talk it over in New York, Pete Hegseth, a veteran of Iraq, and now the executive director of Vets for Freedom. And here, Mark Benjamin, Washington correspondent for salon.com.

Let me start with you, Pete. The changes right now have proved to be quite contentious, haven't they?

PETE HEGSETH, EXEC. DIR., VETS FOR FREEDOM: They absolutely have been. It's been a contentious fight on Capitol Hill, with both the web bill and the McCain bill. Webb's bill has garnered the most support, but there are concerns from McCain, the Pentagon, and others that it doesn't sufficiently address recruitment and detention and ensure that all volunteer force is able to grow to meet the demands around the world.

FOREMAN: Well, let's take a look at the Webb bill, the cornerstone of the Webb, Hagel, and Warner all involved on this. It would pay the full cost of in-state, public university tuition for those who served three years, pay up to $1,000 a year for fees and books, provide a housing stipend and unemployment insurance, and cost about $52 billion over ten years. And it looks like the real issue here, Mark, is trying to make up for the fact that the GI bill hasn't been updated in a long time. And a lot of people think that our veterans deserve better.

MARK BENJAMIN, SALON.COM: That's absolutely right. And I think that it looks -- at least the veterans that I talked to think that the Webb bill does just that. In other words, it pays for the benefits that a lot of veterans think they deserve after serving in combat.

FOREMAN: So Mark, let's talk for a moment about the McCain Burr Graham version of this, which would increase the monthly tuition benefits from $1,100 to $1,500, allow an ability to transfer educational benefits to their family members, pay $1,000 a year for books and fees, and cost $38 billion over ten years. It's cheaper obviously, Mark. But why is that so different from the other ones in terms much the eyes of veterans?

BENJAMIN: The concern coming from McCain is that if you give soldiers generous education benefits, they will leave the military. So what McCain is basically saying is give people increased benefits over a long period of time and they'll stay in the military.

The problem with that argument is that a lot of people believe that it's sort of like saying, well, yes, you veterans don't deserve the same, you know, sort of benefits that the World War II generation got, because we want you to stay in the military. It just doesn't strike me as quite fair.

FOREMAN: Pete, how do you react to that argument that, in fact, people will bail out early if they think all these benefits are waiting for them, or might stay longer if they can pass the benefits on to their kids?

HEGSETH: Well, I think that the Pentagon has put out reports proving that that just might be the case. And it's a real - it is a concern, because it is a different force today than it was in World War II. We now have an all-volunteer military that needs to build its numbers by further recruitment, retention, ensuring that it keeps folks inside the military.

But at the same time, we need to provide the best educational benefits possible to veterans. And I think a tiered approach, where more benefits are given as soldiers and Marines stay in longer is a responsible approach. But we need to make sure we're covering education -- most of the cost of education. Just soldiers and Marines, they deserve it.

FOREMAN: And yet this has already become a political football. I want you to listen to what Barack Obama had to say about McCain's opposition to the Webb bill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I respect Senator John McCain's service to our country. He is one of those heroes of which I speak. But I can't understand why he would line up behind the president in his opposition to this GI bill. I can't believe why he believes it is too generous to our veterans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: And McCain had this response, which is very sharp. He said, I will not accept from Senator obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did.

Pete, how much does it concern you when you see this kind of political fighting breaking out, that in the end, the veterans are still the ones who are waiting for any plan?

HEGSETH: Yes, it's unfortunate, because it's very -- John McCain doesn't want to undermine benefits for veterans. He wants to make sure everybody receives what they deserve.

At the same time, he recognizes we are indeed at war. And we do have to address the legitimate concerns of a Pentagon. That's what his interest lies with the troops and their mission. And that's what he's trying to recognize. And we shouldn't be taking cheap political shots on either side. We need to get a bill passed that addresses the needs of veterans.

FOREMAN: Mark, do you have much hope that that the bill will get passed now? Are they going to hammer this out or are they going to keep warring over it?

BENJAMIN: Well, Tom, it passed the Senate 77 to 22. That's a pretty overwhelming majority. I think this thing is headed for passage.

And look, you know, I mean, the argument that somehow you shouldn't give people enough benefits because they'll leave the military doesn't quite shake out for me. In fact, the number one reason why people to join the military is for the relatively meager educational benefits that they get right now. Increasing those benefits, the argument goes, would bring good, smart people into the military. And that's really, you know, getting people in as one of the big concerns. Not as much retention.

FOREMAN: And I can hear you're trying to jump in, Pete.

HEGSETH: Tom, oh, I take issue that the number one reason people join the military is for the educational benefits. Most people join the military because they believe in serving their country, defending their country. Educational benefits are important. Some do join for that, but our folks are joining because they believe the need to defend this country.

FOREMAN: And whatever the reason, we all certainly owe a tremendous debt to the young people who serve our country. Thanks so much for being here. Mark and Pete as well.

Congress is gone for a week's vacation. Was it well earned? We'll let you decide after a look at some of the other news in THIS WEEK IN POLITICS.

Partisan politics in Washington, D.C. took a time-out this week, as all sides worried and waited for word about Senator Ted Kennedy's health. The break didn't last long, however. Quiet conversations are already beginning about who could replace this man who has played a key role in virtually every important piece of legislation for the past 46 years. Our money is on Kennedy staying right where he is. On the other hand, would he want to? Remember the Farm Bill, the one that pays subsidies to farmers even as food prices skyrocket? Well, the House passed it. President Bush immediately vetoed it. And the House overwhelmingly voted to override his veto. One tiny problem -- the bill sent to the White House, the one that got vetoed and then voted on again was missing more than 30 pages. It was incomplete. They're trying to fix it now. Doesn't anyone read these things? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: President Bush has been pushing OPEC to help with soaring costs of oil, much to the amusement of some.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO: Imagine President Bush was in Saudi Arabia to mark 75 years of official relations with the royal family. Did you see the present the royal family gave President Bush? Did you see what it was? A Schwinn. A brand-new Schwinn. That pretty much says it all, doesn't it? He goes over looking for solutions to the energy crisis. They give him a bicycle. OK?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: And Congress called in the usual suspects this week. Big oil executives yelled with them about high gas prices and even higher salaries. They've done this before, however, and it doesn't seem to matter. But what if the free market could be used to drive your pump prices down?

Renowned engineer Robert Zubrin's most known for his ambitious plan to travel to Mars. These days, however, he's looking for the key to earthly travel at affordable prices.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): What if millions of American commuters can simply kick the gasoline habit?

ROBERT ZUBRIN, AUTHOR: What we need is a competitive market.

FOREMAN: Robert Zubrin thinks it can happen. And in his new book, "Energy Victory," he insists it could start with Congress requiring that every car sold here be able to burn any fuel you pump into the tank. In three years, that would put 50 million of these so-called flex fuel cars on the road, enough to encourage new processing plants, new distribution systems.

ZUBRIN: Within three years, you'd see methanol and ethanol at every corner gas station. And they would set a price that gasoline would force to compete against.

FOREMAN: Zubrin and others insist making all new cars flex fuel capable would add only $100 or $200 to the cost of each vehicle. But the worldwide price cut would be worth billions. ZUBRIN: And gasoline would be forced to compete at the pump against ethanol and methanol, not just in Iowa, but in India, Japan, Argentina, Poland, England, everywhere. And this is how we collapse the price of oil to $50 a barrel.

FOREMAN: What was that?

ZUBRIN: And this is how we collapse the price of oil to $50 a barrel.

FOREMAN: Yes, much less than half of what it costs now. The idea is not unheard of. Brazil, for example, has been pushing alternative fuels for years. And the result has been a dramatic decline in oil dependence, even as America's has risen.

ZUBRIN: The U.S. Congress can actually break OPEC with the stroke of a pen if they would simply rise to the occasion.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Interesting idea. Of course, in Washington, nothing is that simple. So we asked our money man Ali Velshi if competition for OPEC really is a good idea.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's an excellent idea. The issue is, what's the competition. Is the competion oil? Is the competition that we use something else to create energy all together?

OPEC has had a declining influence on the price of oil for years, because they're supplying less of the oil that we use. As oil becomes more expensive, it's easier to find other sources of it. So when we go to Canada and we look at tar sands getting oil out of the ground, that becomes viable at $50 or $60 a barrel. We're over $130 a barrel. So I think the idea of other technology is very useful.

The idea of it being one specific other technology or another may not be the idea. We may need to have a portfolio. We don't heat our homes with heating oil and natural gas in the future. We don't have all our cars working with combustion engines.

FOREMAN: So you're saying...

VELSHI: I think we got to take this idea and push it a lot further.

FOREMAN: You're already moving this direction.

VELSHI: The future is here.

FOREMAN: (INAUDIBLE).

VELSHI: Absolutely. I think we really -- look at this little Tata car. You know, Tata Motors, the Indian car company is coming out with a $2,000 car for Indians. They're not looking at people buying this car because it's more fuel efficient. They're looking at people who are riding mopeds and electric tricycles moving into this car. We're going to have millions more car drivers in India and China over the course of the next few years. Our efficiency is not going to offset the growth in India and China. We have to have a sea change in the way we think about energy.

FOREMAN: Do we need to have an alternative to oil overall?

VELSHI: Yes, we absolutely do. And I think it doesn't need to be one alternative. So for instance, in the northeast of the United States, we heat our homes with heating oil. Maybe all heating for homes has to change, too. Solar or hydrogen or something else, we get off of that.

Cars, I think we can have a combination of cars that run on gasoline or something else. And I think what he was talking about...

FOREMAN: Methanol, ethanol...

VELSHI: Ethanol, methanol, building some kind of infrastructure for something else. I don't know whether it should be ethanol or methanol. Maybe it should be. I think it should be hydrogen because that's really where the future really lies. It doesn't pollute. And it's abundant. But the technology...

FOREMAN: Well, people will have to read the book. But Zubrin has big, big questions about hydrogen, but people can check that out on their own.

VELSHI: Sure.

FOREMAN: Last question in all of this, though. The big hurdle here seems to be initially, though, getting political will to do any of this...

VELSHI: Yes.

FOREMAN: ...in a substantial form, especially when so many people in politics are invested in oil. They're tied to oil. They're funded by oil. They're supported by oil. And that's the way it is.

VELSHI: And remember, many jobs in America are linked to oil. Many people's 401(K)s and IRAs invest in companies. Oil is the biggest industry in the United States. So we do profit from it, as well as pay for it. It is very hard to have the will to say, let's do something else.

But the bottom line is we have no options now. Ford has announced that it is cutting back on production of SUVs and big trucks. Why? Because Americans at $3.50 a gallon turned their back on SUVs and trucks.

If gas goes to $4 a gallon, that is around the corner, Tom, that is going to be a bigger lesson for everybody than all the legislation we can put in. Americans are changing their habits. People thought they would never do it, but they are.

FOREMAN: Food for thought for our political leaders and all of us, too.

We'll be back with everyone you need to know about next week's politics in a moment. And who is that man in Baryshnikov's pants? Sit tight. We'll tell you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): It's time to hit the road. That's me in the hat. We're packing up THIS WEEK IN POLITICS, staff, producers, even the dog. Beginning June 8th, we're heading to a new time slot. Saturday at 6:00 and now Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Eastern. It's a political party you won't want to miss.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: It's time for fast track. Everything you need to race through the next week in politics. And who better to help us than the Lance Armstrong of CNN politics...

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Where's Sheryl Crowe?

FOREMAN: ...senior political analyst Bill Schneider. She's not coming around here. The DNC rules committee is meeting next week. What's that all about?

SCHNEIDER: It's about whether to seek Michigan and Florida at the convention. If they enforce the rules and exclude Michigan and Florida, those states are going to be very, very angry. They're going to work out a compromise, state them, but not allow them to determine who gets nominated.

FOREMAN: Going to be a big change there. John McCain's having a fundraiser with a big name guest. Who is it?

SCHNEIDER: It's a man who can raise a lot of money from Republicans. His name is President George W. Bush. Remember him? McCain hopes nobody notices. He doesn't want a lot of publicity that he's allied with President Bush, but he really needs the money.

FOREMAN: OK, shhh, everyone on that one. And General David Petraeus is mulling over a very big decision. Is he also possibly getting into hot water?

SCHNEIDER: Well, he can throw a monkey wrench into the fall campaign if he announces further troop withdrawals beyond those troops that were added by President Bush. That could undercut the Democrats' argument that you've got to elect a Democrat to start withdrawing the troops. And the fall campaign would be very different.

FOREMAN: It would be, indeed. Thanks so much, Bill, for being here.

In just a moment, the tour de tight pants. But right now our late night laughs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LENO: 75,000 people attended at the banks of the river. And if you believe the media, listen to this, after the rally, Barack Obama fed them all with just five loaves of bread and two fishes. Amazing. Amazing. CONAN O'BRIEN: Hillary Clinton said that John McCain "couldn't be more out of touch." Yeah. Then Hillary said, now, if you'll excuse me, I'm about to win the Democratic nomination.

LETTERMAN: She's in debt. The Hillary Clinton campaign, $21 million in debt. Yes, that's right. And so now when she gets to the 3:00 a.m. phone call, it's the loan shark.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: With all the talk about high gas prices and Washington's inability to help, CNN decided to try some solutions our own this week. A commuting challenge. Which of three reporters could get to work cheapest and fastest?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm going to beat these two boys by taking the Metro to the bureau. One -- a little bit of a walk and one straight shot.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm driving. And I fully expect to be thwarted by Washington rush hour traffic.

FOREMAN: I'm going on the bicycle.

VERJEE: Bye, darling!

MCINTYRE: Get off the road, buddy!

FOREMAN: Eat my dust!

FOREMAN: We're way out ahead at the moment. First thing, take advantage of a little shortcut.

MCINTYRE: It's not too crowded. I wonder how Foreman is.

FOREMAN: This is where you love it. Everybody's caught in traffic and you just go smoking right past them.

MCINTYRE: We are really in the home stretch now. This car - just go, buddy, go, come on. We're in a race here for crying out loud. There's CNN. You haven't seen Tom Foreman or Zain Verjee, have you? All right.

VERJEE: Nine twenty-one.

FOREMAN: We're just getting killed on time here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Thank you.

FOREMAN: Once again, fossil fuels win out.

VERJEE: Whoa, I won! MCINTYRE: No, I was here first.

VERJEE: Were you really?

MCINTYRE: Yes.

FOREMAN: I fear we have lost. When did you guys get here, like five minutes ago, because I'm thinking...

VERJEE: He beat me by eight minutes.

FOREMAN: Really?

VERJEE: So he actually won.

FOREMAN: How did you beat her?

MCINTYRE: Took the back way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Yes, but if he counted Florida and Michigan, I would have won. Maybe the politicians will have to work this out after all.

Hey on this Memorial Day weekend, all the best to all of our troops and their families, in Iraq, Afghanistan, and wherever you may be all over the world. Thanks for your service.

I'm Tom Foreman. Thanks for watching.

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