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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

Obama's new Pastor Problems; Decision Day for Michigan and Florida; Obama and the Latino Vote; Is Tainted Food Deliberately Imported?; President Free Trade; United States Oil Drilling; Hillary Clinton's Robert Kennedy Comment; John McCain's Health

Aired May 30, 2008 - 19:00   ET

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


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf.
Tonight new controversy over Senator Obama's church. A pastor with long-standing ties to Obama openly mocks Senator Clinton.

Tonight, decision day on the Florida and Michigan primaries just hours away. The race between Senators Clinton and Obama is at a pivotal point.

And tonight charges that some food companies may be deliberately importing tainted food, a new example of our utterly broken food safety system, all that, all the day's news, much more straight ahead tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: news, debate, and opinion for Friday, May 30. Live from New York, sitting in for Lou Dobbs, Kitty Pilgrim.

PILGRIM: Good evening, everybody.

Senator Obama is tonight is facing new controversy over his church in Chicago and this time a Catholic priest with links to Obama ridiculed Senator Clinton from the church's pulpit.

Meanwhile, the race for the Democratic nomination could be on the brink of a major turning point. The Democratic Party Rules Committee will decide tomorrow whether the disputed primaries in Michigan and Florida will count. Now the decision could determine the outcome of the race. We will have extensive coverage.

We begin with Brian Todd in Washington -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, some swift and very angry responses to this priest's remarks. He has caused some real political migraines for Barack Obama with a direct hit on Senator Clinton delivered from the pulpit.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): In front of Barack Obama's congregation, a priest with longstanding ties to Obama openly mocks Hillary Clinton, referencing her public tears earlier in the campaign.

FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER, CATHOLIC PRIEST, CHICAGO: When Hillary was crying, and people said that was put on, I really don't believe it was put on. I really believe that she just always thought this is mine. I'm Bill's wife.

(APPLAUSE)

PFLEGER: I'm white. And this is mine. I just got to get up and step into the plate and then out of nowhere came, hey, I'm Barack Obama.

(APPLAUSE)

PFLEGER: And she said oh, damn, where did you come from?

(APPLAUSE)

PFLEGER: I'm white. I'm entitled. There's a black man stealing my show.

(APPLAUSE)

TODD: This video of Father Michael Pfleger posted on YouTube was taken last Sunday at Obama's parish, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Obama was not in the church and Father Pfleger is not the pastor there. The current pastor, the man who succeeded the controversial Jeremiah Wright, said thank God for the message and the messenger when Pfleger stepped off the podium.

Obama was quick to respond issuing a statement saying, I am deeply disappointed in Father Pfleger's divisive, backward looking rhetoric which doesn't reflect the country I see or the desire of people across America to come together in common cause.

Father Pfleger would not do an interview with us, but issued a statement himself saying, I regret the words I chose on Sunday. These words are inconsistent with Senator Obama's life and message and I am deeply sorry if they offended Senator Clinton or anyone else who saw them. Obama's opponents are still outraged.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That kind of treatment of Senator Clinton is unwarranted, uncalled for and disgraceful.

TODD: As for the target of Pfleger's attack, the Clinton campaign says divisive and hateful language like that has no place at the pulpit or in our politics. Some Clinton supporters don't think Obama went far enough in his response.

Lanny Davis who believes Senator Clinton still has a shot at the nomination says regardless of the outcome Obama's response will make it tougher to heal the rifts between the two campaigns.

LANNY DAVIS, CLINTON SUPPORTER: He should have instantaneously expressed outrage, disassociated himself and talked about people in his congregation who were enjoying this hate and bigotry. So he's missing a beat and he needs to make it easy for people to have good feelings about him. TODD: No response from the Obama campaign to that. Pfleger is a priest at St. Sabina's Catholic Church on the south side of Chicago. He has not formally endorsed Obama but an aide to Pfleger says he has known Obama for about 20 years and has donated small amounts to Obama's state and national campaigns.

As a state senator Obama once directed a $100,000 grant to a community center affiliated with Pfleger's church. Pfleger also went to Iowa during the caucuses to take part in a religious forum at the behest of the Obama campaign.

One independent analyst says none of this is likely to hurt Obama politically and the remarks about Clinton may soon be forgotten. But...

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: The problem is it's brought up Reverend Wright again. That is where Obama is genuinely vulnerable because Wright was his pastor for so long. They were so close. He listened to so many of these sermons that were somewhat like the ones we heard.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: So with this latest episode on top of all the other pastor controversies, including those involving John McCain, some analysts say this may be the time for candidates to separate church from state and get away from these people altogether -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Brian, any reaction from the Catholic Church tonight to the priest's criticism of Senator Clinton?

TODD: The Chicago archdiocese has come down pretty hard on Father Pfleger. The archbishop of Chicago has issued a statement saying that Pfleger's remarks, "are both partisan and amount to a personal attack. I regret that deeply", he says. The archbishop says Pfleger has promised him that he will not enter into campaigning and will not publicly mention any candidate by name.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Brian Todd. Thanks, Brian.

TODD: Thank you.

PILGRIM: Well, another problem tonight for Senator Obama. A new opinion poll indicates Obama is losing support among white women, which is a critical group in this election. The Pew Research Center poll says only 43 percent of white women now have a favorable opinion of Obama. That is down from 56 percent as recently as February.

In other poll news tonight, Senators Obama and Clinton both appear to be formidable opponents of Senator McCain. A national poll of polls says Obama and Clinton are both ahead of McCain. A separate poll of polls suggests Obama is widening his lead in the Democratic race.

Bill Schneider has that report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Face it, Barack Obama says, this race is nearly over.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If it's not Tuesday, then it will be Wednesday or Thursday we can say that I'm the nominee.

SCHNEIDER: But it's not over until the former first lady sings. Hillary Clinton ain't singing.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They've been trying to tell me to stop running since January. And every time they say it, people rebuke it and keep voting for me.

SCHNEIDER: Does the audience think the show is just about over? Two weeks ago, the CNN Poll of Polls showed Democrats across the country favored Obama over Clinton by seven points. In our new poll of polls, Obama has doubled his lead to 14.

On February 5, Clinton won the California primary by nine points. A field poll shows California Democrats now prefer Obama by 13. They are getting on the Obama bandwagon. So are New Jersey Democrats. Clinton won the New Jersey primary by 10. Garden State Democrats now prefer Obama by seven. Clinton is making one last pitch.

H. CLINTON: And I think the coalition I've put together, the states I've won, particularly swing states, really argues very strongly that I would be the stronger candidate.

SCHNEIDER: Is she? Our poll of polls shows Obama leading McCain by three points nationwide and Clinton, exactly the same. She says she does better in the swing states. She does, in some of them. We found 12 states where Obama does better than Clinton against McCain.

Four of them -- Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Washington are swing states. We found five states where Clinton runs stronger than Obama, including three swing states. Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: If Democrats want to know whether Clinton or Obama would be a stronger candidate in November, the polls really don't show a big difference. It looks like a close race no matter who the Democrats pick. Kitty?

PILGRIM: Bill, what's your analysis on the new pastor problem from the Obama side?

SCHNEIDER: It comes at a very awkward moment for the Obama campaign because he is involved in an effort to reach out to Hillary Clinton's supporters to try to reconcile with Senator Clinton and her supporters to bring the party together because he believes he will get the nomination. This is a very awkward moment for him.

Here's an example. Tomorrow, here, at this hotel, you're going to have the Democratic Rules Committee meeting. Hillary Clinton supporters are going to show up in large numbers to protest, but the Obama campaign has told its supporters, don't show up. They do not want a confrontation on the streets of Washington with the Clinton campaign.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Bill Schneider. Thanks, Bill.

Well as Bill just reported, the Democratic Party tomorrow will take a major step towards deciding the eventual nominee. The Democratic Party Rules Committee will try to end the deadlock over the disputed primaries in Michigan and Florida.

More than two million voters have been disenfranchised because of a dispute between the state and national party officials.

Candy Crowley has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The 2000 election was a remember the Alamo moment in politics. Enshrining let every vote count into the Democrats' lexicon.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Count our vote! Count our vote. Count our vote.

CROWLEY: A potent battle cry Hillary Clinton now uses to stir up supporters as she makes her case to count the results of the unsanctioned Michigan and Florida primaries.

H. CLINTON: I believe the Democratic Party must count these votes. They should count them exactly as they were cast. Democracy demands no less.

CROWLEY: It is her best case scenario, but as Democratic Party officials prepare to meet Saturday, there is every indication their meeting will fall short of the hype. Even if the committee gives Clinton everything she wants, all delegates seated, reflecting her victories in both states, the bottom line at the end of Saturday will be that Obama still leads in pledged delegates, even the ever optimistic Clinton campaign accepts the equation.

VOICE OF HOWARD WOLFSON, CLINTON COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: We understand the road ahead of us, and we understand that Senator Obama has a lead in delegates.

CROWLEY: Still, legitimizing the results in Michigan and Florida, however it is done, will give Clinton more numbers to add to her popular vote total. A key figure, she says superdelegates should consider when making up their minds.

OBAMA: How is it going, Tampa?

(APPLAUSE)

CROWLEY: The Obama campaign no longer insists it wants a 50/50 split of Michigan and Florida. They'll agree to a compromise where she'll get more of their delegates. They can afford to be generous. This is coming to an end.

He's less than 50 delegates away from the nomination. He holds the cards and they both know that. She has promised to take this all the way to the last state in the primary season. Wednesday there will be no place left to go.

H. CLINTON: I feel really good about going through the weekend. See what the Rules, the Bylaws Committee does in Michigan and Florida. See what happens in Puerto Rico, Montana, South Dakota and then we'll see where we are.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Though Clinton runs out of states Tuesday she does not run out of options. First of all, there are those superdelegates who have not yet publicly declared and if Clinton doesn't like what the Rules and Bylaws Committee comes up with tomorrow, Kitty, she can go to the Credentials Committee later this summer. Something nobody actually wants in the Democratic Party. What they'd like is unity in the Democratic Party as they move into that convention in late August -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Candy, is there any chance that there won't be a decision tomorrow?

CROWLEY: Sure. I mean they could not come to a decision in which case they could go over into Sunday, if they think they are close. But I have to tell you. There's a real feeling among those that we have talked to that they really want to do this to find some way to settle this.

Because, as you know, for a couple of months now there have been a lot of Democrats a little concerned that this was getting too divisive, that, in fact, what may happen is the Democratic Party can't get its act together by August that people will see all this bickering, so they really would like to settle it now.

They think now is the time, so there's a lot of impetus. But absolutely they could not decide and then it automatically goes to the Credentials Committee.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Candy. We shall see.

CROWLEY: Sure.

PILGRIM: We will have complete coverage of the Democratic Party Rules Committee tomorrow. That starts at 9:00 a.m. Eastern. We'll have much more on what to expect from that meeting later in the broadcast tonight.

Also ahead, Senator Obama steps up efforts to win over skeptical Latino voters. We'll have a special report on that.

And also, new details tonight of what could be a stunning breach of U.S. cyber security by communist China. We'll have the very latest.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Senator Obama tonight is intensifying his efforts to court Latino voters. Now Obama restated his support for so-called comprehensive immigration reform and Obama supporters are even carrying his campaign to the other side of the border.

Casey Wian has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senator Barack Obama guaranteed a new comprehensive immigration reform plan within his first year in office during a lengthy interview this week with Spanish language TV network, Univision.

OBAMA: Nobody in the Senate, other than maybe Ted Kennedy, has been more consistent in saying we need to have a pathway to citizenship for those who are undocumented, already here. That we've got to deal with employers who are actively recruiting undocumented workers to make sure that they are abiding by U.S. law. And that we've got to have stronger border surveillance and security. That is probably going to be more of a combination of virtual borders, virtual patrols.

WIAN: The push to win more Latino support included a defense of Obama's vote authorizing the construction of more border fence. But with a softened position, he promised to review the fence plan and eliminate areas where it would not work. Obama also dismissed increased workplace raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement as good P.R., but not a long-term solution.

His Latino outreach effort is even extending across the border. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a key Obama supporter, praised the likely Democratic nominee before Thursday's conference of border state governors with Mexican President Felipe Calderon in Mexico City. Richardson says Obama would improve U.S. relations with Latin America.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Obama is all about dialogue and reconciliation and bringing people together. I think he'd be a president like John F. Kennedy, the way he meant -- Kennedy meant to the region. Because Obama is talking about hope and bringing people together and opportunity.

WIAN: Obama also addressed the drug cartel violence that has killed some 4,200 in Mexico in the past 18 months.

OBAMA: The violence that we've seen directed at police in Mexico is getting out of control and it's something that we've got to pledge some serious assistance to.

WIAN: It's also something the Bush administration and the Congress have failed to accomplish. (END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: Senator McCain is fighting for Latino votes as well with a new Spanish language Web site and an agreement to address the annual convention of the National Council of La Raza in July -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Casey Wian.

Well time for tonight's poll: Do you believe presidential candidates are more committed to pandering to ethnic and other special interest groups than to this country's national interest?

Yes or no? Cast your vote at loudobbs.com and we'll bring you the results a little bit later in the broadcast.

Ford Motor Company has been slashing tens of thousands of jobs. But today, Ford announced it will retool one of its factories to make its brand new compact car the Fiesta. But, the factory is not in Michigan or Georgia or in Missouri. It's in Mexico.

And that's right, Ford is shutting factories here at home and building them in Mexico and shipping the cars back across the border for sale in the United States. That apparently is the way NAFTA works.

New details tonight about communist China's apparent attempts to hack into U.S. government computer systems. There are widening concerns both inside and outside government that this nation's computer infrastructure is vulnerable and wide open to potentially devastating attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM (voice-over): The Commerce Department will not confirm or deny whether the Chinese government hacked into Commerce Secretary Gutierrez computer on his trip in December and repeated calls to the Chinese Embassy have not been returned. But the White House today commenting.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They are looking into the matter over there and for security reasons, we don't comment on particular matters that are being investigated.

PILGRIM: Howard Schmidt, former special adviser for cyber security for the White House says the Commerce Department should know better.

HOWARD SCHMIDT, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CYBER SEC. ADVISER: Back in the year 2001, the Department of Commerce was the one that helped drive the whole issue to make sure we were doing a better job on cyber security. You know so when you start looking at government officials, if, indeed, this is true, to be traveling and have their data subjected to that without taking the basic precautions, it's really embarrassing.

PILGRIM: U.S. government agencies have known for years that the Chinese government monitors foreign visitors. The U.S. State Department warned U.S. visitors to the Olympics in China saying, quote, "all hotel rooms and offices are considered to be subject to on-site or remote technical monitoring at all times. Hotel rooms, residences and offices may be accessed at any time without the occupant's consent or knowledge." Many private businessmen do not carry a laptop or a personal digital device when traveling in China.

PROF. STEVEN BELLOVIN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: There's a lot of cyber espionage going on. You need to be careful. If you have products, technology, whatever, that are of interest to foreign governments, you need to be very careful.

PILGRIM: The Pentagon, State Department and Commerce have all reported intrusions by outside hackers, thought to be from China. And private business is also a target. This year, Han Wan Jin (ph), an employee of a major technology company, was stopped at O'Hare International Airport with 1,000 documents and a one-way ticket to Beijing.

She is currently free on bail awaiting trial. And Chi Mak (ph) was recently sentenced to 24 years in prison for exporting sensitive military technology to China.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Most government agencies have rules about not carrying classified information overseas. And computers are sanitized when they're brought back into the United States to prevent any security problems.

Coming up -- are testing labs covering up negative results on imported food? We'll have a special report.

Also, a new preacher problem for Senator Barack Obama.

Will this new development impact the campaign? We'll hear from three of the nation's leading political analysts.

And we'll have dramatic new video just in to CNN taken by a construction worker on the site of a deadly crane collapse in New York.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: A construction crane today broke apart and collapsed on the east side of New York. Two construction workers were killed. The crane smashed into an adjacent building. The crane operator was killed. The second worker died later in a nearby hospital.

The "New York Post" Web site posted this dramatic cell phone video of the collapse taken by a construction worker moments after the crash. The collapse was the second deadly crane accident in New York in the past two months. In March, a crane collapsed also on the east side and left seven people dead. Well turning now to our broken food safety system, startling new information on the federal government's failure to protect this country from tainted food imports. Congress is investigating dozens of companies and private labs that may have intentionally imported tainted food into this country.

Carrie Lee reports tonight on why the federal government is not assuring the safety of the nation's food supply.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARRIE LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There have been over 300 food recalls in the United States in 16 months from pet food to seafood, vegetables and dairy products but shockingly, it's often up to private laboratories hired by the food importers to determine when tainted foods are safe.

The FDA has no authority over these labs and now Congress wants to know to what extent the labs do not tell the FDA when food may be contaminated. Consumer groups say food samples could fail inspections repeatedly or a manufacturer can switch labs to potentially get better results and we may never know about it.

CHRIS WALDROP, CONSUMER FEDERATION OF AMERICA: It's a problem because companies should not be able to shop around until they get the right lab results they want. That's not good for consumers. It doesn't protect them and it's really the companies taking advantage of the system.

LEE: The FDA acknowledges to LOU DOBBS TONIGHT that a potential loophole exists. A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee wants to close it by requiring all private labs to be certified and all lab results submitted to the FDA. Committee Chair Bart Stupak says the fact that the FDA tolerates this imminent threat to the public health is outrageous. We will probably never know how many people have suffered illness or worse because some importers have chosen to profit from selling tainted food."

This month he sent letters to 10 private labs asking them to identify importers of tainted food. The letters allege private labs discard violative test results at the direction of the importer. The committee is also asking 49 of the biggest food companies in the country to hand over their recall and safety histories. None are accused of wrongdoing but these companies do make the vast majority of food on our grocery store shelves.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEE: Now the FDA says it wants a more proactive, not reactive approach to food safety to make sure food is safe well before it gets to U.S. ports. And Kitty, as you know, it's trying to set up branches and inspections in foreign countries. But, of course, for that system to work, those countries have to cooperate and, as you've reported extensively, they're not exactly doing that.

PILGRIM: It is a tough, tough, tough thing and not being solved very easily at all.

Thanks very much, Carrie Lee.

Well time now for some of your thoughts.

Kyle in Texas wrote to us: "It never ceases to amaze me when oil prices spike. The gas prices are sure to spike as well. But those very same gas prices never seem to go down when we hear oil close lower. It must be those record profits. Greed is a bigger concern than the health of the economy and our middle class."

Sharon in Ohio wrote to us: "What is wrong with all these religious leaders? When did politics become part of God's word to his people?"

And Ken in Michigan wrote: "Thank heavens you are the only person who has a clue as to what the American people are faced with each day. Lou, you are great."

We'll have more of your e-mails a little bit later in the broadcast. Please join Lou on the radio Monday through Friday for "The Lou Dobbs Show." Joining Lou on Monday for the latest political news is Jeanne Cummings of Politico.com, Keith Richburg from "The Washington Post", and David Cay Johnston, author of "Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick you With the Bill)."

He'll also have David Sirota, author of "The Uprising" to discuss the growing populist movement. Go to loudobbs.com and loudobbsradio.com to find the local listing to "The Lou Dobbs Show" on the radio.

Coming up, tomorrow could be a decisive day in the race for the Democratic nomination and the fight over Michigan and Florida. And new pastor problems for Senator Obama. A reminder of the controversy over Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Three of the top political analysts will be here to talk about those issues and much more.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Senator Hillary Clinton, today, declared she hopes the battle for the Democratic nomination will be over next Tuesday and that's when the last primaries are held in South Dakota and Montana. Tonight, Senator Clinton is campaigning in Puerto Rico where the next primary is held on Sunday. Jessica Yellin with the campaign in San Juan, Puerto Rico, reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The eyes of the world will be on Puerto Rico in the next week.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): And Hillary Clinton got her eyes on Puerto Rico. A landslide victory here could give her the advantage in the overall popular vote. That's a moral victory she is banking on, so her family has camped out on this island.

CHELSEA CLINTON, SEN CLINTON'S DAUGHTER: And I am so proud that this is my third trip to Puerto Rico.

BILL CLINTON, FMR U.S. PRESIDENT: Chelsea and I and Hillary have now been to 42 of Puerto Rico's municipalities.

YELLIN: Barack Obama swung through town last weekend.

BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, I'm asking you to hope. I'm asking you to help (speaking foreign language).

YELLIN: A Univision poll shows Clinton leading 55 percent to Obama's 42 percent in Puerto Rico. The Clinton brand is still hot here.

SEN ROBERTO PRATS, CHMN DEM PARTY PUERTO RICO: When he was president, Puerto Rico's economy did very well. He was the president that stopped the bombing in the island of Vieques. That was an important issue for the people of Puerto Rico, and people love to see him.

YELLIN: Another advantage for Clinton, Puerto Ricans are use to having a woman in power. Sila Maria Calderon was governor here for four years.

B CLINTON: So, I ask you all, please, show up and be there for her.

YELLIN: The big question, will Clinton's Puerto Rico supporters care enough to turn out on Sunday, since they don't get to take part in the general election?

LUIS PABON, POLITICAL ANALYST: Most people in Puerto Rico, I would venture to guess that they're not even aware there's a primary going on Sunday.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: So, Kitty, Puerto Ricans are awaiting for this primary to come up and Senator Clinton is making her third visit, here. She will be here campaigning hard through Sunday. She is pinning her hopes on a victory then and she has one advantage in her back pocket, she got a big endorsement, not from a politician, not from a superdelegate, but from a superstar -- Ricky Martin, the pop singer. He says he's for Clinton -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Well, that can't hurt. Thanks very much. Jessica Yellin.

Joining me are three of the sharpest political minds anywhere and LOU DOBBS tonight contributors. We are joined by Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the "New York Daily News," Michael Goodwin; national Democratic -- Democratic national committeeman and superdelegate supporting Hillary Clinton, Robert Zimmerman; and from Miami, Carol Swain, professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University. And thanks for being with us.

You know, I really have to start with the new pastor problem for Senator Obama and it comes at a difficult time because it does remind everyone of the Jeremiah Wright issue. Robert, thoughts on this?

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, SUPERDELEGATE FOR CLINTON: You know, it's so frustrating to see this story play out yet again, because what's most disturbing to me is that Barack Obama had a very unique opportunity to speak to the violent, hateful rhetoric from that pastor and speak to the congregants who were cheering it on and to try to address that as opposed to, in fact, just expressing his disappointment. Now while his life and rhetoric doesn't reflect what the pastor said, he should have spoken much more emphphatically and strongly.

PILGRIM: Carol, do you agree that he didn't...

PROF CAROL SWAIN, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: I agree. Yeah. I think he should have shown more passion and that he should have denounced it. And it's disgraceful. It's not appropriate language in any church. It's a real setback. And I agree with the viewer that said that the pastors need to get out of politics. I agree wholeheartedly.

PILGRIM: You know, I have to say, let's play, for our viewers, a bit of this comment so they can see just the intensity, if they are just joining us, of these comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV MICHAEL PFLEGER, CHICAGO CATHOLIC PRIEST: And then, out of nowhere came, hey, "I'm Barack Obama." and she said, "oh, damn, where did you come from? I'm white! I'm entitled! There's a black man stealing my show!"

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PILGRIM: Michael, thoughts on this?

MICHAEL GOODWIN, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: It's pretty pathetic. And of course, for Obama it really does remind, not just of Jeremiah Wright, but of the long association of the church itself, and his being there. The same with Jeremiah Wright when he was saying those things the audience was cheering and applauding, too, and standing. So, Obama, I think, still has never explained himself about how he could sit there for 20 years. I mean, the notion that somehow he was surprised by these few things that Jeremiah Wright said, just doesn't hold water. It was too obvious, too many times, it seems to have been something that the church regularly engaged in and he was there for 20 years.

PILGRIM: You are all seasoned political veterans. Have you ever seen anything like this mixture of religion and politics in this campaign? ZIMMERMAN: You know, I think it's important for any campaign to talk about values and faith and moral imperatives, I think that's part of the political process. And I must respectfully differ with Carol from the perspective that I don't think this is a problem with pastors, I think this is a problem of certain pastors, whether it's Reverend Hagee, this individual pastor or Reverend Wright. It's not just hateful rhetoric that's used by them. And I think...

SWAIN: It's not just hateful rhetoric I think that the pastors do need to stay out of politics. There's plenty for them to do with the gospel, and Reverend Wright's church is in no way representative of any black churches I've attended and I belonged to a black church, I've attended plenty, and it's over the top.

ZIMMERMAN: I think...

GOODWIN: I was just going to say, too, it's not even so much a matter of whether it's representative, it's that a man who wants to be president, who is almost certainly going to be the Democratic nominee, has been for 20 years in a church where this goes on fairly routinely, it seems. I did just a little back of the envelope -- if he went to services, you know, every other week for 20 years, that would be 500 services. He never heard anything? He never saw anything that gave him second thought? I mean, it's kind of shocking.

PILGRIM: You know, well, let's go to Senator Obama's reaction, today. And he said he was deeply disappointed. But, we do have a full statement from him and I would really like to read it for the benefit of the viewers.

"I have traveled this country, I've been impressed not by what divides us, but by all that unites us. That is why I am deeply disappointed in Father Pflegler's divisive, backward-looking rhetoric, which doesn't reflect the country I see or the desire of people across America to come together in common cause."

Now, you can see that Obama is trying very hard to distance himself from this comment. Is it enough? And is it enough, not morally or ethically, is it enough politically?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, first of all, it's -- this is beyond just politics. There's a moral and ethical imperive to denounce Reverend Pflegler's comments and not just express disappointment but also speak to the congregants. Look, Senator Obama's life has been about unity, it's been about bringing people together and that's to his credit. And certainly this rhetoric doesn't reflect any of the values Senators Obama speaks to, but he has an opportunity here now to cross a bridge, speak to the congregants who were applauding that type of vile language and he failed to do so and that's a profound disappointment.

But, I must tell you, I think, I still go back to the critical point which is we have to be able, as Democrats, to address, politically, values and people of faith. It's critical, it's an imperative. We lost the election in 2004 because we couldn't speak to people of faith and speak to their values.

PILGRIM: Carol, can you assess the political damage...

SWAIN: I agree they don't come close.

PILGRIM: Sorry?

SWAIN: I don't think Democrats come close. They need to talk about values and things that are important to people of faith and they choose to skirt around those. And what is a Catholic priest doing endorsing a candidate that has the position on abortion that Senator Obama has?

PILGRIM: The cardinal involved in this said that it is a partisan and personal attack and did denounce these remarks, just to let everyone know that. But Michael, thoughts on...

GOODWIN: Well, again, just on Obama's reaction, it does -- it's almost boilerplate for him now that this doesn't reflect, I'm disappointed, what unites us not -- that's almost word for word, I think, the message he conveyed during the first Jeremiah Wright outbreak. So, I agree with both Carol and Robert. He's got to be stronger on this, it's not enough. He needs to show his values, not just he's disappointed in what they say, but I think we need a stronger expression from him of what he is doing and clearly it's not working so far. I think the doubts about him on this issue are only going to grow because of Reverend Pflegler.

PILGRIM: It certainly is a very shocking piece of tape to look at. We're going to take a quick break, we'll be right back.

Up next, more with our panel, including the fight over Michigan and Florida. And will tomorrow be the decisive day for the Democrats? And voting in Puerto Rico, also. We'll assess the impact.

And later, "Heroes." We have the story of a Coast Guard reservist who used his civilian skills to help the Iraqi people. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Joining me again tonight, LOU DOBBS contributors, Michael Goodwin, Robert Zimmerman and Carol Swain.

DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meets tomorrow, Florida, Michigan. How rough is this meeting going to be -- Robert.

ZIMMERMAN: Well, you can see it all on CNN tomorrow. It's wall to wall coverage. I've got to say it because it is going to be an event to see. The Rules and Bylaws Committee is the insiders inside committee. It is chaired by James Roosevelt and chaired also by Alexis Herman, and the members consist of former DNC chairs, former executive director of the National Democratic Committee. And their mission tomorrow is to try to resolve the issue of what to do with Michigan and Florida. And there are a number of different options, the big debate is, everyone recognizes there has to be a penalty, the issue is how the penalty is awarded. Michigan doesn't want to seem to accept the penalty and perhaps the Obama campaign wants to kick the can down the road and let the Credentials Committee at the convention deal with this.

PILGRIM: You know, Carol, they're in a -- go ahead.

GOODWIN: I don't think that's true. The Obama campaign doesn't want to kick this down the road. The Obama campaign wants to get it over this week. And that's the plan. And I think, virtually -- Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean, I think everybody's kind of sick of the campaign except the Clintons want to keep it going. So, the question is we will they have enough muscle to keep it going. I think everybody else expects it will be finished this weekend with a settlement that essentially gives her more delegates, but basically makes Obama the winner.

ZIMMERMAN: You see, but here's the point, h ere's the challenge...

SWAIN: I think it's going to be finished.

PILGRIM: Let carol get in.

ZIMMERMAN: I yield to Carol. Always hear the professor.

PILGRIM: Go ahead, Carol.

SWAIN: I think it's going to be finished this weekend. And I believe that there will be pressure on the delegates to decide in the favor of the Obama supporters because it seems that they have outmaneuvered everyone else.

ZIMMERMAN: Look, they have run a brilliant campaign, the Obama campaign in terms of (INAUDIBLE) rules of engagement, but understand what could evolve, if, in fact, Michigan and Florida are seated. You could have a scenario where Hillary Clinton could, after Puerto Rico, end up winning the popular vote. She's only half a percent behind if you count Florida.

PILGRIM: Let's talk about that for a second. You know, if they have this big turnout. She says 55 percent to 42 percent in Puerto Rico, she's been there three times. This is the second weekend she's been there. If they get a huge turnout, say a million, she could overturn the popular vote, couldn't she, Robert?

SWAIN: That would be interesting.

ZIMMERMAN: It's quite possible.

GOODWIN: It's very possible and could actually happen. However, there is no significance to the popular vote in the delegate awarding. And what's happened is that Obama is ahead in pledged delegates, he's ahead in superdelegates and he will get the nomination on the basis of delegates.

ZIMMERMAN: Here's the problem.

GOODWIN: Popular vote doesn't mean anything. ZIMMERMAN: But, here's the problem and this is not spin, it's really third grade arithmetic. You can have a scenario where neither candidate has enough delegates to win the nomination, because if you add Michigan and Florida to the totals, you are increasing the delegate count by 100 to win the nomination.

PILGRIM: So, 2026, neither one can get right now...

ZIMMERMAN: Well, even if they got 2026, the count could be 100 higher once you seat Michigan and Florida. So, neither one could have enough delegates to win the nomination. Hillary could be leading in the popular vote, Obama could be leading in the delegate count and then we leave it to journalists like Michael Goodwin to figure that one out.

PILGRIM: Let's get Carol...

SWAIN: Well, a few months ago they said whoever had the popular vote should get the nominee because we don't want to overturn the will of the people.

PILGRIM: How do we reconcile Nancy Pelosi's comments?

GOODWIN: Well, I mean look, I mean, but -- I think we have to remember too, how did we get in this situation? All the rules in the caucus states and that sort of thing, it's not strictly a popular vote decision. You can roll up a big popular vote in California, but if you don't show up for the caucuses in Iowa you don't get your delegates. So, it is about delegates. The nomination is based on delegate majority, not popular vote.

PILGRIM: All right, last word.

SWAIN: I agree.

ZIMMERMAN: At the end of the day neither one will have enough delegates to win the nomination, conceivably. And what will the superdelegates do? Listen to the will of the people or listen to a bunch of political operatives?

(LAUGHTER)

PILGRIM: Tough question. Carol, last word? We've got to wrap it up quick...

SWAIN: I go back to what they said before that person with the most popular vote should be the Democratic nominee because this is the Democratic way. So, let's see what happens, if Hillary Clinton is the person with the popular vote.

PILGRIM: All right, we will find out a lot more by tomorrow. So, we should stay tuned to CNN. Carol Swain, Robert Zimmerman, Michael Goodwin, thank you very much.

A reminder now to vote in tonight's poll. Do you believe that presidential candidates are more committed to pandering to ethnic and other special interest groups than this country's national interest? Yes or no. Cast your vote at loudobbs.com and we'll bring you the results in just a few minutes.

Still ahead, skyrocketing diesel prices cause big trouble for truckers. And "Heroes." Tonight we introduce you to a Coast Guard reservist and emergency responder, John Brown. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Coming up at the top of the hour, the ELECTION CENTER with Campbell Brown.

Campbell, what are you working on?

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Well thanks, Kitty. At the top of the hour, will Michigan and Florida count or not? We will set the stage for tomorrow's crucial showdown in front of the Democratic Rules Committee. There are big questions about what each campaign really does want from tomorrow's meeting, and we're going to have all that and a lot more in the ELECTION CENTER. See you shortly, Kitty.

PILGRIM: We look forward to it, Campbell.

The average price of gasoline is fast approaching $4 a gallon. And the price of diesel is more than $5 a gallon in some parts of this country. Now these record high diesel prices are forcing many truckers off the roads, some of them for good. Bill Tucker has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL TUCKER, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Pat Kramer spent 33 years of her life driving a truck. On April 11th, she parked it in her yard and it hasn't moved since.

PAT KRAMER, INDEPENDENT TRUCK DRIVER: I was putting $1,200 worth of fuel in the truck for the week and only getting a check for $1,000, so I was losing $200. I thought I'd just cut my losses and park it.

TUCKER: The company she once drove for has lost nearly half of its drivers in the past year because of the soaring price of diesel. The economics don't look to get any better. Analysts say we might be at a price peak, but don't expect prices to go down and stay down.

JOHN KINGSTON, DIR OF OIL, PLATTS: We may be, for at least this round, at the peak. But the kind of fundamental structural things that have driven diesel to such high levels compared to gasoline, they're not going away, they're still there.

TUCKER: The structural things are driving diesel higher. Refineries are not meant to crank out diesel. Kingston says that roughly 70 percent of their output is designed to be gasoline, the remaining 30 percent is split between jet fuel, home heating oil and diesel. New rules, dramatically reducing the sulphur content of diesel went into effect two years ago, slowing the refining process and reducing the supply. Supply is tight while demand has remained strong.

It's a simple rule of economics that has a devastating impact on bottom lines. Pat has drained her savings and is now selling off belongings to make end's meet.

KRAMER: I got horses and a horse trailer for sale. Just sell what I got here, you know, until I can find another job. It's not very easy, believe it or not.

TUCKER: Her truck is for sale, too.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

And with prices around $5 a gallon, diesel fuel thieves are out there and thefts are on the rise. In western Pennsylvania, police say they have video of thieves who have been stealing thousands of gallons of diesel, then reselling it on the black market. But you know, Kitty, they've got the video, they just haven't had luck catching the thieves, themselves.

PILGRIM: That's such a disturbing story. Thanks very much, Bill Tucker.

Up next, "Heroes." And tonight we introduce you to U.S. Coast Guard reservist and emergency responder, John Brown. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: And now "Heroes," it's our tribute to the men and women who serve this country in uniform. Tonight, we introduce you to Coast Guard Reserve Warrant Officer John Brown. Brown brought 40 years experience as an emergency responder to what was supposed to be a desk job securing Iraqi ports. As ??? reports, that experience helped him earn a Bronze Star for bravery.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPA HOLLAND, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In his civilian job with the local office of Emergency Services, John Brown surveys the wreckage from tornadoes that recently ripped through southern Virginia. Eight months ago, he was on a different assignment, in Baghdad, as a Coast Guard reservist working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to help secure Iraqi ports.

CHIEF WARRANT OFC JOHN BROWN, U.S. COAST GUARD RES: It was an administrative job for the most part.

HOLLAND: At least on paper it was. During his six-month tour, Brown repeatedly risked his life for others during rocket attacks, building evacuations and a dangerous mission to a port of Umkaser (ph), earning him the Bronze Star.

BROWN: Well, you're in a war zone and things happen. I mean, and you're in a hostile fire area and rockets and mortars come in routinely, and you react. HOLLAND: A natural reaction for an emergency responder who's dedicated has life to helping others in this country and crises around the world.

BROWN: That's in my job description, both in my civilian career and in my Coast Guard career is to ensure the safety of others, so you just naturally try to do something to help people when they're in need and it's instinctive. It's not considering heroic, it's part of the job.

Jack Brown, Arlington County...

HOLLAND: Forty years of experience in public safety has instilled a work ethic that was critical to his success in Baghdad.

BROWN: It's about all of us. It's all about a team of people, or a group of people coming together as a team for a common purpose and putting our collective thoughts together and our collective strategies together into one strategy to accomplish our mission.

HOLLAND: Brown sees no difference between helping Virginia residents recover from disaster and working to insure the safety of civilians in Iraq.

BROWN: People are pretty much cut from the same mold and people want to go to work and raise a family and live in peace and they appreciate when people do good things for them.

HOLLAND: Philippa Holland, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: There are about 300 men and women serving with the Coast Guard in support of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" and many of them are in the north Arabian gulf protecting oil platforms and performing other maritime security operations.

We do have the results of tonight's poll -- 96 percent of you believe presidential candidates are more committed to pandering ethnic and other special interest groups that to this country's national interest.

Well, the final round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee is tonight in Washington. A record 288 spellers entered this year. The competitors range in age from eight to 15. And among the words they had to tackle in the opening rounds: ambuscade, espousal, and elucidate.

Could you spell those words when you 8-years-old. Now the finals are tonight 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Time now for some of your thoughts.

And Dana in Michigan wrote, "Hey Lou, I'm back on the road as a truck driver now that I finally got a job after mine went to Mexico. Fuel prices are killing us and taking the food right out of our mouths. I hope Congress is listening. Thanks, Lou, keep fighting for us, we need you."

And Kaia in Tennessee wrote: "Lou, my 7-year-old daughter has recently realized that almost everything she picks up in the store and at home says 'Made in China.' She asked me why is everything here made in China, and everything in China say 'Made in the USA'? If that were only the case.

And Linda in Florida wrote: "I am a 'typical white female' in her 50s in Florida and I started watching your show because of the treatment of Hillary during this campaign. Now that the superdelegates and not the people are nominating Obama, I am switching to Independent for the general election. I will continue to watch your show for very informative information on what's happening."

We love hearing from you. Send us your thoughts at loudobbs.com.

Thanks for being with us. For all of us here, good night from New York.

The "ELECTION CENTER" with Campbell Brown starts right now -- Campbell.