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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

Obama Blasts McCain on Economy; Illegal Worker Crackdown; Salmonella Outbreak; Border Gun Runners

Aired June 9, 2008 - 19:00   ET

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


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, tonight Senator Obama launching a two-week tour of the country with a blistering attack against Senator McCain and his economic policy. But does Obama have an economic policy of his own?
And tonight, a stunning development, the Bush administration finally taking action to stop government contractors from hiring illegal aliens.

And tonight, deadly weather killing at least eight people as storms sweep across the country from the Midwest to the East Coast. We'll have all of that, all the day's news, and much more from an independent perspective straight ahead here tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: news, debate, and opinion for Monday, June 9th. Live from New York, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody. Senator Obama today made our worsening economy the number one issue for his election campaign. Senator Obama called for another $50 billion boost to the economy and he declared Senator McCain would continue what he calls President Bush's failed policies. President Bush himself is taking new action to step up the enforcement of our immigration laws, although somewhat belatedly, the president signing an order to stop government contractors from hiring illegal aliens and other illegal workers.

We have extensive coverage tonight, and we begin with Jessica Yellin on the presidential campaign trail. Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lou, today Barack Obama did his best to paint John McCain as the next George Bush when it comes to the economy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): Barack Obama on the economy.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is time to try something new. It is time for a change.

YELLIN: In his first policy speech of the general election the presumptive Democratic nominee repeatedly tied his opponent to George Bush, whom he mentioned 15 times.

OBAMA: Senator McCain wants to turn Bush's policy of too little too late into a policy of even less even later. The centerpiece of John McCain's economic plan amounts to a full-throated endorsement of George Bush's policies.

YELLIN: He charged McCain with flip-flopping, once opposing, now supporting Bush's tax cuts. And he accused McCain of supporting policy that would give the oil conglomerate ExxonMobil $1.2 billion in tax breaks.

OBAMA: That isn't just irresponsible. It's outrageous.

YELLIN: The McCain campaign fired back, insisting Obama doesn't understand the economy, has repeatedly voted to raise taxes, and is making claims that cannot be verified because quote, "there are not enough specifics."

OBAMA: A week from today I'll be talking about this long-term agenda in more detail.

YELLIN: He did outline a number of short-term proposals, including a $50 billion economic stimulus package in part to extend unemployment benefits and create a $10 billion fund to help folks facing foreclosure, a mostly voluntary health care program that would lower premiums to $2,500 for the average family, a middle class tax cut to about 95 percent of Americans, a windfall profits tax on oil companies, and a $4,000 a year college tuition credit for students who volunteer after graduation.

(APPLAUSE)

YELLIN: Obama is taking this pitch to battleground states over the next two weeks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: And the newest proposal of all, Lou, Obama is suggesting another round of rebate checks, $20 billion worth, in fact. He says it will help struggling Americans and he'd like to see that happen even before he would take office if he were to become president. Lou.

DOBBS: What is the total price tag here, with the middle-class tax cuts, $50 billion, 10 billion for foreclosures, $20 billion more in rebates? We're starting to see a significant number here, aren't we?

YELLIN: Well that's what the McCain campaign says. They say there aren't enough specifics to know how much all of this will cost. The Obama campaign insists it would all be paid for but they don't have the details out so, no one can verify.

DOBBS: So that's what we call long-term. Long-term is when the details come back. All right.

YELLIN: That's right.

DOBBS: Well, we've seen that before in both political parties, Republicans and Democrats alike. Thank you very much, Jessica Yellin. Well, more evidence today of our worsening economy and energy crisis, gasoline prices hitting another record high of just over $4 a gallon. AAA says price were above $4 a gallon for a second straight day. Those soaring gasoline prices are adding to pessimism on the part of working men and women.

A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows 78 percent of voters say the economy is doing poorly compared with only 22 percent who say the economy is doing well.

Our poll question tonight -- do you believe Senator Obama or Senator McCain has a clue about how to lower gasoline prices? Yes or no? Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. We'll have the results here upcoming.

The McCain campaign is trying to capitalize on rising anger among independently minded voters about the economy and other issues. McCain advisers say their best hope of defeating Senator Obama is to win the support of uncommitted voters. But those advisers also acknowledge Senator McCain faces one of the worst political environments for Republicans in years. Dana Bash has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A quick stop at this Richmond, Virginia coffee shop to get his mug on camera was John McCain's only public appearance before heading to three private fund-raisers for much-needed cash. But on his Web site McCain's campaign manager posted their strategy against Barack Obama, starting with this ominous reality.

VOICE OF RICK DAVIS, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I want to talk a little bit about today's political environment. It's among the worst in modern history for Republicans.

BASH: McCain advisers say their best shot at beating Obama is with independent voters on issues from taxes to the environment.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Obama has no record of being involved in this issue that I know of. I will stick by my record and my commitment of many years to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

BASH: The latest CNN poll shows a McCain-Obama dead heat among independents. McCain advisers also say he must win a number of so- called disaffected Democrats. Hillary Clinton voters in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, who told pollsters they would not vote for Obama. But strategists in both parties say luring them will be tough.

PETER HART, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: He's a Republican. He happens to believe we stay in Iraq as long as we can. And he's voted with George Bush 89 percent of the time.

BASH: For months Republican operatives have been privately expressing concern to CNN about how the McCain campaign is executing its strategy. MCCAIN: And that's not change we can believe in.

(APPLAUSE)

BASH: GOP fears that spilled into the open about flat visuals and a negative message in last week's primetime speech, just before Obama's.

(APPLAUSE)

BASH: Republican strategist Bill Kristol wrote in "The New York Times", "almost every Republican I've talked to is alarmed that the McCain campaign doesn't seem up to the task of electing John McCain."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: McCain advisers are well aware that there are plenty of Republicans worried about how prepared they are for a fight against Obama. But a spokesman responded by saying quote, "reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated in the past, just as they are now." Still, Lou, one senior adviser said you can be sure you won't see that now infamous green backdrop ever again. Lou?

DOBBS: Well, that is -- I think there should be a hallelujah chorus over that. If we could avoid these backdrops behind each one of these candidates that have the idiotic words, "economic policy" or whatever it may be, "change," whatever. Get rid of the backdrops altogether. I mean, it's just sort of silly propaganda nonsense, as if the American public is so stupid as to believe that either one of these candidates is zeroing in on one of these issues right now.

BASH: Well, don't get too excited because they're promising that backdrop won't be there, but I can't imagine that there won't be another backdrop behind John McCain at some point in the very near future.

DOBBS: I'm going to cling to my hope there, Dana. Thank you very much. Dana Bash.

BASH: Thank you.

DOBBS: As the campaign intensified, President Bush began a farewell tour of Europe, and the White House announced President Bush has quietly signed an order, an executive order, to crack down on the employment of illegal aliens by government contractors. As we have reported here before, government contractors frequently employ illegal aliens and other illegal workers who have no right to be working in this country, let alone working for the federal government. Lisa Sylvester has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It looks like companies that want a piece of a federal contract in the future will have to make sure they have no illegal aliens on their payroll. President Bush signed an executive order that would require all federal contractors and subcontractors to check new hires in the employment verification system known as E-Verify. The program checks an applicant's Social Security number against government data bases. In the past illegal aliens have been caught working on federal projects including airports, even military bases like Fort Bragg.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: It's always embarrassing, frankly, when we have these periodic operations in which we discover illegal workers working on federal projects paid for by federal money that's ultimately paid for by the taxpayer.

SYLVESTER: Chertoff estimates hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of employees would be impacted. DHS says E-Verify has been a huge success. Currently, more than 69,000 employers have voluntarily registered for the program.

The state of Arizona now requires all employers check their workers' eligibility status. But E-Verify has its critics and is scheduled to expire this November. Business groups and the American Civil Liberties Union say the program will disqualify legal residents and citizens from working.

TIMOTHY SPARAPANI, ACLU: Every time somebody gets married and changes their name, they get divorced, they change it back, every time there's a key punch error when information is entered from the paper form into an electronic data base, we see errors creeping into government data.

SYLVESTER: According to the Department of Homeland Security, 99.5 percent of legal workers whose names are run through the system are confirmed instantaneously and that the other .5 percent are able to resolve their issues within two days.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: The ACLU is looking at whether the president has the authority to change a voluntary program to make it mandatory without Congressional approval. Now, there is a 60-day public comment period that begins today. Then barring any legal challenges DHS will issue a final rule and the change will then take effect in the fall. Lou?

DOBBS: The ACLU is simply -- they're no longer a civil rights watchdog group or activist group. I mean, they basically are involved in advocacy. They are pro illegal immigration, pro open borders, and they are fighting at every quarter to stop enforcement of U.S. immigration law. It's really a remarkable situation, isn't it?

SYLVESTER: Yeah, the ACLU in this case, what they're saying is that it's essentially a privacy issue and they're saying that legal citizens, for instance, could get wrapped up in this, and that's why they say that they're involved. But their record on this is they have been fairly open borders minded in the past, Lou.

DOBBS: Absolutely and without any facts to support their position. At least DHS is laying it out there that it's 99.5 percent accurate and effective, the program. I can't think of anything in government that would exceed that. And I can't think of much in private industry that would exceed that.

It's a remarkable situation. Any word on why President Bush at this late hour in his presidency has decided to enforce U.S. immigration law?

SYLVESTER: You know that's a very good question. It's essentially six months out before the election. And that's what many of even the critics of this program are saying, you know, why now, why the timing of this now. We know that DHS Secretary Chertoff said with comprehensive immigration reform failing they are now trying this so- called piecemeal approach and that this is one of their initiatives.

DOBBS: So let me see if I've got this right. Comprehensive immigration reform doesn't succeed in Congress, which the Congressional Budget Office stated in a bipartisan fashion and objective fashion it was not a very smart plan, they're now going to enforce U.S. immigration laws seven and a half years into eight years into this presidency.

SYLVESTER: It is pretty late indeed, Lou.

DOBBS: You've got to love Washington. You've got to -- I don't know if love is the right word, this administration. Thank you very much, Lisa Sylvester.

Well, a major announcement from Defense Secretary Robert Gates today. Secretary Gates recommending new leaders for the Air Force to replace the two officials Gates fired last week. Secretary Gates removed those officials in a scandal over the handling of nuclear weapons and equipment.

The secretary proposing General Norton Schwartz for the job of Air Force Chief of Staff, Schwartz has a background in Air Force special operations. And Gates is also proposing top Pentagon official Michael Donley to be the new U.S. Air Force Secretary.

In Iraq insurgents killed another of our troops. The soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad. Eight of our troops have been killed in Iraq so far this month; 4,092 of our troops have been killed since the beginning of the war; 30,182 of our troops wounded; 13,427 of them seriously.

Up next here, a new effort trying to stop Mexico's out-of-control and escalating drug wars, those wars spilling across our southern border. Casey Wian will have our report. Casey?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Lou, a new effort by U.S. and Mexican law enforcement agencies to fight the drug runners who are arming Mexico's out-of-control drug cartels. We'll have details coming up, Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Casey. Look forward to it.

And a salmonella outbreak is spreading across the country, 16 states. The federal government has no idea how it started, nor is it reporting where it all began. Violent storms bringing death and destruction to states from the Midwest to the East Coast. We'll have the latest for you and a great deal more. We're coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: An outbreak of salmonella tonight spreading across the country. There are already 150 cases of salmonella poisoning connected to several different varieties of tomatoes. McDonald's, Burger King, and a number of other major food outlets have pulled tomatoes from their menus. As Louise Schiavone now reports, the government agencies responsible for protecting us have absolutely no idea where these contaminated tomatoes originated.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOUISE SCHIAVONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Once again, in areas of the U.S. people are getting sick from the food they eat. This time it's tomatoes. And so far the Food and Drug Administration has no idea how it started.

ANDREW VON ESCHENBACH, FDA COMMISSIONER: We have to recognize that the complexity of this may be such that we may not be able to pin it down to a specific field or specific location. But we're working towards that.

SCHIAVONE: Today the commissioner paid a personal visit to an FDA lab in California, where foods like these tomatoes are being tested.

ESCHENBACH: It may be a matter of days, a few days before we have enough evidence to be able to make a conclusive statement about that source or it could be perhaps longer than just a matter of a couple days.

REP. BART STUPAK (D), MICHIGAN: In 2002 we told this administration to give us country of origin labeling. At least we would know these tomatoes that have people sickened in 16 different states with salmonella, we'd at least know if they were grown here in the United States.

SCHIAVONE: Across 16 states from California to Connecticut there have been 145 tomato-related salmonella cases including about two dozen hospitalizations since mid-April. Salmonella can cause fever and acute intestinal distress.

The tomatoes in question, raw red plum, red round and red Roma tomatoes, the FDA's investigative approach here is to work backwards from illness outbreaks, determining first where the tomatoes are not from.

SARAH KLEIN, CENTER FOR SCIENCE & PUBLIC INTEREST: What we're seeing FDA do instead by announcing the places that the tomatoes are not from, is essentially they're looking for a needle in a haystack. But instead of holding up the needle they're holding up all the hay and saying this is not the needle. SCHIAVONE: The FDA recommends that restaurants stop serving sliced raw tomatoes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHIAVONE: And so, Lou, we wait as the FDA says, it could be days or longer before we know what the source of the contamination is.

DOBBS: You know I love these government officials like the commissioner of the FDA suggesting that, you know, this is hard work. It's sort of a refrain from President Bush. It's hard work. That's what we pay these people to do. But we pay them to get this done before people get sick and their lives endangered.

It's inexcusable. And we should point out that the country of origin labeling was passed by Congress in 2003, but the industry has lobbied and successfully gained the system to the point that we still do not have country of origin labeling. And I personally believe that we're going to find when this is all said and done -- I'll step out on a limb -- I think that right now there are some people trying to be very careful at some of those countries of origin. They don't want to -- they're trying to manage, I believe, part of the P.R. here and that's unfortunate.

SCHIAVONE: It is very tricky diplomatically. And what's interesting is when the FDA goes before Congress they say constantly we set the gold standard for food safety. We set the gold standard for drug safety. And if this is the gold standard, we're in trouble.

DOBBS: Yeah. And unfortunately, 150 people in even more trouble. Thank you very much, Louise Schiavone.

Violent protests erupted in South Korea over the weekend, over beef imports from this country. Forth thousand protesters there clashed with police in the streets of Seoul. At issue: South Korean President Lee's decision to resume imports of American beef.

South Korea banned U.S. beef back in 2003 after an outbreak of mad cow disease in this country. South Korean lawmakers threaten to abandon the United States-South Korea free trade agreement unless President Lee renegotiates the deal to include a ban on beef from U.S. cattle that are more than 30 months old.

Well, protests of a different nature in Mexico, hundreds of naked bike riders -- there they are -- taking to the streets of Mexico City. The nude bikers promoting bicycles as a clean energy alternative. Some of the bikers had emission-free vehicle written on their backs. The protesters calling for drivers in Mexico City's crowded and polluted streets to be more respectful of bicyclists.

Up next here, you won't believe who's helping to arm Mexican drug cartels. We'll have that answer for you and killer weather ripping across our country -- at least eight people killed and more violent weather on the way.

Stay with us. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: A new initiative today trying to crack down on the raging violence by Mexico's warring drug cartels. The governments of the United States and Mexico announcing new steps to stop or at least try to stop the illegal trafficking of weapons across the border with Mexico. The drug wars now claiming victims on both sides of that border. Many have been killed by weapons smuggled from the United States. Casey Wian has our report from Houston.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN (voice-over): These are just some of the weapons recently seized by U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agents that were destined for warring drug cartels in Mexico.

JULIE MYERS, ASST. SECRETARY, ICE: What was once a drip or even a steady but manageable flow has swelled to become an all-out tidal wave. And that wave has brought an unprecedented level of gun-related violence on both sides of our mutual border.

WIAN: Fifty-caliber sniper rifles capable of piercing armor from a mile away, machine guns, hand grenades, purchases made possible largely by profits from sales to illegal drug users in the United States.

REP. MARK SOUDER (R), INDIANA: For those people in the United States who say that it doesn't do any damage if I smoke a joint, man, it doesn't harm anybody, which gun did you help buy? If you do meth in the United States, you do heroin, did you participate in the assassination of the leaders in Mexico City by your habit?

WIAN: The Mexican government says more than 450 law enforcement officers have been killed in the past 18 months by drug cartels, increasingly operating on both sides of the border.

REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D), TEXAS: If you a look at some of the Mexican -- the drug cartels presence on the U.S. side, it's in Laredo, it's in San Antonio, it's in Houston, Dallas, and other areas. There is a Mexican drug cartel presence over here.

WIAN: The United States and Mexico formally announced a plan Monday called Armas Cruzadas, or crossed arms, to stop the illegal weapons traffic.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: As drugs come into our country, money, and illegal firearms go out. We owe it to our neighbors to help cut down on outbound smuggling.

WIAN: The plan includes intelligence sharing, a dedicated team of specially trained and vetted Mexican law enforcement agents, a weapons tracking data base, and an effort to educate gun dealers. Mexico also says it is increasing inspections of vehicles crossing the border.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WIAN: For now Armas Cruzadas involves no additional U.S. taxpayer money. The Bush administration, Congress, and the Mexican government are still wrestling with the Merida Initiative, which would provide $1.4 billion in military aid to the government of Mexico to fight those drug cartels, Lou.

DOBBS: Well, Casey, I have called for the passage of the Merida Initiative, $1.4 billion in aid to the government of Mexico because Felipe Calderon, whatever else his failings, he's had the courage and the good judgment to take on those cartels, but when I watch Congressman Cuellar, when I listen to Senator Grassley, when I think of all of the people who call themselves public servants in Washington, D.C., who refuse to secure that border, what we are watching in that Armas Cruzadas is, you know I mean it's public relations, because they refuse to show the responsibility and the sense of duty to secure that border.

And the nonsense of they're going to beef up patrols at ports of entry. That isn't where these guns are going through. It isn't where the principal source -- Mexico remains the principal source of methamphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, and heroin into the United States, and yet we have a U.S. official talking about drug users are responsible for the deaths of those Mexican officials?

What about the U.S. government that has refused to secure that border and to inspect ports and the cargo entering those ports? Why weren't they focusing on those issues as well?

WIAN: They are focusing on those issues, Lou. They say that they're making progress in securing the border. They say that this drug cartel violence that we're seeing is a natural consequence of the drug cartels being on the run, they're now resorting to terrorist-like tactics to try to intimidate the population of Mexico and they say that's because they're making progress and making it more difficult for them to get drugs into the United States.

DOBBS: OK. Have we seen any sign that Mexico is no longer the principal source of methamphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, and heroin entering the United States? These are empirical statements that can be measured and validated. And the fact is it remains Mexico, the principal source of those illegal drugs into this country, period.

WIAN: Yeah, I think what the supporters of efforts like the Armas Cruzadas initiative would say is that's still true and it's also still true that most of the drug users that are buying those drugs are in the United States, Lou.

DOBBS: Precisely and the fact of the matter is until we secure the border we can't deal with that part of the equation, that is, the supply part of the equation. Casey, thank you very much, Casey Wian in Houston.

Time now for some of your thoughts; Patricia in North Carolina, "Dear Lou, we do not need new leadership. We need real leadership. And we haven't had it from either the Democrats or the Republicans. We've already seen what it looks like when nobody in charge wants to get anything done." We certainly have.

And Carolyn in Florida, "Dear Lou, after 40 years as a Republican I've had enough. Today I received my new Independent voter registration card. I'm so happy." We're happy for you. Congratulations and welcome.

And Derek in New Jersey, "Lou, as a young voter it's usually expected for me to choose a side. After watching you for several months I've decided to stay out of the political mess and become a moderate Independent. Thanks, Lou." And we thank you and congratulations.

We'll have more of your thoughts here later in the broadcast and a reminder to join me on the radio Monday through Friday for "The Lou Dobbs Show". Tomorrow Robert Cassidy, former assistant U.S. trade representative for Asia and China on what went wrong with the deals he negotiated to let china into the World Trade Organization. All of that and more. Go to loudobbsradio.com for the local listings for the "Lou Dobbs Show."

Up next here, deadly storms leaving a trail of destruction across many states. The extreme weather could send food prices even higher.

And the governor of South Carolina, Governor Mark Sanford, is taking tough action to deal with our illegal immigration crisis. He'll be among my guests.

And Senator Clinton searching fire new role after she quit the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. I'll be talking with three top political analysts. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT. News, debate, and opinion. Here again, Mr. Independent, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Over the weekend violent weather killed at least eight people. A considerable part of the Midwest underwater from flooding tonight. It's been declared a disaster area. Southern California, by the way, and much of the Southwest remains in a drought. It's yet to be determined just how severe and long lasting that Southwestern drought will be.

The Northeast is in the grip of a record-breaking heat wave. Temperatures reaching 100 degrees. Bill Tucker now reports on the possible effect of this extreme weather on already rising food prices.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One third of Indiana has been declared a disaster area. President Bush making the declaration after nearly a foot of rain fell on the state this past weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In about two hours' time the water got about five to six foot deep. And it happened to be sewage water. I don't know where I'm going or what I'm going to do or what I'm going to wear.

TUCKER: The people of Indiana not alone. There's flooding in Wisconsin and Iowa. Large parts of those states also declared disaster areas. One hundred forty nine counties in all behind the three states. Severe thunderstorms damaged homes and property in Michigan. For the Midwest it's been a very wet and cool spring, with rainfall well above normal. Commodity markets reacted to the weather by driving up the price of a bushel of corn, up more than 50 percent from last year. With inventories at historically low levels the fear is that rising food prices can only go higher.

DELTON GERLOFF, UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE: When you have the kind of weather we've had, wet and cool spring and delayed planting, those kind of words are not comforting to the market.

TUCKER: wet and cool, however, are not bad words to everyone's ears. Some farm economists thinking that the heavy rains, while being bad for people, can be good news for crops. As long as they're not washed away. But it is still too early to tell how the crops will turn out. A hot, dry summer could change all of that.

In California Governor Schwarzenegger has already declared the state to be in a drought. And the parched Southeast is headed for its second year of drought.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCKER (on camera): And here in New York City, Lou, tomorrow we will be taking aim at the fourth straight day of 96 degrees. If that happens, it will be the first time that has ever happened in the month of June here in the Northeast. And if the forecasters are right at Weather 2000, it looks to be a long, hot summer here in the Northeast. So expect more of the same, at least in our part of the world. Lou?

DOBBS: All right, Bill. Thank you very much. Bill Tucker.

More bad news tonight for air travelers, who absolutely don't need any more bad news. American Airlines, one of the country's largest carriers, is raising its airfares. The airline says skyrocketing fuel costs are forcing it to raise the price of a round- trip domestic ticket by 20 bucks. American recently announced it would charge 15 bucks for the first checked bag. The nation's airlines have already raised their fares about -- are you ready? A dozen times so far this year.

Our government still isn't doing enough to solve our economic crisis. We'll have that report. Senators Obama and McCain going head to head, blasting each other's plans on the economy. Are those plans?

And another state taking strong action against illegal immigration. I'll be talking with the governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, here next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Well, it is hard to believe that either of the principal candidates for president, presumptive candidates for president, nominees of their party, actually have any idea in the world what to do about the high energy prices, the skyrocketing cost of gasoline. I'm joined by three of the best political analysts in the country now to discuss that and a number of other issues.

"New York Daily News" columnist and CNN contributor Errol Louis. Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky. New York bureau chief "Washington Post," Keith Richburg. Good to have you all here. Keith, does either one of these candidates have any idea what to do about skyrocketing gasoline prices?

KEITH RICHBURG, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, they both lay out plans, but the problem is they're all long-term plans. They're talking about more drilling if you're on the John McCain side. You're talking about more conservation on the Barack Obama side and kind of getting away from dependence on foreign oil. But these are all kind of long-term solutions. For the short term, I mean, McCain has this gas tax holiday, which the voters shot down because Clinton proposed that in the primaries and it didn't fly. It's seen as kind of just a real gimmick.

DOBBS: Are we going to say voters shot it down when you have a 19 percent turnout among registered Democrats?

RICHBURG: Well, she tried to ride that issue hard, and she didn't win on it. So we'll have to see.

DOBBS: What do you think, Errol?

ERROL LOUIS, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": One of the things they could do in the short term that is not getting a lost discussion is to close this loophole that enables commodity speculators to act as if they're banks to avoid the normal market limits and to do what is now perceived as a speculative interest in oil that's as great as the entire consumption of China. I mean, there's something really wrong about that, that the candidates could do something about.

DOBBS: You know, we're opening up a real -- perhaps a Pandora's box on these exchange swaps, the form of the vehicle that allows this. You know, the financial economy swells to so many degrees and orders of magnitude beyond the real economy, the financial economy, that if we got started here who knows where it would end? Perhaps we would deflate all of that financial economy and not necessarily to the positive side.

I don't think anybody has a good idea personally as to whether or not that's a valid reason for it. One of the unfortunate parts of this is that the national news media keeps reporting on Senator Obama and Senator McCain as if they actually had an idea of what they're talking about when it comes to energy policy. Neither party -- think about this. Neither party, in my opinion at least, has shown any commitment, any real understanding, and certainly no real proposal to move prices down.

JULIE ROGINSKY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, let's be real. There's not much you can do. If we had ... DOBBS: Oh, no, Julie, don't say that.

ROGINSKY: I know. Shock and appalled. But actually, let's not pander for a second to the voters. The reality is that it's the weak dollar, it's the consumption in China, it's our Middle Eastern pol -- I mean, all of these forces are coming together now to raise gas prices. And lo and behold, no one can look the American people in the eye and say you know what, in the short term we're not going to lower these energy costs because we're so dependent like drug addicts on oil that there's nothing to be done in the short term to wean us off this. So I think you're absolutely right. There's short-term things that you can do, little tweaks there, we could stop filling up the oil reserves. You know, there's a bunch of things short-term you can do, but listen, we need to look for alternative sources of energy because we're out of oil and the consumption is climbing every day.

DOBBS: And it wouldn't hurt anything to look at a bicycle or two.

RICHBURG: You never know.

DOBBS: But it is great. It's gratifying to see that the king of Saudi Arabia is now willing to talk to OPEC to discuss this because he's concerned. You know, this country right now -- One of the things, it's got to be troubling everybody. We're looking for leadership here, and what we've got, I mean, these are sort of factotums, McCain and Obama going around sort of mouthing platitudes and sort of posing ...

ROGINSKY: I don't think it's necessarily true. Obama was the only candidate that looked people in the eye and said this gas tax gimmick, which really was a gimmick, is not for real. He didn't kowtow. He didn't sit there and pretend this was sort of a free-for- all and giveaway. McCain's done that. This drilling in the ANWR, which is absolutely preposterous, Obama doesn't support that.

DOBBS: Why is that preposterous?

ROGINSKY: First of all, we will not see even if we start drilling today, for years upon years upon years we will not see one iota of oil coming out there have. And listen, we need stop ...

DOBBS: Let me ask this. Shale oil. I mean, we've got oil -- figure it out. In tens of billions of barrels in this country. Whether it's from ANWR to the North Slope, still, across the northern belt of the United States untapped. And offshore, my gosh. I mean, the coastal fields are huge. And no one knows for sure how large. We have foreign producers tapping those fields while the United States is sucking its thumb. Errol, I mean why don't we have a leader here talking about this?

LOUIS: There's enough coal for 500 years. You could go on and on about what we have and what's not getting done.

DOBBS: Let's go on and on because somebody's got to get real here. LOUIS: With all of the talk about the historic nature of this campaign, one piece of history to focus on is never before have we had two sitting senators as the major party candidate ...

DOBBS: You're scaring me.

LOUIS: Well, there's a reason for that. You know, and there's a certain lack of executive experience. There's a certain lack of private sector experience that both of these candidates have. I mean, if you don't like the way the conversation's been going in the Senate, pecking two senators to be the standard bearers for the major parties is not a way to break that problem.

DOBBS: Let's see, Keith. The only people who have is a lower approval rating than the president of the United States, who's been an abject, I think by just about any objective standard an abject failure, is the Senate and the Congress of the United States, which have been an even worse failure.

RICHBURG: Absolutely. And I think that played during the primaries to Senator Clinton's detriment and all those other Democrats who dropped out, all of whom had long experience in Washington.

DOBBS: Why would it go to Senator Clinton's detriment?

RICHBURG: Well, because ...

DOBBS: Obama's been there less.

RICHBURG: Because he was able to say I haven't been there that long.

ROGINSKY: Don't cake me off the set but that is a lower approval rating than all of those is the media. So let's not all get ahead of ourselves, but ...

DOBBS: You're going to force me to turn now to lawyers.

ROGINSKY: No. You guys are even worse than lawyers, apparently. But look, the reality is let's stop kowtowing. There is no good short-term energy solution to our oil crisis.

DOBBS: Then why ...

ROGINSKY: Because we are crack addicts about this oil.

DOBBS: And your point about the national media is precisely why we've got to start getting real because otherwise there's no accountability and we continue this kabuki dance with both of these candidates. It's going to be a very long road to November.

Keith, thank you very much. Errol, thank you very much. Julie, thank you. Kowtow, I haven't heard that one in a long time.

A reminder now to vote in tonight's poll. Do you believe Senator Obama and Senator McCain has even a clue about how to lower gasoline prices? We've given you a hint as to how we feel about it. Yes or no? Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. We'll have the results here in a moment. Up at the top of the hour the ELECTION CENTER and Campbell Brown. Campbell, what are you working on?

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN HOST: We're working on that very issue, Lou, in THE ELECTION CENTER tonight. Who's to blame for these record-high gas prices? A lot of people out there looking for potential villains. We're also going to talk about what Barack Obama and John McCain say they would do as president about high gas prices. Also was Hillary Clinton, mistreated by the media because she's a woman? Was sexism a factor in this campaign? We'll talk about that with one of the best- known leaders of the feminist movement. She's going to be here. Gloria Steinem. All that and more at the top of the hour. Lou?

DOBBS: Gloria Steinem ought to know the answer. All right, thanks, Campbell Brown.

Up next, South Carolina's tough crackdown on illegal immigration. I'll be talking with Governor Mark Sanford.

And more over the rising outrage over the Bush administration's refusal to take action to tackle our economic crisis. Why doesn't this administration know how to cut gasoline prices? We'll tell you. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: South Carolina has a new law cracking down on illegal immigration. It goes further than national measures that the White House today announced. The state law requires all employers to verify the legal status of their employees. Governor Mark Sanford joins me now from Columbia, South Carolina. Governor, good to have you back with us.

GOV. MARK SANFORD, (R) SC: Pleasure.

DOBBS: This law in South Carolina, is it in your judgment the best and most effective way to pursue this issue?

SANFORD: Well, I guess the best and most effective way would be at the federal law. I mean, ideally we wouldn't be debating this in South Carolina or across a whole other range of states in this country. But the bottom line is for whatever reason Washington has been at an absolute impasse, they've been frozen. And so what's beginning to happen is a number of other states are beginning to in essence take action, and that's ultimately what this bill represents.

DOBBS: Governor, let me, if I may, ask you to listen to what homeland security secretary Michael Chertoff had to say today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Only by promoting the legal workforce can we reduce the incentives for people to come in illegally in order to do work in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOBBS: Do you know what, governor, I've been saying exactly, if I may say this, and I don't mean this immodestly, but we have been reporting on this broadcast -- I've been saying this, I mean, literally for almost six years. Why in your judgment would it take till now with about six months of this administration remaining, six, seven months, to say how they want contractors, this administration wants contractors to the federal government to ensure that their employees are here legally? You've got a clue?

SANFORD: Well, yeah. The obvious answer is, and the same dynamic was true here in South Carolina. There are a lot of people who profit from the existing system the way that it is. And you know, whether it's a subcontractor on the coast of South Carolina or whether it's a farmer somewhere in the midlands of South Carolina, the same holds true obviously at the federal level. So there have been a lot of forces at work to either create watered down bills that do nothing or to in fact do nothing. And that's in essence been the prevailing sentiment in Washington, and today it was the prevailing sentiment in South Carolina. I think the point that brought us together and I think hopefully this will be part of the cure as well in Washington or in other states is to say wait a minute, whether you're for or against this thing there's a bigger principle at play here, and that is at the end of the day we're a nation of laws not men.

But for people to have trust in laws, they can't be wink and nod laws. And what not everybody realizes is as it relates to immigration policy we have a wink and nod system. Everybody fills out the appropriate paperwork, but at the same time millions of illegal workers are hired on a daily basis. So I think it was that bigger principle that ultimately caused us to pass this thing here in South Carolina.

DOBBS: Is it your judgment that this is going to pose a problem -- I mean, you're a Republican, Senator McCain your presumptive nominee for president. George Bush runs an administration for seven and a half years. Wink and nod? I mean, he was giggling and laughing and winking at immigration laws and border security. I mean, is this going to be ...

SANFORD: Those are your words, not mine. I'm talking about the law. I don't know about assigning them to people.

DOBBS: They are surely my words. His administration to secure the borders, refusing to inspect 95 percent of the cargo still coming into this country. How big a problem is this going to be for John McCain in this election? A man who also, by the way, not only supported but sponsored the McCain-Kennedy comprehensive immigration reform legislation that is nothing more than amnesty.

SANFORD: I suspect not that great a problem in the election itself. It will be a great problem for whoever ends up governing at the presidential level. I say that because in essence if you look at where Obama is or if you look at where McCain is there's not a great gulf of difference with regard to where they are on immigration policy. I think that where the problem comes in is in actual governance because this issue isn't going to go away after November and I think that there are a lot of people who are very frustrated with the way that the system doesn't work.

DOBBS: All right. Governor Mark Sanford, as always, good to have you with us here on the broadcast.

SANFORD: Yes, sir. Pleasure. Thank you.

DOBBS: Thank you.

Up next, does the Bush administration have a plan to fight the energy crisis in this country? To solve it? We'll have that report and more. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: The Bush administration revealing no new plans to cut energy costs or reduce the price of gasoline. But the president today said his economic stimulus package should help Americans deal with those higher prices. The White House all but ignoring the public's desperation over that $4 a gallon national average for gasoline. As Kitty Pilgrim now reports, that's not the only problem with this country's energy policy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The U.S. official in charge of energy policy, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodeman, admitted to being shocked by the current price of oil. Four dollar a gallon gasoline is now the national average, a prospect that earlier this year shocked the president.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: What did you say? You're predicting $4.00 a gallon gasoline?

QUESTION: A number of analysts are predicting $4.00 a gallon gasoline this spring when they reformulate.

BUSH: That's interesting. I hadn't heard that.

PILGRIM: The president on Monday fell back on this proposal.

BUSH: I proposed to the congress that they open up ANWR, open up the continental shelf and give this country a chance to help us through this difficult period by finding more supplies of crude oil, which will take the pressure off the price of gasoline.

PILGRIM: Nice, except the U.S. Geological Survey has found that of the 10 billion barrels of oil in that area, even if drilling started today it would take at least a decade for that oil and natural gas to reach the market.

Treasury Secretary Paulson forced to admit there really is no short term relief for Americans, blaming it on supply and demand.

HENRY PAULSON, TREASURY SECRETARY: This is not a situation that avails itself of short term fixes.

PILGRIM: Congress was supposed to discuss energy proposals Monday but that discussion was postponed. While gas is high, diesel prices have been climbing even faster.

JOHN KINGSTON, PLATTS GLOBAL ENERGY: That's not really something that the average American motorist has in mind because they're looking at the price of gasoline but if you pull out the charts and look at the movement in various types of oil, there's no doubt that diesel is dragging this thing higher.

PILGRIM: Because three quarters of U.S. goods are shipped by truck, it will also have a huge impact on the economy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM (on camera): Well, as the treasury secretary put it, we have not seen production capacity for oil grow over the past 10 years and demand has increased significantly. Americans are left without any options. Lou?

DOBBS: So we just throw up our hands and home we find serendipity, a leader who has the sense, the imagination, the spirit to come up with a solution while everybody in Washington, Democrats and Republicans alike and both of these senators on the campaign trail, walk around twiddling their thumbs and spouting platitudes and utter nonsense while posing for pictures.

PILGRIM: It certainly seems so. And Congress was supposed to debate it. They would talk about it today. They postponed it, Lou.

DOBBS: Oh, man. You know, there's a reason that no one likes either Congress or the White House. Thank you very much, or perhaps either of the two candidates who think that they want to be president. We'll see.

Kitty Pilgrim, thanks.

Tonight's poll results -- 85 percent of you saying neither presidential candidate has a clue about how to lower gasoline prices.

Time now for just a few of your concluding thoughts. Connie in Ohio said: "I know a lot of people think regulation is a bad word, but when greed is a detriment to humanity, it's time for a change. Thanks, Lou, for all that you do from a fellow independent."

Laura in California wrote about the selling of our toll roads, railroads, airports to foreign investors. "Hey, Lou, America for sale? It makes my skin crawl at the thought. Didn't any of our leaders play Monopoly growing up? If so, did they attempt to win? You never sell the railroads. Our elected officials can't see what's going on right under their noses. I love your show."

Well, I say thank you and I couldn't agree with you more. Unfortunately. Mike in Ohio said, "Lou, I have yet to see one of your broadcasts where you're not dead on concerning the important issues facing this nation. Your program should be required viewing for all our elected officials. Keep up the good work."

We thank you. And we could only wish.

Andy in Georgia, "I've been torn between both parties because neither of them represent what I fully believe. Thanks for letting me know about the independent movement. I'll now consider myself an independent."

Thank you and congratulations.

Send us your thoughts at loudobbs.com. Unlike all the folks in Washington, we want to hear from you. We want your voice in this national conversation.

Thanks for being with us. Join us here tomorrow when Congressman Pete King and Congressman Walter Jones are among my guests. For all of us here, good night from New York. "The Election Center" with Campbell Brown begins right now -- Campbell.