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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

Candidates Battle over Energy Policy; Muslims Barred from Obama Photos; GAO Declares Boeing as Proper Contract Winner

Aired June 18, 2008 - 19:00   ET

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


LOU DOBBS, HOST: Wolf, thank you.
Tonight, a common sense victory for this country's working men and women. The Government Accountability Office after a three-month investigation has concluded that Boeing was the proper winner of the U.S. Air Force contract for those air tankers. The bidding for the new refueling tanker had flaws, according to the GAO. The Air Force had awarded the critical contract to a European consortium that builds the Airbus. We'll have the full story here tonight.

And hundreds of Americans now sickened by contaminated tomatoes. The number of victims keeps growing and federal investigators still say they can't find the source of the salmonella outbreak. What's going on and what should be done? We'll have that report.

And tonight, new calls to end the ban on offshore oil drilling, but where would all of that oil go? And a new call by Senator McCain to construct 45 new nuclear reactors, all of that, all the day's news, and much more with an independent perspective, straight ahead here tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: news, debate, and opinion for Wednesday, June 18. Live from New York, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody.

Tonight, the presidential candidates sparring over energy policy and the White House stepping into the middle. President Bush supporting Senator McCain's plans to end the ban on offshore drilling, but it is support that McCain doesn't necessarily want.

And the Obama campaign taking part in a time-honored political tradition, manipulating and controlling their image, from managing who appears in photographs with the candidate to Michelle Obama's appearance as a co-host on daytime TV.

Our coverage tonight begins with Ed Henry at the White House -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Lou, yesterday Senator McCain reversed his position and embraced offshore drilling. Within 24 hours, the president has jumped aboard. But that may complicate the senator's efforts to distance himself from this White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): Republican John McCain is trying to appeal to Independent voters by saying he is no President Bush.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The next president must be willing to break with the energy policies, not just with the current administration, but the administrations that preceded it, and lead a great national campaign to achieve energy security for America.

HENRY: And yet, the president and McCain are marching in lockstep on how to deal with $4 a gallon gas. They're demanding Democrats end the federal ban on offshore drilling, claiming it could lead to a drop in oil prices, giving the expectation of increase supply.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know the Democratic leaders have opposed some of these policies in the past. Now that their opposition has helped drive gas prices to record levels, I ask them to reconsider their positions.

HENRY: A clear attempt to spread political blame from a president fearful a recession could mar his legacy, but Democrat Barack Obama fired back that offshore drilling will not help lower gas prices in the short-term.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: At best, we're looking at five years or more down the road. And even the most optimistic assumptions indicate that offshore drilling might reduce the overall world price of oil by a few cents.

HENRY: But Obama's solution, a push for plug-in Hybrid cars and other alternatives to oil will not give consumers short-term relief either, and congressional Democrats are determined to block the president's push for offshore drilling, currently prohibited by a 1981 law and a 1990 executive order.

BUSH: When Congress lifts the legislative ban, I will lift the executive prohibition.

HENRY: A fascinating family drama, since it was the president's father who signed that order banning offshore drilling, while his brother Jeb more recently opposed such drilling as governor of Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Now this reversal may make it more difficult for Senator McCain to appeal to Independents, especially because Democrats keep pointing out that the oil companies already have millions of acres of land with licenses to drill that they're not drilling on yet -- Lou.

DOBBS: Yes, but at the same time, you say it might make it more difficult. There's no question that Senator McCain here, Ed, has stepped out in front on both of these issues and has taken the leadership on both the construction of new nuclear power plants and lifting the moratorium on offshore drilling. Those are two tremendous stakes to drive in the ground on the issue of public policy concerning energy. HENRY: They certainly could, especially in terms of more drilling. That could increase supply and lower the prices. The problem right now, as you know, is that Democrats on the Hill are completely vehemently opposed to it. So at this time, both sides are sort of posturing on the issue, but neither side really has a way to actually move forward on it at this point. Lou.

DOBBS: Well there's a straight-forward issue here that seems where you have further differentiation between these two candidates just when we thought there would be none, but on this issue the Democrats will have to obstruct those efforts to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling and it appears most Americans are not in the mood for that kind of obstructionism by either party.

In fact, most Americans now favor efforts to increase drilling and refine reconstruction. Sixty percent of Americans would support the increase according to a new Reuters/Zogby poll; the same percentage also favoring reducing demand for oil through tougher fuel standards; 54 percent supporting increase use of biofuels including ethanol to cut gasoline consumption; 67 percent, by the way, in a separate poll, supporting Senator McCain's call for lifting the moratorium on offshore drilling.

Well, Michelle Obama today working on her image. Mrs. Obama has been criticized among other things for remarks made last February about, "being proud of being an American for the first time." She appeared this morning as a co-host on ABC's daytime talk show "The View" where she explained why she's been the subject of attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, BARACK OBAMA'S WIFE: In this media age where the Internet is so pervasive and there's 24-hour newscasts it's sort of like I fill up some space.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

M. OBAMA: Right, I think that's a part of it. I also think it is competition. That's what politics at some point has become. And I think everybody is a little sick of that. You know people are kind of tired of the tit for tat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOBBS: And the Obama campaign reportedly giving Mrs. Obama's image a makeover. In addition to today's appearance on "The View" "The New York Times" reporting a new speech being planned that would emphasize her middle class roots.

Obama campaign volunteers Monday borrowed two Muslim women who were wearing head scarves from appearing in photographs with Senator Obama. That according to report on Politico.com, attempting to manipulate the public face of a candidate or campaign is certainly not unique. But Senator Obama, candidates and officials always try to manage the public message and control what the public learns about the candidates. Joining me now is Ben Smith who reported the Obama story for Politico and our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, who is regularly on the campaign trail with Senator Obama.

Good to have you both here.

Let me start -- Ben, you broke this story on Politico.com. Why in the world would the Obama campaign do this?

BEN SMITH, SENIOR REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, the Obama campaign says this was not its intent and they've apologized for the behavior of these volunteers. But what one of the volunteers told the friends of one Muslim woman who was wearing a head scarf was that it was to be a political climate that didn't allow for Obama to be seen with you know kind of visibly Muslim people. And this -- again, it's something the campaign denounced the next day -- in fact the next morning, he was photographed with a woman with a head scarf, but certainly at this event a couple of the volunteers...

(CROSSTALK)

DOBBS: I mean that's -- looking at that photograph, I mean she almost got lost in the cropping.

SMITH: At other events, there have been...

DOBBS: Bigger pictures...

SMITH: Yes.

DOBBS: ... with more head scarf...

(CROSSTALK)

DOBBS: Candy, I mean this is sort of clumsy stuff for a campaign that's being run in such a sophisticated manner.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is clumsy stuff, but I got to tell you something, it's also sort of hard to pull the string and find out where this came from. We were talking about a volunteer on the ground who says to these young women, you can't be behind him with a head scarf on.

Where did that notion come from? You know, did it spring from this, you know, volunteer? Did it come from the paid staff on the ground? Did it -- I mean that's where this is hard to kind of figure out. Nonetheless, as Ben mentioned, they moved pretty darn fast to say we apologize for this.

The problem of course, is that they're now getting pushed for Barack Obama to make a personal apology to these young women, particularly the Islamic community saying...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: ... what they call Islam phobia out there and they would like him to respond more forcefully.

DOBBS: Candy, a specific organization is calling for him to apologize?

CROWLEY: Yes, one of the heads of the Muslim community, CAIR, as you know, the local chapter in Dearborn ...

DOBBS: Oh for crying out loud...

(CROSSTALK)

DOBBS: CAIR is one of the most controversial of all groups that could be expressing anything to this candidate. Why is that carrying such weight?

CROWLEY: Well, we don't know if it is carrying weight, but it is definitely out there. It has been circling out there and this idea that in the Muslim American community there is a feeling that there is this phobia out there, and they would like him to address it. As you know, this is a sticky wicket for Obama, as he tries to kind of navigate the cross currents that come up all the time in a campaign.

DOBBS: Well, let's go to the issue that Candy raised, which is, Ben, where did this come from? Two volunteers don't suddenly make this up out of whole cloth.

SMITH: The striking thing about it was that it was two different volunteers in different parts of the building telling kind of...

DOBBS: ... to the same conclusion.

SMITH: Yes, more or less one said it was political. One said we don't allow baseball caps or any other headgear, which is sort of an odd thing and you don't classify (INAUDIBLE) or head scarves with baseball caps, so -- but in any case what the...

DOBBS: Could you repeat that again? Ben, I just love to have that -- repeat that one...

(LAUGHTER)

DOBBS: One does not normally...

SMITH: There was apparently a rule against headgear...

DOBBS: Headgear.

SMITH: Yes.

DOBBS: Which (INAUDIBLE) include helmets...

SMITH: Right.

DOBBS: ... any sort, football, baseball...

(CROSSTALK) SMITH: They didn't go into detail. What actually one of the women said afterward was that she would like a personal apology or you know or perhaps just an invitation to sit behind him at the next event.

DOBBS: Well now that seems like an entirely reasonable idea, leaving sort of the controversial elements that Candy was reporting on out of it all together. I would think that would be appealing to the Obama campaign and the senator himself.

Well thank you, both. Candy, do you think that we have seen an end to the manipulation of backgrounds in all of this?

CROWLEY: I think at least until tomorrow, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

DOBBS: OK. Candy Crowley, thank you very much.

CROWLEY: Sure.

DOBBS: Ben Smith, thank you.

SMITH: Thank you.

DOBBS: Politico.com.

Up next, more than 100 new cases of salmonella have been traced back to contaminated tomatoes, but the Food and Drug Administration still maintains it has no idea where the outbreak originated. We'll have a report on a federal agency that seemingly is completely lost.

Also a deadly new threat to border patrol agents along our southern borders. What will it take for this administration to finally take seriously its responsibility to secure our now wide open borders? We'll have that special report from an independent perspective.

And a major victory for American workers, the Government Accountability Offices tells the Air Force it made significant errors, as it put it, in awarding their tanker contract to the consortium, the European consortium that makes the Airbus instead of Boeing. We'll have that report and a great deal more. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Well, a major victory tonight for Boeing and for American workers. Congressional investigators are now recommending that the Air Force reopen the bidding for that $35 billion contact to build refueling tankers, the Department of Defense originally awarding that contract to Northrop Grumman at a European consortium that builds Airbus.

Lisa Sylvester has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) REP. TODD TIAHRT (R), KANSAS: I want to start this press conference with one word, vindication.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lawmakers from Washington State and Kansas unfurled a small banner as they took their victory lap. They had criticized the Air Force's decision to award a $35 billion contract to build the next generation of refueling tankers to a European group partnered with Northrop Grumman instead of U.S.- based Boeing.

A new Government Accountability Office report concluded that the Air Force had made a number of significant errors that could have affected the outcome of what was a close competition. The GAO recommended the Pentagon redo the bidding process.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: That is good news for American workers, it is good news for our national security and it is good news for our economy.

SYLVESTER: Among the findings, that the Air Force did not follow its own evaluation criteria in making the decision. The European team should not have earned points for offering a large size Airbus 330 refueling plane because that was not what the Pentagon requested. Boeing did not receive credit for offering more technical requirements than its competitor when it should have. And the Air Force made errors calculating the cost of the planes over their life cycles, when corrected Boeing 767 cost less.

ROBERT SCOTT, ECONOMIC POLICY INSTITUTE: It seems that the Air Force in this case was clearly putting a sum on the scale in favor of Airbus.

SYLVESTER: Boeing in a statement said quote, "We welcome and support today's ruling by the GAO fully sustaining the grounds of our protest." Northrop Grumman saying quote, "we continue to believe that Northrop Grumman offered the most modern and capable tanker for our men and women in uniform. We will review the GAO findings before commenting further."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: The Air Force released a statement late this afternoon saying "it is currently reviewing the GAO's decision." Now once the review is complete, the Air Force says it will be in a position to determine the best course of action, but the Pentagon must make a decision sometime within the next 60 days -- Lou.

DOBBS: The Pentagon is completely -- not to mix metaphors with the Air Force -- completely at sea in this bidding process in this conclusion because fundamentally, the Air Force should be making these decisions on the basis of national security in addition to the economics of the bidding and the construction specifications.

This is on its face, stupid. We have been maintaining that from the moment it was announced by the U.S. Air Force. By the way, we should point out the Air Force secretary, Michael Wynne, is no longer heading the Air Force having been fired by Defense Secretary Bob Gates for among other things permitting six nuclear weapons to be transcended across this country without anyone knowing it.

SYLVESTER: Lou, I can tell you that lawmakers want this entire procurement process reviewed, not just in this particular case, but with other instances because they say look if this is just one example of a flawed process, what do we not know about? And you mentioned other things, for instance the outsourcing of jobs, the subsidies that the Europeans are given. They say that that should be factored into the decision as well, Lou.

DOBBS: Without question. And again, there should be no way in the world that anyone should be able to tip the scales in favor of a company working as subsidize by the European Union to build these aircraft. And at the same time, why would not the Air Force -- just rhetorically speaking here Lisa -- why would not the Air Force bring together Boeing and Northrop Grumman to build this aircraft.

That would be the sensible approach. But it is one that eludes Washington, D.C. these days. Lisa, thank you very much. And I have to say the General Accountability Office deserves great credit for bringing accountability to this process, at least some beginning to shine in one dark corner of the nation's capital.

Lisa, thank you -- Lisa Sylvester.

An independent report finds Boeing would create twice as many jobs, by the way, as Northrop Grumman if awarded the U.S. Air Force tanker contract. The Economic Policy Institute says Boeing would support 28,000 jobs at its plants and that compares to 14,000 new jobs at Northrop Grumman. That plant based in Alabama.

The GAO ruling, of course, is a victory for the state of Washington where much of Boeing's manufacturing is based. Later here we'll be talking with one of the biggest critics of the air tanker deal; Senator Patty Murray of Washington joins me.

And even as a nation at war, we are becoming increasingly dependent upon foreign countries for our national defense. The British and Italians are building the new fleet of presidential helicopters, including Marine One that will carry the president. The $6 billion project is also now over budget and overdue. America Sorkorsky (ph) had built Marine One since the days of President Dwight David Eisenhower.

The Army's new multipurpose helicopter, the U872 (ph) is also being built by the Europeans. Even handguns carried by our troops are no longer American made. Italy's Beretta is now standard issue, but at least they are made in the United States. And apparently we can't even produce our own bullets anymore. In 2004, the U.S. Army contracted with an Israeli company to make small-caliber ammunition.

At least one civilian project tonight is not going overseas. We think that's a good thing, it's a story we have also been following very closely here. The Pennsylvania State House tonight overwhelmingly voted against a resolution that would have permitted the Pennsylvania State Government and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to an international consortium.

The resolution was defeated by a vote of 185 to 12. The Spanish company, Abertis,and a Citibank subsidiary offered almost $13 billion to lease the toll road for 75 years. May I extend my personal, absolutely sincere congratulations and commendations to all of those in this Pennsylvania State House who voted against such ignorance and stupidity, God bless you.

Up next, a disturbing new effort to target our border patrol agents. We'll have that report and the Midwest is flooded tonight. As many as 20 levees breached along the Mississippi River. We'll have the very latest for you on the devastation, the impact on our food supply, and ultimately, the price of food in this country.

Stay with us. We're coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Coming up next we'll be reporting on the hundreds of people in this country sickened by contaminated tomatoes. The number is rising across the country, yet the FDA not identifying the source. We'll have a report on what's to come in this worsening outbreak.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: There is a serious and worsening threat tonight to the brave men and women of the U.S. border patrol. Violence against our border patrol agents is on the rise, and now drug smugglers, human smugglers setting booby-traps designed to maim or kill our agents.

Casey Wian has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the second time this year, the border patrol has uncovered a deadly booby trap apparently set by illegal aliens or drug smugglers. These pictures taken by agents Saturday evening 20 miles west of Columbus, New Mexico, show two wires stretched across a road along the border.

According to the border patrol, the four and a half feet high wires had been pulled tight and set to a height as a means to clothesline agents or anyone riding on an all terrain vehicle or low profile conveyance. The agency says the road is used by drug traffickers and border patrol agents on ATV's and horseback. The wires were strung at dusk, which helped conceal them.

A local rancher discovered the booby trap before anyone was hurt. However, there were nearly 500 attacks against border patrol agents from October through March, 47 percent higher than during the same period a year earlier.

REP. HAROLD ROGERS (R), KENTUCKY: I'm alarmed at the seeming war that's going on across that border in places between thugs in Mexico and border patrol and other U.S. agencies on our side.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: This is a direct consequence of the success we're having on cracking down on illegal businesses. When you crack down on illegal organized crime activities, those criminal businesses fight back because this is their life blood.

WIAN: In February in San Diego, another neck-high wire booby trap was discovered tied to the border fence and stretched across a road. Agents say it could have decapitated someone during a high- speed pursuit.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: Despite the increase in violence and the growing threat to border patrol agents, the Bush administration, Lou, is proceeding with its plans to remove the National Guard from the border next month. Border governors have asked the president to keep the Guard in place, and even border patrol Chief David Aguilera (ph) has said he would, "not be unhappy if the Guard remained on the border" -- Lou.

DOBBS: Well, bless his little heart that he would not be unhappy. I love it when these bureaucrats like David Aguilera use double negatives to say what should be said outright. That our border patrol agents deserve full, full support by everyone in this country, and certainly this administration including the head of it David Aguilera.

All right. Thank you very much, appreciate it Casey -- Casey Wian.

T.J. Bonner, the president of the National Border Patrol Council, says border patrol agents are being assaulted now at the rate of one every eight hours. Bonner says border patrol agents have sent out ops (ph) or safety bulletins warning our agents to be aware of the worsening violence along the border with Mexico.

Up next the Mississippi River breaching levees and flooding the Midwest -- and new information on the deadly strain of salmonella spreading across the country -- we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Well, the battle is on tonight in the Midwest as rescue workers are just working as hard as they can to save as many homes, businesses and farms as possible from the raging Mississippi River. FEMA now reporting two dozen people have been killed in this flooding and more than 140 others injured. This is what they're up against in Quincy, Illinois. Two more levees failed today north of there and scenes like the one you're looking at there are unfolding across much of the region as the threat from the cresting river travels southward.

Crews tonight are using their bare hands in their desperate efforts to shore up more of these levees. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says 20 of the barriers have failed already this week and as many as 30 more levees along the Mississippi could be, as they put it, overtopped or breached at any time.

Floodwaters already covering thousands upon thousands of acres of farmland along the Mississippi. Look at this incredible video of these hogs trapped on a rooftop. There have been sightings of dozens and dozens of animal carcasses in the floodwaters. Many more cities and towns remain at risk over the days to come.

The Mississippi crested today in Canton, Missouri as the swell continues down river. It's expected to reach St. Louis Monday and Chester, Illinois, Tuesday.

Beyond the human tragedy, of course, the heartland floods will have disastrous consequences for our already suffering national economy. CNNMoney.com reporting consumers are likely to see much higher grocery prices well into next year because of the flooding.

Iowa, the nation's top corn growing state has lost between one and three million acres of production. Nationwide that could cut the corn harvest by more than 10 percent this year and it won't be just corn products. Experts are predicting now a significant impact on meat and dairy products as well because nearly half of the nation's corn crop is used to feed our livestock.

And the mighty Mississippi itself, a major transit route for the country's agricultural goods is now closed in several, several areas. Again, translating into soaring costs at the grocery store.

A threat of a different kind to the safety of our food supply. The Centers for Disease Control tonight reporting at least 383 cases of salmonella poisoning from contaminated tomatoes since April. The experts are warning there could be thousands more cases not yet reported. The Food and Drug Administration tonight appears to be no closer to disclosing the origin of the outbreak.

Louise Schiavone has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOUISE SCHIAVONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The latest official account of salmonella poisonings, 383, all linked to tomatoes. Where are they from? The Food and Drug Administration continues to suspect Florida or Mexico, but --

DR. DAVID ACHESON, ASSOC. COMMISSIONER FOR FOODS, FDA: We may not ultimately know the farm where these came from. At this point, we're not saying we're not going to know. We're continuing to work flat out, assuming that we will get to that point. We're not falling back,

SCHIAVONE: Dr. David Acheson says Mexican authorities are now reporting suspected cases of the St. Paul strain of salmonella in parts of Mexico, the very same strain identified in the U.S. outbreak. But he warns against rushing to conclusions. The Centers for Disease Control characterizes the outbreak this way.

DR. ROBERT TAUXE, CDC: We have to say that it's ongoing at this point. It's really too early to call the peak and certainly cannot say that it's over.

SCHIAVONE: Consumer groups say that while the CDC's count of those infected is almost 400, the real picture is probably worse.

CAROLINE SMITH DEWAAL, CTR FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: For every reported case of illness, there are probably 40 people who have gotten sick but haven't been reported. This is clearly a massive nationwide outbreak.

SCHIAVONE: For now, the FDA can tell consumers where the safe growers are. Tomatoes grown in 39 states and parts of Florida are in the clear. Cherry, grape and tomatoes on the vine are not suspect. Health officials and businessmen, meanwhile, say this is a good example of why it's important to label where the produce comes from.

ALAN TONELSON, U.S. BUSINESS & INDUSTRY COUNCIL: We have indiscriminately opened our market to very unreliable suppliers and the only viable option we have, in my view, is to move to a very detailed, very specific practice of product labeling.

SCHIAVONE: But for now, lots of consumers are still in the dark because even though the FDA has defined states where bad tomatoes are not coming from, many consumers are looking at produce without knowing its origins.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHIAVONE: Lou, the FDA said it's under no illusion that the government can inspect it's way to food safety. For now it's hoping that when country of origin labeling does take effect this fall, the U.S. will take a major step towards safer produce -- Lou.

DOBBS: Well, I don't think we need the FDA telling us what they can or can't do in terms of inspecting the food safety. Precisely, how would they propose to fill their charter, which is to inspect food? They were what?

SCHIAVONE: They're adding on more inspectors. And the more money they get from Congress, the more inspectors they'll put on.

DOBBS: This afternoon, we had the FDA saying this outbreak of St. Paul salmonella in Mexico is common, correct?

SCHIAVONE: Yes, don't jump to conclusions. It's not unusual.

DOBBS: Who do these people think they are?

SCHIAVONE: I'm looking at a CDC press release that said that only three people were infected last year with this particular strain. They use the word rarity to describe this strain early in the outbreak.

DOBBS: And throughout over the course of the past two weeks, the FDA itself using the same expression. Now, what is wrong with these people at the FDA? I mean, are they absolutely just so excessively intellectually challenged? Are they simply lacking principle or concern for the American consumer? Because I really can't imagine anyone tolerating this level of conduct on the part of the FDA. It's astonishing.

Let's get to the simplest thing. Do they explain why they have not been to farms in Mexico where that outbreak has been traced? Or to the businesses in Mexico where that outbreak of St. Paul strain of salmonella has been detected?

SCHIAVONE: There's no explanation of that, Lou. They say they're exchanging information with Mexican authorities without any particular specificity. They just know that the Mexican authorities are telling them that they are now seeing the St. Paul salmonella strain.

DOBBS: And we still don't have a conclusion of any kind either through the CDC or the FDA as to whether or not there's an implication to the tomatoes grown in central Florida and still have not put inspectors or have inspectors placed on farms in Mexico, correct?

SCHIAVONE: They say they don't know where to send them.

DOBBS: How about this? I would suggest they send them to a tomato farm? Just a wild guess, but I might think about that and I might also be talking with the distributors who brought these tomatoes into the grocery stores around the country.

The difficult job, as President Bush would say, hard work, but that's what everybody is paid to do, is to work hard, right?

SCHIAVONE: Right.

DOBBS: And you have been working hard and terrifically well in reporting this story. Thank you very much, Louise Schiavone.

These people aggravate, I suspect, every single American who's having to tolerate their -- their simple incompetence. Thank you.

Well time now for our poll: Do you believe the FDA already knows or suspects the source of the salmonella outbreak in tomatoes but is purposely keeping it from the public?

Yes or no? Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. We'll have the results here later.

The secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services today praised Communist China for its efforts to ensure the safety of food and imports into this country. I'm not making this up. I assure you these are absolutely straight-forwardly corroborated documented statements by the Health and Human Services secretary, Mike Leavitt. He said a new progress report, "reflects strong and sustained cooperation by both nations to strengthen the safety of food products exported to the United States from China. I'm very pleased," he said," with our efforts and commend our Chinese counterparts for their commitment to this important work."

I might point out to the secretary, if he's forgotten, earlier this year, 81 people were killed after they took contaminated doses of a blood thinner Heparin imported from Communist China. And last year, contaminated pet food from China sickened and killed thousands of pets in this country. There have been countless toy recalls because of dangerous levels of lead in products contaminated and imported from Communist China.

A former Chinese national living in Florida today became the first to be sentenced under a newly defined economic espionage law. The engineer who once worked for a California software firm admitted he tried to sell fighter pilot training software to the Chinese navy. Forty-four-year-old Sheldon Meng was sentenced today to two years in federal prison. Four other cases are awaiting prosecution under this law, three of them located in Silicon Valley.

Up next, Barack Obama courting, or some might say pandering to Latino voters. A member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus joins me to tell us what the senator needs to do to win the Hispanic vote.

And a legal victory for Boeing. Well, it's a lot of things, including a legal victory. One of the air force tanker deals' biggest opponents is Senator Patty Murray. She'll join me to tell us what this means for American workers. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Well, the Government Accountability Office today lived up to its name and recommended the U.S. Air Force reopen the bidding for that multibillionaire air refueling tanker contract. The deal awarded to Northrop Grumman and the European consortium that builds Airbus. Today's announcement of the GAO findings, a victory for Boeing and important a victory for American workers as well.

One of the deal's biggest critics has been Senator Patty Murray. Senator Murray joins us tonight from Capitol Hill.

Senator, congratulations. I have to say right off the top, the General Accountability Office is an aptly named organization, actually bringing accountability to our fair nation's capital.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: Absolutely. They did the job that they are required to do. And we're all proud of the work they have done. You know, I talked to you right after this happened and told you about a woman on the plant, the line, the day this decision was announced who told me that her son was flying these refueling tankers over in Iraq right now, and she built them and she could not understand why her tax dollars were going to be taken away to be build somewhere else. She's smiling tonight.

DOBBS: Let me, if I may, put up a full screen of a comment from the U.S. Air Force this afternoon, which I find fascinating. Sue Payton, the assistant secretary of the Air Force saying this, "The Air Force will do everything we can to rapidly move forward so America receives this urgently needed capability. The Air Force will select the best value tanker for our nation's defense, while being good stewards of the taxpayer dollar." Do you have any thoughts for the secretary of the Air Force? And what she considers to be the parameters for an intelligent, rational decision on the part of the Air Force?

MURRAY: The GAO was very clear that the Air Force did not follow its own rules. They misled Boeing in the contract and they didn't take into account the costs that they were supposed to. I hope this is a huge wake-up call. The GAO has sent a message to the Air Force to do this right and they now have the opportunity to get these planes built by the people who know how to build them for the best value to our taxpayers and I believe that's Boeing. I hope they move forward quickly.

DOBBS: It strikes me that we have a high-ranking Air Force official saying that they're going to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollar, is going to find value, and I don't see any discussion about the national interest of moving these contracts to the principle defense contractors right now, certainly Boeing, certainly Northrop Grumman.

Why hasn't there been an effort to bring Northrop Grumman and Boeing together in this rather than separating them or permitting their separation with overseas partners? It's insane that this kind of conduct is going on.

MURRAY: Well, Boeing builds the planes, as you know now, and they have got the capability to do that. Northrop Grumman chose to partner with a foreign company. And that was their decision as well. But what I know is Boeing workers are ready to go, can build theses airplanes, can get them up in the air and that's what we she do.

DOBBS: Absolutely. And this is just a terrible, terrible contract bidding process. But again, a commendation to the General Accountability Office, to you senator, for your.

MURRAY: And Lou, your help too, because with your help, we had more than 60,000 people sign our petition that were at my back every step of the way. And my heart goes out to them tonight. My thanks as well.

DOBBS: Well, it's a decision in the best interest of the country, without question.

Thank you very much, Senator, we appreciate it.

A reminder now to vote in our poll: Do you believe the FDA already knows or suspects the source of the salmonella outbreak in tomatoes but is purposely keeping it from the public?

We'd love to know what you think. Yes or no? Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. We'll have the results here in just a few minutes.

Up next, Senator Obama courting the Hispanic vote. Tonight, I'll talk with a leading Hispanic congressman about that and more.

And the race for oil. Who has the most to gain if the offshore drilling ban is lifted? What about those nuclear power plants that Senator McCain wants built? We will have a special report on new energy policy for America.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Well, Hispanic voters went for Senator Clinton over Senator Obama by a better than 2-1 margin in the race for the Democratic nomination. Senator Obama now faces Senator McCain in the general election. He is trying to win the support first of those Hispanic voters, and Senator Obama met last night with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to that end. The caucus has by the way repeatedly criticized me and this broadcast for our coverage of illegal immigration.

I'm joined now by Congressman Henry Cuellar, a member of the Hispanic Caucus, joining us tonight from Capitol Hill.

Congressman, good to have you with us.

REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D), TEXAS: Lou Dobbs, thank you very much. I appreciate your invitation.

DOBBS: Let's go first to your meeting with Senator Obama last night. Did you find him persuasive enough to give him your support?

CUELLAR: First, as you said a while ago, Hillary Clinton won the Hispanic vote by 2-1. We have to keep two things in mind. One, the Hispanic voters can not be taken for granted by anybody, the Democratic Party or even the Republican Party, No. 1.

No. 2 is the Hispanic population is not monolithic. Yes, immigration, comprehensive immigration, is important, but more importantly, I think education, health care and economic development is important to us. So those are some of the points we talked about. He listened and he realizes that he's got to work with us to make sure nobody is taken for granted.

DOBBS: OK, no one is going to be taken for granted, but each of the issues that you just raised, you said first that the Hispanic community in this country, as I think most people quite readily understand and accept, is not monolithic, yet some of the principle ethnocentric activist groups, whether they're LULAC, whether they're MALDEF, La Raza, act as if they are the representatives of Hispanic Americans in this country.

And you and I both know that's just not true at all, is it?

CULLEAR: Well you know, LULAC and MALDEF, they certainly play a very important role in bringing out the issues that are important to Hispanics, but there are a lot of folks that are not members of those organizations that we do understand they speak for a lot of folks, but there are different opinions out there.

DOBBS: And I commend you, congressman, for acknowledging that. Here is something that I would love for you to listen to. This is Senator Obama yesterday talking to the press on the issue of support among Latinos or Hispanic Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

B. OBAMA: People have suggested, well, he's got a Latino problem. Except it turns out right now I've got a 35-point lead among Latinos.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOBBS: Does he really?

CUELLAR: Well, you know, again, he, if you look at some of the polls, whether he's four or 19 points ahead, it's something you have to look at.

In many ways, it's comparable to where Kerry and of course where Al Gore was at some time ago. But the important thing is you want to win the Hispanic vote, it's one thing, but winning by large numbers is very important because what the polls say one thing. What you hear our in the streets and yesterday, that's one thing we heard.

What we're hearing out in the street, and when we say you can't take people for granted, it's the same thing when you campaign. You can't say this issue is going to be the same thing in south Texas. I'm from south Texas. It's not the same thing in Florida, it's not the same in New York or New Mexico. There's a lot of common points, but you've got to understand you can't use a cookie cutter to paint everybody the same way.

DOBBS: Congressman Baca, who leads the Hispanic Caucus -- the caucus very strong and coming out very harshly against the Democratic leadership concerning immigration reform. I mean some did say that effectively Baca had bullied the congressional leadership. The caucus obviously isn't trying to do that, but if you can't get your way with the Democratic leadership, who in the world is going to be -- well, paving the way for your interests?

CUELLAR: Well you know certainly, you've got to understand that when you present a very emotional issue, and it's an issue, as you know, Mr. Dobbs, Lou, this hasn't come up for the first time. We saw it in 1986. It's come up through our history for years and years. So it's one of those things that we've got to present at the right time.

We are in a presidential year. We are going to wait until probably after a new president is elected and at that time, we'll go ahead and consider it. But it's one of those things, the caucus has been very strong on this issue. And we've got to look at the big picture here.

DOBBS: The big picture, and it's one, by the way, the big picture is one that something both Senators McCain and Obama are trying to avoid in this campaign to this point.

Congressman Cuellar, we thank you for being here. Come back soon, we appreciate it.

CUELLAR: Thank you very much.

DOBBS: Congressman Henry Cuellar. Coming up next, calls to lift the ban on offshore oil drilling. A special report on who would benefit most. And is it smart energy policy? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Struggling with skyrocketing oil and gasoline prices, the president is now calling upon Congress to lift the ban on offshore drilling, as Senator McCain has proposed. His request coming one day after McCain issued his proposal.

As Kitty Pilgrim now reports, the oil could affect supplies directly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Americans are frustrated about skyrocketing energy costs, but there's a ban on drilling for the possibly billions of barrels of oil off our own coast. One ban renewed annually by Congress and another put in place by the first President Bush in 1990. There are increasing calls to end those bans to develop that oil. Americans would benefit because of a law that mandates the oil and gas would go solely to the U.S. market.

REP. JOHN PETERSON (R), PENNSYLVANIA: The company that drills has to have an American subsidiary. So they can't do it on their own. They can bid if they have American subsidiaries or they can do it in conjunction with an American company. So they have to have an American presence to drill. But the oil stays here. That's the rules upon which they govern.

PILGRIM: Nobody knows how much oil is in the 200-mile continental shelf, but the Interior Department's minerals management service estimates some 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of gas. Depending on how deep the water is, that oil could come to market in five to 10 years.

WILLIAM KOETZLE, INSTITUTE FOR ENERGY RESEARCH: We haven't produced this little oil since 1947. If we had been producing more 10 years ago, right now, we wouldn't be in the situation we are now. And if we don't start it now, then 10 years from now, the situation is likely to be much worse.

PILGRIM: And many think just changing the rules on the continental shelf drilling would take the panic price premium out of the market.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Now, gas $4 a gallon. Natural gas prices doubled in the last year. Sixty million Americans are going to pay higher heating bills this winter. It's clear that something has to be done, Lou.

DOBBS: And it's fascinating to me and I'm going to say this very quickly, the fact that McCain had the guts. I don't care who -- I don't support McCain or Obama in their policies, one I like, one I don't in whatever it may be, but on this you got to give Senator McCain credit. He staked out two very important and principled positions on energy policy and he's done it to the great consternation I'm sure of the Obama camp.

But this and nuclear power, the construction of 45 new plants, I'm not too excited about nuclear power but those are important positions for him to have taken.

We should add one other thing, by the way, in addition to that 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas on the continental shelf, nearly 250 trillion cubic feet of natural gas just in the United States itself. The energy is here. The fact that we have not been producing it is insane, by any standard.

Thanks very much. And we should point out again, 67 percent of Americans now say, start the offshore drilling.

Kitty, thank you very much -- Kitty Pilgrim.

Our poll results tonight -- 95 percent of you say the FDA, in your opinion, already knows or suspects the source of the salmonella outbreak in tomatoes but is purposely keeping it from the public.

Let's look at some of your thoughts.

John in Florida said: "These two candidates have had the power to fix the illegal alien problem as senators. What makes us think they will do anything as president?"

And Dave in Connecticut: "Good news in regard to the tanker contract. Keep holding their feet to the fire, Lou."

We guarantee it.

Jeff in Florida: "Lou, if we start new oil drilling projects wouldn't they create good paying jobs for Americans, bring gas costs down and make us energy-independent? Why don't the politicians in Washington get it? I do, and so does Senator McCain."

Wayne in New Jersey: "Hi, Lou. We heard you might consider running for governor. If you run for governor or president of the United States, or anything in between, you can count on votes from my wife and I. An honest politician, now that's priceless."

Thank you very much for that.

Vinny in Florida: "Dear Lou, love your show, love your books, love my new Independent voter card. Thanks."

And thank you, and congratulations.

Lisa in Ohio said: "As a single 38-year-old black female, I have to say I agree with just about everything you have to say, Lou. Why? You're the only person on television who has common sense. I never can understand the controversy over your viewpoints. Keep doing what you're doing, Lou. However, please forgive me for continuing to be a hard core Democrat."

Well, I couldn't ask for much more than that. Thank you.

We love hearing from you. Send us your thoughts at loudobbs.com. And join me on radio Monday through Friday for "The Lou Dobbs Show." Tomorrow, Senator Sherrod Brown joins me. We'll be talking about free trade and not so free crude oil prices. Sheriff Joe Arpaio and I will be talking about his new book, "Joe's Law." America's toughest sheriff joins me to talk on the issues of illegal immigration, drug smuggling. And we ask you to go to loudobbsradio.com to find the local listings for "The Lou Dobbs Show" on the radio.

Thanks for being with us tonight. Join us here tomorrow when my guests will include pollster, Scott Rasmussen.

For all of us here, we thank you for watching. Good night from New York.

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

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