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THE SITUATION ROOM
Barack Obama Addresses Helping Hillary Clinton's Campaign Debt; Interview with Senator Lindsey Graham; McCain Trails Obama in Polls
Aired June 25, 2008 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks.
Happening now, we're standing by for Barack Obama live. He's about to face reporters, and likely questions about helping Hillary Clinton pay off her enormous campaign debt.
Plus, a top gun in the McCain campaign. Senator Lindsey Graham. He'll give us immediate reaction. He is standing by live.
Also this hour, McCain's new declaration of independence. He's setting a formal deadline for America to kick its addiction to foreign oil.
And Democrat Donna Brazile and Republican Bill Bennett, they are trading lists. They will share their top worries about the presidential candidate from the other party. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
In Chicago right now, Senator Barack Obama's getting ready to answer reporters' questions. We're set to go there live once he starts doing that. He's also gearing up for his big unity tour with Hillary Clinton. That's on Friday. And there are a lot of questions about their political and financial relationship.
Let's get some answers from our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She is here. I take it you were just listening in on a conference call with some top strategists for the Obama campaign.
What are they saying about the Clintons?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The campaign chairman here in Washington saying, don't look for bill Clinton to show up in Unity, New Hampshire. It would be inappropriate. That they fully expect that both Clintons will help out in the campaign. Also noting that the Clintons, of course, will be helping Democratic candidates in general. That's the thing about this Obama campaign at this point, Wolf, is that they are not only expanding the playing field in terms of states and where they're going to play and where they are going to put up ads.
They are also expanding the playing field in that they may go to states simply to bulk up the Senate and the House. And it's something that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama mentioned yesterday when they were talking about each other. They both mentioned the need to go out and help Senate candidates. Because, of course, what they would like to do is get well beyond the 51-vote marker that they have now, or almost half.
BLITZER: And there is Joe Lieberman, independent Democrat, as he likes to call himself from Connecticut. We're standing by here to hear from Senator Barack Obama, he's about to start answering reporters' questions out in Chicago. Based on what you're hearing from your sources, and we know you have terrific sources. How committed are Hillary Clinton's fund-raisers to helping Senator Obama?
CROWLEY: The bulk of Clinton fund-raisers that I talked to say, yes, we're on board, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. But there is what one fund-raiser who is onboard with the Obama campaign now says, the hard core group. Mostly women fund-raisers. Some of them big names in fund-raising who say, never, not going to do it.
These are women, they point out, sort of grew up in the '60s and '70s, the feminist movement where they're sort of -- it was a formative time in their life. They just say there is a group there that is just not onboard, and they think maybe won't come onboard. The bulk of them are having, of course, the big kumbaya fund-raiser meeting on Thursday.
BLITZER: Senator McCain is badgering Senator Obama, why doesn't he go visit Iraq, the troops, the commanders. Is there new information we're getting today?
CROWLEY: We are, first of all, campaign manager says they will shortly put out the itinerary, part of a codel, which his to say that he will ...
BLITZER: Professional delegation.
CROWLEY: Right. He will go with other lawmakers to Iraq. We also know in the past couple of months, Obama did in fact get a briefing, intelligence briefing from the Pentagon. They are now trying to arrange another one in advance of his trip to Iraq. And we believe Afghanistan and maybe even other places.
BLITZER: All right. We'll watch and Candy stand by, because we're waiting to hear from Senator Obama right now and as soon as he starts answering questions we'll go to Chicago to hear what he has to say.
John McCain is declaring a new independence day. The Republican today set a deadline for America to kick its addiction to foreign oil. The year, 2025. Let's go to Dana Bash, she's covering the McCain campaign for us.
Is this the sort of a gamble for Senator McCain, Dana?
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, it is in a way. But you know what, McCain aides tell me they're convinced voters are desperate for leadership. A call to action, but one with specific proposals to combat high gas prices. Today he vowed to break the power of OPEC and Saudis. The gamble that you're referring to is some of his prescriptions on how to do that.
BASH (voice-over): A campaign pledge on a make-or-break issue for brokers -- energy.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In a world of hostile and unstable suppliers of oil, this nation will achieve strategic independence by 2025.
BASH: A lofty goal aimed at invoking John F. Kennedy ...
JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Of landing a man on the moon.
BASH: And some Harry Truman for good measure.
MCCAIN: Three decades on partisan paralysis on energy security is enough. Since I'm not president, I cannot say the buck stops here. But I will say that it must stop now.
BASH: But beyond this snappy sound bite, many of the ways John McCain wants to wane America from oil are controversial. Take nuclear energy.
MCCAIN: If I'm elected president, I will set this nation on a course to building 45 new reactors by the year 2030.
BASH: That's a promise voters he was speaking to in Nevada are weary of because of congress's plan to store nuclear waste in their state, Yucca Mountain. It's something that McCain acknowledged.
MCCAIN: We will need to solve complex problems of storing materials that will always need safeguarding. We will need to do all these things, and do them right.
BASH: McCain's speech was a wrap-up of a week-plus of proposals. A $5,000 tax credit for customers who buy alternative fuel cars, a $300 million prize for anyone who invents an alternative car battery. But McCain's goal was as much about tone as it was substance. An attempt to show voters looking for action on high gas prices that he's their candidate, not Barack Obama. Who his campaign is labeling Dr. No.
MCCAIN: Opponents of domestic production cling to their position, even as the price of foreign oil has doubled and doubled again.
BASH: McCain talks in sharp tones about the kinds of things he knows voters want to hear, that special interests and decades of deadlock in Washington has led to the energy crisis. McCain's problem is that he has been in Congress nearly three decades and voted against some of the projects aimed at promoting alternative sources of energy that he says is crucial now to break America's dependence on foreign oil -- Wolf? BASH: Major differences not only on this issue but a lot of other issues. We're going to be going in-depth over the course of this campaign. Dana Bash reporting.
There are 65 active nuclear power sites across the United States right now. Housing 104 reactors. They produce almost 20 percent of the nation's energy. There hasn't been any new construction of reactors launched since the 1970s, in large part because of safety concerns, and high costs.
Let's go back to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File." Hi, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, Barack Obama's beginning to widen his lead over John McCain in some of the early polling. A new "Los Angeles Times" Bloomberg poll shows Obama ahead by 12 points, 49 to 37 percent in the two-man race. If you add in the third-party candidates Ralph Nader and Bob Barr, Obama's lead actually increases to 15 points. The recent "Newsweek" poll shows Obama leading McCain by 15 points. CNN's poll of polls reflects the growing gap as well. Obama is now leading McCain by eight points, which is double the lead Obama had in the average of polls less than two weeks ago.
Obama's lead may be due in part to his position on domestic issues. A lot of voters are saying in these polls that he would do a better job than McCain handling health care, taxes and the economy. The nation's number one issue. McCain once said he's not an expert on the economy, he continues to insist the fundamentals of our economy are very strong. McCain is also lagging when it comes to the passion that voters have for their choices.
Among those who say they'll vote for McCain, 51 percent say they're not enthusiastic about him. But those who say they'll vote for Obama, 81 percent are enthusiastic. McCain remains the most trusted when it comes to protecting the country from terrorism. But that may not hold up if his advisers, people like Charlie Black, keep saying things like, another terror attack on U.S. soil would help McCain's election chances.
Here's the question: What does it mean to you if Barack Obama's opening up a double-digit lead over John McCain in some of the early polls? Go to cnn.com/cafferty file, you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Those two polls, that last "Newsweek" poll and now the "Los Angeles Times" Bloomberg poll, showed a dramatic advantage for him.
CAFFERTY: It does and our poll of polls, the average of CNN's polls, he's doubled his lead. It's not double digits, but he's gone from four to eight. To the degree those three polls are more or less on the same page. There's a minitrend there, but it's very, very early.
BLITZER: You're right. Almost five months to go. Jack, stand by. We'll get back to you. These are some of the stories we're working on right now. We're waiting for Barack Obama's news conference in Chicago. As soon as he prepares to hit the road with Hillary Clinton, we're going to go there live to the news conference. There you see him. There you see some introductions. Once he starts talking, we'll hear what he has to say. See what's on the minds of the reporters.
Also, we're going to get reaction, immediate reaction from Senator Lindsey Graham. He's a co-chairman of the McCain campaign.
And online right now, some people are finding a creative way to make a buck off the vice presidential speculation.
And Bill Bennett and Donna Brazile are drawing up provocative lists on their top three worries about Obama and McCain.
BLITZER: Joining us now, Senator Lindsey Graham, he is a major supporter of his good friend John McCain, national co-chairman of the McCain campaign.
Senator, thanks very much for coming.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SC: Thank you. I think John can win anyway, but I hope so.
BLITZER: We were waiting to hear from Senator Obama. I know you've got to get out there and vote. We're going to be hearing from him momentarily. Let's talk a little bit about what's going on in this campaign right now. Jack Cafferty was just pointing out the latest "Los Angeles Times" Bloomberg poll, the latest "Newsweek" poll shows a double-digit advantage that Barack Obama is building up right now. We know it's a snapshot. Still a long time to go. I assume that's a source of some concern to you.
GRAHAM: Well, I'm not so sure those polls are accurate. I like the CNN and the Gallup poll. I think we're behind in single digits. He's gotten a bump from closing out his primary. I can understand that. But I think it's a very competitive race, single digits, not double digits.
BLITZER: How worried are you that Bob Barr, the congressman from Georgia, now running as a libertarian, will take a sizeable number of republican votes in his home state of Georgia where he's relatively well known and could hurt Senator McCain there?
GRAHAM: I think that's something we have to watch. You know, Bob is well known in Georgia. But, you know, those that vote for Bob Barr have to understand that you're also voting for the Senator Obama agenda, and we have to make that clear to people, and minimize that, and I think we can.
BLITZER: The Obama people think he can be competitive in Georgia, especially if the Democrats get a lot of new voters to register, young people, African Americans, that he could make a run for it in a state like Georgia.
GRAHAM: Well, that's my neighbor. Good luck. Go over there, see what happens. Georgia and South Carolina are pretty similar. My money is on Senator McCain in Georgia.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about tax cuts. Because there's a huge difference between these two candidates on the issue of tax cuts. Here's what Senator Obama says about Republicans in general, and Senator McCain, that they simply will go forward with all these new tax cuts. And they don't have a way to pay for it. It's only going to increase the national debt and our children and grandchildren will wind up paying for it. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Republicans love to say ease tax and spend tax. The truth is, that my tax plan is going to give almost all the benefits to people who are making $150,000 or less. In contrast, John McCain's got a plan where -- that will cost $300 billion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So how is Senator McCain going to, as they say here in Washington, pay for $300 billion in new tax cuts?
GRAHAM: Washington will spend less under McCain's administration, so we can give you some of your money back. Controlling spending.
BLITZER: But there's -- with all due respect, you aren't going to find $300 billion in waste, are you?
GRAHAM: No, no, $35 billion from earmarks, but there are other programs up here that can be reined in including the Department of Defense. We believe the tax cuts, the capital gains cuts and tax cuts and dividend cuts increase revenue to the government. And over time will help us. The key to this is controlling spending and cutting taxes. If you just cut taxes, you don't control spending. You haven't solved the problem. If you increase spending and increase taxes, you'll drive people offshore to other countries. The Obama solution is to increase spending and increase taxes. That will not lead to a vibrant economy.
BLITZER: And as you can see, we're standing by to hear from Senator Obama. He's got a news conference coming up. We'll go there shortly. Another major source of -- another major difference is on energy policy, which has been foremost with $4 plus a gallon a gas, $130, $140 a barrel, whatever it is right now. Listen once again to Senator Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: My entire energy plan will produce three times the oil savings that John McCain's ever could. What's more, it will actually decrease our dependence on oil while his will only grow our addiction further.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. I'll give you a chance to respond to the senator.
GRAHAM: I'd love to know how you're going to do that. John will put domestic supply on the table. We can under the McCain administration extract oil in America that's off-limits today. Nuclear power has to replace coal-fired plants if you're serious about climate change. Senator Obama has said no to nuclear power, exploration off the coast, in Colorado, oil shale at the end of the day, his policies make no sense. You won't replace coal powered plants with wind and solar. You have to have nuclear. So at the end of the day it just doesn't add up.
BLITZER: You've got beautiful beaches in South Carolina.
GRAHAM: We do.
BLITZER: Including Myrtle Beach. We were there not that long ago for one of the Democratic debates. Are you comfortable with oil platforms going up off the coast of South Carolina?
GRAHAM: If the State of South Carolina agrees it would be OK with me. At $4 a gallon gas, we've got to do something different. Ninety one percent of the oil reserves on federal territory are not subject to being extracted. I think we can off the coast of South Carolina, with the permission of South Carolina, extract oil and gas in a way that will be environmentally sensitive.
And the more supply we can generate at home, the less dependent we are on overseeing supplies. You also have to conserve. I want to produce more and i want to use less. I want to do two things, not just one.
BLITZER: We heard from Candy Crowley just a little while ago that Senator Obama's getting ready to go over to Iraq, probably Afghanistan.
BLITZER: With a congressional delegation.
BLITZER: I know you and Senator McCain have been there several times.
BLITZER: You've been urging him to go. So I guess that sort of ends that little issue between these two campaigns.
GRAHAM: Good for him. Just go with an open mind, sit down with General Petraeus, talk to the generals, the corporals, meet with the Iraqi government, appreciate how far they've come, how far they have to go. Appreciate the fact that the surge has worked. Political and economic progress has been allowed to go forward because of better security. Just go with an open mind and come back and tell us what you saw. I'm glad he's going.
BLITZER: Senator Graham, thanks for coming.
GRAHAM: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: And ahead a top Senate Democrat joins us in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll be speaking to Russ Feingold and will ask if Senator Obama is slapping him and John McCain in the face of their signature issue, campaign finance reform.
And we're also standing by for a live news conference with Barack Obama. How many homes are selling where you live? You're going to find out if your area is seeing the worst sales and why the nation's largest mortgage lender is partly being blamed for so many foreclosures.
And if you made a list of why you like and don't like Barack Obama and John McCain, what would be on it. Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett standing by reveal their lists. That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."
BLITZER: We'll go right back to Carol Costello. She's monitoring some other stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
And we're also waiting as you know for Barack Obama. We have live feed coming in already. He's in Chicago, he's getting ready to make a statement and to answer reporters' questions. As soon as we start hearing from him, we'll go there. What else is going on?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: What else is going on, Wolf? Well, California and Illinois say the nation's largest mortgage lender is partly to blame for record home foreclosures. So they're suing. Attorneys general for Countrywide of risking homes they did not fully understand. No response from Countrywide. This comes on the same day that Countrywide stockholders approved its takeover by Bank of America.
People trying to sell their homes are, boy, they're doing it in a tough environment. Last month home sales dropped for six times. The government reports that in May sales of new single-family homes were down 2.5 percent. The medium price for a home sold, $231,000. That's down six percent from April. How bad is it? Seems to depend on where you live. The West being the worst. Prices fell 11 percent there in May. The Northeast down eight percent. Home sales actually posted small increases in the Midwest and were flat in the South.
An adult who rapes a child may not be executed. That ruling today by a divided U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the justices said the death penalty should only be given to murders. A Louisiana man who raped his eight-year-old stepdaughter was at the center of the case. He would have been the first rapist in 44 years to be executed for a crime in which the victim was not killed.
And Neil Entwistle is found guilty of murdering his wife and baby daughter in Massachusetts. The British national could be sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole. Entwistle claims he's innocent of the 2006 murders. His parents say they will continue to fight to prove his innocence. He will be sentenced tomorrow. The motive for the killing was deeply in debt and dissatisfied with his sex life.
BLITZER: Not a good enough reason by far to do what he's now convicted of having done, obviously. We'll watch that story, too. Carol, thanks very much. Horrible, horrible story it is.
We're standing by to hear from Senator Barack Obama. He's getting ready to start answering reporters' questions in Chicago. Once he does, we'll go there.
Also, do you know who will get your vote for president? Don't be so sure. History shows a lot could happen between now and November. Some people think they can make some easy money by predicting who Barack Obama and John McCain will pick as running mates.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, we're waiting for Senator Barack Obama to speak to reporters on his presidential campaign. He's expected to come to the podium at any moment. We'll go there live.
Also one environmentalist calls it a mockery of justice. A Supreme Court decision regarding one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history, the Exxon Valdez spill. We have the ruling and the reaction.
Also North Korea set to blow up part of its main nuclear reactor and give away key information about its nuclear activities. Experts say it means no more or better bombs will be made.
And why is Ralph Nader wondering if Barack Obama is trying to quote "talk white." And even accusing Senator Obama of not taking strong stands on issues of African Americans.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
If the presidential election were held today, many of you -- many of you sure know who you would vote for. But the political calendar can drastically change the political calculus, and many of you can certainly change your minds. There are 132 days to go before America votes for a new president. But that offers 132 days for current opinion to turn for or against Barack Obama and John McCain. Let's go to our senior political analyst Bill Schneider. He's joining us now to look at this story. You've covered a lot of campaigns, Bill, together with all of us. How reliable are these polls in June for forecasting what might take place in November?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, here's the rule. They work, except when they don't work.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Five national polls all taken within the last 10 days show Barack Obama leading John McCain. The average? Obama 48 McCain 40, an eight-point lead. Two of the polls give Obama a double-digit lead.
How much can we rely on polls taken four months before the election? We looked at the June Gallup polls in the last 14 presidential elections, going back to 1952. In 10 of those elections, the June polls actually forecast the election results. In 2004, for example, the June Gallup poll had George W. Bush leading John Kerry by one. Bush ended up beating Kerry by three. That's pretty close.
What about the four elections the June polls got wrong? We detected a pattern there. Take 1960. In June 1960, John F. Kennedy was 10 points ahead of Richard Nixon. Kennedy ended up winning by less than half-a-percent. Why was 1960 so close? Because President Eisenhower, was very popular, 59 percent job approval. That helped his vice president nearly overtake the Democrat.
The most famous exception, when the June polls were way off, was 1988. In June, Michael Dukakis was leading George Bush by 14 points. Bush ended up winning by seven. The conventional wisdom is that Dukakis lost because the Republicans run a tough negative campaign that discredited him.
But here's something else to consider. President Reagan had a 51 percent job approval rating. That had a lot to do with carrying his vice president to victory.
SCHNEIDER: So, the lesson here is, don't just watch the polls. Also watch the president's job ratings.
Now, that is more bad news for McCain, because the latest Gallup/"USA Today" poll gives President Bush a 28 percent approval rating. That's worse than bad. It's just about the lowest rating ever recorded.
So, is there any hope for McCain? Well, maybe. McCain is not the incumbent president, nor is he the incumbent vice president. And 2008 is the first election in 56 years when neither is running. McCain's message has to be, I'm not Bush. Obama's message is, you are too -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Those numbers for Bush's approval ratings, they're approaching, what, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter? Who has had the lowest?
SCHNEIDER: Harry Truman actually had the lowest back in 1952.
SCHNEIDER: But Richard Nixon was down there in the 20s. When the president's job rating is in the 20s, his party usually suffers at the polls. We will see what happens with McCain.
BLITZER: Well, you certainly will -- Bill Schneider reporting for us.
Online, people are trying to make a profit by predicting who Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama will pick as their running mates.
Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is watching this story for us.
How are they doing it? What's going on?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, there's a little bit of speculating going on online, some of these Web addresses registered two, three years ago. ObamaBayh.com is one example, McCainPawlenty. And cyber-speculators are hoping that they're going to hit the jackpot in the next few weeks, once an announcement is made.
I spoke to John Bowman (ph), who is in Ohio. He's got about six of these Web sites. Here's one of them, ObamaHillary.com. He actually put this one on eBay, wanted $5,000 for it. No bidders so far. And now he's using the site to push a unity ticket.
And on the other side, here's one of the Web sites owned by TerryGraham.com (ph). This is -- this is McCainRomney.com. He's got a few of these. And he says that he's already got a few advertisers lined up in the event that this is the ticket -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So, is it just a given, once the running mate has been selected, they would need a new Web site? Is that just a given?
TATTON: No, not necessarily at all. In fact, in July of 2004, a spokesman for the Kerry/Edwards campaign said they were quite happy with their Web site, which was JohnKerry.com.
However, they had made inquiries about this domain right here, KerryEdwards.com. But Mr. Kerry Edwards of Indianapolis, who actually owned this Web address, says that he wanted a little bit more than money than they were offering.
BLITZER: Interesting. There's always some problem out there.
All right. You are going to continue to watch this story for us.
A new round of alleged members of an al-Qaeda terrorist cell, it's one six the stories we're following right now in the United States and around the globe. Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett, they're standing by to share their top three worries about John McCain and Barack Obama.
And he's a top Senate Democrat, and he isn't happy with Barack Obama's stand on domestic spying and campaign fund-raising. We're going to talk about it with Senator Russ Feingold.
Also, we're standing by to hear from Senator Obama. He's getting ready to answer reporters' questions at a news conference in Chicago. We're about to go there live as soon as he arrives.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Standing by to go to Chicago, Barack Obama getting ready to meet with reporters. Once he's there, we will be there as well.
In the meantime, let's check back with Carol. She's monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What's going on, Carol?
COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, global warming could make things worse in countries already struggling with poverty and other social ills. A U.S. report says climate change could destabilize struggling and poor countries around the world, but that wealthier countries would fare better.
The chairman of the National Intelligence Council even tells Congress global warming could cause people in those poor countries to flee and even to turn to terrorism.
More than 500 people who allegedly were plotting attacks inside Saudi Arabia are in custody. More than 700 were initially arrested. Today, Saudi officials announced details of their largest anti-terror sweep. The suspects are members of a group believed to have ties to al-Qaeda. Officials say Saudi security forces seized weapons, ammunition, money, and documents during the arrests.
A powerful Iranian official warns the world, don't mess with us. The powerful speaker of Iran's parliament says the world should not provoke his nation. The speaker says countries that do could pay heavily. The speaker also echoed comments from the United Nations' nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei. He recently said a strike on Iran would turn the Middle East into a -- quote -- "ball of fire."
And Queen Elizabeth II has stripped Zimbabwe's leader, Robert Mugabe, of his knighthood -- the highly unusual move meant to show Britain's revulsion of human rights abused by Mugabe's regime. There's been widespread violence in Zimbabwe, but, Wolf, I hear that Obama is speaking. And maybe he will mention Zimbabwe as well, so I will throw it back to you.
BLITZER: All right. Let's go to Chicago right now. He's opening with a statement. Then he will take reporters' questions.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But no matter who I have met with, whether it was the business leaders today, or the labor leaders I met with last week, my message has been the same. It's that the American economy is at its strongest when we have a common set of values that it reflects, when we reward not just wealth, but also work and the workers who create it, because what we have relearned in painful fashion over the last few months is that Wall Street can't thrive so long as Main Street is struggling.
So, to strengthen our long-term economic competitiveness, a topic that I will be addressing in-depth tomorrow in Pittsburgh, we need to build an economy that lifts up all Americans. If we're serious about making America more competitive in the 21st century, we also have to finally solve our energy crisis.
I know that this is something that John McCain talked about in a speech earlier today. And I want to once again repeat that I commend Senator McCain for having done more than some of his party when it comes to climate change.
Unfortunately, there remains a real difference between us on energy reform. And I think it's important for the American people to understand that difference.
Uh-oh. Time and...
OBAMA: I haven't gotten to the funny parts yet, actually.
Time and time again, when he's had the chance, Senator McCain has opposed real solutions to the energy crisis. When I was reaching across the aisle to build support for a plan to double our fuel efficiency standards, Senator McCain was voting against biofuels, against solar power, against wind power, and against an energy bill that his own campaign co-chairman called the biggest legislative breakthrough we have had since he has been in the Senate.
Now, that bill certainly wasn't perfect. It contained irresponsible tax breaks for oil companies that I consistently opposed and that I will repeal as president. But it also represented the largest ever investment in renewable sources of energy. And that's why I supported it.
But it's not just that there's a difference between what we have done in the past. It's that there's a big difference between what we're proposing for the future.
While I'm glad Senator McCain is talking about energy on the campaign trail, and I do believe that the only way we're going to solve this problem is by bringing the parties together, what Senator McCain has proposed so far is not a serious plan to solve the problem. He wants a gas tax holiday that will save you, the American consumer, at most 30 cents a day for three months. And that's only if the oil companies don't just increase their prices and pocket the savings themselves, which is what they did here in Illinois when we tried the same thing.
Senator McCain wants to open up our coastlines to drilling, a proposal that his own top economic adviser admitted won't provide any short-term relief at the pump. It's a proposal that George Bush's administration says will not provide a drop of oil for at least a decade. And by the time the drilling is fully under way, in 20 years, our own Department of Energy says that the effect on gas prices will be -- quote -- "insignificant."
Just today, we heard from the head of the government office whose mission is to provide an unbiased analysis of energy policy, and he said that the idea won't affect gas prices much.
Now, Senator McCain noted the other day that the idea on coastal drilling that he and President Bush have offered polls well. And I acknowledge that. Perhaps that's why Senator McCain changed his position. But what we need right now are not appealing, but meaningless gimmicks, designed to get politicians through the next election, gimmicks that offer no real relief to struggling motorists.
What we need now is a serious national commitment to meet our responsibility to our country and the next generation, a serious and sustained commitment to transition our economy from our dependence on oil to clean affordable sources of energy. What we need now is to make America the world leader in the development of these fuels and environmental technology.
And that's what I'm offering. I wish I could just make gas prices come down on their own. No president can. What I can do, and what I will do, is push for a second stimulus package that will send out another round of rebate checks to the American people.
What I will do as president is tax the record profits of oil companies and use the money to help struggling families pay their energy bills. I will provide a $1,000 tax cut that will go to 95 percent of all workers and their families in this country.
I will fully close the loophole that allows corporations to engage in unregulated speculation that artificially drives up the price of oil. That's what we will do in the short term to provide some relief to the American people.
Most importantly, though, is what I will do in the long term to solve this crisis. When America wanted to send a man to the moon, we put the full resources of our federal government behind it and spent over $100 billion in today's dollars. Well, I want to make an even bigger commitment to free this nation from its addiction to oil.
And that's why I will invest $150 billion over the next 10 years in alternative sources of energy, like wind power, solar power, and advanced biofuels, to invest in the next generation of plug-in hybrids, investments that will create up to five million new green jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced and that will create billions of dollars in new business.
That's the kind of leadership we need to realize the promise of clean energy for our economy, our safety and our security. And that's the kind of leadership I will offer as president of the United States.
With that, let me open it up to questions.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) And I'm just wondering, are you worried about the precedent that your decision is going to set?
OBAMA: Well, we talked about this, I think, in Florida. I answered almost exactly the same question. So, I will say it again.
We haven't just sort of done better with small donors. We have, I think, revolutionized how campaigns are financed at the presidential level. Ninety percent of our donors provide donations of $200 or less, 90 percent. So, the overwhelming bulk of the 1.7, I think, million donors that we get money from are ordinary Americans, not fat cats.
We don't take special interest money in the form of PAC donations. We don't take money from federal lobbyists. We have implemented a program where the Democratic National Committee is also not taking money from those sources.
And, so, if you look at how we fund our campaign, we are more reliant on small donors and ordinary Americans than any campaign in history. We have also been more transparent than other campaigns in terms of where we get our money from.
Do we have some big donors? Absolutely. But that's not what drives our campaign. And, as a consequence, we're actually in a position where, if a large donor wants to contribute to us, but wants something in return, I can afford to simply say, no, I'm not interested.
There's no single donor in our campaign or group of donors on which we depend, because our donor base is the American people. And that is exactly what has always been the end of campaign reform.
Now, public financing was one means of achieving that end, of freeing ourselves from special interest domination. And I feel confident that we have achieved it. And, you know, if you contrast how I'm funding my campaign with John McCain, for example, he's more reliant on lobbyists, more reliant on PACs, more reliant on special interests. There are no constraints to what the Republican National Committee can do.
So, we could have made a choice to go through the public financing system, and then, with a wink and a nod, have all this big money go into the RNC, or to, in our case, the DNC, in which case -- and that's what we have been doing in the past. But I don't think that that lives up to the spirit of what we're trying to achieve in terms of campaign reform.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Is there a way to fix the system?
OBAMA: Well, I think, as I said even earlier in the year, I felt that the system was broken. And I still want to see if we can fix it. And I think that part of what we're going to have to do is to create a system in which all spending is transparent, and you don't have an artificial public financing sector that's strictly limited, and then huge amounts of money, hundreds of millions of dollars that are being spent outside that system.
And that's been my goal from the start.
QUESTION: Senator, last -- last January, you pledged to support a filibuster of a warrantless surveillance bill that included retroactive immunity for telecommunications. Last week, the House passed a bill that effectively gives the telecoms that immunity. You said would support it.
In explaining the change, you said it was -- you were talking -- it was in light of the security threats facing the country.
Can you explain how the security threats facing the country are any different today than they were in January, when you said you would support a filibuster?
OBAMA: Well, the bill has changed. So, I don't think the security threats have changed. I think the security threats are similar.
My view on FISA has always been that the issue of the phone companies per se is not one that overrides the security interests of the American people. I do want accountability and making sure that, as I have said before, somebody's watching the watchers, that you don't have an administration that feels that it can make its own determinations about when warrantless wiretaps are applicable without going through a FISA court.
And -- and that's what we had. That's the system that we had previously. And I think that, if you look at why people were concerned about the original bill, it wasn't simply that we wouldn't be able to sue the phone companies. I would be happy with a system that discloses what's happened and make sure that we prevent violations of the American people's privacy, even if the phone companies are held harmless.
The issue was, can we get to the bottom of what's been taking place, and, most importantly, do we have safeguards going -- in place going into the future so that American civil liberties are not being violated?
It is a close call for me, but I think that the current legislation, with the exclusivity provision that says that a president, whether it's George Bush or myself or John McCain, can't make up rationales for getting around the FISA court, can't suggest that somehow there is some law that stands above the laws passed by Congress in engaging in warrantless wiretaps.
Make -- the fact that that provision is in there, I think, is very important and provides us protection going forward. The fact that there's an inspector general in place to investigate what happened previously gives us insight into what has happened going -- or retrospectively.
And, so, that, in my mind, met my basic concerns. And given that all the information I have received is that the underlying program itself actually is important and useful to American security, as long as it has these constraints on them, I felt it was most -- more important for me to go ahead and support this compromise.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Ask you, what were your thoughts about Ralph Nader's comments that you were trying to talk white and appeal to white guilt, so that you don't seem like a Jesse Jackson, and you're not confronting real problems in the African-American community? He was pretty brutal.
OBAMA: You know, look, first of all, what's clear is, Ralph Nader hadn't been paying attention to my speeches, because all the issues that he talked about, whether it's predatory lending, or the housing foreclosure crisis, or what have you, are issues that the traveling press can tell you I have devoted multiple speeches, town hall meetings to throughout this campaign.
Ralph Nader's trying to get attention. He's become a perennial political candidate. I think it's a shame, because, if you look at his legacy in terms of consumer protections, it's an extraordinary one. But, at this point, he's somebody who's trying to get attention and whose campaign hasn't gotten any traction.
There's a better way to get some traction than to make an inflammatory statement like the one that he made. It is what it is.
QUESTION: I assume that you consider the economy issue number one in this campaign. And you link the pain at the pump to the general economic malaise.
What can you tell Chicagoans here about $4- and $5-a-gallon gasoline, how that would be improved, would be reduced by those several short-term measures that you would like to implement if you were president?
OBAMA: Well, there are two elements, short-term, that could make a difference.
The first is having some serious investigation in closing loopholes in the oil futures market. Experts estimate that up to 30 percent of the current price of oil, or at least the current increase, is accounted for by energy speculation. And it is very important, I think, for us to be able to crack down on that speculation by closing the loopholes that lead this out of the regulatory framework that exists for most futures -- futures markets.
The second thing is to give people some tax relief, so that they can absorb these higher costs, both in the form of a tax stimulus rebate and a permanent $1,000 tax cut per family. Now, that will help people's bottom line day to day. What I...
OBAMA: Well, no, the first one will. The tax break will not.
I mean, the truth is, is -- and I have -- look, obviously, we're spending a lot of time talking to energy experts across the country and around the world. And the fact of the matter is, is that, once you take out some of that speculation that's been taken in the oil markets, the rest of it is driven by a big spike in demand, and a flatlining, or a supply that's not increasing as quickly.
Now, I would love, as I said in my opening remarks, to wave a magic wand and say, you elect me president, and gasoline's going to go back to three bucks or two. But that's not going to happen. That's not going to happen regardless of who's president.
What can bring gas prices down is a long-term serious energy policy. That's what we should have had in place 20 years ago. It's what we should have had in place 10 years ago. And that's what we should have in place now.
And, so, my goal is to get it right now. And the way to get it right is to make sure that we have got fuel-efficient cars that are significantly reducing oil consumption in the transportation sector, making our buildings more energy-efficient, setting up a cap-and-trade system that gives people incentives to move away from carbon-producing fossil fuels, using the money that's generated to reinvest in solar, wind, biodiesel, and setting a very clear goal that we are going to reduce our consumption by a large magnitude, 30 percent, 35 percent of our current oil consumption.
That is something that is achievable, but it's not going to be done tomorrow. It's not going to be next year. It's going to be done 10 years from now.
OBAMA: OK. Hold on a second, everybody. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Senator, what's your reaction to the Supreme Court's decision today striking down the death penalty for a child rapist?
OBAMA: I disagree with the decision. I have said repeatedly that I think that the death penalty should be applied in very narrow circumstances for the most egregious of crimes. I think that the rape of a small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous crime. And if a state makes a decision that, under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances, the death penalty is at least potentially applicable, that that does not violate our Constitution.
Now, I think it's -- you know, had the Supreme Court said, we want to constrain the ability of the states to do this to make sure that it's done in a careful and appropriate way, that would have been one thing. But it basically had a blanket prohibition. And I disagreed with that decision.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) The Supreme Court is expected to rule tomorrow on the D.C. gun ban.
Can you review for us where you stand on that?
OBAMA: Why don't I wait until the decision comes out, and then I will comment on it, as opposed to trying to prognosticate what the Supreme Court is going to decide tomorrow?
QUESTION: You commented on it before you -- you support the D.C. gun ban (OFF-MIKE)
OBAMA: What I have said is that I do not -- what I have said is, is that I'm a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but I do not think that that precludes local governments being able to provide some commonsense gun laws that keep guns out of the hands of gangbangers or children, that local jurisdictions are going to have different sets of problems, and that this is a very fact-intensive decision that has to be made.
But I do think that the Second Amendment is an individual right. So, what I would like to do is wait and see how the Supreme Court comes down, and evaluate the actual reasoning in the case to see how broad or narrow the decision's going to be.
QUESTION: Al Gore -- who are you pointing to?
OBAMA: I was pointing to Lee (ph).
But go ahead.
QUESTION: OK. All right.
OBAMA: I will call on you next.
QUESTION: Al Gore and John Edwards endorsed you in big arenas with big crowds. Former President Clinton issues a somewhat tepid statement through an aide. Are you worried about -- do you need to hear more from the former president? Are you worried about the party truly uniting, if you don't get a more full-throated endorsement from the former president?
OBAMA: No, because I'm going to be appearing with Senator Hillary Clinton, the former president's wife, who was involved in an epic, historic primary with me. And then I'm going to be campaigning with her on Friday. So it's understandable that the former president wouldn't want to upstage what is going to be, I think, a terrific unity event over the next day-and-a-half.
Now if the question is do I want Bill Clinton campaigning for us for the ticket leading into November, the answer is absolutely yes. I want him involved. He is a brilliant politician. He was an outstanding president. And so I want his help not only in campaigning, but also in governing. And I'm confident that I'll get that help.
QUESTION: Depending on your -- the statement that you made yesterday about the violence in Zimbabwe and the elections there coming up, is it your sense that the U.N. and some of the regional groups in the area haven't done enough?
And if that's the case, what do you think the next step should be taken by the U.N. and by the U.S.?
OBAMA: Well, I think they haven't done enough. I actually had a conversation with the -- who we anticipate will be the next head of the South African government Minister Zuma, and encouraged and urged him to speak out more forcefully on what was happening. This is before Mr. Tsvangirai decided to withdraw from the election.
What's happening in Zimbabwe is tragic. This is a country that used to be the bread basket of Africa. And Mugabe has run the economy into the ground. He has perpetrated extraordinary violence against his own people.
What is remaining of this election is a complete and total sham. I don't think that whatever the results of this election on Friday that Mugabe will be able to claim any sort of legitimacy as a Democratically elected leader in Zimbabwe. And not only do I think that the United Nations needs to continue to apply as much pressure as possible on the Mugabe government, but in particular, other African nations, including South Africa, I think have to be much more forceful in condemning the extraordinary violence that has been taking place there. And, frankly, they have been quiet for far too long and allowed Mugabe to engage in this sort of anti-colonial rhetoric that is used to distract from his own profound failures as a leader.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) talk with Senator Clinton and you've begun to address the issue of her debt.
What sort of role to you envision for her in the campaign (INAUDIBLE)?
OBAMA: Look, the -- I want her campaigning as much as she can. She was a terrific campaigner. She, I think, inspired millions of people. And so she can be an extraordinarily effective surrogate for me and the values and ideals that we share as Democrats. You know, I want her out there talking to people about how we're going to provide universal health care. I want her to talk about what's going to be required for us to get on a serious energy footing in this country. I want her to talk about her passion for children and early childhood education, making sure that college is affordable. And I think we can send Senator Clinton anywhere and she will be effective.
So, obviously, it will be constrained by her schedule, but I'm looking forward to campaigning vigorously with her. I think we'll have a -- I think we'll have a terrific time together in New Hampshire. And I think that she will be very effective all the way through November.
QUESTION: What have you -- yesterday you told your big donors you had given the green light to help retire Senator Clinton's debt.
Are you planning to reach out to those small donors you were talking about earlier, sort of the grassroots?
And if not, why not?
And what's her plan if you have to help her with her debt?
OBAMA: Well, you know, we don't have some 10 point strategy to do this. What I said was, to my large donors, who are in a position to write large checks to help Senator Clinton retire her debt, or at least a portion of it. And I think there are going to be those who are willing to do so. You know, small donors, you know, who are writing $5 or $10 or $15, $25 checks, first of all, their budgets are tighter. And, you know, they know that I am going to be working with Senator Clinton. If they want to make contributions, then I think there's nothing wrong with them doing so. And I want to encourage that.
But we're not I'm not going to be individually contacting $15 donors because, frankly, it probably wouldn't be that effective in terms of making a big dent in Senator Clinton's debt.
OBAMA: Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Senator, the national media has had some fun lately with the discovery that you're a politician and you come from Chicago. There's a lot of pedigree there, good and bad.
From your perspective, what's good about being a Chicago politician? What does it mean?
OBAMA: Well, look, for the local reporters here -- here in Chicago, you guys have a sense of where I come from and who I am. You will recall that for my entire political career here, basically, I was not the endorsed candidate of any political organization here; that I didn't go around wielding a bunch of clout; that my reputation in Springfield was as an independent. And my reputation here was also somebody who will try to work with everybody.
And so there's no doubt that I had friends and continue to have friends who come out of the more traditional school of Chicago politics. But that's not what launched my political career and that's not what I've ever depended on in order to get elected. And I would challenge any Chicago reporter to dispute that of -- that basic fact.
I think one thing about Chicago is that people try to get stuff done for their constituents. And one of the things I'm going to try to do as president is to get stuff done for the American people, who are struggling with high gas prices and lack of health care and an inability to afford college.
And I do think that there's a non-ideological approach to politics. It's not unique to Chicago. I think it's Midwestern in some way, which is important and will represent a significant change from the very ideological, very sharp partisanship that we've seen in Washington for a long time now.
QUESTION: How important is it to you that your vice president have national security credentials and can you elaborate on the kind of resume that person will have to have?
OBAMA: I want somebody who can be a good president if anything happened to me. And I want somebody who can be a good adviser and counsel to me and tell me where he or she thinks I'm wrong, not just on national security policy, but on domestic policy, as well.
Beyond that, I will give you more details when I announce my V.P. candidate.
OBAMA: Wait, actually, Jay, you already got one, didn't you?
Sorry. Go on.
QUESTION: Senator, following up on the question that Greg Heinz just asked regarding Chicago, isn't it the case by now, concentrating more of the function of the DNC here in Chicago, that you're going to be causing more attention to be focused on this city. And in the minds of those who have a less nuanced understanding of the city, they may focus more on the traditional corruption aspects and on ongoing investigations, some of which may come to fruit during the course of the campaign?
OBAMA: Yes, but those have nothing to do with my presidential campaign. And I don't think anything -- anybody would indicate that the mere fact that I am from Chicago is going to somehow have any impact on the kind of president that I'm going to be. So, no. The answer is I don't think that's going to be relevant at all.
QUESTION: Senator, back to public -- your decision on public financing. It was widely criticized as being a flip-flop and/or a broken promise.
Do you accept those characterizations as fair?
And are you concerned that the decision might jeopardize your credibility on other pledges you've made during the campaign on issues like trade, health care and withdrawing troops from Iraq?
OBAMA: Well, I think that the characterization of flip-flop was wrong because if you looked at my statement, what I said was is that we would try to work with the Republican nominee to preserve the option of public financing. In fact, you know, if you recall my original statement, it was prompted by the fact that everybody had said, including John McCain, that they were looking to opt out of the system. And it was on our own initiative, without any prompting, that we wrote to the FEC in order to give us that option.
That was -- that was the purpose of that letter and that statement, to make sure that we preserved that possibility.
And so the answer is no. I don't think that it is going to damage my credibility at all on those issues that you just mentioned. Those issues have to do with the reason that I'm fighting to be president of the United States -- making sure that the American people get a fair shake. Those are issues that I've been working on for 20 years. If people are interested in my credibility, they can take a look at what I said when I was a first year state senator, what I said when I was a first year U.S. senator or what I'm saying now as a presidential candidate. And they'll find consistency in my approaches on all these issues.
And even my critics, including conservative critics, would acknowledge that, in fact, there's been surprising consistency in how I approach every issue, whether it's trade or economic policy. On a whole host of issues, my orientation has been how can we, in a practical, pragmatic way, give more rung -- put -- you know, place more rungs on that ladder of opportunity for the American people and how can we make sure that we've got a competitive economy that continues to grow and that continues to prosper, how are we going to make sure that we keep the American people safe.
So there just hasn't been a lot of contradiction there. And, you know, frankly, when I hear those arguments made by supporters of John McCain or from the Republican National Committee, when just in the last two weeks we've seen John McCain reversed himself on a whole host of issues like drilling on the Continental shelf, and when there were a whole host of shifts in position on public financing by John McCain himself, then my sense is these arguments are just part of the political environment, that they are part and parcel of a presidential campaign, so.
OBAMA: All right, guys.
QUESTION: Senator, just one quick question.
OBAMA: You know, I'm going to -- I'm going to -- the last question here, because -- just because you had your hand up.
QUESTION: Was that me?
OBAMA: Yes, you -- for quite some time.
Your hometown is in the grips of a wave of violence that has frustrated political leaders. The police are responding. An extraordinary statement yesterday (INAUDIBLE) police chief saying some of these parents are to blame, their own lifestyles are putting their children in harm's way. But in a lot of cases, this is 15 years too late for the police to deal with.
QUESTION: What can you do as president to give Chicago and other cities a leg up on this violence?
OBAMA: I've talked about this repeatedly. But let me try to be succinct. We have to put more cops on the streets and that's why I want to restore the COPS program. We have to make sure that we are able to trace guns that have been used in violence to the unscrupulous gun dealers that all too often are dumping illegal handguns onto the streets of Chicago. I don't think there's anything contradictory between that and being a supporter of the Second Amendment.
We have to have -- improve schools, after school programs and summer school programs that give young people a place to be that's constructive and that gives them a sense of self-worth and a belief that they can achieve beyond just participating in the drug trade. Those are things government can do.
But as I said two Sundays ago at a speech here in Chicago, parents have to do their jobs. And fathers have to be at home and be a part of their child's lives and provide them guidance and provide them values. And we, as a community, have to speak out against the violence and instill a sense -- a greater sense of self-control and responsibility in our children.
And it's true, those are not things that we're going to be able to do overnight. It's going to take some time because there are kids who have been -- have not received that nurturing for a very long time. And many of them are hardened to the point where reversing how they've been brought up is going to be a daunting task.
And just while I'm on this topic, one last point I guess I would make. There were some who criticized my speech by saying well, you haven't acknowledged, for example, the joblessness and poverty that exists in the black community. I talk about that all the time. And there's no doubt that -- in fact, I wrote about this in my book "The Audacity of Hope," that if you've got men in inner city communities that can find jobs that support families, they are more likely to participate in those families and participate in their children's upbringing and to provide a role model for those children.
And so there's -- everything else that we've been talking about in terms of the economic development and job growth is going to have some impact on this issue. But that can't -- that can't be an excuse for a failure to provide the kind of guidance that children need in the household.
So, all right?
QUESTION: Senator (INAUDIBLE) -- on Charlie Black and his comments about -- that a terror attack might be good for Senator John McCain's campaign.
Any reaction to that?
OBAMA: Well, I thought I commented on that yesterday. But I'll do so again. I'd make two points. One is I'm not sure he is -- his analysis is correct, because I am looking forward to having a debate with the authors of the disastrous policy in Iraq about what's required in order to keep the American people safe. I don't think that the Bush administration or John McCain have shaped policies that are optimal in order to deal with the terrorist threat.
We're seeing backsliding in Afghanistan. We've got bin Laden sending out audio tapes. We've got interactive Internet sites that Al Qaeda has put up because they've got a place where they feel relatively secure. We are weakened financially and our military is strained to the breaking point as a consequence of our incursions into Iraq. We've neglected some of the homeland security investments that we could have made here.
Our National Guard, as we saw in the Midwest flooding, can't function as effectively as it could. I was talking to National Guard representatives. Fifteen of their 17 helicopters in this region were overseas during the flooding.
So I want to have that debate. And, you know, I think that if the Republicans think that they can run the same playbook that they ran in 2004 or 2000, I think they're badly mistaken, because I think the American people recognize their policies have not made us more safe.
Now, having said that, I also think that using the specter of a terrorist attack as a political angle to be exploited is not what the American people are looking for. Everybody -- all of us have an interest in preventing a terrorist attack on our homeland. I think that's true of John McCain. I think that's true of Democrats and Republicans. And I think it's true of George Bush.
And so my sense is that we should try to avoid trying to exploit the issue politically and focus on what are the concrete policy differences that we have in order to achieve that goal. All right?