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CNN ELECTION CENTER
Jesse Jackson Apologizes to Barack Obama; Ted Kennedy Returns to U.S. Senate; Obama's Vote on FISA Sparks Outcry
Aired July 9, 2008 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everybody.
Watch out for that microphone. It may be on. Well, tonight, everybody is talking about Jesse Jackson's apology to Obama earlier this evening. It turns out Reverend Jackson was near a live microphone when he made a crude remark about Obama -- the story still developing.
We are going to have all the details on it coming up in just a moment.
We are also watching for the start of a joint fund-raiser. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are together again, right here in New York City. But observers say, don't be fooled. There is trouble in paradise. We are going to have the details on that.
Plus, an unforgettable moment on Capitol Hill today. Senator Edward Kennedy, who has been fighting brain cancer, as you know, came all the way back to Washington to the Senate be present for a crucial vote. And we will tell you what happened in Washington as well.
But, first, new details still streaming out on that Jesse Jackson story, his trash talk of Barack Obama. It happened after the end of a FOX News interview on Sunday. The Reverend Jackson says he thought his microphone was turned off. What he said, a bit vulgar so we can't repeat all of it on TV.
But, tonight, Jesse Jackson is backpedaling.
And Joe Johns is with us now to help fill in the blanks, where he is able to fill in the blanks.
Joe, what do you know?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Campbell, he talked basically about cutting off a part of Barack Obama's anatomy, but we don't want to go there.
Here's what this is really all about. And what it's all about in part at least is Jesse Jackson, who for so long has spoken for many African-Americans. And now there's this little face-off with the newcomer on the scene, Barack Obama. But the other thing is, there have been rumblings for weeks that some in the African-American community are upset because Barack Obama's message isn't necessarily tailored to appeal to traditional African-American constituencies.
Reverend Jackson is playing all of this down, of course, and has, as you said, already apologized for his remarks.
JOHNS (voice-over): It's not exactly the change of direction Obama's plane took in the Midwest today, but political observers say the presumptive Democratic nominee is detouring away from the liberal corner and inching toward the center of American politics.
He denies any change of direction and says he doesn't understand what the fuss is about.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I don't. What happens is I get tagged as being on the left, and when I simply describe what have been my positions consistently, then suddenly people act surprised.
JOHNS: But people who watch this stuff closely, like Democratic pollster Peter Hart, know this general election two-step when they see it, because they have seen it before.
PETER HART, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Whether it's coming from the left or the right, it is the center that everybody runs to.
JOHNS: So, what's the evidence? Let's start with the most current controversy which has fired up the blogosphere and flooded the Obama for president Web site with criticism from his own supporters. The Senate is taking up a bill that would give telephone companies a free pass from lawsuits for allowing government eavesdropping without court orders.
Obama, who first said he opposed it, now supports what he says is a better version of the bill.
OBAMA: I have consistently said that the underlying program was one that was necessary and important.
JOHNS: Take the issue of abortion. Obama broke away from pro- abortion-rights dogma by saying mental distress of the mother shouldn't be an excuse for late-term abortion, though he still supports abortion rights.
Another example, Obama's support of faith-based initiatives. Some say that's taking a page from President Bush's...
JOHNS: It looked like we have a computer snafu, perhaps. That was the wrong piece we seemed to air on this.
Back to the Jesse Jackson issue with Barack Obama. A lot of people don't like this controversy.
Congressman Jesse Jackson, the son of Reverend Jesse Jackson, issued a statement saying -- quote -- "I'm deeply outraged and disappointed in Reverend Jackson's reckless statements about Senator Barack Obama. His divisive and demeaning comments about the presumptive Democratic nominee and I believe," he says, "the next president of the United States, contradict his inspiring and courageous career. Instead of tearing down others," Jesse Jackson Jr. says, "Barack Obama wants to build the country up and bring people together, so we can move forward as one nation."
He goes on essentially to say, "I thoroughly reject and repudiate his ugly rhetoric. He should keep hope alive and any personal attacks and insults to himself" -- so, some pretty strong language there from the son of Reverend Jesse Jackson, the congressman from Illinois, of course, who's working very closely with the Barack Obama campaign -- a lot of healing to do on this one, Campbell.
BROWN: All right, Joe Johns.
And we should say apologies to our viewers for that computer problem. Joe, thank you for hanging in there with us.
So, suddenly, Jesse Jackson is back in the spotlight and under fire. Is this a problem for the Obama campaign, though?
We want to talk about that with TV and radio talk show host Joe Pagliarulo. And Warren Ballentine, who is a radio talk show host a well, also a Barack Obama supporter. He's joining us as well.
And, Warren, let me ask you, because I know Jesse Jackson called you this afternoon just as this story was breaking. What did he tell you?
WARREN BALLENTINE, ATTORNEY AND RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, I spoke with Reverend Jackson.
And, basically, he relayed to me that the information that's going to be put out was taken out of context, that he supports Barack Obama 2000 percent, that he's always supported him. And being an attorney from Chicago and growing up in Chicago, I can honestly say that I have seen that support from Rainbow/PUSH.
I think, though, what happened here, and just to be honest with you, Campbell, and with the viewers, I think that, realistically, Reverend Jackson just misspoke. He misspoke. He made a mistake. And I really don't think it's that big of a deal, because I think he's relevant anymore.
JOE PAGLIARULO, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: He had a hot microphone on. I have been standing and waiting for 25 minutes. I had a hot microphone on the whole time. I knew anything that I have said could be heard by the world possibly. And how is this a misspeak?
BALLENTINE: Joe, this is no different than the Imus situation.
PAGLIARULO: Yes, but no, it's not, because Imus said what he believed. Imus said what he wanted to say because that's what he's been saying for 30 or 40 years. If you want to compare it to Imus, then Jesse Jackson said what he believes.
And this whole backtracking now and, saying, I had a hot mike problem, that's horrible. If he had a microphone on or had a microphone off, he feels as though Barack Obama was in the wrong to go in front of this group of people and pull the moral card on them. Jesse Jackson...
BALLENTINE: You know what the reality of this is, Joe? This would have been more damaging if this came from Reverend Sharpton. Reverend Jackson is no longer the civic or civil leader he once was. He's done great things for the American people, but I think Reverend Sharpton is now in that position. I don't think this is a big deal as far as Reverend Jackson saying this, to be honest with you.
BROWN: OK. But, Warren, I want to go back to what you said, because you said that he told you his remarks were taken out of context. And we heard Joe Johns report what he said.
And I don't understand how you can take that out of context.
BALLENTINE: Well, Campbell, you know, to be honest with you, I heard the audio. In fact, I'm the one who actually gave the story to CNN.
I knew about the audio and everything else earlier in the day. And I listened to the audio. And I spoke with Reverend Jackson. I spoke with Reverend Jackson. I spoke with Clarence Page and a host of other people who contacted me.
And everybody seems to agree that, honestly, Reverend Jackson said some things that honestly he should not have said, but he was not saying it in the context of...
BROWN: I got you.
BALLENTINE: ... he was trying to hurt or be disrespectful to Barack Obama.
PAGLIARULO: He was saying what he felt.
BROWN: Hold on, guys, because we do have the tape now, Joe Johns' piece that we were trying to get for you earlier. Hold on.
This is the sound bite, I'm being told, from Reverend Jackson, so that people can listen to it -- listen to it themselves and decide for themselves. Listen up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON, FOUNDER, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: See, Barack been talking down to black people on this faith based -- I want cut his (EXPLETIVE DELETED) off. Barack, he's talking down to black people.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX ANCHOR: Joining us now from Raleigh, North Carolina...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: OK. Bill O'Reilly, we give him credit for that.
But let me go back to you, Warren. Again, you heard it.
PAGLIARULO: What's the context here?
BROWN: How was that taken out of context, warren?
BALLENTINE: Because Reverend Jackson was saying it in the context of this.
He was saying that, look, Barack came to an Apostolic church. He was speaking to a black church, and he was talking about fathers not being in the household. What he should have been talking about was the jobs, the educational system. This was an opinion of Reverend Jackson. It wasn't done to hurt reverend -- to hurt Senator Obama or to discredit Senator Obama.
PAGLIARULO: Warren, I think you're great. And, if I can find it, I will listen to your radio show, I promise. And maybe Jesse Jackson...
PAGLIARULO: ... next time.
PAGLIARULO: But I got to tell you something, man. That's some spin like I have never seen before.
The bottom line here is, it was taken in context. He's sitting next to a guy and he says, man, I can't believe what Barack's doing here. He's talking down to black people. And you know what? I would like to cut his something off because he's talking down to black people.
How exactly is that out of context? Now, you're right. Maybe he should have said something different. Barack Obama should have presented himself in a different way. Barack Obama is not Bill Cosby. He doesn't deserve to be able to do this yet.
But for what Jesse Jackson to say what he said, there's no possible way to misconstrue that.
BALLENTINE: Joe, let me tell you what is going on here. And this is something that I'm saying as an African-American.
What's happening here is that you have two generations -- a generational gap. And you have this older civil rights leader who's been prominent in the African-American community. You have this young upstart politician who's doing wonderful, wonderful things. And this, you know, this is a shock and awe. This is what I'm calling it, because you have this generation who never thought that they would see...
PAGLIARULO: It was shocking and awful what he said. It was.
BALLENTINE: They never thought they would see something like this in their lifetime. And they're happy for it. But, at the same time, they're a little hesitant. And you can look at all the civil rights leaders from Andrew Young saying that he need to wait...
PAGLIARULO: So, in other word, it was in context, Warren.
BALLENTINE: This is a generational thing
BROWN: All right.
BALLENTINE: So, I don't think it was done to be hurtful to Obama.
PAGLIARULO: We can agree on that.
BROWN: Joe and Warren, both of you stay with us, because there's more to the story, including what it was that actually set Jesse Jackson off. Our insiders are going to talk about that.
Also, when we come up, an insider's guide to Iran's new missile testing. We will tell you what you haven't heard, how Iran really has a kind of protective barrier around it. And it's called oil. We need it.
We're going to talk about that, the full story, when we come back.
BROWN: Jesse Jackson's trash talk is making headlines. But we do want to talk a little bit about the speeches that Obama made that do seem to have set him off in the first place.
And we also want to mention we're just getting word in that the Obama campaign has put out a statement saying that they do accept Reverend Jackson's apology.
And we want to go back to Joe Pagliarulo and Warren Ballentine to talk a little bit more about this.
And the thing that seemed to set Jesse Jackson off were some speeches that Obama has been giving about morality in the black community. Let's all listen to something he said yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Fathers, you need to be in the life of your child and pay child support. Children without fathers in the home are more likely to drop out. They're more likely to get into trouble.
Parents, you need to turn off the television set and put away the video game and have a curfew.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Now, once again, for those of you just joining us, we do want to show you what Jesse Jackson said. We have some tape of it, so you can decide for yourself what to make of it. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACKSON: See, Barack been talking down to black people on this faith based -- I want cut his (EXPLETIVE DELETED) off.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: And that's what set this whole thing in motion.
So, Warren, I want to ask you about what started this. The speeches that Obama has been giving here have rubbed some the wrong way. There's criticism that Obama -- from some -- that Obama should leave parenting to parents.
BALLENTINE: I think that's hysterical that somebody would even be offended by what he was saying.
Wouldn't it be a breath of fresh air to have an intellect in office? He's talking about accountability. He's talking about responsibility. And we would want to have somebody in the White House who wants to hold the American people accountable for what -- not just what we're doing as individuals, but as families.
I think what he's saying is not as offensive at all. I have five million users, Campbell, that listen to me every day from coast to coast, border to border. And my listeners feel the same way.
Look, it's all about accountability. And all Barack was saying at that the church was, look, if you're a father, even if you're not in a child's life, pay child support. If you can be, be there. That's accountability. If you're not going to do that, don't have kids.
PAGLIARULO: Hey, Warren, who was offended by it?
BALLENTINE: I don't know.
PAGLIARULO: Jesse Jackson was offended by it. You just heard what he just said. He said that he's talking down to black people.
PAGLIARULO: Hold on a second, because you're obviously a very, very smart guy and a very, very good talk show host, but you're spinning this thing out of control, my friend.
Listen, Jesse Jackson said that to the guy he was sitting next to for one simple reason. He doesn't want Barack Obama to alienate any voters. Already, the black leaders, or people who call themselves black leaders, like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, are guaranteeing the African-American vote for Barack Obama.
They now fear that him looking like he's talking down to African- Americans in any sense will make people run away. When Bill Cosby did it, Warren, the same exact thing happened.
BALLENTINE: Let me give you something that nobody understands about this race, as far as black Americans go.
Reverend Jackson, Reverend Sharpton, none of them can guarantee anything for Barack Obama. The American people have to guarantee it for Barack Obama. And, honestly, the reason Barack Obama is so prevalent in the black community, if you want to talk about honesty here, is because of black talk radio host like myself, Reverend Sharpton, Michael Baisden...
BROWN: But do either of you honestly think that African- Americans are going to move away from Barack Obama in this campaign?
PAGLIARULO: You know, I do a radio talk show every day in Houston, Texas, huge black community. Get a lot of black callers.
They call in. Joe, I'm African-American. Here's where I am on this. And there are a lot of conservative African-Americans out there who want to give Barack Obama a chance. When he goes and does things like he did here, he does in fact grab their ears. Does he alienate the other side, who are left-leaning liberal black Americans? He possibly can. Is he going to get the boatload of it? Absolutely. Is he going to get all of the black vote? I don't think he can assure himself of that. I don't think it's a guarantee.
BALLENTINE: But, Joe, I think that's the same thing with McCain. He's not going to get all the white vote. We're Americans. We're going to vote for the person who most represents us as Americans. I don't think this is a black or white issue. I think it's about the best politician...
PAGLIARULO: Well, it is a black and white issue because it was Jesse Jackson who made those comments and he talked about the black community.
BALLENTINE: Jesse Jackson is not the leader of black America.
PAGLIARULO: He thinks he is.
BROWN: OK, guys, stand by for now.
BROWN: We have got a lot more to talk about, but we do want to move on now to a complicated, if not dangerous, development in the Middle East that we have been giving a lot of attention to today.
Iran today test-fired missiles that could hit Israel. But the fact is, Iran has an even more potent weapon, which is oil. We're going to talk about that when we come back.
BROWN: The pictures out of Iran today looked pretty frightening. But they only tell part of the story. The Iranians launched a series of missiles, including a long-range missile capable of hitting Israel.
An Iranian general warned, "Our fingers are always on the trigger."
And, as you can imagine, this has all sorts of repercussions.
CNN State Department correspondent Zain Verjee has been monitoring the situation for us since early this morning.
And, Zain, these -- these missile tests were clearly a show of force.
Just what is Iran trying to say to the world?
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Iran just upped the ante in the most dangerous poker game around. It's responding really to Israel's major military exercise last month in the Mediterranean, which proved that their weapons could reach Iranian nuclear facilities.
So, launching these ballistic missiles today basically puts teeth behind Iran's tough talk. And it says that Tehran is serious about fighting off any attacks on its nuclear facilities.
Now, just take a look at the range of this big missile test. This is the Shahab-3. It goes nearly 1,250 miles. That is well within the reach of Israel. Iran says that thousands of missiles are ready to be fired -- Campbell.
BROWN: And, Zain, the big concern is the potential combination of long-range missiles and nuclear technology. Is the intelligence community here on the same page about when they believe that Iran might have nuclear weapons?
VERJEE: Well, there are still a lot of questions about Iran's nuclear program. But the U.S. intelligence community by and large has said that if everything goes according to Iran's plan, it could have a nuclear bomb by 2010 to 2015.
Right now, the thing is, is that Iran can't actually produce weapons-grade uranium. And that's really key. They can only -- they only have a low level of uranium, and they need weapons-grade, which is a key ingredient to make a nuclear bomb.
BROWN: And, Zain, the Bush administration, of course, condemned today's missile test. What else is the administration doing to force or try to force Iran's hand?
VERJEE: Well, they're pushing pretty hard, Campbell, in a lot of different ways.
I mean, just yesterday, they clamped down on Iran. They were imposing new sanctions on Iranian individuals and companies. And at the same time, Secretary of State Rice keeps saying that she's going to talk anytime, anywhere, with the Iranians, as soon as Iran suspends enriching uranium, so it's really a carrot/stick strategy the U.S. is using with Iran. Secretary Rice has said, too, that Iran may be a strong country, but it does have weak points that the U.S. is looking to pressure.
BROWN: All right, Zain Verjee for us tonight -- Zain, as always, thanks to you.
Today's tests brought out some strong reaction from both presidential candidates. Senator Barack Obama spoke on NBC's "Today Show." Senator John McCain talked to reporters. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This missile test was conducted by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. This is the same organization that I voted to condemn as a terrorist organization when an amendment was on the floor of the United States Senate. Senator Obama refused to vote, called it provocative.
OBAMA: It's so important for us to have a coherent policy with respect to Iran. It has to combine much tougher threats of economic sanctions with direct diplomacy, opening up channels of communication, so that we avoid provocation, but we give strong incentives for the Iranians to change their behavior.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: And we want to talk this over with our panel of experts tonight in Washington.
Nile Gardiner is a senior fellow with the Heritage Foundation, a right-leaning think tank. Brian Katulis -- I hope I'm saying that right, Brian -- is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, who is a left- leaning think tank. He's also an informal unpaid adviser to the Obama campaign. His latest book is "The Prosperity Agenda: What the World Wants From America and What We Need in Return." agenda, what the world wants from America and what we need in return. And in Los Angeles, Reza Aslan, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, and the author of the book "No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future Of Islam."
Welcome to everybody.
Nile, I want to start with you.
We just heard Barack Obama say that direct diplomacy is what needs to happen here, that the Bush administration policy hasn't worked so far. Why not give that a try?
NILE GARDINER, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Well, I think Senator Obama sends completely the wrong signal here.
After all, the European Union has been negotiating directly with Tehran for several years now. Those negotiations have achieved business nothing at all. They bought the Iranian regime valuable time to develop its nuclear program. Today's missile tests were an extremely provocative, hostile account by a brutal dictatorship. We should send a very clear signal to the Iranians that these actions have consequences.
Absolutely we should place the use of force firmly on the table as a threat against the Iranian regime and we should support, of course, even stronger economic sanctions against Iran. But the Bush administration is doing that already. So, Obama is saying nothing new on the sanctions front.
BROWN: Brian, if Obama's diplomacy plans don't work, then what? Won't Iran just keep running out the clock here?
BRIAN KATULIS, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, look, I think it's important to understand how we got to this point. Iran has been emboldened, it's stronger and it's closer to a nuclear bomb because of inaction by the Bush administration.
From 2002 to 2006, we had no Iran policy. Finally, some pragmatists, professionals in the State Department and others, have developed this package of carrots and sticks. And I think what Senator Obama is arguing is that we need to do more of that. We shouldn't tie one hand behind our back, which is what we have been doing when we don't engage in diplomacy directly.
It's been a very passive policy. And, frankly, the Iranians have gotten what they want as a result of it. And we need to use the full range of American powers, including military power, but also diplomacy. And this administration frankly has been reluctant to use it. It used it to North Korea to good effect this year and we should do that. BROWN: All right.
Reza, what is realistic here? Both candidates are offering very different strategies. What's more likely to work?
REZA ASLAN, AUTHOR, "NO GOD BUT GOD: THE ORIGINS, EVOLUTION, AND FUTURE OF ISLAM": Well, it's true that both candidates are offering different strategies. I will say that what links the two together is the fact that they both do want to use diplomacy and dialogue to far better effect than the Bush administration has so far.
The real key I think -- the key difference between Obama and McCain is that Obama is willing to explore the idea of bilateral talks with Iran. And that's something that McCain simply is not willing to consider.
The other issue, too, of course, is that Obama has been willing to say in a very public way that regime change will be off the table. And this is important because we do have to understand that Iran's nuclear program is very much centered on its sense of insecurity. Iran really feels as though it is being threatened by Israel and by the United States. It's literally surrounded by American troops.
BROWN: Reza, thanks to you.
Guys, we -- hang on, Nile and Brian. I know you're come back. We have more to talk about here.
There's a big reason to pay attention to any confrontation involving Iran. And it has to do with geography, the high seas and oil, lots of oil. Ali Velshi is here to show us how this will affect you and your pocketbook, potentially, when we come back.
BROWN: So what do Iran's missile tests have to do with the price of oil? Well, potentially, enough bad things to make you think that $4 a gallon gas is a bargain. Yes, we're not kidding here.
Senior business correspondent Ali Velshi is at the big wall to show us what could happen if there is ever a war involving Iran.
And Ali, give us a reality check. I mean, explain the connection between Iran and oil, especially why we should be paying attention when there's all this saber rattling going on.
ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And we should be paying a lot of attention to this. When you think of the Middle East you think of oil. You think of Saudi Arabia. But you know what? This crescent here is the most fertile crescent in the world for oil.
This is, in fact, the world's biggest refinery, is right there on the Persian Gulf in Saudi Arabia. Here is the problem. Iran is not only the fourth biggest producer of oil in the entire world, but all of the oil from the Persian Gulf has to work its way through here and just past the Strait of Hormuz, which at its narrowest point is only 21 miles wide and controlled by Iran. Forty percent of the oil in the world that is shipped goes through the Strait of Hormuz. It is a lot of oil, and Iran has said if anybody ever attacks Iran, it will shut down the Strait of Hormuz and no oil will get out of there.
Oil will hit, I don't know, 10 bucks a gallon, 15 bucks a gallon very quickly. If there is a war with Iran, I think it will be the shortest war ever fought because Iran can shut the world down.
BROWN: But Iran has a big gamble as well.
VELSHI: Yes. Well, Iran is a very oil-rich nation. It controls all that oil. About 85 percent of its budget is dependent on oil. So Iran would not want that to happen because if oil prices spike further, well, then we stop using it or we figure out how to stop using it very quickly. Iran suffers financially.
And Iranians, by the way, don't want that either. They pay a very small amount of money for gasoline. They don't want to see that spike either. Nobody is interested in a war between Iran and anybody else in the world.
BROWN: OK, this is a very interesting point. And Ali, stay with me. I want to bring the panel, some of our panel members back in to get their reaction. Nile Gardiner once again and Brian Katulis, what do you make of what Ali just said?
GARDINER: If I could respond first.
BROWN: Yes, go ahead, Nile.
GARDINER: I do feel that his comments were quite ridiculous actually. He's saying that Iran is developing nuclear capability because it feels threatened and is insecure. This is a country that is threatening to wipe an entire nation off the face of the earth. That's very threatening language here. So I think we need to clarify that particular point.
But with regard to the issue of oil prices and Iran's threats on that particular front, I don't see how Iran can control the Strait of Hormuz in an actual war itself. It may be able to make initial efforts to block the strait. However, the United States will very swiftly gain complete control of the air and sea. And so, it will be very hard, in fact, for Iran...
GARDINER: ... to launch an effective successful shutdown long term.
BROWN: Brian, what do you think? KATULIS: Well, look, I think given the global interest in stability in the gulf, we need to ratchet down the saber rattling and the loose talk. We had it from President Bush, axis of evil. We're getting it from John McCain when he says bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.
I'd rather listen to the grownups. I'd rather listen to the U.S. military professionals, like our previous top commander in the Middle East, William Fallon, who said, I want to talk to Iran, and talk about rules of navigation and some basic pragmatic issues. And I think you've got enough people in the U.S. military, in the U.S. diplomatic corps, saying, look, our best option is to ratchet down these tensions and actually have a complete approach, not the approach that we've been lacking for the last six or seven years. And I think that's the best way to secure our interest in that part of the world.
BROWN: Ali, you get the last word.
VELSHI: There are smarter folks than me to discuss the politics of it. But I will tell you, at its narrowest point, it is 21 miles wide, Iran can make a lot of trouble in the Strait of Hormuz. It drops a few minds into that thing, its two shipping channels.
Nobody doubts the Americans can win a war over the long term. But it can shut down the flow of oil to the rest of the world and we will all pay for that very quickly.
BROWN: Ali Velshi, appreciate it, as well as Nile and Brian.
Thank you all for your time tonight, guys.
KATULIS: Thank you.
BROWN: Coming up, Ted Kennedy's emotional return to the Senate. This is five weeks after brain cancer surgery.
And they may be pushing unity but Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are on opposite sides of a controversial bill. Today we're going to have that story still ahead.
This is the ELECTION CENTER.
BROWN: Still ahead in the ELECTION CENTER, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton together again tonight. We're going to check in on our tempestuous two-some. And we're going to tell you why a controversial vote in Washington today has some former Obama fans fired up not in a good way.
But first, Randi Kaye is here with tonight's "Briefing" -- Randi.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of news out of Colorado tonight, Campbell.
Investigators are clearing the relatives of JonBenet Ramsey in the murder of the child beauty queen. Prosecutors say the DNA recovered from JonBenet's clothing is from an unknown man and backed his previous DNA evidence. Prosecutors apologized to the Ramseys for targeting them as suspects. JonBenet was 6 when she was found murdered in her Boulder, Colorado home on the day after Christmas 1996.
There could soon be a settlement in supermodel Christie Brinkley's divorce this year. Her trial was put on hold today and Brinkley hopes the deal is in the works. Brinkley says she left her husband, Peter Cook, because he had an affair with a teenager.
And polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs is in a Las Vegas hospital tonight. Guards at an Arizona jail were Jeffs is being held found him feverish and convulsing. His condition was serious enough to rush him to an emergency room 100 miles away.
Jeffs has had medical issues in the jail before. He got sick after fasting and again after banging his head against the wall in a suicide attempt.
And in the U.S. Senate just a few hours ago, a dramatic unexpected moment that no one there will ever forget.
A thunderous bipartisan standing ovation greeted Senator Edward Kennedy as he returned to the Senate floor this afternoon, just five weeks after surgery for brain cancer. He came to cast a single vote to break a Republican filibuster against a bill that would block a 10 percent cut in Medicare fees for doctors. It worked. His vote made the difference and the bill passed.
And we actually talked with our Dr. Sanjay Gupta and he said that he looks pretty good. Probably should have made this fly-by vote but he's looking pretty good.
BROWN: Pretty dedicated.
KAYE: Yes, absolutely.
BROWN: And we should mention also, Minnesota already has one of this year's most interesting U.S. Senate races and soon it could get even hotter.
Tomorrow on ELECTION CENTER, Randi is going to be interviewing former governor and pro wrestler Jesse Ventura, who may jump into the race. That campaign would be a battle royal featuring incumbent Republican Senator Norm Coleman, and former funnyman Al Franken who is the Democrat in that race. So look for that tomorrow night. Randi, thanks very much.
Coming up, so much unity. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on opposite sides of a controversial surveillance bill. Now, he's taking flak from the left. We've got that story when we come back.
BROWN: Larry King has an exclusive that you're not going to want to miss tonight. Coming up in just a few moments, freed hostage, Ingrid Betancourt, tells Larry about the six years she spent in captivity in the jungles of Colombia.
Pretty riveting interview -- listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
INGRID BETANCOURT, FREED FARC HOSTAGE: It was hell. It was hell for the body. It was hell for the soul. It was hell for the mind. Everything was so horrible.
I mean, every -- we had all kinds -- all kinds of pains, little pains, big pains.
LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": You were physically tortured, as well as mentally tortured?
BETANCOURT: We all were. We all were.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: It is a dramatic hour you're not going to want to miss. Former hostage Ingrid Betancourt exclusively on "LARRY KING LIVE." That's coming up in just a few minutes.
Here in New York tonight, Barack Obama is holding a joint fund raiser with Hillary Clinton. But is it all peace and happiness between those two? We're going to get the very latest scoop on the most watched relationship in politics in just a minute.
BROWN: In Washington, D.C. today, the Senate passed a controversial bill expanding the government's power to eavesdrop on terror suspects. The legislation also protects phone companies from being sued for cooperating with the surveillance program launched by the White House after 9/11. It passed 69-28 with the very notable support of Senator Barack Obama.
Obama's vote has sparked an outcry. Some of his supporters say he sold them out. And Jessica Yellin is here with more on this.
And Jessica, Barack Obama, once a strong opponent of the warrantless wiretapping law, today he voted for it. And he's taking a lot of heat for it, isn't he?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He really is, Campbell. His supporters are going ballistic, writing into his campaign Web site. There have been editorials by op-ed writers and, of course, endless attacks from the McCain campaign.
Look, Obama's office said in December that he unequivocally opposes this law and now he has reversed himself. So it really would be some impressive acrobatics from him to deny that he broke a promise on this one. BROWN: And Jessica, you know, he's also actually voted against some of his closest allies in casting his vote this way in the Senate, didn't he, today? What are they saying on Capitol Hill?
YELLIN: Well, my sources on Capitol Hill tell me that other Democrats do understand there was real political pressure on him to support this bill because if he opposed it, Republicans could portray him as weak on national security. Remember, even Nancy Pelosi who is no moderate, agreed with Obama on this vote.
But you're right. Among those who voted no and stayed true to their word, Obama's own mentor, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, two of his possible VP short list candidates, Chris Dodd and Joe Biden. Even Senator Clinton, they all could have voted yes along with Barack Obama to give him cover, they didn't, Campbell.
BROWN: All right. Jessica, stand by right now, because back to talk about the ramifications of Obama's vote and to talk about a few other things as well, talk show host, once again, Joe Pagliarulo and Warren Ballentine.
And Warren, Jessica talked about this. Senator Obama getting a lot of heat for this vote, much of it from his own supporters. And let's just look at some of the comments they have posted on the campaign Web site.
"The depth of my disappointment in Obama's FISA vote can't be measured. It was his first chance to demonstrate his faithfulness to the constitution and to his own word, and he failed."
Another writes in, "That disqualifies him for president, in my book."
He's really lost some credibility here, hasn't he?
BALLENTINE: You know, Jessica -- I'm sorry, Campbell, I think Jessica did a great piece here, but I don't think he lost credibility. I'm going to tell you why.
I think it's nice to have somebody who would look at a problem, examine it from all angles, and then say, you know what, I had this position earlier, but after reevaluating this, I think this is a better position to take.
PAGLIARULO: You know he's really good at that, Warren. So you're right. It is refreshing to say he's not going to --
BALLENTINE: It's no different -- it's no different than the maverick now conservative John McCain. You're talking about an ultimate flip-flopper. That's your flip-flopper right there. One minute he's one of the most liberal Republicans ever known to man. Now, he's a staunch conservative. That's a flip-flopper.
PAGLIARULO: It's easy to deflect, my friend, to go to John McCain here. The bottom line is, Barack Obama, the past few weeks, is 3-1 over John McCain when it comes to flip-flopping. And, by the way, I'm not here supporting John McCain. But, my friend, it looks like you're campaigning for Obama.
BALLENTINE: I'm not campaigning for anybody because I'm independent, to be honest with you.
PAGLIARULO: Independent is voting for Obama.
BALLENTINE: But I'll say this -- I'll say this, I do support Obama and I will say this as an attorney, not as a talk show host.
BALLENTINE: As an attorney, you have to legally look at stuff from both sides and if the argument makes more sense, Joe, you take the side that makes more sense. And that's what Obama did here.
PAGLIARULO: Now, would you take that side and stay there. And Obama can't seem to do that.
BROWN: But Joe, Warren does have a point. I mean, John McCain is not exactly, you know, in the clear on this either. He has changed, changed his positions numerous times, too.
PAGLIARULO: I know he has on immigration. We can go down the list here. Yes. And again, I'm not here as a campaigner for John McCain. I'm here to say that Obama needs to take a stance.
John McCain has been doing this for 20 years. He has been this business a long, long, time. So he's got a track record you can go back and pick stuff out of.
Barack Obama has been on the national front for about what? A year, a year and a half? And every two seconds he's turning around and saying, you know what, I'm going to change my mind on that. Although I don't really like it I have to vote this way because I am tough on -- you know, Barack Obama has got a real problem here.
BALLENTINE: Campbell, you know what --
PAGLIARULO: You know what, Warren, I would vote for Barack Obama if I had any idea what he stands for on anything, my friend. I have no clue. He might change tomorrow.
BALLENTINE: You know what's hilarious to me, Campbell --
BROWN: Go ahead, Warren.
BALLENTINE: What's hilarious to me is when I hear people like Joe make this argument about flip-flopping --
PAGLIARULO: "People like Joe," how dare you.
BALLENTINE: And -- oh, excuse me, Americans like Joe...
PAGLIARULO: There you go.
BALLENTINE: ... make this argument like this because honestly we've had seven and a half years of a guy in the White House who's taken a position and wouldn't look at the other side. And look at what it's gotten us, gas out of control, unemployment and everything else --
BROWN: OK, hold it. Hold it, hold it, hold it. Let me go for a little reality check here to our very own Jessica.
You know, Jessica, no Democrat wants to be called a flip-flopper and Obama is really getting that from both the left and the right on this issue at least. What are you hearing? I mean, how much does the campaign consider this to be a problem? What's damage control like?
YELLIN: They consider it enough of an issue that the candidate himself has addressed it on the stump, and his aides are incredibly aggressive about it. Anytime you go on air and suggest that he shifted positions, you'll get an e-mail or a phone call from somebody disputing your characterization or that's been my experience.
Look, Barack Obama basically in his -- the campaign makes the case that you just heard Warren make. That this is a guy who sees nuance (ph). He's not stubborn and we want a leader, Americans do, who understands, is sophisticated enough to evolve, and that that's being misreported.
But the problem is he's giving John McCain enough ammunition with things like the FISA vote, with his comments on Iraq last week, with his change on whether he takes campaign finance. That there is momentum behind this narrative and they cannot allow this to become a narrative that sticks. It has done other Democrats in, in the past.
BROWN: OK, Joe, Warren, Jessica, everybody, stand by. We've got more to talk about. I want to know if tensions over money could derail the Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton unity tour. That's next.
BROWN: As I mentioned, Barack Obama has got two fund-raisers in New York tonight, one of them with Hillary Clinton. Well, Obama just spoke just a few moments ago and urged his supporters to help Clinton pay down her campaign debt. He said it was important to Clinton and important to him. But behind the unity message, we're hearing that the Clinton and Obama camp haven't fully patched up their differences.
We want to go back now to Joe Pagliarulo, Warren Ballentine and CNN's Jessica Yellin. And Jessica, I mentioned, still talk about simmering tension between these two camps. Bring us up to date here. What are your sources telling you?
YELLIN: Well, first, Campbell, I should mention that at the event Barack Obama just appeared at, he forgot to make the pitch for Senator Clinton. Apparently, according to our producer who was there, he came out, gave his whole speech, the music started up, he left, and then he came back and said, wait, wait, wait, wait, I forgot, there's an envelope on your chair. Don't forget to fill it out and give money to Senator Clinton.
It's like being a little ambivalent? But the bottom line is what we're hearing now is that there are still simmering resentments on both sides that donors -- we hear a lot about the donors on the Clinton side being frustrated.
On the Obama side, part of the frustration is they're being asked to give money to Senator Clinton to pay down a debt for part of her campaign when she was attacking Barack Obama. Many of these folks think that she should have gotten out of the race. They think it was clear he was going to win by Ohio. And why should they be supporting debt that she incurred at Obama's expense?
Now, I should emphasize this is really coming from the donors at the highest levels of both campaigns. They say they think they'll work this out and that Obama will raise the money. But it's still touch and go at this point.
BROWN: Warren, what do you make of this? Did these donors have a right to be annoyed?
BALLENTINE: I think she's -- I think Jessica's right on the money with this one right here. I think Obama has a problem because it is a catch-22. I think it will be resolved. But it is a catch-22 because you have Hillary supporters who want Obama to help Hillary obviously. We also have Obama supporters who are saying, wait, why should I have to help her?
But I think it will be resolved. I think it will be resolved by the convention, and I think the Democrats will play happy and Barack will be the president of the United States.
PAGLIARULO: OK, here's some wishful thinking. I got to tell you something.
You know what, Barack Obama had to do this tonight. And you know, the way that he did it, and this is a very smart guy, forgot about it? Oh, he just simply forgot.
He had to either do that or announce that Hillary Clinton was going to be the vice presidential nominee. If he doesn't do something for the Clintons, 18 million voters, Warren, 18 million of them are going to think twice before voting for Barack Obama.
BALLENTINE: Joe, you're so hopeful for the Republicans.
PAGLIARULO: I'm hopeful. I'm hopeful for a better America.
BALLENTINE: We all have a dream. We all have a dream. And John McCain has one. You have one. But the reality of it is this, Barack Obama is going to win the nomination. He's going to be the president.
PAGLIARULO: He already got the nomination.
BALLENTINE: He's going to be the president.
BROWN: Guys, we have to end it there. But many, many thanks tonight.
PAGLIARULO: Thank you.
BROWN: To Jessica Yellin and to Warren, and to Joe here with me in New York, thanks.
BALLENTINE: Thank you, Campbell.
BROWN: Appreciate it, guys. Have a good one.
All right. What is the biggest guessing game in politics? It is the veepstakes, of course. We know you've got your picks. Well now, you can make them known.
Check out our Web site, CNN.com/electioncenter, and look for the veepstakes link. We have set up a game that works a little bit like the stock market. You can buy and sell shares of all the potential running mates and then track their political fortune.
No real money is involved. Sorry, guys. But it is a lot of fun. Worth checking out. Again, that's CNN.com/electioncenter.
One more look at our top news when we come back. This is the ELECTION CENTER. We'll see you shortly.
BROWN: Before we go to "LARRY KING LIVE," here's a look at this hour's top stories once again.
Reverend Jesse Jackson is apologizing for what he calls crude and hurtful comments about Barack Obama. He says he didn't realize his microphone was on as he rudely criticized Obama for "talking down to black people." Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: See, Barack been, um, talking down to black people on this faith based. I want to cut his (EXPLETIVE DELETED) off.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: The Obama campaign says they accept -- or the senator, rather, accepts Jackson's apology.
And an emotional moment on Capitol Hill as Senator Ted Kennedy still recovering from brain surgery made a dramatic return. Kennedy flew back to Washington to cast the deciding vote for a bill to boost doctor payments for treating Medicare patients.
And that does it for us in the ELECTION CENTER tonight. A big night with Larry King. An exclusive interview he has tonight with Ingrid Betancourt. You're not going to want to miss it. And we will have Jesse Ventura here in the ELECTION CENTER tomorrow night.
"LARRY KING LIVE" starting right now.