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McCain Awaits Biopsy Results; Affirmative Action Still Necessary?

Aired July 28, 2008 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: John McCain's health under the microscope again. A new growth is removed from the skin cancer survivor's face. We're waiting for test results to come in.
Plus, 100 days until America votes -- how the candidates could make some big gains or huge mistakes in the weeks and months to come.

And key evidence found after an explosion aboard a jumbo jet, the possible danger from an in-flight oxygen tank -- all that and the best political team on television.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As I do every three months, visited my dermatologist this morning. She said that I was doing fine, took out a small little nick from my cheek, as she does regularly. And that will be -- and will be biopsied, just to make sure that everything is fine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Senator John McCain tries to reassure everyone worried about his health.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

The Republican presidential candidate is talking about a mole- like growth removed from his face today. It was near his temple. The campaign says there's no reason to worry. But, as Senator McCain just said, doctors are doing a biopsy to make sure everything is just fine.

Let's go to CNN's Dana Bash. She's working the story for us.

We really won't know completely what the results are until the biopsy results are known, right, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

And, actually, I want to tell just you that, just minutes ago, Wolf, we got a statement from a public affairs officer, Michael Yardley, at the Mayo Clinic, where Senator McCain went for his examination. And this statement basically reiterates what you just heard Senator McCain himself said. And the statement says: "As a precaution, a biopsy was ordered of a very small area on Senator McCain's right cheek. This is a routine, minor procedure." This coming from the Mayo Clinic just moments ago.

But to answer your question, Wolf, yes, we probably won't know for a couple of days at least about the results of the biopsy. But the political reality here is that, even if this is nothing, which of course everyone hopes that is the case, McCain advisers know all too well that this is another big reminder that McCain is a cancer survivor. And even though the campaign released records in May showing that he has a clean bill of health, this is also a reminder that he is a candidate will be 72 years old next month, which polls show voters are concerned about that. McCain adviser, Wolf, are very well aware of that.

BLITZER: This seemed to come out of the blue today. How did this unfold?

BASH: It did come out of the blue. And it was actually a little bit perplexing that that was the case.

Barack Obama went to the doctor to get his hip checked out this weekend. And he took the press corps with him. We didn't find out about McCain's checkup until after it happened, and presumably because Senator McCain had a Band-Aid on his face. So, it was kind of obvious that something went on.

But, no, because of McCain's history, this ended up a story out of the McCain campaign today. This is obviously what we're focusing on, not what the McCain campaign working really, really hard to stage today, which is some sound bites from the senator hitting Barack Obama standing on an oil field in the state of California.

It seems at the very least that McCain, Wolf, is still trying to grasp how much he is scrutinized as the presumptive Republican nominee and really how to manage that.

BLITZER: Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently went and reviewed all of his medical records. We are going to speak to him a little bit later this hour.

Dana, thanks very much.

As Dana just mentioned, this news certainly at least partially distracted McCain from his message. He had hoped to talk about reducing the nation's reliance on foreign oil.

When McCain did talk about that in California, he described his rival as basically a villain to America's energy crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Senator Obama opposes offshore drilling. He opposes reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. He opposes storage of spent nuclear fuel. And, so, he is the Dr. No of America's energy future. And he also opposes the gas tax holiday as a gimmick.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On Capitol Hill today, a possible break in a standoff over new energy exploration. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, surprised Republicans by offering a chance to vote this week on four GOP-backed energy measures, including one that would allow new offshore oil drilling. This comes just days before lawmakers return home for the August summer recess, face constituents concerned about high gas prices.

A mind-boggling new estimate today, it's driving home the troubled state of America's economy. The White House now projecting that the next federal budget will leave the nation another $482 billion in the red.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano. She's working this story for us.

Everyone seems to have something to say. Nearly half-a-trillion dollar budget deficit, that's a record.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you can imagine, of course, Democrats are certainly taking aim, calling this $482 billion figure a sign of the Bush administration's flawed economic policies. But the White House argues the deficit simply reflects the price of boosting the nation's economy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO (voice over): Four hundred eighty-two billion dollars, that's how much the U.S. government is expected to be in the red. In other words, how much more the government is spending than it is taking in. And add that to the debt, what the U.S. already owes, $9. 5 trillion, and some say that's a recipe for financial disaster.

ROBERT BIXBY, CONCORD COALITION: The federal government has to pay interest costs, just like if you were borrowing on your credit card. You have to pay interest costs. And last year, we spent over $200 billion on interest alone. One reason that the budget deficit is a problem is that taxpayers have to pay more and more on the national credit card.

QUIJANO: And the deficit may not cover the entire costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We make no apologies for the money we've spent to protect the people of this country.

QUIJANO: The Bush administration blames the higher-than-expected deficit on the slumping economy and the need for a $168 billion stimulus package meant to give the U.S. a financial shot in the arm.

JIM NUSSLE, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: Getting the economy back on track was a higher priority than immediate deficit reduction. QUIJANO: While the $482 billion is a record dollar amount, experts say as a percentage of the nation's economy, this deficit is a little over three percent, not nearly as high as the 6 percent in 1983.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO: Now, at the same time, the White House is painting a less rosy economic picture than originally forecast, predicting higher-than-expected inflation, higher unemployment, and slower economic growth over the next year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine Quijano is working the story at the White House.

Iran's hard-line president may be taking a new line toward the United States. Could terms like the great Satan or the access of evil soon be relegated to the history books? What is going on?

An interview today with the support of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, offering some new moderate language from his part, but also raising questions.

Let's go to Brian Todd. He's assessing what's going on, doing some reporting.

Tell our viewers what Ahmadinejad said.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, on one level, the Iranian president does seem to be extending an olive branch. But, in Washington, his comments bring a familiar question. Does he really mean it this time?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): On the surface, a striking hint by Iran's president. In an interview with NBC News, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says if sending its own diplomat to the latest round of nuclear talks signals a change in America's approach to his country.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We will be facing a new situation and the response by the Iranian people will be a positive one.

TODD: In Washington, there's skepticism.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think we have to approach this with a big grain of salt. President Ahmadinejad said one thing to the Iranian people on Saturday and another thing to an American journalist on Monday.

TODD: A reference to Ahmadinejad's claim over the weekend that Iran is much further along toward producing a nuclear weapon than previously thought. Why would Ahmadinejad say that, then talk about diplomatic options 48 hours later?

KARIM SADJADPOUR, IRAN ANALYST, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: What the Iranians are trying to do is essentially create facts on the ground, to send the signal to the West that our nuclear program, as Ahmadinejad once described it, is a train with no brakes, that Iran is moving forward, that they cannot be stopped, but that they are willing to have a more conciliatory negotiation session with the West.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But that doesn't mean that Iran is ready to concede anything. Now, repeatedly, in that interview, Ahmadinejad was asked, will you meet Saturday's deadline by the major powers to agree to not add any new centrifuges in exchange for a freeze in sanctions? Repeatedly, he sidestepped that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see what they do on Saturday. Thanks, Brian -- Brian Todd working the story.

Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Isn't he running for reelection, too?

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: So, it explains why he would say one thing to the press and say something else to the people. That's what politicians do, isn't it?

BLITZER: Right.

CAFFERTY: Judgment matters more than experience when it comes to picking a president. So says Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. The Nebraska senator traveled with Barack Obama into the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan last week. Hagel is a decorated Vietnam vet, two Purple Hearts. He says experience matters, but that character and judgment matter more.

That includes who the candidate listens to, if he can make the right decisions on behalf of his country and the world. Hagel has been a sharp critic of the war in Iraq. And he's been mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate for Barack Obama. He's not endorsed either Obama or John McCain. He says Americans are lucky to have a choice between these two -- quote -- "smart, capable and decent men" -- unquote.

Also traveling with Obama last week, another military man, Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. Reed's a retired Army captain. He talked about what it was like visiting the military post with Barack Obama. He described it as dynamic. He said they couldn't get to their car at one point because the soldiers were flocking around Obama to get autographs, take a picture, say hello.

Reed says that Obama received genuine and enthusiastic responses from our troops. McCain has used the same line that Hillary Clinton used against Barack Obama during the primaries, saying he doesn't have enough experience to be commander in chief.

So, here's the question: Is judgment more important for a president than experience?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, post a comment on my blog.

Now, we will go back to Wolf, who has both, don't you?

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Thank you. Thank you very much, Jack. Thank you.

The issue of affirmative action could play a role in the presidential race. So, you're going to want to hear what Senator Barack Obama is saying and what John McCain says that has Obama accusing him of flip-flopping on the issue.

One hundred days until Election Day, and countless chances for political scorings, missteps. The best political team on television is standing by to discuss what's going on.

And claims that the Justice Department under President Bush simply was engaged in shady political practices that need to be exposed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D), CALIFORNIA: We need to have the light of spotlight into this department and see all the little vermin crawling out to make sure that this place is cleaned up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The U.S. Justice Department is supposed to enforce U.S. laws, but a new investigation suggests that the Bush administration may have violated those laws when it hung out the help wanted sign at the Justice Department.

Let's go to our Justice Department correspondent, Kelli Arena. She's working this story for us.

Sounds pretty serious, Kelli. What's going on?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it is very serious. The new report says that former Justice Department officials hired career prosecutors and immigration judges based on their politics. Now, that's a violation of the rules and the law.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARENA (voice-over): Top aides to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales broke the law by letting politics play a role in hiring -- a new report from the Justice Department's inspector-general singles out former White House liaison Monica Goodling, saying she rejected job applicants who were not Republican or conservative.

LOFGREN: They have broken the low. And we need to have the light of spotlight into this department and see all the little vermin crawling out to make sure that this place is cleaned up.

ARENA: Goodling admitted to crossing the line when she testified before Congress last year. At the time, she was granted immunity.

MONICA GOODLING, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT WHITE HOUSE LIAISON: I do acknowledge that I may have gone too far in asking political questions of applicants for career positions. And I may have taken inappropriate political qualifications into account on some occasions. And I regret those mistakes.

ARENA: The report says Gonzales was unaware of what his closest aides were doing. In one instance, the I.G. says Goodling did not give an experienced terror prosecutor a job because of his wife's political affiliations. It also found she rejected an applicant because of rumors that she was a lesbian.

It's unlikely that she or any of her colleagues involved in the discriminatory hiring will face charges. The laws they violated were civil, not criminal. They left their jobs at the Justice Department, so they can't be disciplined. But it is possible that Goodling could lose her law license.

LOFGREN: I'm sure that the state bar associations who gave licenses to the lawyers who did this will be examining whether they are going to retain their licenses. But I doubt that that will really be enough.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ARENA: Goodling's attorney says that she went to great lengths to provide Congress with relevant facts. Still, critics argue the damage was already done and will take years to repair, even though changes have been made at Justice to try to stop political interference -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there evidence she was acting on her own or that she was instructed by higher-ups to do this?

ARENA: Well, so far, the report only shows that she was, indeed, acting on her own, in concert with some other colleagues. But there doesn't seem to be any link to Gonzales, for example, or the White House.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Kelli Arena, working the story for us -- Kelli Arena working the story.

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: John McCain awaits word about his health. Now that he's had a growth of skin removed from his face, what might test results reveal? I will speak about it with our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

And with a black presidential candidate, do we need affirmative action anymore? We're going to take a closer look at this sensitive issue right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In the presidential race, Barack Obama accuses John McCain of flip-flopping. It involves a new push to end affirmative action.

Let's go back to Carol. She's working this story.

Carol, you're looking at both of these candidates, a major disagreement.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, in simple terms, John McCain opposes affirmative action. Barack Obama supports it. But, in politics, it's not that simple.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): Affirmative action is, shall we say, a political hot potato. Once touted at a surefire way to help rectify discrimination based on race and gender, it's now considered by some no more than a quota system that actually promotes reverse discrimination.

TODD GAZIANO, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: There is no justification for forward-looking racial preference policies that have no timetable, will never end, and amount, in fact, to quotas.

COSTELLO: Gaziano says have changed. Look at the man leading the Democratic charge for president and the woman who was his main rival. Others say it's a stretch to use them as an example that equal opportunity abounds.

WARD HENDERSON, CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION: These are extraordinary individuals. And their success cannot be attributed, of course, to all the advances that we have made as a country. Their personal accomplishments have to be taken into account as well.

COSTELLO: In fact, experts say minority enrollment at major universities has fallen. And it would be difficult to say discrimination on the job has disappeared for ordinary people. But, despite this, and despite pro-affirmative action rallies in states like California, voters have limited the scope of affirmative action in at least three states. Seeing it as a quota system that's anything but fair.

A measure which would eliminate affirmative action is in the works in Arizona, John McCain's home state.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC ANCHOR: Opponents of affirmative action are trying to get a referendum on the ballot here that would do away with affirmative action. Do you support that?

MCCAIN: Yes, I do. I do not believe in quotas. But I have not seen the details of some of these proposals. But I have always opposed...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the one here in Arizona, you support?

MCCAIN: I support it, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: In the past, McCain has voiced opposition to hiring quotas, while supporting the principles of affirmative action. As for Barack Obama, who has long supported affirmative action, opponents point out even he is approaching the topic gingerly.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I also think that we have to think about affirmative action and craft it in such a way where some of our children who are advantaged aren't getting more favorable treatment than a poor white kid who has struggled more. That has to be taken into account.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: And it is important to keep in mind there is a difference between quotas and affirmative action programs. Quotas are against the law. Affirmative action programs are not and have been effective in assuring fair diversity on the job and at universities -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good explanation. Carol, thank you very much.

A new clue about what may have caused an explosion that ripped a hole in a jumbo jet. Is danger lurking aboard other aircraft right now? We're watching this story.

Plus, new word of Hillary Clinton's plans to campaign for Barack Obama -- what she will do and why she hasn't done it sooner.

And 100 days until the election, and anything of course could still happen. The big events ahead that could make or break the presidential candidates.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: Barack Obama came home from his overseas trip with a sore hip, blamed on playing basketball, the candidate says should be better soon. But questions remain right now about John McCain's health after a growth was removed from his face today. The campaign says there's no reason to worry. We will check in with CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stand by for that.

And just 100 days until Americans go to the polls, but that's lot of time for the presidential race to go through a lot of changes. We're going to hear all about it from the best political team on television.

Plus, investigators now think they may know what ripped a gaping hole in the side of a jumbo airliner in mid-flight.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, John McCain is facing questions, once again, about his health. As we have reported, the Republican presidential candidate had a mole-like growth removed from his face today. It was near his temple. The campaign says there's no reason to worry, but doctors are doing a biopsy to make sure everything is just fine.

Let's get some analysis of what's going on with our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, the reason people are concerned is because he has a history of the most serious kind of skin cancer, melanoma, that he battled years ago.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And I think that is why it makes even this mole removal a little bit more concerning.

Certainly, as a doctor, I think his doctors would be more concerned about a mole being removed from Senator McCain than in the average person. He's had four melanomas, as you know, Wolf, the most serious of which was in 2000. And that accounts for those scars the left side of his face and that swelling on the left side of his face, as well. Someone who has had melanoma, is more likely than the average person to get it again. And so you always have to think about recurrence. So I think this is just being cautious. We don't know that this is melanoma. Right now, it's just a mole. We'll know a lot more when that biopsy, when the results of that biopsy actually come back.

BLITZER: I know you're a neurosurgeon and you're not necessarily a dermatologist. But you did have a chance to review all of his medical records only a few weeks ago when you went to Arizona. The fact this is on the other side of his face, not on the side where he had the surgery a few years ago. What if anything do we discern from that?

GUPTA: It makes me less concerned. Certainly you think about a recurrence in a couple of different ways. What is known as local recurrence, means that it recurs at the exact same place. That would be more frightening. Something that occurs in another part of the body, in this case on the right side of his face, makes me less concerned. And I actually was with him on Thursday night at the Livestrong Summit, which is a cancer summit, interestingly enough. And I didn't really notice anything particularly out of the ordinary on his skin.

But he talked at that point about his cancer. His concern, as all cancer survivors have, about recurrence. But he didn't mention this. So I think that this may have been something like they said. They saw it at the doctor's office today and decided to address. BLITZER: Which is prudent. He just spoke with our own Larry King, and taped an interview that's going to air tonight. 9:00 p.m. Eastern. I'm going to play a little clip for you. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: If you look at it and be careful, it's fine. I had one -- I had one serious bout with it. And that was, frankly, due to my own neglect because I let it go and go and go. In fact, I was running for president at the time. I'm not making that mistake again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Sanjay, how long does a biopsy take in this kind of situation, with this kind of mole removed?

GUPTA: He's Senator McCain. He's a presidential candidate. It is probably going to be a little faster than the average person. I'd say that we probably have some results by the end of the week.

It's interesting as well in that particular clip, Wolf, he pointed out in one point, it was because he did not get the nomination for president, that he actually went and got his skin checked. He had neglected it during that campaign. So it was a mixed blessing at that point, as he pointed out to us. It is important to get these suspicious moles looked at, as he points out.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Good advice from you. And good advice from John McCain. We of course hope that everything turns out just fine. Sanjay, thanks very much.

And don't forget 9:00 p.m. Eastern tonight, the full interview, Larry King's interview, with Senator McCain. You'll want to see that.

Joining us, now, to talk about this and more, our senior political analyst Gloria Borger, our own Jack Cafferty, and Steve Hayes of "The Weekly Standard."

Gloria, we even discussed this, a 71-year-old, about to be 72 years old. It sort of raises questions. Politically, there could be some fallout.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think everybody's well aware that John McCain is a cancer survivor. I think it does, of course, raise the issue of will he have a recurrence of cancer? Everybody hopes of course not. And his age. He's not a young guy. And every time you raise a health question, it raises the age issue again.

BLITZER: And, you know, it's interesting, Steve because Senator Obama, he actually went to the hospital yesterday to get a test done on his hip. He was complaining he couldn't play basketball. But he's 46 years old. So everybody just thought it was cute. He'll be off the courts for a week. It will be just fine. It shows the contrast between the youth, if you will, versus the older guy. STEPHEN HAYES, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": It sure does. Even though a hip injury is usually associated with elderly Americans. Obama's explanation of how he got injured sort of reinforces this youth versus older American perspective. He said he had gotten hurt playing basketball which is of course a vigorous activity.

And I agree with Gloria, every time you talk about health, particularly Senator McCain's health, it's not a good day for John McCain. Much of today was spent talking about health issues, not talking about the issues he wanted to talk about.

BLITZER: He wanted to talk about drilling offshore, Jack. And you know what we're paying attention to, we're all worried about his health.

CAFFERTY: And rightfully so. You can talk about drilling offshore tomorrow. Let's get the biopsy see if he's all right. He came out of the doctor's visit, he had that little Band-Aid. And of course the press corps noticed it right away. It draws unwanted attention, I'm sure, on his part, to his mortality, if you will.

He's a 71-year-old man. Four, previous bouts with melanoma. He's very fair complected. Very white, thin skin. Which means the sun can just raise hell with him if he's in it for any time at all.

So offshore drilling waits for another day. This is priority one.

BORGER: Can I just say his demeanor was so great. He seemed relaxed. He was clearly trying to make light about it. He was trying to get a message across to make sure that people having their checkups. Be sure to check all the moles. But the demeanor was not the negative, nasty guy that we've seen lately. It was sort of the John McCain a lot of us actually know.

BLITZER: And good advice from him. Make sure you use sun block, wear a hat. Especially if you're light skinned.

Stand by, guys. We have much more to talk about. Including America's busted budget. The nation's swimming in red ink. So what do the candidates actually plan to do about it? We're going to discuss with the best political team on television.

And what ripped a gaping hole in the side of an airliner? Investigators have an important new clue.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: America's busted budget. So what do the candidates plan to do about all the red ink? Let's discuss with the best political team on television. Jack, the national debt was about $5 trillion, more than $9.5 trillion. The budget deficit, they are now projecting next year, close to $500 million. That's a record. I pressed both campaigns today. What are they going to do about if they're elected? I didn't get any real great answers. What's going on?

CAFFERTY: Add $80 billion to the $482 billion. That's the cost of the war that aren't included in next year's deficit projections. The debt accumulated on George Bush's watch exceeds the national debt accumulated by all the previous presidents of the United States. Add to that the $53 trillion in unfunded liabilities out there in front of the retiring baby-boomers for Medicare, Social Security.

The country's broke. And there's only one way you can solve that problem. You have got to either tax people more or spend less money. Politicians don't want to talk about either one of those.

BLITZER: That's a good point, Gloria. I'm not hearing answers from either of these campaigns, other than around the margins. Got to eliminate pork barrel spending. Find some waste. I'm not hearing big answers to what is clearly a huge problem.

BORGER: I remember when Ronald Reagan was talking about getting rid of waste, fraud and abuse, right, Wolf? That doesn't get you much money. Look, the serious discussions that have to be had are the ones that they're going to have after the election, no matter who wins. That is, what do you do with Social Security? What do you do with Medicare? I've seen in recent interviews that John McCain has said, in terms of fixing Social Security, that everything is on the table.

Barack Obama has said he would consider lifting the cap on payroll taxes in order to fund Social Security. So, these are the kind of discussions sometimes that you have to have after an election because if you have them before an election, they're way too polarizing. And by the way, you don't win any votes.

BLITZER: Steve, are you hearing answers to either of these campaigns?

HAYES: No. Not really. I think Gloria is right. Go back and look at Fred Thompson and his performance in the primary. It's interesting to talk to Fred Thompson about entitlement reform. And he was quite passionate about it said the things that one would expect to hear from someone who really wants to get things done. And we all know what happened to Fred Thompson's candidacy.

BORGER: And Ross Perot, too.

HAYES: Ross Perot before him.

BLITZER: Actually, Ross Perot did well focusing in on the nation debt and the deficit. That was a huge issue back in '92.

CAFFERTY: You know the mistake that politicians are making this time around, the public gets it. The public understands we're broke. The public understands $200 billion a year interest on the existing national debt. They know that we don't have the money to fund the wars or social security or universal health care. They get it. They want somebody, I think, to stand up and say, look, we got problems.

It's time for all of us to put on our thinking caps. If that means meat axing a third of the federal bureaucracy in Washington, so be it. If that means you have to pay more so your grandparents can live on their Social Security, so be it.

But I think the public understands this time around, we're broke. And it's not going to get better.

BLITZER: It's not just, Steve, because our credit card is maxed out. But I think our children's credit card is about to be maxed out, as well.

HAYES: These are big and serious issues. I don't agree with Jack, though. I don't think the public does necessarily gets it. You look at where the issues rank in the number one important issue. And the deficit barely registers. Things of this nature doesn't really register.

What matters, though -- yes, that's because people feel -- they're angry that they're paying more at the pump. They're worried about the spending they're doing personally. And they favor major across-the-board tax cuts or extending the Bush tax cuts.

BORGER: And also they don't trust the government, the way voters once trusted the government, to fix these problems anymore. And that's a real issue on every, major piece of legislation, whether it's building the fence on immigration reform. Whether it's cutting bureaucracy, whether it's coming up with a solution for Social Security.

Voters don't trust the government.

BLITZER: Guys. Have got to leave it there. Thank you. Jack, we have got "The Cafferty File" coming up. Don't leave.

Investigators think they know what ripped a hole in a Qantas Boeing 747 at 29,000 feet. So here's the question, could it happen to other planes? Let's go to CNN's Deborah Feyerick, she is in New York, following the investigation. What are they focusing in on now, Deb?

DEB FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Federal Aviation Administration is keeping a close eye on this investigation. What they are focusing on is the cylinders, the oxygen cylinders. Qantas is inspecting its fleet of 747, about 30 in all, but no inspections called for in the U.S. just yet because investigators tend to be a bit cautious. Early suspicions can be wrong. And nobody wants to make any sort of major change before the facts are in.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK (voice-over): First, there was a loud explosion. Then the oxygen masks came down and passengers say the plane dropped.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought we were just going down into the sea so I was just stunned. I grabbed my passport out of my bag and put it in my pocket, so that if my body was found, they could identify it quicker. FEYERICK: As investigators scoured the five-foot hole and damage for evidence, aviation safety authorities ordered Qantas to inspect all oxygen bottles on board its 747s.

PETER GIBSON, CIVIL AVIATION SAFETY AUTHORITY: We think it's prudent to put safety first, to get inspections done now, rather than waiting any longer.

FEYERICK: The plane from Hong Kong to Australia was forced to make an emergency landing in Manila Friday. Investigators don't know the cause but say an oxygen cylinder about five feet tall resembling a scuba tank near the front end of the plane is missing.

NEVILLE BLYTH, AUSTRALIAN TRANSPORT AND SAFETY BUREAU: Obviously looking for evidence of where that cylinder may have gone, for fragments of the cylinder, all of those types of engineering aspects.

FEYERICK: In may of this year the FAA ordered airlines to inspect brackets which secure oxygen cylinders on all Boeing 747s, to prevent the tanks from coming loose, leaking, and triggering a fire. But some say the cylinder itself may also have been defective.

GREG FEITH, FORMER NTSB INVESTIGATOR: The valve on top of the bottle could have failed. If it failed, then of course those bottles are pressurized to about 2,000 psi, so it becomes a very lethal weapon at that time. The other thing is, could something have struck it?

FEYERICK: The FAA is keeping a close eye on the investigation, a spokesman saying, quote, "If there is anything safety action we need to take, we will do so."

The 365 passengers and crew members landed safely, scared, but uninjured.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK (on camera): Now the head of aviation security in Australia says that it will take several days to inspect all oxygen cylinders. Qantas is quoted as saying the FAA directive only applied to three of its aircraft. And this plane was not one of them. The other planes were checked -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Deb Feyerick updating us on that important story.

It's a critical question in this presidential race. So what matters most? Would it be judgment or experience? Jack's standing by with your e-mail.

A crisis on America's bridges. There's new evidence that safety is crumbling.

And the campaign button mistake. You have to see to believe. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring other important story incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Carol, what's going on?

COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, journalist Robert Novak diagnosed with a brain tumor. The 77 year old Washington columnist says he will be stopping work for you. He is awaiting a biopsy to see whether the tumor is malignant or benign. Novak became ill yesterday in Cape Cod and he was rushed to the hospital. Just last week, he was cited for failure to yield after he hit a pedestrian while driving.

One in four U.S. bridges needs repairs or upgrading, at a cost of at least $140 billion. And that's if the work starts right now. This all, according to a report from an association of state transportation officials. The report comes days before the first anniversary of the Minneapolis bridge collapse which killed 13 people. The report says the bridges that need to be fixed, though, are still considered safe.

Check out this video. New York City police are looking into a videotape that you see there, that shows a police officer knocking down a bicyclist. I hope you're going to see it again. It happened during a bike ride through New York's Times Square. A group called Critical Mass was out riding to protest cars. And you can see the officer. There he is. You see him right there, knocking over the biker. Now, the video eventually ended up on YouTube. Police officials confirm that a police officer been given a desk job pending the outcome of the investigation.

He's been stripped of his badge and guns. The bicyclist, by the way, he was arrested and charged on three counts. The officer said the cyclist was obstructing traffic by weaving in and out of oncoming cars. We'll keep you posted. Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know you will, Carol, thanks. Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File." Jack?

CAFFERTY: Question this hour: Is judgment more important for a president than experience?

John in Washington writes: "Judgment over experience. You can have more experience than anyone in the country and still have terrible judgment unworthy of your position. Take our current president, for example."

A.J. in Texas, Jack. A no-brainer: "You need experience in order to have good judgment. Obama may say a lot of pretty words that make people feel warm and fuzz but McCain has the experience to know what he's talking about. Obama's speeches are nothing more than smoke and mirrors."

Patricia in New York writes: "Granted Barack Obama has the judgment but what experience of true leadership does John McCain have? He's a senator. He's been a senator almost 30 years. That makes him one of 100. That's not a leadership role. He can't seem to remember too main things that are important to recall. That's scary. Judgment counts in this case far more than no experience and no memory." Andrew in Washington writes: "I definitely fall in the judgment side of this question. James Buchanan probably the most experienced man to ever hold office of president. He was 10 years in the House, 10 years in the Senate, ambassador to Russia, later to Britain, served at as U.S. Secretary of State and he is considered to be among the worst presidents in history. Abraham Lincoln's experience, on the other hand in national government, consisted of one term in Congress from Illinois which ended 12 years prior to his election to president."

Nicholas: "I feel like all things to be a good leader you need to work at it a long time. I believe with experience eventually comes judgment. A person who is knowledgeable in his field and comfortable in it will have far better judgment than someone who is newer to a position."

And Betty writes: "Jack, naturally judgment is more important. I had four husbands. A lot of experience, no judgment. I rest my case."

If you didn't see your e-mail here you can go to my blog at cnn.com/caffertyfile. Look for yours there among hundreds of others. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jack, see you tomorrow. Thanks very much.

Is it the end of an affair? Senator Barack Obama's European tour. Is the media falling out of love with the candidate? Stand by for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Want to follow up on Howard Kurtz report earlier in THE SITUATION ROOM. The former White House press secretary Scott McClellan suggesting they used to send over talking points to selected pundits at the Fox News Channel.

Scott McClellan is on the phone. We want to get some reaction. We don't have a lot of time, Scott. We'll talk more about this tomorrow. But Bill O'Reilly says flatly he's lost all respect for you. He never got any talking points from the White House.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Wolf, I stand by everything I say. The question I was asked was whether the White House viewed Fox News as useful for getting our message out. Yes. Now I made a distinction between journalists or commentators or pundits. But O'Reilly shouldn't protest too much if he has no reason to. I was specifically not singling anyone out. I was asked a question. I responded truthfully. I was not going there to insert myself into any media wars between any of the networks.

But, you know, I -- Bill still appears a little bit upset about our interview previously when my book came out. And he could not refute any of the key assertions in my book. When I went on his show.

And he resorted then to saying all I was doing was helping the liberal media of CNN and MSNBC and CBS and ABC and maybe this is a way he's looking back to get back at me by resorting to name calling. That's unfortunate because it's this kind of name calling like "liar" and "idiot" that only poisons the environment further in Washington. It's the kind of culture we need to change in Washington.

BLITZER: We're going to continue this conversation here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow. Scott, thanks very much. Lots more coming up.

There's another story we're following right now. And it involves breaking up. It's often very hard to do. Perhaps even more so if the love affair seems to be between Barack Obama and the news media. CNN's Jeanne Moos has this "Moost Unusual" report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Smitten, smitten, smitten, that's all you hear. Foreign leaders seem smitten. John McCain claims the press is smitten.

MCCAIN: It's a throng of adoring fans awaits Senator Obama in Paris, and that's just the American press. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.

MOOS: Senator McCain sure cracked himself up, but something else is cracking up. Gabriel Sherman wrote an article in "The New Republic" entitled ...

GARBIEL SHERMAN, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": End of the affair.

MOOS: Not this one.

ANNOUNCER: The end of the affair is being hailed at the year's great romance.

MOOS: Yes, well, 2008's great romance between the press and Obama seems to be on the rocks.

(on camera): What are some of the word that struck you that the press used to describe the campaign?

SHERMAN: Some words that came up were arrogant, controlling.

MOOS (voice-over): It sure still seems chummy.

OBAMA: What are you guys going to do in Berlin?

MOOS: But photos aren't the only thing snapping.

OBAMA: All right, guys. One of those must have worked.

MOOS: Reporters started snapping after being trapped on a plane while Senator Obama met secretly with Hillary. They asked Obama's communications director, who do we complain to?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That guy looks like me.

MOOS: The spokesman laughed alone.

(on camera): Reporters who cover Obama say he covered his snippy swipes at the press with a smile.

(voice-over): Whether ordering ice cream ...

OBAMA: These people are not helpful.

MOOS: Or being asked for the umpteenth time about the surge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not going to ask you to change your position here.

OBAMA: You're not going to ask me, but go ahead.

MOOS: Of course, Senator McCain gets annoyed at the press after "The Wall Street Journal" did a story or two that irked him. He dissed their reporter.

ELIZABETH HOLMES, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Senator McCain, Elizabeth Holmes from "The Wall Street Journal".

MCCAIN: Who else has a question? Yes, go ahead, please.

MOOS: The funny thing about the end of the affair with Obama is that it comes to light just as the McCain campaign puts out an Obama love video mocking the press.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN: The media's love affair with Barack Obama is all-consuming.

MOOS: The breakup comes after all that "Saturday Night Live" razzing of the media.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there anything we can get for you?

MOOS (on camera): In love, out of love, sort of reminds me of something. Something Alicia Keyes sings about.

(voice-over): "Teenage Love Affair" launched when she heard him speak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can change this world. Will you help us?

MOOS: Yes, we can. End an affair. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: That's it for us. Up next, LOU DOBBS TONIGHT. Kitty Pilgrim's in for Lou. Kitty?

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