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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Barack Obama; Schwarzenegger Campaigns With McCain
Aired October 31, 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: This hour, powerful moments in these, the closing days of the presidential race, my one-on-one interview with Senator Barack Obama here in Iowa, that is coming up.
Also, John McCain appealing for votes in the battleground state of Ohio. He desperately needs Ohio. And he has brought with him Arnold Schwarzenegger to help out. They are about to speak at a live event in Columbus. You are going to want to hear what they have the say. Stand by.
Senator Obama tells me that the economy would be his most urgent priority if he wins the White House, followed by energy, health care, and tax cuts. But he suggested that tax cuts may actually move up on the list, as he confronts the financial crisis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One thing I want to make a point of, though, that the tax cut that I talked about may be part of my priority number one, because I think that's going to be part of stabilizing the economy as a whole. I think we are going to need a second stimulus.
One of my commitments is to make sure that that stimulus includes a tax cut for 95 percent of working Americans. That may be the first bill that I introduce.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. You're going to stand by, please, for the full interview I had with Senator Obama here in Iowa today, including his response to viewer questions. That's coming up.
But, right now, I want to bring in part of the best political team on television, our chief national correspondent, John King, and our senior political analyst Gloria Borger. We are looking at the live pictures in Columbus, Ohio.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, John, is about to speak, together with John McCain. How significant is this, in these final four days, that he has brought in a big gun, a popular figure among Republicans and some independents. Arnold Schwarzenegger getting ready to speak there, John.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, we see a lot of attention Barack Obama gets with these huge crowds. Huge crowds are not typical at any Republican campaign and they're not typical in the McCain Republican campaign.
But there you see a pretty good crowd on hand for John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's a little bit of deja vu here. McCain is very superstitious. And Arnold Schwarzenegger did this very same thing with George W. Bush four years ago, and George W. Bush went on to carry Ohio and of course win reelection. Bush was in a lot stronger position then than McCain is now.
But you hit it right on the head, Wolf, when you said, look, Arnold Schwarzenegger, he is a moderate Republican. This is a Republican who favors abortion rights, favors gay rights, is fighting for a gay marriage amendment proposition out in his home state of California. So, he disagrees with John McCain on many issues.
But Arnold Schwarzenegger, I have talked to several of his top advisers recently, is very frustrated with the direction of the Republican Party, but he does like and admire John McCain, so he is lending his star power. He is popular, yes, among some Republicans. He is very popular, though, among some Democrats and among independents. You can't win reelection as governor of California, a big Democratic state, unless you have a broad appeal. And John McCain is hoping to share in the glow -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And, Gloria, that crowd is really excited. We have seen those excited Republican crowds when Sarah Palin goes out there with John McCain. Clearly, Arnold Schwarzenegger doing it today for John McCain.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, Wolf, I was just thinking, when you look at the Democratic Party, they have had a lot of star-studded surrogates out there, most notably Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Tipper Gore.
And John McCain really has not, aside from Sarah Palin, who has really brought in the crowds. So, Arnold Schwarzenegger is very welcome by the McCain campaign not only because of those voters that he can help attract that John was talking about, but also because of the enthusiasm that voters bring for him, because, after all, he is a celebrity, too.
BLITZER: Let me bring in Ed Henry. He's there in Columbus, Ohio. You are at the rally. Get that microphone right up to our lips, Ed, and tell our viewers what you are picking up over there. Set the scene for what is about to happen.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as John was saying, we have not seen this kind of energy at a John McCain rally in a long time.
And when you look at the polling data for CNN, what is quite interesting is, before the Republican Convention, John McCain had a 13-point edge among independents over Barack Obama. After that, now, two months later, John McCain is trailing Barack Obama among independents by five points.
So, there has been an 18-point swing among independents against John McCain since the Republican Convention, Sarah Palin obviously one of the factors there. And what he is trying to do here is to get Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has a lot of credibility with independent voters.
Take a listen to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: -- typical liberal giveaway.
SCHWARZENEGGER: But, anyway, as you all know, I love Ohio. I have been coming here for almost 40 years.
SCHWARZENEGGER: I have won the Mr. World competition here. I have worked on movies here. I have done business here. I have made friends here.
And, every year, the first week in March, I come to Columbus, Ohio, and my friend Jim Lorimer and I, we organize the Arnold Classic, which is the greatest bodybuilding expo in the world.
SCHWARZENEGGER: Now, of course, the Arnold Classic is all about building up the bodies and pumping up.
And that's, why the next Arnold Classic, I want to invite Senator Obama, because he needs to do something -- he needs to do something about those skinny legs.
SCHWARZENEGGER: We are going to make him do some squats.
SCHWARZENEGGER: And then we are going to give him some biceps curls to beef up those scrawny little arms.
SCHWARZENEGGER: But if we could only do about pointing some meat on his ideas.
SCHWARZENEGGER: Now, Senator McCain, on the other hand, he is built like a rock.
SCHWARZENEGGER: His character and his views are -- just are solid.
So, first, let me just talk to you a little bit about the experience of the candidates, and then which candidate will make the right decisions for our economy.
John McCain's character, as you know, has been tested as no other presidential candidate in the history of this nation. He has spent five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war. He has been tested under torture.
SCHWARZENEGGER: He has been tested under torture, under deprivation, under temptation, and under isolation. John has proven what kind of a man he is. We don't have to wonder, is he ready to lead? We don't have to wonder, is he ready to be president of the United States?
SCHWARZENEGGER: John McCain has served this country longer in a POW camp than his opponent has served in the United States Senate.
SCHWARZENEGGER: Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen, I only play an action hero in my movies, but John McCain is a real action hero.
AUDIENCE: John McCain! John McCain! John McCain! John McCain! John McCain! John McCain! John McCain! John McCain! John McCain! John McCain! John McCain! John McCain! John McCain! John McCain!
SCHWARZENEGGER: And let me tell you, and let me tell you that, when he is elected, you are going to see all kinds of actions. You will see actions on the economy, on energy, on education, on environment, on infrastructure. And you are going to see real action on a financial betrayal that has taken our economy to the brink of disaster.
SCHWARZENEGGER: Now, we are in a tough time right now. Ohio cannot afford, America cannot afford the economic proposals of Senator Obama.
SCHWARZENEGGER: I tell you something. I left Europe four decades ago because socialism has killed opportunities there.
SCHWARZENEGGER: And many -- and many, many entrepreneurs and business leaders all left and have taken jobs with them. And I tell you, in recent years, Europe has realized its mistakes and begun rolling back some of its spread-the-wealth policies. And I tell you something. I tell you something. I am so fortunate that I had the chance of coming to the greatest country in the world, the United States of America.
SCHWARZENEGGER: This is truly the greatest country in the world. And it is the land of opportunities. And I have seen it firsthand, because, when I came to America, I had those opportunities. I would not have accomplished any of the things I did, if it is my bodybuilding career, or my acting career, my political career, my family, everything, just because of America. I could have gone to all the other countries. I would not have achieved 10 percent of the success that I have achieved right here in America, because this is the greatest country.
SCHWARZENEGGER: But now Europe has learned, and they have rolled back some of those ideas, like I said, and learned from America how to handle the situation. But now Senator Obama says that he wants to pursue those same spread-the-wealth ideas that Europe had decades ago.
SCHWARZENEGGER: Now, just because you want to raise a tax certainly does not make you a socialist, because, in California, I proposed a temporary sales tax increase to address our massive deficit. But Senator Obama wants to raise the taxes because of ideology. He wants to raise all kinds of taxes. For example, he wants to raise the taxes on capital gains and dividends.
SCHWARZENEGGER: Senator Obama, explain to me the advantage of raising taxes on investments when trillions and trillions of dollars of investments have just been wiped out.
He wants to also raise Social Security taxes on some Americans to pay for the Social Security benefits of others.
SCHWARZENEGGER: Senator Obama, explain to me the advantage of turning Social Security from a retirement system into a welfare system.
SCHWARZENEGGER: And he also wants to raise taxes on corporations and those making more than $250,000 a year, many of whom are business owners who want to grow their businesses, which, of course, we all know, creates jobs. So, Senator, explain to me the advantage of raising all of those taxes in the middle of a recession. (BOOS)
SCHWARZENEGGER: And now -- and, now, this is really disturbing. He wants to pass a law called the Employee Free Choice Act, which is actually just the opposite, because it lets labor unions organize workers without a secret ballot.
SCHWARZENEGGER: So, Senator Obama, explain to me, how can you deny Americans the right to vote by secret ballot? We all know that, on November 4, we all step into that voting booth, and we draw the curtain, and we all vote secretly. So, why would you deny this voting secretly to the workers of America? That is the question I have for Senator Obama.
SCHWARZENEGGER: Now, the people of Ohio, they don't want to pay for these ultra-liberal ideas with their jobs and with their savings and their economic security.
Now, for the past two years, as you all know, the Democrats have controlled the House and the Senate. Now, how has that been working out for everybody?
SCHWARZENEGGER: Are you happy with that?
SCHWARZENEGGER: Now, imagine if the Senate, the House of Representatives and the White House are all controlled by the same party.
SCHWARZENEGGER: Now, what is the incentive to change if one party controls all the levers of power? What kind of reforms do you really think there will be?
SCHWARZENEGGER: What kind of spending restraints do you think there will be?
SCHWARZENEGGER: As Ohio farmers will tell you, you can't get a hog to butcher itself.
SCHWARZENEGGER: And that's the same in politics.
Now, the media doesn't think that John can win. And it is true --
SCHWARZENEGGER: It is true -- it is true that Senator Obama has raised massive amounts of campaign funds, more than anyone in the history.
If Senator Obama had taken all of that money that he had spent on TV ads, he could have bailed out the banks, paid off everyone's mortgages, and saved taxpayers a ton of money.
SCHWARZENEGGER: I think -- I think there will be a backlash against all of this lopsided spending. I think Americans on Tuesday will say, our democracy is not for sale.
SCHWARZENEGGER: Let me tell you something. When John was a POW, his Vietnamese captors, they didn't think that he would survive or that he would live. But he has proven them wrong. And, on Election Day, he will prove the media wrong.
SCHWARZENEGGER: In closing, ladies and gentlemen, being president is all about leadership. We all know that.
So, when Americans go into that voting booth on Tuesday, I hope that you will think about this. If you were in a POW cell, with the threat and danger and torture as part of the daily life, who would you want in that cell with you?
AUDIENCE: John McCain!
SCHWARZENEGGER: A man -- you want a man of eloquence or a man of proven courage --
AUDIENCE: John McCain!
SCHWARZENEGGER: -- who has shown that he will fight for others, even at the sacrifice to himself, who has been tested in crisis?
So, ladies and gentlemen, the Mac is back. Let's welcome the next president of the United States, John McCain!
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.
MCCAIN: Thank you.
(APPLAUSE) MCCAIN: Thank you.
MCCAIN: Thank you, Arnold, a genuine -- a genuine, true American hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of the great state of California. I thank you.
MCCAIN: Thank you.
He described it better than I could. He lives the American dream. He governs the great state of California. He enjoys popularity from everywhere across the great state of California. He is truly an American hero. I am grateful for him, and I know you are, too, and his leadership.
MCCAIN: Thank you.
I would like to introduce, of course, a great entertainer and a great American and a person who has been so helpful to us, Hank Williams Jr.
MCCAIN: Thank you for your courage, Hank. Thank you. And, of course, my friend from the great state of South Carolina, Senator Lindsey Graham, who is --
MCCAIN: Also -- also serves in the United States Air Force, and goes to Baghdad regularly to help people with the rule of law and support the men and women who are fighting so bravely for freedom there.
And we thank you.
BLITZER: All right, Senator McCain thanking a lot of folks there in Columbus, Ohio.
Arnold Schwarzenegger really got that crowd going with that brief, but powerful introductory remark. John King, what did you think when you were watching that?
KING: I think John McCain probably wishes right now he had taken Arnold Schwarzenegger on the road a lot sooner and a lot more often, Wolf. That's -- look, you can't beat the star power of somebody like Schwarzenegger. He is the governor of the largest state. So, he is an effective politician. He has been reelected and he has dealt with budget crises. So, he is a political spokesman for you, if you will, and endorsement, but he is a movie star and he's an entertainer and a powerful communicator.
And he very effectively there made the Republican argument against Barack Obama. I think it is fair to say he made it with more passion and more energy and more succinct clarity than John McCain does on most days.
BLITZER: Yes, and as the sitting senator -- excuse me -- sitting governor of the largest state in the United States, he speaks with some authority there, Gloria
And that message -- it may be very late right now, but had that message been coming out by Arnold Schwarzenegger personally over these many months, this contest may be in different shape right now.
And he made the message about socialism really in a personal way. He said, look, I came to this country because I was running away from socialist regimes, and I came to America, and I couldn't have done half of what I have done anywhere else in the world.
And, so, he made a real ideological argument, continuing what John McCain has been saying and what Sarah Palin has been saying, essentially accusing Barack Obama of being a socialist. But he put it in his own personal terms, which the crowd really responded to.
He is a terrific speaker. And I think that John McCain -- I agree with John King -- I think that John McCain would have liked to have had him out there with him all the time, if he could have.
BLITZER: And some people, John, probably saying, you know what? Maybe John McCain should have picked Arnold Schwarzenegger as his running mate. But, of course, he can't be president of the United States. The Constitution prevents that, because he was not born in the United States, although there are some who would like to change the Constitution, get some sort of amendment allowing someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger to run for president of the United States.
You know what? I want to listen a little bit to what Senator McCain is saying right now. Let's listen in briefly.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
MCCAIN: I am ready for the fight.
MCCAIN: I have a plan to hold the line on taxes and cut them to make America more competitive and create jobs here at home. We are going to double the child deduction for working families. We will cut the capital gains tax. We will cut business taxes to help keep American business in America.
MCCAIN: Keeping taxes low makes a bad economy much worse. Keeping taxes low creates jobs, keeps money in your hands and strengthens our economy.
If I am elected president, I won't spend nearly a trillion dollars more of your money. Senator Obama will. And he can't do that --
MCCAIN: He can't do that without raising your taxes or digging us further into debt. I am going to make government live on a budget, just like you do.
BLITZER: All right. So, there he is, Senator McCain. He is getting into his stump speech right now, clearly energized by what the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has just done for him there.
We will continue to monitor that event.
Meanwhile, Barack Obama is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He is answering some very important, serious questions, including this one from a voter just like you about John McCain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTFIED MALE: After this very vicious campaign, can you consider him a friend, an ally in the Senate, or would you even consider him for a position in your administration?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. You are going to hear what Senator Obama answered in that question -- to that question. My one-on-one interview, the complete interview, uncut, that is coming up. He speaks about your taxes, your health care, slams John McCain over the possibility -- McCain says he knows how to capture Osama bin Laden. They talk about that.
And, if Obama wins, what urgent problem would he tackle on day one? Senator Obama outlines what his top priorities would be in this interview, if he wins.
Meanwhile, Senator Obama also sends a heartfelt message to his ailing grandmother. It is all coming up, the full interview, right here in Iowa -- right after this.
BLITZER: As this presidential race goes down to the wire, Senator Barack Obama took some time out from his hectic schedule to sit down with me. It happened right here in Des Moines, Iowa.
I asked him a wide range of questions, many of those questions inspired by you, our viewers. He even responded directly to voters like you.
BLITZER: Senator Obama, thanks very much for joining us.
OBAMA: Thanks for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: Pretty exciting to come back to Iowa because a lot of people think this is where it all started for you.
OBAMA: Well, especially when it's 70 degrees outside in late October. I'm really happy to come back to Iowa.
BLITZER: It's warmer here than it is back in New York and Washington.
OBAMA: But, it felt really good. To see all these familiar faces. There were bunch of people out here who signed up for our campaign when we had almost no money, very few endorsements, the polls weren't good for us. And a lot of these people took a chance. They came up and volunteered, put their names on my campaign --
BLITZER: Iowa showed that a black man can really get a lot of white people's support.
OBAMA: I think that's part of what it showed but what it also showed, I think you'll remember because you were watching. A lot of people were skeptical about young people coming out, about people who traditionally haven't participated in caucuses getting involved. And here's where we, I think, proved that we can get people much more engaged in the political process than they had been before.
BLITZER: Let's go through a whole bunch of substantive economic issues, foreign policy issues. I'm going to give you quick questions, if you give me quick answers I think we'll get through a lot. We have limited time, as you know.
You want universal health care or something approaching universal health care. That is a top priority. Where is the money going to come from?
OBAMA: Well, we're going to have to cut back on some things that don't make sense right now. We're spending $15 billion a year, for example, under the Medicare program to subsidize insurance companies. We're going to have to cut some programs that don't work in order to provide health care and as I said before, we're going to roll back the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans, people making over $250,000 a year, especially millionaires and billionaires who have been making much more than that.
BLITZER: So in effect that will pay for the health care?
OBAMA: That will pay for the health care.
BLITZER: What about the war in Iraq? You're going to want to stop that war as well, right?
OBAMA: The war in Iraq, we can achieve some significant savings. It's not going to come immediately. I have said I want a responsible drawdown. We're still going to have to refit our military. We're still going to have to deal with rising veterans' costs. Post traumatic stress disorder, for example, I think it has been under- diagnosed. We've got to make sure treatment --
BLITZER: But the $12 billion the United States is spending a month right now on Iraq, that's going to go on at least for what, a year, a year and a half?
OBAMA: My hope is that we draw down that money over time, it's drastically reduced. But the point is that we're not going to be able to take that $12 billion and suddenly automatically apply it all to domestic stuff. We've got to take care of our troops. And we're still going to have expenditures in Afghanistan because we need to hunt down bin Laden and al Qaeda and put them finally out of business.
BLITZER: Senator McCain says, if he's president, he will veto every piece of legislation that has pork barrel spending or earmarks. Will you make that same commitment?
OBAMA: You know, here is what I tell you. We're going to have to fundamentally change how our appropriations process works. And I want to sit down with members of Congress, should I be elected, even before I am sworn in and explain to them that some of these projects may be worthy projects in their home state, home district, but right now we can only do those things that are absolutely necessarily.
And if we're going to have a project, I think it has to be not just a whim of a particular local community, it's got to be something that serves to help build the overall economy and move us in a better direction.
BLITZER: At a time of economic crisis, as it is right now, the worst since the Great Depression, people want to know who you'll be surrounded with on these important decisions.
Who do you think will be your secretary of the treasury?
OBAMA: Well, I am not going to make that kind of news, because I --
BLITZER: Give me an example of the folks that you're thinking about.
OBAMA: I haven't won yet. But I will tell you who is already part of my senior economic advisory group -- because you've seen them. Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve Board chairman; Larry Summers, former Treasury of the -- secretary of the Treasury; Warren Buffett, who has been a great friend and a great adviser and talked to me a lot during this recent economic crisis.
Those are the kinds of people that I expect will surround me, will help me make decisions. But it's getting ahead of ourselves for me to identify particular cabinet posts.
BLITZER: Will you raise the capital gains tax, the tax when people sell stocks or mutual funds, their 401(k)s --
BLITZER: Will you raise it from 15 percent, that capital gains tax?
OBAMA: I have said earlier in this campaign that it makes sense for us to go from 15 to 20 percent. Now, frankly, people aren't experiencing a lot of capital gains right now. People are having a lot of capital losses.
But, you know, I've talked to people like Warren Buffett and asked him, you know, will that modest increase in the capital gains tax have an impact on the real economy, on investment, business growth?
And he assures me that's not going to be an impediment to capital formation and us being able to move forward on the economy. That's --
BLITZER: Will a middle class family be exempted from that increase in capital gains tax?
OBAMA: Well, what I've said is small businesses are going to be exempted and anybody who is making less than $250,000 a year. I've said they're not going to get their capital gains taxes increased. They're not going to get --
BLITZER: So they will be exempt?
OBAMA: They will be exempted from that, as well as any income tax increase, any payroll tax increase. My attitude is, is that middle class families need a tax cut. And 95 percent of American families and workers are going to get reduced taxes. In fact, you know, we -- there was an article today in "The New York Times" that laid out in very stark terms the fact that I give much more tax relief to middle class families than John McCain does.
BLITZER: At a time of economic distress, is it wise to increase the corporate -- the corporate tax rate?
OBAMA: Well, we're not increasing the corporate tax rate.
BLITZER: I know. But there's some talk that you want to increase it. What, it's 35 percent right now. And you've talked about --
OBAMA: Where is that --
OBAMA: Where is that talk coming from?
BLITZER: I don't know.
BLITZER: I mean, you tell me.
OBAMA: I have --
BLITZER: You want to keep it at 35 percent?
OBAMA: I have no plans for increasing the corporate tax rate. And, in fact, you can make an argument for lowering the corporate tax rate, but only if you, at the same time, close all of the corporate loopholes. The problem we have right now is on paper, we've got a high corporate tax rate. In actual terms, corporations aren't paying their fair share. We've got some of the laws --
BLITZER: Exxon Mobil will stay pay 35 percent, is that right?
OBAMA: Exxon Mobil will still pay 35 percent, although I've talked about previously the idea that we should have windfall profits tax similar to the one that Sarah Palin imposed on oil companies to benefit Alaska.
BLITZER: All right. There's much more of my interview coming up. We're only just getting started. You're going to hear all my questions, all his answers; some of your questions, as well, thanks to our I-Reporters.
Also, General David Petraeus is now in charge of two wars -- the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan.
Does Barack Obama agree with him on how to handle the Taliban right now? And what do -- what to do about the leader of Al Qaeda.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We will go after him. We will kill him or we will -- we'll capture him, try him, apply the death penalty to him where it is necessary.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening right now, lots going on if -- if -- and it's a big if -- if Barack Obama is president, when will he close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba? I'll ask him that and more. More of my interview coming up.
And does he know how to track down the world's most wanted terrorist? You're going to hear what the Democratic presidential candidate has to say about finding bin Laden.
And if he wins the election, what will Barack Obama's top priority be? You'll also hear all his answers to my questions and some of your questions, as well, one-on-one right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
My one-on-one interview with Barack Obama continues right now with a discussion about international affairs. And Obama slams John McCain over the hunt for bin Laden.
BLITZER: If you're elected president, -- still a big if right now --
BLITZER: When would you shut down GITMO, the Guantanamo naval base, where the detention center for suspected terrorists is?
OBAMA: I want to close GITMO as -- as quickly as we can do that (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: What does that mean? How quickly is that?
OBAMA: Well, as quickly as we can do prudently. And I am not going to give a time certain, because I think what we have to do is evaluate all those who are still being held at GITMO. We have to put in place appropriate plans to make sure that they are tried, convicted and punished to the full extent of the law. And that's going to require, I think, a review of the existing cases, which I have not had the opportunity to do.
BLITZER: Senator McCain says that if he's elected president, Iran will not become a nuclear power. Can you make that same commitment?
OBAMA: Well, I've said I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. I think it would be a game changer. It would not be acceptable. It would be a threat to our strongest ally in the region, Israel. But it would also potentially trigger a nuclear arms race in the region.
And we have to both apply much tougher diplomacy, but -- and sanctions, potentially, if they do not move in a better direction. We have to give them some inducements to walk away from their nuclear program. And we should never take a military option off of the table.
BLITZER: If you're elected president, would you support direct talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan?
OBAMA: Well, I know that General Petraeus has discussed the possibility of trying to peel away more moderate factions within the Taliban. And I think that, talking to our commanders on the ground and based on sound intelligence, if we can peel off some support from the hard core militants that are aligned with Al Qaeda, that would beneficial.
I don't think that we necessarily are the best intermediary in that kind of discussion. And I'd want to see some proof, some evidence that, in fact, there are aspects of the Taliban that are -- that are susceptible to reasonable dialogue. But I --
BLITZER: Because, you know, this is the group that gave aid and comfort to Al Qaeda.
OBAMA: Well, and that's exactly my point. The -- if -- my general attitude is that we have to snuff out Al Qaeda, we have to capture and/or kill bin Laden. And in order for us to do that, we're going to have to have cooperation from Afghans and Pakistanis. But, you know, it may get murky in terms of who are our potential allies, who are enemies in that situation.
I want to work with our commanders to do whatever practically we can do in order to make sure that the overall goal of eliminating Al Qaeda as a threat is accomplished.
BLITZER: The model that General Petraeus used in Iraq to wean away --
OBAMA: The (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: -- the Iraqi Sunni insurgents from Al Qaeda --
OBAMA: Right. Right.
BLITZER: It seems to have worked in the Anbar Province and elsewhere.
OBAMA: Absolutely. Right.
BLITZER: Is that model applicable in weaning away Taliban elements from al Qaeda in Afghanistan?
OBAMA: I think it is important to understand that these countries are all different. That's one of the mistakes we made going into Iraq. We have to, I think, analyze very specifically what the situation is there before we make any moves. And I will expect, if I'm the president-elect, to have some very rapid discussions with General Petraeus, who I think has done a very good job in Iraq.
I want to get his assessment. And I would want to see some evidence that, in fact, the possibility of that model working existed in Afghanistan.
BLITZER: As you know, he was charged today, even as we're speaking --
OBAMA: That's right.
BLITZER: -- of the U.S. military's Central Command, which oversees that entire region. You have confidence in him and you want him to stay.
OBAMA: I do have confidence in him. I think he did an outstanding job in Iraq, as our military generally has done outstanding work.
What they need is a commander-in-chief who is thinking more strategically about how we deploy our resources to make America more secure. And I look forward to working alongside our commanders and our troops on the ground in order to make sure that we are going after Al Qaeda, we're getting bin Laden, that we stabilize Iraq, that we create a situation in Afghanistan where this ongoing threat is not constantly coming back at us.
BLITZER: Senator McCain says he knows how to capture bin Laden. And he says I'll get him, if he's elected president. Do you know how to capture bin Laden?
OBAMA: Well, you know, I'm reminded of -- he said this during the debate. And I think the next -- that night, maybe, I think Jon Stewart, on Comedy Central, said, you know, why have you been holding out on us for the last six years?
I mean the fact is, is that, along with George Bush, John McCain championed a strategy that distracted us from capturing bin Laden, that focused on Iraq, that had nothing to do with 9/11.
And, so, clearly, Senator McCain doesn't know how to capture bin Laden, because he was supportive of a huge strategic blunder when it came to accomplishing the task.
I will focus on what Secretary Gates and others have indicated is our number one security threat. And that is bin Laden and Al Qaeda. We will go after him. We will kill him or we will capture him, try him, apply the death penalty to him, where it is necessary.
But that is the threat that we should have stayed focused on. That's the threat that I will focus on when I'm president.
BLITZER: How worried are you about the stability of the Pakistani government, because it looks like al Qaeda is going after the new leadership post-Musharraf in Islamabad?
OBAMA: Well, I'm concerned about it. This is one of the problems with our previous strategy. There was a lot of resentment that built up as a consequence of our support of President Musharraf there, who had squelched democracy. And now you've got a fledgling democratic government. We have to support the efforts to democratize. That means, by the way, not just providing military aid. It means also helping them to provide concrete solutions to the poverty and lack of education that exists in Pakistan. So I want to increase nonmilitary aid to Pakistan.
But we have to also help make the case that the biggest threat to Pakistan right now is not India, which has been the historical enemy. It's actually militants within their own borders. And if we can get them to refocus on that, then that's going to be critical to our success, not just in stabilizing Pakistan, but also in finishing the job in Afghanistan.
BLITZER: And the rest of the one-on-one interview will come up in just a moment.
Barack Obama looks ahead -- if he makes it to the White House, would he have a job offer for John McCain?
You might be surprised by his answer.
And Barack Obama on his presidential to-do list.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I'm going to give you five issues. You tell me which one of these five would be your top priority after you're inaugurated on January 20th, if you're inaugurated -- health care reform --
BLITZER: Energy independence, a new tax code, including tax cuts for the middle class, education spending or comprehensive immigration reform.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And now to the final part of my interview today with Barack Obama here in Des Moines, Iowa. We talked about his top priorities.
BLITZER: If you're elected president, you have to make major decisions and you have to make them right away.
BLITZER: Priorities are going to be critical. I'm going to give you five issues. You tell me which one of these five would be your top priority after you're inaugurated on January 20th -- if you're inaugurated.
BLITZER: Health care reform --
BLITZER: Energy independence, a new tax code, including tax cuts for the middle class, education spending or comprehensive immigration reform.
OBAMA: Well --
BLITZER: Top priority?
OBAMA: The top priorities may not be any of those five. It may be continuing to stabilize the financial system. We don't know yet what's going to happen in January. And none of this can be accomplished if we continue to see a potential meltdown in the banking system or the financial system. So that's priority one, making sure that the plumbing works in our capitalist system.
Priority number two of the list that you have listed -- have put forward, I think has to be energy independence. We have to seize this moment, because it's not just an energy independence issue, it's also a national security issue and it's a jobs issue. And we can create five million new green energy jobs with a serious program.
Priority number three would be health care reform. I think the time is right to do it.
Priority number four is making sure that we have tax cuts for the middle class and it's part of a broader tax reform effort.
Priority number five, I think would be -- would be making sure that we have an education system that works for all children.
One thing I want to make a point of, though. The tax cut that I talked about may be part of my priority number one, because I think that's going to be part of stabilizing the economy as a whole. I think we are going to need a second stimulus. One of my commitments is to make sure that that stimulus includes a tax cut for 95 percent of working Americans. That may be the first bill that I introduce.
BLITZER: We're almost out of time, Senator.
We asked viewers in the United States and around the world to send some questions to you. We got one from Martha Amidano of Union City, New Jersey. She says she's an undecided voter who votes mostly Republican, sometimes Democrat. She says she originally supported Hillary Clinton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTHA AMIDANO, UNION CITY, NEW JERSEY: As a Cuban-American, your plan to redistribute the wealth, to spread the wealth around, like you have been saying, scares me. It didn't work with Fidel Castro in my country of Cuba. What makes you think it's going to work in this country?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Well, you know, if she's taking the description that John McCain is giving of my plans, then I'd be scared, too. Understand to Maria what -- I'll repeat what I've said. If you make less than $250,000 a year, you'll see no tax increase. You'll probably see a tax cut under my plan. If you make more than $250,000 a year, all we're talking about is going back to the tax rates that existed under Bill Clinton.
If she was a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton's, then she should understand that all I'm talking about is going back to the tax rates that existed under Bill Clinton during the 1990s, when the economy grew.
By the way, that's the same position that Hillary Clinton took.
BLITZER: We have one more question from a viewer, Derrick Neuner of St. Louis. He says this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DERRICK NEUNER, ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI: I know you've pledged to have a bipartisan administration. But I was wondering, does that include John McCain?
After this very vicious campaign, can you consider him a friend, an ally in the Senate? Or would you even consider him for a position in your administration?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Well, I tell you what, I would certainly consider any position for John McCain where I thought he was going to be the best person for our country.
He and I have had a tough fight. But I think that I certainly have respect for him. I've said that before. He is a leader in his party -- the leader of his party right now. I think that he has a history of wanting to work together on some things that I care about, like comprehensive immigration reform and making sure that we are dealing with critical issues like global warming. And so I hope that we can forge a strong relationship to get some things done, get some things moving.
BLITZER: We're out of time. But, you know, all of us were moved last weekend when you went to see your grandmother in Hawaii. I know she watches CNN --
BLITZER: -- because she says she watches CNN.
OBAMA: She does. BLITZER: And she might be watching right now. And I know how proud she must be that you've reached this level and on the verge, potentially, of becoming president of the United States.
How emotional is this for you and for her at this moment?
OBAMA: Well, you know, look, she's my grandma. And she helped raise me. And she put off a lot of things in her own life to make sure that myself and my sister, that we were taken care of. So a big chunk of whatever success I've achieved is because of her.
I love her dearly and she knows that. And if she is listening, I just want to make sure that she's getting her rest and, hopefully, getting better.
BLITZER: And we wish her only the best and a speedy, speedy recovery --
OBAMA: Thank you so much, Wolf.
BLITZER: -- to your grandma.
OBAMA: It was nice to talk to you.
BLITZER: Senator, thanks very much.
OBAMA: Appreciate it.
BLITZER: And the McCain campaign is already reacting to this interview.
Ed Henry is in Columbus, Ohio right now -- Ed, what are you hearing from inside the McCain campaign?
HENRY: Well, the McCain camp is obviously amused by one part of that interview, in particular, Wolf, where Senator Obama decided to essentially answer that hypothetical question about whether he would bring John McCain into his potential Obama administration.
It plays right into a theme that Senator McCain has been hitting, that he believes that Barack Obama has been presumptuous, that Barack Obama thinks he already has this race in the bag. In fact, just a few moments ago behind me, when he was with Arnold Schwarzenegger on that stage, John McCain was citing the fact that Barack Obama gave this big address to the nation in the form of that 30 minute ad; also this report that maybe Barack Obama is eying Congressman Rahm Emanuel as a potential White House chief of staff.
So when the McCain camp heard about that part of the interview, a spokesman, Ben Porritt, told me
"Has he run it by his new chief of staff yet? While Barack Obama pops the champagne corks and celebrates his victory behind his Obama presidential seal, the truth is this race isn't over." Now, it's important to point out that Rahm Emanuel has insisted that there have been no conversations about him potentially leaving Congress to become White House chief of staff.
But, as you know, this is not going to stop the McCain camp from jumping on these various strands and saying, look, Barack Obama is getting ahead of the game. And, in fact, what John McCain tells these Republican crowds behind me is he's a little old-fashioned. He wants to let the voters decide before anything else -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry working the story for us. All right, Ed, thanks very much. He's going to be very busy over these next few days.
On our "Political Ticker" today, Joe Biden -- yes, Joe Biden is running for something other than vice president. The Delaware Democrat is expected to win re-election easily to a seventh term in the U.S. Senate. He'll have to give up his seat if the Democrats win the White House. Biden's GOP challenger, Christine O'Donnell, accusing Biden of blowing off the people of Delaware because he isn't debated her or done much campaigning to keep his day job.
John McCain is looking for some laughs in the closing days of the campaign. Aides say the senator is set to appear on "Saturday Night Live" this weekend, only three days before the election. It's McCain's first appearance on "SNL" since May and it comes on the heels of Sarah Palin's stint on the show that gave "SNL" its highest ratings in 14 years.
And "Joe the Plumber" may be angling for his own guest shot on TV. America's surprise political star -- he's hired a team, a Nashville-based publicity team, to handle the flood of requests for interviews and personal appearances. Joe Wurzelbacher's publicist says people are curious about his client, who shot to fame when he was mentioned in that final presidential debate.
Remember, for all the latest political news any time, you can always check out CNNPolitics.com. That's the place to go.
Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press -- pictures from the campaign trail.
In Ohio, John McCain points to the crowd from his bus as he leaves a town square stop.
In Iowa, Barack Obama greets five-year-old twins at a rally in Western Gateway Park. That's where I am right now, as well.
In Delaware, an eight-year-old takes a close-up photo of Joe Biden after he spoke at a rally.
And in Pennsylvania, Sarah Palin stands with her costumed children on stage. Young Trig is dressed as an elephant, seven-year- old Piper is a snow princess.
Some of this hour's "Hot Shots" -- pictures often worth a thousand words.
It's been a long road to the White House, as all of us know. And sometimes it's a long, strange road.
Our own Jeanne Moos has this "Moost Unusual" story.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's almost over. Every one of those voters clutching and clinging to every last bit of election news. Or would you rather cover your ears until it's history?
Even "Joe the Plumber" went AWOL.
MCCAIN: Joe's with us today. Joe, where are you? Where is Joe?
Is Joe here with us today?
MOOS: A typical plumber. Actually, Joe said it was just a miscommunication when he showed up at later McCain events.
Our favorite part of recent rallies is when the crowd does this.
MOOS (on camera): When it comes to bring out the boos, there's a clear frontrunner -- the booer-in-chief, with the most boos in every speech.
GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Higher taxes.
PALIN: He wants to spread the wealth, which is --
PALIN: -- it means --
PALIN: -- and attacking our friend, "Joe the Plumber."
PALIN: Barack the wealth spreader.
MOOS (voice-over): Barack the wealth spreader isn't spreading boos.
OBAMA: You don't need to boo, you just need to vote. MOOS: It's as if Senators Obama and Biden are burnishing their booing is beneath us image.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's John and Sarah Palin. And they're up there saying --
BIDEN: No, no, no, no, no. They're good folks. They're good folks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: We'd like to boo at people who steal political lawn signs. This Ohio man got so mad when he caught kids vandalizing his McCain sign, that he allegedly got a rifle and shot at them -- hitting one in the arm.
And after someone took this Texas woman's Obama sign, she went grassroots -- painting the Obama symbol on her lawn.
Look what some folks are painting on their fingernails at this Florida salon. Who's the most popular candidate to nail?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah Palin. Those girls love Sarah Palin out there. Everybody wants to be Sarah Palin.
MOOS: And then there's this kid dressing up for Halloween.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: My costume will allow neighbors to vote for Barack Obama or John McCain.
MOOS: In the past, he's been the Dalai Lama and Gene Simmons, but this year he's wearing a polling place so folks can drop candy in the slot of their preferred candidate. That's nothing compared to how this guy was adorned at a Palin rally. "Obama is a baby killer" was scrawled on his back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I bet you want me back now, don't you?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: We don't, really. But we have something even weirder.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hunger.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Delicious.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You betcha.
MOOS: It's at BarackObamaEatsBabies.com.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Feed me.
MOOS: We don't get it, so we can't explain it. We report. You digest.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Eskimo.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More.
BLITZER: And we're getting, of course, ready for the election on Tuesday. Sunday on "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk, a special edition from the CNN Election Center. We'll go three hours starting at 10:00 a.m. Eastern until 1:00 p.m. Eastern. Sunday, "LATE EDITION," a special election preview.
Thanks very much for joining us.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Des Moines.
Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.