Return to Transcripts main page
Lou Dobbs Tonight
Obama Speaks on Patriotism; McCain Defends Military Record; Candidates Vie for Hispanic Vote
Aired June 30, 2008 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Thanks.
Tonight, Senators Obama and McCain pander to the illegal alien lobby, both candidates pushing an amnesty agenda to win Hispanic votes.
Also, our airlines are in crisis, passengers are treated no better than cattle. We'll have a special report.
And farmers and private companies contract the food that you eat, so why can't the federal government find the source of a major salmonella outbreak? All of that, the day's news, much more straight ahead tonight.
ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: news, debate, and opinion for Monday, June 30th. Live from New York, sitting in for Lou Dobbs, Kitty Pilgrim.
PILGRIM: Good evening, everybody. Senator Obama today strongly defended his patriotism and tried to reassure voters about his values. Obama declaring he will not stand idly by, as he put it, if his patriotism is questioned.
Meanwhile, Senator McCain today hit back at a top Obama adviser who questioned the relevance of his military service. And that adviser, retired General Wesley Clark, said getting shot down is not a qualification to be president.
We have complete coverage. We begin with Candy Crowley in Washington. Candy.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kitty. Barack Obama began on a much larger stage than during the primary to try to address one of the most persistent problems that has plagued his campaign as well as one of the most difficult to deal with.
CROWLEY (voice-over): Independence, Missouri, during Fourth of July week is a pretty standard pick for politicians to show their patriotism. The unusual is that Barack Obama came to defend his.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I found for the first time my patriotism challenged, at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears and doubts about who I am and what I stand for.
CROWLEY: That carelessness included this, Obama, September of last year in Iowa...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the home of the brave...
CROWLEY: Listening to the Star Spangled Banner without his hand over his heart, a mistake he later acknowledged saying he was caught up in the song. And there was a clumsy answer to a question about why he didn't wear a flag pin. He wears one now given to him by a veteran.
But it all became fodder for repeatedly debunked e-mails claiming Obama refused to pledge allegiance to the flag. That he was un- American. It seeped into the grass roots. In April, a young woman asked how she could convince her father-in-law in vote for Obama.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... influence by some of the spin about saluting the flag, that pin, you know all of those things...
OBAMA: Right. Right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... that I've heard. And I just wondered what you would say to him if he was here to show him where your heart is.
CROWLEY: Now that he's the presumptive Democratic nominee, Obama has a bigger stage to show where his heart is.
OBAMA: I remember my grandfather handing me his dog tags from his time in Patton's Army and understanding that his defense of this country marked one of his greatest sources of pride. That's my idea of America.
CROWLEY: He has a Web site designed to rebut the still circulating e-mails. He has a biography ad airing in more than a dozen states talking about his American roots and he is pushing back.
OBAMA: I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign. And I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine.
CROWLEY: It was a bit of an offensive move, Kitty, as he tries to sort of push back as he moves into this general campaign. This entire week, in fact is dedicated to addressing some of the stickier issues that have plagued the Obama campaign. He will also talk about faith in America and about public service trying to highlight his Chicago roots where he was a community organizer. Kitty.
PILGRIM: Candy, Senator Obama and former President Bill Clinton finally talked about the campaign today. So what did they discuss? Why did it take them so long to have that conversation? CROWLEY: Well it really depends on who you believe. I don't think they probably talked about the primary campaign. Somewhat of a sticking spot is for the former president, who as we saw in the closing days of the primary season, was, in fact, angry, was in fact frustrated by a number of things about what he felt the campaign had done to his legacy.
He felt that Barack Obama often dissed the Clinton years. He was upset at being he thought framed as a racist and of course his wife lost, so that kind of fueled all of the speculation as to why hasn't Bill Clinton called Barack Obama and vice versa. Those around him say, well, listen, you know his wife needed to go ahead and take the center stage and work that unity event that we saw last Friday.
But he did indeed put out a paper statement saying, I'm prepared to go ahead and campaign for Barack Obama. And today, the two of them talked this morning. The Obama people call it a terrific conversation. Bill Clinton in a statement said that it was great. So they are moving forward at this point. And there are people around them that said they expect to see both the Clintons and the Obamas on the stage together probably before the convention.
PILGRIM: OK. Thanks very much. Candy Crowley.
Senator McCain today strongly criticized a leading supporter of Obama who questioned the relevance of McCain's military service. Now McCain says such criticism is unnecessary and this after Obama supporter and retired General Wesley Clark said McCain's service does not qualify him to be commander in chief. Dana Bash reports.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If John McCain is known for anything, it's his five and a half years as a Vietnam POW, so why is he defending it?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm proud of my record of service.
BASH: Here's why?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), OBAMA SUPPORTER: Well I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.
BASH: Retired General Wesley Clark is a Barack Obama supporter and appeared on television as his surrogate. Camp McCain pounced on Clark's comments to feed their central theme about Obama, he isn't what you think.
JILL HAZELBAKER, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: Let's drop this idea that Barack Obama is somehow raising the dialogue and raising the debate in this campaign.
BASH: McCain aides argue Clark's comments are part of a pattern of Obama allowing surrogates to impugn McCain service not condemning it, like when Senator Jay Rockefeller slammed McCain for dropping bombs as an American fighter pilot in Vietnam. "You have to care about the lives of people. McCain never gets into those issues", said Rockefeller. But McCain aides note the Democratic candidate himself is careful to take the high road.
OBAMA: For those like John McCain who have endured physical torment in service to our country, no further proof of such sacrifice is necessary. No one should ever devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign.
BASH (on camera): Do you think that Senator Obama is being hypocritical here?
MCCAIN: I don't know. I know that many -- General Clark is not an isolated incident. But I have no way of knowing how much involvement Senator Obama has in that issue. I know he has mischaracterized some of my statements in the past.
BASH: Now, a spokesman for Senator Obama said he, quote, "of course rejects General Clark's statement that John McCain's service as a fighter pilot and the fact that he was shot down doesn't necessarily qualify him to be president." And Kitty, a spokesman for Senator McCain shot back and said, we've learned that we don't want to listen to what Senator Obama rather says, rather we want to wait to see what he actually does.
PILGRIM: Thanks very much. Dana Bash. Thanks, Dana.
Senators McCain and Obama are trying to convince voters they have the credentials to be commander in chief. Now both candidates plan to travel abroad; McCain to Mexico and Colombia this week; Obama to Europe, the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan. Mary Snow has the report.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John McCain flies his new Straight Talk Express jet south of the border to Mexico and Colombia this week, high on the agenda, pushing a free trade agreement. Barack Obama will head to the Middle East and Europe this summer and told a radio interviewer he plans on visiting Iraq and Afghanistan.
OBAMA: In Iraq, my goal is to talk to the Iraqi leadership about making political progress so that we can start phasing down our troops in Iraq. And obviously I also want to congratulate the troops for the extraordinary work they've done in reducing violence there.
SNOW: Political observers say traveling overseas can give the candidate a chance to boost foreign policy credentials.
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: John McCain I think has used his trips to Iraq to considerable effect and been helpful. I'm not sure whether any more foreign travel especially to Colombia and Mexico right now will help him very much, but a foreign policy trip for Barack Obama is essential.
SNOW: A poll in early June asking voters who would better handle foreign policy puts McCain ahead of Obama by 11 points. And McCain's been playing up what he sees as his advantage and has been pushing for a joint trip to Iraq. The Republican National Committee counts the number of days since Obama last visited Iraq.
MCCAIN: I still offer to go with Senator Obama. I hope that I could not only add to some of his knowledge of the region because he's only been there once, as we all know.
SNOW: Obama has turned down McCain's offer, calling it a political stunt. He is expected instead to go to Iraq as part of a congressional delegation.
SNOW: Now exactly when Obama will go to Iraq is not known. His campaign says it's not announcing any details on any potential trips to Iraq and to Afghanistan for security reasons.
PILGRIM: Is his decision to go to Iraq partly because of the criticism he's getting from Republicans?
SNOW: Well you know the Republican National Committee would like to take credit for that because since last month, late last month they've been running this daily clock on -- Obama had said late last month that he intended to go to Iraq but he was waiting for the primaries to be over earlier this month. But you know we were going to one political analyst who said that he really had no choice. That would be a mistake for him not to make these trips.
PILGRIM: Yeah. Well that clock though, this is compelling. Thanks very much, Mary Snow.
Well the military today confirmed that insurgents killed four more of our troops in Afghanistan. Previously the casualties were described as coalition deaths. Now for the second consecutive month, more U.S. and coalition troops have been killed in Afghanistan more than in Iraq.
Forty coalition and U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan this month. That's the highest monthly total of the entire war. Twenty-nine of our troops have been killed in Iraq this month. President Bush today signed a new funding bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and that bill provides our troops with another $162 billion until next spring.
Still to come, Senators McCain and Obama try to push their illegal alien amnesty agenda on to the American people.
Also, chaos in the skies, the airline crisis is affecting everyone who travels by plane. Stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) PILGRIM: Gasoline prices today hit another record high and a national average, $4.09 a gallon. Gas prices now average more $4 a gallon in 33 states and the District of Columbia. An average gallon of gas costs $1.13 more than the same time last year. Now Alaska has the most expensive gas in the nation, $4.62 a gallon, Missouri the cheapest at $3.86 a gallon.
Crude oil prices today also hit a record high, $143 a barrel before closing at $140. In an effort to offset rising fuel costs, the nation's airlines are raising prices for the fourteenth time since December. Now prices are already up 17 percent this year. Bill Tucker reports on the chaos in the sky.
BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S. airlines are busy slashing services, cutting routes and raising the price of a ticket. The biggest single reason -- fuel prices. U.S. Airlines will spend $61 billion on fuel this year, according to the Air Transport Association. That's four times the 16 billion spent in 2000. It's only expected to get worse.
DR. JOE SCHWIETERMAN, DEPAUL UNIVERSITY: The price of fuel isn't coming down. Projections for the fall remain pretty bad.
TUCKER: This year alone, 100 communities have lost or will lose commercial air service. The airlines clearly need and are squeezing passengers for every dollar they can. But many familiar with the industry don't think it will be enough; estimated losses this year for the entire airline industry range between seven billion and $13 billion.
The skyrocketing costs have increased the calls for a foreign investment, a move generally supported by the domestic industry in need of cash. Current rules limit foreign investment to 25 percent of an airline and prohibit them from having control of domestic carriers. Opponents of increased foreign investment argue fuel costs are the problem, not a lack of foreign investment.
CAPT. PAUL RICE, AIRLINE PILOTS ASSN. INT'L: It's not an investment crisis. It's a cost-size (ph) crisis.
TUCKER: Congress has been reluctant to change those rules in the past.
TUCKER: Now the reason for their opposition is based on national security concerns. The airlines are integral to the movement of our troops. Congressional opponents also note that negotiators representing foreign interest refuse to change their stance on allowing foreign control of the airlines, which currently there is not allowed, so there is no reciprocity in these agreements either, Kitty.
PILGRIM: All right. Thanks very much. Bill Tucker. Well in addition to raising fares, airlines are charging customers for everything from aisle seats to pets. Now most of the major carriers have a $65 fuel surcharge. Some airlines charge $15 for your first checked bag. You can pay anywhere from five to $35 for a coach seat with more leg room or a better view.
And even the family pet will cost you as much as $100 each way. Now airlines are also cutting back the number of flights this fall because of the high fuel costs. The number of flights out of some of the nation's busiest airports will be slashed by at least 10 percent this year. That decreased number of flights will also mean massive job cuts. United, Delta, Continental will each slash thousands of jobs by next year.
Coming up, the federal government still unable to find the source of a massive salmonella outbreak, perhaps the government should take a tip from a private produce grower. We'll tell you why.
And more than 1,000 wildfires rage out of control in the western United States. We'll have the very latest on those fires. Stay with us.
PILGRIM: Wildfires tonight are burning out of control in huge areas of the west. One fire is threatening the small town of Crown King, Arizona. More than 600 acres already burned. Residents are being evacuated. Now officials are deploying additional firefighters to the area.
A red flag or an extreme fire danger warning is in effect in Northeastern California, Northwest Nevada and Eastern Oregon. Thick smoke covers 100 miles from Sacramento, California to Reno, Nevada. More than 1,400 fires have scorched 365,000 acres in northern California.
Nearly 100 people have been hospitalized in connection with a salmonella outbreak in 36 states. Government officials say they still don't know how or where the outbreak began. But as Louise Schiavone reports, private producers are able to track their produce down to the exact field where it was grown.
LOUISE SCHIAVONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Officials believe that literally thousands of people in the United States have been sickened in a salmonella outbreak since April and there's no end in sight. Is the source tomatoes are something else, where is it from? Scientists say the U.S. doesn't have the tools for the answers.
DR. NEIL FISHMAN, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: I think that the European Union is ahead in tracking a lot of things that we currently are unable to track in the United States. I think it relates directly to the funding cuts that the FDA has had to deal with.
SCHIAVONE: The FDA concedes: VOICE OF DR. DAVID ACHESON, FDA: We've got to examine the whole traceability system. We've got to improve the process because the one that we are operating under right now is clearly not getting us an answer fast enough.
SCHIAVONE: But some growers are way ahead of the bureaucracy.
PAUL MASTRONARDI, MASTRONARDI PRODUCE, SUNSET BRAND: Each individual fruit, if it's sold in a bulk format, has a little PLU sticker on it and that label has certain information. We have country of origin information on that label. We also have a grower code on there. So we'll know exactly which farm each piece of fruit came from if we went to a grocery shelf.
SCHIAVONE: Sunset Brand produces millions of pounds of tomatoes yearly in greenhouses in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, they have their own laboratory and food safety program.
JOE DARDEN, FOOD SAFETY DIR., MASTRONARDI FOODS: We do product testing of the products as they enter our warehouses. And also we do product testing as they leave our warehouses.
SCHIAVONE: It costs money, but it also delivers customers. They're not alone. In Upstate New York, Minard Farms is waiting for a half million bushel apple crop to come in. When it does, they'll label every apple that goes to market.
PHIL CORSO, MINARD FARMS: From that bar code, they can tell what marketing agent sold it to them. And then from that marketing agent they can go all the way back to the farm where it was harvested and we could bring it right back into the block, what origin it came out of.
SCHIAVONE: The farm submits to several safety audits during the growing season.
SCHIAVONE: Kitty, growers say they are taking steps that Congress and the regulators have not mandated for two reasons. Customers demand it and they stand by their products. Kitty.
PILGRIM: Where do we stand on the investigation?
SCHIAVONE: They are still investigating the path of the -- what they now say is produce and they still have personnel investigating farms in Mexico and Florida.
PILGRIM: But they're not sure it's tomatoes?
SCHIAVONE: They don't even know if it's tomatoes.
PILGRIM: Louise Schiavone thank you.
Later in the broadcast, we will talk with Paul Mastronardi about how he can track his produce down to the tree it came from and why our government can't even do that. Time now for some of your thoughts, thousands of you have been writing in about whether you think the FDA has any idea what's causing the salmonella outbreak.
James in Montana wrote to us, "Lou, not only does the FDA have no idea what is causing the salmonella sickness, but the FDA doesn't care. If it did, it would have taken steps to correct the matter."
And Carolyn in North Carolina wrote, "I want to compliment you for your bold statements about the FDA so far. I am glad you tell the truth about the FDA and I hope you will keep asking the tough questions that need to be asked."
And James in Arkansas wrote, "The FDA is supposed to represent the people of the United States. I am so appalled that they put our safety below foreign economic interests. Thanks for keeping us informed Lou. No one else will."
We'll have more of your e-mails a little bit later in the broadcast.
Coming up, the battle over gun rights in Washington, D.C. after the Supreme Court's historic ruling, and we'll tell you what the city's police officers think about it.
Also, Senators McCain and Obama putting the interests of illegal aliens before the interests of the American people?
Also, former Governor Mitt Romney may be the top candidate for McCain's running mate. We'll discuss that and more with the best political analysts anywhere. Stay with us.
ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: news, debate, and opinion and independent view. Here again Kitty Pilgrim.
PILGRIM: The two presidential candidates are taking their campaigns to the nation's Hispanic voters. Now, Hispanics are the fastest growing minority group in the country and both parties are fighting for their support. Senators McCain and Obama this weekend addressed a meeting of Latino leaders and not surprisingly, the two pro-amnesty candidates received a very warm welcome. Lisa Sylvester reports.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senator Barack Obama tested out his Spanish before a crowd of Hispanic lawmakers while promoting his immigration policy.
OBAMA: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
SYLVESTER: Obama says the nation needs to secure borders but he also wants to give illegal aliens an opportunity for citizenship. OBAMA: We also need reform that finally brings the 12 million people who are here illegally out of the shadows, requiring them to take steps to become legal citizens.
SYLVESTER: Obama told the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials that his opponent, Senator John McCain, walked away from his own comprehensive immigration legislation during the GOP primary. That legislation called for amnesty for some illegal aliens, creation of a guest worker program and new enforcement measures. But McCain speaking earlier before the same group promised to put comprehensive immigration reform at the top of his to-do list if elected.
MCCAIN: It will be my top priority yesterday, today and tomorrow. We must also understand that there are 12 million people who are here and they are here illegally and they are God's children.
SYLVESTER: Obama and McCain are both wooing Hispanics, the fastest growing minority group in the country.
CHERI JACOBUS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The Hispanic vote is very important to both Republicans and Democrats. And that's something that everybody has acknowledged for quite some time.
SYLVESTER: Both candidates see amnesty as a way to win votes. But the Federation for American Immigration Reform says that strategy may not be a big vote-getter for all Hispanics.
IRA MEHLMAN, FED. FOR AMER. IMMIG. REFORM: They want quality education for their kids. They want affordable health care. Those are the issues that Latino voters vote on, much like the rest of the population. Immigration is way down the list of concerns for most Latino voters in the United States.
SYLVESTER: A recent Gallup poll showed 66 percent of Hispanics support Obama while 29 percent favor McCain. McCain very aware of those numbers is heading on a trip this week to Mexico and Colombia. Kitty.
PILGRIM: Lisa, Latino voters don't vote in bloc, do they?
SYLVESTER: No, in fact that's the point that Ira Mehlman was saying, is they care about a number of issues. They care about education. They care about health care. And so to just say that all Latinos in this country are supporting an amnesty position is just plain wrong.
PILGRIM: Thanks very much. Lisa Sylvester.
Well that brings us to tonight's poll question. Do you believe Senator Obama and McCain are both pandering to the pro-amnesty/open borders crowd in order to win Hispanic votes in November? Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. We'll bring you the results a little bit later in the broadcast. President Bush today approved half a billion dollars in aid for the Mexican government's war against drug cartels. The Marita initiative provides Mexico with surveillance air craft, helicopters, equipment and training for Mexico security forces and it also sets standards for information sharing. Most of the $465 million will go to Mexico, the rest to other Central American countries. The measure passed without any of the conditions demanded by some members of Congress. There are concerns that corruption in Mexico's government could lead to some of that aid falling into the hands of drug cartels.
Washington, D.C. today still gauging the impact of the Supreme Court decision to overturn its tough handgun law. Residents and local police now wondering if last week's ruling will lead to more violence on the streets of the nation's capital or potentially less violence.
Jeanne Meserve reports.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was playing right there by my mommy [ inaudible ] they started shooting.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A raging gun battle on a D.C. street in broad daylight one day in March.
OFC. WENDELL CUNNINGHAM, METRO. WASH. POLICE UNION: They were shooting back and forth at each other. Probably was some type of drug/turf battle going on.
MESERVE: When it was over, 50 shell casings were found on the street, a 7-year-old was wounded.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's sad that the kids cannot play out here where they live at. I'm sick of it.
MESERVE: In this D.C. neighborhood and many others, gun violence is routine. According to some police officers, the handgun ban on the books for 32 years before being overturned by the Supreme Court last week never kept weapons out of the hands of criminals.
How many guns would you guess are in that apartment?
SGT. JEFFREY NEWBOLD, METRO. WASH. POLICE UNION: My estimation, 20 or more guns at any given time, probably.
MESERVE: None of them legal?
MESERVE: When the handgun ban was overturned, city officials decried the impact.
MAYOR ADRIAN FENTY, WASHINGTON, D.C.: More handguns in the District of Columbia will only lead to more handgun violence.
MESERVE: Some police officers believe allowing residents to have handguns in their homes may reduce crime.
CUNNINGHAM: I think the criminals are probably going to have a second thought that now that this is lifted, am I going into a house where somebody might be there and with a gun?
MESERVE: The officers also dismissed the argument that allowing guns in homes will increase domestic violence.
SGT. DONALD LEACH, METRO. WASH. POLICE UNION: Whatever is going to happen in a home is going to happen in a home, regardless of whether there's a gun or stick or table or plate or whatever.
MESERVE: The police union says the city ought to seize this moment to toughen other gun laws.
KRISTOPHER BAUMAN, FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE: If you're caught with a gun and you're committing a crime, you should go away for 15 years.
MESERVE: The police officers we spoke to said when they arrest a criminal with a gun, many times the criminal walks free before the police have even finished their paperwork. They say that is the crux of the problem, with or without a ban on handguns.
Kitty, back to you.
PILGRIM: Jeanne, when will the district residents be able to legally purchase handguns?
MESERVE: When the Supreme Court overturned the ban last Thursday, the city said it would be 21 days before they could finalize the regulations that would allow people to buy guns. But the police point out in the meantime people who want to get guns illegally will continue to do so.
PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Jeanne Meserve.
Washington's ban on handguns apparently had little or no effect on the number of murders in the city. In 1976, when the ban was enacted, there were 135 gun-related homicides in Washington. Three decades later, 2007, 143 gun-related homicides.
Washington, Boston, St. Louis, are considering what they call a safe homes initiative to cut down on gun-related crime. Police asked selected homeowners to allow them to search their homes for illegal firearms. Police stress the searches are voluntary and the homeowner can decline. But civil rights activists the plan unfairly targets the poor, people of color and those who may understand they have the right to say no to the search. The National Rifle Association is also opposed and none of the three city police departments responded to our questions about the status of those programs. A grand jury today cleared Pasadena, Texas resident Joe Horn in the shooting death of two suspected burglars. Now Horn became the subject of national attention when he shot two men outside his neighbor's home last fall. Police at the time said the two men were illegal aliens. The shooting sparked protests and reignited a debate over the use of deadly force to protect property.
Coming up next, patriotism, presidential candidates, what are independent voters looking for in this election? Three of the smartest political minds will join me.
And searching for the origins of contaminated produce. What one farmer can do that our federal government cannot do.
Stay with us.
PILGRIM: Both presidential candidates discussing patriotism today. For more on what independent voters should look for in this election, I'm joined by three of the country's best political journalists. New York Daily News columnist, host of the morning show on WRLAM here in New York and CNN contributor, Errol Louis, New York bureau chief for the "Washington Post," Keith Richburg and the editor of OpinionJournal.com, James Taranto. And gentlemen, thanks for being with me.
You know Senator Obama and former President Clinton had a really nice phone call. Actually they said it's a good conversation by phone. That's what democratic sources say. What do you think? High time?
JAMES TARANTO, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM: Well, I missed the information about the phone call itself. But I think that Obama is probably learning the Clintons are hard to get rid of it. And the dumbest thing he could possibly do is make Mrs. Clinton his vice presidential nominee because then if he wins, he's stuck with her for four years and with him.
PILGRIM: There are few details about the actual context of the phone conversation. But what do you think, Errol?
ERROL LOUIS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Unity is the order of the day. They're both going to come out of whatever exchange that they have and say, unity, unity, unity. There's a lot at stake for both parties. There's $20 million at state in unpaid campaign debts for the Clintons as well the former president's legacy and of course, for Obama, the stakes are obvious. It's in everybody's interest to be practical, to be professional and to maybe not let on to us exactly where the state of their relationship is right now.
PILGRIM: How important is it for Clinton -- President Clinton to be on the campaign trail with Obama, Keith?
KEITH RICHBURG, WASHINGTON POST: I don't think it's that important for him to be on the trail. I think what you want is Hillary Clinton to be on the campaign trail and you want Clinton occasionally out there maybe doing fund-raisers. But this is not about the past, it's about the future. The under story about how bizarre this year is, it's almost a month. These primaries ended June 3rd. We're now nearly at July 1st. And the now presidential presumptive nominee of the party had not talked to the former democratic president for a month? I mean that's ridiculous.
PILGRIM: You know you make a fairly good point.
TARANTO: But the Clinton's I don't think have given up their ambitions to return to the White House which means that there's a fundamental conflict of interest between them and Obama. Mrs. Clinton is in much better position to make to it the White House one day if Obama loses in November.
PILGRIM: She's not going to be mentioning that, though?
TARANTO: She can't say it, but it's true.
PILGRIM: All right. Let's talk about patriotism. That's been a sticking point; Senator Obama today in Independence, Missouri. Let's listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: At certain times over the last 16 months, I've found for the first time my patriotism challenged, at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears and doubts about who I am and what I stand for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PILGRIM: What do you think about the issue of patriotism in this campaign? Is it overblown or is it very important?
TARANTO: Well, I think it's important. What's interesting about this, we often hear democratic presidential candidates, especially Michael Dukakis and John Kerry, get on the defense about their patriotism like this. What's different about Obama is that his patriotism actually has been called into question. The problem is it's been called into question by these internet e-mails and so forth. It's not clear to me that he doesn't elevate those by answering them in this way. I think it's a difficult situation for him. I'm not exactly sure what I think he should do.
On the other hand, there's another problem which is that Obama himself has complicated this question. The segment earlier mentioned his answer when he was asked why he doesn't wear an American flag lapel pin. A simple answer to that would have been you know, it's just not my style. But he said, well I think it's come to symbolize a sense of false patriotism. And you know then he went on to describe what he said real patriotism is. For most people, patriotism is a fairly simple emotion. It doesn't need to be complicated the way it is by the sort of intellectual types like Obama.
PILGRIM: Errol, do you think this will clear it up?
LOUIS: No, nothing's going to clear it up. People who are - I mean I think he's right. The people who are using it against him are using it because they don't have anything else handy to bash him with and they'll continue to do exactly that.
The false rumors that started months ago and continue to circulate do have some impact. I mean and it's tragic in a way but you know the polls are saying there's a certain percentage of people who believe this stuff. You know the work and the money and the effort it will take to try and overcome it, at some point you have to give up on it and try to move on to people who are reasonable and who are getting their information from reliable sources.
So he's got to tell this story. It's good that he's getting it out now I think if he wants it to be addressed so that we in the media can move on and say, look, that's been asked and that's been answered. We're not going to talk about lapel pins. We're not going to talk about fake birth certificates and all kinds of other hoaxes and rumors that are circulating around the internet.
RICHBURG: I agree with that and you know as with the Reverend Wright speech on race that he gave in Philadelphia, it shows to me that Obama is not afraid to take these issues head-on in a complicated way. That was a speech that didn't lend itself to sound bytes. I mean you really have to sit there and listen to it. He's trying to have a very high level conversation about these things. And he's not stopping. He's going to give another one in Ohio, another one somewhere else. He's going to continue this dialogue on patriotism. I wish he would go back and give more speeches on race because he kind of let that topic drop. He needs to kind of directly address race in this whole question.
PILGRIM: Do you really think that needs to be expanded? That's dominated the campaign --
RICHBURG: I think he needs to give another speech just as he's had to tackle these kind of rumors on patriotism. He needs to look in the camera and give a speech saying, are you comfortable having a black president? And he needs to address that question.
PILGRIM: That's interesting.
Let's talk about Wes Clark, Obama supporter, questioning McCain's military service, including his service while he was a POW and saying, does that qualify him to be commander in chief? Let's listen to his comments.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't know. I know that General Clark is not an isolated incident. But I have no way of knowing how much involvement Senator Obama has in that issue. I know he has mischaracterized some of my statements in the past, including our involvement in Iraq. But I'll let the American people decide about that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PILGRIM: Now, Senator Obama did try to distance himself from General Clark's statements. But Senator Obama has no military service record at all. So it's a tough thing to turn into a campaign issue, isn't it, James?
TARANTO: Well, I don't think that it's smart politics to disparage John McCain's military service. And the fact Obama distanced himself from it shows that Obama is a much smarter politician than Clark is and shows why Obama is the nominee now and Clark couldn't even beat John Kerry.
PILGRIM: I think that's something.
TARANTO: That said, I will say that I agree with Clark up to a point. Military experience is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition to be president, a point that some of us were trying to make four years ago when John Kerry, Lt. John Kerry, was reporting for duty and also Clark criticized McCain for not being a general, for not being in command. We've had some great generals who became presidents, George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower but we've also had some great generals who became mediocre presidents, Zachary Taylor and Ulysses Grant. So you know in a way this is a lot of nonsense.
PILGRIM: I'm not going against him on "Jeopardy!"
LOUIS: Well you know what? I'll play along as long as history seems to be the category. Out of the last five elections, four pitted against a candidate who had served in the military against one who had not. In four of those five, the one who had not served won the election. So how people interpret this is a little bit different than the pundits think it may play out. I mean Bill Clinton beat out a war hero named George H.W. Bush and he beat another one named Bob Dole.
PILGRIM: We are almost out of time, Keith.
RICHBURG: Absolutely and I think this was the army versus the navy here. This General Wesley Clark who was in the army saying, who's this navy captain thinking he should be president and not me?
PILGRIM: Thanks very much, gentlemen, Errol Louis, Keith Richburg, James Taranto, thank you.
A reminder now, vote in tonight's poll. Do you believe Senators Obama and McCain are both pandering to the pro-amnesty/open borders crowd in order to win Hispanic votes in November? Cast your vote at LouDobbs.com. We'll bring you the results in just a few minutes.
Coming up at the top of the hour, Campbell Brown with "The Election Center."
Campbell, what are you working on?
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Well Kitty, we're going to continue the debate you guys were just having there talking about whether the Obama campaign is trying to smear John McCain's war record.
Also, the inside story of today's long-awaited phone call between Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, including who called whom. Candy Crowley, our senior political correspondent, has all the details on what was happening behind the scenes.
And with the Supreme Court putting guns and self-defense back on the political agenda, we have an update on a very timely story from Texas, including that 911 tape that got so much attention.
We'll explain all of that when we see you in the "Election Center."
PILGRIM: Look forward to it. Thanks, Campbell.
Coming up, tracking contaminated produce. Why can't the federal government find the source? We'll talk to one farmer who can show the government how it should be done.
And President Bush signs a G.I. bill. We'll discuss what it means for our men and women in uniform and our veterans with the leader of one of the largest veterans groups in the country.
Stay with us.
PILGRIM: It has been more than two months since the first case of salmonella in produce was first reported. Federal agencies still have not tracked down the source of the outbreak. Many in the food industry say they can trace the produce back to the source but why can't the federal government do that?
Paul Mastronardi, fourth generation U.S. tomato grower, he joins me now.
Thanks for being with us.
PAUL MASTRONARDI, MASTRONARDI PRODUCE: Thank you.
PILGRIM: You know in your operation, tell us. You can trace a tomato from birth, can't you?
MASTRONARDI: Basically in all our facilities after we harvest the tomatoes in the greenhouses, we then apply a label to the tomato. Every tomato has a trace code back to the farm. So we have multiple farms all over and right from at the retail point we can pick up that tomato in the store and we'll know exactly what farm that tomato came from.
PILGRIM: Now you also have operations in Canada and Mexico.
MASTRONARDI: Correct, yes.
PILGRIM: Now, not every grower does this, do they?
MASTRONARDI: In our program, yes. Every grower that grows under the Sunset label has to have that sticker.
PILGRIM: In your operation.
PILGRIM: Yes but there are other producers who do not - are not as careful, are they?
MASTRONARDI: I'm not sure about careful but don't have the same traceability program that we have.
PILGRIM: And you also have a lab, don't you?
MASTRONARDI: Yes, we have a lab in our Michigan facility.
PILGRIM: And how often do you test?
MASTRONARDI: We test daily.
PILGRIM: Are you shocked at what's going on with this outbreak of salmonella?
MASTRONARDI: Yes, I think everybody's shocked. You know no one wants to see an outbreak like this happen. I think that you know education is one of the biggest things in food safety and we've had a food safety program in our company since before 2004 and we've been labeling our tomatoes since 2002 with the trace code.
PILGRIM: And country of origin, right?
PILGRIM: The FDA isn't even sure this is tomatoes in this outbreak. It's been going on for weeks now. Three weeks ago I guess was the first warning about tomatoes. What's this costing the industry? I mean we have figures. Let me just look. California Tomato Council says $100 million nationwide. So just puts growers of tomatoes on hold for three weeks, it's very costly, isn't it?
MASTRONARDI: It's devastating. You know a lot of people are going to lose money over this. You know we're not sure. It's not done yet. So we'll have to wait and see.
PILGRIM: What would you like to see as a federal government policy in regards to this?
MASTRONARDI: I think that traceability is the number one thing of any food safety program so I think that a trace back program is essential to any sound food safety program. PILGRIM: You have country of origin labeling. We've reported on this broadcast repeatedly that there's been resistance to country of origin labeling all over the - by certain industry members. Do you think it's absolutely critical? I mean we had in 2006 there was an e. coli outbreak in spinach and lettuce. There's always going to be an outbreak. We're going to have to have traceability. Do you think it's important to have country of origin labeling?
MASTRONARDI: Yes but even more on top of country of origin labeling I think a trace back to the actual farm or growing field is very important as well.
PILGRIM: And so would there be a way to do that nationally in your experience, fourth generation tomato grower?
MASTRONARDI: Well, every commodity is different so you know in our commodity of tomatoes and in peppers and cucumbers that we grow, we can do that. There might be some commodities that might be more difficult and that's why I think there might be a problem with cool not coming out as fast as everybody is hoping they will.
PILGRIM: Yes, cool being country of original labeling.
PILGRIM: What will happen to your industry if there's no resolution on this for another few more weeks? This is the peak season for tomatoes, isn't it?
MASTRONARDI: Yes, this is the peak season. Unfortunately it happened in the summer when consumption is usually at its highest. Again, it's going to be a wait and see. I think no one wants anybody to get sick and we're waiting for a definitive answer on where the source came from. Now on Friday they said it might not be tomatoes so.
PILGRIM: That must be frustrating. You've had health officials come to your facilities, correct, to test your tomatoes?
MASTRONARDI: Yes we've had state departments come to each of our facilities. They've tested products from our facilities all which came up negative. The same with our own in house lab results.
PILGRIM: Well, we wish you the best of success with your business and we applaud a business well run. Thank you very much for being on the program.
MASTRONARDI: Thank you.
PILGRIM: Paul Mastronardi, thanks Paul.
MASTRONARDI: Thank you.
PILGRIM: Food prices are expected to continue to rise in the months to come. The government today reported that farmers will harvest nine percent fewer acres of corn this year than last year. The price of corn jumped in the month of June from $6 a bushel to $7.54 a bushel. Those prices are not expected to fall anytime soon.
Still ahead, President Bush signs a G.I. bill into law. We'll discuss what it means for our servicemen and women with veterans and a national guardsman who also leads one of the nation's largest veteran groups. Stay with us.
PILGRIM: As we reported, President Bush today signed a new war funding bill and part of that legislation includes a new G.I. bill. It's a bill the president opposed. Now that new law sets aside $63 billion over 10 years in increased college aid for our men and women in uniform.
Joining me now to discuss this and other benefits for our troops is Patrick Campbell. He's legislative director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He also serves as a combat medic with the Washington D.C. National Guard.
Thanks very much for being with us today. You're currently an active member of the Washington D.C. National Guard. You served in Iraq. You just finished law school at Catholic University, I'm reading your credentials here and you were able to use the G.I. benefits to basically pay part of your education but you still say you have a ton of student loans. What does this mean today, getting this signed?
PATRICK CAMPBELL, IRAQ AFGHANISTAN VETS OF AMERICA: It basically means future generations of veterans won't have to graduate with crushing student loan debt, like I have. I owe over $100,000 in student loans. That's going to affect the type of jobs that I can take. Future generations will be able to go to school like we promised them. They served their country and they can go to any school they want fully covered.
PILGRIM: You know a lot of kids enlist because they think they will get some education benefits. Were we short changing our men and women in uniform?
CAMPBELL: We're basically telling them, you serve your country, you can go to community college. Now, we are renewing the social contract that we made with World War II and Korean veterans, you serve, you want to go to any public school in the country, you can do it. This is a promise we will feel for generations. In World War II we made this promise and got the greatest generation. Now, we'll be the next greatest generation.
PILGRIM: This is really an investment in the promising youth of this country that did great service for their country. Let me play for you a sound byte of what President Bush said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. GEORGE BUSH, UNITED STATES: This legislation will make it's easier for our troops to transfer unused education benefits to their spouses and children. It will help us to recruit and reward the best military on the face of the earth. It will help us to meet our responsibilities to those who support our troops everyday, America's great military families.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PILGRIM: As you mentioned, this will cover the cost of a four- year public college education. There was an awful lot of push back on this. Certainly, some members of congress, included senator John McCain were resisting this. Why do you think that was?
CAMPBELL: I can't speak for John McCain, but I know that there are a lot of people who were worried about the price, worried this might have an effect on retention. The truth of the matter is, there are servicemen and women all over this country, sitting intents and humvees dreaming bigger dreams now because of this new G.I. bill. To be honest, I'm excited we got it done. It's been a year and half battle. When it came time to sign the bill, the president signed the bill. Over 510 congressmen voted for it, so this is a banner day for veterans.
PILGRIM: You worked hard to get this done. What swayed the opposition in your mind?
CAMPBELL: I think when you start reading the writing on the walls and you have overwhelming bipartisan votes in the Senate and the House, you think, it's better to get on the train than to stand in front of it.
PILGRIM: That's certainly true. In your mind, does this help? What are the real benefits that are not immediately obvious to us that will help the kids get the education that they need?
CAMPBELL: One of the things about the old G.I. Bill is that it paid you monthly. This one will actually pay tuition upfront, so there are no obstacles for a veteran to just come home from Iraq and Afghanistan and go straight to school.
The second is that, you know, for service members who stay in, they are going to be able to transfer this to their husbands, wives and children. So this is not just going to affect the 1.7 million veterans, but this is going to affect generations to come.
And I encourage all people who are looking into this new G.I. Bill to go to gibill2008.org for more information, because there is a lot of great components to this G.I. Bill that you just need to read about.
PILGRIM: And those who are thinking of signing up, they have an assurance of educational benefits, correct?
CAMPBELL: Right. I mean, the good thing about this G.I. Bill is everyone will see an increase, everyone will get more benefits. As long as -- even people who didn't serve post-9/11, they are going to see an increase. So this is a win-win for everyone.
PILGRIM: Well, congratulations on your victory, and we wish the best to everyone taking advantage of this. Education is everything for these kids. Patrick Campbell, thank you very much for your time.
CAMPBELL: Thank you.
PILGRIM: Tonight's poll results -- 98 percent of you believe Senators Obama and McCain are both pandering to the pro-amnesty open borders crowd in order to win Hispanic votes in November.
Please join Lou Dobbs on the radio, Monday through Friday, the "LOU DOBBS SHOW." Go to loudobbsradio.com for local listings, "THE LOU DOBBS SHOW" on the radio.
Thanks for being with us tonight. Please join us tomorrow. For all of us here, thanks for watching. Good night from New York. "The Election Center" with Campbell Brown starts right now -- Campbell.