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CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Interviews With Senators Kyl, Casey, McCaskill, Menendez

Aired March 09, 2008 - 11:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11 a.m. here in Washington, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 6 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition." As the Democratic presidential candidates brace for another big head-to-head battle in Pennsylvania, Republican John McCain has the luxury to prepare the ground for the general election in November.
For a perspective on what's going on in the race for the White House and a lot more, we're joined by two guests. Democratic Senator Bob Casey from Pennsylvania, joining us from Scranton -- actually that's Jon Kyl, who's joining us here in Washington. He's the Republican senator from Arizona. Senator Casey and Senator Kyl, I want to thank both of you for joining us.

And Senator Kyl, let me start with you. We'll talk about the number one issue right now in the election, which is the economy, which here in the United States, as you well know, is hurting right now. In January, the U.S. lost 22,000 jobs. In February, 63,000 jobs. There's enormous fear that the country already is in recession. And listen to what Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, is saying about John McCain and potentially four more years of Republican rule.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: In this campaign, he has fallen in line behind the very same policies that have ill-served America. He has seen where George Bush has taken our country, and he promises to keep us on the very same course.


BLITZER: All right. that's going to be a tough attack line that the Democrats will have against McCain. if you're not happy with the economy, go ahead and expect four more years of the same if McCain is elected.

KYL: Well, except that it misplaces the blame. George Bush did not create the problems that Americans are facing today. As a matter of fact, the so-called Bush tax cuts, the tax cuts that Congress passed in 2001 and 2003, created a long term of prosperity in this country, leaving more money in people's pockets to spend on what they thought was most important.

BLITZER: But it created also enormous deficits, and the national debt has gone from, what, $5 trillion to $9 trillion during the course of his presidency.

KYL: Which has nothing to do with the economic situation that we're in right now. There are two problems economically right now. Everybody knows that housing got too hot, too much construction, too much -- too high on mortgages, people that weren't qualified to purchase those mortgages, and we've seen the whole thing collapse.

And that in turn has had an impact on the banking system. So, the policies that Barack Obama talks about with respect to George Bush have nothing whatsoever to do with the economic situation we're in right now. And we'd be in a lot worse situation, if it had not been for the Bush tax cuts.

BLITZER: Let's let Senator Casey weigh in. Do you agree, Senator Casey?

CASEY: Well, Wolf, I think my colleague, Senator Kyl, and I totally disagree here. Look, President Bush has left us with a legacy of debt and deficit and drift and division in this country. He will be, at the end of his term, leading into 2009, the $10 trillion man, the $10 trillion president. We're going to have a debt number of $10 trillion.

And what Senator McCain has to ask himself, and his campaign supporters have to ask themselves is, do we want a third term of George Bush? And that's what Senator McCain is offering when he supports the Bush budgets, which have taken us in the wrong direction. They've been great for millionaires and multimillionaires, but I don't think any American thinks that we're stronger in terms of our fiscal situation and national security.

When we have a $10 trillion debt, and we owe more money to the Chinese and the Japanese than ever before. So I think Senator McCain has to ask himself, does he want to support this Bush budget, which takes us in the wrong direction.

BLITZER: Normally, Senator Kyl, when there are economic problems -- recession or fears of recession -- the party in power in the White House suffers in the upcoming election, whether election for the White House or in the House and Senate. That's the history of troubled economic times and politics.

KYL: That's correct. And it doesn't help when friends like my colleague from Pennsylvania associate the kind of debt that we have with George Bush's policy without blaming the Congress, which is in the hands of Democrats. The Democrat budget...

BLITZER: But it was in the hands of Republicans until a year ago.

KYL: If I could just mention here, the Democrat budget this year would add a couple trillion dollars to our debt. Now, if Democrats are so concerned about that, why are they supporting -- I presume they'll support this week the adoption of their budget, which adds that kind of debt. And one of the reasons why is because people in Washington are not willing to make the tough decisions that change requires. And Senator Obama, as a partisan Democrat voting right along with the Democrats, has demonstrated that he's not willing to make the tough decisions that really require change.

BLITZER: Let me let Senator Casey respond. Go ahead, Senator Casey.

CASEY: Well, I think Senator Kyl must be reading the wrong numbers here. Look, the fact of the matter is, when George Bush came to office, we were in surplus. He will leave office with at least one year, maybe two years, of deficit of over $400 billion.

And also on top of that, he's leaving behind a $10 trillion debt. So I think all the talk about fiscal responsibility -- and as you pointed out, Wolf, most of that time the Congress was in the hands of the Republicans.

I think people think we can move in a new direction. They know that we can invest in health care and education and our workers, and also be fiscally responsible. George Bush has taken us in the wrong direction.

BLITZER: You know Senator McCain about as well as anyone. You're his colleague from Arizona, Senator Kyl. Do you see any area where he would deviate from the Bush economic policies moving forward?

KYL: Yes, I do. first of all, Republicans and Democrats have been rightly criticized for spending too much money. You know, one thing about John McCain is, he doesn't want to spend more money than we can afford. And especially he goes after the earmarks that members of Congress love to tuck into these bills.

There isn't anybody who's been more fiscally responsible than John McCain in that regard. I know he and I usually tie for first and second or third as the most frugal -- my wife says cheap -- but most frugal members of Congress. He does not want to spend taxpayer money unless it's absolutely necessary. And I think people understand that.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Iraq, Senator Casey, which may be the second most important issue on the agenda right now. And that could flip with the economy, depending on what happens on the ground. Here's what Senator McCain said the other day about Hillary Clinton's position and Barack Obama's position. Listen to this.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: We are succeeding in Iraq. And the option that both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton propose would be a recipe for greater chaos, genocide. We'd return to the region, and we would be making a much greater sacrifice. I'm very satisfied to wage this aspect of our debate. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Senator Casey, basically he's saying if the Democrats are elected, actual be surrender and defeat for the United States, just as the U.S. military seems to be making some progress on the ground. What do you say?

CASEY: Wolf, I don't think anyone believes that. Anyone who has watched this war closely as I have, and so many people across this country have, in our state of Pennsylvania, for example, 182 deaths, over 1,200 wounded.

We know the national numbers are setting record numbers all the time. There's no question when you look at metrics on violence, that number is down a little bit. But we just saw another reminder, several reminders, in the last couple of weeks. Just this week, scores of people killed in Baghdad.

There's no question that it's not going to be easy to change course here, but we have to change course. Because what's not happening in Iraq, and the whole purpose of the president set forth for the surge was to create the space for government reform for progress, and that's not happening in Iraq.

There's still chaos in terms of their government ministries. They're not getting the laws passed that will allow them to govern themselves. We can't continue to ask our young men and women to referee a civil war.

BLITZER: Senator Kyl?

CASEY: And if people want to stay on this path, they should vote for Senator McCain, because Senator McCain is more of the same, a third term for George Bush on Iraq and on the economy.

BLITZER: There's clearly a major difference, on the Iraq war front, between the Democrats, either of the two Democratic candidates, and Senator McCain.

KYL: But you can't make up the facts. And, I think, for the last six months or so, it's been very clear that great progress has been made.

Senator McCain is correct on that. Senator Casey is wrong. And I think you'll see that Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus will be here in Washington, I believe, next month, to give their report.

I don't know what they'll recommend, but I think that they will indicate that there is great progress being made, not only with respect to the military front against Al Qaida and the other terrorists, but also that their government is beginning to grasp the need to adopt some of the policies that we've been urging them for some time.

BLITZER: Having said that, Senator Kyl, how much longer can the U.S. economy, the U.S. taxpayers, afford $2 billion a week in Iraq, or $100 billion a year, given the enormous economic problems we have right here?

KYL: Well, it is expensive. And there has to be a greater contribution now that the oil situation in Iraq is beginning to really stabilize, and the revenues are coming in, that they're going to have to pick up more of that tab.

But one always has to look at the alternative. If we were to leave Iraq prematurely, the costs, not only in terms of losing all the gains that we've made, but the additional costs of what we would have to do to then fight Al Qaida would then be enormous.

So, usually, in these equations, it's not about a really good choice and a bad choice, but between varying degrees of not so great choices, when you're in a war.

BLITZER: Let me let Senator Casey respond. Then we'll take a quick break and continue. Go ahead, Senator Casey.

CASEY: Wolf, one clip you didn't play from Senator McCain was that he also called for a time period, in terms of the war in Iraq, of maybe being there for 100 years. I don't think anyone wants to support that. And I think it's incumbent upon him, and in this campaign, that we talk about winding down this war in a responsible way, having a responsible redeployment, but also making sure that we're focused on hunting down and killing the terrorists in Iraq and all over the world. I think we can do that and I think the American people support that.

BLITZER: What he suggested, Senator Casey, was that the U.S. could have a military presence in Iraq for 50 or even 100 years, provided it was a peaceful military presence, along the lines of the U.S. military presence that continues, 60 years after World War II, in both Germany and Japan.

He was trying to explain what that argument was, when he said he's ready for a 50 or 100-year military presence in Iraq. Is that acceptable to you?

CASEY: Well, Wolf, look, there's no question that the American people don't think that we should be in Iraq for many years, now, with 150,000 or more troops, like we have now. There's no question that we've got to change course.

This has to be the Iraqis that govern their own country. We should not ask our sons or daughters, from Pennsylvania or Arizona or anywhere else, to referee a sectarian civil war, a sectarian civil war which rages on and on and on, more deaths, more wounded.

And frankly, some of the people I've met, who served in Iraq honorably and nobly and come back with horrific injuries are the people we should be worried about.

That's why, in this budget, we shouldn't be cutting veterans programs like the president wants to do, or at least not add nearly as much money. The Democrats, in our budget -- we had more than $2 billion more than the president, for veterans programs.

BLITZER: I'll let Senator Kyl respond, only if you want to, and then we'll take a break.

KYL: Well, as you correctly pointed out, Senator McCain is not talking having the combat presence that we have now. Senator Casey said 150,000 troops. That's obviously not what he's talking about.

If we're able to have a presence in that part of the world 50 years from now, because it enables us to help stabilize the situation there, just as we do in Korea, for example, today, that's not necessarily a bad thing. But let's not confuse the arguments, as you pointed out. We're not talking about having 150,000 combat troops, there, still fighting a war.

BLITZER: All right, Senators. We have a lot more to talk about. I want both of you to stand by. We're going to continue or discussion of the important issues that are bound to be the focus of this presidential election season here in the United States.

And also, still to come on "Late Edition," the former world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, on why he says today's Russia increasingly looks like the bad old days of the Soviet Union.

And the best political team on television, on a very wild week in presidential politics. All that coming up, right here on "Late Edition."


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up shortly on "Late Edition," we'll be discussing a troubling new report on the state of black America, with three prominent African-American politicians.

But right now, we're continuing our conversation with Democratic Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona.

Senator Kyl, the president, yesterday, vetoed the intelligence bill because it would have forced the CIA to use the Army field manual on how to interrogate a suspected terrorist.

At one of the earlier CNN debates, John McCain said this about torture. He strongly opposes torture, as you well know, himself being tortured as a POW in Vietnam.

He said this. I want you to listen.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: I just came back from visiting a prison in Iraq. The Army general there said the techniques under the Army field manual are working and working effectively, and he didn't think they needed to do anything else.


BLITZER: Now he says he supports the president in this veto, now, of the CIA not being forced to use the Army field manual.

But is there a consistency -- a problem of consistency here, here, what he's saying now as opposed to what he said in November? KYL: No, I think John McCain is being perfectly consistent. It may well be that the people captured in Iraq by our U.S. military forces -- we can find out everything we need using the Army field manual with those Army and Marine Corps personnel there.

That's different from the specially trained CIA and other intelligence forces who may have access to terrorists captured somewhere.

And while they don't torture, the kinds of interrogation they can engage in are somewhat broader than those permitted for the members of our military, when they capture somebody.

And Senator McCain does support the president on the differentiation there. Neither permit torture, but there is some broader intelligence technique allowed with our special CIA interrogation.

BLITZER: Is that acceptable to you, Senator Casey?

CASEY: No, it's not, Wolf. I think we've got to be very clear here. Torture is inhumane; it's unreliable; it doesn't work the way some people want it to work. And we know that, also, it will ultimately endanger American troops.

The American policy has to be very clear.

CASEY: And we need a president who's going to be clear. I hope Senator McCain continues to say what he used to say about torture and doesn't fall into line with President Bush. As on so many things, Senator McCain has to choose between what he believes and a third Bush term.

And a third Bush term means a third term on torture, on deficits, on division and I think on a war without end in Iraq. We need to change course here, and Senator McCain would be wise, I think, to say what he used to say about the issue of torture.

KYL: Wolf, I have to respond to that. Neither President Bush nor John McCain favor torture. Let's be very, very clear about that. And I don't think there's anybody in this country that's more expert when it comes to torture than John McCain.

But he's simply making the point that any president better be able to make, and that is, there's a difference between the million or so members of our armed services and the manual that they're given, and what they do when they capture somebody on the battlefield, and the kind of interrogation that can occur with a specialist, someone highly trained in it, in the CIA, for example, interrogating terrorists. Neither permit torture, but one is a little bit different than the other.

BLITZER: You're suggesting that waterboarding would not necessarily be torture, is that what you're saying?

KYL: No. That is correct -- no, no, what I'm saying is, waterboarding is not permitted as a part of that under either one. The president would have to get a special permission, and it's probably not legal under the law as it exists today.

But this is not a matter of outlawing waterboarding. This is a matter of restricting the CIA interrogators to the same kind of techniques used by our military forces, which are in totally different circumstances.

BLITZER: Why, Senator Casey, why shouldn't the president have authorities under extreme circumstances to allow the CIA to use whatever means might be necessary to try to prevent, God forbid, let's say another 9/11. If they had inside information, they had corralled some suspected terrorists out there who were plotting this kind of devastating attack, why not allow the CIA to use whatever is necessary to go ahead and prevent that kind of disaster? CASEY: Wolf, the Army Field Manual contemplates all kinds of situations. That's why you have experts in military intelligence and in defense tactics putting that together.

But I think Senator McCain, as Senator Kyl is defending him here, I think Senator McCain has to explain why he would support the president's veto of the intelligence bill, the intelligence authorization. And if he explains it in the way he was explaining it before, which is being very clear about being against torture, being very clear about saying that waterboarding is not torture -- I would hope he would agree to that -- that waterboarding is torture. I would hope that he would agree to that.

But if he doesn't do that, I think the American people are going to wonder whether or not he's just falling into line with President Bush.

BLITZER: Let's do a little politics, because we're almost out of time, Senator Kyl. In the ABC News/Washington Post poll, hypothetical matchup right now, if Clinton were running against McCain, she would win 50 to 44. If Obama were running against McCain, he would win 52- 40. That's a snapshot right now, obviously, between now and November. There's a long time.

But I want to get your reaction to Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa, what he said on Saturday. And I'm going to play the clip because it's caused an enormous outrage factor out there.


REP. STEVE KING, R-IOWA: If he is elected president, then the radical Islamists, the Al Qaida and the radical Islamists and their supporters will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11th, because they will declare victory in this war on terror.


BLITZER: That's what he's saying about Barack Obama if he's elected president, the radical Islamic terrorists will be dancing in the streets. KYL: Well, I doubt that that will actually occur. I think any president of the United States will have to approach this war against these terrorists very seriously. John McCain has the experience to do that. Barack Obama does not, with all due respect.

That doesn't mean that the terrorists will be dancing in the streets just in the event that Obama is elected. Remember the experience that John McCain brings to this. He is the one who recommended that we have more troops in Iraq, even though he knew that that probably was going to end his political career.

And a year ago, probably you and others, a lot of folks in the media said his career is dead. He said, I would rather lose a war -- excuse me, lose an election than lose a war. Well, now, it turns out that his recommendations had a lot of validity, and we're actually winning there.

But it shows the depth of a candidate who is willing to make really tough decisions that he understands are necessary, even if it hurts his political career. And that's what a leader has to be able to do.

BLITZER: All right. Unfortunately, we're out of time, so we have to leave it right there. Senator Kyl, thanks very much for coming in. Senator Casey, you've got your hands full in Pennsylvania. April 22nd, a huge contest there, a Democratic presidential primary.

Good luck to you. Good luck to all the folks in Pennsylvania dealing with that. Thanks to both of you for coming in.

KYL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And in just a moment, we'll discuss how today's economy is really hitting hard on African-American families, but straight ahead, we're going to go to Pennsylvania. That's the new battleground in this surprising election year. Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Mississippi's primary is this Tuesday, but the Democratic candidates are looking down the road to Pennsylvania, more than a month away. In fact, April 22nd, the critical Democratic primary will take place there.

CNN's Jim Acosta is in Philadelphia right now. Set the stage for us. What's going on in Pennsylvania as these two candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, gear up for what could be a very, very important race?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you're right about that. The Pennsylvania primary is more than a month away, but Hillary Clinton will be here tomorrow. And, you know, the conventional wisdom is now saying this state bodes well for Hillary Clinton. If you look at the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer this morning, the top of the fold story says "Penn-hio," how the Pennsylvania race looks a lot like Ohio. And that boils down to essentially what is a very big blue-collar vote in the state, much like in Ohio.

There have been huge manufacturing job losses in this state, and so people are saying, political pundits, the analysts are all saying that that bodes well for Hillary Clinton. But we have to keep in mind that Pennsylvania also boasts one of the largest cities in this country in Philadelphia, a much larger urban metropolis than what you saw in Ohio.

And so the Barack Obama campaign is hoping that that electorate will turn out in force for him. And outside of Philadelphia, Obama also has the support of the anti-war Congressman Patrick Murphy. He is squarely behind Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton boasts the, you could say, more important endorsements of the governor of this state, Ed Rendell, and the current mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta in Pennsylvania, where he's going to be spending a lot of time between now and April 22nd. Jim, thanks very much.

Coming up on "Late Edition," the statistics are sobering. Blacks are three times more likely to live in poverty than whites, twice as likely to be out of work. I'll discuss the state of black America with three leading African-American politicians. "Late Edition" continues right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back. African-Americans are flocking to the polls, and will be a key voting bloc in the general election. But will they stay with the Democratic Party if Hillary Clinton ends up the presidential nominee?

Let's discuss politics, and a lot more, with three quests. Marc Morial is the former Democratic mayor of New Orleans. And he's now the president and CEO of the National Urban League.

In Indianapolis, a supporter of Hillary Clinton, New York Democratic Congressman Greg Meeks.

And here in Washington, D.C., Democratic congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. He's a strong supporter of Barack Obama's campaign.

Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in.

And I'll start with Marc Morial. You're neutral in this campaign. You're not supporting Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in your capacity, although we do have two members of Congress who have different views on who should be the party's nominee.

I want to play for you, once again, that sound bite from Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa, who said this about Barack Obama, if he were elected president. Listen to this.


REP. STEVE KING, R-IOWA: If he is elected president and the radical Islamists, the Al Qaida and radical Islamists and their supporters will be dancing in the streets, in greater numbers than they did on September 11. Because they will declare victory in this war on terror.


BLITZER: He's standing by those remarks. What do you say when you hear something like that?

MORIAL: I believe it's just divisive politics at its worst, and it's fearmongering at its worst.

And what is important, as our State of Black America report points out this year, is that the candidates focus on the subprime mortgage mess, the jobless economic recovery, the fact that urban communities, African-Americans and indeed all Americans are faced with grim economic news, for which there must be solutions.

But that kind of divisive politics and that sort of hate- mongering just doesn't have a place in a civilized discourse about the future of this nation.

BLITZER: You serve, Jesse Jackson, Jr., with Congressman King, in the Congress. I don't know if you know him that well, if you know him at all. But what do you think?

JACKSON: Reckless, irresponsible, certainly divisive, as Marc Morial has suggested. And quite frankly, I think he owes the senator an apology.

The truth of the matter is, Barack Obama is a patriot; he's an American; he's a United States senator. He's doing what he not only believes is in the best interest of his party but also in the best interests of his country.

And to suggest that somehow Barack Obama's election to the presidency of the United States would be celebrated in the Arab world or in the Islamic world as a moment of jubilation is fearmongering at its worst, and it's just horrible.

BLITZER: Congressman Meeks, you support Hillary Clinton, but I assume you agree with Jesse Jackson, Jr.

MEEKS: Absolutely. It has no place in politics.

You know, one of the things that I'm proud about, that we're going to have either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama as our next president of the United States, and I'm proud of that.

And I know that there will not be no jumping for joy. This is just as divisive and is a terrible statement from an individual coming from a United States Congress. This is the kind of thing that divides all Americans, or that's what he's attempting to do. There's no place for it. And there's no substance to it, and or should it be tolerated by the people of this great nation of ours.

BLITZER: Mr. Morial, as you know, Rush Limbaugh has an enormous audience out there. And He said some very controversial things this week, as well, about the possibility of a Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama ticket, unclear who would be the presidential nominee and who would be the vice presidential nominee.

But Rush Limbaugh said this. I'm going to play the clip for you.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Let's say it is Obama and Hillary -- Hillary and Obama. Let's put Hillary on top. It's a position she's familiar with. Therefore you've got a woman and a black, first time ever on the Democrat ticket. They don't have a prayer. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Would they have a prayer if they were together on what some Democrats call the "dream ticket" or the "dream team?"

MORIAL: I mean, there would be many people praying for them.

But, you know, the issue is Rush Limbaugh, a consistent pattern of division, a consistent pattern of trying to distract people from the real issues that are at play in this campaign and in the discussion about the future of America.

And that's the subprime mortgage meltdown, the jobless economic recovery, and people's concerns for their families and their children. And that's what our report underscores.

And this kind of thing, in an effort to distract people from thinking about what is real, it's pretty consistent with what I've heard from Rush Limbaugh over the years.

I think people, reasonable people are going to ignore it, because I think reasonable people have their eye on the future, not on the fears that divide us but the hopes that unite us in this country.

BLITZER: You know, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Bill Clinton says that ticket would be an amazing ticket and would be virtually unstoppable. I'll play what he said, for you.


FMR. PRESIDENT WILLIAM J. CLINTON: He would win the urban areas and the upscale voters and she wins the traditional rural areas that we lost when President Reagan was president. If you put those two things together, you would have an almost unstoppable force.


BLITZER: What do you think about that? JACKSON: Well, we think that discussing the idea of a ticket is premature. We are in a presidential primary process determining who should lead the ticket.

Once that issue is settled, I think it's appropriate, then, to have a discussion about who the participants on the ticket should be, whether it's Senator Clinton at the top or whether it's Senator Obama at the top. Obviously, I have a preference for Senator Obama.

But let me be perfectly clear. Republicans should distance themselves from what Rush Limbaugh said about Mrs. Clinton being on top. That was offensive. It was wrong. And I would imagine, by tomorrow, women's groups won't just be focusing on the black/white nature of that contest, not having a prayer, but what Rush Limbaugh specifically said about Mrs. Clinton. I found it offensive, and I think those who sponsor his program ought to find it offensive as well. BLITZER: Congressman Meeks, do you think that so-called "dream team," "dream ticket" would be unstoppable, as Bill Clinton says?

MEEKS: Look, I am so proud to be a Democrat, and I'm so proud to be an American. And I think that what you're going to see is that Rush Limbaugh is going to be isolated.

Because what this election has shown me is that America is moving to a different direction. America is moving where Rush Limbaugh and the Rush Limbaugh types will be by far in the minority and people are going to be looking at individuals, not by their gender, not by their ethnicity, but by the content of their character and what they move forward.

And so, clearly, I think that we've got the best two individuals in the Democratic Party. And that's why it's so close right now, so that, you know, we have two individuals who are focused on taking America in a different direction.

A lot of the trends that Marc's report shows, they began in 2000, when George Bush became the president. That's what we have to change. We have to change those trends, by the policies that have been put into place by the president of the United States.

MEEKS: And I know that Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama will change that so that we can have different lifestyles for all of Americans, particularly African Americans.

BLITZER: And we're going to talk about the state of black America in a moment. We have to take a quick break, gentlemen. Stand by. We'll move away from camp politics, take a look at the distressing situation for African Americans right now, especially in today's volatile economy. "Late Edition" continuing right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." The subject, the state of black America. We're continuing our conversation with our guests, the president and CEO of the National Urban League, Marc Morial, the Illinois Democratic Congressman, Jesse Jackson, Jr., and the New York Democratic Congressman, Greg Meeks.

Marc Morial, your new report that you put out, the National Urban League puts out every year, the state of black America 2008, this year you take a special look at black women and what's happening in our country right now. And it's pretty distressing, but just give us the headline.

MORIAL: Let me tell you the headline, focusing on the subprime mortgage mess. Some 50 percent of black women who bought homes in 2006 did it with subprime mortgages. So, a mortgage meltdown, the mess we have, is going to disproportionately affect African-American women and therefore African-American families, African-American children, and result in perhaps the largest reverse transfer of wealth in our nation's history.

We've offered some important recommendations to try to correct that, but a combination of the subprime mortgage meltdown and the jobless recovery means that the true status of African Americans has not significantly improved in the five years since we've been doing the index portion of the report.

BLITZER: Let me bring in Jesse Jackson, Jr. You're a member of Congress. I assume you agree with this conclusion. What are you going to do about it?

JACKSON: Well, I think the most central issue confronting the Urban League and its report, which it issues annually, is that the African-American community serves as a bellwether economically for what's taking place in the rest of the country. And so, as we see Appalachian whites in Pennsylvania, southern whites in Mississippi, as we enter these contests, you will begin to see from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton a message that speaks to the economic hopes of people who are suffering, both black and both white.

And so, what must we do? There are one of three entities that can handle this problem: the federal government, obviously the states are in deficit spending, and/or the private sector. It's not the private sector's responsibility to provide an economic security net for the American people.

So, we analyzed closely the positions of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And it is Barack Obama who's put forth an urban and a rural poverty agenda for all Americans.

He wants to raise a minimum wage. He wants to put Americans back to work. But he's also making a very...

BLITZER: Doesn't Hillary Clinton want to do the same thing?

JACKSON: Well, there's a problem here. The federal government is also running under President Bush an enormous definite as a result of in part the war. So, Barack Obama's making an interesting fusion, that the economy is tied to the war, that there is a relationship between the $2 billion a week that we spend in Iraq that could be spent undermining -- excuse me, strengthening the housing market here in the United States, providing Americans with health care, putting Americans back to work. This argument, I don't think...

BLITZER: Let me have Congressman Meeks weigh in, because you support Senator Clinton. You see a difference here?

MEEKS: There's a narrow difference, but you know, because what Senator Clinton is talking about, she's talking about rolling back the tax cuts that Bush game to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans so that we can use it back in urban America.

We can go back to an agenda where we're looking to focus on getting quality education for Head Start advancement (ph), from 0 to 5, to make sure that we get nurses going to homes of particularly poverty people so we can eliminate the kinds of disparities that we're having in health care, that we begin to increase the amount of money that goes into historically black colleges and other institutions serving it because of the quality of education.

Marc's report talks about the disparity that's now happening with reference to the income that African-American women are earning, 66 cents to 77 cents for whites. And Senator Clinton is talking about how we go in to change those kinds of things. So, she's got a significant focus on making a difference in urban America.

She's rolled that out, and I think, you know, Senator Obama has one. And that's why I think that in the end, we will be together, because I don't think the McCains and the Bushes have a plan. And that's why I think that the process that we're going in right now is a very good process, and when you could look at who can win, let's look at the electoral map and elect who can win. Because at the end is, we've got to make sure that we win in November, and I believe that Hillary Clinton is the person that wins in November.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it there, gentlemen. An important study, as it does every year, from the National Urban League. I want to thank all of our guests for coming in and talking about it. Marc Morial, Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Congressman Gregory Meeks. We'll continue this conversation down the road.

Still to come today on "Late Edition," is Russia heading away from democracy? We'll get the view from an opposition political figure.

But straight ahead, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, he's just back from his command role in Iraq. He gives us his assessment of the unprecedented visit to Baghdad this week by Iran's president. You're not going to want to miss this. Stay with us. "Late Edition" continues right after this.


BLITZER: You're watching "Late Edition." Thanks very much for joining us. Last week, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the first Iranian president to visit Iraq since Iran's Islamic revolution back in the late 1970s. I discussed how that visit affects U.S. military strategy with U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno this week in "The Situation Room." (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joining us, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, who's just wrapped up 15 months' tour of duty in Iraq as the number two U.S. military commander on the scene. General Odierno, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to the United States.

ODIERNO: Thank you, Wolf. Appreciate it.

BLITZER: Well, what do you think about this Ahmadinejad, a sworn enemy of the United States, receiving this very warm reception, hugs and kisses, red carpet, by President Talabani, by Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister? Is this what the United States went to war for?

ODIERNO: Well, I would just say it's important for Iraq to maintain good relations with its neighbors. And Iran is a neighbor. It is somebody that they will continue to deal with over the years. So I do think it's important for them to have relationships with the leaders within Iran.

BLITZER: Is Iran playing a productive role, though, in Iraq? Because we've heard for a long time that Iranian weapons and forces were fueling at least in part the insurgency. Has that ended?

ODIERNO: Well, no. I still think we have to continue to put pressure on the Iranian government to ensure that the funding, the equipping and the training of Iranian surrogates operating within Iraq who still conduct attacks against both Iraqis and coalition forces, they are trying to destabilize in some ways the government of Iraq for the long term. And I suggest that we just have to continue to pressure them. And hopefully behind closed doors, the Iraqi government did that today.

BLITZER: From the U.S. military perspective, is there any concern that you would see in this warm reception for Ahmadinejad in Iraq? ODIERNO: Well, again I would just say I think it's long- term relationships. They have to start establishing, reestablishing their relationships with all of the Middle Eastern countries. So I think as their neighbor, it's important that they do that, again. But they should pressure them to ensure that they stop funding, training and sending arms into Iraq, which does in fact have a destabilizing factor in Iraq.

BLITZER: Has it gotten better or worse, the Iranian involvement in the insurgency?

ODIERNO: It's unclear. It's unclear. I mean, to me, we still have signs where they have been funding, they're still training, we are still finding Iranian-made mortars, rockets, explosive-form projectiles within Iraq. So to me, they still are contributing to some of the instability.

So it is in fact important that we continue to pressure them to play a productive role in Iraq, not a nonproductive one.

BLITZER: This visit was announced weeks in advance. It was a high-profile visit, and then he sorted flaunted it walking around the streets of Baghdad, in and out of the green zone, the most secure part of the Iraqi capital. When an American leader, including an American president, comes, you were not even supposed to report it until he's there on the ground. Sometimes, they're wheels up on the way back before we can report it. What exactly is going on right now?

ODIERNO: Well, I would just say, again, you know, what are the threats in Baghdad now? We know that a majority of the threats over the last six months inside of Baghdad have come from Shia extremist groups. Those who tend to be funded and armed by Iran.

So, I would argue that maybe that's why he felt somewhat safe walking through Baghdad. So I would say when we go into Iraq, you know, with our leaders, we're extra-cautious. We will continue to be extra-cautious. To me it doesn't mean much at all in terms of relationships or anything else.

BLITZER: What about the troop withdrawals? We hear now that it's going to go down to about 140,000 U.S. troops by this summer. But then there will be a so-called pause for a while to reassess what's going on. The high was, what, 160, maybe even 170,000 U.S. troops at the height of the surge. How long is that pause going to last?

ODIERNO: Well, I mean, I don't know. It will depend on the assessments that are done. There are major adjustments going. You know, if you asked 12 months ago, Wolf, to do an assessment what it would be like today, very few people would have made the prediction of what's happening in Iraq today.

So what I think's important, we have to constantly make assessments. And with those assessments, we will then make decisions on troop withdrawals. General Petraeus has a plan in place. He will make those (inaudible), and then he will provide a report to the secretary of defense, the chairman and the president on what he decides. It's a continual assessment that's necessary, in my mind.

BLITZER: And what would happen if there were just a steady drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq without any pause, just to continue to bring those brigades home, brigade after brigade after brigade.

ODIERNO: You know, it depends on the conditions. If the conditions warrant it, then I think it's the right move. If the conditions are not quite ready yet, what do I mean by conditions? It's the Iraqi security force capacity, it's how local and central governance is working. It's how economic progress continues to grow.

What we want to do is continue on the glide path that we're on now, one of continued security, improving security, one that the Iraqis are taking more control of. And as long as we can maintain those lines, then we'll make the appropriate assessment and recommendations forward.

BLITZER: General Odierno, first of all, let me thank you for your service in the past 15 months, indeed over the many, many years you've served in the U.S. military. And let me end this interview by saying what I said at the beginning: Welcome back to the United States. Good luck on your next assignment.

ODIERNO: Thank you very much, Wolf. I appreciate it.


BLITZER: The latest Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama right at the top of the hour on "Late Edition."


BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: You won't see me as a vice presidential candidate.

CLINTON: You'd have an almost unstoppable force.

BLITZER (voice over): But is that realistic?

We'll talk about the fight for the Democratic nomination with top supporters of the Clinton and Obama campaigns, Senators Robert Menendez and Claire McCaskill.

Kremlin politics: Russia elects a new president, but is the old one still calling the shots?

Former Russian presidential candidate and world chess champion Garry Kasparov joins us for an interview.

As Clinton and Obama begin the battle for Pennsylvania and John McCain looks ahead to the fall campaign, we'll assess the stakes with three of the best political team on television.

"Late Edition's" second hour begins right now.


ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Washington, this is "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Welcome back to the second hour of "Late Edition."

If one thing is certain after the results this week from Vermont, Texas, Ohio, and Rhode Island, and yesterday from Wyoming, it's that the Democratic presidential race is far, far from over.

Later in this hour, the best political team on television will join me to discuss what to expect next. But right now, let's get the view from the two campaigns.

Joining us, Democratic senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. She's a strong supporter of Barack Obama. She joins us from St. Louis.

And in New York, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey. He strongly supports Hillary Clinton.

Senators, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to "Late Edition".

MCCASKILL: Thank you.

MENENDEZ: Great to be with you.

BLITZER: OK. I'm going to play a little clip of what Hillary Clinton said in Washington on Thursday. Because she's been making a variation of this theme for some time now, and I want to pick it up with you, Senator Menendez. Listen to this.


H. CLINTON: I think it's imperative that each of us be able to demonstrate we can cross the commander in chief threshold. And I believe that I've done that. Certainly Senator McCain has done that. And you'll have to ask Senator Obama, with respect to his candidacy.


BLITZER: Another variation of that comment from her, Senator Menendez, is that she has national security experience; McCain has national security experience; Barack Obama gave a speech, back in 2002, opposing the upcoming war in Iraq.

Are you comfortable with her praising, in effect, John McCain, but hammering away at Barack Obama, her fellow Democrat?

MENENDEZ: Well, I don't think she's praising John McCain. She's acknowledging the one strength John McCain may have, which is his service to our country, his service in terms of national defense questions. Those are clearly, you know -- it's one of his assets.

However, his positions are not going to sustain himself with the American people.

So I don't think she's praising John McCain. I think she is asking one of the two critical questions. And she proved it in Ohio. She proved it in Texas. She proved it in Rhode Island, in the last round. And it made a very clear statement.

You know, if you look at the exit polls, they said that they believe that she is best suited to be the commander in chief of the armed forces of this country, to defend the nation, and, at the same time, to be the steward of the economy.

And that's what she's driving. These are the two -- amongst the two most critical issues that are facing the American people. And that's what she's trying to point out, that she has crossed threshold. And we've seen that time and time again. BLITZER: Senator McCaskill, she seems to be suggesting that John McCain would be ready on day one; she would be ready on day one, but Barack Obama, the candidate you support, wouldn't be ready on day one. MCCASKILL: You know, you can't get any way around this. What Senator Clinton is suggesting to Democrats is that John McCain would be a better commander in chief than Barack Obama.

That's flat wrong. And we shouldn't be doing that in this primary election. Under Senator Clinton's test, Bill Clinton was not qualified to be president of the United States because, under any measure, Senator Barack Obama has much more foreign policy experience than Bill Clinton did in 1992.

None of us want to ever be critical of President Clinton, or Senator Clinton, in the Barack Obama campaign. But what's going on here is very dangerous. Because we cannot try to win at any cost, particularly if it involves telling people that John McCain is a better choice than Barack Obama.

BLITZER: All right. Go ahead, Senator Menendez, and respond.

MENENDEZ: Well, look, you know, the reality is, again, she's not praising John McCain. I think all of us who have served in the Senate, all of us who look at his record would say that that's going to be -- you know, we see his daily coverage, and that's what he talks about. That's what he thinks his strong suit is.

So the question is, in November, who has -- who has the experience, the ability, the wherewithal to go toe to toe with him on that critical issue?

And clearly, the voters have continuously said, I think, especially in this last round, that it's Hillary Clinton. I would also say, you know, one has to begin to wonder. You know, Senator Obama -- and I believe his words -- but then you see his top national foreign policy adviser go ahead and say that his plan for getting out of Iraq is not necessarily set in stone, as he says in his speeches.

You see his national economic adviser say that, well, don't worry about what he is saying about NAFTA in Ohio.

And so these aren't low level members of the campaign. These are his top advisers in the economy, top advisers in foreign policy.

MCCASKILL: But, Bob, really, you know, these are -- these are, many of them, volunteers to the campaign. It's not like having your national spokesperson compare the other candidate to Ken Starr.

Come on. I mean, that is really over the top, and we've got to ratchet this down. And what Barack Obama wants to do is talk about the economics of this country, talk about, to Democrats and independents, how we can do a different kind of politics, to turn the page and unite our country and get things done for the American people.

MENENDEZ: But, Claire, Senator Obama is not...

BLITZER: Senator Menendez, hold on a second. I'm going to let you respond to that, but I want to play exactly what Samantha Power, who was a top national security adviser to Barack Obama, what she told the BBC about his strategy in Iraq.

I'll play this little clip, and Senator McCaskill, you'll respond.


SAMANTHA POWER, FMR. OBAMA CAMPAIGN FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: It is a firm commitment to shooting to get all troops out within 18 months. You can't make an arbitrary decision. You have no idea how things will unfold. You have no idea what your commanders are going to tell you.


BLITZER: And she was -- she resigned this week after also suggesting that Hillary Clinton -- not suggesting -- saying Hillary Clinton was a, quote, "monster." And she was forced out, apparently.

But go ahead, Senator McCaskill and respond to the criticism you just heard from Senator Menendez and others, that top aides to Barack Obama say he says one thing in public, but a different thing privately.

MCCASKILL: Well, first of all, there is nothing wrong with the clip you played. It is exactly what Hillary Clinton has said and exactly what Barack Obama has said, and that is you cannot predict what is going to happen 18 months from now.

Obviously, in July of 2001, we had no idea how our world was going to change in September. So you can't say anything firmly. What Barack Obama has said, beginning in 2002, is this war was a mistake, that he was against it. And he has consistently held that position and has a very firm commitment, like Hillary Clinton does, to get our troops out safely and fairly.

And I think that is -- and by the way, she shouldn't have ever said what she said about Hillary Clinton, and she did the right thing by resigning. You can't mouth off in a negative way about your opponent. That's not professional. And I think the campaign is pleased that she quickly resigned and apologized for saying it.

BLITZER: Did Howard Wolfson, Senator Menendez, go too far in making the comparison to Ken Starr, from what the Obama people are saying?

MENENDEZ: Well, the point was that, you know -- and Claire and I have a great relationship, and we love going on these shows together -- but the one point I clearly disagree with her is that Senator Obama is the victim and Senator Clinton is doing all of the fighting.

The reality is Senator Obama's campaign, particularly his surrogates, have done a pummelling of Senator Clinton in this process.

That's part of the challenge here in a primary process. You are trying to point out your differences. And Senator Obama's campaign has not withheld their punches, either. The reality is what Howard Wolfson was simply saying was that, look, going down this road, after 20 years of tax returns that have been made public, seven years of public disclosures that we have to make as senators, each and every year, that to pursue that road is really not a question of the high standards of the campaign.

It doesn't deal with the economy. It doesn't deal with health care. It doesn't deal with getting out of Iraq. So I think there's a little bit of unclean hands that are going on here.

BLITZER: Let me talk about -- let me ask both of you about the possibility of Michigan and Florida having a second set of primaries, coming up, presumably, in June.

And I want to put some numbers up on the screen to give our viewers in the United States and around the world a sense of what we're talking about.

BLITZER: Without Michigan and Florida in the equation, and they were both punished for moving up their primaries to January, there are 4,047 delegates that would go to the convention in Denver; 794 of them, the so-called superdelegates, the magic number need get the Democratic nomination, 2,024. If there are makeovers in Michigan and Florida, then the numbers change dramatically. We'll show you what they are: 4,409 delegates would be at the convention. The superdelegates would go up to 843, and 2,205 delegates would be needed to clinch the nomination.

Should there be a do-over, in effect, Senator McCaskill, in Michigan and Florida? Should the Democrats in those two states be allowed to have primaries in June?

MCCASKILL: Well, certainly Barack Obama wants the people of Michigan and Florida to be heard from. It's important. Having said that, what Barack Obama has done is very simple. He has, as a big underdog in this race, competed under the rules for every delegate in every state, and he is ahead.

Now, we can't change those rules in the middle of this process. But if the people of Florida, the states of Florida and the DNC come up with a fair way to redo this, whatever they decide, the Obama campaign will respect because, you know, if you look at Michigan, there was only one contender that left their name on the ballot, knowing that those votes were not going to count, and that was not Barack Obama or John Edwards.

It was only Hillary Clinton that left her name on the ballot basically by itself. Well, that shouldn't count. Obviously, that shouldn't count. So I think some kind of do-over is appropriate. I think the Obama campaign is anxious to follow the rules regardless of what these states decide and the DNC decides, whatever the rules are, he'll follow them.

BLITZER: All right. What about that, Senator Menendez?

MENENDEZ: Well, Wolf, Senator Clinton has been on this for a good time now saying, look, they needed to be seated. The Florida and Michigan delegations need to be seated. A way needs to be found to do so.

I cannot believe that the Democratic Party, the party that was outraged in 2000 and 2004 about voter disenfranchisement, would say -- particularly in the Floridian case where a Republican legislature and a Republican governor ran this through, even though they knew that the DNC was saying there was going to be sanctions, and the Democratic leadership in that legislature tried to set back the date to the original date, failed to do so -- that Floridians, 1.7 million of them, would ultimately be penalized by our party.

We cannot win in November unless we have Michigan and Florida in our column, and the reality is, you cannot tell them now we're sorry, we don't want you at the convention, and then in November go try to woo them in the general election.

BLITZER: The key question, though, is who is going to pay for a do-over in Michigan and Florida? The governors of Florida and Michigan say they don't have the money, $15 million, $20 million, $30 million, whatever it might cost. The DNC chairman, Howard Dean, says he doesn't have the money. He wants to use DNC money to try to beat John McCain in November.

James Carville, the political strategist, was in "The Situation Room" on Friday. He supports Hillary Clinton. Senator Mccaskill, he made this proposal. Listen to what he said.


JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: We'll put up $15 million. I'll guarantee $15 million and have the Obama people put up $15 million, and let's go to the polls on June 7th. I got fundraisers that are lined up ready to go. I think the Democratic Party is going to look absolutely absurd if they don't have primaries and let these people in Florida and Michigan vote. And I tell you what, they're going to take this out on us in the general election if we don't do it.


BLITZER: What do you think about that idea, raising the money independently and just going ahead with the primaries?

MCCASKILL: We should not use this problem as a way to try to get advantage in this race. The campaigns should step back, let the two states and the DNC make a decision, and then we should follow their decision. This should not be used as an opportunity to game this election by trying to get some advantage politically by how we handle this.

We want to seat Florida and Michigan. Let's do it by the rules. Let those states and the DNC decide, and let both campaigns follow those rules.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Menendez? MENENDEZ: Voters should vote. We need the voters of Florida, we need the voters of Michigan to have their say, to count if we want them to count in November in our column. And it would be a huge mistake for the Democratic Party to be an impediment to this, and it will be equal and fair to both.

If we have an election, it will be equal and fair to both, so the reality is, let the voters decide. And I think that that would be a critical decision not only for this primary and who our nominee will be, it will be a critical decision for our victory in November.

BLITZER; We got to leave it there. Senator Menendez, Senator McCaskill, thanks to both of you for coming, and appreciate it very much.

MENENDEZ: Thank you.

MCCASKILL: Thank you. Thanks, Bob.

MENENDEZ: You, too.

BLITZER: We have a lot more political coverage coming up, including a live report from the campaign trail. Plus, insight and analysis from the best political team on television. That's coming up on "Late Edition."

But straight ahead, we'll take -- we'll get an inside look at a very different election, the one that just took place in Russia. For the United States and the world, the stakes there are enormous. Politics, Russian-style, when we come back.


BLITZER: And now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. Today was primarily a conversation between Democrats. On NBC, the Pennsylvania governor, Ed Rendell, who has endorsed Hillary Clinton, and former Senator Tom Daschle, a strong supporter of Barack Obama, they sparred over the question of experience.


ED RENDELL, GOVERNOR OF PENNSYLVANIA: Is he as experienced and ready as Hillary Clinton? Nobody is. Tim, I have been talking to Democratic candidates since 1980, and Hillary Clinton is the best prepared candidate I have ever talked to. Far better prepared than Bill Clinton was in 1992.



FORMER U.S. SENATOR TOM DASCHLE: It would be hard for me to draw some degree of connection between being a first lady and having experience to be the commander in chief. In terms of numbers of years of elected office, the number of years served, Barack Obama has more years served than Hillary Clinton.


BLITZER: On CBS, the Florida Senator Bill Nelson, a Clinton supporter, and the Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, an Obama supporter, they debated the possibility of do-over primaries in Florida and Michigan. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR BILL NELSON, D-FLORIDA: If Michigan and Florida are not seated, it is going to be monumentally consequential. I have thrown out one suggestion, which is a do-over with a mail-in ballot, so I would appreciate it very much if the chairman would get the DNC to sign up to this so we can move on.



U.S. SENATOR JOHN KERRY, D-MASSACHUSETTS: Rules are rules. I mean, how can you run for president and suggest that the rules always ought to be changed in midstream, and give confidence to Americans that that -- that you're going to play by the rules when you're president?


BLITZER: On ABC, Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean said that no matter how the nomination is settled, it's still going to be a good year for his party.


HOWARD DEAN, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: There was a huge election yesterday in Illinois, where we took Denny Hastert's seat back, the first time we've held that seat for 22 years. This is going to be a Democratic year. If we can take Denny Hastert's seat back in Congress, you know people really want a change. So I'm very optimistic.


BLITZER: And on Fox, the conversation turned to progress in Iraq as Republican Congressman Mike Pence reported on his recent visit.


REP. MIKE PENCE, R-IND.: Many of my Democratic colleagues in Washington talk about the need for a diplomatic surge, as well as a military surge. And I'm happy to report to you there has been one: the adoption of the amnesty, de-Baathification law, the adoption of a budget, the distribution, even without an oil revenue agreement, of many of the oil revenues out to the province.


BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows, here on "Late Edition", the last word in Sunday talk.

When we come back, our conversation with the former world chess champion, the political dissident Garry Kasparov, on the state of democracy in today's Russia.

"Late Edition" continues right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition". I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Dmitry Medvedev is now the newly elected president of Russia. There's no surprise there. The election was widely viewed as a foregone conclusion, once the outgoing president, Vladimir Putin, hand-picked Medvedev as his successor.

It may have been fully expected, but it was not necessarily all that acceptable to some of the opposition figures in Russia, including my next guest.

Garry Kasparov is probably best known for once being the number one chess player in the world. But in recent year's he's won an international reputation as one of the few politicians willing to challenge the current leadership in the Kremlin.

Garry Kasparov, thanks very much for coming in. Welcome back to "Late Edition."

KASPAROV: Thank you.

BLITZER: Was this election of Medvedev a free and fair election in Russia?

KASPAROV: It was not free. It was not fair. It was not an election at all. It was a massive election fraud. And we reported unprecedented voter intimidation throughout the country.

People were forced to cast their vote. They were told, in the factories, schools, hospitals, that if they don't do it, they will face all sorts of consequences like cutting subsidies, not receiving medicine and whatever.

BLITZER: What do you think of the incoming president of Russia, though?

Forget about whether or not you thought the election was free and fair. What do you think about this new man who is, what, in his early 40s?

KASPAROV: We have no idea about his plans because this guy has no public record. He has been working for Putin for years, and his only quasi-public position was the chairman of Gazprom. But Gazprom was probably the most secretive corporation in the world, where tens of millions of dollars disappear annually.

So that's why we can only make an educated guess about his potential presidency, whether he is... BLITZER: What's your guess?

KASPAROV: I think that the clash between Medvedev and Putin is imminent. Because the Russian economy is not in good shape, and Medvedev will have to face a number of crises: the social crisis -- the gap between rich and poor is widening -- also the banking crisis, very high inflation, and the collapsed infrastructure.

And I think that trying to keep power in two spots, one in Kremlin, one in the Russian White House, where the prime minister is located, will eventually fail because, traditionally -- and I don't think even Vladimir Putin can fight Russian tradition -- the prime minister is always chosen as a scapegoat for all economic problems.

BLITZER: But there's no doubt that Medvedev will be the president and Putin, now, will become the prime minister. I want you to listen to what Medvedev said on the day he was elected. Listen to this.


RUSSIAN PRESIDENT-ELECT DMITRY MEDVEDEV (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The president has his powers and the prime minister has his powers. And these powers stem from the constitution and from the legislation, and nobody proposes to change them.


BLITZER: If you're suggesting that there could be a clash between Medvedev and his former boss, Vladimir Putin, that would seem to suggest to me that he is not necessarily simply a puppet of Putin.

KASPAROV: I think there is the historical logic. And if everything is fine, everything is under control, oil prices are going up and the Russian economy looks strong, then Putin will be in control.

But I don't think that 2008 and 2009 will be good years. And in these stormy waters, Medvedev will have to make a choice, either to keep his loyalty to his former boss, or to make his own case. And I think that the logic will push him in this direction.

BLITZER: Here's what the New York Times wrote on Tuesday, after the election. "During the controlled process that passes for a political campaign in Russia, Mr. Medvedev dropped tantalizing hints that he might not be in complete lock-step with his patron. He indicated that he might not be as strident towards the West and might have some reform tendencies, vowing to crackdown on corruption and promote the rule of law."

Do you agree?

KASPAROV: I think Medvedev's style is different. He is not going to improve the situation in Russia. And the first few days of his presidency already were symbolized by new crackdowns on Russian opposition. For instance, the prominent leader of opposition in St. Petersburg was arrested and facing criminal charges with potentially five years in prison.

But Medvedev's goal is to make sure that all these multi-billion dollar assets controlled by Russian elite abroad will be safe and secure. So that's why Medvedev will have to present a better face and more sophisticated foreign policy, to keep these relations with Western powers going well.

BLITZER: You say the economic situation in Russia now is deteriorating, but I remember when it was really, really awful, in the '90s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The economic situation in Russia then was abysmal.

Let me read to you from The Economist, at the end of February, what The Economist magazine wrote. "Even Mr. Putin's critics are impressed by Russia's transformation in the past few years. A country that almost went bust 10 years ago now boasts a $1.3 trillion economy. Annual growth of real incomes has been in double digits. GDP, per head, has risen from less than $2,000 in 1998 to $9,000 today."

That sounds like a pretty impressive economic success story.

KASPAROV: I wish you had read the whole article of The Economist, which made it very clear, the article, that Putin had nothing to do with this result. Because the growth in Russia began already in 1999.

And if you compare the growth of Russian GDP with the oil price, you will see that most of the money that was made out of oil, gas, and other national resources were allocated by very few. And today Russia is facing -- and I want to repeat it again -- the banking crisis and very high inflation. Even officially, last year, it was 12 percent, and this year, after the food prices that are frozen, now, will be released in May, we are going to see the double-digit inflation by no means.

BLITZER: In the December 31st issue of Time magazine, when Vladimir Putin was named the person of the year, Mikhail Gorbachev was quoted as saying this.

BLITZER: He said, "I see nothing wrong in his desire to influence events even after the end of his term. That's his right, and Russia will need his experience to smooth our transition to a fully sustainable democracy."

What do you think about what Gorbachev said?

KASPAROV: Actually, next day after the so-called election of Mr. Medvedev, Gorbachev wrote another article where he called for new perestroika, liberalization of Russian election law and a new political freedom. I think everybody understands that in Putin's system, and if you listen to what Putin said a number of times at the end of his second term, this system is not working anymore. The vertical of power is not serving Russia. It has been serving only very, very few, and Medvedev will have to do more than just cosmetic changes.

BLITZER: Garry Kasparov, thanks very much for coming in.

KASPAROV: Thank you.

BLITZER: And coming up next on "Late Edition," the Democrats are heading into Mississippi on Tuesday, but it's likely nothing dramatic will be decided for weeks as they battle for Pennsylvania. That contest takes place on April 22nd. Meanwhile, Republican John McCain is already getting ready for the general election.

How worried should the Democrats be? We're going to discuss that and everything else on the campaign trail with the best political team on television. "Late Edition" continues when we come back.


BLITZER: It's been quite a week in the race for the White House, so let's get right to it. Joining us now, CNN's Jessica Yellin. She's out in Wyoming, where they had caucuses yesterday. Here in Washington, Rick Stengel, he's the managing editor of our sister publication, Time magazine and our senior correspondent Joe Johns, who likes to keep politicians honest for Anderson Cooper 360.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Rick, let me start with you. There's a show called "Extreme Makeover." Can they have an extreme makeover right now in Florida and Michigan, redo the primaries there, let's say in June? STENGEL: Well, this morning, you heard a lot of folks saying, people from Florida and Michigan saying, let's do a do-over. Let's have another kind of election. They don't want to have caucuses because, of course, Hillary Clinton feels she doesn't do well in caucuses.

They're worried about who's going to pay for it, but the general consensus among superdelegates, among regular voters is, let's try to get these people seated, let's try to have some measure of how people in Florida and Michigan feel. Now, what's gone before is out the window, I would say.

BLITZER: But it's easier said than done, though, Joe, as you know. Who's going to make this decision? Who's going to pay for it? How do they organize it? These are tough questions.

JOHNS: They're very tough questions. In Michigan, a do-over could cost around $10 million, it's said. In Florida, it could cost upwards of $18 million. The Democratic Party said no, we're not going to pay for it. You guys have to figure that out.

They're taking about a firehouse primary maybe, maybe a mail-in primary. A lot of different ideas. But no one can really coalesce around one idea because there's no one size fits all solution. It's different for Michigan than it is for Florida, especially because Florida had, like, a record number of people turn out for their primary.

BLITZER: It seems to me, Jessica, if they could just figure out the payment, how they're going to raise the money in terms of, let's say, soft money as it's called, that they should be able to do it. They should be able to work it out. I don't see a whole lot of difference between the Clinton and Obama camps, do you?

YELLIN: The folks who are organizing some of these primaries redos are saying that they're not necessarily getting much communication from the campaigns, and it's not very clear to them what the campaigns will sign off on. The campaigns are saying publicly that they'll go with what Howard Dean agrees to with each of the states, but it's really hard, Wolf, to figure out if this is part of the strategy for each side, as Rick was saying earlier.

And with Obama feeling that Senator Clinton is trying to get an edge by taking these larger states and doing a redo in her way. Senator Clinton feeling that Obama is trying to find a way to get out of it. There's so much disagreement and division right now that it's not clear that they really will find this way to do the revote, even with the money.

BLITZER: But is it a certainty, Rick, that if there were full- scale primaries in June, in Michigan and Florida, Hillary Clinton would win and win decisively?

STENGEL: I don't know that it's a certainty. I mean, one of the reasons that the Obama campaign objects to seating the delegates in Florida now is, they've done everywhere they've had a chance to campaign. They didn't campaign in Florida. He wasn't on the ballot in Michigan.

I think all bets are off. I mean, as a small "d" democrat, I'd love to see full-scale primaries in both of those places, and I don't think it's a guarantee that he wouldn't win. It's a possibility.

BLITZER: Here's what Howard Dean said the other day about paying for this kind of situation, and just to remind our viewers, it is such a mess because Florida and Michigan, they have themselves to blame for this because they moved up their primaries into January when the DNC warned them if you do that, you're not going have any delegates at the convention. Here's what Dean said.


DEAN: So our job now is to elect a president of the United States, and we're not going have the resources to run a primary in Michigan or Florida. So, we hope they can comply with the rules, but they're going to have to figure out how to pay for it.


JOHNS: There's the issue of foreseeability. You know, there was total foreseeability on the part of these states that, yes, this could happen if this turned out to be a very close race. We could end up with this sort of train wreck scenario. On the other hand, there's foreseeability for the DNC, too, that people would be running around saying you're trying to take away our vote. So, everybody has a little bit of blame here. The one thing you can say about the people in Florida and Michigan is, the voters had no idea this thing could turn into such a mess, and they are potentially the ones who get punished if it doesn't get fixed.

BLITZER: And here's the irony, Jessica, if you think about it. Florida and Michigan wanted to move up into January so they could have a more decisive say in this whole process. They wanted to be players, and they turned out to be nonplayers because they were stripped of their delegates, but, you know what, they still may not only be players, they still might not only be decisive players, they might wind up being the most decisive players if they're the final two contests going into the convention.

YELLIN: That's right. They could decide this thing with about 100 delegates separating Clinton and Obama right now. Those two huge states could have the last word, as you're saying, and, you know, a lot of what we are focusing on right now are the divisions and differences within the Democratic Party and how this could really undermine one campaign or the other.

A lot of other sort of Democratic Party elders are actually excited by this debate, the fact that all of this is going on reflects how energized the Democratic Party really is. Voters in Michigan could show what voters in Florida already have without the campaigning, and all of this fighting could go to a very tense time right before the convention, but a lot of folks saying it really signals that the Democrats are so strong right now and so energized that it bodes well for the general election, Wolf.

BLITZER: You've got a cover story in Time magazine this week with a picture of Hillary Clinton on the cover, the banner reading "The Fighter."

BLITZER: I know you had a chance to sit down and speak with her. There seems to be some confusion about how willing she would be to have Barack Obama on her ticket and, perhaps a more difficult question for her, how willing she would be to be the number two on his ticket.


Did you get any clarity when you spoke with Hillary Clinton?

STENGEL: I did ask her about that. And, of course, it's been in the Clintons' interest thus far to suggest that there could be a joint ticket. Because people who have some doubts about Obama would say, hey, I could vote for her and get him, too. It's like the old two- for-one thing.

I did say to her, but, Senator Clinton, if Barack Obama is the nominee, would you consider being his vice presidential nominee?

And she said, well, Rick, it's too early to talk about that now. She's perfectly willing to talk about her being at the top of the ticket and him being at the bottom. She's not willing to talk about the reverse.

BLITZER: What do you make of all this talk of what a lot of Democrats call their dream team, their dream ticket?

JOHNS: Well, it's a little hard because, you know, you have heard Barack Obama already say it's premature to talk about that; you're not going to see me on a vice presidential ticket, or whatever.

But the bottom line is that, if you look at what Republicans have to plan for, one of the eventualities they're going to have to plan for is the possibility of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama being on the ticket.

Now, the wild card, of course, is Bill Clinton himself and this concern that he would actually be the vice president, with Barack Obama or whoever is sitting there. So it makes it all more complicated because of the personalities.

BLITZER: And, Jessica, you heard Bill Clinton say that that ticket, that so-called dream team, would be unstoppable, going into a general election against John McCain.

What are you hearing, because you're talking to these folks on a day-to-day basis?

YELLIN: Well, what I hear is that this is a perception, at least in the Obama camp, that this is a strategy by the Clintons. All along, Senator Clinton has, sort of, projected this idea that Barack Obama is a lovely young man who would make a wonderful president someday, but it's just not his time now.

And she's used this with her experience argument in the past. And this vice president mention or this "dream ticket" mention is a way to reframe that same issue, saying, look, you want to vote for Senator Clinton at the top of the ticket, and Barack Obama can, kind of, get his legs by being her vice president.

So the Clintons are pushing this. The Obama folks are not. They want to really emphasize that this is a head-on-head contest for the presidential slot.

BLITZER: And the Clinton team clearly suggesting, Jessica, that, if you vote for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries, there's a good chance that Barack Obama will still be on the ticket, whereas Barack Obama is not willing to make that case.

They think this is a good argument for Hillary Clinton. Is that right?

YELLIN: Absolutely. It's a good argument for Senator Clinton, but it does not succeed with -- it's not what the Obama message is, because she would not necessarily -- he wouldn't need her as the vice president, if he were to win this nomination. BLITZER: All right. So we're going to continue this conversation, guys. Stand by.

We're also going to take a closer look at the presumptive Republican nominee John McCain's plans to win the White House. Our political panel, a lot more, coming up.

Also, we're going to have a live report from Mississippi, where they're rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina, where the Democrats will battle it out in the primary there on Tuesday. "Late Edition" continues right after this.


BLITZER: All three presidential candidates are taking a day off today, after weeks of nonstop campaigning. But it's only a short breather for the Democrats. Their next contest is Tuesday in Mississippi.

CNN's Sean Callebs is in Biloxi, right now, watching this.

Give us a little flavor, a little preview, Sean, of what we can expect on Tuesday.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, 33 delegates at stake, and oftentimes, at this point in the presidential season, Mississippi is out of the picture; perhaps the races have been decided. So, really, this state is relishing its time in the spotlight.

Behind me you see a government building, here on the coast of Mississippi, simply devastated by the storm surge from Hurricane Katrina.

Now, here along the coast, the only issue is recovery. People here want to talk to the candidates. They want them to know that people here are still hurting; 14,000 trailers are still being used and close to 50,000 people still living in FEMA trailers.

Hillary Clinton has spent a couple of days in Mississippi so far. She was in Canton on Thursday and Hattiesburg on Friday, telling voters she knows she has an uphill struggle.

Seventy percent of the registered Democrats in this state are African-American. But she says she sees -- she believes that she can narrow the gap.

She had perhaps her best surrogate out on the road yesterday, Bill Clinton. He made four stops in the state. He was here in Biloxi, talking to a crowd, saying that Hillary is the best candidate he's ever had the opportunity to vote for.

Now, Barack Obama will make at least three stops in the state on Monday. And he's really going to hammer away at the issues he considers very important, as well: health care and, really, the economy in this state. It's been suffering dramatically. A lot of the long-time jobs, factories, places like that that have had good jobs, pensions, health care, those jobs have gone away, for a large part. People are finding service jobs in this state, right now. So they're looking for some kind of economic boon during this very difficult time.

So that's really what we can expect. And the big word here, Wolf, is that Mississippi really relishes its time to talk about what it considers the big issues.

So often this state feels as though it is neglected, so right now is a chance for it to shine.

BLITZER: A little bit of spotlight on Mississippi. All right. Thanks very much, Sean. We'll be watching the situation there all day on Tuesday, as well.

When we come back, we'll turn back to our political panel. We'll talk about the Republican candidate, John McCain. He is looking ahead to the general election already. Our free-wheeling discussion continues in just a moment.


BLITZER: We're back with our political panel -- Jessica Yellin, Rick Stengel and Joe Johns. Joe, listen to President Bush formally endorsing John McCain this week at the White House.


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: It's a man who cares a lot about the less fortunate among us. He's a president, and he is going to be the president who will bring determination to defeat an enemy and a heart big enough to love those who hurt, and so I welcome you here. I wish you all the best. Glad to be your friend.


BLITZER: You know, they've had their ups and downs, shall we say politely, over the years, but the president saying I'll do whatever you need me to do. Just tell me what you need me to do, and I'll try to help you get elected.

JOHNS: You know, I saw a couple of pictures of McCain there. He looked sort of like a deer caught in the headlights, if you really think about it, but if you look at this thing, sort of the broad picture of it, a lot of people say, and I think it's probably true, that this endorsement certainly will help with the base, the people who have supported all along because McCain is that kind of guy who talks about staying the course.

But it doesn't necessarily help with independents, and many people are saying if you look at the trends in the primary election so far, independents are going to be the name of the game in November, so sort of a double-edged sword. BLITZER: And Rick, the Democrats are already saying if you want more Bush, vote for McCain. Four more years of Bush is the equivalent of voting for McCain. How effective of a strategy do you think that's going to be for them?

STENGEL: Wolf, I've just got to say, last night at the gridiron dinner, George Bush sang "The Green, Green Grass of Home" about looking forward to going back to Texas. Did you read about it? You should have been there.

I think it's a pretty effective strategy because basically what we've seen throughout American history is when you have a two-term president who has a bad economy and low popularity, voters look at electing someone of the same party as a third term for that president. That is bad for anybody who's running in that same party, so McCain has to have that funny delicate dance of staying close, but moving away at the same time.

BLITZER: And the Democrats have their own dance, Jessica, as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, as they go forward. They would certainly like to focus in on McCain and the potential for a general election battle there, but they -- right now they've got to worry about each other. That's first and foremost on their minds. How do they deal with it?

YELLIN: Well, they're dealing in two ways. Barack Obama is trying to tie Senator Clinton to John McCain as much as possible, suggesting that Obama represents a change, a break from the past, whereas Clinton and McCain are the same. They're Washington insiders.

Then Clinton is doing a different dance, where she's trying to suggest that she has the same kind of national security credentials that John McCain has, but Barack Obama is the odd man out because of his lack of experience.

So they are trying to use McCain to their own advantage. So far, Barack Obama has not sharpened his message as effectively as Senator Clinton has been able to sharpen this national security issue, but let's see how he does this in the weeks leading up to Pennsylvania. Expect to hear more of him suggesting Hillary is not that different from McCain when it comes to Washington insider politics.

BLITZER: You know, she's getting some criticism, serious criticism, from Democrats, Rick, in belittling Barack Obama and, in effect, praising John McCain when she says something like, I've got the national security experience, John McCain has it, Barack Obama has a speech he gave back in 2002.

STENGEL: Well, and the irony, of course, Wolf, is that not only while she's belittling his national security experience, she's saying maybe he'd be a good vice president. What, he doesn't have the national security president to be president, but he has enough to be one, you know, heartbeat away from the White House?

It's a very funny strategy, and I think some Democrats are upset because they're saying, like, you're dissing your opponent, you're giving the person you may run against in the general election an advantage. You'd never see that on the other side. You would never see Republicans saying, well, my opponent is actually not as good as the Democrat. That's what they're doing.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it there, guys. Thanks very much. Rick Stengel, thanks for coming in. Joe Johns, Jessica Yellin, always a pleasure to have both of you as well.

If you'd like a recap of today's program, you can get highlights on our "Late Edition" podcast. Simply go to And coming up at the top of the hour, "This Week in Politics." More politics with Tom Foreman. Here's a preview. TOM FOREMAN, HOST, "THIS WEEK IN POLITICS": Thanks, Wolf. Hillary Clinton fights her way back into contention. Barack Obama gets hit with his first real political body checks and John McCain savors the sweet taste of victory. All that, plus our list of the all-time worst political blunders. "This Week in Politics" coming up right after "Late Edition."