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CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Interview With John McCain; Q&A With Barack Obama

Aired July 27, 2008 - 11:00   ET


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

BLITZER (voice-over): The battle for the White House heats up, as the world watches. From intimate town halls in the United States...

MCCAIN: Americans are sitting around the kitchen table tonight figuring out whether they can keep their home or not.

BLITZER: ... to enormous rallies in Europe.

OBAMA: Let us remember this history, and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again.

BLITZER: John McCain and Barack Obama are clashing over issues.

OBAMA: I welcome a growing consensus in the United States and Iraq for a timeline.

MCCAIN: We can follow Senator Obama's unconditional withdrawal and risk losing the peace.

BLITZER: And it's getting very personal.

MCCAIN: Senator Obama just used this war as another political issue.

BLITZER: Today, on this special "Late Edition," you'll hear all of my one-on-one interview with John McCain.

OBAMA: It's hard for me to understand Senator McCain's argument. He was telling me I was supposed to take this trip.

BLITZER: And we'll go live to a major forum where Barack Obama will be taking questions from an audience of minority journalists. And, of course, throughout our show, we'll have the kind of analysis you've come to expect only from the best political team on television.

"Late Edition's" line-up begins right now.

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


BLITZER: It's 11 a.m. here in Washington, 10 a.m. in Chicago, and 6 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for this special "Late Edition." For the next two hours, we're going to give you a chance to hear in-depth from both leading candidates for president of the United States. We'll go live to Chicago where Senator Barack Obama will be appearing for the first time since his overseas tour, speaking and answering questions at a conference of minority journalists.

But right now, my wide-ranging, one-on-one interview with the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain.


BLITZER: And joining us now, the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain.

Senator McCain, welcome back.

MCCAIN: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be back.

BLITZER: Let's talk about -- you're elected president of the United States. It's January 20, 2009, first day you're in the Oval Office, after you're sworn in, what's...


MCCAIN: ... national security advisers and say, "How can we keep the peace in the world? What do we need to do? And what actions do we have to take? What actions have worked? Which ones haven't? Which policies haven't worked? And keep this nation safe and secured."

And then, of course, how do we restore trust and confidence in government? We've got to take some measures to reform the way that government does business, the way Congress does business, and get Americans' trust and confidence back in this country.

And that means -- and their government. And that means reforming the way that government does business, which Americans have lost trust and confidence in.

BLITZER: And what about what a lot of people call issue number one, the domestic economy, which seems to be in real serious trouble right now, by almost all accounts will still be in serious trouble in January of next year? What's the first thing you do on the economy?

MCCAIN: Restrain spending is the first thing we have to do. We have to restrain out-of-control spending. We have to reform government. We have to embark on measures to keep people in their homes, to keep their taxes low, to create new jobs, and to get our economy back moving again.

And that's part of the trust and confidence. We've got to regain the trust and confidence of the American people, because we have to act together. We have to put our country first. Congress and the government is fundamentally gridlocked, as we know. And that's why we see the all-time-low approval ratings of Congress.

And so we have to sit down together, Republican and Democrat together, and start working for the good of this nation, keep people in their homes, provide them with affordable and available health care, create new jobs all across this country.

And we can do it. And one of the major, major aspects of this, of course, is energy independence. The price of a gallon of gas is killing -- is harming the fixed-income Americans very badly. They're the ones that drive the oldest automobiles and drive the furthest.

And so we have to have this positive movement and mission, a national mission to become independent of foreign oil.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to get all those issues one by one. Let's talk a little bit about the national security issues. You're president of the United States; you've vowed that you will capture Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

Now, we know that President Bush since 9/11 has been doing the best he can. What would you do differently?

MCCAIN: Well, I'm not going to telegraph a lot of the things that I'm going to do because then it might compromise our ability to do so. But, look, I know the area. I've been there. I know wars. I know how to win wars. And I know how to improve our capabilities so that we will capture Osama bin Laden or, put it this way, bring him to justice.

BLITZER: All right. If you capture...

MCCAIN: We will do it. I know how to do it.

BLITZER: If you capture him alive, what do you do with him?

MCCAIN: Of course you put him on trial. I mean, there are ample precedents of -- for that. And it might be a good thing to reveal to the world the enormity of this guy's crimes and his intentions, which are still there. And he's working night and day to destroy everything we stand for and believe in.

BLITZER: Do you do him a regular civilian trial here in the United States or is it a war crimes tribunal, a military commission? What kind of legal justice would you bring him toward?

MCCAIN: We have various options, but the Nuremburg trials are certainly an example of the kind of tribunal that we could move forward with. I don't think we'd have any difficulty devising an international -- an internationally supported mechanism that would mete out justice. And there's no problem there.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk about the war in Iraq right now. Charles Krauthammer, the Washington Post conservative columnist, he writes that the prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, in recent days, quote, "voted for Obama, casting the earliest and most ostentatious absentee ballot of this presidential election."

If you were president and Nouri al-Maliki is still the elected prime minister of Iraq, and he says he wants all U.S. troops out, what do you do?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I know Prime Minister Maliki rather well. I know that he is a politician, and I know that they are looking at upcoming elections. I know that he knows and every -- and the other leaders know there that it has to be condition-based.

Any withdrawals -- which we will withdraw. We have succeeded. The surge has succeeded. And we're on the road to victory. And we will be out of there. And we may have a residual presence of some kind, as I've always said, but the fact is, the surge has succeeded.

And the fundamental here is that I supported that surge when it was not the popular thing to do. Senator Obama opposed it, said it wouldn't work, even voted to cut off the funds for the men and women who are fighting over there, and still -- and he still doesn't understand to the point where he doesn't agree that the surge has succeeded.

No rational observer -- no rational observer who sees the conditions in Iraq today as opposed to two years ago could possibly -- could possibly conclude that the surge hasn't succeeded.

So he sees it as a political issue. He doesn't understand the importance of this victory, and the consequences of failure, and the benefits of success.

If we had done what Senator Obama wanted to do, which, by the way, initially would have been the troops out last March, we would've had greater Iranian influence, we would have had an increase in sectarian violence, we would have seen possibly a wider war in the region, which would have drawn us back.

So I can assure you that Prime Minister Maliki understands that conditions have to be kept. And I want to find -- tell you again, General Petraeus, one of the great generals in history, strongly disagrees with Senator Obama. And our highest-ranking military officer also says it would be a very dangerous course. We're not going to go down that road.

BLITZER: What -- but if Maliki persists, you're president, and he says he wants U.S. troops out and he wants them out, let's say, in a year or two years or 16 months, or whatever, what do you do? Do you just -- do you listen to the prime minister?

MCCAIN: He won't. He won't. He won't, because he...

BLITZER: How do you know? How do you know? How do you know that?

MCCAIN: ... knows that it has to be condition-based. Because I know him, and I know him very well. And I know the other leaders. And I know -- I've been there eight times, as you know. And I know them very, very well.

BLITZER: So why do you think he said...

MCCAIN: And the point is...

BLITZER: Why do you think he said that 16 months is basically a pretty good timetable?

MCCAIN: He said it's a pretty good timetable based on conditions on the ground. I think it's a pretty good timetable, as we should -- or horizons for withdrawal. But they have to be based on conditions on the ground.

This success is very fragile. It's incredibly impressive, but very fragile. So we know -- those of us who have been involved in it for many years know that, if we reverse this by setting a date for withdrawal, all of the hard-won victory can be reversed.

MCCAIN: We're not ready to do that. Too many brave young Americans and their families have sacrificed too much.

But we will be out, and the difference is, we'll be out with victory and honor and not defeat. Senator Obama has said there's a possibility, under his plan, we may have to go back.

I guarantee you, after they withdraw under what we are doing, we'll never have to go back.

BLITZER: All right. Now, you also made a very serious charge against Senator Obama. You've repeated it. You say you stand by it, that he would rather lose a war to win a political campaign, raising questions about, you know, his motives.

Joe Klein, writing in Time Magazine, says, "This is the ninth presidential campaign I've covered. I can't remember a more scurrilous statement by a major party candidate. It smacks of desperation."

Those are pretty strong words from Joe Klein, whom you obviously know. But tell us. What are you charging -- what are you accusing Obama of doing?

MCCAIN: I am accusing -- I am stating the facts, and the facts are that I don't question Senator Obama's patriotism. I'm sure that he's a very patriotic American. I question his judgment because he lacks experience and knowledge, and I question his judgment.

I'm not prepared to see the sacrifice of so many brave young Americans lost because Senator Obama just views this war as another political issue which he can change positions.

And everybody knows that he was able to obtain the nomination of his party by appealing to the far left and committing to a course of action that I believe was -- I know was wrong because he said the surge would not work. He said it wouldn't succeed. No rational observer in Iraq today believes that the surge did not succeed. So he just treats it as another political issue because he doesn't understand and he doesn't have the knowledge and the background to make the kinds of judgments that are necessary.

And this war has enormous ramifications. If we had lost it, we would have faced enormous champ in the region, throughout the world, increased Iranian influence, perhaps even having to come back in a wider war.

So he simply does not understand and treats it as another political issue.

BLITZER: But he says that, when it comes to judgment back in 2002 and 2003, early 2003, before the war, he made the right call in opposing the war to begin with, and he says you blundered; you made the wrong call in supporting going to war against Saddam Hussein.

MCCAIN: I'd be more than happy to go through all of that again, and historians will. The fact is that Saddam Hussein was bent on the development of weapons of mass destruction, and I'll be glad to discuss that.

The fact is, what did we do at a critical time, when we were about to lose the war?

We were losing the war. Senator Obama wanted to get out. I wanted the surge, which was not popular. The surge works.

And now, what do we do in the future?

Do we continue on the path to victory -- and we've succeeded -- or do we set a time for withdrawal and jeopardize and possibly reverse all the gains that we have made?

That's the question on the minds of the American people today.


BLITZER: Up next on "Late Edition," more of the interview with Senator McCain, some tough questions for him from viewers like you, from national security, to abortion and illegal immigration. You're going to want to see the rest of what John McCain has to say.

And later, we're going to go live to Chicago and the Unity Convention of Minority Journalists. Barack Obama is getting ready to speak there. He'll also be answering some tough questions in Chicago. You'll see it live and unfiltered, only here on CNN. Much more of our coverage right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Today we're bringing you a chance to hear from both presidential candidates, in depth, on all the key issues. We're going to be hearing directly from the Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama. He's getting ready to speak live at the Unity Convention of Minority Journalists in Chicago. You'll see that only live here on CNN.

But right now, let's go back to part two of my interview with the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain.


BLITZER: We invited our viewers, Senator McCain, to submit some video questions for you, sort of, our video version of a town hall meeting.

Jonathan Collins of Tampa, Florida, says he's very liberal but he says he has no connection to either campaign. He asks this question. I'll play it for you. Listen to this.


QUESTION: Can you please, in layman's terms, so that the entire world will know when these events happen, we have won the war in Iraq? Can you please give us your definition?


BLITZER: Go ahead, Senator. I guess the question is "Define victory...

MCCAIN: Sure. It's a classic...

BLITZER: Define victory in Iraq.

MCCAIN: Sure. It's the classic outcome of a successful counterinsurgency, which this strategy is, an effective government in a secure environment, a social, economic and political process that's moving forward -- very importantly, a legal system that is functioning to protect the rights of the people, Americans withdrawing, and the Iraqi people having a chance at freedom and democracy, which, obviously, they were never going to have under Saddam Hussein, and we avoid the risk of a wider war; we Reduce the influence of Iran in the region; we have a positive impact, even as far away as Afghanistan, because success breeds success -- but an Iraq that is a stable, normal country.

And it's not over, as I said. Al Qaida is not defeated. They are on their heels, but they're not defeated. That's why we have a ways to go, but the progress, by any parameter, has been dramatically good. And that's a path to victory in Iraq, and you can see it every single day in Baghdad, Mosul, Basra and around the country. And I say, thank God.

BLITZER: I have a bunch of short questions and hopefully some short answers.

MCCAIN: Sure. Some short answers, OK. (LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: We'll go through with some straight talk, as you like to do, right now.

If Israel were to decide its existence or security were threatened, and bombed Iran's nuclear facilities, would you, as president, stand with Israel? MCCAIN: I can only tell you I will not discuss hypotheticals, and I can't, but I can tell you this. The United States of America is committed to making sure that there's never a second Holocaust.

MCCAIN: That will be what I will do as president of the United States.

BLITZER: If you were president, would you move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?



MCCAIN: Right away.

BLITZER: Like, as soon as you were inaugurated, right away, you would order the State Department to do that?

MCCAIN: I've been -- I've been -- I've been committed to that proposition for years.

BLITZER: The -- we have this question from Robert Weisman of Skokie, Illinois. He considers himself on the liberal side of the spectrum, but he asked this question. Listen to this.


WEISMAN: Senator McCain, do you agree with or will you unequivocally reject and repudiate the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war?


BLITZER: Did you hear the question?

MCCAIN: Well, that's -- yes, that's a very, very tough question, and it's based on the judgment of a commander-in-chief. No nation can wait until it is attacked when it is clear that there is going to be an impending attack from either a terrorist organization or a hostile nation.

So those kinds of judgments need to be made by presidents. And, again, you have to have the knowledge, and the experience, and the background to make those kinds of judgments.

Do I favor pre-emptive war? Of course not. None of us do. But it's the first obligation of the president of the United States to secure our nation and make sure that we are not attacked and American lives are lost or sacrificed. So that's why I said, when you asked me earlier, what was my first thing I would do as president, and that's make sure that everything has been done and is being done to secure America's safety and security.

BLITZER: All right, we've got a few more quick questions.


BLITZER: If you were president, would you take steps, would you work to repeal Roe v. Wade?

MCCAIN: I don't agree with -- I don't agree with the decision. It's a decision that's there. I will appoint judges to the United States Supreme Court that do enforce strictly the Constitution of the United States and do not legislate from the bench.

BLITZER: Do you support a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants in the United States?

MCCAIN: Once we have secured the borders. And I have not changed my position. We tried twice in the United States Senate with comprehensive immigration reform, which meant securing our borders, temporary worker program that works, and a path to citizenship for many, not all, but certainly many of the people who are already here illegally.

Americans want the border secured first. We can do that, and we can establish a truly temporary worker program through the use of biometric, tamper-proof documents.

And we can put some people, or a lot of them, on the path to citizenship, requiring they pay fines, learn English, do all the things necessary, with the principle that they cannot have any priority of those who either waited or came to this country legally.

BLITZER: Given the high price of gas right now, you recently changed your position on off-shore oil drilling, but you still oppose drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. If the price continues to go up, could you see yourself changing your mind on ANWR, as it's called?

MCCAIN: These are -- these are ways to attack a fundamental problem, as we all know, that are hurting Americans. First, let's get off-shore drilling going. Let's do it now. We can do it now. Oil company executives say that it could be as short a time as one to two years.

Contrary to the belief of some, just the president's announcement of a lifting of the federal moratorium had an impact on the futures cost of a barrel of oil. Let's get go going drilling off-shore first, and let's do whatever is necessary, and that includes nuclear power, both of which Senator Obama opposes.

BLITZER: You're in Colorado right now. They have an initiative on their ballot in November that would eliminate affirmative action. I don't know if you're familiar with that referendum, but is that a good idea?

MCCAIN: I'm not familiar with the referendum, Wolf. It's hard for me to say. I've always opposed quotas.

BLITZER: On the vice president front-- this is the final question, Senator -- there are stories out there you want to do this before the Olympic Games start in Beijing on August 8th and not wait any longer. Are those reports true?

MCCAIN: I can't comment on the process that we're going through. And I'm sure you understand that every nominee of the party has gone through this. And I appreciate you asking the question, but I can't comment on the process, and I thank you, though. And I know you understand.

BLITZER: Of course we understand. I'm not asking you to tell us who it is. I'm just wondering on a timing of when you think we'll know.

MCCAIN: Well, I -- I -- I, again, cannot comment on the process. And I apologize for being so obtuse.

BLITZER: Don't apologize. You have every right to be obtuse. You have every right to not answer. This is a free country, as you want.

Senator McCain, appreciate your time.

MCCAIN: But on this -- but on this one...

BLITZER: Go ahead.

MCCAIN: Fine, but, you know, on this one, I'm sure you understand, I'm sure that our viewers understand that when we start commenting, you really get on a slippery slope. And sometimes that's unfair to the people that are under consideration.

And I thank you for having me on, Wolf. This has been a very in- depth interview, and I appreciate the time.

BLITZER: We appreciate your joining us. And we hope you'll join us again sooner rather than later.


BLITZER: Good luck out there on the campaign trail, Senator.


BLITZER: And in just a few minutes, we'll assess this conversation with three of the best political team on television.

But straight ahead, we're standing by for a preview of this second part of this special "Late Edition." Senator Barack Obama, he's getting ready for a live appearance in Chicago. He'll be speaking and taking questions at the Unity Convention of Minority Journalists. This is something you will see live only here on "Late Edition." We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

We're standing by to take you live to Chicago. Senator Barack Obama is getting ready to speak and answer questions at the Unity convention of minority journalists. You're looking at live pictures right now. You're going to see the whole thing live here on "Late Edition." You'll see it live only here on CNN.

Let's go to Chicago right now for a little preview of what's about to happen. Our correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, will be moderating this discussion. She's standing by.

Set the stage for us, Suzanne. What do we expect?

MALVEAUX: Wolf, there's really a lot of excitement that's been generated around this appearance. You have thousands of journalists from across the country who've gathered here for this convention. It's a Unity conference, Black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian journalists who are going to have a chance to sit down and talk with Senator Barack Obama.

He has just gotten back from his trip overseas, the Middle East and Europe. He's really going to give us his impressions of some of the things that he's learned from that trip, but he's also going to take some questions from the journalists.

And what we really expect to talk about is not only some of the lessons learned from his 10-day trip overseas, but some of those issues that really hit at the heart of some of the ethnic communities. We're talking about immigration. We're talking about jobs.

MALVEAUX: We're talking about health care, the economy, obviously, those very important issues. And then, also, what did he learn those -- those eight days or so abroad? There's some criticism. Some folks are saying, "Look, it looks like he was running for president of the world," that there was kind of this audacity of the trip. What did he really accomplish here? What are his priorities?

We're hoping to learn a lot about that. All of this, Wolf, just coming up in the next half-hour.

BLITZER: And we'll be watching it very closely.

Senator McCain, I take it, he was invited to address this conference, as well. Is that right?

MALVEAUX: Yes, he certainly was. His campaign said there was a conflict of interest, that he had a lot of other things that were going on. He wasn't able to attend. This is a conference that has spanned across four days or so here in Chicago. Thousands of people have attended. It happens every four years. And so it really is very important to the journalists here, a lot of writers, a lot of people who represent media throughout the country are going to be paying very close attention. It is a shame that he wasn't able to attend.

Barack Obama trying to make an appearance here, obviously will make an appearance, right after his Middle East trip, so I guess the big question, Wolf, whether or not he got any sleep at all, but he is going to be faced before these journalists. They're going to have some tough questions. But also it's meant to be a real discussion with the senator over his priorities on some of those really important issues that I mentioned.

BLITZER: All right, and we're standing by. Suzanne is going to be moderating this discussion. We'll bring it all live to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Suzanne, stand by for that.

Up next on "Late Edition," three of the best political team on television, they're getting ready for a wide-open analysis of our conversation earlier with Senator McCain.

And we're also looking ahead to Senator Obama's live appearance that's coming up in a few moments. Also, the legendary oil man, T. Boone Pickens, says the United States is neck-deep in trouble right now because of its dependence on foreign oil. Stick around. This is a special "Late Edition." We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back. You're looking at live pictures from Chicago, the Unity '08 convention of minority journalists. We're going to go there live shortly as soon as Senator Barack Obama is up on the stage. He'll be answering questions, making a presentation. Our own Suzanne Malveaux standing by to moderate that discussion.

We also, as you saw here on "Late Edition," we just heard from the Republican candidate, John McCain, Senator McCain answering a wide range of questions. Let's get some analysis of what -- what is going on, on this important day.

Joining us for some perspective, we're joined by our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley. She's just returned from covering Senator Obama's world tour. She's joining us from our bureau in Chicago.

Also joining us, our correspondent Joe Johns, who keeps politicians honest on "Anderson Cooper 360," he's joining us from the Unity convention site, also in Chicago.

And here in Washington, our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, he's here, as well.

Candy, set the stage for us a little bit. This is his first presentation since coming back. I assume he's going to want to try to shift attention from foreign affairs, which he devoted all of his energies over the past week, to what a lot of us consider to be issue number one in the United States, the economy. He's got some work to do on that front, doesn't he?

CROWLEY: Absolutely. And we began to see that shift at 10 Downing Street yesterday, when he came out and did a news conference, and was asked, "How do you think this is all playing back home?" And he said, "Listen, back home, they are interested in gas prices. Back home, they are interested in all of the home foreclosures, so obviously that's where we're going to go."

He even predicted, as a matter of fact, that he might drop a couple of points in the polls because of this trip he took overseas, which he nonetheless felt was very important.

BLITZER: Is that a prediction, Bill Schneider? You look at the polls about as closely as anyone. Is it based on just he's trying to lower expectations? Or are there, perhaps, some internal polls they're looking at within their campaign showing that maybe things didn't work out for him as well overseas as they would have liked?

SCHNEIDER: I don't know anything about internal polling by the Obama organization, but certainly this is what politicians do. They say, "Oh, we're not expecting to get any big bump in the polls. We're not expecting anything to improve that sharply that quickly." We'll find out, by the way, next week. We're going to start polling today, but then, if the polls do show a lift, why, what a pleasant surprise.

BLITZER: And that -- so it would be smart politically for him to lower these expectations.

Joe, you're there at this conference, and we're going to be taking Obama's presentation, the Q&A live here on "Late Edition." Our viewers are standing by for that. Is this a tough crowd for him or is it going to be relatively easy?

JOHNS: Probably not a tough crowd. It is a very large group of minority journalists from all over the country. They meet every four years in one place or another. This time, it happens to be in the hometown of Senator Barack Obama.

He is expected to be warmly received. And you have to wonder -- it's just not clear to us why Senator McCain decided he was not going to be able to attend. However, we do know it's on the home turf of Senator Barack Obama. It is a large group of minority journalists.

He'll probably get some tough questions. There will probably be at least a smattering of polite applause, because, remember, these aren't just journalists. They're also public affairs people, communications people, people from a variety of different places in the world of media.

So, yes, don't expect, you know, a lot of people to be very critical. I wouldn't expect hecklers in this crowd, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk a little bit about Senator McCain. Candy, let me start with you and play this clip, because it's generated a lot of commotion out there. This is what Senator McCain said on Tuesday. And as you saw in our interview here on "Late Edition," he's not backing away from this at all. Listen to this.


MCCAIN: I had the courage and the judgment to say that I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Senator Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.


BLITZER: Now, Candy, you heard Senator McCain say, you know, he's not questioning Senator Obama's patriotism. He says he's sure that he's a good American patriot. He's just questioning his judgment, his wisdom, his lack of experience, and things like that. It's a serious, serious charge, though.

CROWLEY: It is, but he's playing his strong suit. I mean, McCain has long looked at this election and knows that his long suit is going to be foreign policy, is going to be his experience. And so this was, I think, as gone as far as he has gone, I mean, as strong as he has gone, going after Obama. It is something that the Hillary campaign -- the Hillary Clinton campaign tried to do, which is to say, "This man isn't who you think he is. You think he's some kind of new politician? Well, no, he's just an expedient politician who will say anything he needs to say in order to get your vote."

And it is along those lines, through his strong suit of foreign policy, that John McCain is on the attack.

BLITZER: Is it a good strategy, Bill?

SCHNEIDER: I think it makes John McCain look as if throughout this campaign, he's complaining and complaining and complaining about Obama. The amazing thing about this campaign is how much Obama is setting the agenda. I mean, look, his trip to Europe has set the agenda. What he says about Iraq sets the agenda. On just about every issue, Obama has been setting the agenda, and McCain looks like he's constantly complaining about what Obama does, what Obama says, why aren't people paying attention to me.

The only issue where John McCain has set the agenda is the issue of oil drilling, and there I think he's hit a popular response on that issue.

BLITZER: Well, that all may be accurate, Joe Johns, but there's clear evidence right now, at least in the most recent polls that we've seen in some of these key battleground states, that this race is very, very tight right now, and even though generically a lot of people think the Democrats should be in power as opposed to the Republicans, McCain right now is doing very, very well against Senator Obama.

JOHNS: And not that surprising when you think about it, because if you look at what Obama went through in the primaries, a lot of this is about demographics. There are some states that are just not quite receptive, they are not sure about who Barack Obama is, and that's one of the things -- that's one of his big challenges, obviously, to explain to people who he is, to convince them that he's right for them, and there are some states that just are not buying it. Barack Obama has a tough sell.

And also, that whole question of change. As you know, Wolf, the American political system is set up to resist change. And the more Barack Obama talks about it, there are some elements in society that just don't accept it. So, yes, it could be a very, very close race, and it wouldn't be surprising at all if there is actual tightening there.

BLITZER: I'm going to ask all three of you to stand by, because we have a lot more to discuss. We're standing by, remember, to hear directly from Senator Barack Obama. He's there at the Unity '08 conference in Chicago. Our Suzanne Malveaux will be moderating this Q&A session with Senator Obama. You're going to see it live only here on CNN.

Also coming up, T. Boone Pickens on why the United States faces a potential disaster over its energy policies. This special "Late Edition" continues right after this.


BLITZER: We're just getting word of a shooting at a church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Details still coming in. What we know at this point is that a gunman apparently opened fire inside the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. Reports from the local fire department indicate that seven people have been shot, some of them in critical condition. Another 12 are being treated for minor injuries. The gunman is reported to be in custody right now.

News crews are on the way to the scene. We'll have more information presumably soon, but once again, there's been a shooting at this church in Knoxville, Tennessee. We'll stay on top of this story for you.

T. Boone Pickens has made billions of dollars in his long career as an oil man, but now he says he has devised a plan to free the United States from its addiction to foreign oil. I spoke with him earlier this week in "The Situation Room."


BLITZER: We've seen your commercials. The numbers are alarming, this transfer of wealth from the United States going around the world. How much time realistically do you think the United States has?

PICKENS: I think you're neck deep in it right now. I don't think you have any time. I think you've got to make your energy plan move forward. And, you know, if you're saying are we going -- is it disaster tomorrow? Probably not, you know, but it could be. Certain circumstances, it could be disaster tomorrow.

BLITZER: But you're worried about the United States going bankrupt, is that right?

PICKENS: Well, I'm not saying we're going to go bankrupt. I'm saying we can't pay for a lot of things we want to pay for. What I am saying is, from a security standpoint, we could really be in terrible shape if -- you know, importing 70 percent of your oil and only having 3 percent of the reserves in the world, I mean, we're in terrible shape on energy. But we can solve that problem with our own resources if we go to work on it.


BLITZER: T. Boone Pickens, speaking with me earlier in the week in "The Situation Room."

There's still lots more to come on this special "Late Edition." At the Unity conference in Chicago, they are only minutes away from a question-and-answer session and his presentation from Senator Barack Obama. You're going to see it live here on "Late Edition." It's the only place you'll see it live.

And straight ahead, we'll continue our discussion with our roundtable, three of the best political team on television. Stand by for that.


BLITZER: Welcome back. Once again, we're joined by Candy Crowley, Joe Johns, and Bill Schneider. We're standing by to hear directly from Senator Barack Obama. He's getting ready to address the Unity '08 conference of minority journalists in Chicago. Once he starts, we'll be up there. Suzanne Malveaux standing by to moderate the Q&A session with him.

The McCain campaign, Joe, had some fun at the news media's expense, the love affair, if you will, that the mainstream media seems to have, according to the McCain campaign, with Barack Obama. And they've got this little ad. I'll play a little snippet for you and our viewers.


(UNKNOWN): You're just too good to be true. Can't take my eyes off of you...

COURIC: ... Barack Obama...

WILLIAMS: ... Barack Obama...

GIBSON: ... Barack Obama...

KURTZ: ... the three broadcast network anchors will travel halfway around the world, lured by an offer of interviews with the candidate.


BLITZER: All right, Joe, does the McCain campaign have a point here on this -- this media so-called love affair with Senator Obama?

JOHNS: Well, it's certainly true that, when you see so many people going overseas and following him around, there's a lot of excitement. This guy is a phenomenon, and he's quite a story. He's probably the bigger story at the moment, because he's African- American, because of his personal narrative.

That said, John McCain, for a long time was the great narrative in the presidential campaign, being that former prisoner of war, that person who's sort of the walking American flag.

So, yes, John McCain hasn't certainly gotten the kind of media attention, especially during the last week, but as sort of a function of Barack Obama going overseas, which, by the way, McCain goaded him to do, at least to go to Iraq.

It all comes around again. But as we just said, before the break, as you can see, the numbers aren't indicating Barack Obama is getting some kind of a big push in the polls because of all the media coverage. So there's that.

BLITZER: Candy, what was it like, because you went with him every step of the way? While you weren't in Afghanistan or Iraq, because he didn't take journalists on that part of the trip, but every other step of the way -- Israel, the West Bank, Germany, France, Britain -- some say it was almost like covering a presidential visit to Europe, a visit by a head of state.

CROWLEY: Yes, it was a virtual reality. It really was. Especially in Israel, as you well know, Wolf, a lot of the people that he met with, party leaders, as well as Israeli officials, want to become prime ministers, so you just have this feeling that they were all sort of looking ahead.

And I think that is one of the things -- everybody kept asking me, "What do these foreign leaders get out of it?" Well, they look at Barack Obama and they think he may be president. There's a huge amount of curiosity about, "Who is he?"

Because if you think he's new on the national scene, he is even newer than that on the international scene. So there was a great desire by some of these leaders to kind of take stock of Barack Obama, where he was going. They're particularly interested in international trade, that kind of thing.

So it really did have this feeling of following a presidential campaign, which, frankly, is what they had in mind.

BLITZER: Is it -- does he, though, risk, Bill, this whole notion of being presumptuous? He's only a presidential candidate; he's not president.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, he does. He does risk that. And you've heard some criticism, a lot of it from Republicans, but a lot of people wondered, "Why is he getting this kind of coverage?" Remember, McCain is a familiar face. He was covered in 2000. He's been around for a long time. Barack Obama is a new story. And this campaign really is about Obama.

The basic condition of this campaign is an overwhelming desire for change, discontent with the economy, with the war, with the incumbent president. And the agenda is, what do we know about Obama? What kind of president would he make? Is he risky? Is it safe to vote for him?

He's calling for change, but change always involves risk. So really what's driving this campaign is an awful lot of curiosity about what kind of president Obama would be. BLITZER: There's a lot of speculation, Joe, that Senator McCain is getting ready to announce his vice presidential running mate, wants to do it before the start of the Olympic Games August 8th, because during the Olympics there's going to be not a whole lot of interest, presumably, in politics right now.

Charlie Black, one of his top advisers, said on Friday, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying, "He's in a position to make the decision on short notice if he wanted to." I guess it makes a lot of sense for him to do so, wouldn't it?

JOHNS: Well, it certainly does. Everybody's been watching, everybody's been waiting, because now is the window to do it. And you're right: It's all about the Olympics.

Once the Olympics get started, there's not going to be a complete focus on this U.S. campaign, at least until we get, you know, later down the road, at least until we get much closer to the convention.

So it's about time. A lot of people say John McCain is keeping that information very close to his vest, that he's the one who's sort of pulling the strings on this thing.

A lot of excitement out there, too, about whether he's going to go with someone who is sort of that died-in-the-wool conservative or if he's going to bring in somebody who can bring him a state, Mitt Romney, perhaps, in Michigan, which a lot of people say is one of the big prizes.

So we're all sort of on the edges of our seats, hoping and waiting that that story moves this -- moves this presidential campaign story along rather quickly.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by, because we have a lot more to discuss. This is a special "Late Edition." We're standing by for the address that Senator Barack Obama is about to deliver. You're looking at live pictures of Chicago at the Unity '08 conference. We'll take a quick break. We'll hear from Senator Obama and more, right after this.


BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER (voice-over): He may have been treated like a rock star overseas...

OBAMA: People of Berlin, people of the world, this is our moment.

BLITZER: ... but will he get the same reception at home?

OBAMA: We've been out of the country for a week. People are worried about gas prices; they're worried about home foreclosures. BLITZER: As you saw in the previous hour, John McCain is intensifying his attack.

MCCAIN: Senator Obama just used this war as another political issue.

BLITZER: In just moments, we'll see Barack Obama face the tough questions from a live audience of minority journalists in Chicago.

BLITZER: And, of course, throughout our show, we'll have the kind of analysis you've come to expect only from the best political team on television.

The second hour of this special "Late Edition" starts right now.


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

BLITZER: And welcome back to the second hour of our special "Late Edition". It's only 100 days to go until Americans go to the polls in this very historic presidential election.

Last hour we heard from the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain. This hour, we'll hear from the presumptive Democratic nominee, Senator Barack Obama. He's making his first public appearance since returning to the United States from his trip to the Middle East and Europe.

Today he's attending the Unity Journalism conference in Chicago, which takes place every four years. And that's where we find my colleague and good friend, Suzanne Malveaux. Set the stage for us, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Hey, Wolf, we're in Chicago. We're here with thousands of journalists. It's the Unity conference, the convention, here, every four years -- blacks, Hispanics, Native American, Asian journalists all gathered here to talk about very important issues.

We are also going to be sitting down, talking with Senator Barack Obama. This is the first time, since he's returned from his overseas trip from the Middle East and to Europe to sit down to give his impressions about the trip, his priorities, but also to answer some questions from the journalists.

Joining me, my colleague, Ramesh Ratnesar from Time Magazine. We're going to talking about a number of things: immigration, the economy, health care, Iraq, among other things.

So let's bring on Senator Barack Obama.


RATNESAR: Senator, it's good to see you. OBAMA: Thank you.

RATNESAR: Welcome home.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Senator. Thank you.

OBAMA: Thank you. Hello.

MALVEAUX: Hello. Did you get much sleep?

OBAMA: Hello, everybody.


OBAMA: Not enough sleep.


I'm going back to take a nap after this.


MALVEAUX: If you'd like to start and just give us your impressions and some of the things that -- the highlights you took away from your trip?

OBAMA: Well, a couple of things that I think are worth mentioning. Number one, our troops are doing extraordinary work. And they do it day in, day out.

We were in Afghanistan. We were in Iraq. Many of these young men and women have been on two, three, in some cases four or five tours of duty, but morale remains high. They are proud of the work that they're doing. They're carrying out their duties with excellence and determination.

And so that was very encouraging. I think the violence is down in Iraq, and the work of our troops has greatly contributed to consolidating some of those gains.

There's no doubt that we've seen Al Qaida marginalized in the Sunni regions in Iraq. That has made a big contribution toward quelling the violence.

And the Shia militias have stood down. I think that President -- Prime Minister Maliki -- his willingness to take more responsibility and set a time frame, or a time line, for withdrawing our troops is a very positive step.

In Afghanistan, though, things are worsening. And we visited there just a week or so after a raid on a U.S. outpost that had resulted in nine of our soldiers being killed.

And what you get a sense of is that a combination of drug trafficking in Afghanistan, a government that is -- an Afghan government that is still not getting enough services out to the people, combined with the ability of the Taliban and Al Qaida to engage in raids and then cross over into the Pakistani-held territories, so that they've got safe havens there that U.S. troops can't follow -- that is a huge problem.

We're going to need more troops in Afghanistan. But we're also going to need more effective cooperation from the Pakistani government in rooting out these safe havens.

So there's some good news on the war front, but there's also some bad news.

And one of the most important things for the next president is to work with the commanders on the ground, to find the right strategy to go after the central front on terror, go after Al Qaida, go after the Taliban, while maintaining some of the gains that have been made in Iraq.

The other impression that I had was that the world is waiting for the United States to reengage.

In the Middle East, Israelis and Palestinians want to see us active and involved. And they're pleased that the Bush administration has now participated in getting this Annapolis -- these Annapolis talks off the ground. I think that Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas are making some progress on that front.

But what we need is sustained American engagement. Without that American engagement, it's very hard to make progress.

When I was traveling through Europe, obviously, we had a big event in Berlin that was a testimony, I think, to how hungry Europeans are for American leadership that's not a matter of unilateral action, but a matter of engaging countries and peoples all around the world around our common challenges, but also our common opportunities.

When you think about the big problems that we face here at home, they are connected to the problems we face abroad. If we can get more support for actions in Afghanistan, those are fewer troops in the United States that we have to send, or it's less money that we have to invest in those efforts, which frees up money for us to invest in keeping folks in their homes here in the United States, or making sure that we're providing college scholarships for young people and make higher education affordable.

There's a direct link between the energy problems that we're experiencing here at home and a lack of a coordinated policy in thinking about energy and climate change abroad. So one of the key insights that I come away with is it is very difficult for us to meet these 21st century challenges unless we've got more effective partnerships with our allies and other countries overseas.

And I think they are ready for it. And it offers the next president an enormous opportunity, but we're going to have to take action now. The last point I'd make is, while I was traveling, obviously, I was monitoring carefully the situation back here in the United States. I'm glad that we finally passed the housing bill, that the president has decided he will sign after all.

And that housing bill, I think, is a good start in trying to create a floor beneath which the housing market will not sink.

We've got to prevent people from losing their homes. We've got to start shoring up home values all across the country. It's having a huge impact in terms of people's security and their bottom lines.

We're going to have to do more, though. I think that the economy has worsened enough that we need a second round of stimulus.

And tomorrow I'm going to actually be calling some of my top economic advisers together, Paul Volcker, Warren Buffett, Bob Rubin, a range of economists and experts on the financial markets, to start thinking about, how do we take some short-term steps to shore up the economy, but also how do we take those long-term steps, structurally, to start dealing with big problems like our dependence on foreign oil?

So it was a great trip. I missed my kids. I missed Michelle.

They came to greet me at the airport, which never happens. Usually, Michelle's like...


MALVEAUX: See you at home?


OBAMA: See you at home.

Usually, I have to beg just to make sure that they're not asleep when I get home. But they surprised me at the airport, which was wonderful.

MALVEAUX: Well, let's talk a little bit about this. Because, just 3 1/2 years ago, you were a state senator who represented a district just a couple miles from where we are.

Since then, you have met with world leaders; you've travelled the globe. But clearly, eight days overseas doesn't make anybody a foreign policy expert.

What more do you need to learn? OBAMA: Well, you know, I don't think that you ever stop learning. But I think it's pretty clear, Suzanne, if you talk to the people I met with, they feel confident that I know what I'm talking about and what I'm doing. And the...

(APPLAUSE) So, one of the things that I think is important, though, for whoever the next president is, is to make certain that we project ourselves on the world stage with a sense of humility, a sense that we are listening to others, because one of the problems with our foreign policy is the sense that we are very clear about our own interests, but not so clear about other people's interests.

OBAMA: And that makes us less effective, in terms of advancing our security and the issues that are important to us.

MALVEAUX: Is there an area that is a priority for you?

OBAMA: Well, we've got to get Afghanistan right. If you've got Al Qaida, you've got the Taliban in training camps and safe havens just a few miles inside the Pakistan border that can act with impunity, then it is going to be hard for us to stabilize Afghanistan. And those folks are in a position then to plot how to kill Americans. We've got to get the Pakistani government involved in a much more significant way than they are right now.

The other thing that we have to do is get the entire world united around the need for both big carrots and big sticks to present to the Iranians so that they stand down on nuclear weapons.

We cannot afford a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, as volatile as that is -- that place is. We cannot have Iran getting a nuclear weapon, which then triggers a decision by other countries in the gulf to get nuclear weapons.

That would not only affect our ability to operate in that theater, but that offers the prospect of terrorists getting their hands on a nuclear weapon. And there's no more important security agenda for us to address than the possibilities of nuclear proliferation, including into non-state actors.

RATNESAR: Senator, I want to ask you about a subject you've had to address repeatedly on this trip, which is the situation in Iraq and the question of whether the surge has helped improve conditions there.

During the primaries, you criticized Senator Clinton for failing to say that her vote authorizing the war was a mistake. Now we have commanders on the ground pretty much saying that the surge has succeeded, and yet you've said that, if you had to do it all over again, you still would have voted against the surge. We're not going to ask you whether to -- you know, to change your position here.

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


RATNESAR: But I would like to know whether you feel that, after the last five years, haven't we learned that a commander-in-chief needs to be willing to acknowledge mistakes or errors in judgment when circumstances change?

OBAMA: You know, I mean, I have to say, it is fascinating to me to hear you guys re-emphasize this over and over again. I have not heard yet somebody ask John McCain whether his vote to go into Iraq was a mistake. I haven't, during the entire week that we were having this conversation.


And so the question is: What are the strategic judgments that have to be made in order to make America safe?

I strongly believe that going into Iraq was a disaster, strategically. It distracted us from finishing the job in Afghanistan. I have acknowledged repeatedly, in every one of these interviews, that the fact that we put more troops in there helped to quell the violence. I've been -- I've been saying that all week.

The question is whether or not my position, in suggesting that we need to begin a phased withdrawal, we should have begun it earlier, whether that position that I took was a mistake. And I do not believe it was, because I continue to believe that the only way for us to stabilize the situation in Iraq -- I believed it then, and I believe it now -- is for the parties to arrive at a set of political accommodations.

Now, any time you put 20,000 to 30,000 U.S. troops anywhere in the world, they are going to perform brilliantly and that is going to contribute to keeping the lid on violence. The question is whether or not that military action alone is sufficient to solve the problems.

And had there been a continuation of a civil war in Iraq in which Sunnis and Shias were going at each other full bore, in which Sunnis were still aligned with Al Qaida, using military solutions to that problem would not have been sufficient, in my estimation.

Now, we don't know what would have happened had we followed my plan to begin a phased withdrawal to put pressure on the Maliki government to start negotiating more effectively with some of these other parties. But that in no way takes away from the great work that our troops did and the terrific tactical work that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have engaged in.

The key now is: How do we move forward? And I think that people believe that, at this point, we are in a position to start drawing down our troops, partly because we've got to get some troops into Afghanistan and there's no other place for us to get them.

RATNESAR: So based on what you saw on your trip, you feel that the timetable that you've set out for redeployment still makes sense?

OBAMA: I think it's realistic. I think that, obviously, General Petraeus wants as much flexibility as possible. And as I said during my trip, if I were in his shoes, I'd want as much flexibility, as well. But when you've got the prime minister of Iraq, the people of Iraq saying they are ready to take more responsibility, when we're seeing more Iraqi forces take the lead in actions, we need to take advantage of that opportunity, particularly because we've got to deal with Afghanistan, and we can't keep spending $10 billion a month in Iraq at a time when we've got enormous pressing needs here in the United States of America, including, by the way, taking care of veterans who are coming home with post-traumatic stress disorder, disabilities, and they are still not getting a lot of the services that they need.

MALVEAUX: Senator, I want to use a word that you love to use, "audacity." A lot of people looked at the trip and they saw the palaces, the world leaders, the 200,000 that were gathered in Berlin, and they said, "The audacity of this trip, it looks like he is running for president of the world."

And a lot of people looked and they want to know, what out of this trip did you take away that you feel makes you a stronger candidate to be a leader here?

OBAMA: Well, let me make a couple points. First of all, I basically met with the same folks that John McCain met with after he won the nomination. He met with all these leaders. He also added a trip to Mexico, a trip to Canada, a trip to Colombia, and nobody suggested that that was "audacious."

I think people assumed that what he was doing was...


... talk to world leaders who we may have deal with should we become president. That's part of the job that I'm applying for.


And so -- so I was puzzled by this notion that somehow what we were doing was in any way different from what Senator McCain or a lot of presidential candidates have done in the past. Now, I admit we did it really well.



But that shouldn't be a strike against me. You know, if I was bumbling and fumbling through this thing, I would have been criticized for that. And so -- so that's point number one.

I don't know the political effect of this when I come back. You know, I think people are worried about gas prices; they're worried about job security; they're worried about their retirement fund, as the stock market goes down.

So probably a week of me focusing on international issues doesn't necessarily translate into higher poll numbers here in the United States, because people are understandably concerned about the immediate effects of the economy. And that's what we will be talking about for the duration.

I do think that, in terms of me governing, being an effective president, that that trip was helpful, because I think I've established relationships and a certain bond of trust with key leaders around the world who have taken measure of my positions and how I operate and I think can come away with some confidence that this is somebody I can deal with.

MALVEAUX: Senator Obama, hold on to that thought. We're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we'll take questions from the audience. Stay with us.


MALVEAUX: Welcome back to the Unity conference here in Chicago. Joining us live, Senator Barack Obama, the first appearance since returning from the Middle East and Europe.

We're now going to open the floor to a few questions from journalists to Senator Obama. Let's start off with our first questioner.

BRIAN BULL, WISCONSIN PUBLIC RADIO, NATIVE AMERICAN JOURNALISTS ASSOCIATION: Senator, I'm Brian Bull from Wisconsin Public Radio and the Native American Journalists Association.

Last February, the Australian prime minister apologized for the past treatment of its indigenous people. Last month, the Canadian prime minister also issued an apology for its treatment of its indigenous population. Would your administration issue an apology to Native Americans for the atrocities they've endured for the past 500 years?

OBAMA: You know, I personally would want to see our tragic history or the tragic elements of our history acknowledged. And I think that there's no doubt that, when it comes to our treatment of Native Americans, as well as other persons of color in this country, that we've got some -- some very sad and difficult things to account for.

You know, what an official apology would look like, how it would be shaped, that's something that I would want to consult with Native American tribes and councils to talk about, and -- because, obviously, as sovereign nations, they also have a whole host of other issues that they're concerned about and that they've prioritized.

One of the things that I've said to tribal leaders is, I want to set up a annual meeting with them and make sure that a whole range of these issues are addressed.

But I've consistently believed, when it comes -- whether it's Native American issues, whether it's African-American issues and reparations, that the most important thing for the U.S. government to do is not just to offer words, but offer deeds.

And when you look at the situation on tribal lands, the fact that, by every socioeconomic indicator, Native Americans are doing worse than any other population on health, on education, on substance abuse -- their housing situations are deplorable, unemployment is skyrocketing -- you know, I have to confess that I'm more concerned about delivering a better life and creating a better relationship with the Native American peoples than anything else. And that's what I want to engage tribal leaders in making sure happens.

MALVEAUX: When it comes to reparations, would you take it a step further, in terms of apologizing for slavery or offering reparations to various groups?

OBAMA: You know, I have said in the past -- and I'll repeat again -- that the best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people who are unemployed.

And, you know, I think that strategies that invest in lifting people out of the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, but that have broad applicability and allow us to build coalitions to actually get these things done, that, I think, is the best strategy.

You know, the fact is, is that dealing with some of the -- some of the legacy of discrimination is going to cost billions of dollars. And we're not going to be able to have that kind of resource allocation unless all Americans feel that they are invested in making this stuff happen.

And so, you know, I'm much more interested in talking about, how do we get every child to learn? How do we get every person health care? How do we make sure that everybody has a job? How do we make sure that every senior citizen can retire with dignity and respect?

And if we have a program, for example, of universal health care, that will disproportionately affect people of color, because they're disproportionately uninsured. If we've got an agenda that says every child in America should get -- should be able to go to college, regardless of income, that will disproportionately affect people of color, because it's oftentimes our children who can't afford to go to college.

MALVEAUX: Can we hear from the next questioner?

DIANNE SOLIS, DALLAS MORNING NEWS/NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF HISPANIC JOURNALISTS: Hi, I'm Dianne Solis. I'm from the Dallas Morning News and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

And my question is about immigration. Percentage-wise, the U.S. has nearly as many immigrants as it did at its last historic high about a century ago. So should we have more immigration or less immigration? And where should people come from, particularly given that the biggest backlogs are out of Latin America and Asia for legal entry?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I think that we are a nation of immigrants and we are a nation of laws. And the problem that I see is not the number of immigrants that are coming in -- because we actually are advantaged in the United States by the number of immigrants coming in. The Europeans, they've got the opposite problem. Because they don't have a history of assimilating immigrants, they're actually losing population rapidly. And that could present a huge problem for them, in terms of their economy over the long term. Same thing is true with Japan.

So the fact that we're getting people who still want to come to this country and live out the American dream, that's all good.

The problem is when we've got a legal immigration system running parallel with an illegal immigration system. And I have said that I'm strongly in favor of a comprehensive immigration approach.

And that means cracking down on employers who are hiring undocumented workers so that they don't have to pay them minimum wage, don't have to pay them overtime. It means having serious border security.

It means, also, providing a pathway to citizenship for those undocumented workers who are here, who have put down roots, getting them out of the shadows. They'll have to pay a fine, and they'll have to learn English, and go to the back of the line, but giving them an avenue to become fully part of the American -- American society, I think that's very important.

But part of comprehensive immigration reform is also looking at the legal system to make sure that we've got a realistic approach. You know, if you've got 10-year waiting lists for family reunification, that's pushing people into the illegal system, because it's very hard to see your spouse or your children outside of a country for 10 years as they wait to go through this process.

OBAMA: Part of comprehensive reform would also involve examining where are various immigrants coming from, because, frankly, we are probably underrepresented when it comes to immigrants from certain parts of the world.

The fact that it is much harder for Haitians to immigrate than it is from persons from other countries, in some cases, despite relative similarities in need, that's something that we should examine.

So -- and one last point I'd want to make on the legal immigration system. We keep on jacking up the costs of immigration, and that skews things so that it is harder for ambitious, hard- working, well-qualified poor folks from coming into this country and makes it much easier for Mick Jagger to immigrate. And I'm not sure that that's the kind of system that is fair and reflective of American values.

MALVEAUX: Let's go to our next questioner, please.

LEONARD PITTS, MIAMI HERALD/NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BLACK JOURNALISTS: Good morning, Senator. Leonard Pitts, Jr., columnist with the Miami Herald and member of the National Association of Black Journalists.

You have repeatedly denounced false rumors that you are a Muslim. My question and what I'm wondering is whether or not you feel that you have gone too far, whether or not, in answering these questions without challenging the implicit assumption that there's something wrong with being a Muslim, you have actually done harm to the cause of Muslims.

You have visited churches and synagogues. When will you -- or is it in the plans for you to visit a mosque?

OBAMA: Well, Leonard, I have to say, this is a classic example of a no-win situation, right? So I try to correct something that is false and then people say, "Well, why are you correcting this thing in a way that isn't sufficiently" -- well, let me put it this way.

First of all, I have repeatedly on various occasions said I am not a Muslim, but this whole strategy of suggesting that I am is indicative of anti-Muslim sentiment that we have to -- that we have to fight against. So maybe you haven't seen those quotes, but they're out there. And I've said them on more than one occasion. And I've said them on television; I've said them in print. I just don't like the idea of somebody falsely identifying my religion. I suspect that you wouldn't appreciate that, either. If you were a Muslim and somebody consistently said you were a Christian, I suspect that you would want to have that corrected, because that's offensive to -- to your faith.

You know, I think my credentials on supporting Muslim-Americans are very strong. Keep in mind, I'm the person who talked about discrimination against Arab-Americans in my convention speech in 2004, something that I hadn't heard too many other politicians talk about in the height of the scare after 9/11.

I have visited mosques here in my community, repeatedly, on -- and met with Muslim leaders on a wide range of occasions.

So, you know, what I would ask is that I am treated like other candidates in terms of expectations and that people look at my entire record. When it comes to anti-Muslim bias, when it comes to discrimination against Muslims or Arab-Americans, I have been at the forefront of those fights and will continue to be when I'm president of the United States.


RATNESAR: Senator, let me ask you a no-win follow-up.


Do you think you could have come this far if you were a Muslim?

OBAMA: You know, that's a -- that's a hypothetical that I don't know how to answer. I will tell you this, that the American people are more tolerant and more open-minded than I think a lot of the pundits give them credit for.

And I think right now what they're interested in is, who's going to help them get a job? Who's going to make sure that they are able to send their kid to college? Who can deliver for them?

And if they have confidence that I am going to be able to make their lives better or work with them to open up opportunities for them to achieve the American dream, I think I'll have their support.

And if I -- and if, on the other hand, they think I'm not going to help them do that, then it doesn't matter what my religion is or what my skin color is, I probably won't get their support.

MALVEAUX: One more question from the audience.

JOHN YANG, NBC NEWS/ASIAN AMERICAN JOURNALISTS ASSOCIATION: Thank you, Senator. I'm John Yang, NBC News White House correspondent and a member of the Asian American Journalists Association.

I'd like to ask you about affirmative action. Just this morning, Senator McCain endorsed an Arizona ballot initiative that would end preferences based on race and gender in that state. The author of that initiative, Ward Connerly, says your very success undercuts the argument for affirmative action.

If the United States were to have a president of color, would there still be a need for affirmative action?

OBAMA: Well, look, I am a strong supporter of affirmative action when properly structured so that it is not just a quota, but it is acknowledging and taking into account some of the hardships and difficulties that communities of color may have experienced, continue to experience, and it also speaks to the value of diversity in all walks of American life. We are becoming a more diverse culture, and it's something that has to be acknowledged.

I've also said that affirmative action is not going to be the long-term solution to the problems of race in America, because, frankly, if you've got 50 percent of African-American or Latino kids dropping out of high school, it doesn't really matter what you do in terms of affirmative action. Those kids are not getting into college.

And, you know, there have been times where I think affirmative action has been viewed as a shortcut to solving some of these broader, long-term structural problems.

I also think that we have to think about affirmative action and craft it in such a way where some of our children who are advantaged aren't getting more favorable treatment than a poor white kid who's struggled more. That has to be taken into account.

So I think that, whether it's in terms -- particularly, when it comes to college admissions, what I'm interested in is programs that take a wide range of issues into account.

They -- I think a university or a college should be able to take into account race, but they should also be able to take into account class, and hardship, and difficulty in making assessments about whether or not a young person is deserving of -- of opportunity. I am disappointed, though, that John McCain flipped and changed his position. I think in the past he had been opposed to these kinds of Ward Connerly referenda or initiatives as divisive. And I think he's right. You know, the truth of the matter is, these are not designed to solve a big problem, but they're all too often designed to drive a wedge between people.

And one thing that I'm absolutely convinced about, after having traveled all across the world over the last -- last week, is that one of our greatest strengths is the fact that we come from so many different places, and yet we are all Americans.

The Iraqis and the Afghans, when we talked -- when they talked to me about our military, not only were they impressed with how effective our military was, but they were also impressed with the fact that we had people from all walks of life who looked different all joining together as Americans.

They were impressed with the fact that our main commanding officer now in Iraq is an African-American. That, I think, is what makes America special. And we shouldn't lose that -- we shouldn't either lose that or see that as a source of division. It should be a source of pride. And when properly structured, affirmative action, I think, can be a part of that.

MALVEAUX: And, Senator, if I could just follow with this one point, it was about a year ago you were with many of us in this audience, and you were asked about whether or not you were black enough. Obviously, that question has gone by the wayside. You have 90 percent approval rating from the African-American community.

OBAMA: Now I'm too black.

MALVEAUX: Too black, he said.



OBAMA: I'm -- I'm...


MALVEAUX: I didn't say that.

OBAMA: No, I'm -- I'm just teasing.

OBAMA: But it does point -- I mean, and this is what I was getting to Leonard's question -- I mean, I do think that there is this sense of going back and forth, depending on the time of day, in terms of making assessments about my candidacy. And I think that what we're trying to do is simply work as hard as we can around the values and ideals that led me into this race, and that I think are what are needed right now in order for to us move this country forward.

MALVEAUX: Thank you very much, Senator, for sharing your impressions of your trip and taking our questions this afternoon.

OBAMA: Thank you, I enjoyed it. Thank you very much.


BLITZER: And there it is. Senator Barack Obama answering questions over at the Unity conference in Chicago. You see he's getting a standing ovation from many of the journalists, the minority journalists who have come there.

We're going to be speaking with Suzanne Malveaux and Ramesh Ratnesar. That's coming up. Also part of our political panel, we'll assess what we just heard not only from Senator Obama; we'll also assess what we heard earlier from Senator McCain.

Much more of our special "Late Edition" right after this.


BLITZER: And welcome back to our special "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. You're looking at live pictures of Senator Barack Obama. He's at the Unity conference of minority journalists in Chicago. You just heard his question-and-answer session there.

We're going to assess with our panel now what we just heard from Senator Obama. This is his first event since coming back to the United States from his visit to the Middle East and Europe.

For our discussion, we're joined by our Suzanne Malveaux. She was the moderator of this extraordinary session in Chicago. Also joining us, Time magazine's managing editor, Ramesh Ratnesar. He participated in the questioning as well. And in Chicago to cover this story is our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley. With me here in Washington, our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. Suzanne, let me start with you. He seems to find it difficult to back away from his opposition earlier to the surge, which he now says has worked and has reduced the violence, seems to have set the stage for some positive potential developments in Iraq. Is it too complicated for him to simply say, you know what, well, maybe I made a mistake, maybe I was wrong, but here's where we have to go from here?

MALVEAUX: It's very interesting, because what the campaign would really like to do, what they would like to focus on is the decision he made over the Iraq war, his vote on the Iraq war -- or, rather, his position on the Iraq war, not his vote -- saying that he was against it, that that was the big mistake that John McCain made.

And what they're getting caught up in now is this debate over the surge. They really would rather shift the focus here when it comes to his judgment.

So what you're hearing is kind of a parsing here. He's talking about the troops are doing a great job, that security has improved, but he brings in all these other factors for why he believes conditions on the ground have improved in Iraq. So that is really what the campaign is kind of caught in the middle of, and that's what they've been trying to answer -- some would say unsuccessfully -- over the last couple of days here.

What I found really fascinating about it was the senator was saying is that he felt that on a number of levels really is in a kind of a no-win position. He's criticized if he doesn't go to Iraq and some of these other areas to gain some sort of foreign policy credentials, and then he's criticized for these kind of grand events that he had returning from Europe and the Middle East -- the 200,000 in Berlin -- for being kind of presumptuous, if you will. So there seems almost to be a frustration on his part and the campaign that either way, he can't win when it comes to going up against McCain's criticism.

But if you take a look at some of those pictures -- and I know that Candy followed him every step of the way -- there's some extraordinary pictures that came out of that trip that really do make him look presidential.

BLITZER: And Ramesh, he makes the point, which is a fair point, saying, you know what, you want to talk about judgment of these presidential candidates. He says, you know, in 2002, in 2003, I was right in opposing this war to begin with, and John McCain was wrong. And that underscores his bad judgment.

He complained in the session he just had with you, he said, "why doesn't anyone ask John McCain about that?" Well, in fairness, John McCain has been asked about that. In fact, in our interview that we aired earlier here on "Late Edition," I asked him about it. Let me play this little clip.


BLITZER: Back in 2002 and 2003, early 2003, before the war, he made the right call in opposing the war to begin with, and he says you blundered, you made the wrong call in supporting going to war against Saddam Hussein.

MCCAIN: I'd be more than happy to go through all of that again, and historians will. The fact is that Saddam Hussein was bent on the development of weapons of mass destruction.


BLITZER: Ramesh, he's been asked that question several times over the past few days. I know Barack Obama was overseas, he probably didn't see a lot of those interviews with Senator McCain, but Senator McCain is not acknowledging he made a mistake, despite the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction stockpiles, no connection to Al Qaida with Saddam Hussein, no involvement in 9/11. John McCain insists he made the right call in supporting this war. So how is this going to play out?

RATNESAR: Well, I mean, I don't think McCain is at any point going to say that he thought the Iraq war was a mistake. What he has said in the past is that the way in which it was fought was not a way which he agreed, that he believed that we should have sent more troops in from the start. He believed that when conditions were deteriorating in '04 and '05, we should have sent the surge in then.

I think the challenge for both of these guys is trying to make the case that their plans going forward are the right ones. And to some extent, I think Senator Obama would like to get past this debate about whether the surge was a good idea or a bad idea and simply say, look, no matter what you feel about whether the surge was a good idea or not, the fact of the matter is, he was just there; the conditions on the ground are such that even the government of Iraq and even this administration is starting to talk about the possibility of withdrawing troops on some kind of a timetable. And that's been the Obama position from the start.

So I think he's hoping that that plays to his advantage. I think McCain has to figure out a way in which he can both trumpet the fact that he supported the surge and the surge has worked, but that now the conditions are moving in a direction that actually supports Senator Obama's position.

BLITZER: I think you make an excellent point. Both of these candidates, Senator McCain probably doesn't want to answer a whole lot of questions about the original support for the war. Senator Obama's, I'm sure, sick and tired of answering questions about whether or not the surge has worked.

I'm going to ask all of our panelists to stand by. We have a lot more to discuss. We'll take a quick break. More of our special "Late Edition" right after this.


BLITZER: And welcome back to "Late Edition."

Candy Crowley, we heard a major difference today on the issue of affirmative action between Senator McCain, who says he opposes affirmative action, supports these resolutions out there, these referenda in some of the states that would ban affirmative action.

But you heard Senator Obama say affirmative action is worthwhile, even if he opposes formal quotas.

How important is this distinction on an important issue between these two presidential candidates?

CROWLEY: Well, I think it's another issue that adds to what is a very bright-line election.

And you also see, I think, in that answer from Senator Obama, what is pretty typical. He tend to not have precise, very yes or no answers.

He, kind of -- what he said in that answer was, look, I think there is a place for affirmative action, but these are these other things, and, certainly, I am against quotas, which, sort of, has been taken out of the argument, anyway. There are very few people, at this time, who look at quotas and say it's a great idea, at least as far as politicians are concerned.

So I think it does add to the entire story here, which is that you have two very different candidates, personality-wise, issues-wise, and style-wise, in this campaign.

BLITZER: You've covered, Bill Schneider, these debates over affirmative action, over many years. It seems never to go away, if you will.

SCHNEIDER: It does not. But here we do have a bright line, I think. You have Obama saying he opposes these initiatives in Colorado, and I believe there's one in Arizona. McCain endorsed them just today.

The problem here is there are two really different definitions of affirmative action. One is outreach. The other is preferences.

Most Americans accept the idea of outreach, that minorities, disadvantaged groups should be given some special consideration, as long as it is shy of preferential treatment.

People believe that you should help disadvantaged groups meet the prevailing standards of competition, but you shouldn't make exceptions for them.

And what he essentially said was that he doesn't like preferential treatment, but he doesn't want to destroy affirmative action.

And he says these initiatives are used to do just that, to destroy the good parts of affirmative action, which he supports, and they're designed to divide people, which, of course, is exactly the opposite of the theme of his campaign.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux, at the end of your Q&A with Senator Obama, you reminded everyone that, a year ago, at this very same conference, someone complained that he wasn't black enough, and now he joked, well, maybe I'm too black right now.

It's a sensitive issue out there. He was having a little fun with it. But wrap it up for us.

MALVEAUX: Well, really, it goes to the heart. This was last year; he was asked numerous times, in various ways, whether or not he was black enough.

And depending on what kind of meaning you give to that phrase or that question, it could mean, are you looking out for some of the social programs or the priorities that are important to the African- American community, or does it mean other things?

That was a frustration for him. Obviously, what we're getting at here, and a lot of people in this audience are interested in -- are curious about, and it relates to affirmative action is, OK, you started off, are you black enough? Obviously, he's got more than 90 percent approval rating among African-Americans. Does that mean that an Obama presidency, if he's sitting in the White House, does he has a debt to pay?

Are there priorities or expectations specifically from the African-American community because of the kind of support that he is now getting, now, from this specific group?

That really was, kind of, the heart of the issue to that question. He, kind of, made light of it, referring to maybe he's a little bit too black. But that really is what a lot of people are asking.

BLITZER: All right. We've got to leave it right there. Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much. Ramesh Ratnesar, Candy Crowley, Bill Schneider, an excellent discussion on this special "Late Edition".

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Up next, "Fareed Zakaria: GPS."