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Barack Obama Continues Raking in Contributions; Did Clinton Say Obama 'Can't Win'?; Will McCain's Military Background Help in November?

Aired April 03, 2008 - 17:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Why some drivers say it will drive them out of the business.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Barack Obama keeps raking it in. His campaign announced today it took in more than $40 million in March, from some 440,000 contributors. That's more than twice as much as Hillary Clinton's $20 million haul, according to Clinton campaign sources. In February, Obama raised a record $55 million.

Hillary Clinton is well aware of those numbers. Just listen to her reaction a short time ago.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I'm glad he's competing hard in Pennsylvania because it's a really important state. It's a state that Democrats have to win. You can't get to Pennsylvania Avenue if you don't go through Pennsylvania.

It's going to be a close contest. We're both working very hard. He's just finished a long bus tour. He obviously is putting a lot of emphasis on Pennsylvania, so am I. I'm not taking anything for granted.

I'm going to work as hard as I can. And I am being outspent. You know, I haven't seen final numbers, but I think I was outspent four to one in Ohio and three to one in Texas and goodness -- I think I was outspent five to one in Rhode Island. So I'm being used to being outspent.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Senator Obama said he would give Al Gore a position in his cabinet or a central role in his administration, especially when it comes to global warming.

Would -- do you think that they are getting ready to cut a deal? Are you worried about that? And would you give Gore a position in your cabinet?

CLINTON: Well, I wish Al Gore were in the seventh year of his second term. I really think our country would be so much better off had Vice President Gore been elected president. And I think we have seen what a difference a president can make in terms of the misplaced priorities and the failures of the Bush administration.

I am very, you know, dependent upon the work that Al Gore has done for so many years on behalf of climate change, but also other areas. You know, his Reinventing Government initiative, his reaching out to countries in a very formal way to develop relationships when he was vice president I think are tremendously useful models. And I would be certainly pleased to have his involvement in any way that he would want to be involved.

And I don't know whether he would be interested in going back into government or not. But I think the American people would welcome that because of his incredible record of service and his, you know, obvious understanding of the problems we're facing today.


MALVEAUX: More now on Barack Obama's haul of cold hard cash. Joining us now, CNN's senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley --

Candy, the Clinton campaign seems to be giving double messages here. On the one hand, it's not such a big deal. But on the other hand, she's emphasizing that it's five to one, four to one, the ratio here. What is she trying to do?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's the whole Rocky thing brought to the financial pages. It's, well, I'm the underdog but I'm fighting hard. I think what you saw here was sort of a pre-act.

If she wins, Pennsylvania, I think you'll hear the sort of thing that we heard in Ohio, where she won, which is well, I was outspent and he really made a huge effort here but he wasn't able to win. And, really, if he can't win Pennsylvania, he really can't win the White House. So I think you saw the argument they will make the day after Pennsylvania should they win.

I think, also, that the underdog role -- despite the fact she's leading in the polls, in Pennsylvania, at least -- the underdog role is something that they like because they are obviously in Pennsylvania, as he is, trying to reach into the working class vote. And that's a demographic that is very attracted to that, you know, get up and keep fighting kind of image that she's putting out there.

MALVEAUX: Is she in any kind of trouble when it comes to looking forward in North Carolina with those kinds of numbers -- twice as much money in Barack Obama's campaign to put out those ads?

We saw a new ad today that she launched. But does that spell, really, a real change for her looking forward?

CROWLEY: Sure. I mean, absolutely. Money matters. I mean money buys ads. Ads matter. Ads do change people's minds. So, yes, if you're going to spend a lot in Pennsylvania to kind of hold off a strong push by Obama, that is less money you have in North Carolina. That's less money for you to have in Indiana -- both really critical and the next states after Pennsylvania. So, absolutely, it's a problem. And I think one of the things that we're seeing here is that early on, the Obama campaign went after those sort of small donors and kind of made a fine art out of it via the Internet. The Clinton campaign was kind of late to that game. She kind of maxed out a lot of her contributors early on. They hit that $2,300 ceiling. Whereas he can go back to a lot of his contributors because they hadn't given the maximum amount allowed.

So he is bringing in new voters, as well as tapping in -- bringing in new contributors, as well as tapping into contributors that have given him some before.

MALVEAUX: Candy, great to see you. Thanks again.

Everyone knows who former Bill Clinton is backing in the Democratic race. But what about former President Jimmy Carter?

Well, he's not declaring anything, but he certainly offers a strong hint. On a trip to Africa, Carter said this to Nigerian reporters -- and I'm quoting here -- "We are very interested in the primaries. Don't forget that Obama won in my state of Georgia. My town, which is home to 625 people, is for Obama. My children and their spouses are pro-Obama. My grandchildren are also pro-Obama. As a superdelegate, I would not disclose who I am rooting, but I leave it to you to make that guess."

The Carter Center confirms to CNN that the former president is quoted accurately.

Tension was added to the Democratic race recently when a long- time friend and ally of the Clintons, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, endorsed Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton was asked today about reports that she warned Richardson, in effect, not to bet on the wrong horse.

Just take a listen.


QUESTION: Senator Clinton, did you tell Governor Richardson Barack Obama can't win?

CLINTON: You know, we have been going back and forth in this campaign about who said what to whom. And let me say this about that. I don't talk about private conversations.

But I have consistently made the case that I can win, because I believe I can win. And, you know, sometimes people draw the conclusion that I'm saying somebody else can't win. I can win. I know I can win. That's why I do this every day. And that's what my campaign is about. I'm in it to win it and I intend to do just that. That's a no.


MALVEAUX: All right, let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. Gloria, this -- there's -- that took her a long time to answer that question, by the way.



MALVEAUX: So nuanced there.

So what do you think this really means?

BORGER: I think we heard the word win more than a few times. And she went back to the old phrase "I'm in it to win it." And I think we'll never know the truth, Suzanne, about what occurred in that conversation.

But what we do know from talking to people who are talking to the Clinton superdelegates, they're telling me that they are making the case very, very strongly about electability -- not necessarily that Barack Obama cannot win, but just they have a better chance of winning, that Hillary Clinton is more electable in those battleground states -- for example, Texas, -- I mean Ohio, Pennsylvania Florida.

And so they're saying to these superdelegates, if you care about winning -- and, after all, superdelegates are elected officials. They care about what goes on at the bottom of the ticket, as well as the top of the ticket, because this is their own survival. They're saying we can help you more than Obama.

MALVEAUX: So President Carter today obviously hinting that he was going for Barack Obama. What does this indicate? Are we actually going to see kind of a groundswell now of these superdelegates?

It seems to be a little bit of a trickle. But are you getting a sense that there is something that's breaking here?

BORGER: Well, there's been a melt, clearly, toward Obama. I think if Obama had won Texas and Ohio -- they had a large group superdelegates ready to go and saying they were going to be for Obama. But it didn't work out that way for Obama, Suzanne.

So I think what you're going to see is a continued melt. But I'm told by some Democratic strategists that in June, when the primaries are over, the head of the party, Howard Dean is going to get a group of top elected officials together -- I mean top party officials -- to say to superdelegates decide now, before the convention. They don't want to fight at the convention.

MALVEAUX: And it's going to be so interesting leading up to that point in June.

Thank you so much, Gloria.


MALVEAUX: For the latest political news any time, check out the political ticker at The ticker is the number one political news blog on the Web. And Jack Cafferty now in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack, what are you looking at?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The education crisis, Suzanne, in America's largest cities is now assuming frightening proportions. Only about half of all students who attend the main school systems in the 50 largest cities in this country graduate from high school. Half.

A study by the nonprofit Editorial Projects In Education Research Center describes graduating from high school in these cities as "a coin toss." The graduation rate of 52 percent far below the national average of 70 percent. The main school districts of Detroit, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Baltimore had the lowest rates in the country -- all below 40 percent.

In Detroit, Michigan, the high graduation rate is 25 percent.

Not surprisingly, there's a sharp contrast between urban and suburban schools. In 35 of the nation's largest cities, graduation rates were lower in the city than out in the suburbs. Sometimes the difference was as much as 35 percentage points. In Baltimore, 82 percent of the kids in the suburban districts graduated. Only 35 percent of the kids in the city did.

Nationwide, almost one in three high school students drops out before graduation. We're losing 1.2 million kids every year. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell says the dropout rate is not just a crisis, it's a catastrophe. He's the founding chairman of the group that presented this report.

Officials say more community involvement is needed and leaders of business and faith-based groups are being urged to make graduation a priority when they talk with students.

Here's the question: How can the U.S. compete globally when only about half the students in our largest cities manage to graduate high school?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Wow, Jack, those are some terrible numbers.


MALVEAUX: Thank you so much.

How much will John McCain's storied military background matter in November?


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: John McCain can run around all that he wants right now talking about his military experience. But he made the wrong judgment about Iraq. He has a foreign policy that has made us weaker with respect to Hezbollah, Iran, North Korea. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: I'll speak to another Vietnam vet, Obama supporter Senator John Kerry.

Also, the stars are out in Hollywood, but they are not all aligned. We'll show you how the Democratic divide runs deep in Tinseltown.

And 40 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, CNN's Soledad O'Brien has an inside look at the mystery that still surrounds the murder.


MALVEAUX: John McCain has been highlighting his background has a Vietnam hero and he strongly supports staying the course in Iraq. But he stressed again today that having American troops in harm's way is not something that he takes lightly.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I detest war. It might not be the worst thing to befall human beings, but it is wretched beyond all description. Not the valor with which it is fought nor the nobility, the cause it serves can glorify war. Whatever gains are secured it is loss the veteran remembers most keenly.

Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war. However ready, however heady the appeal of a call to arms, however just the cause, we should still -- we should still shed a tear for all that is lost when war claims its wages from us.


MALVEAUX: So does McCain's background give him an advantage over either Democrat in November? Let's hear from another Vietnam War vet, who happens to be an Obama supporter.

Senator John Kerry, thank you so much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

KERRY: Thank you. Glad to be with you.

MALVEAUX: We're seeing Senator John McCain. He is out on the road and he's introducing himself -- reintroducing himself to the American people, the voters. And he's stressing his war experience, his Vietnam War veteran experience, as well as being a prisoner of war.

How does Barack Obama compete with that -- that narrative, if you will, with no military experience?

KERRY: Well, he doesn't have to compete with that. He has to be qualified to be able to make good judgments about foreign policy and how you make America safer. John McCain can run around all he wants right now talking about his military experience, but he made the wrong judgment about Iraq. He has a foreign policy that has made us weaker with respect to Hezbollah, Iran, North Korea. You can run a list. This has been a failed foreign policy for the last eight years and John McCain has supported it in its entirety.

MALVEAUX: Senator Kerry, your own experience -- your military experience -- you were swift-boated, if you will. Barack Obama's patriotism has been called into question.

How much of that, do you think, is really going to be a vulnerability if he becomes the nominee?

KERRY: Well, I'm convinced that we all have learned a lesson for all time, including John McCain, don't allow those attacks. Remember, John McCain was swift-boated in the year 2000 by the very same people. Max Cleland similarly. We thought we had answered it adequately.

The lesson is that, dollar for dollar, station for station, outlet for outlet, you have to make certain that it is, indeed, being fully answered. And Barack Obama will do that.

But, you know, even to begin to ask these questions about Barack Obama's patriotism is, in fact, to begin that process of swift- boating. He is an American, a full-blooded American who loves this country, who is committed to this country, whose passion is making this country stronger and a country that lives up to its own ideals and so that is...

MALVEAUX: Senator, let's go to --

KERRY: ...and that's what he's fighting for. And I think over the next months, people will see that completely.

MALVEAUX: -- Let's go back to 2004, when you were the Democratic nominee. It was three weeks after you sealed that nomination. There's been a lot of discussion, as you know, a lot of debate over who approached who when it came to picking your running mate, considering John McCain.

Recently, John McCain has acknowledged that these conversations took place, but he insists and his team insists that it wasn't him that reached out to you, that it was you who reached out to him. Which is it?

KERRY: Well, I've already spoken out on that very clearly. And the record, from our point of view is very clear. I know what happened. I know who approached us. But I don't think we need to go backwards.

MALVEAUX: Well who --

KERRY: This race --

MALVEAUX: Did you... KERRY: This race --

MALVEAUX: ...approach McCain or did he approach you...

KERRY: This race --

MALVEAUX: ...just to clear it up for us?

KERRY: I have cleared it up. I've said again and again that we were approached by an operative on his behalf who indicated to us that he was willing to entertain it. But, you know, I'm -- that's just a silly waste of time. Let's not bother with that. He's the nominee of their party. And right now what's important is who can make America more secure.

I think Barack Obama has shown a very clear understanding of all the ways in which John McCain and George Bush's policies have made America weaker, have, in fact, made us more threatened in the world, have overextend our military, have, in fact, created more power to Iran, more power to Hezbollah, more power to Hamas.

This is a failed foreign policy for, now, seven-and-a-half years, and certainly since 9/11. Osama bin Laden is still out there. Al Qaeda has reconstituted. It is stronger today than it was on September 12. That's unacceptable as a policy and I think the American people want a change. And I think Barack Obama has very clearly shown the ways in which he can lead us to a stronger nation and to a stronger role in the world.

MALVEAUX: And Senator Kerry, we've got to wrap this up really quickly. But, obviously, John McCain just revealed he's got a list of 20 folks that he might be considering as running mates. Do you suspect you're on the list?

KERRY: I'm confident I am not.

MALVEAUX: I assume being an Obama supporter, you would not -- you would not accept such a position?

KERRY: I wouldn't entertain the thought. And I can say right now that it's not even a possibility, so it's, you know, it's not worth the time.

MALVEAUX: Senator John Kerry.

Thank you so much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

KERRY: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: A town facing political divide, but this isn't just any town, it's Tinseltown. We'll show you why celebrities are split between the Clinton and Obama camps.

Plus, an airline stops flying abruptly -- leaving thousands of passengers stranded. Find out which one.

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


MALVEAUX: Carol Costello is off today. Zain Verjee is monitoring the stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Zain, what are you looking at?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, the Census Bureau says plans to go high tech in 2010 are off. Officials have decided against Census takers using handheld computers, saying they're just too complex for many workers and they're having major problems transmitting data. The Census Bureau has ordered a half a million of the devices at a cost of more than $600 million.

ATA Airlines is grounded, declaring bankruptcy and leaving tens of thousands of would-be passengers scrambling to make new travel plans. The airline says the loss of a key contract for its military charter business forced it to for Chapter 11 protection. ATA's partner, Southwest Airlines, is working to accommodate some of the stranded passengers.

A health emergency in Brazil, where more than 55,000 cases of potentially deadly dengue fever have been reported. Emergency rooms have been overwhelmed with victims, especially in hard-hit Rio de Janeiro State, where the virus killed 67 people, about half of them children. Dengue fever is spread by mosquitoes, not from person to person.

Government forces in Zimbabwe have raided at least two hotels in the capital, including one housing foreign journalists covering the election showdown between long-time leader Robert Mugabe and his rival, Morgan Tsvangirai. Witnesses report four journalists were taken away.

Just a few moments ago, the State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey told CNN that the U.S. is calling for the immediate release of several American citizens seized said by the Zimbabwean authorities. At the same time, the Election Commission is further delaying results from last weekend's elections and raising new fears of fraud and more rigging on the part of the government -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: It will be interesting to see how all of that develops and comes out. Thanks, Zain .

It's a Democratic bastion, so which candidate is Hollywood backing?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're leaving Barack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am leaning completely on Hillary.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a Hillary person.



MALVEAUX: Stars divided over the race for the White House. So will they unite behind the eventual nominee?

Also, a plea from a pulpit under fire -- religious leaders come to the defense of Barack Obama's church, saying it's being portrayed as a radical sect.

Plus, 40 years since the murder that rocked the nation. Now the whole story of the King assassination.

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


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

Happening now, a defeat and a victory for President Bush at the NATO summit. Alliance leaders voted to delay membership for Ukraine and Georgia -- a cause Mr. Bush had championed. But NATO did endorse the president's plan for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, which Russia vigorously opposed.

Also, new information about the man accused of having bomb making material in his luggage as he tried to board a flight from Orlando to Jamaica. We know that Kevin Brown was a contractor in Iraq and returned from the war zone in mid-December.

And model Naomi Campbell has reportedly been arrested at London's Heathrow Airport for allegedly spitting at a police officer. Campbell has pleaded guilty twice before to assaulting assistants.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Hillary Clinton is wooing Hollywood's heavy hitters on their home turf tonight with a fundraiser in Beverly Hills. But the stars aren't actually aligned when it comes to supporting her or Barack Obama.

CNN entertainment correspondent, Brooke Anderson, is in Hollywood with the very latest -- Brooke?

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, Hillary Clinton is back in town, in Beverly Hills tonight, raising money with the entertainment crowd. Months into the primary process, Hollywood remains sharply divided between her and Barack Obama.


CLINTON: This is a very close race.

ANDERSON (voice-over): In Hollywood, it couldn't be any closer.

BRADLEY WHITFORD, CLINTON SUPPORTER: You do have two star candidates, people who have really kind of taken the community by storm.

FOREST WHITAKER, ACTOR: I believe in Barack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am leaning completely on Hillary.

ANDERSON: Hollywood Democrats remain as divided as ever between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton any way you slice it.

LAURA LINNEY, ACTRESS: I'm a Hillary person.


ANDERSON: Among mega stars, Clinton can count on Elizabeth Taylor, Barbra Streisand and Jack Nicholson who even made an online video touting her...

JACK NICHOLSON, ACTOR: I'm Jack Nicholson, and I approved this message.

ANDERSON: But Obama can counter with big stars of his own, Robert de Niro, Matt Damon and George Clooney.

GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR: I've never seen anyone like him.

ANDERSON: Among talk show hosts, Clinton's got Ellen DeGeneres, but Obama's got Oprah.


ANDERSON: Latino stars...

WHITFORD: Barack Obama has the support of George Lopez.

ANDERSON: Clinton's got "Ugly Betty" actress, America Ferrera, who co-hairs the candidate's youth outreach program Hill Blazers.

AMERICA FERRERA, ACTRESS: ... and I think people are ready to get up and have a voice.

ANDERSON: One Web site, the, likens the Hollywood split to a boxing match, complete with a fight card showing who supports whom.

RAPHAEL SONENSHEIN, CAL. STATE UNIV. FULLERTON: Obama can't knock her out, but clearly she can't knock him out. It will be a little bit more the older more established Hollywood community with Hillary.

ANDERSON: But young Hollywood seems to favor Obama. Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Alba appeared in pro Obama online videos from music producer Will I-Am. The Hollywood divide also extends to studio boardrooms.

TED JOHNSON, MANAGING EDITOR, VARIETY: Jeffrey Catsenberg is a big Barack Obama supporter along with David Geffen, another co-founder of Dreamworks, while Steven Spielberg is a big Hillary supporter. ANDERSON: With this bitter divide, will the two sides rally behind the eventual nominee?

SONENSHEIN: I wouldn't be surprised if some of the Hollywood people either sat it out or tacitly were friendly to McCain in the fall.

ANDERSON: But the candidates assert the party will be united when the dust settles.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We will be unified when this whole thing is over.

CLINTON: We're going to close ranks.


ANDERSON: Another sign of the split going into tonight, Clinton and Obama have raised nearly identical sums in Hollywood, $2.9 million each. Suzanne?

MALVEUX: Thanks, Brooke.

One key Democrat warns that the dog eat dog contest could come back to bite the party in November. Given that Hillary Clinton has vowed to fight all the way to the convention if necessary. Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, an Obama supporter was asked just how long this can go on.


SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), OBAMA SUPPORTER: It will end when the candidates decide it can't go any further than this. The last thing you want to be doing is lecturing candidates about getting out of the race that usually keeps them in it. But the fact of the matter is I think the national leadership of our party at some point here has to say game over. Otherwise, we're going to go to the convention highly divided.

And let me tell you what will happen, you go to the convention highly divided with eight weeks to go before a national election, barring some other extraneous circumstances you will lose the national election. So this matter has to be resolved in my view at some point before we get there. I'm confident it will be, by the way.


MALVEAUX: For more on the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, we are joined by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Clinton supporter and California congressman Xavier Becerra, he is backing Obama.

Thank you very much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I want to start off here asking you, mayor, obviously you stuck by Senator Clinton for quite some time now. There is another Clinton supporter and a superdelegate who I want to give a quote here. This is a Missouri congressman, Representative Emmanuel Cleaver to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Here is how he puts it, he says, "If I had to make a prediction right now, I'd say Barack Obama is going to be the next president. I will be stunned if he's not the next president of the United States." Do you agree with his assessment?

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, (D) CALIFORNIA: No I don't. I think we still have a lot of campaigning to do. There are voters in Pennsylvania and North Carolina and Kentucky, in other states that still want to weigh in on this presidential contest. And we still have a lot of voting to do.

MALVEAUX: So your prediction is that it will be Hillary Clinton?

VILLARAIGOSA: I believe that Hillary Clinton is going to be the nominee of our party and the next president of the United States.

MALVEAUX: Congressman Becerra, does he have anything to back this up with? Is he being realistic when you look at the numbers?

REP. XAVIER BECERRA, (D) CALIFORNIA: Suzanne we have two very strong candidates and they both make us very proud. I think Senator Obama has proven over the course of this campaign that he has become a stronger candidate as it's gone along.

I think he ultimately will win the nomination but we do have two candidates and we do have 10 more campaigns to run. So I'm not sure when this will end and both candidates have every right to go as far as they can, but I still do believe that Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States.

MALVEAUX: Congressman, Barack Obama, your candidates, was not able to carry your own state, California. There are other large states that he has not been able to capture as well. What makes you so confident that he really is going to win the support of the superdelegates who are going to look at his track record and perhaps go towards Clinton?

BECERRA: That's sort of been the story of Barack Obama's life, not just his campaign. He can't do it. He can't do it. Every step of the way he's had that American boy story. He does well. He's done it. He's going to continue to do it. In California, had we had another week or two, he probably would have won it.

And so it's one of those situations where Barack Obama continues to gain strength because he continues to show he will bring change to this country -- 215,000 contributions from 215,000 different people in America. That's why he was able to out raise Senator Clinton two to one.

MALVEAUX: Mayor, if Barack Obama does become the candidate of choice here, he wins the nomination of the Democratic Party, we have seen John McCain in your state really trying to build some support here. Obviously he is not giving up the state of California. Is it possible, do you think that the voters in your state could go Republican this time?

VILLARAIGOSA: Absolutely not. This is a blue state, it is because the Republican Party has gone so far to the right that they're out of kilter with the vast majority of the mainstream of California. And I think you'll see in this election the mainstream in America as well. I think this is a democratic country.

I agree with some of the speakers who have spoken before who have said that this party's going to get united around one candidate by the convention. You'll see us in November coming together. Congressman Becerra and I are close friends. We represent a good part of the same part of Los Angeles and I can tell you that we'll be campaigning for whoever the nominee is in November.

MALVEAUX: Mayor, there's been a lot of discussion over Governor Bill Richardson and his support for Barack Obama. How damaging do you think that was for the Latino community?

VILLARAIGOSA: I don't think it was damaging. Bill Richardson is a great candidate, a great public servant. I have a lot of respect for him. I think most people are going to make a decision based on the record of the candidate, their experiences and their vision for the future. On that count, I think most folks are going to go with Hillary Clinton.

MALVEAUX: But how damaging do you think it was for the Clinton campaign that Richardson went the other way?

VILLARAIGOSA: I don't think -- with all respect, I don't think it was -- I think most endorsements are just that, they're the individual's demonstration of support for a candidate. I think the electorate's going to go with who they think the best candidate is. I don't think it was damaging at all, frankly.

MALVEAUX: Congressman, we heard John Edwards today saying that if he was asked to be the vice presidential nominee, running mate, that he would not accept that position. Who do you think is the strongest person now to be vice president, to run with either Barack Obama or Senator Clinton?

BECERRA: We are blessed with riches in terms of good people who could run for office at the highest level. We saw that during the entire presidential campaign where we had so many folks out.

MALVEAUX: Can you give me a name?

BECERRA: Goodness, I would insult 10 other people who have every right to be considered prospects for vice president. We're very blessed and that's the beauty of this. We're going to end up with a dream team and I think the excitement will continue until November.

MALVEAUX: No names yet?


MALVEAUX: Mr. Mayor, do you want to take a stab at it. VILLARAIGOSA: Congressman Becerra would be a great name.

MALVEAUX: There you go. OK, thank you so much. Appreciate it, thanks for being in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Barack Obama's church thrust into the headlines in what some say was an unfair portrayal. Now a spirited defense, new developments in an ongoing controversy.

Also, would Mitt Romney consider being John McCain's running mate? I'll ask him that and more when he joins us, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: Religious leaders are coming to the defense of Barack Obama's church which has been under a very hot spotlight over controversial remarks about race by the senior pastor. Our CNN's Susan Roesgen joining us live.

Susan, obviously there has been a lot of controversy over this. What is happening today?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Today Suzanne, the church is trying very hard to defend its former pastor and its reputation.


REV. MICHAEL KINNAMON, NATL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES: In recent weeks, I have seen the United Church of Christ more than occasionally portrayed as some kind of radical sect. This, of course, is nonsense.

ROESGEN (voice-over): Standing behind the pulpit where former Pastor Jeremiah Wright inspired his congregation and enraged critics. National church leaders defended the church and blasted the news media.

REV. OTIS MOSS, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: We have received unprecedented scrutiny that has taken its toll on our members, our staff and our senior pastor.

REV. JOHN THOMAS, PRES., UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: The intersection of politics, religion and race has heightened our awareness of how easy it is for our conversations about race to become anything but sacred.

MOSS: As a church, we say no more. Enough is enough. Today, we, the pastors, members and supporters of Trinity United Church of Christ proclaim that we take back our sacred space.

ROESGEN: Beyond what they say is the hurtful glare of the cameras, church leaders also say parishioners are hounded by reporters and they say the church received bomb threats. A church that feels under siege, now getting national support.

KINNAMON: If there are threats against one church, as there have been here, all churches are threatened. If the privacy of church members in one place is violated, as it has been here, all places of worship are violated.


ROESGEN: Now Suzanne, Reverend Wright himself was not here at the news conference today. He's been keeping a pretty low profile. Senator Barack Obama was not here either. We know that he's in Chicago tonight. He's not campaigning and his press spokesman told me that he has no idea when was the last time that Senator Obama actually attended a service here at Trinity United Church.

MALVEAUX: Susan, you're there in Chicago at the church. What is the tone of those parishioners there? What sense do you get from them? Are they just fed up with this or are they moving on or resilient? What is the feeling there?

ROESGEN: No, they're not moving on Suzanne and that's why they had the news conference today. I think they feel angry and they feel used. When they have talked about certain reporters, they were basically talking about reporters who were rude enough to go into the pews and hand out their business cards during the services, something of course CNN would never do.

And also, reporters who called up people who were sick, parishioners who were sick or in the hospital because they had gotten the names and phone numbers off of a prayer list from people who were praying for those particular parishioners. So these reporters actually went to the sickest members of the congregation to try to get their responses to the Wright controversy. And the church says that's horrible and this is a sacred place and we're not going to allow it anymore.

MALVEAUX: OK, thank you very much Susan.

Tomorrow marks the 40 years since the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Tonight in a CNN primetime event, Soledad O'Brien sheds new light on that fateful day.

She's here with a preview -- Soledad?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Suzanne, tonight, we'll take a closer look at all those events that led up to the paths crossing, that when they crossed changed the course of American history. That of course is the path of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the path of James Earl Ray who was convicted and spent his life in prison for killing Dr. King.

Now the evidence that most people focus on is the evidence that was found in a bundle that was thrown in the doorway if you know the story. But of course even with that evidence, there are so many loose ends and strings and questions. And some of those questions, in fact Suzanne, involve whether Ray could have pulled off this crime by himself.

Did he have the funding? Did he have the ability? Did he have the innate intelligence as some people describe him as a second rate criminal who was best known for his attempts to break out of jail? We sat down with his brother, Jerry, who told us this.


JERRY RAY, BROTHER OF JAMES EARL RAY: He don't deny that he didn't rent the room. He don't deny he didn't buy the gun. The only thing he's denied is that he was in that room.

O'BRIEN: The only thing he denies is that he shot Dr. King?

RAY: That's the only thing he says he didn't do.

O'BRIEN: Jerry Ray says before the shot was fired, his brother drove the Mustang away to try to get a spare tire fixed.

No witnesses have said, yes, he came in to get the spare tire fixed. Yes, I saw that man. We were too busy we couldn't take him, but he was here. Nobody. There is not one witness who has talked about a man coming in to get a spare tire fixed.

RAY: I don't know for sure. I don't know if nobody admitted that he was in there or not.


O'BRIEN: James Earl Ray would blame everything on a man named Raul. A man who nobody was ever -- witness wise, able to track down and place with Ray. A man who frankly investigators always doubted that he even existed. Memphis was a place where Martin Luther King had no police protection, that's because he was back for a march where the police had been involved in a previous one that went horribly awry.

So no police protection this time around. And also, the newspapers, Suzanne, had printed exactly what hotel room Martin Luther King would be in and where he was staying. When you walk through the rooming house, which is now the National Civil Rights Museum, you can see that frankly it is a clear and easy shot from the window of the bathroom in that rooming house straight to the balcony where Martin Luther King was standing.

Many years later, 40 years later, questions still linger. So we take a look at it tonight in our documentary -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Soledad.

If you would like to watch video clips of tonight's special, check out's special report, "Black in America." You can also get much more on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, that address

Does New York have the key to unlock its gridlock? Why some drivers say a proposed fee will drive them out of business. And here is the real Barack Obama. But comedy shows are waging a battle of fake Obamas withstand-ins doing stand up. CNN's Jeanne Moos finds it most unusual.



MALVEAUX: New York City officials think they have the key to unlock the city's gridlock. It involves congestion pricing. A steep fee for drivers entering the most crowded parts of Manhattan.

Our CNN's Deborah Feyerick is in New York.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, the question is will this really work? We are talking about the entire lower half of Manhattan, an area that encompasses 60th street, the southern end of Central Park, all the way down to the lower tip where you can look out and see the statue of liberty.

It includes 42nd Street, Wall Street, Chinatown. The busiest areas of Manhattan where it can takes 30 minutes sometimes just to go a couple of blocks. Supporters say that's exactly why congestion pricing is needed in order to clear out the area. They point to London, they say the program there was amazingly successful and they think that they can replicate it here in New York.

The way it works, drivers would have to pay $8 to enter Manhattan between the hours of 6:00 in the morning and 6:00 in the evening, Monday through Friday. Drivers, the delivery trucks would actually have to pay $21 and critics say this is just unfair. That it prices out low to middle income people who will not be able to afford to come in given the price of gas and parking.

But speaking of cost, money is an issue here. As much as $500 million could be made every single year and the mayor has said that's money that will go into funding new projects for buses, subways, commuter trains.

Now if it goes into effect, it would be about a year's time, but the bill really has to be passed by next Monday. Otherwise, the city will jeopardize some $350 million to help fund this program -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Deborah thank you so much.

Drivers in the Los Angeles area spend more time in traffic than any other U.S. city. San Francisco is next, followed by Washington and Atlanta. New York City, it ranked 16th in traffic congestion. The figures are from the Texas Transportation Institute.

Time now to check back with Jack and "The Cafferty File."

Jack, what are you looking at?

CAFFERTY: The question is: How can the United States compete globally when only about half the students in our largest cities graduate from high school? K.B. writes from Iowa -- which I think the state has one of the highest literacy rates in the nation -- : "As a former teacher I feel I have a right to say that our system is broken. We're teaching school like it's the 1950s to kids living in 2008. We need to move away from a system based on grade levels and put together a system based on objectives and outcomes and then present it to students in a way that is more relevant to their times. My 10-year-old learned more from a two-hour history channel show about the revolutionary war than it took her teacher four weeks to cover in their textbook. Why, because my 10-year-old imports information in a much different way than kids did 50 years ago."

Dan in New York writes: "Jack, the low graduation rate in this country is alarming. The more alarming issue is the level of education reflected by those who do graduate. Far too many of them come out functionally illiterate. I think the effort to get more students to get diplomas is wasted if the diploma doesn't represent something valuable."

Aaron writes from Toronto: "You're kidding, right? That ship has sailed. As one who traveled 200,000 miles on business last year, I can tell you for certain the world places no hope, no weight upon America's youth making even a future ripple in the global waters. Having visited the top public schools in India and China, I can assure you the future for America's youth is much bleaker than even the greatest skeptics can imagine."

And Richard in Syracuse: "As a life-long resident of Syracuse, New York, I have seen young black kids beaten up because they want to learn. They have the drive, the desire to learn more and more. But other blacks beat them up because they say they're trying to be white. Education is the great equalizer. As long as our inner cities ignore education and beat up those who want to learn, there will never be any equality."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, too bad. I'm just kidding.

You can go to my blog at Look for yours there. There are hundreds of them, maybe you'll find your own -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: We'll be looking for them Jack. Thanks so much. Sounds like a bleak situation. Thanks again Jack.

San Francisco's mayor takes a swipe at Lou Dobbs. Lou is standing by to respond.

Plus, my interview with former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Find out the one thing he says he agrees on with the Democratic candidates.

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


MALVEAUX: Housing prices may be slumping nationwide but they're higher than ever in New York City, where demand is surging especially among Europeans.

Our CNN's Richard Roth shows us why.


RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Europeans, the door to New York City real estate is open wide. Giovanna Possio and her husband Alberto have come from Italy to grab their slice of the big apple.

GIOVANNA POSSIO, ITALIAN APARTMENT SEEKER: It was a dream in my life to have an apartment in New York. It was just like a dream.

ROTH: And thanks to the near record strength of the euro versus the dollar, that dream is a reality. This two bedroom apartment will cost them about $800,000, a bargain at roughly 500,000 euros.

POSSIO: It's better than investing in Italy because of the weakness of the dollar which is now pretty much in favor of our economy. We would rather invest here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She'll get a great price with very good quality.

ROTH: Giovanna and Alberto are part of the wave of Europeans taking advantage of poor Uncle Sam. Even if there are some disadvantages to New York living.

POSSI: Usually kitchens in Italy are larger than this.

ROTH: Pam Liebman is one of New York's most powerful real estate executives. She says in some sections of the Manhattan market, Europeans account for up to 30 percent of overall sales.

How much is this one?

That one started around $3 million.

ROTH: All the transatlantic invaders have pushed the average price of a New York pad to $1.4 million, nearly 900,000 euros.