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The Situation Room

Barack Obama Blasts Former Pastor; McCain Introduces Health Care Plan; Gas Tax Reality Check

Aired April 29, 2008 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Barack Obama says he's outraged, saddened and insulted by his former pastor. The Democrat condemns Jeremiah Wright's rant, as he calls it, in powerful new terms. Is it enough to put voters' concerns to rest?

Former President Jimmy Carter suggests Obama is doing the right thing. Is the superdelegate ready to formally and publicly choose sides? Stand by for our one-on-one interview.

And John McCain is selling a new plan to change the way you get your health care. And he's driving home his differences with Democrats along the way.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, along with the best political team on television. You're THE SITUATION ROOM.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it. It contradicts everything that I am about and who I am.


BLITZER: Barack Obama is going to new and dramatic lengths to convince voters his former pastor does not speak for him.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world, as we cover this important turn in the presidential race.

Obama says he had to speak out once he got the full picture of what the Reverend Wright said and did yesterday.

Let's go to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's watching all of this unfold for us.

Candy, a very, very dramatic change today in the way Senator Obama speaks about his ex-pastor.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, a lot harder on him, far, far tougher statements than we have heard before. And Barack Obama says, on a personal level, his relationship with his former pastor has had some great damage done to it. Politically, the question is, how much damage has it done to the Obama campaign?


REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: And then wants us to sing God bless America? No, no, no.

CROWLEY (voice-over): Looking watching an accident in slow motion, you knew it would come crashing down.

OBAMA: I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday.

CROWLEY: Barack Obama and his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, have a 20-year relationship. Wright married Obama and his wife, baptized his kids, prayed with him before Obama's presidential announcement.

In the past six weeks, Obama has sought to split the difference between his personal relationship with Wright and the politics of Wright's controversial statements. He has condemned Wright's words, but would not walk away from the man.

Then Wright reemerged 10 days before two critical primaries. Wright reveled in the limelight, repeated his statements and hinted that Obama didn't mean his condemnation.

OBAMA: if what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that's enough. That's a show of disrespect to me. It's a -- it is also, I think, an insult to what we have been trying to do in this campaign.

CROWLEY: Facing the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, where his appeal to working-class whites has become a major topic, Obama could ill afford to let his pastors's inflammatory words stand. Obama's campaign knew half-measures would not do.

OBAMA: When I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it. It contradicts everything that I am about and who I am.

CROWLEY: Half-white, half-black, Obama's entire campaign is predicated on rising above partisan, social and racial divides. Everything Wright uttered in public said something else entirely.

Every day he was out there, Wright was a drag on the politics of hope. The question is whether Obama took too long to see that.


CROWLEY: And just some atmospherics from inside that press conference today. Barack Obama is a very cool character, cool as a cucumber mostly. You don't see usually but one emotion from him. Today -- and it didn't come across on the TV and those sound bites I just saw, but inside that room, you could tell that he was seething at times about these remarks. And other times, when asked about his personal relationship with Wright, he was clearly saddened by it.

So, I think he summed up pretty quickly how he was feeling, and it certainly showed on his face -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. When we were watching it live on CNN, it was pretty, pretty shocking stuff.

All right, thanks very much for that, Candy.

I sat down, by the way, with the former President Jimmy Carter soon after Obama's new condemnation of the Reverend Wright. Just ahead, we will get Jimmy Carter's take on this controversy and how Obama is trying to put it all behind him.

President Bush and Democrats are putting fingers at one another over issue number one in this election, the economy. Mr. Bush held a wide-ranging news conference earlier today, but America's economic troubles were front and center.

Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Elaine Quijano is watching this story for us.

The president came out and he took some direct shots at Congress.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, President Bush coming out swinging. With less than nine months left in office, President Bush is clearly trying to go on the offensive. And, today, he tried pinning the blame squarely on Democrats for the economic problems that have developed under his watch.


QUIJANO (voice-over): President Bush says he sympathizes with the financial pain felt by many Americans, but when it comes to high gas prices, notes there's only so much he can do.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no magic wand to wave right now. It took us a while to get to this fix.

QUIJANO: During a nearly hour-long news conference, the president left the door open to a summer moratorium on the federal gas tax.

BUSH: And we will look at any idea in terms of energy.

QUIJANO: The president also blamed the Democratic-led Congress, accusing lawmakers of blocking or delaying action to address the ailing economy.

BUSH: I believe that they're letting the American people down. It's what I believe.

QUIJANO: Democrats wasted no time firing back, arguing the president's own economic policies have failed.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: The theory of helping the guys at the top and letting it trickle down is not working. And everyone's having a tough time to make ends meet.

QUIJANO: On Afghanistan, President Bush insisted progress is being made despite a brazen assassination attempt over the weekend by the Taliban against Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

BUSH: We're making progress, but it's also a tough battle.

QUIJANO: And for the first time since Israel destroyed a purported Syrian nuclear facility last fall, a facility built with North Korea's help, according to the administration, President Bush opened up on why he waited almost eight months to publicly acknowledge what happened.

BUSH: We were concerned that an early disclosure would increase the risk of a confrontation in the Middle East or retaliation in the Middle East.


QUIJANO: Now, the president says that risk is now reduced, and he wants to send a message on several levels to North Korea, to Syria, and to Iran, mainly that the United States is watching very closely for secret efforts to spread nuclear weapons technology around the world -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine, thank you -- Elaine Quijano at the White House.

Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Just in case you hadn't noticed, exactly one week from today, and once again the nomination will pretty much be sitting there for Barack Obama's taking.

Win Indiana, win North Carolina by a bigger margin, the remaining undecided superdelegates will likely start breaking his way in big enough numbers to mark an end to this marathon. But if he loses Indiana to Hillary Clinton, questions about Obama's electability will linger.

He has simply got to find a way to do better in Indiana than he did in Pennsylvania among blue-collar voters. The superdelegates want to see that he's not out of touch with what is a big piece of the Democratic base.

Pennsylvania hurt Obama. Clinton painted him as an elitist. And his own words about people being bitter stuck to him and pulled him down. Some people inside Obama's campaign told "The New York Times," he's bored with these primaries now. He's anxious to move on to the general election campaign against John McCain. But Indiana looms large, and he simply cannot afford another Pennsylvania.

So, here's the question: With one week until Indiana and North Carolina, what does Barack Obama have to do to recapture his momentum?

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

BLITZER: See you soon, Jack. Thank you.

Jimmy Carter is sure powerful Democratic decision-makers won't -- repeat, won't -- overturn the will of the people.


JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can't imagine the -- a candidate -- I won't say which one -- getting the majority of the delegates, and then having the superdelegates go the other way.


BLITZER: Carter says more about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's campaign for the White House. You're going to want to hear what he also says about Obama's problem with the Reverend Wright. Jimmy Carter here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, each candidate wants to save you money, provide health care and help you keep your home, but who do you think will act in your best interests?

And could temporarily suspending federal gas taxes help you save you some money, but could it actually put your safety at risk on the nation's bridges and roads? Not as simple a question as a lot of people believe.

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


BLITZER: He's a former president of the United States. And, in this election year, Jimmy Carter is also a member of another elite group, a group that could decide who gets the Democratic presidential nomination.

I sat down with President Carter just a short while ago.


BLITZER: You're a superdelegate. You have got to decide at some point who you like. Will you go public and announce who your candidate is?

CARTER: Probably, but -- as I have done ever since I left the White House, I am going to wait until after the primary season is over. And then I will make a decision.

BLITZER: You already know in your mind, because I assume you voted in the primary in Georgia, right?

CARTER: Yes, I voted in the primary in Georgia.

BLITZER: So, you know which candidate you prefer?

CARTER: If I don't change my mind, yes.

BLITZER: Oh, you might change your mind? You're a superdelegate. You're entitled.


BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the news right now, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

Today, there was a brand-new tone coming out of Barack Obama. He hammered away. He repudiated what the Reverend Wright says, what he does. It was if the other speech he gave in Philadelphia earlier hadn't taken place. He was really disappointed in the latest comments from the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. What do you think?

CARTER: Well, I didn't hear Obama's speech, so I can't really comment on it.

But I grew up in a little village called Archery, Georgia. We didn't have any white neighbors. All of my neighbors were African- American. And the most prominent and richest man in the area was a black African Methodist Episcopal bishop. His name was William Dexter Johnson (ph).

And during those days of racial discrimination, where it was the law of the land, a lot of the sermons that I heard in the black churches was very similar to what Reverend Wright has said recently, condemning, in effect, other white Christians who would go to church on Sunday, and then, the rest of the week, they would practice gross discrimination against their neighbors, just because they happened to be black.

So, the fiery tones and so forth, if taken out of context or just little snippets of it, I can see how they would really upset people. But that's the kind of sermons I have heard all my life. And in Plains now, we have...

BLITZER: So, is he doing the right thing, Mr. President, by now saying, "I repudiate these comments" that there was maybe some sort of conspiracy about creating AIDS in this country or speaking about the U.S., making comparison to terrorists?

Is this presidential -- Democratic presidential candidate doing the right thing?

CARTER: I think he's doing what he thinks is right.

And I don't think there's any doubt that what's been exposed about some of Reverend Wright's more fiery sermons has really been damaging to Obama's campaign. And if I were running under those circumstances, I would probably want to separate myself as much as possible from any sort of damage to my campaign. So, he's not responsible for what Reverend Wright has said.


BLITZER: Let's talk about a key issue right now. And I remember covering your campaign, what, 30 years ago, if not longer. It seems like we're talking about the same thing right now, an energy crisis, high gasoline prices.

Take a look at that. You remember -- you see behind you -- you see the long gasoline lines. That's when you were running for president of the United States. We're talking about the same thing right now. Here's the question.


BLITZER: Of these three presidential candidates who are left standing, who has the best policy in dealing with issue number one, the economy and the price of gas, for example?

CARTER: Well, I think the two that have the best policy would be Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

I think that what I have heard of John McCain's policy would be very similar to what George Bush has imposed upon the country the last seven-and-a-half years.

The basic problem with our economy, which is now very bad, has been the gross giveaways to the richest people in the nation with tax breaks that I think are completely unwarranted. And -- and that's caused us to have horrendous deficits that are now piling up against us for the weakening dollar and so forth. And the weak dollar is one reason why prices...


BLITZER: Do you see a difference between these two Democratic candidates on the substance, on the substance of the issue?

CARTER: It's hard for me to see the difference between them.

I think they both want complete reform, instead of just continuing the previous policies. And, of course, what the Republican Party has done -- and I don't see that McCain has drawn away from that -- is remain in bed in a gross way with the oil companies and the automobile companies. And so they have refused to have any dramatic increase in the efficiency of automobiles and to do other things. They could bring down the dependence on foreign oil.

BLITZER: And you include John McCain in that category?

CARTER: Yes, I do. I haven't seen that he's separated himself at all from the Bush administration. I hope he does.

BLITZER: The whole notion, though, of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, if you're an undecided voter right now, let's say, in North Carolina or in Indiana, or if you're an undecided superdelegate, I know there are personality issues and there's rhetorical flourishes if you will. But, on the substance of the issues, do you see major differences between these two candidates?

CARTER: No, I don't really. I don't see major differences.


BLITZER: So, it comes down to, a superdelegate like you, for someone who is most electable and who's best suited to be president of the United States?

CARTER: That's right.

And I think one of the things that interests me most is the foreign policy. Who will help to repair the horrible damage that's been done to our nation's reputation around the world? And then that's a major issue for me. What I hope is to see the next president, within the first 10 minutes of the new term, to correct these problems. And I think they could by making an appropriate inaugural speech.


BLITZER: Tomorrow, Jimmy Carter looks back to 1980, when Senator Ted Kennedy tried to take the nomination away from him at the Democratic Convention -- Carter's thoughts on a possible repeat of history now in 2008. And he may be mum on whom he's supporting for 2008, but there may be a hint in this interview. You're going to hear it tomorrow -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Who might win if the presidential election came right now? You may be surprised how the Democrats stack up against John McCain.

And all the candidates say your health care would be better off if they were president. But whose plan would work best for you?

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


BLITZER: There's new evidence tonight that the fall election may be a nail-biter, no matter who wins the Democratic nomination.

CNN has a brand-new Poll of Polls averaging the latest surveys on the candidates' general election support. And it shows Barack Obama leading John McCain by just two points, Hillary Clinton leading McCain by a mere one point, both of those polls well within the margin of error.

John McCain is offering a radically different approach for your health care. Would his plan work best for you or would the Democratic ideas work best for you?

Dana Bash is in Tampa, Florida -- Dana. DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what voters heard from Senator McCain's speech today was evidence of an enormous contrast on how each party's candidate will approach one of their biggest priorities.


BASH (voice-over): Health care, a top issue for voters, and, John McCain made clear, one of his most dramatic differences with Democrats, who want to mandate insurance coverage.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This will accomplish one thing only. We will replace the inefficiency, irrationality and uncontrolled costs of the current system with the inefficiency, irrationality, and uncontrolled costs of a government monopoly.

BASH: Instead, McCain's idea is classic Republican credo. Move away from employer-based health care to let the market and consumers decide. He would offer families a $5,000 tax credit to buy insurance, individuals $2,500. The estimated cost, $3.6 trillion.

To pay for that, McCain would eliminate the tax breaks employers get for offering insurance.

MCCAIN: The health plan you choose would be as good as any that an employer could choose for you. It would be yours and your family's health care plan, and yours to keep.

BASH: McCain advisers insist that would drive up competition and drive down sky-high costs.

But Democrats, like Elizabeth Edwards, who has cancer, say millions with preexisting conditions would lose insurance.

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, WIFE OF FORMER SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS: If you are not healthy or wealthy, if you -- if you have a chronic condition, if you have a preexisting illness, as he does and as I do, you're going to find this a very uncompassionate market in which to try to -- to get coverage.

BASH: For high-risk patients with trouble getting insurance, McCain would create a so-called gap program, a nonprofit pool which would get federal dollars and ideas from states. He also pushed prevention.

MCCAIN: Watch your diet. Watch your diet. Walk 30 or so minutes every day. Take a few other simple precautions, and you won't have to worry about these afflictions.


BASH: Democratic critics point out that, for people with chronic diseases, like cancer, prevention doesn't always do the trick, and that's why insurance companies should be required to cover them. But McCain vowed to create what he called a new entitlement program that Washington would control. It is a striking difference for voters to choose from -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, thank you.

Barack Obama says his former pastor has disrespected him.


OBAMA: What Reverend Wright said yesterday directly contradicts everything that I have done during my life.


BLITZER: So, can Senator Obama undo any of the damage inflicted on his campaign by the Reverend Wright?

The presidential candidates try to show you they care about you. We're going to rate their efforts to convince voters they are a man or a woman of the people.

And White House hopefuls are talking more and more about the pain you're feeling at the pump. So, who's getting the most mileage out of soaring gas prices? The best political team on television is standing by for that and a lot more -- right here on THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now, Barack Obama's very forceful denunciation of those controversial remarks by his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. He calls them appalling, outrageous, and ridiculous. But will this end the uproar once and for all?

Also, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, they're talking gas, health care, homes, each trying to sound like a bigger populist than the other. We will talk about all of this with the best political team on television.

And we will also show you how plans to cut the price of gas right now could wind up costing us a lot more later.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Barack Obama says his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, has insulted everything he's been trying to do in his presidential campaign. The Democrat spoke out today, after seeing more of what he calls Wright's rant before the National Press Club yesterday, Obama showing his concern that voters may have found Wright's remarks as appalling as he did.

Listen to more of what Obama is now saying, in his own words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday. I have been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ since 1992. I have known Reverend Wright for almost 20 years. The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago.

His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate. And I believe that they do not portray, accurately, the perspective of the black church. They certainly don't portray, accurately, my values and beliefs. And if Reverend Wright thinks that that's political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn't know me very well. And based on his remarks yesterday, well, I may not know him as well as I thought, either.

What we saw yesterday out of Reverend Wright was a resurfacing, and, I believe, an exploitation of those old divisions. Whatever his intentions, that was the result. It is antithetical to our campaign. It is antithetical to what I am about. It is not what I think America stands for.

And I want to be very clear that, moving forward, Reverend Wright does not speak for me. He does not speak for our campaign. I cannot prevent him from continuing to make these outrageous remarks. But what I do want him to be very clear about, as well as all of you and the American people, is that when I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it. It contradicts everything that I'm about and who I am.


BLITZER: Let's discuss this and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's here in Washington. And joining us from New York, our own Jack Cafferty and our senior analyst, Jeff Toobin. They are part of the best political team on television.

Those are very forceful words today from Barack Obama. And I'm sure it was painful, Jack, for him to do it, given that nearly two decade relationship he's had with Reverend Wright. That relationship, I suspect, is over with for now.

CAFFERTY: Well, it might have been painful the first time.

I'm not sure after that performance that Wright put on in front of the National Press Club that this was all that difficult for Barack Obama. It shouldn't have been. What this did was create the opportunity to maybe do what he was reluctant to do the first time. Remember, he distanced himself from the comments, but he said, you know, I've known the man a long time, he married us, blah, blah, blah. He didn't throw the man under the bus.

Now he can stand up and say you know what, he's a bigoted bitter old jerk and I'm out of here. And maybe, in a way, this is the best thing that could have happened, because Reverend Wright, in the beginning, was complaining how those short clips that were running on all of the TV networks were caricatures of him. Well, he walked down to National -- to Washington, D.C. to the National Press Club yesterday and proved that he's nothing much more than a cartoon character mired in the racial bitterness of a generation ago. I mean he's old news now. Maybe it's over.

BLITZER: Is it over, Gloria? The political problem that Barack Obama has had with the Reverend Wright, is it over now?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, in the short- term maybe. This is kind of like -- I agree with Jack. This was a relief for Obama, in a way. It was kind of like lancing a boil. I mean you look at Reverend Wright's display and it was sort of breathtaking in its narcissism.

And for the first time, we really saw Obama angry. Now, he's still cooler than I would be, to tell you the truth.

CAFFERTY: Me, too.

BORGER: Yes. But he's -- you know, he was clearly seething about this.

In the short-term, you're not going to see Hillary Clinton talking about this anymore. It's over. She doesn't need to add any fuel to this fire. It's already burning.

But in the long-term, if he is the nominee in a general election, you can be sure that this will come up again. Reverend Wright has not gone away forever.


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, we talk about is it over like it's something that we in the news media have no control over, like gas prices or the weather.


TOOBIN: I mean, whether the quest -- whether he continues to be covered is, in part, up to us.

Are we going to continue showing Reverend Wright's speeches, as he undoubtedly will continue traveling around the country?

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: As far as I can tell, he has nothing to do with Barack Obama at this point. He was saying such crazy things yesterday, like the government causing AIDS and spreading AIDS, that, you know, no serious person -- by the way, I think a lot of what he said was insulting to black people, to suggest that they believe any of that nonsense.

CAFFERTY: Well, yes.

BORGER: Right. TOOBIN: But I just think it's -- it should be over, in my opinion. But that's not up to me.

BORGER: You know, and Obama, in his first speech in Philadelphia, spent an awful lot of time explaining Reverend Wright. Now he spent just an awful lot of time denouncing him today. There was no explanation.

Remember, he said I can no more disown him than I could my own white grandmother? Remember that?

Well, we've passed through that phase.

BLITZER: And, you know, as they say, for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Jeff and company, we're going to wait and see now if the Reverend Wright decides it's over with and simply walks away from this fight or if he's now going to keep it going by saying something to, in effect, to keep it going, if you will.

CAFFERTY: But don't we have to decide collectively, as Jeff was suggesting, whether or not Reverend Wright is relevant to the national dialogue...

BLITZER: I think you're absolutely...

CAFFERTY: ...about who's going to run this country?

BLITZER: You're right. You know, and it's very interesting today -- and we'll talk about this if you want -- but we were not going to really report much more on it. We thought the Reverend Wright story today was basically over -- until Senator Obama came out around 2:00 this afternoon...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: And he delivered that very forceful statement. We would be talking about something very differently today. But it was his decision, Senator Obama's decision, to forcefully repudiate Reverend Wright. And, as a result, there's another news cycle that continues this discussion.

BORGER: Well, you know, he saw those tapes. His staff showed him those tapes. And once he saw them, he got really angry and said, you know, I've just got to end it once and for all and then I can get my campaign back on its own message.

BLITZER: The only point I was saying is let's see if Reverend Wright wants to end it...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: ...or if he wants to try to keep this fight going. All right, guys. Stand by.

TOOBIN: I'm not holding my breath on that one.

BLITZER: Yes, I think you're probably right.

All right, stand by.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama -- they're also talking about substantive issues -- the economy, gas prices, your health care. We're going to show you the ads they're running in Indiana right now and we're going to see who's the populist, who's got the more populist message.

Is it resonating with voters?

Also, you're going to find out how suspending the gas tax may give us some relief right now over the next three months of the summer, but potentially result in dangers like crumbling bridges and bad roads.

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


BLITZER: The Democratic presidential candidates are sounding an increasingly populist note one week before the North Carolina and Indiana primaries. We're back with the best political team on television.

I'm going to play a little clip.

We don't live in North Carolina or Indiana. So our viewers, unless they live there, they're not seeing these ads that they're running. But they're very interesting. Let me play little excerpts...

CAFFERTY: They're lucky.

BLITZER: ...little excerpts from the Clinton and Obama campaign ads and then we'll discuss.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My father served in the Navy and ran a small business. My mother taught Sunday school and took care of us. I come from Park Ridge, Illinois, benefiting from all their hard work and sacrifice. I carry with me not just their dreams, but the dreams of people like them all across our country.



OBAMA: All across Indiana and my home state next door, folks know we desperately need change. Gas near $4, jobs leaving, health care you can't afford. But the truth is, to fix these things, we've got to do more than change parties in the White House. We've got to change Washington.


BLITZER: All right, Gloria, what do you think, because it's clearly designed to reach out to those remaining undecided voters who like the message about issue number one, the economy?

BORGER: First of all, I thought Hillary Clinton was from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Now she's from Park Ridge. But -- I guess her family's from all over.

I -- look, I think at this point in the campaign, everybody understands that it's about the economy. That's another reason Barack Obama wants to get off of Reverend Wright. And what they try and do is appeal to voters and say, look, I'm the one who can help you the most, which is why you see Hillary Clinton proposing this gas tax holiday, going along with John McCain, which Barack Obama opposes, even though it would cost an awful lot of money. So -- and she would take it from the evil oil companies.

So, you know, this is a point in the campaign where you obviously do your populist pander because that's what works.

BLITZER: What do you think about these ads, Jeff?

TOOBIN: Well, I actually think Hillary Clinton deserves a lot of credit. She came out with a bold proposal. And I don't think, you know, we should mock the idea. She said cut the gasoline tax and add to the oil companies' taxes. I don't know if it's a good idea or not, but it's an issue. It's a real idea. It's not somebody's minister. It's not Bosnia and, you know, film on tape. I mean it is an idea that's worth debating.

And, you know, I think Barack Obama would benefit with coming out with some bold ideas himself. And Obama's against that idea. Well, let's hear them talk about that.


CAFFERTY: Well, the position that Obama takes on the suspense of the gas tax is it would deprive money that is earmarked for the states for things like road and bridge construction and that, over the short- term, it wouldn't create any kind of an appreciable savings. He characterizes it as maybe a half a tank of gas over the summer. That's not going to solve the nation's energy problems.

As far as the saccharin, you know, I'm just a plain old country girl with roots deep in the hills of wherever, every candidate in every election runs these things. These people are tougher than Mike Tyson. I mean come on. They campaign seven days a week, 19 hours a day. They ooze this lust for power and raw ambition. They want to run the world. I mean I just don't buy that stuff about, you know...

(LAUGHTER) TOOBIN: But later...

CAFFERTY: ...I have your best interests at heart.

TOOBIN: Later this afternoon, Hillary Clinton released another TV ad, which I saw just before I came on the air, where she talked about the gas tax proposal and her health care proposal, which, I think, is an excellent way to, you know, define the choice in this campaign. It's better to talk about issues than this other nonsense.

BORGER: Yes. Right.

BLITZER: And I think, Gloria, a lot of Democrats are sick and tired of the attack ads, the negativity.

BORGER: Yes, they are. They are. But, you know, the big question that's very important in a presidential campaign is when a voter is asked does this candidate care about people like me? Because we all want the person we vote for to care about us. And one way -- and I think Jeff is right, they all do these ads. One way to show that I care about you is to tell you I'm going to fix your problem.

But these solutions, everyone knows, are very, very short-term solutions. And so they're not long-term about how you deal with our consumption problem of energy, for example. Or, yes, maybe we should tax the oil companies on windfall profits. But, you know, I think everybody understands that that's the question they're trying to get answered -- yes, this candidate cares about me, because that's what we want to hear.

BLITZER: We'll see you back here.


BLITZER: Hold on. We've got to end it right there, so hold your thought.

We'll see you back tomorrow. Jack is not going away. He's got "The Cafferty File" coming up.

Calls for a gasoline tax holiday -- we've been talking about it. Yes, it could save you some money at the pump over the summer. But would it wind up costing you more money down the road? I'm going to show you what's going on.

Plus, with one week until Indiana and North Carolina, what does Barack Obama have to do to recapture his momentum?

That's Jack's question in "The Cafferty File" and your e-mail and a lot more right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour.

Lou, what are you working on?


Coming up at 7:00 Eastern here, outrageous comments by a U.S. attorney responsible for upholding our laws. Incredibly, the U.S. attorney, Christopher Christie, somehow says now it's not a crime to be in this country illegally. Go figure. We'll also go report.

Also, emotional testimony on Capitol Hill today about the devastating consequences of the government's failure to protect American consumers from dangerous drug imports. Those imports from communist China.

And new charges that the Bush administration and this Democratically-led Congress are failing our troops and our veterans. Veterans today rallying in Washington, D.C. , demanding a new G.I. Bill to pay for the education they deserve.

And Senator Obama blasting his former pastor for making what he called divisive and destructive remarks about race and politics. What's going on here?

We will have that answer for you and a great deal more and all the day's news, at 7:00 Eastern, at the top of the hour, right here on CNN -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: See you in a few moments, Lou.

Thank you.

With soaring gas prices a top concern among voters, the presidential candidates are eager to offer relief. One popular idea -- suspending the federal gas tax. But there's more to this proposal than actually meets the eye.

Let's go to Carol Costello once again.

What are you finding -- Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting, Wolf. You know, a holiday from the federal tax -- the federal gas tax. Hillary Clinton's campaign will unveil this new ad you see, counting this holiday from the gas tax in Indiana and North Carolina.

But is it really all that?


COSTELLO (voice-over): For cash-strapped consumers, any reduction in gas prices would be like -- well, like Santa coming into town early -- or so it seemed on the stump.

CLINTON: I would immediately lower gas prices by temporarily suspending the gas tax for consumers and businesses.

COSTELLO: Actually, it was John McCain who first proposed a suspension of federal taxes on gas for the summer travel season, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

MCCAIN: Wouldn't it be nice if the next time that you went to fill up your gas tank that 18 cents a gallon less you'd pay at the gas pump?

COSTELLO: Oh, that sounds nice. But Santa aside, there's no such thing as a free lunch. Those federal highway taxes pay for things like road construction and bridge repair -- something that was really important just last year, when the I-35 bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, killing 13 people. Politicians were singing a different tune then.


CLINTON: I want to make modernizing our nation's infrastructure as a backbone of our prosperity.


COSTELLO: Clinton now suggests taxing oil companies to make up for the money lost to her proposed holiday gas tax.

But would that make up the shortfall?

According to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, both Clinton and McCain's idea would drain the Federal Highway Fund by $3 billion per month, creating a $12 billion shortfall. Not only that, but it would put at risk 310,750 highway construction jobs.

Many experts think it's all just politics.

STEVE BUCKSTEIN, CASCADE POLICY INSTITUTE: In this case, I think, unfortunately, more of a political gimmick. And it won't really lower the cost to drivers significantly. It will increase the deficit in the Highway Trust Fund and just lead to more politicizing of highway funding.

COSTELLO: Buckstein agrees with the only presidential candidate not in favor of a gas tax holiday -- Barack Obama.


COSTELLO: In fact, Obama says the gas holiday will save drivers very little in the short-term or the long run. He says it might actually drive gas prices up because demand for gas will rise.

BLITZER: Not a simple a story as a lot of people think.

COSTELLO: No, it's not.

BLITZER: All right.

Thanks very much, Carol. See you tomorrow.

Jack Cafferty is joining us once again. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: With one week until Indiana and North Carolina, what does Barack Obama have to do in order to recapture his momentum?

Bob in Virginia writes: "He hasn't lost it, Jack. His delegate lead virtually unchanged. He's still picking up superdelegates at a 2- 1 ratio over Clinton, despite her big win. A week from tomorrow, you'll be asking us -- rightfully -- how can Clinton recover her momentum. I can answer that one now, too -- she can't recover something she never had."

Kim in California: "He now needs the help of the superdelegates who do support him to openly declare themselves. I don't know why they are waiting. This would give or restore confidence to others who aren't so sure about him. I think the support of Edwards and Gore would also go a long way and they should come forward."

Jenny in Georgia: "I don't know if it will help Obama recapture his momentum, but if someone could please give the Reverend Wright a one way ticket to a deserted island of his choice for the duration of this election campaign, I, for one, would be grateful. He has yet again managed to hijack the issues that matter to this country with his own agenda. We need information on issues, not smart remarks and sermons from Reverend Wright."

W. In Oregon: "As deep as Hillary is in a hole, amazingly, she just keeps digging. Senator Obama continues to stand on the dirt she throws out of the hole and she will help him rise above it."

Grif writes: "It's a two horse race. They both have momentum, leading to another two horse race that he would have to win. John McCain is now far ahead, going further every stop he makes."

And Kathy finishes up with: "I don't think he ever lost it."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for it there. We post hundreds of them every day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack. See you back here tomorrow.

And now a Moost Unusual moment on the campaign trail.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't hit on Hillary. It brings us all down. Let her do that stuff. Leave her alone. You don't need to do that. You're higher than that.

OBAMA: There you go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bring us up higher than that.



BLITZER: Giving some grandmotherly advice, both to the candidates and voters at large -- this is a Moost Unusual story straight ahead.


BLITZER: Grandmothers are always quick to give advice -- even when it comes to politics. No gray area here.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos with a Moost Unusual look.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the babies who get the oohs and ahs. But it's the grannies who can actually vote.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Obama. Obama. You wonderful, wonderful man.



MOOS: Whether singing for Obama in a rocker or dancing for Hillary at a rally -- the battle of the grannies is on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hillary all the way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: White haired women can speak for themselves for Obama.


MOOS: White haired doesn't disqualify you from YouTube.

Check out Grandmas for Obama '08.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I'm feeling like a mother feels for her son.

MOOS: There are groovy grandmas for Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm groovin' grannie.

MOOS: Groovin' to see a woman president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have lived for 80 years, waited for this to happen.

MOOS: Eighty-two-year-old Jean Weiss (ph) didn't just wait, she addressed Barack Obama in person.

JEAN WEISS, OBAMA SUPPORTER: I thank you, sir. But you'd better be president. You've got to be president. (APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Oh, I tell you what. Thank you.

MOOS: And it was a woman of a certain age who gave Obama one of his best known chants -- a local councilwoman from South Carolina.


OBAMA: Fired up!


OBAMA: Ready to go.

MOOS (on-camera): You know, we have all these great video moments of Obama with oldsters. But it's actually Hillary who tends to win the older female vote.

(voice-over): Ninety-one-year-old Jewel Hodges ended up in a Hillary ad with her heartfelt endorsement.

JEWEL HODGES, CLINTON SUPPORTER: And is ready, willing and able to bring America back up to be polished like gold.

MOOS: When it comes to white haired supporters...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: Barack Obama for president.

MOOS: One white head deserves another. That's John McCain kissing his 96-year-old mother.

And how about this 104-year-old Hillary supporter?

It's enough to inflate even your alter ego.

CLINTON: I think this is quite an amazing accomplishment.

MOOS: Older supporters offer wisdom.

WEISS: Don't hit on Hillary. It brings us all down. Let her do that stuff. Leave her alone. You don't need to do that. You're higher than that.

OBAMA: I just want to know, will you be my running mate?

MOOS: And with that offer, she ran down for a kiss.

But who cares about being a running mate? At this age, it's great to still be able to run -- or dance.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Those grandmothers, they vote. They vote in big, big numbers -- big percentages compared to the younger people out there.

Tomorrow, in THE SITUATION ROOM, we'll have more of my interview with former president, Jimmy Carter. He looks back to when Senator Ted Kennedy tried to take the nomination away from him back in the Democratic convention in 1980. Carter's thoughts on a possible repeat of history in 2008. And he may be mum on whom he's supporting this year, but there may be a hint in what he has to say.

You're going to hear the interview. That's coming up tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.