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The Situation Room

Interview With Senator Barack Obama; Should Clinton Be Forming Exit Strategy?

Aired May 08, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much guys.
Happening now, Barack Obama in his first interview since the North Carolina and Indiana primaries. Does he now believe he has the Democratic presidential nomination in the bag? And is he ready for an onslaught from the Republicans? Some tough questions for Senator Obama on his experience, taxes, foreign policy. I will also ask him if Hillary Clinton can be his running mate.

We will get reaction to our interview with Barack Obama from high-profile supporters of Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Terry McAuliffe and Mitt Romney, they're standing by live to join us after the interview.

And we will have the latest on Obama's two-front battle against Clinton and McCain. Is there any evidence that Clinton is forming an exit strategy?

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

My interview with Barack Obama only a few moments away.

But, first, Hillary Clinton is urging supporters to ignore calls for her to drop out of the race. But that's not stopping a lot of speculation out there that her days as a presidential candidate may be numbered.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's watching the story for us.

What are you hearing about Senator Clinton and her immediate future?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, outside the campaign, Wolf, as you mentioned, you're hearing a lot of speculation about exit strategies.

I can assure you that, inside the campaign, they are talking about going from primary to primary, taking it one primary at a time. But, as you know, inside the Obama campaign, they're already talking about going to other states to kind of begin a general campaign. So, what we have right now is a tale of two campaigns.


CROWLEY (voice-over): Colleagues, tourists, pages looking for a picture and press scrums.

QUESTION: How much longer will the race go on, Senator?

CROWLEY: Barack Obama was on Capitol Hill this morning with the aura, though not the votes, of a presidential nominee.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's why I'm running for president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you win, too. You win it.

CROWLEY: So, is she putting together an exit strategy? A Clinton insider replies, N-O, exclamation point.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a little bit like deja vu all over again. Some in Washington wanted us to end our campaign, and then I won New Hampshire.

CROWLEY: The two-day itinerary backs her up, West Virginia to South Dakota to Oregon to Kentucky. She needs a 9.0 on the Richter scale to shake this up. But one Clinton adviser says she's not campaigning in some kind of parallel universe. She doesn't think this is over.

CLINTON: I'm winning Catholic voters and Hispanic voters and blue-collar workers and seniors, the kind of people that Senator McCain will be fighting for in the general election.

CROWLEY: Another source close to Clintons adds, there is more to this than math. She has a loyalty to the history she and her supporters are writing.

CLINTON: Too many people have fought too hard to see a woman continue in this race, this history-making race. And I want everybody to understand that.

CROWLEY: And it is her supporters, including millions of women, that give caution to many Democrats and the Obama campaign. They need those votes in the fall. They cannot be seen trying to muscle her out.


CROWLEY: I'm also told that Clinton's senior adviser -- and that would be Bill Clinton -- is urging her to stay in this race. In fact, most aides I talk to said they expect her to stay in until June 3. After that, aid one aide, we will see where the handwriting is on the wall.

BLITZER: Candy, thanks so much.

We're only moments away from my interview with Barack Obama.

We're also getting some early signs of what a Barack Obama-John McCain race would look like if -- if Obama does, indeed, win the Democratic presidential nomination. Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching this story for us.

Bill, could we see a different Electoral College map emerge this year?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, we could, because John McCain and Barack Obama are different from typical Republican and Democratic candidates.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): John McCain is a conservative Republican. But he has a streak of independence that gives him more than usual appeal to independent voters.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We will be going to places where no Republican -- not only no Republican candidate has ever appeared, but no presidential candidate has ever appeared.

SCHNEIDER: Barack Obama is a liberal Democrat, but he's campaigning to end the partisan divide.

OBAMA: The Democratic Party is attracting new people. But we have got to open up our arms and say, we want everybody, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, young, old, rich, poor, gay, straight!

SCHNEIDER: We have never had a presidential race between an African-American and a white candidate or between two candidates 25 years apart in age. Obama should do well in places with a lot of African-Americans and young affluent white voters, some in the South...

STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": I think Virginia might be in play, with the Northern Virginia suburbs trending Democratic, upscale Democrats.

SCHNEIDER: ... some in the West.

ROTHENBERG: Certainly, Colorado in the West is another state.

SCHNEIDER: But Obama may be weaker in some historically Democratic states.

ROTHENBERG: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, industrial states with so-called Reagan Democrats.

SCHNEIDER: McCain may have to work a lot harder than George W. Bush to get an enthusiastic turnout of Southern conservatives. But he may have the advantage in states with a lot of older voters and military voters, like Florida. McCain may also be more competitive in some core Democratic states.

ROTHENBERG: There's at least some chance that he will have greater appeal than most Republicans throughout New England, in states like New Jersey, portions of Pennsylvania, maybe on the West Coast, California.

SCHNEIDER: California? Well, yes. McCain is from neighboring Arizona. And he has an influential California supporter.


SCHNEIDER: It's not just the candidates that can put certain states into play. It's also the times. And the times look good for the Democrats this year, which could put a lot of ordinarily Republican states in play -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Now that Barack Obama appears on the verge of becoming the Democratic nominee, the buzz about that so- called dream ticket is starting up again.

ABC's George Stephanopoulos says there are intermediaries that are discussing the possibility of an Obama/Clinton ticket. And he thinks that Clinton, "would be under some pressure and would like to accept."

Former Congressman Harold Ford also says an Obama-Clinton ticket is something the Democratic Party is going to have to seriously consider in the next few weeks. There's even a group out there called Vote Both that is trying to push for that very ticket. It's seen as a way to unite the party after a bitter campaign.

A recent poll found a majority of both Clinton and Obama supporters like the idea, but not so fast. Obama's campaign says the Illinois senator is still focusing on the upcoming races, undecided superdelegates, that it's premature to talk about running mates.

The Clinton campaign says it hasn't had any discussions with the Obama camp about the ticket. And spokesman Howard Wolfson says he hasn't heard Clinton express any interest in such a ticket.

Some Democrats aren't so sure it's a good idea either. One strategist who supports Clinton told Reuters, if Obama would pick her as his number two, it would counter his message of change.

Here's the question: Should Barack Obama offer Hillary Clinton the number-two spot on the ticket as a way of getting her to quit the race now?

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

BLITZER: A lot of buzz on that question.

All right, Jack, thank you. If Barack Obama does become president of the United States, would your taxes go up? The Democrat came here to our Washington bureau for a special SITUATION ROOM interview. We had some tough questions for Senator Obama on a wide range of issues, from the economy, to the U.S. Supreme Court, to national security.

On the Supreme Court, by the way, does Obama point to any of the current justices as good role models?

One on one with Senator Obama -- only moments away.

Plus, where does Senator Obama stand now on the prospect of tapping Hillary Clinton as his vice president? We will hear from him and read between the lines in our "Strategy Session" -- lots coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Barack Obama hasn't clinched the Democratic presidential nomination yet, but look at this, the cover of "TIME" magazine declaring him the winner after the latest round of primaries. How is he marking this important moment in this campaign?

Well, Senator Barack Obama is right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the very first interview he's given since Tuesday's contests in North Carolina and Indiana.

Senator, welcome.

OBAMA: Good to see you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Here is the cover, "And the Winner Is..." That's a picture of you. What do you think?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I think -- I don't want to be jinxed. We've still got some work to do.

BLITZER: It's almost like you got the cover of "Sports Illustrated." Is that what you're -- you're nervous about that?

OBAMA: Exactly. Exactly right.

We've got six more contests left. And then we've got a lot of work to do to bring the party together, but, obviously, we felt very good about our win in North Carolina on Tuesday. I think we ran a terrific campaign in Indiana. And it was a virtual tie. And, if you look at where the race is at this point, I think we have seen voters across the country say they are ready for change. They are feeling real anxiety about the economy.

And they have come to recognize that, unless we change how Washington is done. It's going to be very hard to deliver on a smarter energy policy. It's going to be hard to -- to provide health care for people who need it or make college more affordable. And I think our campaign has benefited from it. And, so, I'm looking forward to bringing this party together and going after John McCain in the fall, and -- and, hopefully, getting this country on the right track.

BLITZER: It's been intense in the primaries. But you realize it's going to be much more intense in the next chapter, in the next phase, given the differences between you and John McCain. Are you ready for this next phase?

OBAMA: I'm actually looking forward to it, if we're successful. I don't want to get ahead of myself here. Senator Clinton is a very formidable candidate. She is very heavily favored to win West Virginia. She will win that by a big margin.

She's favored in Kentucky. We'll probably split the remaining contests. And, so, she's -- she's going to be actively campaigning.

If I'm fortunate enough to be the nominee, then I am looking forward to the general election precisely because there is such a big, stark contrast...


BLITZER: There are major differences between you and John McCain...

OBAMA: Exactly.

BLITZER: ... on a whole host of domestic issues...

OBAMA: Exactly.

BLITZER: .. and foreign policy issues. And I want to go through those right now.

OBAMA: Sure.

BLITZER: Already, some of his surrogates, some of his supporters, are suggesting you're not ready to be commander in chief, president of the United States.

Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, said this. Listen to this.


MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: He has not accomplished anything during his life, in terms of legislation, or leading an enterprise, or making a business work or a city work or a state work. He really has very little experience. And the presidency of the United States is not an internship.


BLITZER: Wow. That's a strong statement. OBAMA: Yes.

Well, the contest didn't work out so well for Mitt Romney. I think he was making those same arguments against John McCain, suggesting that John McCain, as a senator, hadn't done what Mitt Romney had done. And, yet, here we are, and there Mitt Romney is.

Look, when it comes to national security, I think that what people are looking for is good judgment. They're looking for somebody who is going to be able to assess the very real risks that are out there and deploy our forces, not just military, but diplomatic, political, economic, cultural, in a way that makes the American people safe.

And whether it's my judgment on Iraq and recognizing that that was going to be a strategic blunder, to my insistence that we need to talk not just to countries we like, but countries we don't, to my assessment in terms of how we had over-invested in the Musharraf government in Pakistan, and that was going to be setting us up for failure later on, I think I have consistently displayed the kind of judgment that the American people are looking for in the next president.

BLITZER: I want -- I want to get to all of those national security, foreign policy issues in a moment. But let's talk about some domestic issues.

You know they're going to paint you, the McCain camp, Republicans, as a classic tax-and-spend liberal Democrat, that you're going to raise the taxes for the American people and just spend money like there is no tomorrow when it comes to federal government programs.

Are you ready to handle that kind of assault?

OBAMA: Absolutely.

But -- because think about what I am going to be running against: the failed policies of the Bush administration, which John McCain wants to continue. I don't think there is anybody in this country who thinks that, right now, we have got a government that's managed our domestic policies well.

And, so, we can talk about the slogans of tax and spend or fiscal conservatism, but the fact of the matter is, this -- we have had an administration that's been profligate, that has raised our national debt to a record level. We have seen a lack of shared prosperity. So, you've got CEOs making more in a day than ordinary workers are making in a year, and it's the CEO that's getting the tax break, instead of the workers.

BLITZER: He's going to say you're going to raise their taxes. What are you going to say?

OBAMA: I will raise CEO taxes. There is no doubt about it. If you are... BLITZER: What about the average American...


OBAMA: If you are a CEO in this country, you will probably pay more taxes. They won't be prohibitively high. They're -- you're going to be paying roughly what you paid in the '90s, when CEOs were doing just fine.

BLITZER: So, you want to just eliminate the Bush tax cuts?

OBAMA: I want to eliminate the Bush tax cuts.

And what I have said is, I will institute a middle-class tax cut. So, if you're making $75,000, if you're making $50,000 a year, you will see an extra $1,000 a year offsetting on your payroll tax.

BLITZER: Define middle class.

OBAMA: Well, look, I think that the definitions are always a little bit rough, but let's -- let's just take it this way.

If you're making $100,000 a year or less, then you're pretty solidly middle class, and you deserve relief right now, as opposed to paying higher taxes. On the other hand, if you're making more than $100,000, and certainly if you're making more than $200,000 to $250,000, then you're doing pretty well.

And it's the people who are making over $200,000, $250,000, who have benefited the most and have actually seen -- have actually seen more and more of economic growth in this country go in your direction.

And all -- all we're looking for here is a sense of balance, because it's my belief that this country has always grown when it grows from the bottom up, when the average worker who is putting in his time and trying to live out the American dream, when a nurse or a teacher, she's able to support her family, then they spend money, businesses do well, and we generate tax revenues that can pay for the common investments that we need.

And that's what's been lacking, a sense of shared sacrifice, as well as shared benefits from the economy.

BLITZER: Because they're arguing already that you want to increase capital gains taxes, for example, on investments, and stocks, and things like that.


BLITZER: A lot of middle-class people have those kinds of accounts. If they're...

OBAMA: If they have, -- Wolf, if they have a 401(k), then they are going to see those taxes deferred, and they're going to pay ordinary income when they finally cash out. So, that's a phony argument. And this is something that you have seen the Republicans consistently do, is they try to make this broad- based argument about, he's going to raise your taxes as a cover for them eliminating taxes for people like myself and you, who can afford to pay a little bit more in order to assure that we have got roads and bridges that are rebuilt, in order to assure that Social Security is solvent, in order to make sure that kids who are struggling for their American dream can actually go to college, in order to make sure that people aren't going bankrupt just because somebody in their family gets sick.

You know, what -- as I travel around the country, what I'm actually convinced of is that people recognize that if only 1 percent of the population is doing well, when we have got wages and incomes for the average worker actually going down during a period of economic expansion, much less economic recession, that something's being mismanaged. And they want a difference -- a different approach. And that's what we're going to be offering them.

And John McCain is essentially offering four more years of the same policies that got us into this rut that we're in right now.

BLITZER: You used to teach constitutional law.


BLITZER: You know a lot about the Supreme Court. And the next president of the United States will have an opportunity to nominate justices for the Supreme Court.

He gave a speech, McCain, this week saying he wants justices like Samuel Alito and John Roberts. And he defined the kind of criteria he wants.

So, what would be your criteria?

OBAMA: Well, I think that my first criteria is to make sure that these are people who are capable and competent, and that they are interpreting the law. And, 95 percent of the time, the law is so clear, that it's just a matter of applying the law. I'm not somebody who believes in a bunch of judicial lawmaking. I think...

BLITZER: Are there members, justices right now upon who you would model, you would look at? Who do you like?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I think actually Justice Breyer, Justice Ginsburg are very sensible judges.

I think that Justice Souter, who was a Republican appointee, is a sensible judge. What you're looking for is somebody who is going to apply the law where it's clear. Now, there's going to be those 5 percent of cases or 1 percent of cases where the law isn't clear. And the judge then has to bring in his or her own perspectives, his ethics, his or her moral bearings.

And, in those circumstances, what I do want is a judge who's sympathetic enough to those who are on the outside, those who are vulnerable, those who are powerless, those who can't have access to political power, and, as a consequence, can't protect themselves from being -- from being dealt with sometimes unfairly, that the courts become a refuge for judges.

That's been its historic role. That was its role in Brown vs. Board of Education. I think a judge who is unsympathetic to the fact that, in some cases, we have got to make sure that civil rights are protected, that we have got to make sure that civil liberties are protected, because, oftentimes, there's pressures that are placed on politicians to want to set civil liberties aside, especially at a time when we have had terrorist attacks, making sure that we maintain our separation of powers, so that we don't have a president who is taking over more and more power.

I think those are all criteria by which I would judge whether or not this is a good appointee.


BLITZER: We're going to have much more of my extensive one-on- one interview Senator Barack Obama. At one point, he actually gets angry about something John McCain said about him.


OBAMA: This is offensive.

And I think it's disappointing, because John McCain always says, well, I'm not going to run that kind of politics. And then to engage in that kind of smear...


BLITZER: So, what exactly did McCain do or say to spark that kind of reaction? Senator Obama will explain.

And he also talks to me about Israel, as Israel celebrates 60 years of independence. I'll ask Senator Obama what Israel means to him.

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


BLITZER: Now back to Senator Barack Obama right here in THE SITUATION ROOM in his first interview since Tuesday's pivotal round of primaries.


BLITZER: Let's go through a couple foreign policy issues. McCain says, if you had your way, the U.S. would surrender in Iraq; he wants victory.

OBAMA: If I had my way, we would not have gone into Iraq in the first place.

BLITZER: But what about now?

OBAMA: I think it was a huge strategic blunder.

And I think the American people are smart enough to understand that a phased withdrawal, where we're as careful getting out as we were careless getting in, that puts pressure on the Iraqis to stand up and take seriously their obligations to arrive at a political accommodation at the same time as we are doubling down on diplomacy in the surrounding region, and not just Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Jordan, but also in Syria and Iraq, then we are also investing in humanitarian aid for the people who have been displaced in Iraq, that that's not surrendering.

That's a sensible policy that will allow us then to deal with our biggest strategic problem, which is al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the border regions of Pakistan reconstituting themselves. And that's something that we have been distracted from and something that I intend to focus on when I'm president of the United States.

BLITZER: This is going to be a huge difference, the war in Iraq, the fallout, between you and McCain.

OBAMA: Right.

BLITZER: He also is going after you now, today, the 60th anniversary of Israel's independence. He says you're not necessarily endorsing policies that would be good for Israel.

He says this, for example: "I think it's very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president of the United States. I think that people should understand that I will be Hamas' worst nightmare. Senator Obama is favored by Hamas. I think people can make judgments accordingly."

OBAMA: Yes, this -- this is offensive.

And I think it's disappointing, because John McCain always says, well, I'm not going to run that kind of politics. And then to engage in that kind of smear, I think, is unfortunate, particularly since my policy towards Hamas has been no different than his.

I have said that they are a terrorist organization, that we should not negotiate with them unless they recognize Israel, renounce violence and unless they're willing to abide by previous accords between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And, so, for him to toss out comments like that, I think, is an example of him losing his bearings as he pursues this nomination.

We don't need name-calling in this debate. What we're going to need is to have a serious conversation about, how do we keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of the Iranian regime, how do we broker a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians that allows both sides to benefit, Israel assuring its security and its status as a Jewish state, the Palestinians able to have a contiguous, functioning state, where their people can prosper?

And, if we end up continuing to be locked up in these ideological arguments, playing politics of the sort that we have seen John McCain doing recently, then I think, frankly, we're going to miss an opportunity to really move this country in a better direction and to reset our foreign policy in a way that I think the world is anxious for.

The world wants to see the United States lead. They have been disappointed and disillusioned over the last seven, eight years. But I think there is still a sense everywhere I go that, you know, if the United States regains its -- its sense of who it is and our values and our ideals, that we will continue to set the tone for creating a more peaceful and more prosperous world.

BLITZER: I want to move on, but, on this 60th anniversary of Israel, what -- what does Israel mean to you?

OBAMA: Israel is not only our strongest ally in the region and one of our strongest allies in the world, but there is a special connection between America and Israel, one that, when I traveled to Israel, was evident.

Not only do we share so much in terms of common culture. Not only is it the site of so much of our -- of my religious faith and the site of so much of our understanding of the world around us, but what I love about Israel is, is that it is a robust democracy, and that they are committed to principles like rule of law and civil rights and civil liberties. And so it is critical that we send a message around the world we will stand with Israel, we want them around not just for 60 years, but for 600 years. And when I am president of the United States they will have an unwavering ally in me.


BLITZER: Much more of the interview coming up. You're also going to get a chance to ask Senator Obama some questions. One of you wanted to know this regarding Hillary Clinton...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have some strengths, she has some strengths. So bring the strengths together and become a formidable so-called "dream ticket."


BLITZER: You're going to hear Senator Obama's response, one of several answers he has for the questions that you asked, our iReporters.

Plus, Senator Obama does something we rarely see. He speaks very emotionally about his mother ahead of Mother's Day. You're going to want to hear that and his message to all mothers.

We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Barack Obama emerging from the latest round of primaries, looking even more likely to be the Democratic presidential nominee.

Let's get back to my interview now with the senator, his first since those critical contests in North Carolina and Indiana.


BLITZER: We asked our viewers to send us in some questions, and we got thousands of responses, as you can only imagine. I've got a couple. I just want you to watch one of those and get your reaction. A lot of people asked this basic question.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It appears that you do not have enough support among blue collar workers as Senator Clinton did. Would you consider just on that basis alone considering her on a joint ticket as vice president?


OBAMA: Well, you know, as I said before, "TIME" magazine notwithstanding, we haven't wrapped this thing up yet. At the point where I'm the nominee, I'll start going through the process of figuring out what -- you know, what my running mate -- who my running mate might be.

Senator Clinton has shown herself to be an extraordinary candidate. She is tireless, she is smart, she is capable. And so obviously she'd on anybody's short list to be a potential vice presidential candidate.

But it would be presumptuous of me at this point, when she is still actively running, when she is highly favored to win the next -- two of the next three contests, for me to somehow suggest that she should be running mate. At this point I think we have to just resolve this process and then we can figure it out.

BLITZER: There will be plenty of time down the road for that.

OBAMA: There will be, yes.

BLITZER: All right. Here is a question. Listen to this one.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I strongly believe that us human beings are defined by what we've done in our lifetimes. What is the one thing that a President Barack Obama, what will he be remembered for achieving during his presidency or during his lifetime?

(END VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Well, we've got a lot of jobs before us, but the most important thing I think I could achieve, you know, if I am looking back eight years from now and I am fortunate enough to be the president, is that we were able to navigate our way through this situation in Iraq and the threat of al Qaeda in Afghanistan in a way that makes us more secure, stronger, but also enhances our influence around the world, which I think has been diminishing.

I think the way we have run this war in Iraq has lessened our ability to move our allies. It has led us to ignore the critical needs for us to focus on a sound energy policy in this country. It has left us unable to lead on critical global issues like global warming. And it has led us to neglect what ultimately is the most important thing to keeping America safe, and that is having an economy that is the envy of the world and that gives us the resources and the power to project ourselves around the world.

If China ends up becoming the economic powerhouse of this century, then their military will ultimately match up with that economic power. So part of resetting our foreign policy has to include understanding that there are Americans out there who are struggling.

They want to succeed, they want to get a college education. They want to be scientists. They want to be, you know, on the cutting edge of clean energy. They want to be on the cutting edge of biotech. But we're going to have to make some investments and ensure that the dynamism and the innovation of the American people is released.

It's very hard for us to do that when we're spending close to $200 billion a year in other countries, rebuilding those countries instead of focusing on making ourselves strong.

BLITZER: We're out of time, but a quick question on this Mother's Day weekend. Your mother raised you. She was on food stamps at one point. A single mother.

If she were alive today and she saw where you have reached, the point that you have reached right now, what would she say to you?

OBAMA: She'd say, don't let it get to your head, just keep on working hard. But I think she'd be pretty proud. Everything that I am I owe to her. She was the kindest, most generous person I ever met. And her values and her integrity still guide me.

She is somebody who when I am confronted with difficult choices, I have to ask myself, you know, what would she -- what would she expect of me? And I think that's usually a good guidepost.

Now, I've got to say that the mother that counts most in my life at the moment is Michelle, who through a very difficult process continues to raise two of the best daughters that anybody would ever want. And she's out on the campaign trail at the same time and keeping me straight. So happy Mother's Day to her as well.

BLITZER: And happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there. OBAMA: Absolutely.

BLITZER: OK. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

OBAMA: Thank you, Wolf. I enjoyed it.


BLITZER: Barack Obama in his first interview since the Indiana and North Carolina primaries.

This programming note -- we have standing invitations to both Senator Clinton and McCain. We look forward to their joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, as well.

And we're also going to be getting live reaction here today from Terry McAuliffe from the Clinton campaign, Mitt Romney from Senator McCain's campaign. We're going to be getting their reaction to what we just heard from Senator Obama.

But up next, in a special edition of our "Strategy Session," the experience factor. You heard Senator Obama answer Mitt Romney's barb that he's not ready for the Oval Office, but has Obama put that issue behind him?

And Senator Obama says it's too early to talk specifically about who his running mate might be, but he also has some effusive praise for his current opponent.

What's going on? We'll assess, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's start a special "Strategy Session" right now. Two CNN political contributors, both Democratic strategists, joining us, Paul Begala and Donna Brazile, and the conservative commentator Terry Jeffrey. He's editor-in-chief of the Cybercast News Service.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

All right. Let me get your reaction. As a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton, what did you think of this Democratic presidential candidate?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I thought he did a good job. He was -- as they say on ESPN, he was as cool as the other side of the pillow. Right, here?

I thought Mitt Romney embarrassed himself saying these goofy things about him. He handled it -- dispatched him wonderfully, but didn't, you know, sort of rise to debate.

Senator McCain, again, embarrassed himself with this nonsense, attack that he made, Hamas would be happy -- as if. And again, he dispatched that well. This is what Democrats are looking at. Right? Can he counterpunch, can he parry? And I thought he did quite a good job. I say this as a Clinton guy, and I'm still for her until the last dog dies. But I thought it was a really good interview by Barack.

BLITZER: Is that last dog about to die?

BEGALA: The last dog's hanging in there just fine. Lassie ain't going nowhere.

BLITZER: All right.

Donna, what did you think?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, as a neutral superdelegate, let me just say that I thought that he was very substantive. He answered all of your questions, some difficult questions, clearly -- foreign policy, as well as domestic.

He was at ease with himself. He told the story about his life. And yet he was able to, as Paul said, counterpunch on some of the difficult issues, especially against the Republicans.

I think Senator Obama needs to do more of this in the coming weeks. Of course he needs to continue to campaign in all of these states, but do more interviews so people can get comfortable knowing him, the person.

BLITZER: But you hear that a lot, Terry. A lot of people say, I really don't know much about this guy. Yet, he's got to become much better known to the American people, don't you think?

TERRY JEFFREY, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Well, there's no doubt about it. On style, I'll give him a 10, Wolf. But I think that interview pointed out some questions you asked.

There is going to be a very serious debate this fall on matters of policy, where Senator McCain and Obama are completely on the opposite sides. But there's also this question he's going to have to answer about his association with Jeremiah Wright, which is still out there, which I do think had an impact.

I think if it weren't for that, he would have won Indiana, he would have sealed up the nomination. Those things are going to be part of the debate, and I think he's going to continue to explain that to people.

BLITZER: And as I pointed out to Senator Obama, as acrimonious -- if it was really was that acrimonious in this fight that he had with his fellow Democrats -- it's going to be a lot more intense in these weeks and months to come.

BEGALA: Which is why -- I've said this from the beginning, a tough primary is a blessing for the Democratic Party, so long as they stay within the guardrails. And I have never been one of the handwringers, not when Hillary was getting hit, not when Barack was getting hit.

This has been a good thing for my party, because turnout is up, registration is up, volunteers are up, voters are up. So that tells you it wasn't too negative or nasty or dirty. And I think it has made him a better and tougher candidate.

BLITZER: He was effusive in his praise for Senator Clinton. "Extraordinary, formidable," she'd be on anybody's short list to be a vice presidential running mate. And I must say, I've interviewed him several times over the past few years, four presidential debates in the last year alone. He was very comfortable and at ease today. Much more so.

Usually he's a little uptight. He was pretty relaxed today.

BRAZILE: Well, he spent some time with some undeclared superdelegates, and perhaps one of them gave him an endorsement or two.

But look, I think Senator Obama is doing the right thing. He needs to talk about Senator Clinton, he needs to talk about the Democratic Party, talk about the country. It's so important for the Democrats that Senator Obama and Senator Clinton close this race out on a joyful note.

There's been a lot of punches thrown. Paul and I know that. But at the same time, it's time that we prepare ourselves to defeat the Republicans.

And Terry, if you want to know more about Reverend Wright, I will personally call up Reverend Moss at Trinity United Church of Christ. Go sit. I guarantee you they will tell you a lot about Reverend Wright and Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Is the Reverend Wright story behind us, or is there still stuff out there that you think they're going to come back to potentially haunt the Democratic presumptive -- I don't know if we can call him yet the presumptive nominee, but he sure looks like he's getting very, very close.

JEFFREY: Well, I think one point is, there will be a lingering question in people's minds now that they've seen Reverend Wright live on national television, why it was that Barack Obama, the one we saw you interview, Wolf, associated himself with that person for 20 years. But the second thing is his church.

There are some pretty radical things that are printed in the bulletin of that church that are not written by Jeremiah Wright. Some have been reported by CNN.

For example, in the bulletin of the Trinity United Church of Christ, they had a guest columnist who said the South Africans and the Israelis got together to try to build an ethnic bomb that would kill Arabs and blacks. That's crazy, but it was in the bulletin of that church.

BLITZER: All right.

JEFFREY: What does Barack Obama think of that?


BLITZER: Hold on. One at a time.

BRAZILE: Go ahead.

BEGALA: The three of us are very different people.

BRAZILE: Correct.

BEGALA: What unites us is the holy mother church. You have three Catholics standing here. And so I don't participate in Senator Obama's church, I don't pretend to know very much about it.

But I know my church, and I love it, and I think all three of us do. Pastor John Hagee, who supports John McCain, has trashed our faith, trashed our Holy Father, trashed our church, and we never ask about that. The media has been fundamentally unfair about this.

Rightly, Barack Obama was asked about Reverend Wright. I think he's answered about 1,001 questions. When are we going to turn to Senator McCain and say, why are you associating with a hater and a bigot?

JEFFREY: You know what? And that's a very good point, Paul. And I believe that John McCain went down and stood on a stage with that guy and took his endorsement.


JEFFREY: And that was wrong, and McCain deserved to be questioned about that. There isn't any doubt about it.

BLITZER: Donna, is this cover in "Time" magazine right?

BRAZILE: Well, let's see what happens in the next couple weeks. We have six more primaries, 217 pledged delegates, about 265 superdelegates. We'll know in a couple weeks.

Look, Wolf, I'm not ready to corronate a queen or a king. I am ready to compete the rest of these primaries and see what happens.

BLITZER: Good. We're ready to see what happens as well, guys.

BRAZILE: And I again invite Terry to go to church with me.

BEGALA: And Donna and I are going to dinner.

BLITZER: I think all of you should go to church this Sunday.

BEGALA: People all think that we're not getting along.

BRAZILE: He's lying. He is lying. (LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

For struggling homeowners the House of Representatives has just done something aimed at helping. You're going to want to hear about this $300 billion plan.

And reaction to my one-on-one interview with Senator Barack Obama. What does Mitt Romney think now that Obama has reacted to something he said? Mitt Romney is standing by live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And the Clinton campaign also getting ready to respond. Its chairman, Terry McAuliffe, he'll be here live as well.

Lots more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: In today's Political Ticker, moments ago the House of Representatives passed a $300 billion plan to help struggling homeowners. It would allow them to refinance their loans into more affordable fixed-rate loans backed by the federal government. Some experts say it could help 500,000 homeowners.

Many Republicans oppose the bill. President Bush is threatening a veto, saying these Democratic efforts would help lenders and speculators, not homeowners.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out That's where I write my daily blog post as well.

John McCain is asked if he has a short fuse, but he diffuses the question with humor. Is that part of a broader strategy to win?

Stand by. Much more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Should Barack Obama offer Hillary Clinton the number two spot on the ticket as a way of getting her to quit the race now?

Mandy writes from California: "No. He's about change. She's about experience, which is another word for old politics. He has other options. She does not."

Dan in Michigan writes: "Senator Obama must select someone who compliments the ticket. I think there are a large number of voters who would not support a black candidate or a female candidate. My mother's one of them. It'll be easier if the ticket has a governor, for example, who will reflect the change movement that has credentials as an effective executive."

Jerry writes: "Barack should offer her a one way ticket back to Arkansas, Iowa, Pennsylvania, New York, or wherever else she claims to be from. She burned this bridge herself with her pit bull attacks. He would only lose my vote by picking her."

Felipe in Portugal writes all the way from Lisbon: "Yes, he can't win without her. He needs the working class. He needs Latinos. He needs seniors. And most importantly, he has to consider the millions of people who voted for Hillary Clinton during these primaries."

Caitlin writes: "Two words: Kathleen Sebelius. She's the perfect way to fill the constituencies that Obama is missing. She's from Ohio, she's the governor of Kansas, is older, 59, from a rural state, is white and a woman. With Sebelius, Obama would win Kansas and Ohio and capture Clinton's constituency, all without having to have the Clintons in the White House."

Joshua writes from North Carolina: "It makes no sense, Jack. Do you not remember her comments on him being elitist or his pastor being offensive? With every problem Barack Obama has had on the campaign trail, we could expect Clinton to make it worse. Why would anyone want to reward such behavior?"

And Terrance writes from Missouri: "No. Not unless he's planning to employ a full-time food taster."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at, and look for yours there along with hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. See you in a few moments.