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The Situation Room

McCain-Bush Energy Embrace; McCain & Obama Side by Side at Tim Russert Funeral; Interview With Former Congressman Rob Portman

Aired June 18, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, high-level backup for John McCain's energy policy. The president demands Congress lift the ban on offshore oil drilling. It's new fuel for Democrats to tie McCain to Mr. Bush.
We're watching this story.

And McCain and Barack Obama, they're side by side. They're talking to one another. We're going to tell you about the unusual circumstances that brought these two presidential candidates together right here in Washington today.

And a shift in the landscape of McCain versus Obama. New battleground state polls are now out and we're about to make a big change in CNN's electoral college map and allocate a crucial tossup state to one of the candidates.

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

But we begin with the politics of soaring gas prices, ratcheting up right now. President Bush today warned Democratic leaders in Congress that there's no excuse for delaying new energy exploration. His new call to lift the ban on offshore oil drilling coming just one day after John McCain laid out his own plan to do precisely that.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's watching this story for us.

Ed, this is a significant new development in this debate.


Yesterday, as you noted, Senator McCain reversed his position, embraced this offshore drilling. Within 24 hours, you had the president jumping onboard. And that may only complicate McCain's efforts to distance himself from this president.


HENRY (voice over): Republican John McCain is trying to appeal to Independent voters by saying he's no President Bush.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The next president must be...

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: All right. Unfortunately, we apologize for that technical problem.

But let me go back to Ed Henry and we'll talk about what's going on.

So McCain yesterday comes out and supports offshore oil drilling off the coasts of the United States, down in Florida, in California. Today the president follows suit. This is a change in his stance.

So pick it up from there.

HENRY: Well, absolutely. And what Senator McCain was about to say, he was basically saying in a speech today in Missouri that the next president really has to break with the current president, and previous presidents as well, to try to figure out a way to break America's dependence on oil.

But interesting that today the president comes out, and rather than a break from Senator McCain, you're seeing the president today in the rose garden embrace exactly what Senator McCain said yesterday, which is basically the way out of this, the way to deal with $4 a gallon gasoline, is more drilling offshore, off the coasts of Florida, California.

The criticism from Democrats on Capitol Hill right now, though, is that that's only really dealing with increasing supply. It's not doing anything to reduce the vast demand for more oil. It's not going to wean Americans off their dependence on oil.

And also, they're noting that a lot of these oil companies have vast -- you know, millions of acres where they have licenses to drill, but they're not drilling right now. And the question is whether even if there is some offshore drilling that's opened up in the next few years, it's really going to take years to turn that into oil that can actually be used for gasoline. So the short-term impact on gasoline prices really won't be there.

And you're also hearing from Republicans that a lot of plans you're hearing from Senator Obama, Democrats on Capitol Hill, they're really not going to do much about short-term lowering oil and gas prices as well. So, the bottom line is, you're hearing a lot more finger-pointing on both sides. But the chances of real action in the next few months that's going to do anything about these high gasoline prices, very, very unlikely -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And not all the Republicans out there are on board with the president now and with Senator McCain yesterday.

HENRY: That's right. It's interesting, you have the Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in California putting out a tough statement saying today, even though he's friends with this president, he's friends with John McCain, that he will not embrace this idea of offshore drilling in California. It also would apply to Florida and other states as well, obviously off the coast. But that coming from Schwarzenegger is a reminder that Senator McCain's position really may alienate moderates and some of those Independent voters he's trying to reach out to on energy, on the environment. He's been saying, well, look, I broke with President Bush on global warming. But on the other hand, he and the president are in lockstep now on increasing more oil drilling. And so that could really complicate Senator McCain's efforts to reach out to Independent voters when you have someone like Governor Schwarzenegger saying more drilling is not a good idea -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry is over at the White House watching this important story.

Thanks, Ed, very much.

Let's turn now to a rather remarkable moment in this presidential campaign. And it happened here in Washington today. John McCain and Barack Obama, rivals for the highest office in the land, sitting together and chatting like a couple of pals.


BLITZER: And joining us now, our Washington bureau chief, David Bohrman.

David, you and I saw something really pretty amazing today at Tim Russert's funeral mass in Georgetown.

DAVID BOHRMAN, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, we had expected a moving service and VIPs in Washington to turn out. And I think we thought that we might see Senators Obama and McCain. But they walked down the aisle pretty shortly after one another and then they sat down together.

BLITZER: They sat right next to each other. And they were deeply engrossed in conversation. We could see them. We were only a few rows away.

BOHRMAN: There were four rows in front. And right across from the aisle where I was. And you were right next to me. And the 15 or 20 minutes before the service time, they were having what seemed to be a great conversation.

The body language was warm and friendly. They were talking. I mean, they weren't making jokes, but they were really engaged in a conversation.

And it struck me that this is an "only in America" kind of a moment. That here we were at the funeral service for the son of a sanitation worker in Buffalo, and these two men, one of whom is going to be president in a few months, were sitting having the warmest conversation you can imagine.

BLITZER: And you know what went through my mind was, here was Tim Russert, our friend who died so suddenly last Friday of a heart attack, even in his death, he was able to bring these two presidential candidates together for that hour and a half funeral mass, for that hour and a half service. And Cardinal McCarrick, who officiated, he made a point of it.

And then Luke Russert...

BOHRMAN: Well, Luke actually lectured them.

BLITZER: ... the son, the son -- and tell our viewers what Luke said, because it was pretty poignant and it was so Tim Russert at the same time.

BOHRMAN: Well, he addressed -- he addressed journalists, he addressed people that have lost people. But then he addressed politicians, and Senators McCain and Obama.

He said, keep the discussion at a high level. He said, don't stoop to calling each other names. And then he said the best thing of all. He said, if you've changed your mind, admit it.

He said, "That's what my father got most people on." He would put up a quote, and it didn't agree with what they were thinking now, and they pretended like they had never said it. He said, "People change their minds. So if you change your mind, Senator Obama, Senator McCain, just admit it and move on."

BLITZER: And it was really a nice tribute to Tim, the fact that these two presidential candidates could take some time away from their campaigning, come to church, spend an hour and a half together, sitting right next to each other, amidst a lot of other politicians and well-known journalists and celebrities and just average folks, and make a statement like that. I've got to tell you, it was pretty moving for me, too.

BOHRMAN: And hats off to the Secret Service. They kept their distance. They weren't surrounding them the way they do so often. They were several rows further back and they let the moment happen and they didn't intrude at all.

BLITZER: David, thanks very much.


BLITZER: The McCain camp, by the way, tells our own Dana Bash that Senators Obama and McCain engaged in what they described as small talk about their families. It was still very, very impressive that it happened to begin with.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: If John McCain doesn't stop changing his position on the issues, he threatens to make John Kerry look like an amateur. In order for McCain to win in November, he has to appeal to both the traditional Republican base and to Independents.

Dana Milbank, in "The Washington Post," says that's a delicate dance. And if McCain's not careful, "... he's liable to break a hip." Of course, any doctor will tell you a broken hip can be very difficult to recover from.

On Iraq, the economy, guns and God, McCain is to the right. On immigration, campaign finance reform and global warming, McCain is to the left. Sort of reminiscent of John Kerry back in 2004.

McCain went after Barack Obama yesterday for proposing a windfall profits tax on the oil companies. A month ago, McCain said he was willing to consider a windfall tax on the oil companies.

What about offshore drilling? During his run for president in 2000, McCain was against it. Now he's for it, saying the states should decide if they want to drill for oil off their coastlines. This could cost him big-time in states like California and Florida, which are very environmentally conscious.

Then there are the Bush tax cuts. McCain was against them twice, now he's for them.

McCain has also called for the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay to be closed down and torture banned. But last week he criticized the Supreme Court's ruling that detainees there should have access to U.S. courts, calling the Supreme Court decision one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.

So here's the question. How clear is it where John McCain stands on the issues?

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

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Democrats are blasting John McCain's energy plan as a retread of President Bush's policy. Should Americans trust McCain to ease their pain at the pump? I'll ask a top McCain supporter and a former Bush cabinet member, Rob Portman.

And we're tracking the floodwaters in the Midwest and the new crisis zones along the Mississippi River. It's a race against time. We'll tell you where the danger is right now.

And Michelle Obama sharpens her message, how she's gearing up for the fall campaign. Some say more like a candidate than a would-be first lady.

We'll tell you what's happening right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: John McCain is making new oil exploration a centerpiece of his energy policy with a little help today from President Bush. Democrats are seizing on that, and allies of McCain and Mr. Bush are coming forward in their defense.


BLITZER: And joining us now from Cincinnati, Ohio, the former U.S. congressman Rob Portman, a former budget director, special trade representative.

Got a lot of titles, but now you're just a private citizen trying to help John McCain become the next president of the United States.

Is that right, Congressman?

ROB PORTMAN (R), FMR. U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Exactly. As you can tell, I have a hard time holding a job.

BLITZER: Well, you've done some pretty good work here in Washington.

Let's talk about energy right now.


BLITZER: What happened over the past eight years? Because when President Bush was a candidate running in 2000, he said he was going to deal with the nation's energy crisis. And guess what? We've got a huge energy crisis right now.

What happened?

PORTMAN: Well, I think two things have happened. One is that the energy problem has become worse because the demand is higher. No one would have predicted even a couple of years ago the demand we're now getting from China, India and other emerging economies around the world. That's driving prices up. That's the laws of supply and demand.

The second is, some of the things that the president and others have wanted to do have not been successful. We haven't been able to expand our nuclear power capacity, we haven't been able to expand our exploration and drilling. For instance, in ANWR, which as the president, as you know, has been trying to do.

BLITZER: That's in Alaska. The Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

PORTMAN: Exactly, Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. So there are some things that we haven't been able to do in terms of the supply side. At the same time, the demand side has increased more rapidly than anyone would have guessed.

The result is we've got very high prices for oil, but also for other sources of energy. And, you know, we need to redouble our efforts.

We have made some commitments, as you know, to renewable energy, increasing funds for research into things like solar and wind, hydropower. We need to do more.

And I think what's interesting, if you look at the distinction between the two candidates on this issue, John McCain is saying, yes, we should do more on alternative energy. Yes, we should do more with regard to conservation. In fact, he's been a leader, as you know, in the Senate on conservation issues, including the CAFE, standards, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for automobiles and cars -- automobiles and trucks.

But he's also saying let's look at the supply side. And this is where the Democrats I think are weak, because they're not able to talk about the need to move toward more nuclear power, which is a relatively clean and very efficient way to get power. It provides about 20 percent of our electric energy already and can do a lot more. And he's also saying...

BLITZER: But he's causing -- Congressman, he's causing a lot of commotion right now by calling for the end to this ban on drilling off the coastline.


BLITZER: President Bush today changed his mind and thought that that was a good idea as well. But even a lot of Republicans are not happy about that, especially in some of the states.

The governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, just issued a statement saying, "California's coastline is an international treasure. I do not support lifting this moratorium on oil drilling off our coast."

Why is Schwarzenegger and these other Democrats, and Republicans, for that matter, wrong?

PORTMAN: Well, they're wrong because the new technologies enable us to do this in a much more environmentally sensitive way, and because we need the supplies. I heard Senator Obama say today, gee, it's not going to come on line for several years. Well, let's get started.

I mean, the reality is, that there will be a transition here where we will continue to rely on oil, and we need to be sure that we have adequate supplies. The largest supplies that we know of in North America, of course, are on the Outer Continental Shelf.

BLITZER: But you know, they say it's easy for someone from Ohio to be making that case. But if you're in Florida or in California, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, for example, said the tourism industry, the beaches of Florida are pristine, and they don't want to do anything that could endanger spills, or whatever, the Florida coastline.

You understand why they're especially concerned about this recommendation from Senator McCain?

PORTMAN: Well, I understand why there's concern. And I love our coast of our great country also. But look at what Charlie Crist has said, the governor of Florida, where he has said there is a way to do this in an environmentally sensitive way to avoid those spills you're talking about, because the new technologies are much more advanced, and to have a smaller footprint, and to be able to do so, again, to help us in the interim here while we make this transition from oil to other technologies.

It doesn't mean we should slow down, by the way, with anything else we're talking about with alternative energies, with regard to alternative sources of energy that I talked about earlier, including wind and solar and hydro, nor should we slow down in terms of our efforts to use less through more conservation. But we also need more supplies. And nuclear can help on the electrical side, but we also need to be sure that we have the ability to have more oil and gas in this interim period.

So, it's, I think, a balanced approach. Senator McCain I know thought about it long and hard before he issued his call to raise the moratorium. He also said that there are some areas where you shouldn't explore and drill, that there's some where you can do it in an environmentally sensitive way and we've got to work with the states to do that.

BLITZER: And he doesn't like drilling in Alaska, in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, even though a lot of Republicans do want to drill there, especially President Bush.

All right. We're going to have to leave it right there, Congressman. Thanks very much for coming in.

PORTMAN: Thank you, Wolf. Good to be on with you, as always.


BLITZER: A natural disaster deepens. The latest developments from the flood zone along the Mississippi River. You're going to find out how many walls designed to hold backwaters have actually broken and what could happen over the next few days. You or someone you know could be affected.

And did people working for Barack Obama ban some Muslim women from sitting near him at a recent campaign rally? Brian Todd looking into the story.

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



BLITZER: The misery and emergency are far from over. Later this week, the mighty Mississippi River is expected to threaten many other communities.

Hannibal, Missouri, for example, is expected to crest at 15 feet above flood stage on Friday. In Clarksville, Missouri, waters could crest at 13 feet above flood stage the next day. And in St. Louis -- listen to this -- the cresting could be 10 feet above flood stage on Monday. Officials consider if and when to evacuate residents that may be affected.

We're going to have a lot more on this disaster. That's coming up. We'll also have some live reports from the scene. Stay with us for that.

President Bush is asking Congress for $1.8 billion in flood relief. In the meantime, if you would like to get involved in helping victims of the flooding, you can go to our Impact Your World page where you'll find links to several organizations that are stepping in to offer assistance. That's at

Michelle Obama is going to new lengths to take on her critics. We're going to take a closer look at her strategy that includes some fist-bumping with the women of "The View."

And there's a new shift in the swing states. We're getting ready to change our CNN electoral college map. You're going to want to see which battleground state is getting moved out of the tossup column.

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


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

Happening now, a controversial claim. The commander in chief and those under him are quoted as saying that the commander in chief authorized a systematic regime of torture. That quote coming from the man who led the Army investigation into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. You're going to want to hear precisely about this new report and what else is in it.

Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama, that's how Republicans are now using her past criticisms of him. One man even claims there's a group of Clinton supporters backing John McCain.

Do polls show this fact? Is it a true fact? What's going on? Part of an anti-Obama campaign a fiction?

And a CNN special investigation prompts reaction and action for Hurricane Katrina victims. It involves $85 million worth of supplies that did not go to them as intended. And our report that's now changed that, we have new developments. You're going to want to see this.

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

For two candidates who say they want a positive race, Barack Obama and John McCain's campaigns are hurling some very harsh words at one another. The latest barbs centering in on the fight over how to capture, kill or otherwise bring terrorists to justice.

Earlier today -- listen to this -- Obama had this to say...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's going to be a clear choice in this election. John McCain wants to continue the Bush/Cheney foreign policy. I want to turn the page.

Instead of adhering to a rigid ideology, I want to get back to the pragmatic tradition of American foreign policy which has been so ably advanced by the people in this room. A policy that's focused on using all elements of American power to protect our people and to advance our interests.


BLITZER: McCain's campaign certainly will not let that remark go unanswered.

Let's turn to CNN's Dana Bash. She's watching this story for us.

A lot of back-and-forth. What's the latest?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The latest is actually, you know, obviously Senator McCain's campaign picked this fight. But we haven't actually heard from the candidate himself on this, just the surrogates. We do expect to hear from Senator McCain in a short while. He's going to have a press conference in Missouri.

Now, there is a lot of name-calling, finger-pointing going on. But underneath it all are some pretty stark differences for voters to choose from.


BASH (voice over): First thing in the morning, both candidates' surrogates were already hammering away at the latest campaign fault line: fighting terrorism.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The way Senator Obama sees it, I call it a pre-September 11th mentality that he wants to return to.

SUSAN RICE, FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER TO BARACK OBAMA: This administration and John McCain have for seven years pursued a stupid and fundamentally failed policy as we try to deal with the war on terrorism.

BASH: But the fiery to and fro, words like stupid, may mask stark differences between the candidates on a key issue: how to treat and try suspected terrorists.

John McCain does not believe foreign suspects have broad rights to appeal their detention, as the Supreme Court ruled last week.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: To treat enemy combatants, who are not citizens, and give them the sat rights as an American citizen, this is a decision that will harm our ability to detainee and prosecute individuals who are enemy combatants. BASH: Barack Obama insists, detainees should not have the same rights as Americans, but should be able to challenge their detention in a civilian court.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My approach is guided by a simple premise. I have confidence that our system of justice and that our traditions of rule of law are strong enough to deal with terrorists.

BASH: To bolster his argument, Obama said this week that the 1993 World Trade Center suspects were -- quote -- "incapacitated" by being convicted in U.S. courts.

That's where camp McCain pounced, saying, in hindsight, that trial is a glaring example in errors of fighting terrorism to learn from, not repeat.

GIULIANI: America should have gone on offense against terrorism. We didn't.

BASH: For all their differences about detainees' rights, the candidates actually agree they should face trial and that Guantanamo soiled America's image.

OBAMA: Our reputation around the world has been severely damaged as a consequence of Guantanamo.

MCCAIN: I can't defend the Bush administration's interpretation of how they could treat prisoners.


BASH: Now, this -- this afternoon, Senator Obama forcefully responded to the accusation that he would pursue a law enforcement approach to fighting terrorism.

Obama insisted that he's laid out a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that includes military force, intelligence operations, and diplomatic action. And, again, Wolf, he accused the McCain campaign of engaging in the politics of fear. Again, we do expect to hear from Senator McCain for the very first time, ironically, on this issue just in a short while.

BLITZER: All right. You will monitor that for us?

BASH: Sure will.

BLITZER: Thanks, Dana, very much.

Let's get to the race for the Electoral College votes. That's the Holy Grail in the presidential election. We're about to make a significant change in CNN's electoral map as we figure in the results of new polls from several crucial battlegrounds.

As you can see, states now considered tossups are shown in yellow. States we have allocated to McCain are red, or light red, depending how strongly they're going Republican. States we have allocated to Obama are in blue or light blue.

Stand by to find out which state is changing colors as of right now, but, first, the results of those new battleground state polls.

For that we will turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Bill, what's happening in those swing states?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, they're doing what they're expected to do. They're swinging.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): A little swing music, please, because there is some swinging going on in the three largest swing states. New Quinnipiac University polls in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania all show that, since claiming the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama has swung into the lead.

Obama leads John McCain by six points in Ohio and 12 in Pennsylvania. In Florida, Obama is four points up, not quite significant, but a turnaround from last month, when McCain led Obama by four. In fact, all three states show a swing toward the Democrat, even though Obama lost all three primaries to Hillary Clinton.

If this swing stuff catches on all over the country, we may be looking at a new electoral map. The latest CNN national poll conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation shows Obama running strongest in the West, and not just California.

BOB LOEVY, PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, COLORADO COLLEGE: The 10 Rocky Mountain states have been traditionally the most Republican part of the country. So, that's why it's so amazing that the polls show Obama doing well out here.

SCHNEIDER: Three Western states that President Bush carried by narrow margins in 2004 now look vulnerable to a Democratic takeover, even though they all border John McCain's Arizona: Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado. Why?

LOEVY: In the upper-class suburbs of Denver that used to be so solidly Republican, a lot of aspects of the Bush administration have not played well there. His war policies, his policies on abortion, gay marriage, et cetera, simply have not played well with the old Republican Party out here in the Rocky Mountain West.


SCHNEIDER: Why the swing to the Democrats? Well, here's a clue.

President Bush's job approval ratings are 22 percent in Ohio, 24 percent in Pennsylvania, and 27 percent in Florida. In each case, Bush has lost about half the support that he got in 2004 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill, thank you. And based on that latest polling, we're about to unveil the big change in CNN's electoral map. Heading into today, we had allocated 194 electoral votes to McCain, 190 to Obama. But one of those yellow tossups is about to turn light blue.

Check it out. It would be Pennsylvania. CNN now considers it to be leaning Obama. And that gives Obama 21 more electoral votes, for a total of 211. McCain stands at 194 by CNN's estimate. And that leaves 133 electoral votes up for grabs. Remember, 270 -- 270 are needed to win the White House.

We're going to continue to monitor all these states, the tossup states, all the other states. And, as soon as there are any changes, we will update you as well.

You can always go to and see what we have just shown you and get more information,

Barack Obama repeatedly has tried to clear up misconceptions that he's a Muslim. He certainly is not. But did his campaign go too far in trying to make that point, making some Muslim supporters angry?

Also coming up, Michelle Obama's handlers deny she's undergoing a makeover. But the would-be first lady is trying to reintroduce herself to voters. We will tell you how and why.

Our, later, own contributor Bill Bennett, we will get his take on what's going on inside John McCain's vice presidential search.

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


BLITZER: Barack Obama's campaign is getting more aggressive about confronting rumors about the Democrat, including false claims he's a Muslim.

But the Obama camp is now trying to reassure Muslim supporters he's glad to have them on his side after accounts of a rather embarrassing incident.

Let's bring in Brian Todd. He is here to explain what this is all about -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one major civil rights group, the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, has sent Senator Obama a letter of complaint. And the Obama campaign is apologizing for incidents that occurred this week in Detroit. This was at a rally with former Vice President Gore.

Two Muslim women who were wearing head scarves claim that they were barred from sitting behind the podium by campaign volunteers. We spoke with two relatives of one of those women. They backed up media reports and witness accounts on this.

A witness who was with one of the women told the online site Politico that one volunteer said that, because of the political climate and -- quote -- "what's going on in the world," it wouldn't be good for her to be seen on TV and associated with Obama.

Now, the Obama campaign sent us this statement: "This of course is not the policy of the campaign. It is offensive and counter to Obama's commitment to bring Americans together, and simply not the kind of campaign we run. We sincerely apologize for the behavior of these volunteers."

Now, an Obama aide told us they have contacted the volunteers in question and are looking further into these incidents, also working to make sure it never happens again. But they also point out they believe this is an anomaly. They point to other rallies, like this one in Seattle in February, where you can see someone in Muslim garb -- in Muslim head gear behind Obama.

Other images, like a photograph, they say, that they gave us show Senator Obama clearly not concerned about being shown with women wearing head scarves. Here's one of those photos.

The brother of one of the women also told us, this does not change their feelings about Senator Obama. They say they still support him. But this is a very sensitive topic for Barack Obama. He's denied rumors on the Internet and elsewhere that he's really a Muslim. And the nature of his denials have sometimes irked the Muslim community, so, the campaign, Wolf, handling this with a lot of sensitivity. They're very upset about these reports of this incident.

BLITZER: All right. It's a very sensitive subject, Brian. Thank you.

Michelle Obama is stepping up her public profile, hoping to give voters a fuller picture of who she is and what she stands for. And, today, that included a stop on the TV program "The View."

Jessica Yellin is watching all of this for us, doing a lot of reporting on what's going on. What's the Obama campaign trying to accomplish, Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the campaign is planning to beef up the team around Michelle Obama to give her the kind of professional campaign veterans experienced in rapid response to negative attacks that you usually see surrounding the candidate him or herself.

This is because the campaign is convinced that she is going to be the target of significant attacks from the conservatives during this campaign.

And they want her to have the kind of team that is sort of unprecedented in presidential politics. She has already been the subject of a number of both Internet ads and Internet rumors criticizing for her being possibly unpatriotic, elitist, angry. These are the kinds of words the conservative blogosphere is using to describe Michelle Obama. So, they are on two fronts tackling this problem, first with this kind of campaign team that is unprecedented for a potential first lady-to-be. And, on the other hand, trying to humanize her and get more people to know her.

And they did that in part today by putting her on "The View." Let's listen to what she said. She made it clear that she's really not making the big decisions with her husband. Let's listen.


MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: I think the one thing that a nominee earns is the right to pick the vice president that they think will best reflect their vision of the country. And I'm just glad I will have nothing to do with it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. You have no say-so whatsoever?



M. OBAMA: And I don't want it.


YELLIN: So, there, she's making it clear that she is not a two- for-one ticket. She's not making the big decisions for her husband.

He will be making them. She even said she's going to be taking some cues from Laura Bush, a very popular first lady who has not been accused of being sort of aggressive or overshadowing her husband -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That is certainly true. Thank you very much, Jessica.

We are going to have more on this story in the next hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Mike Huckabee is a big John McCain supporter, but he has a warning about a potential GOP strategy. You are going to find out what he says could be a -- quote -- "fatal mistake" for John McCain. We will discuss that in our "Strategy Session."

And the hippest bus tour since MTV. But this Internet video is promoting John McCain. We will take you along for the ride. That's coming up.

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


BLITZER: Barack Obama's apparently being defended by an unlikely defender. That would be Republican Mike Huckabee. The man who ran against John McCain is warning McCain supporters not to do one thing in this race. Let's discuss this and more in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, the Democratic strategist Jennifer Palmieri, a former press secretary for John Edwards, and Republican strategist Alex Castellanos, a former adviser for Mitt Romney.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Alex, here's the quote from Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas: "The Republicans" -- and, remember, he's a Republican -- "The Republicans will make a fundamental, if not fatal, mistake if they seek to win the election by demonizing Barack Obama."

Is he right?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, of course he's right. But, geez, I know demons are Mike Huckabee's stock and trade. That's been his business for a while. So, he probably knows them well.

BLITZER: He's a former Baptist minister.

CASTELLANOS: Baptist minister.

But it doesn't -- it's not very helpful. It makes it sound like this is the Republicans' intent, when, of course, we have never had as big a difference on issues and policies between two candidates as we have between McCain and Obama.


CASTELLANOS: And we can have a very solid campaign just on those differences.

But I think it would be better if Mike Huckabee got out and explained, hey, Democrats shouldn't demonize President Bush and the Republicans.

BLITZER: Well, I guess, instead of the word demonizing, we could use the words swift-boating. Will Republicans go ahead and try to swift boat Barack Obama, and, if they do, would that be counterproductive?


Well, I have always found Mike Huckabee to be a very astute politician. I suspect what he's getting at is that Obama is a different kind of candidate. And I think that he's probably saying, if you try to beat him the old way, if you will, like how we swift- boated John Kerry...


BLITZER: These attack ads.

PALMIERI: ... attack ads, and that that just -- that is his -- he was built up became a great candidate because people rejected that kind of politics.


BLITZER: But don't attack ads work? And you have fingerprints on a few of those attack ads.


BLITZER: Do they work, attack ads?

CASTELLANOS: Of course they do, if they're important, if people think they're about subjects that are relevant and important to their lives.

And, so, personal attacks, ad hominem attacks that having nothing to do -- no, of course, not. But just as easily as you could say are Republicans going to swift-boat Obama, you can ask, are Democrats going to move on John McCain, because some of the ads that have been -- the most negative ads so far in this campaign have come from the left, not the right.

PALMIERI: But they're still issue-based, like the ads yesterday from MoveOn. They were about the war.

CASTELLANOS: But they just don't happen to be true. You know, the fact that fact John McCain wants to keep a going for 100 years, that's not what John McCain has said. Nobody wants to end the war more than John McCain. He's seen the cost.

BLITZER: Michelle Obama, what do you think about the notion that she's going through some sort of extreme makeover to change who she is as we go into the general campaign?



BLITZER: She was on "The View" earlier today.

PALMIERI: Right. Yes. Yes.

I don't think -- what I see is I don't think they're trying to reintroduce her. They're trying to introduce her. I think a lot of people don't really know her yet. And I suspect that the hires of our friend Stephanie Cutter, who is very talented...

BLITZER: Former press secretary to Ted Kennedy and to John Kerry.

PALMIERI: John Kerry, yes.


BLITZER: And now she's going to be chief of staff for Michelle Obama.

PALMIERI: Right. And we worked together with Clinton, too, so she's very experienced, very talented.

I think what they're trying to do is protect her image. They're not trying to remake her image. She has a great image. I think she's an incredible asset to him. She reminds me a lot of Elizabeth Edwards. They're both very frank. They're very candid. I think they reflect well about their husbands.

And I think -- but, as Jessica Yellin pointed out in her piece, the right wing -- there's been a lot of whisper campaigns against Michelle. And that's what Stephanie is very good at protecting against. And so I think they're trying to protect her image, not change it.

BLITZER: And remember that Barack Obama has said a few times now, lay off my wife.

CASTELLANOS: I think that's fine, as long as she's not part of the policy-making part of the campaign.


PALMIERI: Why not? She can be part of the policy-making for the campaign.

CASTELLANOS: Well, then she should be fair game for debate as far as what she believes.

PALMIERI: I'm not saying she's not fair game.


CASTELLANOS: No, of course it's fair game that she should be part of the campaign if she -- if what she believes is important to that relationship and to how he would govern. And it seems to be the case.

For example, on "The View" today, she said, look, I didn't want my husband to be -- get involved in politics. It's too mean. And he's such a sweet and either -- and empathetic guy.


CASTELLANOS: She has often made him sound like the softer side of that relationship, and that she is the strength of it. It's important to know in that case. Hey, a lot of relationships are like that.


PALMIERI: I think a lot of women look at her and say...

CASTELLANOS: Let's see what she believes.

PALMIERI: She seems a really strong, independent, creative...

(CROSSTALK) PALMIERI: ... smart woman.

BLITZER: She's a trained lawyer, too.

CASTELLANOS: Very successful independently on her own.

PALMIERI: And if she's decided to be married to Barack Obama as long as she has, he must be a pretty good guy, too.

BLITZER: You know, I want to get both of your thoughts, because it was really nice to see Barack Obama and John McCain at the church today, the Catholic Church, for the funeral service, the funeral mass for our old friend Tim Russert.

They were sitting together. They were chatting for an hour-and- a-half basically, during the whole mass. And you don't often see that. But it was nice to see that today.

CASTELLANOS: I think America's hungry to see more of that. I think Senator McCain's idea that they could have a town hall and discuss important issues together would be terrific for the country.

This is such a serious election. There's so much at stake, a metastasizing threat all over the planet that puts us in harm's way, economic challenges like we have never seen. And I think people want serious discussions of these issues.

BLITZER: Yes. What do you think?

CASTELLANOS: I think it is -- I think not all candidates could do it. I think that these two candidates in particular are sort of able to rise above sort of party...


CASTELLANOS: So is Obama going to do it?

PALMIERI: And they're able -- and in terms of interact with each other, and that they -- they have so much in common. There's no one else in the world that understands Barack Obama at some level like John McCain and vice versa.

BLITZER: Because they're two presidential candidates, and they have a lot of in common.


BLITZER: Alex is off to Harvard.


CASTELLANOS: Wolf, thank you. Looking forward to it.


PALMIERI: ... Cambridge. Look out. CASTELLANOS: I will have to get a bow tie and tweed jacket.

BLITZER: Going to spend some quality time studying. That's good.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

PALMIERI: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: What does John McCain have in common with flashy hip- hop stars? And why is the bus McCain rides on being mentioned in the same sentence as the MTV show "Cribs"? You're going to find out.

And the man who led the Army investigation into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib makes a stunning allegation, writing that President Bush -- and I'm quoting now -- authorized the systematic regime of torture. You are going to want to hear about this new report and a lot more -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: In today's Political Ticker: The John McCain campaign is showing off its bus to a younger generation. A new Web video mimics the MTV show "Cribs," where hip-hop artists and other celebrities show off their multimillion-dollar homes.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, who is going to show us what this video is all about -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, if you can imagine it, this is the Straight Talk Express meets MTV "Cribs."

You're not going to see Senator McCain in this new Web video, just some of his much younger staffers taking us on a tour around the senator's campaign bus.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, he's usually here with the national traveling press corps, some local media. Staff are either on the picnic table or in the front of the bus. This is really the heart and soul of the campaign as it rolls down the road.

Hey, folks, thanks for joining us.


TATTON: You find out -- in this tour, you can take a trip around the kitchen of the bus. He shows us the fridge, the showers. It's kind of like what celebrities have been doing on MTV's "Cribs" for years, although the effect is a little bit different.

Senator John McCain's campaign has posted this on their Web site. They also posted it on Facebook, a clear attempt to reach out to some of the younger voters out there. On Facebook, it's an uphill struggle. The supporters of Barack Obama outweigh, outnumber the supporters of Senator McCain about 7-1 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

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

CAFFERTY: A bit of a reach, isn't it?

I mean, I have seen "Cribs." These rap stars and stuff have these jillion-dollar mansions with garages full of Ferraris and Maseratis and all kind of fancy cars. This is a bus.


CAFFERTY: This is the inside of a bus.

BLITZER: But a very nice bus, though.

CAFFERTY: Well, yes, but it's a bus.


CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: How clear is it where John McCain stands on the issues? He's been moving around a little bit here the last few days.

Karl in California writes: "It depends on which issue, on which day, in front of which group, how much he remembers about it, and if Joe Lieberman is there to correct him."

Rod in Chicago: "I think the question ought to be: Who is the phonier of the two candidates? McCain released a new commercial claiming he will be strong on environmental issues, and the next day he is urging we start drilling around the shores of the United States for oil. It's simply outrageous. What about the gas holiday tax proposal? We are starting to see John McCain win the gold medal in pandering."

Tom in Huntington, New York: "It's absolutely clear. He takes both sides of any issue. If you didn't like something he said, wait a day or two. He'll change his mind. The only problem with that is, he'll change it back again a few days after that."

Darlene in Philadelphia: "Hard to tell. I don't even think he knows. For instance, last month, he was against offshore drilling, yesterday, all for it. He respects and honors G.I.s, or so he says" -- I think he probably does -- "but he consistently votes against bills to help them. And, by the way, what happened to the gas tax holiday?"

There it is again.

"He will tell the people what he thinks they want to hear."

Fergie in South Carolina writes: "Seven years ago, I supported McCain here in the South Carolina in the primary. Since then, he has kowtowed to the religious right in an effort to secure support with ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party. He will say anything in an effort to get elected. And I won't vote for him again."

Beverly in New York writes: "How can voters be clear on his issues when he himself isn't so sure? First, he's for the environment, but he wants offshore oil drilling. He hates war, but he wants U.S. presence in Iraq for 100 years, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. The man spins more than Linda Blair in 'The Exorcist.'"

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you go to and look for your e-mail there, among hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.