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Bush Administration and Congress Agree on Economic Stimulus Package; Interview With Montana Senator Max Baucus

Aired January 24, 2008 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: the bottom line on a new deal to keep recession at bay. We're going to tell you who would get that check in the mail, who would be left out.
Also, do John McCain and Hillary Clinton think it's November already? We're going to look at their testy warmup for a possible matchup in the fall.

And the battle of the spouses, Michelle Obama vs. Bill Clinton. The best political team on television compares their styles out on the campaign trail.

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

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

We won't know for a while if a new deal aimed at boosting the U.S. economy actually does what it's supposed to do. But it's clear that recession fears are a powerful motivator for Congress and the White House to pick up the pace and set aside their usual bickering.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's watching this story for us, a deal that was announced today amid a lot of fanfare.

What's the latest, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, leaders in both parties were under heavy pressure to do something to boost the economy, and they delivered.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice over): The president was quick to declare victory on the stimulus package that will pump $150 billion into the sagging economy.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This package has the right set of policies and is the right size. The incentives in this package will lead to higher consumer spending and increased business investment this year.

HENRY: The deal came after round-the-clock negotiations, Congress moving at record speed. REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: I think this is a remarkable package because it is about putting money in the hands of America's working families.

HENRY: It gives $600 rebate checks to individuals making under $75,000, $1,200 for couples who earn less than $150,000 a year. Couples with kids get an extra $300 per child.

In a concession to Democrats, workers who make at least $3,000 but don't pay taxes will still get $300 checks. In return, Democrats dropped calls for increase in food stamps and extension on unemployment benefits. Republicans also secured tax breaks for small businesses, who can write off 50 percent of purchases of plants and other capital equipment.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: The speaker gave some, as she said. And Republicans gave some. But I think it's a good compromise that will benefit the American people.

HENRY: There's one reason for the bipartisanship -- it's an election year. And both parties are desperate to show they're doing something about the sliding economy.

BUSH: This agreement was the result of intensive discussions and...

HENRY: While the president does not have to face the voters in November, he has a legacy to fret about. That's why White House officials say the economy will be a major focus Monday when he delivers his final State of the Union Address.

BUSH: I know Americans are concerned about our economic future. Our economy is structurally sound, but it is dealing with short-term disruptions in the housing market and the impact of higher energy prices.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: But this is not a done deal yet. In fact, some senators were talking about adding money for food stamps and other priorities. That could slow this down in the Senate. And the Treasury Department is saying even if Congress finishes this in mid-February, it might not be until April until they start cutting these rebate checks. It might not be until summer until all the checks reach the mailboxes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's take a closer look at who's actually going to be getting these rebates. As Ed mentioned, the biggest checks will go to people who make up to $75,000 a year -- that's individuals -- and couples with a combined income of up to $150,000 a year. Some people who make more than that will still get rebates, but not as much. Partial refunds will go to those who make less than $87,000 a year for individuals or $174,000 combined with a spouse.

But don't look for that rebate in the mail anytime soon. Experts say the IRS isn't likely to start mailing out the checks until April, May, or the end of June, because the agency right now understandably preoccupied with the 2007 tax filing season.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is welcoming the new deal on an economic growth package. In South Carolina today, Obama seemed to take at least a little credit for what's in the plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It appears, based on the reports that I have read, that much of the agreement follows the contours of a proposal that I put out initially, that it's going to emphasize getting money immediately in the pockets of hard- working Americans, and that everybody is going to benefit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: John Edwards is criticizing the stimulus package, saying it's an example of Washington's deserting working people. Edwards suggests the plan is a political stimulus in an election year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we had a grownup in the White House, if we had a grownup as president, then 30 days ago, at least, we would have been doing something about this economic downturn.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton is suggesting that if President Bush had acted sooner, America might not be in this economic mess right now.

Senator Clinton is also doing something else. She's hitting Barack Obama hard, then quickly pulling back. That's what's happening in South Carolina only days before the Democratic primary on Saturday.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is in Greenville -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Wal- Mart, slumlords, and Ronald Reagan. It has been testy on the South Carolina campaign trail, but, for a while today, it seemed like things were cooling down.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): She's back. After two days working February 5 states, Hillary Clinton returned to South Carolina. Her campaign dropped a controversial ad, and her husband conceded to a concerned voter that maybe the Clinton/Obama food fight ought to end.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's pretty good advice.

(LAUGHTER)

B. CLINTON: That's probably good advice for me, too. When I was running, I didn't give a rip what anybody said about me. It's weird. But, if you love somebody, you think they would be good -- it's harder.

CROWLEY: Perhaps the mood is changing, as the South Carolina campaign moves into the final days, the traditional time to return to message.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a time we had a president who believes that leading an economic comeback is a full-time, hands-on job, who renews our commitment to a strong and prosperous middle class.

CROWLEY: As the candidate revisited her economic stimulus plan, a Clinton radio ad linking Obama with Republican policies went off the air.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, CLINTON CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR: Aren't those the ideas that got us into the economic mess we're in today?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

CROWLEY: It was a quick hit, only on the radio for 24 hours. But the ads got lots of headlines. Mission accomplished.

Still, campaigns never really chill out, as Bill Clinton was so famously advised to do recently. There will be some jabbing. It's just a little more artful.

H. CLINTON: I'm not a show horse. I'm a workhorse.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Hillary Clinton returns to New York tonight for a couple of fund-raisers, competing in the more than 20 contests. February 5 is not a cheap proposition. But never fear. Super surrogate is here on the ground in South Carolina showing some signs of wear and tear.

B. CLINTON: I feel like a little scrambled eggs this morning. But I will try to -- to make sense of what I came to do.

CROWLEY: Two more days until the South Carolina primary.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Still, before we get carried away with the kinder, mellower campaign trail, it should be noted that the Clinton campaign held a conference call this afternoon to criticize Barack Obama for ignoring the accomplishments of the Bill Clinton era -- Wolf. BLITZER: Candy Crowley in Greenville, South Carolina, thank you.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich is saying so long to the presidential race. A spokesman confirms the Ohio Democrat is ending his campaign. Kucinich has scheduled a news conference tomorrow to talk about his decision. Kucinich received little support during his second longshot presidential bid. He's facing a tough fight to hold on to his congressional seat right now in Cleveland. He says he wants to remain in the House of Representatives.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: John McCain is billing himself as the Democrats' worst nightmare. He has a new Web ad that claims the Democratic candidates for president are afraid to face him in the general election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)

EDWARDS: John McCain.

John McCain.

H. CLINTON: Senator McCain.

EDWARDS: John McCain.

OBAMA: John McCain.

John McCain.

H. CLINTON: John McCain.

OBAMA: John McCain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democrats do not want to run against John McCain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you ask Democrats privately, what do you fear most, the answer is John McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAFFERTY: Well, during this week's Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards used McCain's name a total of 15 times.

McCain says it's because the Democrats are concerned that he's the only candidate who can rally the conservative Reagan coalition while appealing to independent voters, ensuring a Republican victory in November. The ad set to appear on Web sites of several Florida newspapers.

But in a nation that is already divided, it seems like McCain could be going out of his way to alienate a lot of people. After all, it was independents in the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries who helped him win. And it's worth noting that Rudy Giuliani aired a radio ad in Iowa way back in September calling himself the liberals' worst nightmare. He's fast approaching not being anybody's nightmare anymore.

Here's the question. Is it a good strategy for any candidate to present himself as the other party's worst nightmare in an already divided country?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see you together with the best political team on television momentarily. Thanks, Jack, very much.

Struggling with the rough economy. The speaker of the House says help, help is on the way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It is timely. It is targeted. And it is temporary. And it was done in record time since our conversation with the president, and, again, in a bipartisan way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But will bipartisanship actually help seal this plan to help you? I will ask the best political team on television.

Also, Clinton vs. Obama. That would be Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama. How are they responding to the attacks on their spouses?

And a major decision regarding some people who smoke marijuana prescribed by a doctor. Guess what? They could still lose their jobs.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: So, how quickly can the Congress fill this prescription for the ailing economy? Now that the House leaders and the Bush administration have agreed on a plan, the Senate will still have to follow suit.

The Montana Democrat Max Baucus is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He's joining us now from Capitol Hill.

Mr. Chairman, thanks for coming in.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), MONTANA: You bet, Wolf.

BLITZER: You like some of it, but there's some of it you don't want to like, and you want to tweak it. You want to change it. What specifically do you want to change as it goes through your committee? BAUCUS: Well, we are going to have it go through our committee so that we have sort of a Senate view of all of this.

There are parts I like. First of all, the goal is to pass a strong stimulus package that is enacted very quickly. And I do want to get a package passed by February 15, which is the basic goal here.

I like the provisions in the House bill which give a rebate check to those who pay taxes and also to some other taxpayers. But, frankly, I think that all taxpayers should get the same rebate check. And I will be looking at that as we go through the Senate.

BLITZER: And you're disappointed that they took out what the Democrats wanted, more food stamps, extend the unemployment insurance. Are you going to try to get those two elements back into the bill?

BAUCUS: We're going to take a long, hard look at that, because especially food stamps gets great bang for the buck. That is, everyone agrees, economists all agree that people who receive food stamps are going to spend it. And that's going to help stimulate the economy. I think that's especially important. Unemployment insurance is also very important.

BLITZER: I spoke with a professor at the University of Maryland yesterday, Peter Morici, who is a professor in the business school. He's not holding out a lot of hope that this is necessarily going to stimulate the economy, given the timeline how long it will take.

Listen to what he said to me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER MORICI, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: If they were going to get something done, it would already be done now. Getting a stimulus package is the easy stuff. They should be able to get that done tomorrow. At the rate they're going, we won't see it until March and it won't have any bite until May. And, by that time, the economy will have flamed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The fear is that the IRS won't actually be able to cut the checks and mail them out until April, May, even June, and that could be too late. What do you say to those critics?

BAUCUS: Well, first of all, the question is, should we do anything at all? And I think most Americans want us to do something that makes sense.

The president certainly agrees with that. And, if we do pass a stimulus package that gets money in the economy very quickly, that's going to help stimulate the economy, and gives people a good sense of confidence. A lot of this is confidence, the confidence that Washington is listening.

It is true that the checks take a little time to be mailed. But I talked to Secretary Paulson about that today. And he thinks that, once the law is passed, the checks can be mailed out in about 60 days.

BLITZER: So, basically, what I hear you saying is, you're not going to rubber-stamp this deal that was announced today; you're going to change it?

BAUCUS: Well, we're going to -- there's a lot of good provisions in the House-passed bill.

I think there would be some changes, but the main goal here is to get changes that are targeted. And that's the mantra here, timely and temporary, because we all have the same objective here, but we want something to pass both bodies of Congress, both houses.

And I think that, ironically, by having the Finance Committee mark up this (INAUDIBLE) stimulus package next week, that's going to help speed up the passage of a stimulus package passing both bodies of Congress very quickly, prior to February 15, so the president can sign it.

BLITZER: I spoke just a little while ago with our own Lou Dobbs. And I mentioned that you were going to be on, the chairman of the Finance Committee. And I asked him if he had a message for you. Here's part of what he told me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Just get to work, Senator, along with all of your colleagues in the Senate. Get this help to the folks who need it. It's not perfect. It's far from perfect. So what?

Nothing that any of you have done in this Congress or the previous Congress has been good either. So, let's at least get this money to the people who are going to need it, try to minimize and to mitigate the pain that millions of Americans are already feeling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. What do you say to Lou?

BAUCUS: Lou's got great advice. And we're not going to let perfection be the enemy of the good. But we do want to make this quite good and get it passed right away, do just what Lou said.

BLITZER: And you think, in the next, what, week, two weeks?

BAUCUS: A couple, three weeks. A couple, three weeks.

BLITZER: All right, Max Baucus is the chairman of the Finance Committee.

Senator, good luck. Thanks for coming in.

BAUCUS: Thank you very much. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: John McCain vs. Hillary Clinton. He says she wants to declare surrender in Iraq. Is this a preview of a battle to come? We're going to hear from the best political team on television.

And he left his last job amid scandal. Now a key architect of the Iraq war gets a new job running an agency devoted to arms control over at the State Department. We will tell what Condoleezza Rice decided to do.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: A new Web ad is John Edwards' latest attempt for a win in Saturday's South Carolina Democratic primary.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, how is the Edwards campaign trying to appeal to voters in the video?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, John Edwards was born in South Carolina. And if there is any voter left in the state that doesn't know that, well, the John Edwards campaign is doing one final attempt to let them know that he's one of them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, EDWARDS CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR: Born to humble beginnings in South Carolina, he spent his life fighting against the rich and powerful to help the kind of regular people he grew up with.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give 'em hell, John.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, I will.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: This movie-trailer-style video is on the Web site. It's called "Native Son." It follows tours around the state called Bringing It Home and the latest, Back Roads, Back Home, as he tours around South Carolina visiting small towns that have been economically hard hit, lost manufacturing jobs.

Right now, this Web video is just that. It's online. But the campaign is making an attempt, a pitch via e-mail for money to get it on the air in what will be the last 24 hours before the primary -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

Now that her mother is a presidential candidate, America is seeing a lot more of Chelsea Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHELSEA CLINTON, DAUGHTER OF BILL AND HILLARY CLINTON: I think that's a testament to my mom being able to focus on what is really important, which is making changes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Coming up, the former first daughter as a campaigner and a powerful weapon for her mom.

Plus, a sign of John McCain's new front-runner status? He and Hillary Clinton have become sparring partners. The best political team on television gets ready to read between the lines of their attacks.

And is Michelle Obama any match for Bill Clinton? We're watching these two outspoken spouses. They're both on the campaign trail.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now: John McCain and Hillary Clinton square off in what could be a taste of things to come. We are going to show you some new attacks being lobbed out on the campaign trail right now.

Also, Michelle Obama's growing role in her husband's campaign. She's a world away from the other front-runner's spouse. That would be Bill Clinton. We are going to show you how she's handling her role and what it could mean for the White House race.

And Congress manages to reach a rare bipartisan deal hammering out an economic stimulus package, raising hopes a broken government could be fixed, all of this, plus the best political team on television.

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

The heat is on the Republican presidential candidates in Florida right now, five days before another critical primary.

Let's go to our chief national correspondent, John King. He's in Boca Raton watching what's going on.

This is turning out, at least if you believe the polls, into being a two-man contest. John, what's the latest?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if you look at those polls, it is John McCain and Mitt Romney vying for first place here. And what does that say about Rudy Giuliani? He has spent more than $30 million on his presidential campaign. He's 0-6 in the early contest so far. He invested everything on a win here in Florida.

But, at the moment, it looks bleak.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KING (voice-over): A jog on the Fort Lauderdale strip and a pre- debate joke from a candidate who is struggling of late, but hasn't lost his sense of humor.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I hope is that all three of the -- or four of the others will make some statement that takes them out of the race, and I will make one that puts me at the very front and tonight we could settle it all.

KING: But also a sharp dig from Mike Huckabee at rival Mitt Romney's assertion that his business record proves he's best suited to steer a troubled economy.

HUCKABEE: If it's taking companies who are in serious trouble, buying them when they're in pain, selling off their assets, and then making a huge profit off of it, that's not something a lot of Americans can relate to except those who have lost their jobs.

KING: New polls show Rudy Giuliani running third or worse in Florida, despite more than 50 days of campaigning here.

Look again, is his urgent appeal.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some candidates are good on one thing. Some candidates are good on another thing. I'm the candidate that is good on all of these things -- national security and economic security.

KING: John McCain commands the spotlight at the moment and suggests he's the strongest Republican for the general election.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Incredibly, Senator Clinton decided that she wants to surrender, she wants to raise the white flag. I look forward to this debate with Senator Clinton about whether we have succeeded in Iraq or not.

KING: But this question was a reminder many conservatives are still skeptical.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you mind being called a moderate Republican?

MCCAIN: I kind of resent labels, but the fact is that I am a conservative. If you look at my fiscal record, my national security record, my social -- I'm a proud conservative in the Ronald Reagan tradition.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now McCain said earlier today that if he wins Florida -- and, Wolf, 57 delegates available here winner take all -- McCain said if he wins Florida he will perhaps accept the frontrunner label.

We haven't seen Mitt Romney as yet today out in public. He's keeping a limited schedule because he's preparing for a debate between the Republican candidates here tonight. High stakes for all the candidates, Wolf. One would say probably perhaps the highest on Rudy Giuliani -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John.

Thanks very much.

John is in Boca Raton.

John McCain is obviously going after Hillary Clinton on her war stance, accusing her, as we just heard in John's piece, of wanting to surrender in Iraq.

Let's talk about that and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's here in Washington.

Joining us in New York, our own Jack Cafferty and our senior analyst, Jeff Toobin.

They're all part of the best political team on television.

All right, what do you think about this, you know, battle, I guess -- the war of words developing between Hillary Clinton and John McCain -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: I think that 65 percent of this country wants out of Iraq. The totals haven't changed much despite the success of the so- called surge. Withdrawing our troops from a nation that we invaded -- a nation -- a sovereign nation that had done nothing to the United States, an act that was patently illegal according to the Constitution and was sold to the American public under a pack of lies and the phony intelligence that justified this atrocity -- I hardly think deciding that was a bad decision is tantamount to surrender.

I don't want to be in a position of defending Hillary Clinton, but I think John McCain is kind of stretching the point here a little bit.

BLITZER: In our so-called Florida poll of polls -- three polls that have come out recently, in the last day or so, Gloria, in Florida -- John McCain is at 27 percent, in the average; Romney at 25 percent, Giuliani, 16; Huckabee, 15; Ron Paul, 4 percent. He's also on the cover of the new issue of "Time" magazine, showing that he's emerging as the comeback kid John McCain.

What do you think?

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the attacks on Hillary Clinton and the close polls and everything else are -- it's a very, very tough time for John McCain right now.

What he's trying to do is prove two things. One, that he is the conservative in this race, because he needs to be seen as a conservative in order to win in this Republican primary. No Independents can vote in it. No Democrats can vote in it. He's got to be seen as a conservative.

The other thing he's trying to do by attacking Hillary and trying to beat the others is to show that he's the electable Republican come the fall. He wants to tell voters in Florida, if you vote for me, I'm the fellow who can win if you want a Republican in the White House.

BLITZER: The phoenix, Jeff?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I wouldn't really call it a tough time for John McCain. I think it's a great time for John McCain. You know, his candidacy is surging. He was written off months ago. He's pulling ahead in the polls. But, you know, he is using precisely the rhetoric that was used by Republican candidates in 2006 -- surrender -- that got the Republican Party rejected across the country.

BORGER: Right. But he's in this...

TOOBIN: And, you know, if he wants to be the candidate of, you know, let's be in Iraq for a hundred years, as he has said, I think that's a tough sell in November.

BORGER: Well -- well, but it's a Republican primary. This is -- you know, this isn't a general election they're having in Florida. And the reason I say that it's tough is because it's close. And the people I talk to in the McCain campaign, they are so nervous right now they can barely speak.

And what they're depending on is for Rudy Giuliani to tank...

CAFFERTY: But the other thing...

BORGER: ...because if Giuliani tanks, that's good for them.

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, wouldn't you rather...

CAFFERTY: Yes, but you can't take this approach...

TOOBIN: Wouldn't -- I mean...

CAFFERTY: You can't take this approach of wanting to stay in Iraq for a hundred years and advocating this far right-wing hawkish approach to the war in Iraq and then turn around and pretend like you didn't say this stuff when it's time for the general election. This country will reject you, just as Jeff suggested they rejected the Republicans who ran on that position two years ago.

TOOBIN: And in fair...

CAFFERTY: It's not going to carry him very far.

TOOBIN: In fairness to McCain, I don't have any doubt that he actually believes this.

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: I mean, you know, this is something he deeply believes. He believes in the surge. He believes in the war in Iraq.

The question is, do many Americans, as well, believe the same thing?

I mean certain -- the evidence from 2006 says no.

BLITZER: But Gloria makes a good point, Jeff and Jack -- and I'll let you both weigh in. This is a Republicans only contest in Florida, unlike New Hampshire, unlike South Carolina. Independents -- they can't just show up and vote. You're dealing with registered Republicans only in Florida.

CAFFERTY: That's fine...

TOOBIN: Well, that...

CAFFERTY: But, you know, we -- haven't we had enough of politicians saying whatever they think the public wants to hear in order to get a vote?

BORGER: But he believes this, Jack...

(CROSSTALK)

CAFFERTY: Excuse me. Let me just...

TOOBIN: No, I think he believes it.

CAFFERTY: Let me just finish what I'm saying. That's all we've heard from the Washington establishment, of which John McCain is a member in good standing, for as long as I can remember. Every time it's election time, these people come out and say whatever they think the audience wants to hear. And the public doesn't -- isn't buying the war in Iraq, hasn't bought it, doesn't want anything to do with it.

And to win the primary in Florida because of a transparent appeal to a bunch of conservative Evangelical Christian Republicans, it's just that -- it's transparent. I mean Ray Charles can see this stuff.

BORGER: You know, but -- you know, I -- I think John McCain has always believed this. He was the author of the surge. He was for the surge before George Bush was for the surge. So at least -- you may disagree with him, and clearly you do, you have to give him credit for sticking his plan on Iraq.

CAFFERTY: Yes. That's fine.

BORGER: And, by the way, that's not going to get him to victory in Florida. If he wants to win the primary, he had he better start talking a little bit more about the economy, because that's the issue...

CAFFERTY: Well, it's not going to get him...

BORGER: ...right now.

CAFFERTY: It's not going to get him to victory in November, either. The American public wants out of Iraq. They've made that very clear. So he's -- you know, he can say he believes it all he wants. But he needs a majority of the people to agree with him or he's not going to be president.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by for a moment. We're going to continue this conversation. Lots more coming up.

If Bill Clinton is an attack dog, she's an entirely different political breed. We're going to show you Michelle Obama's increasingly important role in her husband's campaign.

And Congress reaches a deal on an economic stimulus plan.

Does it mean that what some call the broken government can be fixed?

Is it fixed?

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Michelle Obama is becoming increasingly important to her husband's presidential campaign, offering a stark contrast to the other leading candidate's spouse. That would be Bill Clinton.

We're back with the best political team on television.

Jack, I'm going to read to you a quote from Michelle Obama that was just posted, a note to her supporters: "We expected that Bill Clinton would tout his record from the '90s and talk about Hillary's role in his past success. That's a fair approach and a challenge we are prepared to face. What we didn't expect -- at least not from our fellow Democrats -- are the win at all costs tactics we've seen recently. We didn't expect misleading accusations that willfully distort Barack's record."

This from Michelle Obama.

What do you think?

CAFFERTY: I think she's terrific. I also saw the clip of the speech she gave at a restaurant to some women. I think it was in North Carolina. She has a lot more dignity and a lot more class than, as you mentioned, the spouse of the other leading Democrat. She's also not the only one to suggest that the Clintons are responsible for the politics of destruction in this campaign. There was a blistering editorial about Hillary and her husband in the "New York Daily News," Hillary's hometown newspaper, excoriating her for the kinds of accusatory and dirty tricks types of campaign things that she's been pulling of late.

I think Michelle Obama is terrific.

TOOBIN: And if any...

BLITZER: She's accomplished, in her own right Jeff, as, you know. TOOBIN: Absolutely -- a graduate of Harvard Law School, which we always like. And there's another thing that -- I mean that statement is almost -- is an understatement. I mean the ad on the radio that the Clintons just took off the air -- or that Hillary Clinton took off the air -- was, in any reasonable reading, a lie -- a total lie will Barack Obama.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BORGER: Um-hmm.

TOOBIN: And, you know, is that the kind of campaign that Hillary Clinton wants to defeat a fellow Democrat on?

I mean I just think it's shocking that that kind of campaign is how the Clintons want to approach this. But -- so I think that statement is gentle, if anything.

BORGER: Can I just point out, it's the two Yale Law School graduates versus the two Harvard Law School graduates?

TOOBIN: Oh, that didn't occur to me. Yes.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BORGER: But you...

CAFFERTY: (INAUDIBLE) the University of Nevada.

BORGER: Yes, well...

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: She's -- I didn't even...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: And just for our viewers who are not aware of this, Hillary and Bill Clinton went to Yale Law School.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: That's where they met.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: And Barack and Michelle Obama went to Harvard Law School, and that's where they met.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: And Jeff Toobin also a graduate of Harvard Law School.

TOOBIN: That's correct.

BLITZER: So I guess that's where you're... BORGER: And I didn't go to law school.

BLITZER: ...instance (INAUDIBLE).

BORGER: So there you are.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: But this is getting a little tough out there right now. But she is an accomplished woman in her own right. And a lot of people say that the Obama campaign should really use more of her out there -- Gloria?

BORGER: Well, I would -- you know, she is really an asset who's grown. I think at the beginning of the campaign, there was a little worry she was too edgy and -- which means, translation in politics, that means honest -- that she is a really honest campaigner. And I think that she's really grown because she is honest, but she's a terrific speaker. And you could hear today she's defending her husband...

BLITZER: Jack...

BORGER: And people like that, by the way.

BLITZER: I want to move on to John Boehner, the Republican leader, the minority leader in the House of Representatives. They're all thrilled about this deal today that was announced with a lot of fanfare.

And you know what, the broken government?

That's history now.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER: You know, many Americans believe that Washington is broken. But I think this agreement -- and I hope that this agreement will show the American people that we can fix it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I assume, Jack, you're not ready to support all the incumbents, right?

CAFFERTY: Oh, come on. I mean before we declare a national holiday because one chamber of Congress moved one piece of legislation expeditiously through the process that's aimed at helping the middle class, these are the people that created the economic problems that they're now trying to fix with this stimulus package. The only other time they move this quickly is when they're voting for their own pay raise. The housing crisis, the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, this stuff has been coming at us for months. John Edwards said it today -- if we had had a grownup in the White House, they'd have been talking about dealing to this economy a month or two ago, instead of waiting until the stock market loses 10 percent of its value and the world feels like it's coming to an end. And the world feels like it's coming to an end.

John Boehner has got a long way to go before he can stand up there and talk about broken government being a thing of the past.

BORGER: I'm ready to give them some credit here, though, Jack. I mean, honestly, they've moved as quickly as I've ever seen them move. The president gave up things. He wanted to make his tax cuts permanent. He gave that up. The Democrats had to give up some things. And they're both trying to work together so that a check can arrive in the mail, not only to taxpayers, but to those who don't earn enough to pay taxes. And I think it's a pretty big deal.

CAFFERTY: That's fine.

TOOBIN: And...

BORGER: It's a very big deal if this gets done.

TOOBIN: And I agree with, Gloria. It's impressive what they've done.

There's just a funny thing about Washington, though, that there is this assumption that if Democrats and Republicans agree, it must be the right answer.

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: Now I'm not an economist. I don't know if this...

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: I don't know if this...

CAFFERTY: That's a great line.

TOOBIN: ...if this, you know, this stimulus package will work. But there are a lot of other things that have had bipartisan support -- like the interment of the Japanese and the Vietnam War -- that didn't turnout so well.

CAFFERTY: The invasion of Iraq.

TOOBIN: Yes. So...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: So, I mean, just the mere fact that they agreed doesn't necessarily mean that this is a good thing. Maybe it is. I hope it is.

CAFFERTY: Well...

BORGER: Well, maybe...

CAFFERTY: It isn't done yet. It has to go through the Senate and that...

BLITZER: All right...

CAFFERTY: That could take two, three, four weeks. So it's not done yet. I mean we'll see.

BLITZER: All right...

BORGER: And if the economists think it's a good deal, then maybe it's a good deal, right?

TOOBIN: Right. Maybe.

BLITZER: I think Jack has got a good point. We'll see. We're not ready to declare victory yet.

All right, Gloria, Jeff, thanks very much. Don't go anywhere.

Jack, we've got The Cafferty File coming up.

Right now, though, Lou Dobbs is getting ready for his show at the beginning -- that begins at the top of the hour. He's got a little preview for us -- hi, Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Hi, Wolf.

What a sunny bunch you're working with there today. I mean my gosh, give them a...

BLITZER: But they're all very smart.

DOBBS: Very smart. Very sunny.

Wolf, tonight at 7:00 here on CNN, we'll have much more on this bold agreement for that economic stimulus package. Political leaders congratulating one another.

Do those political leaders also have the courage to tackle the long-term issues facing this country?

We'll have that report.

And tributes to an American hero -- a Border Patrol agent killed by suspected Mexican drug smugglers in Arizona. Rising anger that the Department of Homeland Security simply failed to give Border Patrol agents the resources to do their job. We'll have that report.

And one leading lawmaker, Senator Jeff Sessions, is challenging all the presidential candidates of both parties to declare how they will end our illegal immigration and border security crisis. Senator Sessions is among our guests here tonight.

And a county in Georgia, well, they've come up with a great idea -- they're paying students to stay in class. The education commissioner will be here with us. We'll try to find out what in the world they're thinking about down in Georgia.

Join us for all of that and more, all the day's news at 7:00 Eastern -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: We'll see you in a little bit more than an hour, Lou. Thanks -- we'll see you at top of the hour. Excuse me.

DOBBS: Not quite.

BLITZER: Right at the top of the hour, in a few moments.

DOBBS: You are such a -- you are just committed to that show, aren't you?

BLITZER: See you.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: See you in a few minutes.

Lou, thanks very much.

DOBBS: You've got it.

BLITZER: Is it a good strategy for any candidate to present himself or herself as the other party's worst nightmare in an already divided country?

Jack Cafferty with your e-mail.

And Chelsea Clinton opens up on the campaign trail. You're going to find out what she's saying as she stumps for her mom.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In today's Political Ticker, Hillary Clinton could have the best political weapons in this race, but there's not one, there's actually three Clintons actively trying to get her to the White House.

Let's go to CNN's Jim Acosta.

He's watching this story for us -- and, Jim, you're taking a closer look at Chelsea Clinton's role in all of this.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

Just recently, Hillary Clinton said she had found her own voice. Now, after carefully guarding her own privacy for years, it seems Chelsea Clinton may have done the same.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OBAMA: I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes.

H. CLINTON: You know -- well...

(APPLAUSE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): If Barack Obama feels it's two against one, get ready for three.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hillary -- I mean Chelsea.

(LAUGHTER)

ACOSTA: When Chelsea Clinton took questions from students at Atlanta's Spelman College, she suggested the move was made by her mother's campaign to slice away at Obama's support among younger voters.

CHELSEA CLINTON, DAUGHTER OF BILL AND HILLARY CLINTON: I'm actually here today, to be honest, partly in reaction to that, in that I believe my mom does have the most responsive policies to people in my generation, but also people who are your age.

ACOSTA: The Clinton campaign is well aware of polling data indicating Obama's considerable youth advantage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chelsea is cool. She's only a couple of years older than I am.

ACOSTA: To counter that, the 27-year-old former first daughter has already appeared on her mother's Web site, targeting the fresh- based electorate. Now the campaign is going one step further, offering Chelsea in her own words.

C. CLINTON: I think it's the most important election of my lifetime.

ACOSTA: While she's come a long way since the '92 campaign, Chelsea remains notoriously media shy, just recently telling a 9-year- old school reporter she doesn't grant interviews.

SYDNEY RIECKHOFF, SCHOLASTIC NEWS: She said, "I'm really sorry, but I can't do questions from the press."

ACOSTA: Even at the Spelman event, she declined to stand in front of the reporters' microphones.

C. CLINTON: No, I don't (INAUDIBLE).

ACOSTA: The Clinton campaign tells CNN Chelsea is still not doing interviews. But some political observers wonder how long that will last. LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: The next grade school reporter who approaches Chelsea Clinton is likely to get an interview. She probably won't go on "Oprah," but beyond that, I think we may see her on some of these talk shows.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: For years, the Clintons have argued their daughter is off limits to reporters. But some in the media may start to question, with the new, more outspoken Chelsea, whether that rule applies anymore -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Jim Acosta, for that report.

Let's go back to Jack.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: John McCain's got a new Web ad running on some of the Florida newspaper Web sites suggesting that he's the Democrats' worst nightmare.

So the question is, it a good strategy for any candidate to present himself as the other party's worst nightmare in an already divided country?

John in Utah writes: "McCain isn't really sounding like someone who can cross the aisle, but then, why would he? His party in general is more about sticking together than doing much of anything for the American people. There's only one Republican candidate that will represent the American public and the news media has pretty much put him on the blackout list. You all know who I'm talking about."

I assume he means Ron Paul.

Luke writes: "I think that McCain is making a huge mistake here. I'm a blue-bleeding Democrat, yet I've been more passionate and excited in seeing John McCain's rise from the ashes. Seeing him display himself as the Democrats' worst nightmare, however, makes me afraid that he just might be another soldier in the partisan battle and not someone who can actually unite the country."

Carl writes: "The worst nightmare candidate, be it McCain or Clinton, is, indeed, the one that will divide us even more than we have become these past 15 years. This is exactly why we need a post- partisan new voice willing to recognize we can reach across party lines instead of digging in deeper. Enough already -- go Obama."

Wayne in Germany writes: "McCain, the Democrats' worst nightmare? Are you kidding? Our worst nightmare is George W. Bush. Getting an honorable, honest man like McCain after eight years of Bush is a dream, not a nightmare."

T. In Texas: "I wonder if Mr. McCain is staying on Elm Street this week, taking advice from Freddy. Although it's my belief that if the person who's using her husband to play typical filthy politics gets the nomination, then McCain will win in the end, as the American people will eventually wake up to reality."

And, finally, Andy says: "I think we've had enough of nightmares in this country. And even to use that language as a candidate is deliberately divisive. We simply cannot afford to continue to drive a wedge down the middle of the country because that's exactly where the greatest number of people live -- metaphorically and politically speaking." -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

See you back here tomorrow. The candidates are all on a first name basis. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a Moost Unusual look. You'll want to see this. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: They say familiarity breeds contempt.

Does that mean if the candidates keep addressing each other by their first name this presidential race will get even nastier?

CNN's Jeanne Moos has a Moost Unusual look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They all hope some day to be called Mr. or madam president. But in the meantime, they're not just name calling -- they're first name calling.

OBAMA: Hillary is right.

H. CLINTON: If John is right...

JOHN EDWARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here's the problem, Hillary.

H. CLINTON: Barack has a lot of lobbyists...

MOOS: Whether Democrat or Republican, they're on a first name basis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY FOX NEWS)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mike, who agreed...

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, Mitt.

ROMNEY: You know, Mike, you make up facts faster than you talk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: They even bash each other using first names.

OBAMA: Hillary, you went on for two minutes. H. CLINTON: Well, John, the trial lawyers...

EDWARDS: (INAUDIBLE).

H. CLINTON: ...have given you millions and millions of dollars.

EDWARDS: Let me -- and...

OBAMA: What you just repeated here today is patently...

H. CLINTON: (INAUDIBLE)...

OBAMA: Wait.

H. CLINTON: Barack...

OBAMA: No, Hillary.

MOOS: And while they're first naming each other...

OBAMA: John, it's all right, man.

MOOS: There's one guy they tend to 'dis by resorting to his last name.

EDWARDS: What Bush does...

OBAMA: And depending whether Bush follows through...

MOOS: They may not be just any Tom, Dick or Harrys, but in the space of 10 seconds...

You know, mike, you make up facts faster than you talk

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY FOX NEWS)

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'd also like to say something to my friend, John.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Rudy first named Senator McCain four times.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY FOX NEWS)

GIULIANI: John...

But, John.

Yes, John.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: But when Rudy was skirmishing with Mitt, the former governor kept calling Rudy...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY FOX NEWS)

ROMNEY: Mayor, you know better than that.

ROMNEY: I ask the mayor again, are you suggesting, Mayor -- are you suggesting, Mr. Mayor -- because I think it's really kind of offensive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: And how did the mayor fire back?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY FOX NEWS)

GIULIANI: It's unfortunate, but Mitt...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS (on camera): Mitt? Mitt? What kind of name is Mitt?

Well, actually, Mitt Romney is named after a relative, Milton Romney. But that's not the interesting part.

(voice-over): The interesting part is Mitt Romney's real first name.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Willard!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Yes, Willard, like the anti-social guy in a movie who preferred the company of rats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "WILLARD")

MOOS: A campaign with a Willard in it could have been one...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "WILLARD")

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That will have you...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can I use the restroom?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the edge of your seat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Willard Mitt Romney what's named after his father's best friend, J. Willard Marriot, founder of the hotel chain. But Mitt dropped the Willard as a kid.

Still, critics have a field day in this spoof attack ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mitt Romney may look like a wholesome Kennedyesque leader.

Did you know his name isn't even Mitt?

It's Willard Milton.

What the (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) is with that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Using first names does make the whole process seem more civilized.

OBAMA: In a race where you've got an African-American...

(CROSSTALK)

OBAMA: ...and, John...

EDWARDS: Do we have an extra one of these?

MOOS: First names are rolling off their lips, even if they're biting their tongues.

H. CLINTON: I will be more than happy, Barack...

OBAMA: Hillary, I will be happy...

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: That's it for us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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

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