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Obama Steps up Criticism of McCain; Controversy Over Comments by Barack Obama's Minister; Presidential Candidates Weigh in on Cutting Earmarks

Aired March 13, 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: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the presidential candidates go after wasteful spending and one another. We're taking a closer look at their return to the United States Senate today and what they're trying to prove to voters.

Hillary Clinton tells African-Americans she's sorry. Now Barack Obama is being questioned about racially charged remarks once made by his pastor.

And exposed by scandal. The woman identified as Governor Eliot Spitzer's call girl now under intense scrutiny.

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

The presidential candidates are staking their ground today on how to spend your money. McCain, Clinton, Obama all returned to their day jobs here in Washington in the United States Senate. They know they can't afford to miss big votes on tax cuts, spending and getting some fat out of the budget. And there's plenty of fat there.

Let's turn to CNN's Dana Bash. She's back on her old stomping grounds, Capitol Hill. She's watching this story for us.

It was rare to three all three presidential candidates back in Congress today, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It sure was, Wolf. In fact, it hasn't happened in five months. So, as you can imagine, it had to have been something pretty big, something that really affects all of their campaigns in the presidential contest to have them back here today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Instead of attending a fundraiser for much needed campaign cash, John McCain made a rare appearance as his day job in the Senate. Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton returned to the Capitol, too, after long absences.

What lured the presidential candidates to the Senate? Legislation to ban the controversial practice of earmarks for one year. All three candidates support it, but for McCain, railing on earmarks is a signature issue.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In 24 years as a member of the United States Congress, I have never asked for, nor received, a single earmark pork barrel project from my state. Senator Clinton had gotten $342 million worth of earmark pork barrel projects. The senator from Illinois, because he's junior, had only gotten about $92 million.

BASH: McCain hopes to appeal to Independent voters fed up with Washington by making earmarks a major dividing line with Democrats.

MCCAIN: They should ask that those earmarks that they asked for and obtained -- the money hasn't been spent yet. Ask them to turn that money back to the Treasury.

BASH: Obama did suddenly comply with one McCain demand, revealing for the first time what earmarks he sought in 2005 and 2006, his first two years in the Senate. And on his way to Washington, Obama renewed his attack on McCain for wanting to make the Bush tax cuts he initially opposed permanent.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These are all steps that John McCain rightly said were irresponsible when they first came up, that certainly were unprecedented at a time of war.

BASH: But for all the campaign discourse, pleasantries back in the club of the Senate. McCain and Clinton saying hello. And this -- knowing the press was watching Obama engaged Clinton, and the two sat for several minutes of one-on-one conversation, making sure to smile.

Lest anyone use this to rekindle talk of a so-called dream ticket, across the Capitol, the House speaker warned, no way.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: Take it from me, that won't be the ticket.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Meanwhile, back in the Senate, if you look at the Senate floor right now, they are in hour eight of voting on budget-related issues. But they have not had a vote on the one that all those presidential candidates came back for, and that is the one-year ban on earmarks.

And while they are waiting, John McCain has left. He's in Philadelphia, had a fund-raiser. Right now, there was a tug of war, Wolf, between McCain and his allies and the Democratic leadership. They were hoping to get this vote earlier today.

The Democrats wouldn't relent. So, McCain is expected to come back here to the Senate after raising money in Philadelphia, hoping to actually have that vote.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thank you -- Dana back on the Hill for us. Just like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton needs every vote she can get. So, her campaign cannot afford to alienate whole blocs of them. But comments about race from Clinton supporters that many people felt crossed a line have angered some African-Americans.

Now the candidate is saying, I'm sorry.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux has more -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there have been a series of gaffes that have really contributed to the unease among many African-Americans with the Clinton campaign. But Clinton is far from giving up on this critical voting bloc. And interestingly enough, there are many African-Americans who agree with her, that she should not give up, that she should continue to engage the community.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Hillary Clinton is in the hot seat...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's hear it for Senator Clinton.

MALVEAUX: ... facing fallout from racially-charged remarks from fund-raiser Geraldine Ferraro. At a gathering of black publishers, she tried to make amends.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I rejected what she said. And I certainly do repudiate it.

MALVEAUX: Senator Clinton was full of apologies before this group, as she was confronted with various perceived offenses, including remarks considered racially insensitive that her husband, the former president, made on the campaign trail.

CLINTON: I am sorry if anyone was offended. It was certainly not meant in any way to be offensive.

MALVEAUX: She even apologized for President Bush's lackluster response regarding Hurricane Katrina. CLINTON: I apologize. And I'm embarrassed that our government so mistreated our fellow citizens.

MALVEAUX: Her aides say this is not a mea culpa tour, but rather a clear message she has not given up on the black vote.

TRACI BLUNT, CLINTON CAMPAIGN: So because the numbers are skewed, and it appears as if we are losing ground in African-American communities, she's not conceding that vote whatsoever.

MALVEAUX: But looking ahead, she certainly has her work without out for her. While Barack Obama has steadily seen his African- American support grow from 78 percent in South Carolina, 90 percent in Virginia, and 92 percent in Mississippi, Clinton has lost ground.

JOHN B. SMITH, NATIONAL NEWSPAPER PUBLISHERS ASSOCIATION: They're open to her, but at this point they're kind of lukewarm because of disparaging comments of some of her people. Not necessarily she.

MALVEAUX: While Clinton tries to minimize the damage, she's leaning on loyalists.

One of her biggest fans is Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, seated in the critical state of Pennsylvania, where she will campaign heavily for that important contest.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Clinton's game plan is to deny Barack Obama a clean sweep. She's going to be putting herself out there to answer the tough questions before the black media. She's also going to be visiting churches, social and civil organizations. The clear message here, don't count her out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne, thank you.

In New York, amid days of scandal and a stunning political collapse, the man wanting to help heal the painful moment comes out to speak. Now that the governor, Eliot Spitzer, has resigned in disgrace for alleged ties to prostitution, the incoming governor, David Paterson, today talked about the toll it's taken on him and many others. Yet, he also looked ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR DAVID PATERSON (D), NEW YORK: I did not get to this position in the way that most people have, in the way that most people would want. But I made a commitment when I gave my word to Governor Spitzer in January of 2006, when I left as the Democratic Senate leader to be his runningmate, that I would be prepared in the event I had to assume authority. I am prepared. And, on Monday at 1:00 p.m., I will have the oath of office administered to me in the assembly chamber.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Meanwhile, we're learning more about the alleged prostitute involved in this huge scandal.

Let's go to our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff. He's outside that woman's apartment.

Allan, what are you learning today?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have learned that she's one of the many women who came to New York City hoping to make it in the entertainment business and never dreamed that she would be a key player in one of the great political downfalls in New York State.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF (voice-over): "The New York Times," on its Web site, outed the call girl by the name of Kristen who unwittingly brought down the governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer

Kristen was born Ashley Youmans and on her MySpace page, now disabled, calls herself Ashley Alexandra Dupre. She's a 22-year-old aspiring singer, a high school dropout who left her home in the southern New Jersey town of Jackson, and now lives in this new Manhattan high-rise rental.

(on-camera): Ashley told "The New York Times" she's worried about being able to pay her rent here. She hasn't slept very much in the past few days and said, "I just don't want to be thought of as a monster."

(voice-over): Her older brother, Kyle, says he's very close to Ashley and describes her as smart and the best sister you could have.

KYLE YOUMANS, BROTHER OF KRISTEN: She's a great woman, an independent woman, and she will make it through. She will be fine.

CHERNOFF: Ashley, according to "The Times," is the high-priced hooker from the online prostitution ring Emperors Club VIP, who Governor Eliot Spitzer allegedly paid $4,300 to travel by train from New York to meet him at a Washington, D.C., hotel room on February 13.

After the encounter, law enforcement authorities say, a government wiretap recorded Ashley describing Spitzer: "I don't think he's difficult. I'm here for a purpose. I know what my purpose is."

Ashley says she left a broken family and abusive home in her MySpace blog, where she also offers a sample of her musical talent.

(MUSIC)

ROB "LOGAN & MYSTERIOUS," ASHLEY ALEXANDRA DUPRE'S RECORD PRODUCER: I noticed she had been through a lot. And it made, as young as she is, a strong individual, a strong lady.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF: Well, Ashley will have to be strong because she is likely to be asked to testify against the four alleged ringleaders of that prostitution ring -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Allan Chernoff watching the story for us -- thank you, Allan.

Let's stay in New York. Jack Cafferty as "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: What do you think? Do you suppose there's a book deal and maybe a TV movie and maybe even a recording contract in that young lady's future?

BLITZER: Yes, I would say six figures at least.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes. She will make a few dollars. All right, here's a little quote: "The magic is over for the United States"; tough words coming from one of our key allies. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner says that whoever succeeds President Bush might restore some of America's tarnished image overseas, but that -- quote -- "It will never be as it was before."

Keep in mind, Kouchner happens to be one of France's strongest supporters of the United States. "The International Herald Tribune" reports Kouchner pointed out that the military supremacy of the U.S. endures, but he said the next president will have to decide what to do to try to reestablish our image. And he said that's going to take some time.

The United States, which had the support of virtually every country in the world after the 9/11 terror attacks, has since squandered much of that goodwill under the leadership of President Bush. The 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq caused particular damage when it comes to how the rest of the world views us, the best reputation and image in the history of mankind shot to hell in seven years under the Bush administration.

Osama bin Laden must be laughing out loud. And the next president, whether it's John McCain, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, is going to have a very long way to go in restoring our reputation, indeed if it's even possible to do so.

Here's the question: France's foreign minister says the magic is over for the United States. Is he right?

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

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

If there's a vote do-over in Florida, is a mail-in a good option? One top Florida Democrat gives her response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: No. I'm not on board by any means. And neither are -- none of the nine Democratic House members from Florida are supportive of that concept.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, what are the best options to resolve the Democrats' problems? I will speak with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Barack Obama's spiritual mentor used a Christmas Day sermon to rant his rage. He used some racial phrases to blast Hillary Clinton, and he compared Obama to Jesus.

Barack Obama accuses John McCain of being a flip-flopper. Obama says McCain did it to Republican votes. You will find out precisely what was said.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A new proposal to hold a Democratic primary revote in Florida may be dead on arrival, but, then again, maybe not. The plan floated by the state Democratic Party would include mail-in ballots and in-person voting on June 3.

But Florida's Democratic delegation to the U.S. House is saying thanks, but no thanks. Just a little while ago, I spoke with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida. She's a supporter of Hillary Clinton's campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Are you on board when it comes to a mail-in, to a redo that would have partial -- you could go to some 50 polling stations out there, but most people would get a ballot that they could simply figure out, sign it, and send it back?

SCHULTZ: No, I'm not on board by any means. And neither of the -- none of the nine Democratic house members from Florida are supportive of that concept.

BLITZER: Including supporters of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

SCHULTZ: And our neutral members as well. We all agree that that would be...

BLITZER: But Bill Nelson likes it.

SCHULTZ: Bill Nelson likes it. He's the exception in our delegation. We believe it would be a huge experiment that has never been tried. It's--

BLITZER: It's been tried in Oregon. They do it very successfully there.

SCHULTZ: But it took them 10 years to perfect it. And in Florida, where we have been struggling for the last eight years to restore voters' confidence that when they go to the polls their vote counts, you know, the voters' nerves there are very raw. And having another risk -- and risk another fiasco would really not be a good idea.

BLITZER: Well, what's wrong -- so what do you do then? If you don't want to do a mail-in, how do you -- do you just want to do a full-scale primary again? Because yesterday Robert Wexler said, and it sounded ridiculous, but he insists they don't have the machines, they don't have the equipment.

SCHULTZ: Logistically, they're telling us it would be almost impossible for us to do that because we have our 15 counties that are shifting from touch-screen machines to optical scanning. I'm not 100 percent sure that that's accurate. BLITZER: Why not simply take a piece of paper and do it -- and get a box. And, you know, you sign, it and you just say Obama or Clinton.

SCHULTZ: You know, I think...

BLITZER: And you're done. It maybe -- take a little bit longer to count, but, you know, you have people who volunteer to do that.

SCHULTZ: I think exploring the possibility of redoing the primary, which gives everybody a familiar process that they have access to, is worth looking at, but there are significant obstacles. And then the state law has to be changed to allow a state party to run -- to run an election verified with state signature requirements.

BLITZER: So it looks like you have got a bunch of bad options. Which is the least bad? Because Bill Nelson and a lot of other Democrats say, you know what? Let these people have a chance to vote.

Even the so-called snowbirds who live up in the North in the summer. They could get their ballots early enough. You mail out those ballots a month in advance. They could mail them back by the deadline, and they would be able to participate.

SCHULTZ: But what about poor communities? You have poor communities with -- that are transient, that have inconsistent addresses.

BLITZER: Well, there would be certain locations where they could actually vote.

SCHULTZ: Wolf, they're only proposing two locations per congressional district. In a district like mine, where there's two counties, only parts of two counties, that might be fine. In a district like Allen Boyd's in north Florida, he has 16 counties.

BLITZER: So nothing is perfect. But here's the question again. What's the least bad?

SCHULTZ: We can't choose from these two least bad options. We have to sit down with all the parties and hammer out a compromise that is inclusive of the decisions that the voters made on January 29.

BLITZER: Do you want a float a proposal right now, what you would like to do?

SCHULTZ: Well, I have already talked about a proposal, as have a number of us, where we would come up with a component of the delegation -- a seating of our delegation based on the votes cast in part on the 29th and based on the results of the rest of the primaries. I mean, I think that's one way to do it.

You could also give -- the Republicans only cut half the delegation from the Republicans in Florida. You could do that and base it on the proportion that was voted on the 29. So there are a number of ways that you could do it. BLITZER: The majority leader, Steny Hoyer, he's worried that this race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is getting too nasty.

He said this -- he was quoted in The Washington Post -- "When they attack one another, it's not just an attack on the other candidate. It is taken I think by women and by African-Americans in a more personal sense. To that extent, I think the continued clash between the two candidates, which is inevitable, is not particularly helpful."

You're among the leadership right now. Is he right?

SCHULTZ: I think he is right. I think we need to make sure that we focus on the issues. And that's what Senator Clinton has been doing.

She's been talking about the issues that matter to Americans, talking about how she's the most prepared to be the president of the United States on day one. And negative personal attacks and degenerating this campaign into those makings no sense.

BLITZER: And is Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, right when she says forget about that so-called dream ticket, it's never going to happen? She guaranteed that.

SCHULTZ: Well, I think that's up to the eventual nominee. And any talk of a vice presidential running mate is premature at this point.

BLITZER: So what do you think?

SCHULTZ: I think that it's going to be up to the nominee.

BLITZER: But do you think it's doable?

SCHULTZ: You know, I don't know. I think things change so rapidly in politics that, is it doable? You know, if you were predicting right now, probably not. But we have seen stranger things happen, and I think it's too early to tell.

BLITZER: We certainly have. I wouldn't rule it out by any means.

All right. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, thanks for coming in.

SCHULTZ: Thanks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: There's been another political jab in this presidential contest, a prominent Obama supporter accusing Hillary Clinton's campaign of dishonesty. Why is the former presidential candidate and former Senator Bill Bradley saying that?

And the nation's largest labor federation calls John McCain -- and I'm quoting now -- "Bush number three." The group says that wherever McCain goes in the months ahead, its protesters will be there to expose the candidate's record.

Lots more coming up -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're getting an important development just coming in from Canada right now.

Let's go to Carol Costello. She's monitoring this story for us. What is happening, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we just got word, Wolf, that Canada's House of Commons has just voted to extend its military presence in Afghanistan, but it comes with a condition, a condition that NATO send more troops to the volatile Kandahar Province. That's where most of Canada's 2,500 troops are stationed.

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Former senator and current Obama supporter Bill Bradley accusing the Clinton campaign of some low blows.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL BRADLEY, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think there are a number of places that they have totally misrepresented Barack's position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The battle between Clinton, Obama and their surrogates isn't getting any nicer. The best political team on television watching the fireworks.

Plus, the man Senator Obama has called his spiritual adviser may have stirred up some controversy, a little bit more. We are going to tell you about remarks that are raising eyebrows.

And new evidence the Iraq war isn't the campaign issue it used to be.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, a fiery preacher with connections to the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Obama calls him a spiritual adviser. Some say he's a major political liability.

Bill Bradley defends his criticism of Senator Hillary Clinton. The former senator turned Obama supporter says the Clinton campaign has lied about Obama's positions. Bradley says he would choose Clinton, though, if she ran against John McCain, all of this coming up, plus the best political team on television.

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

Barack Obama is distancing himself from a very controversial sermon by a man he describes as a spiritual mentor.

CNN's Susan Roesgen is joining us now live from Chicago. She's watching this story.

It's a story involving the Pastor Jeremiah Wright, Obama's pastor, and what he's said. What's going on?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Pastor Wright, Reverend Wright was the former pastor just recently retired from Trinity United Church of Christ here in Chicago. But what he said in one of his last sermons may come back to haunt Senator Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: ... who cares about what a poor black man has to face every day in a country and a culture controlled by rich white peoples.

ROESGEN (voice-over): This is Reverend Jeremiah Wright preaching one of his last sermons at Senator Barack Obama's Chicago church on Christmas Day. The church records and sells video of its Sunday services, and this one is getting a lot of hits on YouTube.

WRIGHT: It just came to me with -- within the past few weeks, you all, why so many folk are hating on Barack Obama. He doesn't fit the model. He isn't white. He isn't rich. And he isn't privileged. Hillary fits the mold.

ROESGEN: This is the kind of message the Obama camp does not endorse. Asked for reaction, a campaign spokesperson said: "Senator Obama has said before that he profoundly disagrees with some of the statements and positions of Reverend Wright."

Nevertheless, the sermon is picking up steam. The reverend goes on to compare Senator Obama to Jesus. And while the message seemed inspirational to his congregation, some will find it inflammatory.

WRIGHT: Hillary was not a black boy raised in a single parent home. Barack was. Barack knows what it means to be a black man living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people. Hillary can never know that. Hillary isn't never been called a (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Hillary has never had her people defined as a non-persons.

ROESGEN: Senator Obama, who's been a member of this church for 20 years, has said that Reverend Wright is like an old uncle who sometimes will say things he doesn't agree with. And what's more, the campaign also says Senator Obama deplores divisive statements, whether they come from his supporters, the supporters of his opponents, talk radio or anywhere else. A spokeswoman for Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign said she had not seen this video clip, but that the campaign's first reaction was simply no comment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROESGEN: Now, Wolf, sometimes when you go to church, you expect fire and brimstone. Certainly that's what the congregation expected from that church, from Reverend Wright.

Some viewers, however, might notice you're not supposed to do that in church. Churches, as 501-3c non-profit institutions, are not supposed to endorse a political candidate or they might lose their tax-exempt status. It's kind of a touchy issue. We haven't heard anything about the IRS in this particular case with this particular church, but wanted to point that out, Wolf.

And, also, the spokesman that I spoke to today for the Barack Obama campaign is challenging us reporters to look into what other pastors for other candidates are saying in their pulpits. And I told him, well, if those sermons appear on YouTube, as well, then we just might -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure there have been some other fiery sermons by other pastors, as well. A fair point.

Thanks very much, Susan, for that.

Former Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley has raised some eyebrows. He's implying that Bill and Hillary Clinton are actual liars. He told "The Sunday Times" of London -- and I'm quoting now -- "The bigger the lie, the better the chance they think they've got. That's been their whole approach."

I spoke with him about that in the last hour.Here's what he told me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRADLEY: I'm saying that there have been conscious misrepresentations of positions. And it's very clear in the areas and it's been fully reported and it doesn't go remarked. So I thought I would call it what it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's discuss that and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, Jack Cafferty and our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. They're all part of the best political team on television.

Jack, Bill Bradley -- you and I remember, when he was at Princeton, when he played for the Knicks, when he was a U.S. senator. He's speaking his mind right now. He's not mincing any words.

CAFFERTY: He's a good guy. I have a lot of respect for Bill Bradley. I've known him for a long time. He's also a supporter of Barack Obama. And I think what he's suggesting -- not that I need to translate for the senators -- but I think he's suggesting that this Democratic campaign is becoming divisive enough that it's putting at risk a whole generation of young people who have been suddenly attracted to the political process for the first time in who knows how long.

I think he takes issue, for example, with Hillary suggesting that John McCain is more qualified to be president than Barack Obama is. And he's concerned about the future of the Democratic Party. And he's not alone.

BLITZER: That may have been the most controversial thing she said, Gloria, Hillary Clinton, when she said she has national security experience, John McCain has national security experience, Barack Obama has a speech that he gave against the war back in 2002.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, the Democrats that I talk to say that, you know, you walk up to this line, but you really don't want to cross that line. And those comments may have crossed the line.

You know, it's one thing, they say, when Hillary Clinton compares herself to Barack Obama and says she's more qualified to be commander- in-chief; that's a perfectly legitimate argument for her to make in the political campaign. But when she says that he is unqualified, particularly compared to the Republican, that makes a lot of Democrats wince and say, you know, we're just giving John McCain all this ammunition to use in the general election.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, let me just add -- you know, Gloria is absolutely right. Part of the problem that Hillary Clinton has had -- that there are party officials, there are lawmakers who say, you know, sometimes this goes over the line. And they believe that hurts them against John McCain.

But let me tell you what else is going on here. Barack Obama has a problem. He needs to get tougher without going outside the politics of hope. So that limits him, to a certain extent, as to how hard he can hit. It is very useful to have someone like Bill Bradley come out and hit her hard.

BLITZER: What do you think, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Well, I think that's a point well taken. I'm not so sure how big a problem he has. The last time I looked, he was pretty far ahead.

BORGER: But, you know, there are two kind of campaigns going on, to Candy's point. You have the surrogates out there who are able to say the things that Bradley said, while Obama and Clinton herself try and kind of rise above it and let others make the charges for them, because neither of them, at this point, want to appear to be getting too much in the muck because it doesn't help them.

BLITZER: Candy, you heard Suzanne Malveaux's report at the top of the hour. Hillary Clinton speaking before an African-American group last night, offering some apologies.

Among other things, she said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I am sorry if anyone was offended. It was certainly not meant in any way to be offensive. And I think that we can be proud of both Jesse Jackson and Senator Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was a reference to what her husband, Bill Clinton, said after Obama's win in South Carolina, noting well, you know, Jesse Jackson carried South Carolina, as well.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. I mean there's a couple of things at play here. There really has been a lot of outrage in the African-American community about a number of things, including Geraldine Ferraro's comments yesterday. But I will also say that the Clinton campaign knows full well that it can't cause such an uproar, that there cannot be such division in the Democratic Party that it can't be healed by the time the fall runs around.

So what she needs to do at this point, with Barack Obama getting, by far, the lion's share of African-American votes, is to have her, as we said before, be sitting in that chair and saying, I didn't mean this, because they need the African-American vote. They don't want them to be turned off if, indeed, she becomes the nominee.

BLITZER: But, Jack, is it too late?

CAFFERTY: I don't know if it's too late. I think there's a sense of urgency that's dictating the willingness of Hillary Clinton to apologize. It's not something we hear from her very often.

If you look at a CNN poll that was done in October, at the time, Hillary Clinton was supported by 57 percent of African-Americans. Barack Obama was supported by 33 percent. These days, he's getting 80 percent to 90 percent of the African-American vote.

Part of that is because there are only two of them left in the race. Part of that is people have heard his message and like it. But I think part of that is some of the junk that the Clintons have thrown into this thing that has racial overtones.

BORGER: You know, she also has to start winning some African- American votes in terms of the primaries. I mean in Mississippi, she won 8 percent of the African-American vote. So I think it's a general election strategy, as Candy said. But I think right now it would help her to increase her African-American vote by a few points.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by, because we're going to continue this conversation.

Playing to Democrats' deepest fears -- you're going to find out what a top Clinton adviser is saying about Barack Obama and why he later had to back track a bit.

And find out why Obama is now accusing John McCain of flip- flopping.

Lots more coming up with the best political team on television right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton's chief strategist playing to the deepest fears of Democrats. Mark Penn saying that Barack Obama simply can't win in the general election.

Let's go back to the best political team on television.

Here's what Mark Penn said, Jack, and I'll read it to you: "We believe that the Pennsylvania primary result" -- that's coming up April 22nd -- "will show that Hillary Clinton is ready to win and that Senator Obama really can't win the general election."

Their point being if he can't win states like Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio or California, that he's not going to win in November, go with Hillary Clinton.

CAFFERTY: Is that the revised statement? Be he said something else that was even --

BLITZER: And he then backtracked a little bit from it later --

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: He backpedaled, saying we may be -- possibly. He wasn't as hard as he was on that initial conference call.

CAFFERTY: Where does she get these clowns that say things like that? The states that Hillary has won, you could put a Democratic chicken on the ballot in a lot of them. A Democrat will win California, will win New York, will win Massachusetts, will win Ohio, probably, will win New Jersey.

And for him to say Pennsylvania is going to indicate that the guy can't win, I mean that's just asinine, for want of a better word. He's way ahead, Mr. Penn. Take a look at all the numbers -- the number of states he's won, the popular vote, the number of delegates -- and go back to the drawing board. That thing isn't going to fly.

CROWLEY: But, Wolf, let me just say, that's a super-delegate argument.

BORGER: Right.

CROWLEY: And it's the one that the Clinton campaign has been making all along -- it's about electability. So what they need to show and what they're trying to show is look at these places that she has won, the really big states. He's only won these little states that are never going to go Republican. Obviously, they have a counterargument to that in the Obama campaign. But what they're trying to do is talk to the super- delegates. It doesn't really have anything to do with the general campaign. They'll deal with that later. But the Clinton campaign right now is trying to move the superdelegate...

BLITZER: You know --

CROWLEY: ...attention to who's most electable.

BLITZER: And, Gloria, what Obama is doing, at least today, going after John McCain is very popular with a lot of Democrats -- ignoring Hillary Clinton, to a certain degree, focusing in on John McCain.

Among other things, listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: He made a decision to reverse himself on that. That was how, I guess, you got your ticket punched to be the Republican nominee. But he was right then and he's wrong now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's referring to McCain's vote against the Bush tax cuts back in 2001 and 2003, although now he says he would like to make them permanent.

BORGER: You know, and McCain responded to that by saying, look, this is a great debate I'd love to have with Senator Obama or Senator Clinton about the question of raising your taxes. Because John McCain feels that he can go to the country and say you know what, they're going to raise your taxes and I won't raise your taxes.

And so, you know, the argument that Obama is making -- I think the McCain campaign believes it's going to fall on deaf ears when it comes to consolidating that Republican base and also appeal to some of those Independent voters, who would like to keep those tax cuts permanent and who don't want to see their taxes raised. So it's going to be one of the central arguments -- the economic arguments of this campaign.

BLITZER: The classic argument we've heard between Republicans and Democrats for some time. It's not going away by any means.

BORGER: Nope.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much, Candy, Gloria, good night.

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

A very rare move by the House of Representatives. You're going to find out what members are doing now about the surveillance laws and why they don't want you to know anything about it. Plus, were some presidents born to rule? We're going to show you what role their birth order may play. Do first-borns have an advantage? There's now research.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In today's political ticker, the House of Representatives is set to do something it hasn't done in more than 20 years -- do its work in secret. Tonight, the House will shut down for a while to allow a thorough security sweep. Then members will begin to debate changes to President Bush's controversial surveillance laws.

According to the House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, Republican Whip Roy Blount says some items cannot be discussed publicly, but Democrats wonder about the need for such a secret meeting. We're watching this story for you.

New evidence, meanwhile, that Americans are more optimistic about the war in Iraq. A new Pew Research Center poll finds 53 percent of the public now believes the United States will ultimately achieve its goals in Iraq.

That's up from 42 percent back in September. Forty-seven percent now favor keeping U.S. troops in Iraq until the situation there has stabilized. That's the highest percentage expressing that view in more than a year. The fifth anniversary of the war next week.

The nation's largest labor federation says McCain can run for president, but he can't hide from his record. The AFL-CIO promising everywhere McCain goes in the coming months, union protestors will confront him on his economic positions.

The group has also launched anti-McCain campaign, a spokeswoman saying McCain's record does not speak for working families, calling McCain -- and I'm quoting now -- "Bush Number Three." The McCain campaign calls this "attack politics."

Remember, for the latest political news anytime, check out our Political Ticker at CNNPolitics.com. The Ticker is now the number one political news blog on the Web. That's also where you can read my latest blog post. I posted one just before the show.

Let's get to Lou to see what's coming up at the top of the hour. He's standing by with a little preview.

Hi, Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Thank you, Wolf.

At 7:00 p.m. Eastern, at the top of the hour here on CNN, is the federal government undermining our constitutional right to bear arms? An extraordinary case against a Wisconsin gun owner is raising serious questions. Where is the NRA? Where is justice? We'll have his story. And credit card companies fighting an effort in Congress to protect middle class Americans from outrageous fees and sharply rising interest rates. We'll have that report.

And Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, coauthors of "The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get it Back on Track" will be among my guests here tonight. We'll be talking about, as well, possible re-votes for Florida and Michigan. And how about those superdelegates?

Please join us for all of that, all the day's news and much more at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Lou, for that.

Jack Cafferty joining us once again with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: France's foreign minister says the magic is over for the United States. Is he right?

Kenneth writes from Illinois: "The foreign minister isn't the only one overseas who thinks America has lost her glitter. You ought to get out from behind those television cameras, visit Europe and get a taste of what Europeans think of the Spitzer story and the worthiness of Obama and Clinton as possible presidents. You'll be pleasantly surprised. They are in tune over here and following the proceedings closely."

Eugene writes from California: "I don't see why the French foreign minister would say that America has lost its magic when French-based Airbus EADS just got a huge contract worth billions of dollars to build our Air Force's next generation of refueling tanker. If we've lost our magic, then let's rescind the tanker contract, award it to an American company, like Boeing. Jack, why in the hell are foreign countries building our military aircraft in the first place?"

I wish I knew the answer to that.

Mike in New Orleans writes: "Only a Democrat as president can repair our reputation abroad. Nobody on this planet will trust any words or deeds that come from an extension of the Bush administration in the form of John McCain. In fact, McCain has already blown his foreign policy credibility by his so-called violence-free stroll through a market in Baghdad and later singing 'Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran' for the whole world to hear."

Ed in Rhode Island writes: "Who can connect the dots, even based on today's modern day American media, let alone the BBC or the Internet, must certainly agree with Kushner." That's the Frenchman who made this statement. "This country has suffered enormous consequences since the 2000 Supreme Court decision that enabled Bush to go on his seven year abomination. Nobody can undo the damage that he's done."

And Mark writes from Pennsylvania: "The U.S. has faced difficult situations before and we have survived and become better for the challenge. This time is no different. The French would just love to see us fail, but they shouldn't hold their collective breath. And by the way, who listens to the French anyway? Seriously" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We've got a lot of viewers over there. They're watching us right now all over the world, Jack.

Thanks very much. See you tomorrow.

Could being a first-born be a first step toward the White House?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN LEMAN, PSYCHOLOGIST: They tend to dominate. They tend to control. They tend to be opinionated. And to be a world leader...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Who among the season's candidates can claim that credential?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the Hot Shots coming in from our friends at the Associated Press.

In Florida, a Tampa Bay Ray gets high fives from teammates after a solo home run against the Red Sox.

In Baghdad, two Iraqi girls sit outside an elementary school.

In Washington, D.C., residents stand on a city bus surrounded by their belongings. Their apartment was destroyed earlier this morning by fire and they're heading to a temporary shelter.

And in Pakistan, a man prays next to a river on the outskirts of Islamabad. Some of this hour's Hot Shots -- pictures often worth a thousand words.

How much does personal history, birth order, for instance, play into someone's aspirations to become president? Apparently, more than we think.

Here's CNN's medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen -- Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, psychologists have written reams on this topic -- does your birth order matter? Well, perhaps it does if you want to be president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COHEN (voice-over): What do Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Gerald Ford have in common? They're all the eldest children in their families.

LEMAN: The first-borns rule.

COHEN: Literally, they do. In the past 70 years, more than half of U.S. presidents have been first-borns.

LEMAN: They tend to dominate. They tend to control. They tend to be opinionated. And to be a world leader...

COHEN: Psychologist Kevin Leman wrote the book on birth order. He points out that four of the past six presidents have been eldest children -- George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. George H.W. Bush was second of five and Ronald Reagan was the baby of the family.

Even among people who try to become president, first-borns rule -- at least this season. Eight of the 11 major candidates who started the 2008 race are eldest or only children.

John McCain is not. He's a middle child. Leman says leadership comes naturally to first-borns. After all, they had to take care of younger siblings. And a new study from Brigham Young University says first-borns with one sibling get more time with mom and dad -- about 20 minutes more quality time per day with dad and 25 more minutes with mom.

There are many who say this birth order stuff is squishy science, that the research is flawed and paints families with too broad a brush.

JOE RODGERS, PSYCHOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA: There are many first-borns who are natural leaders. But there's nothing about being first-born that automatically leads to leadership.

COHEN: Others beg to differ. They point to studies showing first-borns are more likely to be CEOs, surgeons, MBAs.

While birth order certainly can't predict the presidential race, history shows it's a factor.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COHEN: Studies have shown that not only do first-borns get more time with their parents, they also get more years of education -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, very interesting, Elizabeth. Thank you very much for that.

That's all the time we have today. Thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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

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