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Obama: 'I'll Take on Anybody'; Clinton Won't Quit; Is McCain Breaking Campaign Finance Law?

Aired March 26, 2008 - 16:00   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, Barack Obama refusing to ignore fresh criticism of his former pastor. The Democrat back on the campaign trail today and coming out swinging against both Hillary Clinton and John McCain.
Clinton keeps saying it isn't over yet. Is it all talk, or can she still win the nomination?

I'll speak live with a governor who says he wants to solve the Democrats' stalemate with a superdelegate mini convention.

And Republican John McCain makes his support for the Iraq war very personal. We're going to tell you how.

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

Barack Obama is back from his vacation today and he is apparently ready to fight. He returned to the sore subject that Hillary Clinton put back on the front burner just a day ago. That would be the flap involving his former pastor and his racially-charged remarks.

Our Suzanne Malveaux is with Obama in North Carolina. She's joining us now from the scene.

He's not yet able to put this entire flap behind him, is he, Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he made it very clear today that he is not going to let this controversy over his former pastor knock him off his game. He was asked in a town hall setting to tell us what he means when he talks about his faith, what does Jesus Christ mean to him. Well, he talked about the golden rule and compassion for the poor, but then he also once again defended his association with his former pastor, as well as his church.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): A warning to senator Hillary Clinton.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll take on anybody. If I've got the American people behind me, then I fear no man, and I fear no woman.

MALVEAUX: Far from shying away from Clinton's criticism of Obama's controversial pastor, Obama offered this... OBAMA: I hope people don't get distracted by that. We cannot solve the problems of America if every time somebody somewhere says something stupid, that everybody gets up in arms.

MALVEAUX: ... before a largely African-American audience, who occasionally offered Obama an "amen." The senator tried to put his black congregation in Chicago into a larger, more inviting context.

OBAMA: Everybody is welcome to come to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street. It is a wonderful, welcoming church. The United Church of Christ, by the way, is a 99 percent white denomination.

MALVEAUX: Obama needs white voters to support him in the contests ahead, most immediately in Pennsylvania, where polls show Clinton has an edge. Obama saved his most pointed criticism for the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, who he mocked as just another version of President Bush, neglecting those who are struggling economically.

OBAMA: George Bush called this the ownership society, but what he really meant was, you're on your own society. If you lose your job, you're on your own. If you got lured in by deceptive mortgage practices, you're on your own. And John McCain apparently wants to continue this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Obama went on to criticize McCain, saying before he admitted he didn't know very much about the economy, and that yesterday, he said he proved that in his speech when it came to the housing crisis. Obviously, Wolf, this is an issue they feel really resonates with the voters, issue No. 1 on the economy, but also, it is very clear as well they figure they still have to address the concerns over this controversial pastor. So, at the same time, while he continues to talk about it, he also has this balancing act because he talks about not letting it distract the voters -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thank you.

Suzanne Malveaux reporting.

John McCain is in his comfort zone today talking about foreign policy. He gave his first major speech on the subject since clinching the Republican nomination, and he tried to put his world view into the context of his own life and of the Bush presidency.

Our Dana Bash traveled with McCain out to California. She's watching this story for us.

He tried to put his remarks in a very personal context, bringing back some memories even of his youth. Update our viewers, Dana, what he said.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He did, Wolf. He talked about three generations of military service, including his own. And that's a biography the McCain campaign intends to talk a lot more about next week.

But this speech in particular was very much about laying out the McCain foreign policy, if there would be one in the White House. And he tried to draw very sharp contrasts with the Democrats and the current Republican president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): John McCain's emphatic support for keeping troops in Iraq defines his candidacy but defies public opinion. Here, he tried to explain.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hold my position because I hate war, and I know very well and very personally how grievous its wages are. But I know, too, that we must sometimes pay those wages to avoid paying even higher ones later on.

BASH: In his first major foreign policy address as presumptive Republican nominee, McCain used his son of veterans background and experience as a Vietnam POW as a contrast to Democrats he calls naive.

MCCAIN: I believe a reckless and premature withdrawal would be a terrible defeat for our security interests and our values.

BASH: He called staying in Iraq a moral responsibility, sounding a lot like George W. Bush. But this speech was mainly an attempt to highlight a McCain world view quite different from the president's.

MCCAIN: Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want, whenever we want.

BASH: Insisting he will abandon the president's perceived go-it- alone mentality.

MCCAIN: When we believe international action is necessary, whether military, economic or diplomatic, we will try to persuade our friends that we are right. But we, in return, must be willing to be persuaded by them.

BASH: Suggesting an end to so-called cowboy diplomacy.

MCCAIN: We need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our Democratic allies.

BASH: An attempt to show his commitment to restoring America's tarnished reputation, McCain repackaged a list of other differences with the president -- a treaty on climate change, nuclear disarmament, closing Guantanamo Bay.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: McCain also broke from President Bush on the issue of Russia. He has a very tough stance on Russia, saying that that country should not be admitted to the G8 alliance. And, you know, that is one of many areas, as I mentioned, that he is trying to really show a contrast with the president. But Wolf, anybody looking at this speech, looking for new foreign policy proposals, really won't find any.

Essentially what this was, was McCain laying out what his foreign policy would look like as president. And it's very much a benchmark if he does become president that he would be judged on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana. Thank you.

Dana is out in Los Angeles.

Dana and Suzanne Malveaux are both part of the Emmy Award-winning best political team on television. Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out our political ticker at cnnpolitics.com. The ticker is the number one political news blog on the Web.

That's also where you can read my latest blog post. Just posted one a few minutes ago.

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

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, "It will be easier to elect a black man president than it will a woman." Those are the words of former senator 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern. He is actually a Hillary Clinton supporter, but he says he feels that where this country stands today in its thinking, it's going to be harder to elect a woman.

He also says, "I wish that weren't true. I would love to see Hillary as president."

McGovern says he sometimes hears from men who don't think a woman's ready to assume the responsibilities of the top office in the land. Some worry it's too big a job for a woman, or that she wouldn't be able to handle those terrorists.

There are some cavemen who still live in the United States, apparently.

McGovern says he rarely hears the same concerns about a black man. Some may question whether McGovern is just trying to lower the bar for his candidate, but a recent survey suggests he might be on to something.

A CBS News poll shows 39 percent of those surveyed think a woman candidate faces more obstacles in presidential politics today, compared to 33 percent who feel that way about a black candidate. However, African-Americans disagree, saying by an overwhelming margin that black candidates have a harder time.

When asked if people they know have judged Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama more harshly because of either race or gender, 42 percent say Clinton has had a tougher go of it. Just 27 percent say that about Obama. That's despite the fact that polling shows Americans see racism as a much more serious problem for the nation overall than sexism.

Did you follow all that?

Here's the question: George McGovern, who supports Hillary Clinton, says it will be easier to elect a black man as president than a woman. Is he right?

Go to cnn.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.

If Barack Obama wins the Democratic nomination, there is striking new evidence that a significant number of Democrats would actually jump ship and might even vote for John McCain. We're going to tell you what's going on.

Plus, Hillary Clinton says don't count her out by any means. Can she convince voters she's still in it to win it?

And what about those crucial superdelegates? Tennessee's governor, Phil Bredeson, he's standing by live.

And Clinton supporters aren't pleased with the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. Is she really neutral -- a neutral observer in this Democratic contest?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Whatever you may think about Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate is certainly showing lots of persistence on the campaign trail. And she's working that into her message more and more as the primary race drags on and on, and many are questioning whether she can actually win.

Let's bring in Jessica Yellin. She's been covering this race for us and doing an excellent job in the process.

It's a two-for-one message from the Clintons we're sort of getting today, isn't it, Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We really are, Wolf. Both Clintons today seem to be on a PR blitz to make it clear, no matter what the pundits say in Washington, Senator Clinton has no plans of getting out of this race.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice over): While Barack Obama was chilling in the Virgin Islands...

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am thrilled to be here.

YELLIN: ... Hillary Clinton was in the ring fighting on. CLINTON: I know there are some in Washington and there are some in the media who want this race to be over. Well, I disagree. I think everyone deserves to be heard.

YELLIN: Never say die. It's in the Clinton DNA...

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I want to tell you something. My family's not big on quitting. You've probably noticed that.

YELLIN: ... though the odds aren't in the Clintons' favor. As the math stands today, Senator Clinton would have to win two-thirds of the delegates in all upcoming states to overtake Obama. Even if she got 60 percent of the vote in every district in every remaining primary, it would not be enough to pull ahead.

Still, Democratic insiders are wondering how she might pull it off.

JIM VANDEHEI, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, POLITICO: Nobody can write off a Clinton. I Mean, this is a family who's just known and renowned for their ability to make these political comebacks.

YELLIN: And Clinton must see a way. She says she's in the fight through the June primaries.

H. CLINTON: I think that what we have to wait and see is what happens in the next three months. And there's been a lot of talk about what if, what if, what if. Let's wait until we get some facts.

YELLIN: In an interview with "TIME" magazine's "The Page," she makes it clear if she's handed a victory by the superdelegates, not the voters, that's just fine with her.

H. CLINTON: You know, it's the same thing for Senator Obama. Neither of us will reach the number of delegates needed. Every delegate, with very few exceptions, is free to make up his or her mind, however they choose.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: And I spoke with one top Clinton supporter who laid out a path to victory for Senator Clinton. This person said Clinton has won three of the last four contests, she's poised to win Pennsylvania by a large margin.

And if Obama's campaign collapses, the superdelegates could still flock to Clinton, decide to seat Michigan and Florida, and give her a victory. Now, that's a lot of big "ifs," but, Wolf, this person said to advise her to get out now would be political malpractice.

BLITZER: Yes, she's not getting out. She's staying in, she says, at least the next three months, until all these contests, another 11 contests or so, are done. And then we'll see what happens with those superdelegates. That's part of the rules.

Jessica, thanks very much.

New ammunition today for Hillary Clinton supporters to argue she would be a stronger opponent against John McCain than Barack Obama.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching this story for us.

Bill, could the Obama/Clinton battle create problems for the Democrats in the fall?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, we are seeing some warning signs for Democrats, and not just because of the split in the party.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The division in the Democratic Party is becoming increasingly bitter. The most recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows the percentage of Barack Obama supporters who say they would be dissatisfied or upset if Hillary Clinton wins the nomination. It's gone from 26 percent in January, just after Clinton won the New Hampshire primary, to 41 percent now.

What if Obama wins? A majority of Clinton supporters now say they would be dissatisfied or upset.

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: That is the only thing that could make John McCain president, if the Democrats get divided.

SCHNEIDER: Could it? According to the Gallup Poll, about one in five Obama supporters say they will vote for McCain if Clinton is the Democratic nominee. And if Obama is the nominee, more than one in four Clinton supporters say they would vote for McCain.

How high is that? You have to go all the way back to the Reagan years to find that many Democrats willing to vote for a Republican. But the bitterness of the Democratic division is not the only reason so many Democrats are considering voting for McCain.

MCCAIN: We can't torture or treat inhumanely suspected terrorists we have captured.

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: I believe we should close Guantanamo.

SCHNEIDER: A lot of Democrats like McCain. Last month, Democrats were split over McCain. Forty-four percent said they like him.

How many Republicans like Hillary Clinton? Nineteen percent. Nearly 80 percent of Republicans dislike her.

Obama claims he can appeal to Republicans. Can he? More than Clinton. Thirty-five percent of Republicans say they like Obama. But that's still not as many as the number of Democrats who like McCain. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: In his foreign policy speech today, McCain's message was, I'm not George W. Bush. Yes, he supports Bush's Iraq policy. And yes, Bush has endorsed McCain. But McCain never mentioned Bush's name. He did, however, identify with the Democrat, Harry Truman -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And a lot of Democrats say of all the Republican presidential candidates, McCain was clearly their favorite. That's precisely the reason why some of the conservatives distrust, continue to distrust, John McCain, because of that stance.

All right. Thanks very much, Bill, for that.

Is there a way to solve the Democrats' dilemma before the convention at the end of August in Denver? Tennessee's governor certainly thinks there is. And other powerful Democrats agree.

Governor Phil Bredeson, he's standing by live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And she's one of the most powerful Democrats in the party, but not everyone is necessarily all that happen with what Nancy Pelosi's opinion of the race for the White House happens to be.

Stay with us. You're going to find out why.

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, U.S. passports -- yes, U.S. passports -- only American citizens can get them. So why is the government now hiring citizens of foreign countries to help make them? And is this outsourcing threatening our security? We're taking a closer look.

And John McCain's foreign policy experience, he presents it as one of his strong points, but Democrats think they found a soft spot. We're watching this story.

And the candidates and their family trees. Genealogists now discovering blood ties to celebrities, presidents and more. We're going to tell you who's related to whom.

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

The two top Democrats in Congress are weighing in on the fight for the party's presidential nomination. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is suggesting that a deal may be in the works to avoid a bitter battle at the party's convention in Denver at the end of August. And the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is being slammed by supporters of Hillary Clinton about comments she made on the role of the superdelegates CNN's Kate Bolduan is following this story for us.

Kate, what are you hearing?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they are the Democratic Party heavyweights, and they could have the final say on the Democratic nominee for president. And that means everyone is listening.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN (voice-over): They are perhaps the most super of all the superdelegates -- Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the top Senate Democrat, Harry Reid. Neither has come out in support of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, and both say they remain neutral.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: I am totally neutral in the race.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I am going to be as neutral as a person can be.

BOLDUAN: That leaves everyone from the campaigns to the media dissecting the Democratic leaders' words for any clue of who they will support and whether they will break the primary stalemate.

In a recent interview with the "Las Vegas Review," Reid was asked whether he thought the Democratic race could be resolved before the convention. Reid said yes, but also added, "I had a conversation with Governor Dean. Things are being done." When pressed on exactly what things are being done, an aide to Reid insisted that the majority leader was just being coy and there is no back room deal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: And Pelosi is also being pushed to explain herself after this comment on ABC's "This Week."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI: Here's what I said. What I said was, if the votes of the superdelegates overturn what happened in the elections, it would be harmful to the Democratic Party.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: So, if someone wins the pledged delegates...

PELOSI: There must be some reflection...

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... and popular vote, they should be the nominee?

PELOSI: Well, again, this works itself out. I don't think...

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: Now, could that be a signal of support for Obama, who would benefit if the superdelegates supported the candidate with the most primary votes?

Well, today, a group of Hillary Clinton supporters are crying foul. And, in a letter, they called on Pelosi to make it clear superdelegates should be able to use their own judgment. Pelosi's office responded to the letter to say her position hasn't changed and she does remain neutral -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A little friction going on there.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

BLITZER: All right, Kate, thanks very much.

Let me update you now on the all-important delegate count, what we know right now. As of CNN's latest count estimate, Barack Obama holds an overall lead of almost 140 delegates over Hillary Clinton. Ten states and territories have yet to hold primaries, but neither candidate is expected to reach the total of 2,024 delegates needed to clinch the nomination without the help of the superdelegates.

And that could lead to the ugly convention battle that a lot of Democrats certainly fear. The Democratic governor of Tennessee, Phil Bredesen, says he has a solution. He's joining us now.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

GOV. PHIL BREDESEN (D), TENNESSEE: My pleasure. Thank you.

BLITZER: You're trying to avoid a big battle in Denver at the end of the summer. Tell our viewers what your proposal is.

BREDESEN: Since the -- if this comes down to the superdelegates, which I don't think anyone really wants -- it would be great if it were resolved in the primaries or between the candidates , but, if it comes down to that, we need to move it up. We need to take care of it in June. What I proposed was, let's get the superdelegates together some way or another, a very small meeting.

BLITZER: Just the superdelegates, not all of the delegates?

BREDESEN: No, no, just the superdelegates, the ones that have to make this decision. They will have the information -- I'm one of them -- that it takes to make a decision after the last primary is over. And let's see if we can't bring some closure to this thing, and not waste the summer beating up each other. Let's be organizing a campaign and running for president.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Now, your -- your proposal is getting some warmth out there. A lot of people like it, a lot of the Democrats.

So, what you're saying is, take those 800 or so superdelegates, those who have said they support one or the other -- or the other candidates, those like you who are still undecided, get them some place in for, what, a two-day mini convention; is that what you're talking about?

BREDESEN: Yes, not with all the hoopla and the sideshows of a convention, more of a business meeting. Get them together. Give the candidates a chance to come and make a pitch to them, and then get people on record. That obviously isn't the legal determination. That's got to wait for the convention. But I think it would have a huge moral force, if one of the delegates got comfortably over the number they needed. And we can get on with -- with running for president.

BLITZER: And would this be open to the -- for the American public to see, or would this be some sort of backroom, closed-door deal?

BREDESEN: No, I think it's very important to be open. I would just imagine that it would be open, that the -- where the -- each superdelegate stood would be a matter of public record for that.

One of the real concerns I have got is that, if everyone is working on the superdelegates over the summer, I think Americans get very suspicious about what deals are being cut, what's going on in those -- in those back rooms. Let's let the sunlight in. Let's do it early. Let's get a nominee and get on with it.

BLITZER: Have you discussed this with the Clinton and Obama campaigns?

BREDESEN: Yes. I certainly gave them a heads-up when I did the piece in "The New York Times" putting the idea on the table. And there have been some conversations since then.

One of them, I guess Senator Obama has come out moderately warmly, said something nice about it at the end of the week. And, certainly, in the conversation I had with Senator Clinton, she wasn't trashing it at all. She's saying she had to think about it, but asked a number of, I thought, intelligent questions about how it might work.

So, I wouldn't expect them to weigh in on it within a day or two, but I hope that they're thinking about it, because we have got to find some way to get out of this mess that we're in.

BLITZER: So, just to be precise, you spoke with both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama personally?

BREDESEN: No, I spoke with Senator Clinton personally. And Senator Obama and I traded calls a couple times, but then we talked to one of his chief staff people and made sure they had all the information. He and I have not talked personally about it.

BLITZER: Where would you like this two-day meeting to take place?

BREDESEN: I think this has to take place in some neutral city, obviously not New York or Chicago, for obvious reasons, some city easy to get to, maybe a Saint Louis or a Dallas or an Atlanta or someplace like that.

BLITZER: What about Memphis, Tennessee, or Nashville?

BREDESEN: No, Memphis and Nashville are fine, too.

BLITZER: In your state.

BREDESEN: But I'm not trying to be too parochial about this. I think the important thing is that it happen. And -- and it's got to happen under the umbrella of the DNC. No one else has the moral authority to call this together.

BLITZER: What does the chairman, chairman Howard Dean, what does he say about it?

BREDESEN: Well, when I spoke to him about it on Wednesday morning, I won't say he was real warm about the idea. And, you know, he's not been incredibly supportive.

But I would just say, you know, if you agree something's got to be done, what's your plan? If there's a better plan, believe me, I'm all for it. I just want to put a bookend on this thing in the middle of June, so that we don't have a disastrous summer for the party.

BLITZER: And, so, basically, what you're -- you're scared of is, if this goes on to a brokered convention, as they say, at the end of August, this would merely help John McCain going ahead in November?

BREDESEN: Well, I think there's no question about it. I mean, if we come out of a convention with a nominee, but with a badly divided party, an emotionally exhausted party, one that has not -- one basically that has been arguing why whoever the nominee is shouldn't be the nominee for the last eight weeks or 10 weeks, I just think that's a terrible platform on which to run for president. It just makes the hill a lot steeper and rockier than it needs to be.

BLITZER: The comment -- the sort of intriguing comment that the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, made to that Las Vegas newspaper, where he said -- he was asked, do you think the Democratic race can be resolved before the convention, and he said, "Easy."

"How is that?"

"It will be done."

"It just will?"

"Yes."

And then he goes on. He later denied that he had any specific plan, but it sounds like he might be referring to your plan of this sort two-day meeting. Have you had any discussions with him and Nancy Pelosi about this?

BREDESEN: No, I have -- I have not. And, certainly, I have not spoken to him since I guess a week ago -- a week ago today.

I hope he has a plan. And, again, I don't care if it's mine or someone else's. But I really think the DNC has got an obligation to step in here. This is a circumstance we didn't expect. And we have got to take this thing off autopilot and fly it to a safe landing. And I have put one idea forward. If he has a better one, I'm all for it.

BLITZER: And just one final question, Governor.

BREDESEN: Sure.

BLITZER: You're not among those Democrats who are quietly urging Hillary Clinton to drop out because she can't get enough of the pledged delegates to overcome the Barack Obama pledged delegate lead?

BREDESEN: No, I'm not at all. I am truly neutral in this. And I think that's one of the things that gives me an ability to although credibly put a plan forward to -- you know, to resolve this thing.

What I'm concerned about, as we get to June 3, and both candidates think they see a way to the nomination, and we're just going to have a tough summer and a tough fall.

BLITZER: All right, we will watch it together with you.

BREDESEN: OK.

BLITZER: Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

BREDESEN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good luck to Tennessee in the sweet 16.

(LAUGHTER)

BREDESEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: President Bush is sending a message to China about its crackdown in Tibet. Is he ready to consider boycotting the Beijing Olympics? We will get an update on what is going on.

And they're big on comebacks, but Bill Clinton says he and his wife aren't quitters. In our "Strategy Session": Are the Clintons fighting a battle they can't win?

And later, Chelsea Clinton refuses to answer a question about Monica Lewinsky? Is she shirking a tough part of her role as a campaign surrogate? We will update you on this part of the story.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush wading a bit deeper into the source of some hot water for China. That would be Beijing's crackdown on pro- democracy protesters in Tibet -- the White House now saying Mr. Bush called the Chinese president today to express his concern about the violence.

Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Ed Henry is standing by watching this story for us.

The question is, it's been going on for several days now, the -- the protests in Tibet. Why did it take so long?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. In fact, the president had been letting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others comment on this, but he was facing a lot of pressure from Democrats, like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to speak out himself.

So, the significance is, he's finally doing that in this phone call, his most direct involvement so far, telling President Hu Jintao that he wants to see a dialogue opened -- a dialogue opened up between the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama.

The national security adviser here at the White House, Stephen Hadley, also saying that, very briefly, the two leaders discussed that very embarrassing episode exposed yesterday, where the U.S. had accidentally sent missile fuses to Taiwan that angered the Chinese government so much. But Hadley said the bulk of this phone conversation was some very tough talk about Tibet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN HADLEY, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The president pushed very hard on the need to -- concern about violence in Tibet, the need for restraint, the need for consultation with representatives of the Dalai Lama.

As you know, there have been consultations between Chinese authorities and representatives of the Dalai Lama in the past. Those have been suspended. The president urged that those be restored.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: But Mr. Bush is not going as far as the French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who, as you know, is raising a possibility of boycotting the Olympics in August.

Mr. Bush already slated to attend those Olympics in Beijing -- he has used the defense of saying that he is only going as a sports fan. He wants to support the athletes. That defense could get harder and harder the closer we get to the summer if the Chinese government make some changes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And there was a surprise to his agenda today as well, saying he's going to Russia next week to meet with the outgoing Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

HENRY: That's right. It was a surprise. Here's the story behind that. It seems that, last weekend, Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates were in Russia with their counterparts talking about missile defense, an issue that has divided these two countries so much in recent months.

There was a little bit of a breakthrough, maybe some progress. And there's a feeling among both sides that, if these two leaders get together face to face, they might be able to seal some kind of deal to push forward on a U.S.-backed missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.

The other significance, of course, is, this may be the final meeting between Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin, who will be leaving as president very shortly in Russia, a relationship that has obviously been very, very significant -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is he going to meet with the new leader, the newly elected leader, Dmitry Medvedev?

HENRY: He is expected to do that as well. They are still working out the final details, though. Obviously, Vladimir Putin is not leaving the stage completely, but there is an expectation there might also be a meeting with the incoming Russian president. Again, they are working out those final details.

BLITZER: Ed Henry will be all over that visit.

Thanks, Ed, very much.

HENRY: Thank you.

BLITZER: In our "Strategy Session," Bill Clinton says the race is nowhere over.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

W. CLINTON: I have already had four people come up to me and say, tell her not to quit. And I want to tell you something. My family is not big on quitting. You have probably noticed that.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But could that hand John McCain and the GOP some ammunition for the White House in November?

Courting California -- McCain hopes his rapid-fire appearances there can turn the blue state red. But is he dreaming?

All that and a lot more coming up in our "Strategy Session" next -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: With a growing number of pundits saying it would take a colossal -- colossal collapse for Barack Obama not to get the Democratic nomination, some are wondering why Hillary Clinton is actually continuing to fight. Let's discuss this and more in our "Strategy Session." Joining us, the Democratic strategist Jennifer Palmieri, and the Republican strategist Rich Galen.

Guys, thanks for coming out, coming in.

JENNIFER PALMIERI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Thanks for having us.

BLITZER: You know the Democrats. You used to work for John Edwards. He didn't get the nomination. What is going on right now among the Democrats? Because Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton say, she's a fighter; she's staying in.

PALMIERI: Right. I mean, and I don't think that until -- until the voting stops in June, I think that there's -- there's just not any way that...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: There's no chance, unless she were to surprisingly lose Pennsylvania, which probably won't happen?

PALMIERI: Right.

BLITZER: But you never know.

PALMIERI: Right. If there was something dramatic that happened and she lost Pennsylvania by a lot or, you know, then, you know, maybe she would consider dropping out. But I think there's not any -- obviously, there's not any reason to do that until people stop voting.

And she's -- you know, I know that Obama has the advantage, but it's not as if she hasn't been in a worse -- she has come back from worse.

BLITZER: What do you think?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The Clintons are adherents of either Dylan Thomas or Bob Dylan -- I forget -- whoever said, don't go -- do not go gentle into that good night. They will rage, rage against the darkness, until there's just nowhere else to go.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But don't they owe that to their supporters...

PALMIERI: Sure.

BLITZER: ... the millions of people who voted for them?

PALMIERI: Yes.

GALEN: Oh, absolutely. And you saw Bill Schneider's piece a little bit ago about -- about how this is driving people apart. It makes it more and more difficult for either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama to say, OK, well, thanks for everything. I'm going to go, you know, back to the Senate.

BLITZER: Because there's one school of thought that says this is actually good for whoever gets the Democratic nomination.

PALMIERI: Yes. I'm a member of that school.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, tell us why you think that this would, despite the bitterness and their going after each other, kneecapping and all that stuff, why this could potentially help the Democratic nominee?

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI: Well, I don't want to be naive about it. This race has the potential to get nasty.

That is -- nastier -- I mean, that is -- that's definitely true. But, when you look back at '92, which was really nasty, the Democratic primary, Bob Kerrey said that Bill Clinton was an unusually good liar.

Paul Tsongas said that he unprincipled and cynical. I mean, it was nasty personal attacks. Clinton went through a very difficult primary. There was nothing he faced in the general election that was as tough as what he went through in the Democratic primary.

I mean, that's what you want a Democratic primary to do. You want it to produce a very battle-tested nominee. And if -- and, yes, they may be battle-scarred, but I think you want to know --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Because the point that a lot of people make, Richard -- you know this as well -- if you don't have a strong preseason, if you don't practice, you're not going to be ready when the big game actually starts.

GALEN: Well, and I think that's one of the things we saw with Obama over the last three or four weeks. He really hadn't been challenged for awhile. And, when he was, his knees kind of got wobbly.

The other side of it is -- and this goes back a long way, but we're still paying the price -- in the Republican side, you go back to 1976, Ronald Reagan vs. Jerry Ford.

PALMIERI: Right.

GALEN: That fight is still going on. These things have the capacity -- and, from my narrow viewpoint, I hope this is the case -- it has the capacity to last for decades.

BLITZER: Because, as tough as it could be right now, you could potentially argue that let's say Barack Obama does wind up with the Democratic presidential nomination...

PALMIERI: Right.

BLITZER: ... that the challenge he's facing from Hillary Clinton right now could turn out in the long run to help him prepare for what's certainly going to be a much tougher challenge from John McCain and the Republicans.

PALMIERI: Right. As nasty as the Democratic primary allegedly has gotten, it's -- there's nothing that the Clinton -- that either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama has faced is going to be as nasty as what happens...

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: That is putting the best possible outcome on what's going on.

I mean, you had the governor of Tennessee on -- Tennessee on. If he thought it was such a good idea to keep this thing going, he wouldn't be...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: He clearly doesn't...

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI: Well, I'm not suggesting that you go to the convention, but...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let's talk about the Republican side for a moment, John McCain delivering a big speech on foreign policy today out in Los Angeles.

GALEN: Right.

BLITZER: He's spending a lot of time out in California. Can he do in California what the Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has now done twice, actually win that state?

GALEN: I doubt it. But that's not necessarily what the strategy is. The strategy is to at least get people thinking that it is a possibility and make the Democratic nominee, whoever it is, spend a lot more money in California than they wanted to, in essence --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Sounds like a smart strategy. What do you think?

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: ... Hitting them down in California.

PALMIERI: I mean, if John McCain wants to spend a lot of time in California, that's -- as opposed to Ohio, I think that's fine. That's fine with me.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, wouldn't that -- wouldn't that force the Democratic candidate to spend some money there as well?

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI: I don't -- we don't know that yet. I mean, I don't think -- I know there's not a lot of general election polling -- I don't think there's any general election polling in California yet.

But I don't want to -- I -- I -- we were -- we won by 12 points in 2000, 10 points in '04. I don't -- it may be, but I suspect he's there to pick up checks, not -- I don't think this is really part...

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: Probably true.

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI: ... strategy.

GALEN: But this is -- this is the advantage of having the nomination wrapped up.

It's not costing him a thing. He's probably making money out there. He can spend money there now or time there now, because he's got until September.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Rich Galen, thanks for coming in.

Jennifer, thanks for coming in as well.

Jennifer used to work for John Edwards. Before that, she worked in the Clinton White House. So, you have got a little history. But, right now, you are still neutral, right?

(LAUGHTER)

PALMIERI: I am still neutral, yes.

GALEN: Wait a minute. Don't say that this woman has a history.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: She's got a history in the White House.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What do you mean? She was a -- a major player there. I remember when I used to cover the place.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

PALMIERI: Thank you.

BLITZER: You have got a rich history, too. Don't feel so...

PALMIERI: Yes.

BLITZER: Don't feel so bad.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Rich Galen, thank you.

Barack Obama's tax returns included tens of thousands of dollars in charitable contributions. A breakdown of who got the most of the candidate's cash, that's coming up.

And is John McCain breaking the rules? What some critics say is wrong with his campaign spending. We will tell you what's going on.

Plus, Barack Obama and President Bush -- get this -- are they related? Yes, related. That's what some researchers say. You are going to find out which candidates have the most presidential and royal connections -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Checking our Political Ticker today: the worlds of sports and politics set to collide this summer, the NFL season opener scheduled for September 4, the final night of the Republican National Convention. So, the NFL says it's in talks with NBC to start the game at 7:00 p.m., an hour-and-a-half earlier.

That would prevent a head-to-head clash between the home game of the Super Bowl champion, the New York Giants, and most likely John McCain's speech accepting the GOP nomination. That could be quite a conflict.

Now we want to take a closer look at the tax returns Barack Obama released yesterday, specifically, his donations to charity. Back in 2006, the senator's family had a total income of almost $1 million. They gave about 6 percent of that, some $60,000, to charity. More than a third of their total charitable contributions, more than $22,000, went to the Trinity United Church of Christ. That's Obama's longtime church, where the Reverend Jeremiah Wright was pastor until recently.

Fifteen thousand dollars, a fourth of the Obamas' charitable donations, went to the international relief organization CARE. And $5,000, or about 8 percent, went to the Chicago Dance Theater in Chicago, where his wife, Michelle, is a board member.

We are going to be examining Hillary Clinton and John McCain's tax records, how much charitable contributions they made, which charities received the money. That will be coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM once they release their tax returns.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can check out CNNPolitics.com.

A group of liberal bloggers is upset at John McCain, saying he spent way too much campaign cash. The bloggers have filed a complaint to the Federal Election Commission and are voicing their concern online.

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

Abbi, what are they saying?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, they say John McCain is breaking campaign finance law. McCain's campaign recently reported spending $58 million this cycle. That's a few million more than what's permitted for candidates who commit to public financing in the primaries. And a group of liberal bloggers, led by the sites Firedoglake and Daily Kos, have gone right to the Federal Election Commission to complain.

But is McCain bound by spending limits? His campaign had signed up for the guaranteed public money last year, but, in February, after cash started rolling in, the campaign sent a letter to the FEC withdrawing. If the McCain camp thinks that is settled, the FEC do not. Its chairman replied, that withdrawal request will have to be put to a vote, something the FEC can't do right now. Vacancies mean there aren't enough commissions -- commissioners -- sorry -- for a vote to go forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks for that -- Abbi Tatton.

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

CAFFERTY: Former Senator George McGovern, who is a Hillary Clinton supporter, says that it will be easier to elect a black man president than a woman. Is he right?

We get this from Dee in Montclair, New Jersey: "I don't agree with that at all. I think, because it's a Clinton, it's so, but another woman might not be the case. Personally, I think this is a small-minded, stupid comment. The American people vote for a person who they feel is qualified, not based on gender or race. People like McGovern have small minds."

Ron writes from Virginia: "Neither one has happened yet, Jack. Only time will tell, but Obama seems to be losing ground as Hillary gathers more supporters. One thing is for sure: The time of old white men running this country is about to change. McCain? Not a snowball's chance in San Antonio."

J. writes: "George McGovern is a classic bigot, who owes a lot of favors to Bill and Hillary Clinton from when the two of them campaigned for him years ago. McGovern is another Hillary Clinton surrogate injecting the race card, whispering buzzwords to white voters in this already vicious Clinton campaign. Please try and understand what these old coots are trying to do at this stage of this already. It's a lost cause, and they're trying to further hurt Obama's chance to win against McCain."

Amy writes from Woodstock, New York: "I am a woman. My answer to this is, it is easier to elect a man who is sincere and transparent than it is to elect a woman who is dishonest and not transparent. This is not about gender and race. It is about who we can trust in this election. The Clintons have proven they can not be trusted. There are no joint tax returns for the past six years. There is no accountability, nor transparency. We have had enough of this political game."

Ralph in Long Island says: "He's as correct on this as he was in making Tom Eagleton his first choice as vice president. In retrospect, not too shocking, really."

And Kathy in Georgia says: "I am more concerned that it is easier to elect someone with an I.Q. lower than their shoe size than I am about an African-American or about a woman" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

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