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THE SITUATION ROOM
Dems Work the Union Vote; McCain 'Fracturing' GOP: James Dobson's Slap From the Right; Dems to Bernanke: 'Help Main Street'
Aired April 2, 2008 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the Democrats work overtime for union support. Is it making a difference in Pennsylvania? One candidate there is claiming new gains in the next big primary battleground.
Also this hour, John McCain gets powerful new flak from the right. Christian conservative icon James Dobson accuses McCain of fracturing the Republican Party.
We'll have McCain's response and new details on his vice presidential search.
Plus, the shrinking economy. The Fed chairman sets off new alarm bells about the threat of recession. And he triggers some anger on Capitol Hill.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Barack Obama is telling voters today that in Pennsylvania he's the underdog, not Hillary Clinton. But there's new evidence that Clinton's advantage may be narrowing, less than three weeks before the Democrats' next mega battle.
Our Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley is in Philadelphia.
Candy, Obama made a new appeal for labor support today.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. You know, John, if you pick a day, any day on this campaign trail here in Pennsylvania, you will find both of these candidates, in some form or another, talking to working class voters.
CROWLEY (voice-over): In a state with more than 800,000 union votes, the AFL-CIO convention is a must and trade deals are the big deal.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I oppose and what I will always oppose are trade deals that put the interests of Wall Street ahead of the interests of American workers.
CROWLEY: There are shades of Ohio here, where Obama and Clinton went after each other's credentials in opposing the North American Free Trade deal, which big labor blamed for devastating its ranks.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Is labor in the house?
CROWLEY: Clinton, in her appearance yesterday before the AFL- CIO, got a boost from union bigwig Gerald McAntee (ph), who vouched for her consistent NAFTA opposition. The Obama campaign, in a conference call, says Hillary Clinton's White House schedule shows otherwise. It shows she attended NAFTA meetings as her husband's administration was pushing for passage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On supposedly speaking out against NAFTA, the American people deserve to know, what did she say and when did she say it?
CROWLEY: As Obama spoke in Philadelphia, his campaign touted the endorsement of Lee Hamilton, co-chair of the 9/11 Commission and former congressman from Indiana, which holds its primary contest in early May. And as he wraps up his six-day Pennsylvania bus tour, there are signs Obama got some mileage out of it.
A new Quinnipiac poll shows he's whittling away Hillary Clinton's once double-digit lead in the state, wrestling her down to a nine- point lead. He is closing the gap largely due to increased support among men and young voters.
Her lead in Pennsylvania is largely due to a 35 percent lead among white voters, as well as a sizeable lead among women. Clinton, also wrapping up a Pennsylvania tour, spent the morning at a roundtable.
CLINTON: You know, we hear so much about outsourcing. We all know what that is. It's when we lose jobs to other countries. And I want to put an end to that.
CROWLEY: By the end of this day, both of these candidates will be out of state. Obama heading for Illinois and Chicago, and later to Indiana. Hillary Clinton off to the West Coast to do some fundraising. But given how those polls are closing, you can bet, John, both of them will be back.
KING: You can bet.
Candy, stay with me just a second. I want you and our viewers to listen to something Senator Obama said today. He was asked about Al Gore, and would he perhaps put Al Gore in his administration, give him some sort of job to deal with global climate change, if Obama -- if Obama is elected president of the United States. So, let's listen to what Senator Obama said at town hall earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Al Gore will be at the -- at the table and play a central part in us figuring out how we solve this problem. He's somebody I talk to on a regular basis. You know, he's somebody that I talk to on a regular basis. I'm already consulting with him in terms of these issues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Some indication, Candy, cabinet level or higher? What's Obama talking about?
CROWLEY: Well, I think what you heard was a politic answer, not necessarily a realistic answer.
Look, Al Gore is a senior statesman in the Democratic Party, widely believed here to have been robbed of the 2000 election. Since losing that election, he's gotten an Oscar, he's gotten a Nobel Peace Prize, he has raised -- he has earned a lot of money.
So, frankly, whether Al Gore would take this would be really the question. And it's kind of one of those questions when you get in a town hall meeting, knowing how popular it is, you would have to say, well, sure, I'd consider him for, you know, any of these things, and you have to give a nod to someone that's so popular in the Democratic Party -- John.
KING: A smart politician, Barack Obama. We'll see if the reality of that plays out, or if there's an opportunity for the reality of that to play out.
Candy Crowley for us.
Thank you very much, Candy.
And to Candy's point there, no response from former Vice President Gore, but he has repeatedly noted in recent days, weeks and months he's having a nice time on the political sidelines.
And new evidence today that John McCain hasn't been able to patch all the cracks in Republican unity. Christian conservative leader James Dobson is accusing McCain of fracturing the party instead of bringing it together. This, as McCain makes a list of possible running mates and presses on with his biography tour.
Our Dana Bash traveled with Senator McCain to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
And Dana, so, is he getting sidetracked from his biography tour with all this message of, A, a running mate, and, B, criticism of the right?
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's no question, John, that when John McCain came here to the Naval Academy, he wanted to talk about his experience preparing to be a naval officer. But the news of the day definitely was his revelation that he has a list of contenders to join him on the Republican ticket.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BASH (voice-over): These are the images that were supposed to drive John McCain's message: a reminder of his service with a visit to the Naval Academy he graduated from 50 years ago, until he spilled the beans that he now has a list of names for his running mate. On his bus, he even gave a number.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's like 20, you know. But I can't talk to you too much about it, obviously.
BASH: But he did. Much to the chagrin of anxious aides who tried to interrupt.
MCCAIN: You put the list together and then you just do a cursory kind of a look at -- I guess you could do on Google, really, when you think about it nowadays.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it's a very, very early stage in the process.
BASH: McCain said he wanted to start vetting VP contenders now to avoid what he called unintended consequences like in 1988, when George H. W. Bush picked Dan Quayle, who faced questions about his National Guard service that surprised the campaign.
MCCAIN: Dan Quayle had not been briefed, you know, and prepared for, you know, some of the questions.
BASH: But as McCain plans ahead, a reminder of lingering trouble with some conservatives. Prominent conservative James Dobson released a harsh statement saying, "I have seen no evidence that Senator McCain is successfully unifying the Republican Party or drawing conservatives into his fold. To the contrary, he seems intent on driving them away."
McCain responded that polls show conservatives are behind him, but admitted he hasn't talked to Dobson, a frequent critic.
(on camera): Why not, you know, pick up the phone and call him and try to...
MCCAIN: If Dr. Dobson wanted to speak to me, I'd be more than -- I'd be glad to speak to him. I just feel that I -- I'm doing what is necessary to keep our party united and to win in November.
BASH: Now, Dobson reaches millions of conservative voters through his radio show and other publications. And that is a point that McCain conceded. But John McCain repeated over and over that he right now has the same amount of support among Republican voters that George W. Bush did as a candidate.
Privately, though, and this probably wouldn't surprise you, some of McCain's advisers do say that this could be helpful, this kind of rebuke from Dobson, because it could help them court the Independent voters that they desperately need for November -- John.
KING: A question going forward, Dana. But back to the vice presidential search, you had an opportunity to ask Senator McCain about the timing, when would he make his pick. What was the answer?
BASH: He said as early as possible. He said he really wants to get this going as soon as possible.
It's interesting he said that, but we know from some of his advisers that they actually want to wait until after the Democrats settle their ticket. Until whoever the nominee is picks their running mate. That was sort of an interesting answer.
The other thing, he wouldn't say on his bus today was who exactly is helping vet these candidates or contenders. We do know also that at least one person who has been tasked to do that is A.B. Colvahouse. He was Ronald Reagan's counsel back in the '80s.
We know that that is something that he is getting help with. And there was actually a funny moment, John, on his bus when somebody asked about who was on this list, this list of about 20 that he talked about. He laughed and said, "Well, I'm obviously not going to tell you, but you can imagine there are probably about 100 who think they're on the list" -- John.
KING: Probably about 100, maybe a little more. And I bet many of them will be parading through this room in the weeks ahead.
Dana Bash for us in Annapolis.
Dana, thank you very much.
And time now for someone who -- I doubt he's on Senator McCain's list, but I don't know if he'd want to be -- Jack Cafferty.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, I might be on one of his lists, but it's probably not the one for vice president.
CAFFERTY: Did you notice the flowers there in Dana's shot? Spring has come to Annapolis, Maryland. Little blossoms in the picture there.
KING: Spring is blooming here and it's probably making its way to New York.
CAFFERTY: Moving up the East Coast, and we're ready. We're ready here in New York and New Jersey for some springtime.
John, we've got just under three weeks to go now before the Pennsylvania primary. And that seems, of course, like an eternity in what has become this epic struggle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
History suggests that the more time Obama has to campaign somewhere, the better he does. And a new poll seems to bear this out.
Quinnipiac University poll shows that Clinton has a nine-point lead over Barack Obama in Pennsylvania, 50 to 41 percent. That's down from a 12-point lead she held over him two weeks ago.
Obama continues to rack up endorsements from some pretty key figures. Today, former Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton, co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, former chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Intelligence committees, endorsed Barack Obama. Hamilton's endorsement could carry some weight in his home state of Indiana, which has not voted yet, and could boost Obama's standing on national security.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton took a shot this morning from "New York Times" columnist Maureen Dowd. She described the former first lady as "tougher than Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad," and it wasn't meant as a compliment either.
Remember Clinton's argument that she's the only one able to win the big states? Well, it turns out that that's not quite true. She didn't win Texas on March 4th. Although she won the primary, she lost the caucuses. And Barack Obama actually walked out of Texas the winner, collecting more delegates than Senator Clinton, 99 to 94.
So, here's the question. Is the long stretch of time before the Pennsylvania primary to Hillary Clinton's advantage or disadvantage?
Go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog -- John.
KING: Look forward to it. We'll see you in a little bit, Jack.
New words of warning from the Federal Reserve chairman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN BERNANKE, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: A recession is possible. I'm not yet ready to say whether or not the U.S. economy will face such a situation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Recession fears surface on Capitol Hill, and some lawmakers point angry fingers.
Also ahead, Howard Dean as deal maker. Can the Democratic chairman come up with a plan to solve his party's Florida problem?
We'll tell you what he's saying today.
And President Bush goes to his last NATO summit, still dealing with persistent challenges to his presidency.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: Stark and sobering warnings today on where the already battered U.S. economy could be headed next. Appearing before lawmakers, the Fed chief, Ben Bernanke, suggested Americans should brace themselves for more job losses, that the economy may shrink very soon, and that recession is possible.
CNN Senior Correspondent Allan Chernoff joins me now.
Allan, at this hearing, Bernanke also was asked whether the government should be helping Wall Street or Main Street.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SR. CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, the government has been helping Wall Street with our taxpayer money. But the Fed chairman said he came to the rescue of Bear Stearns last month because he was trying to protect the economy, which he concedes is in shaky condition.
CHERNOFF (voice-over): It's as grim as the nation's central banker has been on the economy, predicting unemployment will rise and conceding we may be facing a recession.
BERNANKE: Recession is possible, but a recession is a technical term defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research depending on data which will be available quite a while from now. So I'm not yet ready to say whether or not the U.S. economy will face such a situation.
CHERNOFF: The congressmen listening told Bernanke of economic misery facing their constituents, leading to a harsh question that dominated the hearing -- is the Federal Reserve rescuing Wall Street fat cats while ignoring struggling homeowners facing foreclosure?
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: What is the justice of helping Bear Stearns and not millions of homeowners?
CHERNOFF: Bernanke, a scholar on the Great Depression, said economic risk is exactly why he used taxpayer money last month to rescue investment firm Bear Stearns.
BERNANKE: What we did, always in my mind, was what was the best thing for the American public? We did what we did because we felt it was necessary to preserve the integrity and viability of the American financial system which, in turn, is critical for the health of the economy.
CHERNOFF: The Fed put $29 billion of taxpayer money on the line in the Bear Stearns rescue. It has put out another $200 billion to provide discount loans to Wall Street firms to grease their lending machinery. Those investments, Bernanke said, are making mortgages cheaper and more available.
BERNANKE: Everything we do is an attempt to try to improve the welfare of the average American. CHERNOFF: Beyond lowering interest rates and thawing the credit freeze, Bernanke said it's up to Congress to help struggling homeowners.
BERNANKE: There are areas I think where Congress could be helpful in the housing front.
CHERNOFF: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says an agreement in principle has been reached that could aid more than a million families facing foreclosure. It would provide billions to help homeowners refinance mortgages and shift from risky, adjustable rate loans to predictable, fixed rate mortgages.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: This is a crisis that we have. The only way it's going to be solved is working together.
CHERNOFF: It is a broad package of both mortgage and tax relief hammered out this afternoon by leaders of the Senate Finance Committee that would offer help not only to struggling homeowners, but to homebuyers and homebuilders as well -- John.
KING: Allan Chernoff for us on the economy, an important issue.
Allan, thank you very much.
And Bernanke's public warnings are worrisome for homeowners struggling with a private crisis -- possibly losing their homes. The Mortgage Bankers Association says of the 46 million home loans out there, more than 930,000 are in foreclosure right now. The vast majority of mortgages belong to prime loan borrows, and only a fraction of them face losing their homes.
Far more subprime loans are in foreclosure, almost 9 percent of the 5.8 million of them.
There's a mystery surrounding an airline investigation. We'll tell you what we're learning about that investigation and the reason for it.
And it's the time of year when a watchdog group sinks its teeth into political pork.
Stay with us, because we'll share some of the most astounding examples.
KING: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, one prominent conservative says John McCain is driving conservatives away. Given their presidential options, will they vote for him anyway? If not, can McCain win without them? Also, Barack Obama bowling, petting cows, and drinking beer in a car. Is this what he likes to do in his free time, or is it designed to making working class white men feel he understands them?
And if your congressman did it, would you be outraged? On his way out of Congress, one lawmaker lands a job with a lobbying firm. Now some are shocked at potential conflict of interest.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean says the party is committed to seating Florida's delegates at this summer's convention. Dean met with Florida lawmakers today to discuss ways to possibly make that happen. On this sensitive subject though, the devil is in the details.
Our Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider is here.
Bill, are they actually seeing any progress in resolving this dispute? And it's not only over Florida, over Michigan too.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the national party is stepping in, but it's not clear how much the party can do.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Can anyone step in and broker a deal between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama? Former President Clinton is hardly neutral. Al Gore, he told CBS' "60 Minutes..."
AL GORE (D), FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I'm not applying for the job of broker.
SCHNEIDER: That's leaves party chairman Howard Dean, who's under enormous pressure to do something. On Wednesday, Dean met with Florida's Democratic congressional delegation and announced...
HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: We believe we will absolutely seat the delegations in Florida at the convention.
SCHNEIDER: So, is there a deal? Well, not quite. Dean did make one big announcement.
DEAN: Hotel rooms are reserved for a delegation in Florida.
SCHNEIDER: Well, that's something. The fact is, there are no party bosses anymore. Nobody can tell the candidates what to do.
Dean did lay down one marker.
DEAN: There's no reason that we shouldn't know who our nominee is by the first of July.
SCHNEIDER: But Hillary Clinton has said she intends to fight all the way to the convention. The fact is, no one can broker a deal except the candidates themselves, as Chairman Dean has acknowledged.
DEAN: And the best option is whatever we can get the candidates to agree with.
SCHNEIDER: We know what a Florida deal has to look like. The delegates would be seated, but their votes would not determine who wins the nomination.
Now for the hard part.
DEAN: First of all, I think the delegates are eventually going to be seated in Florida and Michigan, as soon as we get an agreement between the candidates as to how to do that.
SCHNEIDER: In 1988, Michael Dukakis and Jesse Jackson made a deal over campaign resources. In 1984, Walter Mondale and Gary Hart made a deal over party rules. And in 1980, Ronald Reagan and George Bush went on the ticket together, as John Kerry and John Edwards did in 2004.
The point is, the candidates have to do it themselves -- John.
KING: Good luck with that.
Bill Schneider with the latest on that.
Bill, thanks very much.
A striking admission today about the strain on the U.S. military. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters that the Pentagon cannot send needed reinforcements to Afghanistan this year. The reason? Too many U.S. troops tied down in Iraq.
Let's bring in our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.
Jamie, what does this tell us not only about the operation in Afghanistan, but the prospects for any short-term troop cuts in Iraq?
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's really the interesting part, John.
Of course, it's no news that the U.S. would like to see more U.S. -- more troops in Afghanistan. That's one of the reasons President Bush is pushing so hard for that at the NATO summit.
Today, the top adviser to the president and to the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs chairman, admitted that the U.S. simply doesn't have the extra troops to send to Afghanistan, not now, and not probably any time this year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN, JOINTS CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: There are force requirements there that we can't currently meet. So, having forces in Iraq don't -- at the level they're at, don't allow us to fill the need that we have in Afghanistan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCINTYRE: And the interesting ramification for Iraq here is that, if the U.S. military were able to accomplish significant troop reductions in the second half of this year, after the surge is scheduled to end in July, it would, in theory, have some troops that would be available to go to Afghanistan that would have otherwise had to go to Iraq.
But because the U.S. isn't willing to make that commitment now and because General David Petraeus is being very cautious about the troop levels he's going to need, Admiral Mullen doesn't see any prospect for that happening.
And, again, we will get more when General Petraeus testifies before Congress next week. But right now don't look for any dramatic announcements about additional troop withdrawals -- John.
KING: That's a remarkable and telling admission there from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs today.
Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon -- Jamie, thank you very much.
And, as Jamie noted, President Bush is pushing NATO to send more troops into Afghanistan. And today, he says he's confident the alliance will do that. The United States is the biggest contributor of troops in Afghanistan, but President Bush says it's vital for others to increase the numbers of the NATO-led force.
CNN White House correspondent Elaine Quijano is following the president ahead of a major NATO summit.
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His last NATO summit, and President Bush is tackling the foreign policy issues that have dominated his presidency -- Iraq.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By defeating the enemy in Iraq, we will show people across the Middle East that millions share their revulsion of terrorists' hateful ideology.
QUIJANO: The resurgent Taliban.
BUSH: Afghanistan still faces many challenges.
QUIJANO: Russia's opposition to NATO expansion and a missile defense system.
BUSH: The Cold War is over. Russia is not our enemy.
QUIJANO: In a speech to local political and business leaders in Romania, the president outlined the arguments he's making to leaders of the 25 other NATO countries, as well as to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is wary of the West's intentions in his backyard. BUSH: The need for missile defense in Europe is real, and in my opinion, it is urgent.
QUIJANO: Later, at a news conference with Romania's president, Mr. Bush again prodded NATO allies to send more troops to Afghanistan, but acknowledged the political reality that, in Europe, public support for the Afghanistan conflict is low.
BUSH: We fully understand the politics that prohibit some nations from contributing. But nations need to take this mission seriously, because it's in our mutual interests.
QUIJANO: But Julianne Smith, a Europe analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says NATO members are anxious to move beyond the troubles they had with the Bush administration.
JULIANNE SMITH, EUROPE PROGRAM DIRECTOR AND SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think there's no denying that the leaders of other NATO member states right now are very much looking forward to 2009 and starting to try and set an agenda for the next U.S. president.
QUIJANO (on camera): And in yet another sign of the importance of U.S.-Russia relations, President Bush will now be meeting with Russia's president-elect, Dmitry Medvedev, on Sunday. The White House says the meeting is in addition to previously scheduled talks in Russia with outgoing President Vladimir Putin.
Elaine Quijano, CNN, travelling with the president in Bucharest, Romania.
KING: A new expose of political pork is embarrassing some lawmakers. We will tell you if any of the presidential candidates are the targets of a new shame campaign.
And will John McCain's age influence his choice of a running mate? We will consider his options.
Plus, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama on Rocky Balboa -- how the candidates are using the movie to play the underdog card.
KING: A watchdog group is accusing dozens of lawmakers of spending like pigs. The annual report on pork barrel spending is always eye-opening, perhaps even more so in this big election year.
CNN's Kate Bolduan joins us. Kate, what is the bottom line?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, John.
Well, you can call them pet projects; you can call them earmarks. But one Washington group says they all add up to billions of dollars in pork. And some of them are award winners.
BOLDUAN (voice-over): Almost $200,000 to the Lobster Institute, that wins the taxpayers get steamed award. More than $200,000 for olive fruit fly research in France, that gets the French kiss-off award.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, it's business as usual, unfortunately.
BOLDUAN: Awards for the some of the egregious examples of pork in the 2008 Pig Book, an annual survey by the watchdog and lobbying group Citizens Against Government Waste. It tracks earmarks, federal dollars members of Congress spent on pet projects.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last year, at this time, we had a tiny little 12 page Pig Book summery. We were hopeful that it might be either the same size or smaller in 2008. So our Pig Book summary this year is 56 pages.
BOLDUAN: In 2008, lawmakers steered $17.2 billion to more than 11,000 pet projects, making the total since 1991 at $271 billion. The watchdog group says both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of earmarking.
Republican Senator Jim DeMint says shame campaigns like the Pig Book may be the most effective way to discourage earmark spending. Recent vote to ban earmarks next year failed.
SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: As long as this book is this thick, the American people are not going to trust us to make the big decisions for our future.
BOLDUAN: While all three presidential candidates support temporarily banning earmarks, only John McCain can make the campaign claim that he has consistently rejected them.
The Pig Book points out that Senator Obama directed $97 million to home state projects this year, Senator Clinton $296 million. The watchdog group says the Pig Book exposes wasteful spending. But many lawmakers defend their projects as worthwhile.
House Democrat James Clyburn tacked $3 million for a youth golf program to the defense spending bill.
REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: It's a character- building program that seems to be working well for low-income kids.
BOLDUAN: Now, the watchdog group acknowledges that the earmark process isn't as secretive as it used to be. New rules require lawmakers to disclose earmark requests. But the watchdog group says much more reform is needed before they can put the Pig Book to rest -- John.
KING: Put the Pig Book to rest.
KING: Kate Bolduan on Capitol Hill -- Kate, thanks very much for that.
KING: Now, let's put all that pork into context.
The $17.2 billion worth of pet projects in 2008 amounts to just one-half of 1 percent of federal spending. That's compared to more than 9 percent that goes to paying interest, more than 19 percent spent on national defense, and a whopping 37.2 percent spent on Social Security and Medicare.
In the "Strategy Session": Senator McCain confirms the search for his running mate is under way.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I just think you have to have a measured process, make sure that you have taken every -- all the factors in consideration, and then decide. But we are in the earliest stages.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: But just how much of a difference does the vice presidential candidate actually make?
And another Democratic luminary jumps on the Obama train. Is Lee Hamilton's endorsement another sign the party is ready to move past the Clinton years?
Donna Brazile and John Feehery standing by -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
KING: It's a who's-who of public officials, Republicans, mostly, we assume, that's now apparently top secret, about 20 names on John McCain's list of potential running mates.
Senator McCain says he's considering this process very carefully. But how much will it really matter who he picks? ?
Here for today's "Strategy Session," CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist John Feehery.
John, let me start with you on this one, as the Republican in the room.
One of the examples Senator McCain cites in saying he wants to move this process quickly and do a very thorough vetting is the Dan Quayle selection back in 1988. Now, everyone thought, from a public relations standpoint, that was a disaster. But I would remind you, George H.W. Bush went on to win 40 states. So, it didn't exactly blow the election.
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, it's a good point. But I do think it matters who the vice president is.
I think it helps you with -- the chemistry is important. When John Kerry was running with John Edwards, the chemistry was all wrong. Edwards was kind of running for himself. Jack Kemp, Bob Dole, the chemistry was all wrong. Chemistry does matter in a campaign. It's not just -- geography is also important. With Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, it mattered.
But getting the right vice president says a lot -- a vice presidential candidate says a lot about who the president is going to be. And I think it really matters a lot.
KING: I assume you agree with that theory. If so -- you're a Democrat, but looking at John McCain, who's the chemistry?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's a number of people.
I think he's looking for someone that could help him on some of the major issues. He knows a lot about foreign policy. He's probably looking for somebody who knows a great deal about domestic policy, especially the economy. He knows his own limitations in terms of building a conservative base. Perhaps he's looking for someone that can give him some real conservative credentials.
So, I'm sure that, when he looks at his recipe for success, he's looking at a number of people who can bring up the right ingredients to try to stir up the Republican base.
KING: Does it matter more because he is 71 years old? He would be the oldest man to ever assume the Oval Office. Now, people live much longer nowadays. He's in very good health, by all accounts. And he's obviously very robust on the trail, but does it matter...
BRAZILE: I notice you keep talking about John McCain's age. I told you I was a little sensitive to that the other day because all of us want to live as long as John McCain.
And, of course, Roberta McCain. So, I want to know what his secret is. But I think age is a factor. But more than age, you're tapping the person with the right experience to help him do the job as president, if he's elected.
FEEHERY: I think McCain is going to pick someone he feels extraordinary comfortable with. I just think, the way John McCain is, I think he's going to pick someone who he likes, who he can campaign with, who he trusts.
I don't think it's just going to be someone who will appeal to the right-wing place. I think it's going to be a wide variety of people, Charlie Crist, Rob Portman. Even Joe Lieberman is a possibility. You have got a big talent pool there and a lot of people that he might think about.
KING: Well, let's follow on that theme in the sense of not who he picks as a person, but who he picks as a profile, if you will, because in the news today -- and obviously a factor in picking a vice president, it's a political choice, fresh public criticism from Dr. James Dobson, who runs Focus on the Family out in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a prominent voice, if you listen to Christian radio.
His magazines go to millions of families, Democrats and Republicans, around the country.
John, you used to work on Capitol Hill in some of the most sensitive jobs up there. How much of a player is he? Does James Dobson call up and say stop the trains? Does he have that much power in the Republican Party?
FEEHERY: January 15, 2007, Dobson said, I wouldn't vote for John McCain under any circumstances. He said the same thing on Super Tuesday. He said it three more times.
I don't think he's a factor at all. I think, if you look at John McCain, he's pro-life. He's very much of a war hero. He's good on taxes. And I think that Dr. Dobson is something that I think he wants to be relevant, and I don't think he's going to be relevant.
BRAZILE: And I think Senator McCain is on his bio tour. I still believe he needs to be on the healing tour, healing the rifts within the Republican Party, because they want a true conservative.
Look, liberals and progressives would like to see a true progressive in the White House. I'm sure what Mr. Dobson and others are saying is that they want John McCain to come to their altar and explain his views on issues like stem cell research and of course immigration and others that still give conservatives a little bit of discomfort around John McCain.
KING: Well, Dana Bash put the question to Senator McCain today: Why don't you pick up the phone? Just call him. See if you can resolve this. Maybe you can't. But why don't you call him?
And McCain's answer -- and, as we know, McCain has a bit of a stubborn streak -- says, if he wants to call me, I would be happy to talk to him.
So, he isn't going to initiate the outreach here.
FEEHERY: Listen, how you win presidential campaigns is, after you win the primary, you move to the middle. And that's what John McCain is going to do.
He's no going to move to the right. He doesn't have to do that. He's already got primary. He's going to move to the middle. He's going to appeal to the largest section of voters. He's going to try to get the independents and the Reagan Democrats. I think what is going to happen is, conservatives are going to vote for him and they're going to vote against whoever the Democratic nominee is. BRAZILE: Well, you assume when you pivot to the middle, that you have your base. But if your base is not with you and it's not -- they're not jelling, then John McCain will have a problem appealing to the middle when his base may be fragmented.
KING: Let's switch to your party.
Lee Hamilton, former congressman, very well-accomplished, respected member on foreign policy issues, co-chairman on the 9/11 Commission, a voice certainly well-known in Washington and familiar to many people around the country because of the 9/11 Commission role, endorses Barack Obama today.
We always say, endorsements are overblown in terms of their value. Does this one matter more than most in the sense that one of the chief criticisms of Senator Clinton with the 3:00 a.m. phone call ad and everything else is that the kid, Obama, isn't ready to be commander in chief?
BRAZILE: Well, there's no question. I think every endorsement at this moment matters to Senator Obama and Senator Clinton because she's still out gaining endorsements.
Lee Hamilton is a very well-respected foreign policy expert. And I'm sure he will lend a great deal of credibility to Senator Obama. But the endorsement that I thought was important was the endorsement of the governor of Wyoming, Dave Freudenthal. He's a superdelegate. He was a Clinton appointee, former U.S. attorney. He also endorsed, becoming the second Western governor to now tip his hat to Barack Obama.
FEEHERY: If you're Hillary Clinton, this is one of these things that just kind of got to drive you completely crazy.
This gives Obama a lot of that foreign credibility -- foreign policy credibility that he really needs. I think, for Hillary Clinton, this kind of stuff has got to drive her crazy.
I don't see any way that Hillary Clinton gets the nomination the way things are going right now.
BRAZILE: Senator Clinton still has her joy. I don't think this will drive her crazy. I think what is driving her...
KING: Has her joy?
BRAZILE: Well, joy is very important, just like sex appeal when you're old.
BRAZILE: And I think she has her joy and she's still doing an incredible job. She's heavily favored to win in Pennsylvania. Barack Obama is still the underdog, despite the Rocky theme we heard yesterday.
KING: Despite the Rocky theme we heard. We're almost out of time.
But, John, does the margin in Pennsylvania matter? Or, if Senator Clinton wins, does she have a fresh start?
FEEHERY: She's got to win big in Pennsylvania to have a fresh start. I think if it's very close -- I have seen some polls where it's getting much tighter. If it's barely a victory, A, she gets no delegates out of that, really, and she gets no bump out of that.
When people think -- the expectations game has already been played on this. If she doesn't win big in Pennsylvania, it's curtains for Hillary Clinton.
BRAZILE: Steady, steady, steady. She has to win. It doesn't have to be that big. But what she needs is to show that she's still in the game and she has another big state behind her.
KING: If I don't move on, we are going to use the joy in the room, not just this room, the control room.
KING: So, we're going to move on.
Donna Brazile, John Feehery, thank you very much for coming in today.
And you may not realize it, but there are some questions over whether or not John McCain is even eligible to run for president under the Constitution. We will explain what those questions are and what the legal experts say.
On his way out of Congress, one lawmaker lands a job with a lobbying firm. No big deal or reason for outrage over a potential conflict of interests?
KING: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots" coming in this hour from our friends at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your newspaper tomorrow.
In India, a Hindu man prays before taking a holy dip in the river Ganges.
In Afghanistan, an Italian medic with the International Security Assistance Force examines a man at a free clinic.
In Zimbabwe, a man waits for customers to make telephone calls at -- get this -- a cost of $2 million Zimbabwe dollars per minute. But, with the country's inflation rate at more than 100,000 percent, that call will cost eight U.S. cents.
And in Australia, a New Zealand fur seal looks through the glass of a new exhibit at the Sydney zoo.
Those are this hour's "Hot Shots" -- pictures worth 1,000 words.
And checking our Political Ticker this day, there's a new debate offer on the table for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Indiana television stations and newspapers are inviting the Democrats to face off ahead of the states' May 6 primary. The debate would air live nationally here on CNN and on public television and on commercial broadcast stations across Indiana.
One possible date, April 24. That's two days after the Pennsylvania primary. No response yet, though, from the Obama or the Clinton camps.
Another question and answer today about John McCain's eligibility for the presidency, as an American born outside the continental United States.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy asked Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I believe -- and we have had some question in this committee to have a special law passed declaring that Senator McCain was born in the Panama Canal, that he meets the constitutional requirement to be president.
I fully believe he does. I have never had any question in my mind that he meets our constitutional requirement. You're a former federal judge. You're the head of the agency that executes federal immigration law. Do you have any doubt in your mind? I have none in mine. Do you have any doubt in your mind that he's constitutionally eligible to become president?
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: My assumption and my understanding is that if you were born of American parents, you are a natural born American citizen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: So, what is all this about? Well, McCain was born on the U.S. Naval base in 1936 when the Panama Canal Zone was a U.S. territory. Both his parents were American citizens. The Constitution says, without elaboration, that only -- quote -- "natural-born citizens" can hold the presidency.
A bipartisan pair of legal experts recently concluded that McCain is indeed qualified, citing the original meaning of the Constitution, the framers' intentions, and subsequent legal and historical precedents. Barack Obama still sounds a little miffed by his poor performance at a bowling alley in Pennsylvania over the weekend. And if he's president, well, he apparently plans to make sure he doesn't suffer such an embarrassment in the White House. Bowling fans, it might hurt. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I played basketball with Bob Casey.
OBAMA: And I went bowling.
OBAMA: And my poll numbers dropped a little bit after the bowling, but...
OBAMA: ... which is why I'm going to tear up the bowling alley in the White House. We're putting up a basketball court.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: Maybe I should leave it in there and get a little practice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: A little practice.
And, finally, Frankenstein under attack in Wisconsin. Voters in that state easily approved a state constitutional amendment yesterday limiting what critics call the Frankenstein veto. It's called that because Wisconsin's governor had the power to cross out unrelated words and numbers, leaving legislation that was stitched together -- a nightmare version of what the lawmakers had intended.
The amendment will go into effect and the Frankenstein veto will die once the election results are certified.
And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, Frankenstein amendment or not, check out CNNPolitics.com.
And Jack joins us now again with "The Cafferty File."
CAFFERTY: They have really long winters up there, don't they?
CAFFERTY: Places like Wisconsin and Minnesota.
You know, apparently, Barack Obama is pretty handy on the basketball court. But he was -- I have never seen anything quite so pathetic as that -- as that effort that he made to roll a ball down a three-foot-wide piece of hardwood. I mean, I -- you could have done better than that.
KING: I bet I could. You a bowler?
CAFFERTY: I know you could.
KING: Are you a bowler?
CAFFERTY: But you knew that.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour, is the long stretch of time before the Pennsylvania primary to Hillary Clinton's advantage or her disadvantage?
Jay in Phoenix says: "Disadvantage. Clinton wins points with her policies and her name recognition. She loses points with her personality flaws and campaign practices. As time passes, her negatives show up more and more and eventually overshadow her positives. A long wait before the vote is not in her favor."
Nancy in Tennessee says: "You know, Jack, every question you phrase sounds anti-Hillary. Give the woman a break. She has got good ideas about what to do for the mess that this country is in. Time is on her side. The longer until the election, the more of her ideas she can put out there."
James in North Carolina says: "Clinton's biggest threat is herself. If she continues to misspeak, like she has, she will drive people away, regardless of Obama's campaigning."
Warren in Pennsylvania: "Hillary has a friend in Pennsylvania, millions of them, including time. Obama, on the other hand, would like the race to end yesterday, so voters don't have the time to discover that his policies are as good as his bowling scores."
CAFFERTY: Ryan in Illinois writes: "I think time works for Obama, as the Reverend Wright story finally abates and voters in Pennsylvania get more important information. The more time he spends in a state, the better he fares."
And Andrea in Omaha, says: "If Hillary can avoid those snipers, she can win Pennsylvania, but not by as big a margin as she thought" -- John.
KING: Not by as big a margin as she thought. Interesting...
CAFFERTY: Got to watch out for those snipers.
KING: We will see you a bit later. Thanks, Jack.
CAFFERTY: You know, let me ask you something. Was Dana in Pensacola, Florida, earlier, or Annapolis? Because a viewer wrote in and said I had it wrong when I said she was in Annapolis.
KING: She was in Annapolis. McCain went on to Pensacola, Florida. She didn't make that part of the trip. But she will catch up to him in Jacksonville.
CAFFERTY: So, she was in Annapolis. So, the viewer that wrote with the highly critical letter was wrong, right?
CAFFERTY: And I was right.
CAFFERTY: As I usually am, I should point out.
KING: Don't criticize the viewers.
CAFFERTY: That's -- no, no, no, just this one.
KING: See you later, Jack.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: Both Democrats claim to be the underdog.
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