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Pope Benedict Addresses Americans of All Faiths at Catholic University; Did Democratic Debate do Any Damage?; President Bush & Gordon Brown Discuss War, Economy and Politics

Aired April 17, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Don.
Happening now, we're live here at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. This is the next stop for Pope Benedict XVI here in the nation's capital. He's reaching out to people of other faiths today as well after celebrating mass in a packed ballpark earlier in the day.

Also this hour, pushing and shoving in Pennsylvania. Have Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama done any new damage to one another five days before a crucial primary? I'll speak live this hour with the Democratic Party Chairman, Howard Dean.

And will congress put the credit card industry on notice to clean up its act? Big piles of consumer debt hang in the balance.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the Catholic University of America. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Pope Benedict XVI is touching tens of thousands more people right here in the nation's capital today. Inspiring the faithful and many who aren't Catholic. We're here to experience it all firsthand. The pope is heading here to Catholic University for a final round of meetings and public events before he leaves for New York City tomorrow.

Our Brian Todd is also here on the campus. He's standing by as we prepare to bring you extensive live coverage.

Later this hour I'll briefly turn over the reins to John King while I have the enormous privilege of actually meeting with the pontiff here on the campus. Then I'll be back and I'll tell you all about that.

But first the pope takes center field, literally, for a high drama mass.

Here's CNN's Ed Henry -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this new baseball cathedral became a church today for two hours with a massive alter out there in center field, for the pope to deliver his message.


HENRY (voice-over): In his first three years as pontiff, Pope Benedict has been shy about his public role.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy Father, welcome to Washington.

HENRY: But the pope reticent no more. He reveled in the crowd of 46,000 who came to see him celebrate Catholic mass at Nationals Park.

POPE BENEDICT XVI: My visit to the United States is meant to be a witness to Christ, our hope, Americans have always been a people of hope.

HENRY: An electric scene before mass when he raced around the ballpark in the pope mobile. People screaming as they got a glimpse. The most dramatic moment though came when the pope acknowledged the horror of the church's sexual abuse scandal in America, urging the parishioners to protect children and pray for healing.

POPE BENEDICT XVI: No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse. It is important that those who have suffered be given loving, personal attention.

HENRY: Some predicted the pope might gloss over the crisis. But this is now the third time in three days the pontiff has addressed it head on.

JIM NICHOLSON, FORMER U.S. AMB. TO VATICAN: You can't avoid talking about that. It's a serious wound to the church and the leaders of the church need to address it in a real forward transparent matter and he is doing that.

HENRY: Noting the sharp rise of Hispanics in the church, he delivered part of his homily in Spanish. All part of this pope's version of a charm offensive, prominent Catholics like baseball star Mike Piazza noticing a transformation in a man known for his academic background.

MIKE PIAZZA, BASEBALL PLAYER: He's letting go, he's becoming more relaxed and enjoying the interaction with people.

HENRY: That new approach on full display, whether it was a baby or a famous tenor, like Placido Domingo.


HENRY: So the pope heads to New York on Friday after accomplishing two goals here in D.C. Introducing himself to the American people, and starting to turn the page on an awful chapter in church history -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry reporting for us from the new stadium here in Washington, the Washington Nationals Park. Thank you very much Ed for that.

I want to go to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton, she's monitoring all of the i-Reports being sent in to THE SITUATION ROOM involving the pope's visit right here in Washington. Abbi, what are we seeing?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, we're looking at i-, this is our Web site well all these images are coming in. And you're going to see the pope's visit from all kinds of different perspectives. Looking here at images from Andrew Friedman who taped the pope mobile as it went past yesterday Washington Circle, he said there were thousands of people there who were slow to disperse after the pope passed by.

He said some people were singing or screaming "Viva Pope," but overall it was a very dignified presence there yesterday. Then we've got pictures here, 110 kids from the Annunciation School here in Washington who went yesterday to sing happy birthday to the pope and were absolutely floored, said Matt Harmon who took this photo, when the pope came over to the barricade to talk to them.

What we've done today at Nationals Stadium where 46,000 people were gathered to hear that mass, we set up a mobile kiosk for i-Report where people can share their own perspectives, their reasons for going there, even if they didn't have a ticket. Go to, you'll be able to listen in to some of those people who were there this morning -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi thanks very much for that. Abbi Tatton reporting, our Internet reporter.

Let's go more of the flavor here at Catholic University right now as we await the pope's arrival. He's going to be coming over here from downtown Washington pretty soon. Brian Todd has been here all day watching what's going on.

Looks like a pretty enthusiastic campus right now Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is Wolf -- a very celebratory atmosphere. These are pilgrims from all over the U.S. doing some singing, chanting, dancing and they've been here for hours. They were first up near the entrance of the basilica and then they had to move here because of the security cordon. The pope mobile is going to come right kind of basically between us and the basilica here right next to the crowd.

So they've been celebrating all day. It's a great atmosphere here. He's going to meet in less than an hour and a half we think with the catholic educators. So that's going to be a very pointed meeting, some serious issues there. Then a meeting that everybody is watching out for, his meeting with leaders of other faiths.

BLITZER: You've actually had a chance to speak to a lot of these people who are here. They just want to get a glimpse of the pontiff. Is that right?

TODD: It really is. We just talked to a family from Dallas, they drove here 24 hours to get here. They're very excited. Again, just a glimpse. Some of them got it yesterday when he came up the stairs and just waved. And that's all they really wanted. It was just kind of that up close, personal glimpse of him. They're not going to get close enough to touch him obviously, but they're here just to see it in person.

BLITZER: The pope is going to be delivering two separate speeches while he's here. The first one?

TODD: The first one is to educators. That's a little bit of a bone of contention because there's some --

BLITZER: Catholic University educators from all over the country?

TODD: That's right. These are Catholic affiliated colleges and some more conservative wings of the church feel that some of those colleges are becoming too secular. Kind of moving the way of Harvard and Yale. Colleges that once had a religious identity but moved away from it. That's going to be kind of a bone of contention. After that's it's the meeting with interfaith leaders which we've talked about a lot.

BLITZER: A meeting with Jewish and Hindu and Muslim and other leaders as well.

TODD: Correct.

BLITZER: We'll be carrying all of that live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much Brian for that. Brian's watching this story for us.

I want to take a look at some of the hot shots coming in from the associated press. Pictures from today's mass over at the new Washington Nationals ballpark, Nationals Park. A pastor from South Bend, Indiana, rides a packed subway train on his way to the stadium.

A nun from Little Sisters of the Poor shows fellow nuns how to use their cell phones. They were among the first to arrive before the 10:00 a.m. mass.

A 4-year-old from Maryland sleeps on her mother's shoulder during the mass. Pope Benedict is all smiles at the conclusion of the mass. He'll celebrate another mass Sunday at Yankee Stadium. Some of this hour's hot shots, pictures worth a thousand words.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty, he's got "The Cafferty File." He's joining us from New York as he always does -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: So give us a little flavor, Wolf, behind the scenes. How did you finagle an invitation to meet the pope?

BLITZER: This is really exciting for me personally Jack. A couple years ago I was honored to give the commencement address here at Catholic University. They gave me an honorary degree and over the year's I've done, participated in several events here.

I feel very close to this university. And Father David O'Connell, the president of the university a few weeks ago said if I'd like to come over and meet the pope while he's here it would be fine with him, it would be fine with the university. Certainly I responded immediately it would be very fine with me as well.

CAFFERTY: It would be very fine with you too.

BLITZER: At one point I'm going to be disappearing from here. John King is in THE SITUATION ROOM. He'll be taking over. I'll walk over to where the pope is after he arrives on campus. Together with a small group I'll have a chance to shake his hand and say hello and welcome him to the United States.

Then I'll come back and I'll tell you and all of our viewers exactly what it was like. But I've got to tell you, I've covered a lot of events over the years and I've been blessed over these many years. This is really a thrilling event for me and for anyone who has a chance to actually get up close and personal with the pontiff.

CAFFERTY: Absolutely. Are you nervous?

BLITZER: I'm a little nervous. Because, you know, I'm not exactly sure that the president of the university, Father O'Connell, was showing me the protocol, what I had to do and not do. How often do you get to meet the pope? Not every day. It's a pretty nerve-racking thing but I'll try not to embarrass you, Jack.

CAFFERTY: We're not worried about that. Have you ever met a pope before? Is this the first time?

BLITZER: I was in Denver when Pope John Paul II was there. I was the White House correspondent. I had a chance not to meet him, but to see him. I wasn't too far away. I was a pool reporter at one of the events that President Clinton was there with him in Denver. I had a chance to see Pope John Paul II but it wasn't like this where I'll actually have a chance to shake Benedict's hand.

CAFFERTY: Not to get too weird, but there is an aura around the person who holds that position. It's electrifying to be in the presence. I saw Pope John Paul II when he was here in New York as well. I didn't get a chance to meet him. That is really exciting. I'm sure the people watching are looking forward to your reflections and recollections of the experience. Just enjoy it. I mean, that's really something to be asked to do that.

BLITZER: Yes. I'm privileged and I'm honored and I feel blessed.

CAFFERTY: Well yes, you should be. We've got a political campaign that continues to drag on while the excitement of the pope's visit kind of overshadows this thing. Let me just remind you that we've got coming up three primaries that could end this thing. The polls are not trending in Hillary Clinton's favor either.

In Pennsylvania, which votes Tuesday, Clinton's double digit lead has been shrinking now for weeks. An average of the polls in Pennsylvania shows her only ahead by five points. In a state that the experts agree she must win convincingly if she hopes to reignite her campaign. In Indiana Obama has now actually taken the lead, he's ahead there by five points. In a "Los Angeles Times" Bloomberg poll -- in North Carolina the same poll shows Obama even further ahead, he's leading in North Carolina by 13 points.

Almost everyone except Hillary Clinton agrees that if this is the way these three states vote, the fat lady will be positively deafening. But there's a fly in the ointment. Despite 15 months of campaign, dozens of primaries, caucuses already held, 21 debates, and that thing last night, by the way, was a turkey. News stories too numerous to mention.

A lot of Democrats in both North Carolina and Indiana say they still don't know who they're going to vote for. How is that possible? In North Carolina the undecided voters 19 percent. And in Indiana it's even higher, 25 percent. Those two states hold primaries May the 6th. I wonder what it's going to take for those people to make up their minds.

Here's the question: How can so many Democrats in Indiana and North Carolina still be undecided about whether they'll support Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog.

Now back to the Wolf man who's going to meet with the pope in a little while. That is very exciting stuff, I have to tell you.

BLITZER: I'm very excited. I'm going to tell all of our viewers what it was like, that's coming up. We're going to be bringing our viewers live coverage of all Pope Benedict's events here on the campus at Catholic University.

Also, a special relationship takes a turn. President Bush meets with the new British Prime Minister but Gordon Brown is already sizing up the candidates vying for Mr. Bush's job. Did he play favorites? We'll have a full report.

Also this hour, the Democrats gearing up for Pennsylvania and beyond. I'll speak live with the party chairman Howard Dean. We'll get his take on how and when this long Democratic slug fest will finally end.

And Americans' debt sealed in plastic. Some lawmakers are demanding that credit card companies be forced to play fair.

We're live here at the Catholic University of America and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We'll get back to the pope's visit here in Washington in just a few moments but there's other news we're following as well. North Carolina's primary is not for almost three weeks. Yet people are already voting there. North Carolina voters went to the polls today for an early round of voting. Barack Obama attended a rally in Raleigh and urged people to do so.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania's primary is only five days away. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is in Greenville, North Carolina, she's watching all of this.

Suzanne, Obama and Hillary Clinton sparred in a debate last night. Give our viewers a sense of the reaction on this the day after.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well it's really quite amazing because the lead between the two candidates is almost negligible in Pennsylvania. Very, very close in other states here like North Carolina. So what you see the two candidates doing are addressing their perceived weaknesses after last night's debate. Barack Obama today is coming out swinging and Hillary Clinton is beginning to pull back on the punches.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): After a bruising debate in Philadelphia, initially focused on Barack Obama's gaffes and controversies, the senator stopped playing defense.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It took us 45 minutes before we even started talking about a single issue that matters to the American people.

MALVEAUX: Then Obama went after Hillary Clinton directly.

OBAMA: She was taking every opportunity to get a dig in there. That's all right to kind of twist the knife a little bit.

MALVEAUX: Despite the night's tense exchanges Obama tried to convince voters he was unfazed.

OBAMA: You know you've just got to kind of let it, you know.

MALVEAUX: But after an audience member asked Obama what his strategy was, after being pummeled in the debate, Obama struck a more strident tone.

OBAMA: If the Republicans come at me, I will come right back at them. And I will come at them hard.

MALVEAUX: After making her points last night, Senator Clinton made no mention of her fiery exchanges with Obama. At Haverford College with daughter Chelsea, she talked about fighting breast cancer, reading advice columns and avoiding fashion faux paws. She waxed poetic about her Pennsylvania roots.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D-NY) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was in Scranton where my father was born and raised and where my grandfather came as an immigrant when he was 2-years-old.

MALVEAUX: Despite Clinton's admission during the debate that she believes Obama could beat Republican John McCain. CLINTON: Yes, yes, yes.

MALVEAUX: She is even more determined to explain why he shouldn't. Why she would make the better nominee. And for now she's doing that with honey, not vinegar.


MALVEAUX: Since both of the candidates emerged from the bitter debate basically in agreement over issues like getting out of Iraq, whatever circumstances as well as rejecting a tax hike for the middle class, Wolf this has really become more and more about character. You see both of these campaigns behind the scenes competing with these conference calls and these e-mails, both of them accusing the other of behaving badly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thank you very much.

The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says the world owes President Bush, and I'm quoting now, a huge debt of gratitude for fighting to rid the world of terrorists. Brown met with the president today over at the White House which will be under new management in a matter of only a few months as all of us know. Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano.

Elaine, what issues did these two leaders address today?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: A wide range of issues Wolf, including Iran. But a united front that really is the image President Bush and the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown wanted to project in the rose garden today. During their news conference both men repeatedly using the phrase special relationship, trying to clearly knock down any notion that somehow there were tensions between London and Washington, particularly after the departure of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair who of course is very close with President Bush.

The men did cover a range of topics, as I mentioned, including Iran. Leaders taking a tough stance. Mr. Bush dismissing Iran's claim that its nuclear program is intended for peaceful civilian purposes alone.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To say that, well, OK, it's OK to let them learn to enrich, and assume that that program and knowledge couldn't be transferred to a program, a military program, is, in my judgment, naive.

GORDON BROWN, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I make no apology for saying that we won't extend the sanctions where possible on Iran.


QUIJANO: Now the president and the prime minister also spent a great deal of time discussing Iraq and specifically the British troops based in Basra. Of course there had been tensions over British plans to draw down the number of forces in Basra. That plan is now on hold and today both leaders clearly trying to send the signal they believe progress is being made in Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right Elaine, thank you.

In addition to his talks with President Bush, the prime minister also has been meeting with all three presidential candidates. We're going to have a special report on that coming up. And the future of America's special relationship with Britain. Much more on that story coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

One ground breaking study says serving in Iraq and Afghanistan is exacting a heavy price on the mental health of U.S. troops. It says the number of troops suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress and brain injuries amounts to a health crisis. We'll have a report on that.

Howard Dean is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll ask him, what should Hillary Clinton do if she barely squeaks out a win in Pennsylvania? And whether Barack Obama can fend off a barrage of political attacks. Much more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, our coverage continues.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

We'll get back to the pope's visit here in Washington. We're on the campus of the Catholic University of America. Just a moment. Carol Costello is monitoring some other stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Carol, what's going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, north of Baghdad dozens of mourners gathered to express their condolences for the sons of a trial leader. They must now have funerals themselves. Fifty of them were killed after a suicide bomber with explosives strapped to his chest detonated himself. They were mourning two members of a mostly Sunni group that supports the U.S. and Iraqi government's battle against militants.

In another war, some consequence of war, almost one in five U.S. troops suffers depression or post-traumatic stress as a result of serving in Iraq or Afghanistan and about the same number have brain injuries. That from a first of its kind study from the Rand Corporation. The study's co leader calls this a major health crisis with potentially devastating consequences for troops and the nation.

Back here in the U.S. last week the number of new people filing for unemployment benefits was up. The government says it rose to 372,000 in the week that ended April 12 after a previous one-week drop. That's 17,000 more than just the week before. Some experts warn we should expect many more people out of work by mid year.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol. Thank you.

As we've been reporting, the British prime minister met with the next U.S. president today. But who would that be? Would it be John McCain, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? He spoke to all of them. That would be Gordon Brown, the British prime minister. Which one might the prime minister feel most confident about working with? We've got a report coming up.

In the long battle between Obama and Clinton, might there be any resolution in the near future? We'll speak about it. Standing by live the Democratic National Committee chairman, Howard Dean. Much more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now, prayers and praise for the pope. Benedict continues his historic visit to the United States. We'll have live coverage of the pope's meetings with top Catholic educators here on the campus of Catholic University. And his separate meetings with leaders of other religions. Much more coverage coming up.

In presidential politics, when superdelegates pick between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, how should they decide? I'll ask the Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, he's standing by live as well.

Have credit cards lost some of their luster? Some lawmakers want to do something to save you money. Credit card companies are against it. We'll explain.

I'm Wolf Blitzer on the campus of the Catholic University of America and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

All three presidential candidates had a try of sorts today of their diplomatic talents. CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us right now.

Tom, Clinton, Obama, McCain, each one met with the new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, how did it go?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. And it seemed to go well.

Mr. Brown says he is confident he can work with any of those three candidates and rise to great challenges ahead.


FOREMAN (voice-over): The presidential campaign came to a brief halt today, as all three candidates went to Washington to meet with an overseas visitor, not him -- him.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who took over from Tony Blair 10 months ago, expects to be in office well beyond 2008. So, he did not just meet with the current president. He also met with President Bush's successor. And who would that be? Any of three people.

Brown wasn't playing favorites. He met with all three, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain. At a Washington reception, Prime Minister Brown paid tribute to the special relationship between the United States and Britain that dates back 65 years to Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

Sometimes, that special relationship also exists between the two country's leaders, most famously, between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Tony Blair was unusual. He had a close relationship with two American presidents from different parties, first Bill Clinton, then George W. Bush.

Blair's support for the United States after 9/11, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq, made him wildly popular with Americans. But it was a relationship Blair ultimately paid a political price for. The British public turned against the war and against him. Blair was derided in the British press as Bush's poodle.

Blair resigned last June, handing power over to Brown. Brown was a loyal supporter of Blair's Iraq policy.

But, as a prime minister, Brown has given in to public pressure and reduced the British troop presence in southern Iraq. Both Clinton and Obama are committed to withdrawing U.S. troops as well. McCain is determined to keep U.S. troops there until victory is achieved.


FOREMAN: Iraq has become an irritant between the U.S. and Britain. Whether that irritant gets bigger or smaller, of course, depends on whom the next president is -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Tom, thank you.

Only five days until Pennsylvania's potentially pivotal primary. Depend on -- depending on what happens in that state, we could see Barack Obama losing big to Hillary Clinton or Clinton not doing so well, having to fend off more calls for her to withdraw from the race.

Let's discuss all of this and more with Howard Dean. He's the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: What do you think of -- Hillary Clinton should do if she -- obviously, if she loses in Pennsylvania, or even if she squeaks by with a very narrow win, given her -- her being behind in pledged delegates pretty significantly, at least going into Pennsylvania? DEAN: Well, my job is not to be a pundit. My job is to make sure that everybody gets treated fairly in this process. And that does not include making decisions about when people stay in the race and when they get out.

So, I'm confident that we have two great candidates. They're going to work hard. They're having a spirited contest. And the best news is, they're in all 50 states. We're going to have -- know every voter in the Democratic primary, which is a record number. And we're not going to have to go into Pennsylvania this time without knowing where everybody is. And that's going to be a big help to us in the fall.

BLITZER: But you have suggested, though, you want this thing resolved before July 1, long before...

DEAN: Right.

BLITZER: ... the Democratic Convention in Denver at the end of August.

DEAN: That's right. And that is really -- there's about 65, roughly, percent of the superdelegates have voted. There's about 320- some-odd left to vote. I need them to say who they're for starting now. They really do need to do that.

We cannot give up two or three months of active campaigning and healing time. We have got to know who our nominee is. And there's no reason not to know after the last primary on June 3. So, the superdelegates have actually been pretty good so far. They have trickled in. They have made their alliances known as things have gone on. And they need to keep doing that, so we get all this wrapped up in June.

BLITZER: Should they make their decisions, these undecided superdelegates -- and even those who have made up their minds, they are free to change their minds, obviously -- based...

DEAN: Right.

BLITZER: ... on the popular vote, the pledged delegate count, the Electoral College states, the most states won, or whatever's in their gut, who they think is most electable?

DEAN: The rules say they should vote their conscience. And I think that's pretty good advice.

My job is to enforce the rules. You can agree with them or not agree with them, but they're going to vote their conscience. And I think that's what they're called upon to do.

BLITZER: You know, it's really, I guess, to a lot of the pundits, surprising is how well John McCain does in these hypothetical matchups against either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in some key states. We will put some numbers up. You can see them. In Michigan right now, either way, it would be fairly competitive, in Florida, relatively competitive as well. Same is true in Ohio. These are potentially very, very critical states in November. Nationally, it's very competitive.

Why is John McCain doing as well as he doing, given the state of the economy, given the unpopularity of the war in Iraq?

DEAN: Well, I don't John McCain is doing so well. For him, with no opponent and nobody criticizing him, and getting much publicity doing so, he's in the low 40s.

Our candidates are having a really spirited contest, and they're in the low 40s. When people know John McCain, when they know that he just proposed $8 billion worth of spending, essentially tax cuts, without saying how he's going to pay for it, it appears that he's just another four years of George Bush. That's what we got from George Bush, 100 years in Iraq.

Well, I don't think people are going to sign on to that platform. So, I don't think -- I have said for a long time the polls don't mean anything right now in terms of November. And I will be consistent and say it again. I'm not worried about the polls.

What I want is a fair process to name a good Democratic nominee, which I'm convinced we're going to have. Then we will see what the polls say, when we know who our nominee is.

BLITZER: Well, how worried are you, though, as the leader of the Democratic Party, that Hillary Clinton is attacking Barack Obama on a whole host of issues, and vice versa, that they're chipping away at each other, they're diminishing each other, potentially to the advantage of John McCain?

DEAN: Well, you know, sure, you worry about that some.

And I think we should focus on Iraq and tax policy and the economy and so forth. But I have to say, the media is a big part of that as well. They seem to like the attacks more than the substance.

But I have to say, also, that, if you actually listen to what our candidates are saying, the American people are going to agree with them. They do not want to continue George Bush's "give everything to the millionaires and gazillionaires" tax policies and run up huge deficits.

They don't want to continue the war in Iraq, when we need so much help here at home and American jobs are being lost. They do believe that we ought to join every other democracy in the world and have health care for all our people, which John McCain has voted against, and said he doesn't support.

John McCain is just completely out of step with where the American people are. And I -- I think, at the end, we're going to win. And John McCain is just a step backwards. And the American people are looking for a step forwards.

BLITZER: Governor Dean, thanks for coming in.

DEAN: Wolf, thanks for having me on.

BLITZER: Coming up: Many Americans are drowning in credit card debt, as all of us know. Are the companies that issue those cards at all to blame? There's a new push to crack down on practices that may be costing you money.

Plus, drivers might like John McCain's proposal for a gas tax holiday. But some members of Congress aren't necessarily convinced. The backlash -- coming up in our "Strategy Session."

And we're also standing by for the pope's arrival here on the campus of Catholic university. We're going to bring that to you live.

Lots more coverage -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're here on the campus of the Catholic University of America. We will get back to the pope's visit here in Washington in just a few moments.

Right now, though, some lawmakers in Washington want to help Americans save money on their credit card debt. But credit card companies do not necessarily like the idea they're offering.

CNN's Brianna Keilar is joining us. She's watching the story.

Brianna, this involves a bill for cardholder rights. What's going on?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that is what it's being called, because, in these hard economic times, the average American family is increasingly using credit cards to buy essentials, like groceries, and members of Congress worry Americans are having a hard time digging out of that debt because of what they call unfair practices by credit card companies.


KEILAR: Steven Autrey held a credit card for several years. He missed just one monthly payment by a single day and once exceeded his limit by $13. So, he was shocked when his fixed interest rate of 9.9 percent jumped to 15.9 percent.

STEVEN AUTREY, CONSUMER: I assume fixed means fixed. I didn't know fixed is until they feel like they can change it.

KEILAR: It's stories like this that prompted Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney to push for what she calls the credit card holders bill of rights.

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D), NEW YORK: It shields card holders from misleading terms like so-called fixed rates that aren't really fixed, and protects the most vulnerable consumers from fee-heavy subprime cards.

KEILAR: The bill would stop credit card companies from raising interest rates arbitrarily and penalizing people who pay on time. It would also force companies to give cardholders 45 days notice before increasing an interest rate.

Credit card companies are against the bill, warning, if they can't raise rates on high-risk borrowers, all borrowers could face higher rates.

Congress should be cautious about some of the potential unintended consequences, at a time when consumers are stressed and the need for credit is strong.

KEILAR: Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling says the proposed bill of rights could dry up credit.

REP. JEB HENSARLING (R), TEXAS: I fear that the legislation will help turn back the clock to an era where a third or fewer Americans had credit cards, and those that did had little choice and paid the same high universal rate.


KEILAR: Congresswoman Maloney, who again sponsored this bill, hopes that Congress approves it before the end of the year. But the credit card lobby is expected to work against its passage -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna, thank you very much.

We're back here at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. We're waiting for Pope Benedict's arrival. It should be happening fairly soon.

It's time now, though, for me to leave the set here that we have on the campus. I'm going to be leaving, going to this closed-door meeting that some of us are going to be having with the pope. While I'm behind closed doors, awaiting his arrival, having an opportunity to speak with him a little bit and to shake his hand, I'm going to hand over the reins to CNN's John King.


John, I promise you and I promise all our viewers I will give you a firsthand report as soon as I get back.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a high honor you're about to enjoy, Wolf. And it comes at a very important time, this still relatively new pontiff here in the United States in an election year, at a time the church has the scars of the sex abuse scandal. We will be most interested in your observations on the other side of your meeting.

It's a great honor. Enjoy yourself. BLITZER: Thank you.

KING: We will see you in a few minutes. Thank you, Wolf.

And ahead here in the "Strategy Session," Barack Obama takes issue with the lack of issues, as he puts it, covered at last night's debate.


OBAMA: Last night, I think we set a new record, because it took us 45 minutes before we even started talking about a single issue that matters to the American people.



KING: And he accuses Hillary Clinton of playing politics as usual by joining the fray.

And some of John McCain's economic pitches are getting a lukewarm reception from fellow Republican senators. Should McCain be fazed?

Peter Fenn and Terry Jeffrey standing by -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


KING: Here in today's "Strategy Session," it's the day after Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's final debate before Pennsylvania's primary.

Talking about that debate today, Obama not only went after Clinton, but also the debate format itself.

Joining me now, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn, conservative commentator Terry Jeffrey. He's editor in chief of the Cybercast News Service.

Gentlemen, I want to go quickly to some sound from Barack Obama. He's on the campaign trail today. He didn't like the tone of the debate last night. And he's not just talking about Senator Clinton. He thinks that the moderators at ABC News, good journalists, both, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, were somehow after him more than her, because he's the front-runner.

Let's listen to Barack Obama.


OBAMA: I don't blame Washington for this, because that's just how Washington is. They like stirring up controversy and they like playing gotcha games and getting up to attack each other. And I have to stay Senator Clinton looked in -- in her element.


KING: So, Peter, you're -- you're a Democrat. I assume you watched the debate last night. Does he a legitimate grievance or is this politics on his part?


I wrote a little blog today about it. I mean, 45 minutes is quite a while to go without a substantive question. It beat the NBC News one, which I believe was about 33 minutes, without any substance.

But he takes it -- he takes it well. I think the whole point is, don't complain too much. You go into it. He was dusting him off as, if he had been touched up a little. But he knows it's a tough game. He realizes it. I think he's going to give the elbows just like he does in basketball. So, he will be all right.

KING: You know, he -- by legitimate issues, you mean taxes, the economy, health care. But these are questions many Democrats and some Republicans looking from the sidelines have about Barack Obama, aren't they?

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE: Well, they're legitimate questions, John. The job of a journalist is to ask tough questions.

You know, George Stephanopoulos used to work for the Clintons. And I thought he did an excellent job asking tough questions to Hillary Clinton last night.

But, look, Barack Obama's lucky. Had the story Bill Ayers of the Weather Underground, had the Jeremiah Wright story, had this "bitter" remark about people embracing religion and guns and so forth come out in December, Hillary Clinton might be the Democratic nominee right now. He's lucky that this vetting he's getting is coming after he's built up a big, perhaps insurmountable, lead in the Democratic primary contest.

KING: I want to ask you both to stand for a little bit of breaking news just coming into CNN.

And I'm John King in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We want to go quickly now to our Vatican analyst, John Allen. He's here in Washington, D.C., for news of a dramatic meeting, Pope Benedict here in the United States, his first visit to the United States as pope.

Of course, one of the subplots, how would he deal with the sex abuse scandal here in the United States? He's spoken publicly in all three of his public speeches, but a much more dramatic step today.

John, tell us about it.

JOHN ALLEN, CNN VATICAN ANALYST: We just received moments ago a statement from the Vatican confirming something we have been hearing rumors about throughout the day, which is that at, roughly 4:15 this afternoon, at the Vatican Embassy here in Washington, Pope Benedict XVI met with a small group of victims of sexual abuse.

We understand there were five people in the meeting with the pope. They were accompanied in this meeting by Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston. We know that several of the five are from the Boston area.

John, this is in many ways literally an unprecedented move. No pope has previously ever met with victims of sexual abuse to hear their stories and, perhaps, to hear whatever advice they might want to give him about how the church ought to respond to this.

And since the crisis erupted in the United States in late 2001, that has been a source of standing frustration and criticism from many, who felt it reflected a sort of insensitivity to the suffering of victims on the part of the pope.

Clearly, Benedict, from the very moment he took off from Rome, has made engaging the sex abuse crisis a central theme of this visit. As you say, he's spoken about it in dramatic terms three times. But, in a way, this action this afternoon probably speaks louder than all of those words.

KING: And, John, so, clearly, the healing process -- or at least beginning the healing process is very important to this pontiff.

What do these victims want from the church? Their own -- of the ones from Boston you spoke of, Cardinal Bernard Law was removed from his job in Boston because the Vatican finally came to the conclusion he didn't act swiftly enough, that he did not deal with some issues and problems that had been brought to his attention.

But many in the Boston area were mortified that he was removed from Boston, but given a high-ranking job at the Vatican. What are the victims looking for from this pope?

ALLEN: Yes, John, we are at this stage not yet clear on precisely what the content of that meeting was.

We should say that, of this group of five, we know that some of them are not interested in going public. But at least a couple of them are expected to speak to the media later this evening. We're hoping to have them here on CNN as soon as possible.

I think we will hear more from them precisely what it was they said to the pope. But, more broadly, we know that -- and we should say, John, also, that these five individuals were not connected to any formal victims advocacy group.

We do know that several of those groups have made the argument that they will not be convinced that the church has learned its lesson until they see a couple of things. One would be that the zero- tolerance policy of the U.S. bishops, that is, that a priest will be removed from ministry for even one act of sexual abuse, until that is made global, and until some bishops who have mismanaged the crisis lose their jobs. KING: John Allen for us -- John, more on this story in the minutes and hours ahead, a fascinating development, Pope Benedict meeting with some victims of Vatican -- of priest sexual abuse here in the United States. Excuse me.

John, you will keep track of it with your sources. We will check back with you later in the day, as THE SITUATION ROOM continues.

When we return: Hunting for laughs, that's what Vice President Cheney did last night at a dinner for TV and radio journalists here in Washington -- the punchline ahead.

And we're standing by for Pope Benedict's arrival at the Catholic University of America. We will have live coverage and we will hear from Wolf Blitzer after his meeting with the pope -- all right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


KING: On our Political Ticker: Vice President Cheney went for laughs at his own expense and at the expense of Hillary Clinton. It all happened at the annual Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner last night here in Washington.


RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You in the press need to go easy on Senator Clinton on the whole business about running and ducking from gunfire in Bosnia.


CHENEY: She made an honest mistake. She confused the Bosnia trip with the time I took her hunting.



KING: Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney may have gotten some of the night's biggest laughs with his list of the top 10 reasons he dropped out of the race.


MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: Number six: Word leaked out that nobody has bothered to search my passport files.


ROMNEY: Number five: I would rather get fat, grow a beard and try for the Nobel Prize.



KING: And, remember, for the latest political news any time, check out

And Jack joins us again with "The Cafferty File."

Pretty fun, Jack.

CAFFERTY: That is funny. I wish they would run more than just two of them. He did a whole top 10 list?

KING: We would have to take time away from "The Cafferty File" to run them, though.

CAFFERTY: Well, believe me, it would be -- that would be the wise thing to do in you were in an editorial position on this program. Run the Mitt Romney stuff, and cut "The Cafferty File" back to a bare minimum.

The question, since we're going to do this, is: How can so many Democrats in Indiana and North Carolina, 19 percent in Indiana, 25 percent in North Carolina, still be undecided about whether they will support Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?

Dan writes from Virginia: "Because there is always a sizable percentage of people who don't know who they will vote for until they're in the booth. These are the people who tend to vote on sound bites and rumors they heard on the Internet. They can't decide too early, or they will have to look hypocritical when the latest juicy gossip turned up in the media and makes them change their mind."

David in North Carolina says: "Outlook from a rural North Carolina undecided voter: Hillary has a ton of experience, strikes an odd chord with me. Obama has very little experience, sports a silver tongue. McCain and a 100-year war are kind of scary. Where is the total-package candidate?"

Rick in Indiana: "I know a lot of other voters here in Indiana who say they don't know what they're going to do, but, by and large, I think they have made up their minds. The undecided voter is one of the last remaining mythological creatures, kind of like the fair and balanced reporter and Sasquatch. Polls have not had a very good track record this year. This is one of the reasons why."

Mwita in L.A.: "If they are still undecided at this point, what they are saying is they are undecided about Hillary Clinton. This doesn't bode well for Hillary's mathematically questionable strategy for getting the nomination. What a voter is basically saying is: Hey, I have known you for 15 years or so, and I'm still not quite sure about you. This new guy, I have known for a about a hot minute, and both of you are on equal footing."

Sharon in Minnesota: "Too many lies. Too much CNN coverage. Too much Internet blogging influence. Too much Jack Cafferty. I'm so confused." And Scott in Kansas writes: "You sound surprised, Jack. Democrats have never been able to agree on anything."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for yours there. There are hundreds of them posted online -- John.

KING: We will check them out. Thank you, Jack.