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Barack Obama Speaks Out on Wright Controversy; No 'Magic Wand' for Economy; Jimmy Carter Comments on Obama's Handling of Wright's 'Divisive' Remarks

Aired April 29, 2008 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Barack Obama unleashes new and very clear outrage at his former pastor. He's now accusing Jeremiah Wright of putting on a spectacle and giving comfort to those who prey on hate.
Can Obama undo any damage that's already been done to his campaign? I'll ask the former president of the United States and the superdelegate, Jimmy Carter, about the Obama/Wright controversy.

Also, Jimmy Carter weighs in on the issue that's plagued him and now plagues President Bush, the U.S. economy. Mr. Bush speaking out today to Americans who can't make ends meet.

And this hour as well, John McCain's health care cure. He wants to change how most Americans get their medical insurance a very different way than the Democrats would. We'll tell you what's going on.

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

Barack Obama now says his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, has disrespected him and has insulted everything his presidential campaign stands for. The Democrat says he had to speak out today after seeing more of what he calls Wright's rant before the National Press Club here in Washington yesterday. This, a dramatic turn for Obama, who clearly must be concerned that many voters found Wright's remarks as appalling as he did.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've known Reverend Wright for almost 20 years. The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago.

His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate, and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church. They certainly don't portray accurately my values and beliefs.

And if Reverend Wright thinks that that's political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn't know me very well. And based on his remarks yesterday, well, I may not know him as well as I thought either.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in our Suzanne Malveaux. She's in Indiana. And our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, she's joining us from North Carolina.

Candy, you were there when Barack Obama came out, and this is quite a different stance he's now taken. Take us behind the scenes. What's going on?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, first of all, recall that he did address this yesterday on the tarmac when Reverend Wright was talking at the National Press Club, and basically he said, listen, he doesn't speak for me, I don't speak for him, and this is about the American people. But there was a huge change in tone, Wolf, between yesterday and today.

We asked him what the difference was. He just went on, as you saw. There was lots more that he went on and said about how outrageous the remarks were, about how it was such an insult to him and to the American people, and that he couldn't understand it. Much, much stronger than he's ever been.

I asked him if, in fact, he had heard from superdelegates who were getting uneasy about the effect this was having on his campaign. And Obama said, "Look, I think we all understand the politics of this," but then went on to say, "But I am doing this because I'm so outraged by these statements."

So, clearly, this was a very different Barack Obama. Who knows what would have happened had he done this sort of press conference when these remarks from Reverend Wright first came up so many weeks ago. But he then, as you know, gave that very famous now speech about race.

And Obama said, "You know, I was trying to give it some context." Clearly now he thought there was no context at all for what Reverend Wright has been saying over the past three days. So, obviously an attempt to get this behind him as they face these very crucial Indiana and North Carolina primaries -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A very dramatic change, indeed.

Candy, stand by.

Suzanne Malveaux is in Indiana getting reaction from the Clinton campaign.

What are they saying, Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, so far, they've been kind of quiet about this, but we have heard from Senator Clinton on the Jeremiah Wright issue before, the controversy. And really what she has said before is she has called into question Barack Obama's judgment.

She says that this would not be her pastor. She would not stay in those kind of services if she heard those kind of controversial comments that came out before.

I have to tell you, Wolf, here, you know, this is a situation where Hillary Clinton, she's going to be in Hobart, Indiana. She's going to be able to talk to people in a really small setting, get her message out, relate to the people.

Barack Obama's aides, they know that the one thing that made him really strong in the beginning in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina was his ability to define himself. They realize that he has lost control of that. That this is really something that has moved beyond their control, and that they needed to get a better handle on this.

We have heard from Senator Clinton. We see an aide in north Carolina that says he is too radical, painting him as somebody who is associated with Wright. By his association, as someone that people cannot trust or relate to.

We've heard from John McCain, essentially saying, well, he doesn't agree with that. He has weighed in as well saying, look, Barack Obama over the weekend said this was a legitimate political issue, the relationship with his pastor. Therefore, he felt that this is something that he could talk about, and he, too, started to question who Barack Obama was.

This is something that the campaign cannot afford in these days leading up to North Carolina and Indiana -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thank you.

Candy, thanks to you as well.

Meanwhile, new evidence that the fall election may be a nail- biter no matter who wins the Democratic nomination. CNN has a brand new Poll of Polls averaging the latest surveys on the candidates' general election support. It shows Barack Obama leading John McCain by just two points. Hillary Clinton leading McCain by a mere one point. Both of those results well within the margins of error.

We're going to have a lot more on the fallout from the Reverend Wright issue. The latest reaction coming in from Barack Obama's dramatic change today, that's coming up.

But right now, let's move on.

Senator McCain is drawing a sharper line between himself and the Democrats when it comes to the issue of health care. The Republican candidate today unveiled a plan that would give a tax credit to help individuals and families buy medical insurance. Speaking in Florida, McCain said his plan would shift away from job-based coverage to an open market where people can choose from competing policies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Health care in America should be affordable by all, not just the wealthy. It should be available to all and not limited by where you work or how much you make. It should be fair to all, providing help where the need is greatest and protecting Americans from corporate abuses. And for all the strengths of our health care system, we know that right now it falls short, far short, of this idea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're going to have a full report coming up on Senator McCain's new proposals, how they contrast with the Democrats' health care reform plans as well.

President Bush and Democrats are pointing fingers at one another over issue #1 in this election year, the economy. Mr. Bush held a wide-ranging news conference today, but America's economic troubles were front and center.

Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Elaine Quijano is watching the story for us.

All right. Tell us our viewers the basic, bottom-line message the president delivered, Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, President Bush certainly, with less than nine months left in office, is trying to go on the offensive, particularly when it comes to the economy. And today he tried pinning the blame squarely on Democrats for the economic difficulties that have developed under his watch.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO (voice-over): President Bush says he sympathizes with the financial pain felt by many Americans, but when it comes to high gas prices, notes there's only so much he can do.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no magic wand to wave right now. It took us a while to get to this fix.

QUIJANO: During a nearly hour-long news conference, the president left the door open to a summer moratorium on the federal gas tax.

BUSH: And we'll look at any idea in terms of energy.

QUIJANO: The president also blamed the Democratic-led Congress, accusing lawmakers of blocking or delaying action to address the ailing economy.

BUSH: I believe that they're letting the American people down. It's what I believe.

QUIJANO: Democrats wasted no time firing back, arguing the president's own economic policies have failed.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: The theory of helping the guys at the top and letting it trickle down is not working. And everyone's having a tough time to make ends meet. QUIJANO: On Afghanistan, President Bush insisted progress is being made despite a brazen assassination attempt over the weekend by the Taliban against Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

BUSH: We're making progress, but it's also a tough battle.

QUIJANO: And for the first time since Israel destroyed a purported Syrian nuclear facility last fall, a facility built with North Korea's help, according to the administration, President Bush opened up on why he waited almost eight months to publicly acknowledge what happened.

BUSH: We were concerned that an early disclosure would increase the risk of a confrontation in the Middle East or retaliation in the Middle East.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO: Now, the president says that risk is now reduced, and he wants to send a message on several levels to North Korea, to Syria, and Iran. Mainly that the United States is watching very carefully for secret efforts to spread nuclear weapons technology around the world -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine, thank you.

Elaine Quijano at the White House.

Let's check in with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, it seems like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is going out of his way to make sure the United States does not elect its first African-American president, which is strange in light of all the complaints that Reverend Wright has about the way white people have done things in this country.

Just as the controversy over Wright was dying down, he showed up at the National Press Club in Washington yesterday with a can of gasoline and got the fire going again big-time. Among other things, he praised Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, who also reportedly provided Wright's security yesterday. He accused the United States of terrorism, he said the government created the AIDS virus to cause the genocide of racial minorities, and he defended the view that Zionism is racism.

This is from someone who's supposed to be Obama's friend.

Hillary Clinton ought to send Wright flowers. He may have done more damage to Obama's chances in an hour yesterday than she's been able to do in 15 months of campaigning. And it leaves Barack Obama in a very awkward position.

What's he supposed to do now? The first time around he rejected Wright's comments without throwing the man under the bus. He can't afford to be that generous anymore.

Here's the question. How much damage has Reverend Wright done to Barack Obama's chances of becoming president of the United States?

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

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.

Former President Jimmy Carter is now weighing in on Barack Obama's latest efforts to prove his former pastor does not speak for him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY CARTER, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think he's done what he thinks is right, and I don't think there's any doubt that what has been exposed about some of Reverend Wright's most fiery sermons has really been damaging to Obama's campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, will fellow superdelegates agree with Jimmy Carter? I'll speak with him next about the Democratic presidential race and whether he's ready to formally and publicly take a side.

Also this hour, President Bush hits Democrats on the issue of free trade. Is he taking a direct slap at Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton?

And would you get out of John McCain's newly-unveiled health care plan? You're going to find out right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Barack Obama's going to new lengths today to condemn the remarks of his former pastor with an eye toward the next round of primaries and toward those influential party leaders who are superdelegates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now, the former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter. He's the author of a brand new book about his mom entitled "A Remarkable Mother."

I remember watching her, not necessarily up close, but she truly was remarkable. We'll talk about her later, because this is a fascinating, fascinating book.

Let's talk about presidential politics first and foremost right now. You're a superdelegate. You've got to decide at some point who you like. Will you go public and announce who your candidate is?

CARTER: Probably. But as I've done ever since I left the White House, I'm going to wait until after the primary season's over and then I'll make a decision.

BLITZER: You already know in your mind, because I assume you voted in the primary in Georgia, right?

CARTER: Yes, I voted in the primary in Georgia.

BLITZER: So you know which candidate you prefer.

CARTER: If I don't change my mind, yes.

BLITZER: Oh, you might change your mind. Well, you're a superdelegate, you're entitled.

Let's talk a little bit about the news right now, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Today there was a brand new tone coming out of Senator Barack Obama. He hammered away. He repudiated what the Reverend Wright says, what he does.

It was as if the other speech he gave in Philadelphia earlier hadn't taken place. He was really disappointed in the latest comments from the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

What do you think?

CARTER: Well, I didn't -- I didn't hear Obama's speech, so I can't really comment on it. But, you know, I grew up in a little village called Archery, Georgia. We didn't have any white neighbors. All of our neighbors were African-American.

And the most prominent and richest men in the area was a black African Methodist Episcopal bishop. His name was William Dexter Johnson. And during the days of racial discrimination, where it was the law of the land, a lot of the sermons that I heard in the black churches was very similar to what Reverend Wright has said recently, condemning, in effect, quite often white Christians who would go to church on Sunday and then the rest of the week they would practice gross discrimination against their neighbors just because they happened to be black.

So, you know, the fiery tones and so forth, if taken out of context, or just little snippets of it, I could see how they would really upset people. But that's the kind of sermons I've heard all my life. And in Plains now we have...

BLITZER: So is he doing the right thing, Mr. President, by now saying, you know, I repudiate these comments that there was maybe some sort of conspiracy about creating AIDS in this country, or speaking about the U.S., making comparisons to terrorists? Is this presidential -- Democratic presidential candidate doing the right thing?

CARTER: I think he's done what he thinks is right. And I don't think there's any doubt that what has been exposed about some of Reverend Wright's most fiery sermons has really been damaging to Obama's campaign.

And if I were running under those circumstances, I would probably want to separate myself as much as possible from any sort of damage to my campaign. But he's not responsible for what Reverend Wright has said.

BLITZER: Let's talk about a key issue right now. And I remember covering your campaign, what, 30 years ago, if not longer.

It seems like we're talking about the same thing right now -- an energy crisis, high gasoline prices. Take a look at that. You remember -- you see behind you, you see the long gasoline lines. That's when you were running for president of the United States. We're talking about the same thing right now.

Here's the question. Of these three presidential candidates who are left standing, who has the best policy in dealing with issue #1, the economy, and the price of gas, for example?

CARTER: Well, I think the two that have the best policy would be Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I think that what I've heard, John McCain's policy would be very similar to what George Bush has imposed upon the country the last seven and a half years.

The basic problem our economy, which is now very bad, has been the gross giveaways to the richest people in the nation, with tax breaks that I think are completely unwarranted. And that's caused us to have horrendous deficits that are now piling up against us with the weakening dollar and so forth. And the weak dollar is one of the reasons why...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Do you see a difference between these two Democratic candidates on the substance and the substance of the issues?

CARTER: It's hard for me to see the difference between them. You know, I think they both want complete reform instead of just continuing the previous policies. And, of course, what the Republican Party has done -- and I don't see that McCain has drawn away from that -- is remained in bed in a gross way with the oil companies and the automobile companies.

And so they've refused to have any dramatic increase in the efficiency of automobiles. And to do other things that could bring down the dependence on foreign oil.

BLITZER: And you include John McCain in that category?

CARTER: Yes, I do. I haven't seen that he's separated himself at all from the Bush administration. I hope he does.

BLITZER: The whole notion though of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, if you're an undecided voter right now, let's say in North Carolina, or in Indiana, or if you're an undecided superdelegate, I know there are personality issues and there's rhetorical flourishes, if you will. But on the substance of the issues, do you see major differences between these two candidates?

CARTER: No, I don't really. I don't see major differences. I've been... BLITZER: So it comes down to a superdelegate like you for someone who is most electable and who is best suited to be president of the United States?

CARTER: That's right. And I think one of the things that interests me most is the foreign policy.

You know, who will help to repair the horrible damage that's been done to our nation's reputation around the world? And then that's a major issue for me. What I hope is to see the next president within the first 10 minutes of the new term to correct these problems, and I think they could by making an appropriate inaugural speech.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Jimmy Carter has a lot more to say now that he's met with the group the U.S. considers to be a terrorist organization. I'll ask the former president if he'd also meet with leaders of al Qaeda. That's coming up, part two of the interview.

Also coming up, the Iraqi judge who sentenced Saddam Hussein to death is speaking out about what happened when Saddam Hussein was executed.

And apparently some of you are resorting to very drastic measures to get health care. Even getting married to get benefits.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

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

Happening now, now that Jimmy Carter has met with a group the U.S. government considers to be terrorists, would he meet with others like al Qaeda? I'll ask the former president. You're going to hear what he has to say on this sensitive subject. That's coming up.

Also, you can't get something for nothing. Some of the presidential candidates want to suspend federal taxes on gas to help you save, but that could wind up costing you in other important ways. We're investigating.

And a new initiative in the other war. Find out U.S. plans for Afghanistan over the next two years to try to change what some see as a problematic NATO mission.

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

Obviously your health is a key concern. Right now John McCain is offering a radically different approach to the way your health is cared for. McCain's goal is to try to create an environment where health care providers will actually compete in an open market, and in the process we will all win. But will we all win? CNN's Dana Bash is in Tampa watching this story for us.

All right. What are the specifics of what Senator McCain is proposing?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he gave specifics on a host of issues. He was vague on one of the key things, of course, which is making sure that the people with pre-existing conditions actually get insurance. But what voters listening to this really got, regardless of the specifics, was clear evidence, Wolf, that there is a stark contrast between what each party's candidates will offer on what voters say is one of their biggest priorities.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Health care, a top issue for voters, and, John McCain made clear, one of his most dramatic differences with Democrats, who want to mandate insurance coverage.

MCCAIN: This will accomplish one thing only. We will replace the inefficiency, irrationality and uncontrolled costs of the current system with the inefficiency, irrationality, and uncontrolled costs of a government monopoly.

BASH: Instead, McCain's idea is classic Republican credo. Move away from employer-based health care to let the market and consumers decide. He would offer families a $5,000 tax credit to buy insurance, individuals $2,500. The estimated cost, $3.6 trillion.

To pay for that, McCain would eliminate the tax breaks employers get for offering insurance.

MCCAIN: The health plan you choose would be as good as any that an employer could choose for you. It would be yours and your family's health care plan, and yours to keep.

BASH: McCain advisers insist that would drive up competition and drive down sky-high costs.

But Democrats, like Elizabeth Edwards, who has cancer, say millions with preexisting conditions would lose insurance.

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, WIFE OF FORMER SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS: If you are not healthy or wealthy, if you -- if you have a chronic condition, if you have a preexisting illness, as he does and as I do, you're going to find this a very uncompassionate market in which to try to -- to get coverage.

BASH: For high-risk patients with trouble getting insurance, McCain would create a so-called gap program, a nonprofit pool which would get federal dollars and ideas from states. He also pushed prevention.

MCCAIN: Watch your diet. Watch your diet. Walk 30 or so minutes every day. Take a few other simple precautions, and you won't have to worry about these afflictions. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Democratic critics point out that, for people who have chronic diseases, like cancer, prevention doesn't always do the trick, and that's why they believe that insurance companies should be required to cover them.

But McCain insisted that he does not want what he calls an entitlement program that Washington would control. Wolf, it is a striking difference in approach between what John McCain would do on this issue and either of his two potential Democratic opponents -- Wolf.

BLITZER: One of -- one of several major differences between McCain on the one hand and the Democrats on the other.

All right, Dana, thank you.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton each say your health care would be better served if they were president. But what exactly are they offering? Coming up, we're going to tell you about their plans involving health care reform and how they would affect you. That's coming up.

Amid the troubled economy, many people are forced to decide between medical bills and things like home and energy bills.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's looking at this part of the story.

Bill, are the public's concerns about health care, health care specifically, changing?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they certainly are, because rising concern about the economy is really changing the health care issue.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Health care is becoming more and more of an economic issue. That's according to a new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

MCCAIN: Underlying the many things that trouble our health care system are the fundamental problems of cost and access, cost and access, cost and access.

SCHNEIDER: Access is a persistent problem, as the number of Americans without health insurance continues to rise.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To, me it's just a shame that, to me, if you're poor, that you don't have equal access to health care.

SCHNEIDER: Concern about cost is now the public's top health care concern. Forty-one percent say it's their top concern, compared with 30 percent who cite expanding coverage for the uninsured. For Republicans, the top concern is cost. For Democrats, it's expanding coverage. Among independents, the crucial swing voters, concern about cost has gone up rapidly this year. Barack Obama has focused on controlling costs as the key to expanding access.

OBAMA: I believe that the reason Americans don't have health care is not because no one's forced them to buy it, but because no one's made it affordable.

SCHNEIDER: Hillary Clinton argues that expanding access is the key to controlling costs.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We will still have people who have insurance having to pay higher premiums because people without it go get health care, and then the rest of us have to pick up the tab.

SCHNEIDER: The public seems to understand that the two goals, cost and access, are not contradictory.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The bottom line is that we need more Americans insured, so that the costs can possibly go down for everyone.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: In the Kaiser Foundation's poll, 7 percent of Americans said either they or someone in their family had decided to get married in the past year, so they could get health care insurance from their spouse. So much for romance -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, thank you.

Independents could decide who becomes the next president. There are more of them right now than there were back in 2004. Then, 33 percent of the voters considered themselves independents. But now 42 percent of voters say they're uncommitted, according to the latest polls.

While those polls show nearly the same percent of Democrats between between -- between 2004 and now, they show more Republicans no longer consider themselves to be Republican.

President Bush is trying to exert some influence over a hot campaign issue. That would be free trade. Is he trying to paint Democrats as protectionists? We're going to have a full report on what's being called the free trade wars and the political impact. That's coming up.

And Barack Obama tries to finally solve his Reverend Jeremiah Wright problem. Will his very strong words today convince voters that Wright does not speak for him? Donna Brazile and Rich Galen, they're standing by for our "Strategy Session."

And later: Jimmy Carter says President Bush is completely mistaken about the Islamic militant group Hamas. More of my interview with the former president, that's coming up -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush today is accusing the Democratic- controlled Congress of blocking him on more than just one front, including free trade.

His news conference today gave Mr. Bush an opportunity to take an indirect swipe at the presidential candidates as well.

Let's go to Brian Todd. He's watching this story for us.

How hard, Brian, is the president willing to go to push the candidates and the Congress on this issue?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he might be pushing the envelope right now, Wolf. He is clearly still upset with Democrats for stalling that free trade deal with Colombia recently. And, at this point, he may just not want to give the Democrats any more momentum on that issue.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): He joked about not wanting to wade into the 2008 presidential race, but then said he hoped the next president understands America's role in promoting liberty, and warned about what he called protectionist ideas on free trade.

BUSH: And I believe that people will be making a mistake if they say, you know, we can't compete economically, and, therefore, let's throw up walls. And, yet, the tendencies here in America are pretty strong right now.

TODD: President Bush didn't mention Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama by name, but Clinton and Obama are leading the Democratic charge against some controversial free trade deals, slamming NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, claiming it helped move jobs out of the U.S. and has weak labor and environmental standards. And they strongly criticize a proposed trade agreement with Colombia.

CLINTON: No trade deal with Colombia while violence against trade unionists continues.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TODD: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has temporarily blocked that agreement from moving forward in Congress.

One analyst says the Democrats may have momentum against those free trade deals because of tough economic times in America. And the president wants to break that.

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: I think he knows he's not going to make more progress. It will be up to the new administration to do it. And, of course, if a Democrat is elected, a very different view of trade will be sitting in the Oval Office.

TODD: Clinton and Obama both want to renegotiate NAFTA. John McCain says he's the biggest free trader you will ever see. He favors NAFTA and the Colombia deal. And his aides contend the safety of union leaders in Colombia has vastly improved.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are not against free trade on principle. Both of them favor a deal with Peru that is now in place, they say, because it includes binding, enforceable labor and environmental rules that NAFTA does not have -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There's some question -- still, it lingers -- how strongly Hillary Clinton supposedly was against NAFTA when her husband was president, and he was pushing it forward as hard as he was.

TODD: And she helped him right along, Wolf. When he was president, indeed, she helped try to get that passed. He was -- she was with him at a lot of key events there.

Now, a biographer of Hillary Clinton's told us she did have apprehension about the agreement in those White House years, concerns over jobs lost and the environment. But when it became clear that NAFTA was going to pass, this biographer says Mrs. Clinton was all for it.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian, for that.

Brian Todd reporting.

Coming up in our "Strategy Session," Barack Obama now says he's now outraged and deeply saddened by the Reverend Wright's performance yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: What Reverend Wright said yesterday directly contradicts everything that I have done during my life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But has Obama's campaign suffered irreparable harm at the hands of his former pastor?

And a key endorsement by a popular governor for Hillary Clinton -- can Governor Mike Easley deliver his home state of North Carolina? Dee Dee Myers and Rich Galen, they're standing by live for our "Strategy Session."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: It is antithetical to our campaign. It is antithetical to what I am about. It is not what I think America stands for. And I want to be very clear that, moving forward, Reverend Wright does not speak for me. He does not speak for our campaign.

I cannot prevent him from continuing to make these outrageous remarks. But what I do want him to be very clear about, as well as all of you and the American people, is that, when I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it. It contradicts everything that I am about and who I am.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Wow. What a change in tone from only yesterday -- Barack Obama's most recent statement on the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

Let's discuss this and more right now in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, Dee Dee Myers, a former White House press secretary during the Clinton administration, and Republican strategist Rich Galen.

Dee Dee, you're neutral. You haven't endorsed anybody in this...

DEE DEE MYERS, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have not.

BLITZER: You're not with Obama. You're not with Clinton.

MYERS: That's right.

BLITZER: But what do you make of this latest, you know, really major shift in Barack Obama, really going after his former pastor?

MYERS: Well, I think the Reverend Wright's comments over the weekend and yesterday left Obama no choice. He had to really distance himself from those remarks.

And I think one of the things that Wright's rather outrageous comments did was give, I think, Obama the emotional attitude to do that. I think he felt conflicted before. Here was a person who had been important in his life, and he wanted to distance himself from some of the comments, but be respectful to the man.

I think Reverend Wright has been so far out there the last couple of days, that it's been easier for Obama to say, this does not represent my views, this is not who I am, and to take a much firmer view. And I think that is helpful, given where it is now.

It would have been much more helpful if none of this had happened, of course. But I think Obama did right thing coming out hard today.

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, I don't think that's right.

I mean, here's -- first of all, there's nothing that Wright said yesterday that he hadn't said before, except that he kept saying that they were taken out of context, and he went and said them all again. So, I mean, the fact that he sort of packaged all of this stuff that the right-wing and everybody else has had on YouTube, he did that himself. That's number one.

Number two is that -- and, by the way, Barack Obama sort of passed over that stuff. He said they were out of context; 20 years of preaching, you have to put it in -- so, there's nothing new here, other than Obama now feels the political heat, which, by the way, he was undercut again, Dee Dee, because Wright said yesterday, oh, Obama sort of has to say that stuff, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And to which Obama said, that's totally not true.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: He said: He totally misunderstands where I'm coming from and...

GALEN: Twenty-year -- a 20-year...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And Senator Obama -- Senator Obama also went on to say this. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I want to make absolutely clear that I do not subscribe to the views that he expressed. I believe they are wrong. I think they are destructive.

And, to the extent that he continues to speak out, I do not expect those views to be attributed to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, so is this going to -- is this going to help him? Because, what, we're a week away from North Carolina and Indiana.

MYERS: Right.

No, I don't think it helps him. But I think what he was able to do today was really draw a much brighter line than he had done in the past, because he -- you know, he wanted to say, well, hate the sin, love the sinner. And, today, I think he shoved both the sin and the sinner as far away from him as he can.

I don't -- I don't understand why this is such a huge and ongoing issue, but it is. And that's -- you know, the more we see Reverend Wright on television, I think that's bad for Obama. I think the American public, quite frankly, is frustrated. Why is there so much coverage of this guy? Why do we have program after program that focuses so much on these remarks, which I don't think anyone really thinks those are Obama's views?

So, why does it continue to dominant the discussion? And, yet, it does.

BLITZER: If you were giving him strategy advice right now, Barack Obama, what would you tell him to do?

GALEN: I would tell him to did exactly what he did today.

And I would also have him get on the phone with, of all people, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, to say, look, don't think this -- let's let this thing blow after.

I mean, after a while -- Dee Dee is right -- people get tired of the Reverend Wright story. He won't -- he won't draw the attention he draws. What -- the worst thing for Barack Obama would be if Al Sharpton, as he did yesterday, decides he needs to elbow his way back onto the stage, in terms of being the leading voice of most African- Americans, and this thing just escalates.

BLITZER: Hillary -- Hillary Clinton got a major endorsement today from the governor of North Carolina. They have a big primary coming up in a week.

Here's what Mike Easley said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MIKE EASLEY (D), NORTH CAROLINA: This lady right here makes Rocky Balboa look like a pansy.

(LAUGHTER)

EASLEY: She's got getup and go. She's here today. She's going to be here next month, the month after that, and the year after that as the president of the United States.

I'm proud to support and endorse Hillary Clinton, the next president of the United States of America!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, the question is, can he deliver North Carolina?

MYERS: I just don't want to be there when Rocky Balboa meets Governor Easley in a dark alley.

(LAUGHTER)

MYERS: But I think it's helpful to Hillary Clinton's campaign. There's no doubt about it. She's been helped by governors in some of these big states.

But she is running substantially behind. And she has to be careful of keeping expectations in check. This is an important endorsement for her, but not one that is likely to put her over the top.

GALEN: It's not -- yes, that's exactly right. It's not likely to flip the state. But what it might do is actually reduce the margin of victory, so now you have got the kind of -- that you find Obama in the situation that Hillary was in last week in Pennsylvania. Did he win by enough? And that could make a big difference.

BLITZER: And it could make a big difference, not only in North Carolina, elsewhere, where he might have some influence.

All right, guys, thanks very much.

MYERS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Former President Jimmy Carter is fiercely defending his recent talks with Hamas leaders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARTER: No one in the State Department or any other branch of our government ever counseled me not to go to the Mideast, not to meet with Hamas, not to meet with the president of Syria. No one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Jimmy Carter shares his very strong opinions about the Middle East peace process, why he thinks President Bush, in his words, is completely mistaken. More of our interview with Carter, that's coming up.

And some uncommitted superdelegates need help making up their minds. And they're asking for help online. Will explain -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our political ticker today, let's check where the battle for superdelegates stands right now.

We're figuring in Hillary Clinton's endorsement today by the North Carolina, Governor Mike Easley, and Barack Obama's endorsement by the Kentucky Congressman Ben Chandler.

CNN now estimates that Clinton narrowly leads Obama by 21 superdelegates. She has 257. He has 236. Out of the roughly 800 superdelegates who will be seated at the Democratic National Convention, about 300 still have not chosen sides. Obama still has 138 more total delegates than Clinton, based on primary and caucus results so far this year.

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

The president and vice president of the College Democrats of America are both uncommitted superdelegates. And they're going online to ask fellow college students for help choosing a candidate. Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what are they saying?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, these two joked that they're the superdelegates who will get carded at the convention.

This is Lauren Wolfe and Awais Khaleel, both College Democrat leaders, undecided superdelegates. And they're asking young people to weigh in online on their vote, using the methods that they use to communicate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAUREN WOLFE, PRESIDENT, COLLEGE DEMOCRATS OF AMERICA: So, let us know who you think has the best plan.

AWAIS KHALEEL, VICE PRESIDENT, COLLEGE DEMOCRATS OF AMERICA: Friend us on Facebook or MySpace.

WOLFE: Send us a YouTube video.

KHALEEL: Or you could let us know the old-fashioned way, through e-mail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: ... already, hundreds of people have contacted him online through Facebook.

We have been looking at some of the comments on their video on YouTube. And it looks there a landslide, reflecting polls that show that young people go overwhelmingly for Barack Obama.

Still, these two say they are going to wait until all young people have weighed in, in this primary process.

And then Lauren Wolfe has actually got another challenge. She's a superdelegate from Michigan. Under current rules, as they stand today, that state's delegates won't be seated, super or otherwise -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Not only Michigan, Florida as well -- the superdelegates from Florida and Michigan not so super, at least not now.

Thanks very much for that.

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

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: How much damage has Reverend Wright done to Barack Obama's chances of becoming the next president of the United States?

Warren writes in Virginia "I voted for Obama in the Virginia primary. This morning, I asked to be taken off his e-mail list. Even if Obama gets the nomination, I think John McCain will defeat him in the general election, thanks to Reverend Wright. No matter what Obama says now, Wright has created fear among whites about a black president. Wright has turned back the clock on race relations in this country."

Tom writes: "The only way this egomaniac harms Obama is if the national media continues to give him the pulpit to continue to speak his hatred. At the rate this is receiving media attention, I say it has a good chance. Let's end the guilt by association innuendoes, focus on the issues the average American is really concerned about."

Gene writes: "We have an excellent African American candidate. And an African American, Reverend Wright, is going to keep Barack Obama from becoming the first black president of the United States. This will, without question, be his downfall."

Paulette writes: "There are nasty people the world over. Reverend Wright does not deserve the title reverend. I will still back Mr. Obama. We all make mistakes one time or another, but Wright is filled with hatred toward anyone whose skin is white. He is appalling to listen to."

Jason writes: "I think it's clear to everyone in the nation Reverend Jeremiah Wright has done irreparable damage to Obama's campaign. One need only look at the latest national polls to see his standing diminishing. What was once the prospect of hope has become a specter of despair. It's ironic Reverend Wright has done more damage to Senator Obama's chances at the presidency than his Republican and Democratic counterparts could have ever done combined."

And Allen writes this: "If you were to look up the word Judas in the dictionary, you will find a picture of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/Caffertyfile. Look for yours there. There are hundreds of them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, Barack Obama, now in full-damage-control mode, repudiating those remarks by his former paster in very strong terms. Can it quell the controversy dogging his campaign once and for all?

Also, a new health care plan unveiled on the campaign trail -- we're going to show you what's in this latest proposal and what all the candidates' plans would mean for you.

Plus, my interview with the former President Jimmy Carter. You're going to find out why he now says, when it comes to meetings with Hamas, President Bush is completely mistaken and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is simply misinformed.

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