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John McCain Rejects Support of Controversial Pastor; Obama and Wary Jewish Voters

Aired May 22, 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, breaking news. John McCain rejects the support of a controversial pastor after refusing to do so for months. In our exclusive report, we're going to tell you what John Hagee said about Hitler and the Holocaust that went too far for Senator McCain.
Plus, Barack Obama's secret is out. He quietly started a search for a running mate even before clinching the nomination. This hour, Obama takes on another challenge, courting some skeptical American Jewish voters.

We're going to go to his remarks live. That's coming up shortly.

And Karl Rove slapped with a subpoena. Did the former White House adviser meddle in the Justice Department? A House panel is demanding answers.

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

We begin with the breaking news this hour, John McCain's sudden change of heart about the endorsement of a popular but very controversial televangelist. That would be Pastor John Hagee.

Let's go straight to our Brian Todd. He's been working on this story. He's got some news to break right here.

What do we know, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as a result of our inquiries today, John McCain makes a dramatic turnaround and rejects the endorsement of a key religious leader in the United States. He is Pastor John Hagee, a popular televangelist from San Antonio.

Hagee endorsed McCain in February. Since that time, Hagee's been under fire for comments that he had made earlier about the Catholic Church, very incendiary comments. He has since apologized for those comments.

During that period, McCain distanced himself from those remarks, but did not reject Hagee's endorsement. McCain now, today, makes a dramatic turnaround, and it's because of our inquirers about remarks that Pastor Hagee made many years ago in sermons in which -- one in particular in which he talked about Jews and the Holocaust and what he believed was God's plan to bring the Jews back to Israel.

Here is an audio excerpt from that sermon. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

PASTOR JOHN HAGEE, TELEVANGELIST: God says in Jeremiah 16: "Behold. I will bring them, the Jewish people, again unto their land that I gave unto their fathers. Behold. I will send for many fishers, and after will I send for many hunters. And they, the hunters, shall hunt them." That would be the Jews.

Then God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone who comes with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TODD: We have been in contact with Minister Hagee, with Pastor Hagee and his representatives. Mr. Hagee would not go on camera with us or do any kind of interview with us. His representatives say, however, that he was badly mischaracterized.

Hagee did issue a statement saying that he was mischaracterized in blog reports about that sermon and that he in no way condones what happened in the Holocaust, in no way condones Adolf Hitler. He said to imply otherwise is basically a lot of lies, and said that he was really only trying to explain to his parish how God could let something that terrible happen.

It's not enough to appease John McCain at this point, who now is completely rejecting his endorsement. Here is a statement that we just got a short time ago from John McCain.

"Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them. I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee's endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well."

Pretty big news from John McCain, who had counted on Pastor Hagee to enhance his conservative credentials.

A very important note here from McCain's campaign, who says that Reverend Hagee was never John McCain's pastor, that McCain did not have the kind of relationship with Pastor Hagee that Barack Obama had with Jeremiah Wright. And that, again, he is completely rejecting this endorsement outright, Wolf.

So pretty significant news from John McCain.

BLITZER: Very significant, because earlier he repudiated some of the remarks that Pastor Hagee made, but he never repudiated the endorsement. And we have that -- we've been showing our viewers of that actual endorsement. But now he's going one step further, a very significant step, and saying, you know what? I don't even want your endorsement, despite the support you might bring me in the Evangelical community.

TODD: That's right. John McCain, in those months since the February endorsement, has been outright saying, look, I reject his remarks on Catholicism. Pastor Hagee had called the Catholic religion the "great whore," among other things.

And McCain had said, this is ridiculous, I reject it, it's not representative of what I believe. He says the same thing now about his remarks about Jews and the Holocaust. But now, again, a very, very significant step for John McCain, saying essentially, I'm pushing this endorsement away, as far away as I possibly can.

BLITZER: And the irony in all of this is the original endorsement that Pastor Hagee gave John McCain. John McCain cited Pastor Hagee's longtime support of Israel.

TODD: Yes.

BLITZER: And saying that because of that, in part, he would welcome that endorsement. And now this statement comes to light that raises questions.

TODD: It does raise questions.

Now, again, Pastor Hagee -- that's a very important point you just made, Wolf. Pastor Hagee for many years is seen as a very ardent and clear supporter of Israel. He's done a lot of work to support Israel, to espouse their views on everything, and has been unabashed in that, and says that this continues and he is really kind of -- he wants to reiterate that to everybody who will listen.

I guess what John McCain feels at this point is that these remarks that he made in the sermon which is from the 1990s, which Hagee did not apologize for but said was mischaracterized, may be just too much for his campaign to bear.

BLITZER: Brian Todd doing some excellent reporting for us, breaking this story here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Brian, thanks very much.

Let's get some analysis now. Our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, is standing by.

What do you make of this, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that, clearly, he's trying to do some damage control here, Wolf. This is somebody he's already distanced himself from.

As he points out in his statement, this was not his pastor, as Reverend Wright was Barack Obama's pastor. But, you know, this is someone -- John McCain believes he's got a really good shot at winning -- at winning a state like the state of Florida, for example, where he is ahead in some polls against Barack Obama. And so, you know, he wants to -- he wants to control the damage and cut it off as quickly as possible.

BLITZER: But there could be potentially a downside to this, because Pastor Hagee does have a significant following. BORGER: He does have a significant following. And I think, you know, in politics, Wolf -- you know better than I do -- you've got to make choices. And I think, you know, some key battleground States like the state of Florida are very important to John McCain.

There's a sense among Republicans that the Jewish vote is really up for grabs. And he can't afford to have a problem like this sitting around. So they just decided to cut it off.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

Gloria, stand by. We're going to be getting back to you.

This hour, Barack Obama holds a town hall meeting at a synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida. We're standing by to bring you Senator Obama's remarks live. You'll see it here.

This is an important part of Obama's continuing effort to court Jewish voters. Some openly express doubts about him and his support for Israel.

Florida, by the way, has the third largest Jewish population of any state in the country. Exit polls show 5 percent of Florida voters in 2004, in the general election then, were Jewish and they overwhelmingly voted Democratic. Obama needs those voters in his corner as he prepares for a likely fall match-up with John McCain.

Let's go to Boca Raton. Jessica Yellin is standing by at this event.

Jessica, give our viewers a sense of what we expect to hear momentarily from the senator.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Barack Obama is expected to walk in here any moment now and speak to this audience of Jewish voters about what he calls his deep emotional connection to the Jewish community and to Israel. He'll talk about the sense that he has of having no original home, of being rootless. And that's a sense that's shared by the Jewish community, he believes. He will strongly endorse the state of Israel and then take some tough questions to try to do what the campaign says dispels myths about his position on the Jews.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): As Obama courts Florida's Jewish voters, he has his work cut out for him. This ad by a Republican Jewish group accusing him of anti-Israeli views is running in three local papers, and critics are playing on Jewish fears.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We know that his alliances are Reverend Wright, Louis Farrakhan, known haters of the state of Israel.

YELLIN: Yet Obama has denounced both men.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I pledge to you that I will do whatever I can in whatever capacity to not only ensure Israel's security, but also to ensure that the people of Israel are able to thrive and prosper.

YELLIN: Jewish voters tend to be reliable Democrats, but a significant minority are wary of an Obama presidency. John Kerry won 80 percent of the Jewish vote in 2004, but a recent Gallup poll shows only 61 percent say they would vote for Obama in November. Jewish concerns include Obama's past association with Reverend Wright, false rumors that he's Muslim, praise he received from a Hamas leaders, and most significantly, Obama's offer to hold talks with the leader of Iran, a sworn enemy of Israel.

OBAMA: That doesn't mean that we would not have preparation. But what I have said is that at some point I would be willing to meet.

YELLIN: Jewish voters in the south Florida community Obama visits today have mixed views.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was affiliated with someone whose avowed interest was the elimination of the Jewish race. And that was Reverend Wright. And it's a very unsavory connection.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you hear the people saying that he's anti -- an anti-Semite, that he is Muslim. I don't feel that way. I really don't.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we will find that he will be a good friend to the Jews. And he'll be a good friend to everyone.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Now, Wolf, I'll tell you, the campaign points out that the same Gallup poll I cited earlier showing Obama getting 61 percent of the Jewish vote, that's double the Jewish vote that McCain would get. The campaign, the Obama campaign, feels very strongly that as soon as Jewish voters learn more about Barack Obama's positions, as soon as they learn that he's Christian and not Muslim, as soon as they have a chance to talk to him, they will come around to voting for him in November. And he has a chance to talk to all these folks any minute now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He'll be walking into the synagogue very soon. We'll go there live once he starts his remarks.

Jessica, thanks very much.

Jessica Yellin reporting.

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

This could be an interesting speech he's about to give to these American Jews at that synagogue, Jack, in Boca Raton.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm sure it will be. And I'm glad we're going to take it live.

Before he starts, though, let me just get to this.

Senator Hillary Clinton is reportedly trying to muscle her way on to the ticket as Barack Obama's vice presidential candidate. "Politico" reports a senior Obama adviser saying that some Clinton supporters are "pushing real, real hard to get her on the ticket." According to "TIME" magazine, one of those supporters is her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who apparently thinks his wife has earned a place on Obama's ticket.

Clinton's wins in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, along with her support from women and white working class voters, are all arguments why Obama should include her. However, the unnamed Obama adviser suggests Clinton would take away from the ticket, citing her baggage and the fact that a majority of voters think she's dishonest. It would also detract from Obama's message of change and a shift away from politics as usual.

This aide believes that Obama will wind up attracting a lot of Democratic women who've been voting for Clinton anyway once they have a choice between Obama and McCain. And this person claims that even though Clinton attracts some white voters Obama hasn't been getting, "Some of them will never vote for Obama anyway."

But not everyone agrees that Hillary Clinton would weigh down the ticket. One former congressman, associate of the Clintons, says putting Hillary on the ticket makes sense. He says the race is "as close to a tie as anything in recent memory, and uniting the two candidates would merge the party."

So here's the question. Can Hillary Clinton muscle her way into the vice presidential slot?

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

What do you think about that rejection of Hagee's endorsement all of a sudden?

BLITZER: Yes, I think that's pretty significant. I'm glad Brian Todd broke that story.

A lot of people are going to say it's a little bit too late, but, you know, some people always say it's better late than never. I guess these latest comments pushed John McCain to take that formal step.

CAFFERTY: Well, do you suppose it has got anything to do with some of the uncertainly surrounding the Jewish vote in the very important state of Florida?

BLITZER: In Florida the Jewish vote. In Miami-Dade, in Broward, in Palm Beach County. There's a large number of American Jews there.

And a lot of them actually support John McCain. So this is going to be a fight this time around between presumably Obama and McCain. We'll see how it unfolds and we'll see what Barack Obama's ready to say in the meeting he's about to have in Boca Raton. CAFFERTY: Well, you know, he never campaigned down there before. So this is probably his first chance to go personally, one-on-one, with some of the Florida residents. It will be interesting to see if he can connect.

BLITZER: This could be very decisive. If the contest in Florida, Jack, as you know, is close -- and it was pretty close back in 2000 -- this meeting alone might potentially have an impact.

All right. We'll watch it together with you, Jack.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

And we're standing by to bring you Senator Obama's remarks at this synagogue in Florida in Boca Raton. Stand by for that.

Also coming up, the Democrats' vice presidential search. We're considering his options beyond Hillary Clinton as he gets this process under way.

And we're also tracking a monster tornado and its trail of devastation.

And with gas prices soaring, what would you ask an oil industry executive? Chevron's chief is standing by to take your questions, questions from our iReporters.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: These are live pictures from a town hall meeting in Boca Raton, Florida, at a synagogue. Barack Obama about to walk into that room and deliver a speech to these American Jews and then answer some questions.

We'll go there live once he shows up. This could be an important speech by Barack Obama.

He's staying tight-lipped today about his search for a running mate, but CNN has learned the Democrat is quietly, quietly getting things already started. A veteran party activist says Obama has tapped the former Fannie Mae CEO Jim Johnson to begin the screening and election process. Johnson performed the same role for John Kerry back in 2004 and for Walter Mondale back in 1984.

Obama was asked about all this while he was on Capitol Hill earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I'm not commenting on vice presidential issues because I'm still running for the nomination. There's no criteria right now. I'm going back down to Florida. I still have to win a nomination. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Candy, what's going on? Why is Obama doing this now, getting Jim Johnson already involved in this process, albeit early, early stages?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. But, I mean, the fact of the matter is you can bet that both these candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, having been thinking about this since the get-go, because that's what they do. But they've got to start getting this in place.

There is -- I mean, when you think when this is over, let's assume it's Barack Obama that wins the nomination. They've got to put together a fall campaign. They've got to put together a convention.

They've got to figure out who they're going to have as their vice presidential candidate. They've got to figure out the map. So there's lots to do. And it's not all that unusual that he would be looking to Jim Johnson to do this, who may have less work to do than it looks like because he's already vetted a number of these people that may be up on Barack Obama's board.

BLITZER: And it's interesting, though. This word of Jim Johnson's involvement comes a day after we learned that John McCain has invited a bunch of guys out there, potential running mates, out to his home in Arizona for a little Memorial Day Weekend.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. And what's interesting here is, this pick is always important. But it's especially important for these two men.

For Barack Obama, he's got to show somebody here with some experience to kind of counterbalance some of the fears about Obama not being experienced enough. John McCain has to look sort of towards someone with a younger face than his to sort of put some youth into the ticket.

So I think they need to do this. And will probably do this a little sooner than has happened in the past.

BLITZER: Candy, hold on for one second.

For the first time since he was diagnosed with brain cancer, we are now actually hearing from Senator Ted Kennedy. He just spoke a little while ago. I want to play this tape for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: ... they always come out and sail with us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.

KENNEDY: That's us. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have your layers on.

KENNEDY: Yes, I have good layers on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're very layered today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, are you going to (INAUDIBLE)?

KENNEDY: I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One day at a time.

KENNEDY: One day at a time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are you feeling?

KENNEDY: Very well, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You had a good day today?

KENNEDY: Yes.

We have a little pre-sail ritual here.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That water's cold.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They don't know. They like the water. They like it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, how does it feel to be back home again?

KENNEDY: Well, I think this is the best place in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're just going on pre-sail. OK, guys? Thanks.

KENNEDY: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks. We appreciate it.

KENNEDY: Really...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we're good.

KENNEDY: A perfect place. Yes, a little blustery today, but it's marvelous. It's good to be home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Getting some good rest?

KENNEDY: Yes. A lot of nice thoughts. A lot of nice -- enormously grateful to everybody at Mass General Hospital. They were just -- they're spectacular, all the nurses and doctors. We've received an incredible amount of wonderful notes and letters from friends and colleagues in the Senate, and as well as from people here in Massachusetts. It's all been very touching.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's been a wonderful outpouring of support. Wonderful.

KENNEDY: It's been very uplifting, touching. I'm very grateful for all that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. That's videotape just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.

Senator Ted Kennedy, the first time we've heard from him since he was diagnosed with the brain cancer, the malignant brain tumor.

Candy Crowley was watching it.

We were seeing it for the first time as it was coming in, Candy. He seems like Senator Ted Kennedy. We've covered him for a long time.

CROWLEY: And he didn't have to be out there if he didn't want to be out there. Those reporters didn't have to be there. So they clearly want to send a signal to friends.

You heard him talking about how many notes and calls and things he's gotten. So, you know, this is a signal, you know, that life goes on. I mean, you deal with what you've got to deal with, and clearly this is a guy who has dealt with a lot and has something else on his plate.

BLITZER: And you heard Vicki, his wife, basically saying, let's wrap this up. And he was willing to go on and answer a few more questions, which is not all that unusual if you know Senator Kennedy.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. Politics in his blood.

I suspect -- I was talking to somebody the other day who's a friend of his, and I said, "What do you think? Is he coming back to Capitol Hill?" And he said, "Bet on it."

So there is a lot of hope for him out there. I mean, it's a grim, grim diagnosis, and we don't want to gloss over that. But there's so many people on the Hill that I'm sure you've talked to who said, oh, yes, he'll come back here.

BLITZER: All right, Candy. Thanks.

And I think I speak for all of us when I say we wish him only, only the best. He is a fighter, and if anyone can fight this, it's Senator Ted Kennedy.

Thank you, Candy, very much. Want to show you these live pictures coming in from Boca Raton, Florida, right now. Momentarily, Barack Obama is going to walk in to the synagogue there and address the American Jewish community on a range of issues, including Israel, among other subjects.

We'll go there live once he starts speaking.

Also, terrifying pictures that you saw right here on CNN. A massive tornado sweeps across northern Colorado. Details of the damage are just coming in. We'll have an update.

Congress turns up the pressure on Karl Rove. There are new developments in a standoff with the House Judiciary Committee.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, Barack Obama getting ready to speak to American Jews at a synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida. Once he starts speaking we'll go there. We expect some significant remarks involving his position on Israel, Hamas, and Iran, among other subjects.

Stand by for that.

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

Right now he's being introduced at a synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida, Barack Obama. This is an event that his aides say is potentially very significant in trying to reassure American Jews that he is a friend, that he is their friend and a supporter of Israel.

There have been some questions that have been raised, and this is a speech that Barack Obama is hoping can turn things around for him, especially in a battleground state like Florida, where there's a significant Jewish community, especially along the coast in Palm Beach County, in Broward County, and in Miami-Dade County.

He's being introduced by Congressman Robert Wexler, a Democrat of Florida, a longtime friend and an ardent supporter. Congressman Wexler himself Jewish, has been in the forefront in trying to convince American Jews that Barack Obama is a very, very good friend.

We're going to go there once he arrives, once he's up there on the stage. We'll hear what he has to say. We've been told this potentially could be a significant -- a significant development.

In the meantime, there's some other news we're following, and this news goes back a few years and involves Karl Rove when he was the senior political adviser, the deputy White House chief of staff to President Bush.

Let's go to our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena. She's got some new details. Karl Rove, what, he's being subpoenaed by Congress? What's going on, Kelli?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, the House Judiciary Committee. And Wolf, as you said, this dates back to 2006, when remember when those eight U.S. attorneys were fired? Well, the Democrats charged that was all politically motivated, and they still believe that Karl Rove was behind it all.

Now, they've wanted to get him to talk about this issue and have been negotiating for more than a year. But Rove's attorney has consistently refused and says it's a matter of executive privilege. So, the House Judiciary Committee has issued a subpoena to try to force Rove to testify on July 10 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's more than just a U.S. attorney issue, isn't it, Kelli?

ARENA: Yes. Wolf, basically Democrats believe that the White House tried to politicize the entire Justice Department from top to bottom.

For example, lawmakers also want to know whether the prosecution of former Alabama governor and Democrat Don Siegelman, was politically motivated. As you know, Wolf, the Justice Department is supposed to be above politics. But Democrats say that that just was not the case.

BLITZER: The committee has subpoenaed others before, the but the White House often says there's executive privilege and won't let these current or former officials testify.

ARENA: That's right, including former White House counsel Harriet Miers, Wolf. So there's really not much incentive for Karl Rove to go before this committee.

And we've seen them, as you've said, to refuse. They can be prosecuted for contempt of Congress on that, but so far there haven't been any that have faced any consequences. The Justice Department just has really refused to move forward with a grand jury when people don't show up.

So chances are he probably won't show. If he does, he can always cite executive privilege, refuse to answer any questions.

BLITZER: We'll stay on top of this story with you, Kelli. Thank you very much.

And once again, we're standing by to hear from Barack Obama. He's at a synagogue right now in Boca Raton, Florida. Once he gets up there and starts speaking, we'll go there live.

Stand by for that.

We have some new survey numbers, meanwhile, that put the two Democratic presidential candidates up against John McCain in several swing states. Let's get some specific details from our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Who looks like the stronger Democrat in this snapshot, at least right now, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Hillary Clinton, according to this just-released Quinnipiac poll of three swing states -- Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania. The poll asked voters in those states to choose between Clinton and McCain and between Obama and McCain if the general election were being held right now.

Ohio, Clinton leads McCain by seven, but McCain leads Obama by four. Florida, it's the same thing. Clinton leads McCain by seven. McCain leads Obama by four. Now, in Pennsylvania, both Democrats lead McCain, but Clinton does better. All three are states that Clinton carried in the Democratic primaries. And, in all three states, she get more support from Democrats.

That's why he is making a point of reaching out to Clinton supporters. It's crucial for him to get them on board in those three states, because it could make the difference between winning and losing.

BLITZER: Is there a constituency, Bill, where Obama is noticeably weaker than Hillary Clinton?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the biggest difference, surprisingly, is not with women. It's with blue-collar white voters.

Look at Ohio. Pitted against McCain, Clinton gets 45 percent of the vote, while Obama gets 33 percent among non-college-educated white voters. Among college-educated whites, Clinton and Obama do about the same. Florida, Obama does 12 points worse than Clinton among working- class whites. Among the college-educated, they do about the same.

Pennsylvania, same story. Obama does 10 points worse than Clinton among working-class whites. They do about the same among college-educated whites.

So, the economic issue is going to be crucial to Obama's efforts to hold those working-class voters.

BLITZER: Those are important states, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, certainly for any Democrat, for any presidential candidate.

But there's another state where Obama does significantly better. What is that?

SCHNEIDER: That's California.

There's a new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California that shows Clinton leading McCain by 12 points in California, and Obama leading McCain by 17. California is an important state, but it's not usually regarded as a swing state. BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

And Barack Obama has just started speaking at a synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida.

Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: State Senator Dave Aronberg is in the house, and a great supporter.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Democratic House Minority Leader Dan Gelber is here, and a wonderful supporter.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: And two dear friends of mine that I -- just a point of personal privilege. Mark (ph) Nancy Gilbert (ph) have been such great friends. And I'm so grateful for their support.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: You know, two weeks ago, I had the honor of joining the Israeli Embassy's celebration of the 60th anniversary of Israel's independence. And it gave me a chance to think once again about the long journey that led to that joyous occasion.

The first time that this journey was brought to my consciousness was back in the sixth grade. I had a Jewish American camp counselor who had spent time in Israel. And he talked about what it meant for Jews to have a homeland, particularly after the horror of the Holocaust. And he talked about how important it was for a people who had been uprooted, who had preserved their culture over centuries, to finally return to their homeland.

And that idea was incredibly powerful to me. I was 11 years old at the time, but I had grown up as a child who had never felt rooted. Some of you know that I have got a diverse background, a mother from Kansas, a father from Kenya. My father had left. I had lived in Indonesia for a time, come back to Hawaii. I didn't know where I was.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: And, so, the idea that one could hang on to one's sense of values and have a sense of family, and despite being an outsider, somehow still have a place to connect to, not only a physical place, but also an emotional place and a spiritual place, was very powerful to me.

So, even before I fully understood the history of the Jewish people, the Zionist movement was something that I related to and connected to from my own experience. As I learned more, I found that I had a deep affinity with the idea of social justice that was embodied in the Jewish faith. There was a notion, tikkun, that you could repair the breach of the past. There was a notion embodied in the kibbutz that we all had a responsibility to each other, that we're all in this together, that hope can persevere even against the longest odds.

And it's that belief that sustained the Jewish people over their long journey towards Israel's independence. It's a journey that dates back to Moses leading his people towards a promised land. It's a journey that includes centuries of hope, when the dream of a homeland was darkest, a journey that gained new meaning through the work of Herzl, and a new urgency after the terrible suffering and loss of the Holocaust.

And it was a dream no longer deferred when David Ben Gurion declared Israel's independence. The end of this journey was not the end of challenges facing Israel. The fight for survival of the Jewish state has endured through decades of war and decades of terror.

To this very day, the people of Israel show courage and commitment to freedom every time they board a bus or kiss their children on their way to school.

But, throughout these challenges, Israel has done more than just survive. It has thrived as a strong and vibrant democracy. It has provided that promised land for Jews from around the world. It has built a thriving economy that's spreading opportunity to Israel's citizens, while enriching the world. And it has developed a rich cultural life and made enormous contributions to science and to the arts.

Israel has also developed many friendships, and none is deeper than the bond between Israel and the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: It is a bond that is rooted in the millions of Jewish immigrants who sought opportunity on America's shores, and the liberation of those awful Nazi death camps in World War II, and in the courageous stance of President Harry Truman, who bucked the counsel of his own advisers in recognizing the Jewish state.

But it's also a bond that I tried to describe recently in an article that I feel very deeply. And it's a values bond and an ideals bond and an intellectual bond. You know, when I think about the books that have taught me so much, so many of them have been written by Jewish American authors.

When I think about the professors who helped nurture my academic career, my employers and my mentors, so many of them have been members of the Jewish community. And that's because the Jewish community's impact on American cultural life, on our idea of ourselves, is so integral.

And, so, it's not surprising, then, that we are always going to have this special relationship, a relationship that's rooted in shared interests and shared values, democracy and opportunity and tolerance and community.

And I'm proud of the fact that it's supported by a strong bipartisan consensus, a consensus that I have been proud to be a part of. A broad majority of the American people understand this special relationship.

And, when I am in the White House, I will bring with me an unshakable commitment to maintaining that bond between the United States of America and an unshakable commitment to Israel's security.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Two years ago -- two years ago, I traveled to Israel. And the experience made a powerful impression on me, as it makes on all who travel there.

I have long understood Israel's great dilemma, its need for security in a difficult neighborhood and its quest for peace with its neighbors.

But there's no substitute for meeting the people of Israel, and seeing the terrain, and experiencing the powerful contrasts of a beautiful Holy Land that faces a constant threat of deadly violence. I know how much Israelis crave peace.

I know that Prime Minister Olmert was elected and Prime Minister Sharon before that with a mandate to pursue it. And I pledge to make every effort to help Israel achieve that peace. I will always support Israel's security. I intend to strengthen Palestinian partners who support that vision and renounce terrorism and recognize Israel's right to exist.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I will personally work...

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I will personally work for two states that can live side by side in peace and security, with Israel's status as a Jewish state ensured.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: And I will work on behalf of peace with the full knowledge that Israel still has bitter enemies. We see their intentions every time a suicide bomber strikes.

We saw their intentions in the Katyusha rockets that Hezbollah rained down on Israel from Lebanon in 2006. In fact, when I visited Israel, I visited homes along the northern border that had been struck by the Katyusha rockets. We see it today in the Kassams that Hamas fires into Israel every day from Gaza.

And that's why I have a fundamental difference with President Carter and his decision to meet with Hamas. We must not negotiate.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: We must not negotiate with a terrorist group that's intent on Israel's destruction. We should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terror, recognize Israel's right to exist, and abide by past agreements.

That is what I have said throughout this campaign.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Want to -- I want to just repeat this, because I know that there's a lot of rumor-mongering going around. People have been getting e-mails nonstop.

I have said throughout this campaign that we should not negotiate with Hamas or Hezbollah. And that's why I reject the attempts by some of my opponents in this campaign to distort my position. They are counting on fear, because they know they haven't told the truth.

As president, I will do everything in my power to help Israel protect itself from these and other threats. I will make sure that Israel can defend itself from any attack, whether it comes from as close as Gaza or as far as Tehran.

The defense cooperation between the United States and Israel has been a model of success. And I believe that it can be deepened and it can be strengthened.

And the gravest threat to Israel today obviously comes from Iran, that their radical regime continues to pursue the ability to build a nuclear weapon and continues to support terrorism across the region. President Ahmadinejad continues his offensive denials of the Holocaust and his disturbing denunciations of Israel.

The threat of Iran is real and is great. And my goal as president will be to eliminate it. Ending the war in Iraq will be, I believe, an important step towards achieving that goal, because it will give us increased flexibility in our dealings with Iran and increased legitimacy in the region.

Make no mistake about it. Our invasion of Iraq has empowered Iran. It is one of the biggest strategic blunders that we have made.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: And I intend to change it when I'm president of the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: We cannot just keep talking tough from Washington, in the naive belief that bluster alone will cause Iran to give up its nuclear program in support of terrorism. It has not happened over the last eight years. There's no reason to believe that it would happen in the next eight years. The time has come for tough, principled and direct diplomacy to lay out our clear terms, an end to Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons, an end to their support of terrorism, and an end to their threats against Israel and other countries.

And to...

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: To achieve this, I think we have to offer sticks, like economic sanctions. And we should not take our military options off the table.

That's one of the reasons that I was the chief sponsor of the bill that Congressman Wexler referred to that calls for greater ability to divest resources from Iran, to put the economic squeeze on them. But it also has to provide carrots, incentives, like the prospects of better relations, and integration in the international community, in order for these things to be effective.

I would seek sanctions through the United Nations and encourage our friends in Europe and the Gulf to use their economic leverage against Iran outside of the United Nations. We will be in a stronger position to achieve tough international sanctions if the United States shows that we are willing to come to the table.

And I would -- I will continue to work on strengthening sanctions. And make no mistake. If and when we ever have to use military force against any country, we must exert the power of American diplomacy first. That's how we gain legitimacy. That's how we are going to be more effective.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: That's how we can be a good friend to Israel.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: As we celebrate six decades of independence, we know that more work remains to be done to secure lasting peace for the children of Israel.

That is the work I intend to do as president, because we know that, even as we meet here today, there are still those who have not taken the step that President Truman took 60 years ago to recognize the Jewish state of Israel.

As I flew in an IDF helicopter during my travels in Israel, I was able to look down at the hills and the mountains that have nurtured the dreams of so many generations, while also appreciating the dangers faced by this particular narrow strip of land between the West Bank and the Mediterranean.

But what -- what struck me most was the kindness and the resolve of the people I met, people who balance their hopes for their children with the need to protect them. It's the same kind of kindness and resolve that I have encountered in so many Jewish Americans, including those who have supported me so ardently in Chicago and who know me best.

And I know that I might not be standing here were it not for the historical bond between the Jewish community and the African-American community here in this country, in pursuit of justice during the civil rights movement.

The reason I raise this is because one of the painful things for me over the last several years has been to see the strains between the African-American community and the Jewish community. That strains me because I know that Dr. King could not have done everything that he did had it not been for the support of the Jewish community, that there was a time when we saw common cause in eliminating discrimination and promoting civil rights and promoting civil liberties in this country, that sense of a common kinship of a people who have been uprooted and a people who have been on the outside.

That strikes me as the very essence of what we should be fighting for.

And I want to make sure that...

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I want to make sure that I am one of the vehicles by which we can rebuild those bonds, because I truly believe, just as all those Jewish Americans who boarded the bus and went down South and marched for justice, that justice is at the heart of the Jewish journey.

Justice is at the heart of Israel's existence. The journey has been long. And, in the journey ahead, we will have a lot of bumps. But America must stand shoulder to shoulder with our ally Israel. I believe that all Americans believe that.

And, together, we can strengthen the ties that bind America and Israel. But I also believe that we can strengthen the bonds here in the United States and make sure that all of our children are prospering and all of our children are experiencing the kind of opportunity that they deserve.

And that's ultimately what this election is going to be all about.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: So, let me -- let me just make one last point.

I emphasize these issues, the issues of Israel, because I think, on a lot of domestic policy, we are in agreement. But this is a town hall meeting, and I know that your interests extend beyond the issue of Israel. So, what I would like to do is just very briefly say that part of what we're fighting for in this country, domestically, is also to restore a sense of justice in our economic lives and our social lives.

You know, when we have...

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: When we have -- when we have senior citizens who are having to take half their prescriptions because of a prescription drug law that was fundamentally flawed and did not allow negotiations with drug companies for the cheapest available price on drugs, that's a violation of that spirit of justice.

When we have...

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: When we have children in substandard schools, teachers underpaid, young people who can't afford college because it's financially out of reach...

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: ... that's a violation of the spirit of justice.

When we have families who can't afford health care and single mothers who I meet who are still trying to figure out whether they can get even basic checkups for their children, that's a violation of the spirit of justice.

And I know that the Jewish American community has always been at the forefront of making sure that this is truly a land of opportunity, and that the American dream extends to everybody.

And, so...

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: And, so, I just want to -- I just want to make sure that everybody understands that, even as we talk about the issue of Israel, I'm -- I welcome a dialogue, as well, about how we can make this country a little more fair than it's been, and how we can make sure that all our children have opportunity, all our seniors are cared for, and middle-class families have the kinds of quality of life that has always been the hallmark of the American dream.

You are going to be a part of making that a reality. And I'm hopeful that, you know, in the coming months, as I campaign throughout Florida, that you realize that you're going to have a strong champion in the White House in Barack Obama.

Thank you very much, everybody.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Thank you.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: All right. OK.

(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: All right, so there he is, Barack Obama, speaking at a synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida, actively seeking to reassure American Jews that he's a strong supporter of Israel and he's their friend as well.

Let's discuss what we just heard here in our expanded "Strategy Session."

Paul Begala, let me get your reaction first. As someone who supports Hillary Clinton...

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

BLITZER: ... this is an important event. Tell our viewers why.

BEGALA: Well, because Hillary Clinton has -- being a senator from New York and also have been the first lady under Bill Clinton, who made great strides for peace, she has really deep roots in the Jewish community and in the pro-Israel community, which extends beyond the Jewish community.

Senator Obama has had a hard time. And he referenced that. I thought it was a great speech. He hit all the right notes. You know, first off, before we came on the air, he was introduced by Robert Wexler, congressman from Florida, Jewish American, one of the strongest champions of Israel in the Congress. That itself sends a huge signal.

And then I went through and I took some notes. He -- he used -- you know how, when President Bush speaks to evangelicals, he uses phrases that come out of their hymns and their traditions? He talked about being the healer of the breach. Well, that's from the Prophet Isaiah. That resonates with a Jewish audience.

He talked about an unshakable commitment to the security of Israel. He broke with Jimmy Carter, who's probably supporting Barack. So, I think the Obama people ought to be very happy with this. And I think this is going to be music to the ears of a lot of America Jews.

BLITZER: Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst, what do you think?

BORGER: I agree. I agree with Paul. I think that it was the speech that he needed to give.

He understands completely the problems he's got with the Jewish community. And he feels that there are a lot of misconceptions that he needs to fix, and he needs to fix them early on. And I guarantee you, you're going to see Obama back in Florida over and over and over again, because, right now, some polls are showing that he gets beaten by John McCain in the state of Florida. He can't afford to let that happen.

BLITZER: And, you know, John McCain is widely seen as a very strong supporter of Israel himself. And there have been numerous Jews out there who have suggested, you know what, if Hillary Clinton's not going to be the nominee, they might even vote for John McCain, instead of Barack Obama.

So, presumably, Barack Obama is trying to bring them back to the Democratic fold.

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE: Sure, and especially in Florida.

We saw in 2000, the switch of a few votes in Florida switches the state. You switch Florida, you could switch a presidential election. And I thought one of the significant things Obama did in the speech, Wolf, he's trying to move himself. This isn't the first time in the last couple of weeks. He's trying to move himself to the right in his position on Middle East policy.

He was way out to the left. He said, without precondition, he would negotiate with the leaders of Syria and Iran. He says he wants to withdraw our troops from Iraq. You could have chaos in that chaos. You could have chaos spreading out of Iraq if we do that.

You know that those issues have to concern Jewish voters in the United States. And that's what he was trying to...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What did you think of the decision today by John McCain to formally repudiate Pastor John Hagee for the comments that have just surfaced about Hitler and the Holocaust and Israel?

JEFFREY: Well, I don't think he ever should have taken his endorsement in the first place. But I think he had to do that, given the comments that came out today. I don't see how he could have continued to embrace him.

BLITZER: What's going to be the fallout from that, do you think?

BEGALA: Well, it was better late than never. I will say, Terry Jeffrey, as a conservative and also as a Catholic, he spoke out on this set weeks ago against Pastor Hagee for saying anti-Catholic things, very big. It could a lot of character for Terry to do that. And so I applaud him for that.

But finally Senator McCain has joined Terry in renouncing this guy, who is just a bigot. I mean, he has no business standing beside John McCain.

BORGER: And Hagee then renounced McCain.

(LAUGHTER) BORGER: We just got a statement from him.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: This goes beyond -- this is why this is important.

When we think about the pro-Israel vote, it's not just the Jewish vote. Pastor Hagee is certainly not a Jew. I'm a practicing Roman Catholic. I'm very pro-Israel.

When you were covering us in the White House, some of my colleagues used to call me a Likud Democrat, because I was so pro- Israel.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: So, Barack is speaking to a larger audience here, not just -- yes, he was in a synagogue, and many -- most Jews, of course, strongly support Israel, but so do most Catholics and Protestants, too. So, this is a smart move for Barack.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by, because we have more to discuss. But we have to move on right now.

We're going to have Jack Cafferty in a moment. He's got his questions and "The Cafferty File" coming up.

Also, military technology on remote control, going after the enemy with deadly weapons operated from miles away. We have exclusive video of what this futuristic machine can do.

And embarrassment for Democrats in Congress -- they sent the wrong bill to the White House, a clerical error at the highest level. How could this happen? We will show you right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go right to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf, is: Can Hillary Clinton muscle her way into the vice presidential slot as the number two on a Barack Obama ticket? There are some people reportedly inside the campaign pushing hard to see if she can get that vice presidential nod.

Connie writes: "In the end, I don't think Hillary Clinton's being on or off the ticket will be the deciding factor in November. Voters will choose Obama or McCain based on how they feel about those two men, not the vice presidential candidate. I think Clinton would like very much for Democrats to think that she must be on the ticket in order for Obama to win. It's another desperate ploy by Hillary and Bill to get back to the White House. Heaven help Obama if she does." Jenny in Georgia writes: "Judging from the decisions he has made so far in this campaign, Barack Obama is not that stupid. He seems to have surrounded himself with an excellent team. And Hillary is not a team player.

Bruce writes: "No, but Barack Obama is stupid if he feels he can win this election on his own without the help of Hillary Clinton. The Democratic Party is split down the middle. Obama needs to stop seeing Clinton as his opposition, and see her as a benefit. If the Democrats want to ensure they win the presidency, it's going to take a combined ticket, regardless of who the nominee is."

D. writes: "She is setting up a two-pronged victim stance. First, the Gore -- read Clinton -- 2000 election where he/she lost to the bad Bush -- read Obama, and the second, where she can play the race card again by being the victim of the scary, powerful, moneyed black man against the underdog female. She is a hopeless piece of baggage totally lacking in ethics."

Jan disagrees in Boca Raton, Florida: "Let's hope so. Somebody has got to save this country."

And Susan writes: "I hope not. As a white middle-class woman, registered Republican, and wife of a Navy man, I am rooting and supporting Senator Obama because he is running on a change campaign. If he folds and puts Senator Clinton on the ticket as V.P., I won't vote for him. Senator Clinton is a typical politician. She is not one of us."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog. You will find it at CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can look for your e-mail there, along with hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.

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