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Obama V.P. Vetter Steps Down; Clintons Holding a Grudge?; What's Next for Chelsea Clinton?

Aired June 11, 2008 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, one of Barack Obama's vice presidential vetters steps down, and that unleashes a brand-new round of angry words between the Obama and McCain camps. We're going to update on the news that has just occurred.

Plus, John McCain gets new flak over Iraq. Democrats are pouncing on his latest statements about troop withdrawals.

And the Clintons may be taking names. There's new reason to think they're holding a grudge against some old political pals who turned against them -- all that coming up, plus the best political team on television.

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

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Jim Johnson's exit as a member of Barack Obama's vice presidential search team is aimed at removing any tint of controversy. But the McCain campaign is trying to fan the flames right now. There's new developments happening.

Let's go to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. She's watching this story for us.

We have seen these e-mails from the campaigns going back and forth, and I suspect this is only just the beginning.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is just the beginning.

This is a fast-developing story that ultimately the Obama camp felt better to cut its losses and move on. One of the lessons learned from previous controversies, aides say, is to assess the damage and then respond immediately, which is why Johnson's resignation has been accepted.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Jim Johnson, the man tapped to lead the committee to vet Barack Obama's candidates for vice president stepped down. The abrupt about-face following 48 hours of criticism from John McCain's camp that Obama was being a hypocrite for seeking Johnson as an adviser. The controversy is over Johnson's perceived conflict of interests. Johnson, who was once chairman of the mortgage lender Fannie Mae, received millions of dollars in loans from Countrywide Financial Corporation, with the help of its CEO.

Countrywide is now under federal investigation for its alleged role in the subprime mortgage crisis. There's no evidence of anything illegal in these transactions, but Johnson quickly became a political liability to Obama, who has anchored his campaign on changing Washington and going after subprime lenders.

Obama issued a statement, saying: "Jim did not want to distract in any way from the very important task of gathering information about my vice presidential nominee. So, he has made a decision to step aside that I accept."

McCain's campaign immediately slammed Obama, saying: "Jim Johnson's raises serious questions about Barack Obama's judgment. America can't afford a president who flip-flops on key questions in the course of 24 hours."

Obama's camp responded, "We don't need any lectures from a campaign that waited 15 months to purge the lobbyists from their staff, and only did so because they said it was a perception problem."

This rapid-fire exchange underscores the lengths both campaigns are willing to go through to convince voters their candidate is the real agent of change.

STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Campaigns are about guilt through association, who's endorsed you, who do you support, who are you embracing. It can't be stopped because we have concluded as a people that you are who you surround yourself with.

STEPHEN HESS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Both sides are going to be holier than thou. And there's nothing wrong with that. Both sides are going to pick up on anything that looks like inconsistencies. And now we're in that stage.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, aides to Obama say the controversy over Johnson turned into a distraction right when they were unveiling Obama's economic plan. So, while accepting Johnson's resignation could mean taking a hit in the short term, in the long term, they believe voters will turn to the issues that really matter to them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Given the problems that Johnson has faced in the news media over the past few years, did anyone in the Barack Obama campaign see this as a potential problem?

MALVEAUX: You know, they really didn't, Wolf. And you may recall just looking at Johnson's past that he held this position before. He vetted the vice presidential picks for the Kerry campaign back in 2004, Walter Mondale's campaign in 1984. So, that really was their focus, not his association with the mortgage crisis, the potential questions that could come out of that. So, really what this underscores is, the level of scrutiny is dramatically higher now than it was back then.

BLITZER: Good point. Thanks very much, Suzanne, for that.

Senator McCain, meanwhile, is doing battle on some familiar turf today, the Republican nominee in waiting trying to win votes in the critically important swing state of Pennsylvania. But he is fighting off a new dustup about his stand on the war in Iraq and the importance of bringing troops home.

Let's go to Dana Bash. She's covering the McCain campaign for us. She's in Pennsylvania right now.

There was a little flap over some comments the senator made early this morning.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There sure was, Wolf.

The goal of the day was to get John McCain into his comfort zone, a much needed chance for him to get back into his comfort zone. And that is for him the town hall meeting. It was not to engage into a debate over whether or not he wants to bring troops home.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): John McCain came to Pennsylvania looking for votes his advisers call crucial to fall victory -- Democrats who voted for Hillary Clinton here.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't agree with Senator Obama that they cling to their religion and the Constitution because they're bitter.

BASH: He spoke off the cuff, surrounded by supporters at a town hall instead of a planned speech on climate change. An attempt to recover from what advisers admit has been a presentation problem. Last week's green backdrop and teleprompter stumbles a day earlier...

MCCAIN: I will veto every single beer -- bill with earmarks.

BASH: But finding his general election mojo hit a bump earlier in the morning when McCain was asked if he knows when troops can come home from Iraq.

MCCAIN: No, but that's not too important. What's important is the casualties in Iraq. Americans are in South Korea. Americans are in Japan.

BASH: Not a new theme for McCain, who consistently argues the emphasis should be on stability in Iraq before troop withdrawal. But Democrats heard the phrase not too important and pounced with a deluge of statements. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying, ... he just doesn't get the grave national security consequences of staying the course.

It was reminiscent of another McCain line Democrats made infamous when he was trying to make the same point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... are staying in Iraq for 50 years.

MCCAIN: Maybe 100.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that...

MCCAIN: We've been in South Korea -- we've been in Japan for 60 years.

BASH: The McCain campaign scrambled a conference call with allies to fight back.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I view the attacks on Senator McCain this morning as another partisan attempt to distort John McCain's words.

BASH: McCain chose his words on Iraq more carefully at the town hall.

MCCAIN: Is it long and hard and difficult, and are the casualties painful to us, even one? Of course.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, on the economy, John McCain said to voters that he understands that they have a lot of pain, especially when it comes to pain at the pump, Wolf.

But for the second day in a row at his main campaign event, he made no mention of a gas tax holiday. And it's quite perplexing, because of the fact that his aides told us that they think that that's really a winning argument. And he hasn't talked about it, at least at his main events, all week long -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting point, Dana. Thank you.

Pennsylvania, by the way, is one of the 12 battleground states we have identified here on our CNN Electoral College map in yellow. Those are the battleground states. It has 21 electoral votes, Pennsylvania. Democrats carried the state in the last four presidential elections by relatively slim margins in the past two contests, larger margins back in '96 and '92, when Bill Clinton was running.

Pennsylvania has the second oldest population in the United States. The economy is a big issue in this state, with a large blue- collar work force. In April, the state's unemployment rate was the same as the national rate, about 5 percent. The state's Democratic base is located in the urban areas of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, while the GOP's base is in the more rural central parts of the state. And one of McCain's national campaign co-chairmen is well known in Pennsylvania. That would be the former Governor Tom Ridge.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I have a question.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: Are we going to do one of these for all 50 states?

BLITZER: No, just the battleground states, the 12 we have identified as the key battleground states right now, where this contest probably will be determined.

(CROSSTALK)

CAFFERTY: Or not.

OK. I was just checking.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: You can almost smell when it's election time in Washington, D.C. That's when the politicians start making noise about issues that actually affect millions of us Americans. The rest of the time, it's all about them, their lobbyist buddies, the special interests.

But, for just a few months before we vote, they pretend to care. This time around, it's all about skyrocketing gas and the shaky economy. Democrats joined together yesterday, went after the Republicans about soaring energy costs.

After Senate Republicans blocked debate on bills that would have extended tax incentives for alternative power sources and put new taxes on the oil companies, Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor and said, "This is framed with a picture of a presidential campaign going on." That's a quote.

Republicans are standing their ground. They say the bills were shortsighted, the Democrats aren't doing anything about lowering the cost of gasoline immediately, and they refuse to open more domestic areas to oil exploration and production.

House Republicans also reminded voters the Democrats have been in charge of Congress for the last year-and-a-half, as those gas prices have gone right on up.

Meanwhile, members of both parties are in constant communication with their respective presidential nominees. This probably means there's a lot of coordination going on, as congressional lawmakers speak out about issues that are hitting Americans' pocketbooks hard.

You can be sure they're all focused on their candidate winning the White House and hopefully providing long enough coattails, so those who are up for reelection in Congress don't get thrown out on their ear, where most of them belong.

Here's the question: Is anything more important to Congress than being reelected?

Here's a hint: No.

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

I love how, when we get within six months of these elections, they all pretend like they feel our pain.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: They cause our pain.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

One columnist says Democrats are putting wallpaperer over cracks left behind after Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Are Democrats, though, really that fractured?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: The overwhelming majority of those who supported Hillary Clinton are going to follow her advice and her recommendation to do everything they can to support Barack.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That coming from the Senate's second most powerful Democrat, the majority whip, Dick Durbin. He will respond to claims his party more interested in rallying against John McCain than rallying around Barack Obama.

And some Bill and Hillary Clinton supporters are said to be on a very special list. Apparently, though, you don't want to be on that list. Might those listed who supported Barack Obama suffer political revenge for crossing the Clintons?

And guess who's being mentioned as a possible running mate for Barack Obama by a very prominent Democrat? The answer and more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: United they stand, so divided they won't fall. After a bitter primary, many Democrats are determined to show they stand together. But some wonder if they're more unified in supporting Barack Obama or more unified in standing against John McCain. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joining us now from Capitol Hill, Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, one of the early, maybe the earliest supporter of Barack Obama.

You must be a very happy man, Senator.

DURBIN: I'm really happy. He's a great man. He's been my colleague in the Senate now for several years and a close friend for even longer. I think he will be a great president.

BLITZER: And you're the senior senator. He's the junior senator.

DURBIN: That's right.

BLITZER: But guess what? He's got the Democratic presidential nomination, in effect, and you don't. But that's another story, right?

DURBIN: Well, this isn't about seniority. It's about quality. And I think he has all the qualities we need.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right, let's talk a little bit about the Democratic Party now. It was a pretty tense primary campaign between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. She narrowly lost.

And yesterday, there was a rally up on the Hill. The Democratic leadership and Howard Dean, everyone got together. I was intrigued by what Dana Milbank wrote in "The Washington Post" today.

He wrote this. He said: "The famously fractious party is trying to apply wallpaper to the foundational cracks left by the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton saga. But if yesterday's unity kickoff is any indication, the party is less interested in rallying around its nominee than in rallying against John McCain."

You agree that the party is that divided right now?

DURBIN: Well, Dana Milbank, one of those ink-stained retches of the press, has to generate an interesting column, and did it again today.

But I don't think it really reflected the reality of what we did yesterday. We had supporters, strong supporters, of Barack Obama, as well as Hillary Clinton, come together and make it clear. We're going to be one party fighting for victory in November. And there's a clear difference between Barack Obama and the change he will bring to Washington and John McCain, who will be a continuation of the Bush economic policies and the Bush policies in Iraq.

BLITZER: There's still, though, a lot of lingering bitterness, as you can imagine, from many of Hillary Clinton's supporters. They didn't like the way she was treated during these months of the campaign. And some of them are even saying, you know what? They would rather not vote or even vote for McCain than vote for Barack Obama. I'm sure you have run into some of those very passionate, ardent supporters of hers.

DURBIN: Well, Wolf, let me tell you, there were people emotionally invested on both sides feeling very strongly about this campaign. And many of them have said it's going to be tough to support the other candidate.

But I think when the time comes, when they take a look at the choice between Barack Obama and John McCain, they're going to realize it's a very clear choice, and the overwhelming majority of those who supported Hillary Clinton are going to follow her advice and her recommendation to do everything they can to support Barack.

BLITZER: Here's a question, because you're one of the leaders among the Democrats in the Senate. Senator Obama says he's not going to accept PAC money or federal lobbying money for his campaign, and he's now the effective leader of the Democratic Party, and he said the DNC shouldn't accept this kind of money either.

Should the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which raises money for potential Senate candidates, incumbents, as well as challengers, should they follow Obama's lead?

DURBIN: Well, that day may come. But in the middle of an election cycle, it's tough to make that choice and say that you're going to walk away from a lot of support that could be a critical difference between electing a team in the United States Senate who will work for change with Barack Obama or basically giving up on contests. I don't think that is likely to happen in the DSCC this cycle.

BLITZER: All right.

Representative Dan Boren of Oklahoma -- he's a Democrat, not a Republican -- he says Obama is the most liberal senator in Congress, and he won't endorse him.

It was a pretty surprising statement we got from Representative Boren. What do you think about losing those kind of conservative Democrats in the course of this campaign?

DURBIN: Well, you know, those things will happen.

There was an article in a recent newspaper in Washington where you had former Republican Leader Tom DeLay say that his wife may not vote for John McCain. So, some of those things are going to happen.

The bottom line is, you're going to find the overwhelming majority of not only Democrats, but independents and many Republicans, believing that Barack Obama is the only way to bring real change to this town. Some of those old party labels, liberal, conservative, may not apply to this election, where people clearly want a change in direction when it comes to economic policy and the policy on Iraq.

BLITZER: Senator Durbin, thanks very much for joining us.

DURBIN: Good to be with you, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: It's a startling claim. Was the computer for a committee that is part of the House of Representatives hacked by someone from inside China?

And in Iraq, a critical issue that pits sovereignty vs. security and may change a key debate between Barack Obama and John McCain. What happens if more and more Iraqi leaders insist, yes, insist, that the U.S. leave Iraq right away?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The United States and Iraq right now seem increasingly at odds over just how many U.S. troops should stay in Iraq, for how long, and what should they be doing there.

Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre. He is working this story.

We're hearing from more and more of these Iraqi politicians, including Shiite leaders close to the prime minister. Some of them sound very much like some of the political campaigners right here in the U.S.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

The latest calls for U.S. troops to leave Iraq sooner rather than later are coming from Iraq itself, and that could change a key dynamic in the U.S. presidential race.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): Republican John McCain has tied his campaign strategy on Iraq to a simple premise, that America should stay as long as needed to ensure victory, even if it spells his defeat.

MCCAIN: I would much rather lose a political campaign than lose a war.

MCINTYRE: But, on this issue, Iraqis have a vote. And in the heated negotiations between Washington and Baghdad over a status of forces agreement, some Iraqi politicians are saying, if there's no deal, U.S. troops should just go.

That sounds more like Barack Obama, who wants to bring most U.S. troops home in 16 months. In Germany, President Bush insisted Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appreciates the American presence.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can find any voice you want on the Iraqi political scene and quote them, which is interesting, isn't it? Because, in the past, you could only find one voice, and now you can find a myriad of voices.

MCINTYRE: Talks are stalled over the extent U.S. forces can act without Iraqi permission. For example, Iraq wants U.S. troops to stay in their bases unless their help is requested.

The State Department, which is hammering out the agreement, insists it won't tie the hands of the next president. But, in an interview with CNN, Defense Secretary Robert Gates conceded, the scope of the accord could go beyond the kind of routine military agreements the U.S. has with more than 80 other countries and require congressional approval.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: If it emerges in a way that does make binding commitments that fit the treaty-making powers of the -- or treaty-ratification powers of the Senate, then it will have to go that direction.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: So, Senator McCain can say it's really about casualties, not how long U.S. troops are there, and Senator Obama can say that he plans to bring troops home at the rate of two brigades a month. But the fact of the matter is, Wolf, either president, whoever is elected, may be faced with withdrawing troops on a timetable not entirely of his making -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Things are changing rapidly over there. All right, Jamie, thanks very much.

So, leave it to James Carville to offer the Barack Obama campaign some interesting advice on choosing a running mate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm trying to be provocative in one sense, but I think it's a very good idea, and I think it's something that they ought to consider.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're going to tell you who he's considering as Barack's Obama potential vice presidential running mate. It's a provocative idea he has. We will tell you what's going on. The best political team on television is ready to discuss it as well.

Plus, is Obama getting a bump out of Hillary Clinton's exit? We're standing by for a new snapshot of where the Obama/McCain matchup stands right now. There are new numbers are coming in.

And Democrats are seizing on McCain's new remarks about Iraq. But some are arguing he's just saying the same thing he's always said.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, John McCain sparks a new uproar over the war in Iraq as he talks about withdrawal vs. casualties. You are going to hear exactly what he said about bringing home U.S. troops.

Former Vice President Al Gore for vice president again? You're going to find out why one top Democrat thinks Al Gore is exactly what Barack Obama needs.

And months of campaigning for her mom come to a disappointing end. We're going to show you what's next for Chelsea Clinton -- all of that coming up, plus the best political team on television.

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

One after another, they jumped ship, leaving the Clinton camp to back Barack Obama. They also left some -- left behind some very hard feelings.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's watching this story for us.

Some Clinton loyalists, as we know, Mary, are holding grudges right now.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are, Wolf. And the chapter on Hillary Clinton's campaign may be closed, but there's still open wounds over those who crossed the Clintons.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, today, I am standing with Senator Obama to say, yes, we can.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SNOW (voice-over): Yes, Senator Hillary Clinton can support Barack Obama. But as for the former Clinton supporters who switched sides to support Obama, forgiving and forgetting might not come that easily.

"The New York Times" reports that some Clinton loyalists have been keeping tabs on those who crossed the Clintons. One former Clinton adviser says there's no doubt some have forever burned bridges with the power couple.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it would be wrong that the Clintons will have an enemies list in the Nixonian sense. They do have long memories, but I don't think they have long knives out for the people who have -- who broke with them. MCINTYRE: Former Clinton aide Lanny Davis is one such loyal Clinton supporter with a long memory.

LANNY DAVIS, FORMER CLINTON SPECIAL COUNSEL: I certainly know that I would never forget. I always can forgive, but I won't forget, as President Kennedy once said.

SNOW: Davis says he's not upset that some former Clinton supporters endorsed Obama. He says he's upset because he says they violated what he calls a fundamental rule of life.

DAVIS: You don't trash, publicly, somebody who's been good to you, period. And that's why Bill Richardson is the number one person whose name evokes the most anger in me.

SNOW: Former Clinton administration official Bill Richardson says he knows the Clintons have been unhappy with him since he endorsed Barack Obama. And he's not the only one thought to be on the outs. "The New York Times" says several Kennedys won't be in good graces, along with some members of the media, like NBC's Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann, and "Vanity Fair's" Todd Purdum, who drew ire from Bill Clinton for his recent profile of the former president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: So what will it mean to be on the outs with the Clintons?

Some former Clinton aides say expect a cold shoulder and no favors. But the former Clinton aides I spoke with also say that Bill Clinton can't hold a grudge for very long, but that it might take Hillary Clinton longer to forgive and forget, since she tends to take things more personally at times -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. When I covered Bill Clinton at the White House, he had a temper, but he got over it right here quickly, as a lot of us remember.

Thanks very much for that, Mary.

Let's discuss this and more with CNN's Dana Bash. She's joining us from Philadelphia, where she's covering the McCain campaign. Also joining us in New York, our own Jack Cafferty, and our senior political analyst, Jeff Toobin. They're all part of the best political team on television.

What do you think about this so-called enemies list, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Well, with all due respect, why are we still talking about the Clintons?

She's no longer running for president. That campaign is over. He's no longer the president of the United States.

Who cares?

I mean, you know...

BLITZER: You're going to be on that list, Jack, pretty soon.

CAFFERTY: I probably am. I don't care. Let's move on. That was last week's news.

BLITZER: All right -- Jeff.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think this is actually much ado about very little.

CAFFERTY: Thank you.

TOOBIN: She lost. She's upset. But I don't think there's any list. I think, you know, there's some hard feelings, but they're professionals and they'll get over it.

BLITZER: Are they going to get over it pretty soon, do you think -- Dana?

BASH: Well, I've got to tell you, there might not be any list.

Who knows about that?

But I can tell you, I have spoken to people ranging from an elected official, a female, to maybe a lower level staffer who -- the lower level staffer, at least, wanted to work on the Obama campaign and really, really got you know what for it from her people in and around the Clinton campaign and didn't go work for Obama because of that.

This elected official, I had a conversation with her about the kind of conversation she had with the Clinton camp after she backed Obama. It was not pretty.

So there may not be a list, but there -- it was definitely a loyalty test and it was very, very real.

BLITZER: Dana, you're in Philadelphia. You're covering McCain. What is he planning on doing?

He's challenged Barack Obama to these 10 town hall meetings. He wants to start one, what, as early as tomorrow. But Obama hasn't yet agreed to any of them.

BASH: He hasn't agreed to any of them. And we just found out something that is quite perplexing, I have to tell you, Wolf. And that is that on John McCain's public schedule was this town hall at Federal Hall in New York, scheduled for tomorrow night. It was always supposed to be open. It was the place and time that he wanted to have the first town hall with Barack Obama.

We just got a press release saying that it is going to be broadcast exclusively on another cable network. This is something that I don't think I've ever seen before or heard of before, a public campaign event that it is going to be now closed to the rest of the press. That's one thing that makes this quite questionable.

The other is, I've got to tell you, I've been talking to McCain advisers all day about voters things that I had heard about whether they would have an empty chair for Obama, things like that. And I was told no, the whole point of this is to talk about issues, not to have gimmicks.

Well, this seems to be the kind of thing that they said that they are exactly trying to move away from -- have a discussion open to everybody about the issues.

BLITZER: Jack, listen to this exchange that McCain had with Matt Lauer on the "Today Show" this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT LAUER, HOST, "THE TODAY SHOW": Do you now have a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq?

MCCAIN: No, but that's not too important.

What's important is the casualties in Iraq. Americans are in South Korea, Americans are in Japan, American troops are in Germany. That's all fine. American casualties and the ability to withdraw.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think about this, because it's drawing, as we saw earlier this hour, a lot of commotion.

CAFFERTY: Well, I think it's a different way of saying what he said when he made that infamous 100 years comment, that, you know, that, as far as he's concerned, we'll stay there until we get the job done and it doesn't matter how long it tangs.

That being said, politically it was probably not the smartest thing that ever came out of his mouth. It just draws attention once again to his position on an issue that an awful lot of people in this country disagree with. That five-and-a-half years has depleted our military and it's beginning to look now like it might all be academic anyway. The news is start to indicate that the Iraqis might be getting ready to throw us out of there.

BLITZER: There are certainly statements along those lines coming in, especially in the aftermath of some of the Iraqi meetings with Iranian leaders, including Ahmadinejad.

Jeff, what do you think?

TOOBIN: Well, I don't think it's a major change or any kind of change in McCain's policy. But it just underlines the political difficult of that policy. Because he may think it's not important that -- the fact that this is an unlimited commitment, but it costs billions of dollars a month. The idea of doing it without casualties is a nice idea, but doesn't appear to be likely anytime soon. So I think it just shows this is why we have elections in the United States, because the two candidates have very different views on this precise issue.

BLITZER: You've been reporting on this story all day, Dana.

What do you think?

BASH: Well, the fact of the matter is, just as both Jack and Jeff have said, it's not anything different in terms of his policy and his position. He's been pretty consistent on that. But that phrase, "not too important," that was something his advisers went oh when they heard him say it because they realized that anything on this issue -- anything, especially something that may seem a little bit callous if taken out of context -- and the Democrats have been jumping on it all day -- that is not helpful for him, especially when he's trying to really get his mojo in the general election and he's been having a little bit of trouble in terms of the kinds of events he's been having.

TOOBIN: But...

BLITZER: And that's what happens when politicians get angry. They take all sorts of statements out of context.

TOOBIN: But, you know, I just think the idea that, you know, his campaign aides are upset about what he said, I mean this is his position on the issue. I don't see why a campaign should be upset. This is what he thinks should or shouldn't happen in Iraq.

BASH: Yes. But they're not upset about what he said. I think that everybody understands, in this day and age, with the blogs, with rapid fire response, anything and everything can be taken and made into something that may not be exactly how he meant to say it. And that's, I think, what his aides recognized as soon as he said. They've been living through the hundred years war -- the hundred years war now -- infamous comment, which as everybody on this program recognized, wasn't exactly the way Democrats are, saying that he said it.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, guys, because we're going to continue this conversation.

Barack Obama's search for a running mate intensifying. But now one top strategist has a surprise suggestion -- a man with a lot of experience as vice president, about eight years -- Al Gore. You're going to find out why he says the former V.P. should be the next V.P. This is James Carville. We'll tell you what he's saying.

Plus, you're going to find out who's leading in a brand new poll of polls.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Al Gore once a future vice president? Let's get back to the best political team on television.

Jeffrey, I want you to listen to what James Carville, the Democratic strategist, our CNN political contributor, told me in the last hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, CLINTON SUPPORTER: If I were him, I would ask Al Gore to serve as his vice president and his energy czar in his administration to reduce our consumption and reliance on foreign energy sources. And that would send a signal to the world, to the American people, to the Congress, to everybody, that America is getting serious about this horrendous problem that we face.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: James is recommending the Nobel Prize winner to be the next vice president.

What do you think of that idea?

TOOBIN: Well, first of all, I doubt he'd be interested. He's been there and he's done that.

On the down side, if a candidacy is all about change, why would you pick someone who had already done this precise job for eight years?

But, on the other hand, Al Gore is much more popular now than he was when he ran for president in 2000 -- an election in which he got the most popular votes. But, you know, he is a Nobel Prize winner. He has written the book and had the moved, "An Inconvenient Truth". So I think there could be some merit to the idea.

BLITZER: What do you think, Dana?

BASH: I've go to tell you, I spoke to one -- somebody who's pretty close to Al Gore about this, when I heard that James Carville was going to say it. And I couldn't even get answer because he was laughing so hard at the notion, particularly from the perspective of Al Gore, that he would even do this. As Jeff said, been there, done that. You know, it's -- he actually suggested that we go back and look at some of the things that Gore has said about the idea of not really wanting to serve that officially in somebody else's administration.

So, you know, I actually just am sorry that I'm not there in the bureau so I could pull James aside in the green room and ask where this is coming from, what's his motivation. Because you know James. There's a reason for everything he says.

BLITZER: All right. He's -- he doesn't say anything easily.

What do you think, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Well, I think maybe Obama should have had James Carville heading up his vice presidential search committee instead of the Washington insider that he had to fire today -- you know, that fellow that had some sort of mortgage problems with Countrywide Financial and they accepted his letter of resignation.

You know, we're not talking about somebody to head up the Los Alamos Laboratory. These search committees are the same people that found Dan Quayle. I mean this is -- you know, we're not -- why take a political risk with a political insider from Washington if your whole thing is about change?

It doesn't make any sense.

BLITZER: But take a look at the this, Jack. And don't forget. Remember who led the search committee back in 2000 for George W. Bush?

CAFFERTY: Yes. The same guy, right?

BLITZER: The same guy who became the vice president.

CAFFERTY: Oh, right. Right.

BLITZER: That would...

CAFFERTY: Cheney.

BLITZER: That would be Dick Cheney.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: He led the -- he was the chief vetter...

BASH: Remember him, Jack?

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: He was the chief vetter and he became the nominee himself.

CAFFERTY: Yes. I have a great idea. I'll take the job myself.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, we've got some new poll of polls numbers -- our CNN average of the latest national major polls. There's a new poll that's just coming out now of the "Wall Street Journal." NBC News has a new poll. We've averaged them together. And right now, our new poll of polls has Obama at 48 percent, McCain at 43 percent. Nine percent say they are still unsure.

He's maintaining that four, five, six point lead. "The Wall Street Journal"/NBC News poll came in at 47 percent for Obama, 41 for McCain.

Now, this is a snapshot right now, as we like to caution our viewers. TOOBIN: Well, you know what this proves, is that the leader in the polls in June is always elected president, except on the occasions that he's not.

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: So, you know, I think we should really draw an important conclusion from this.

CAFFERTY: That's right. He got that at Harvard Law School when he did graduate work there.

BASH: I was just going to say, that Jack.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Well, you know, these polls don't mean anything this time of year.

BASH: Jack beat me to that.

BLITZER: So you're pooh-poohing the polls?

CAFFERTY: Yes. They don't mean anything.

BLITZER: OK. That's -- you're right, this is a free country (INAUDIBLE).

CAFFERTY: I mean they mean something for us because we've got to do nine minutes here. But they don't mean anything.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

BASH: In all seriousness...

BLITZER: Dana, go ahead. Make your point.

BASH: I was just going to say, very quickly, in all seriousness, though, you talk to the McCain campaign and they look at those numbers, given the state of play, the state of the country right now, it's pretty remarkable that they are only five points behind any Democrat, even Barack Obama.

BLITZER: That's a good point they make, given what's going on in the economy, given what's happening in the war -- the unpopularity. They make a good point.

All right, Dana, thanks very much.

Jeff, thank you.

Jack, we've got "The Cafferty File" coming up.

Our question to you this hour: Is anything more important to Congress than being re-elected?

Only Jack Cafferty could ask a question like that. He's got tons of e-mail coming up.

Plus, find out what's in Chelsea Clinton's future now that her mother's campaign is over. You'll be interested in this story. I know you will. That's why you'll stand by with us.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up in a few moments right at the top of the hour.

What are you working on -- Lou?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Well, Wolf, we're working on a stunning admission by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA now saying it may never know the source of the salmonella outbreak in tomatoes that spread to 17 states after investigating the case now for two weeks. We'll tell you why this is just percent another example of an administration that is completely dysfunctional.

Also, disturbing new evidence tonight of Communist China's efforts to hack into computers containing sensitive government information. Two members of Congress say they're victims of a hacking attack by the Chinese government. We'll have that special report on what some call China's cyber warfare.

And a bipartisan group of senators now demanding an urgent investigation into that foreign hedge fund trying to take control of one of our most tragic assets -- the CSX railroad company. Senator Bayh is among my guests.

All of that, all the day's news and a lot more from an Independent perspective at 7:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

See you at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: In about 10 minutes.

We'll see you then, Lou. Thanks very much.

Let's check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, is anything more important to Congress than being re-elected?

Because of the complexity of the question, we offered a hint. The hint was no.

Robert in Long Beach, California: "There better be something other than re-election on the minds of the incumbents. Change is in the air and maybe some of them won't be reelected." Jon writes: "As with many situations, you have to look at each individual. There are certainly members of Congress who put re- election as priority one. However, I believe there are Congressional members who truly stick up for what they believe is right for this country, even if it's not popular with their voters."

I want names, Jon, OK? Send me the names of those people.

F. (ph) in Minnesota writes: "Getting a lobbying position in some blood-sucking industry."

Tony says: "Apparently, nothing is more important than re- election to Congress -- not fixing the economy, not resolving the oil crisis or the weak dollar, just padding their pockets by adding personal earmarks to bills and promoting their party to recapture the White House. We Americans deserve the politicians we have because we keep putting them back in power."

Deano writes: "Nothing is more important. Run, get elected, keep big business happy as long as you can stay in office. Then call in favors to get that pot at the end of the rainbow job after being kicked out of office. The longer they can keep getting re-elected, the more they can kiss up to big business and get that better post- government service job."

Andi writes: "Of course, the only thing that politicians care about is being reelected. Otherwise, why would they let the administration walk all over our civil rights, torture prisoners and lead us into illegal wars without ever calling for impeachment? At what point did purely getting re-elected trump representing our country with honor and dignity?"

And Mike writes from New York: "Maybe sex and money. But all that stuff seems to go hand in hand with re-election."

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

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. See you back here tomorrow.

CAFFERTY: You've got it.

BLITZER: On our Political Ticker today, Barack Obama has now won the support of the United Autoworkers Union. The UAW executive board says the Democratic candidate has pledged to rebuild the nation's manufacturing base and help the auto industry. It's new evidence that organized labor is rallying behind Obama as the Democrats' nominee-in- waiting.

Congressman Ron Paul of Texas is still a presidential candidate. Yes, he is. And he's planning to steal some of McCain's thunder during the Republican convention in St. Paul in early September. Paul will hold a rally nearby on the second day of the convention. A spokesman says it will be a celebration of GOP values and what the party has traditionally stood for, while sending out a message that "We need to return to our roots."

Ron Paul, by the way, will be among our guests Friday right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And something Lou just mentioned, new allegations that hackers inside China are targeting Congressional computers. A spokeswoman for the House Foreign Affairs Committee says the panel's computer was hit back in 2006 and two Congressmen who have criticized China's human rights records say they had multiple computers targeted around the very same time. Representative Frank Wolf warning -- and I'm quoting now -- "If it's been done in the House, don't you think that they're doing the same thing in the Senate?"

Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out CNNPolitics.com. The Ticker is now the number one political news blog on the Web. That's also where you can read my latest blog post. I wrote one before the show.

She got positive receptions all along the campaign trail. Now that her mom's campaign is over, we'll take a closer look at what may be next for Chelsea Clinton. That's coming up right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of this hour's Hot Shots.

Near Yanyong, Myanmar, a woman collects water from a dam after the cyclone last month.

In Karachi, Pakistan, needy people wait their turn to get free food.

In Nepal, onlookers peer through the palace fence, where the country's ousted king prepares to leave.

And at the Singapore Zoo -- check it out. Elephants are fed by visitors. There they are.

Some of this hour's Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

She was a popular figure out on the campaign trail, but what's next for Chelsea Clinton?

CNN's Gary Tuchman takes a closer look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

H. CLINTON: You'll always find me on the front lines of democracy fighting for the future.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The day before Hillary Clinton officially suspended her campaign, Chelsea Clinton gave a sneak preview of what her mother would say.

CHELSEA CLINTON, DAUGHTER OF SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: My mom will be making a speech tomorrow supporting Senator Obama. TUCHMAN: The former first daughter addressed 15,000 people at the Texas state Democratic convention.

C. CLINTON: Thank you so much for all of your support.

TUCHMAN: It was one of more than 400 events...

C. CLINTON: Jordan. Nice to meet you, Jordan.

TUCHMAN: ...in 40 states.

C. CLINTON: Well, hopefully, she will be the leader of the free world, with your help here in Mississippi.

TUCHMAN: ...where she spoke out for her mother.

C. CLINTON: I passionately support my mom. She is my mom.

TUCHMAN: We've known Chelsea Clinton since she was 12 years old, but most people had never even heard her voice and knew nothing about her wit before this campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you thoughts about that -- that Bush/Clinton, Bush/Clinton matter?

C. CLINTON: Well, one, I wish we hadn't had a second Bush.

TUCHMAN: Hillary and Bill Clinton are the career politicians, but Chelsea seemed to get the highest percentage of positive campaign accolades.

AMIE PARNES, POLITICO.COM: I expected to see this 28-year-old girl who was sort of winging it on the trail. And instead what I saw this girl who was very articulate, knew her stuff in and out. I mean she talked about the war in Iraq. She talked about the economy. And it kind of blew me away.

TUCHMAN: Chelsea Clinton would not take any questions from reporters -- only from the mostly college students at her rallies.

C. CLINTON: (INAUDIBLE).

Yes, sir.

TUCHMAN: At least twice, though, questions came that her aides feared reporters would ask, like about her father's personal controversies in the White House.

C. CLINTON: It's none of your business.

TUCHMAN: But then Chelsea kind of answered the question.

C. CLINTON: I don't think you should vote for or against my mother because of my father.

TUCHMAN: Even when Clinton aides clumsily told a New York City restaurant owner that he had to take down a picture of Chelsea Clinton visiting his restaurant, it couldn't reduce the admiration the owner of Osso Buco still has for her.

NINO SELIMAJ, RESTAURANT OWNER: I'm proud of meeting Chelsea and having taken a picture with her is wonderful.

TUCHMAN: By the way, the picture still remains.

PARNES: I think this was like a trial period for her. And she knows what the campaign trail is all about now. And I think we can expect to see her out campaigning maybe to be a congresswoman in the next 10, 20 years -- maybe sooner.

TUCHMAN: But in March, she told University of Mississippi students this...

C. CLINTON: I have a little apartment, a dog, a job. And at some point, that is what I will return to.

TUCHMAN: Her job inside this Manhattan skyscraper, where she works for a hedge fund. It's not clear if she's back at work yet. But in this especially noisy neighborhood in Manhattan, she is back at her apartment with her Yorkshire Terrier. And no word whatsoever about whether she might be a politician some day.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Chelsea Clinton -- we've been watching her since she was a little girl. And she did an excellent job for her mom. Her parents should be very proud.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Thanks very much for joining us.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.