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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Barack Obama Takes Double-Digit Lead Over John McCain; Leading Evangelical Voice Blasts Obama; Don Imus Defends Controversial Remarks
Aired June 24, 2008 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We have plenty of politics tonight, including new polling numbers showing a big Obama bounce and a new evangelical attack on Barack Obama.
But we begin with breaking news, a big piece of the campaign puzzle, how to bring the Clinton team fully on board. That piece may be solved tonight. The piece involves money, millions of dollars Hillary Clinton owes, money that Obama can raise and that she needs.
CNN's Candy Crowley has been working the story, has all the late- breaking developments.
Candy, what are you learning?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, what I can tell you is that, during a conference call today -- and this confirmed by a source -- Barack Obama said to his national finance committee -- and these are basically the big-money people, those who not only contribute the $2,300 limit to his campaign, but also go out and get others, so the so-called bundlers. So, these are big-money fund-raisers. And they have to raise a certain amount over get on the finance committee for Obama.
And he said to them, if you're so inclined, I want you to help Hillary Clinton out.
We are told that, in fact, some of his finance people have been asking, is there anything we can do? This has been a sore point between the two of them. Clinton is about $22 million in debt, but $12 million of that is money she owes herself. So, she's going to suck that part up. That leaves her with about $10 million in debt, maybe a little more. So, that's what they're going to have to chip away with.
This is the first time that the campaign has confirmed that they were doing anything to try and help retire this debt, which is a pretty normal thing for campaigns to do when one wins over the other. So, it certainly is a step forward in this ongoing process to kind of find some equilibrium in their relationship -- Anderson.
COOPER: So, this is not necessarily an unusual step? You say campaigns do this routinely?
CROWLEY: Campaigns do. When -- for instance, when Tom Vilsack, who is the former governor of Iowa, dropped out of the presidential race -- you probably don't even remember he ran, but, nonetheless, he did -- he had a debt. Hillary Clinton agreed to help him try to pay off that through fund- raisers, through getting people, funneling donors to him to help him.
So, yes, it's certainly happened in the past. It doesn't always happen. It's not that unusual. But, again, Anderson, what we have here is an ongoing process between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, as they each try to settle into their new roles.
COOPER: And the...
CROWLEY (voice-over): Cheering Senate staffers helped greased the skids as Hillary Clinton returned to Capitol Hill, not quite triumphantly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You did good.
CROWLEY: On the record, but not in front of cameras, Clinton told reporters she's happy to slide into her day job.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: My role is to be the very best senator I can be and to represent the greatest state in our country.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
CROWLEY: It begs the question, is the Senate floor big enough when all the world's been your stage? Nothing signals she will be number two, including her.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
H. CLINTON: It is not something that I think about. This is totally Senator Obama's decision. And that's the way it should be.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
CROWLEY: So, whither Hillary Clinton?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Clinton has been a larger-than-life figure in Democratic politics and American politics.
CROWLEY: Barack Obama's plans are as grand as they are vague.
OBAMA: She's going to be a force to be reckoned with, not only in the Senate, but, hopefully, if I'm successful, in the White House. She's going to be one of my key partners.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The senator from New York. CROWLEY: Still, Clinton's future is a complicated set of calculations, both political and personal. She's a headliner, a go-to fund-raiser, and, should Obama lose, maybe a re-contender.
But the first order of business is retool the brand name and the legacy.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're asking me about this?
CROWLEY: There are lingering complaints from some party bigwigs that both Clintons sometimes went overboard roughing up Obama, hurting the party in pursuit of the nomination.
In her press conference today, Clinton was on track, all party, all the time.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
H. CLINTON: We're going to work very hard to elect Senator Obama our president. And we're going to work very hard to add to our numbers here in the Senate, under the great leadership of Senator Reid and my friend and colleague Senator Schumer.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
CROWLEY: And, after 24 hours of questioning when and whether Bill Clinton would endorse Obama, his office tried to douse the stories.
"President Clinton," said a spokesman, "is obviously committed to doing whatever he can and is asked to do." An uneasy truce may be near. A source says Hillary Clinton and Obama have talked about getting her husband and Obama together.
A close friend predicts, in the long run, Bill Clinton will return to his foundation, refurbishing his legacy with the kind of good works that shaped his post-presidency. As for the senator from New York, 18 million votes do not add up to power in the Senate, bound by tradition, rules and seniority.
Clinton is 34th in seniority of the 51-member Democratic caucus. No chairmanship awaits her. But, as the source put it, she will work like hell.
COOPER: Candy Crowley staying with us, along with GOP strategist and CNN contributor Ed Rollins, and Arianna Huffington, founder, of course, of TheHuffingtonPost.com and author of "Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe."
Good to see you all.
Arianna, let me start with you. are you surprised that Bill Clinton sort of came out today through a spokesman saying that he would support Obama?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, CO-FOUNDER, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: Not actually, because it's very hard for him. It's clear that he expected this primary to be a way to ratify his legacy, to ratify his presidency, and it wasn't that at all.
So, he in a way, from what I hear, has taken it harder than even Hillary Clinton has taken it. And we have seen that. We saw it at his comments, you know, at the rope line about Todd Purdum and "Vanity Fair," but also his comments about what he thought the role of the Obama campaign was in spreading rumors to the media.
COOPER: Ed, does -- does Bill Clinton campaigning for Barack Obama help Barack Obama?
ED ROLLINS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think he needs Bill Clinton, to be perfectly honest.
I think Bill Clinton is always going to be a very important international figure, and he ought to go do that. But, if I was Barack Obama's strategist, I would basically take all the help I could get from Hillary and basically let Barack himself go out and do his own campaign. And, once in a great while, for a unity dinner or something, I might bring Bill Clinton in. But I certainly wouldn't let him be a part of the campaign.
COOPER: Candy, Bill Clinton is not going to be in Unity, New Hampshire, on Friday, when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama appear together. What do we know about this event on Friday?
CROWLEY: Well, we should say, as far as we know, Bill Clinton's not showing up there.
CROWLEY: I think he has ceded the stage to her over this week and perhaps the weeks to come.
What we know about is that they selected this place precisely for its name and for the fact that they evenly split the primary votes. This is the first time they have been out there together. And it's preceded by probably something a little more important. It's going to be a nice picture on Friday when they show up at Unity together, and they will hold their hands up, and everybody will have the money shot.
But the real money happens on Thursday night, when Clinton brings her fund-raisers into the same room with his fund-raisers, because that's the group they have to get together.
COOPER: Arianna, how significant is it that Barack Obama is now trying to get his folks help her retire her debt?
HUFFINGTON: Significant, but expected, Anderson. I mean, he had to do that. It's the right thing to do. And his fund-raisers will do it willingly.
After all, he's been so successful raising money online, but they haven't been as significant as they would be in a normal presidential race. So, this is something that they can do, and they're all going to do it.
COOPER: Ed, "L.A. Times" today reporting in a new poll a big bounce for Barack Obama, a 12-point lead. This mirrors the "Newsweek" poll previously. A lot of people, when they saw that "Newsweek" poll, they said, well, that's sort -- that kind of an outlier. It's not really a -- it's kind of on the fringe of the polls. This seems now more -- more solid, this 12-point lead.
ROLLINS: National polls always take a period of time for things to settle in. And this has jumped to observations very quickly. And, sometimes, it takes a week or 10 days for events to settle in. The state polls obviously are better indicated. Barack has had a better lead there. And I think, to a certain extent, we probably are down 10 or 12 points. And we have a big uphill battle to catch up.
COOPER: We should point, I think Michael Dukakis was up 14 points on...
COOPER: Eighteen points in June on the elder President Bush. So, take that for what it's worth.
What do you think Barack Obama, Arianna, is doing right?
HUFFINGTON: Well, he's doing a lot right, and he's doing one thing wrong.
If you look at the specifics in the poll, he's ahead on every issue except the war on terror. And that's incredibly significant, because I really believe that, despite how badly the economy is going, in the end, this election, like every other election since 9/11, will come down to national security. And fear could trump hope, if he doesn't consistently and every day...
COOPER: You think it will still come down to national security?
HUFFINGTON: I really believe that, because something will happen, but not necessarily here, but somewhere in the world, to remind people that there is a real threat out there.
And, then, if they still continue to believe that John McCain is the one to keep us safe during this war on terror, that will be really bad news for Barack Obama.
COOPER: Does Iraq -- I mean, when you say national security, are you including Iraq in that?
HUFFINGTON: Well, I am including Iraq, but the polls keep the two separate. And, so, when it comes to Iraq, the two of them are pretty equally divided. But it's just, when it comes to the general sense of who is going to protect us, that's where McCain is still ahead, partly because of his bio, partly because of the perception that he's stronger.
But, in fact, if Obama every day tries to remind people that McCain would basically perpetuate the Bush legacy in Iraq and keep us less safe, that would turn things around. But it hasn't happened yet.
COOPER: It does seem, Ed, the key for Barack Obama to continue linking John McCain with George Bush.
ROLLINS: Well, he...
COOPER: The same poll shows an approval rating, I think, of like 23 percent.
ROLLINS: And, Arianna, I totally agree with you.
The bottom line here is, if it comes down to an inexperienced, young senator, who obviously creates great energy and great hope, vs. a man who obviously can step in on day one and be the commander in chief and keep Americans safe in a time of crisis, in a time of war, then McCain can win this thing.
If not, if it becomes all about change, then, obviously, Barack will win, and win easily.
COOPER: Candy, do we know what the Obama campaign is planning over the summer, in terms of trying to bolster the perception that he's weak on national security?
CROWLEY: Well, we do know that he's, at some point, going to take a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, maybe other places.
We also know -- we learned tonight from a source -- that, in fact, Obama has had some intelligence briefings from the Pentagon in recent months, trying to get up-to-date information about Iraq and Afghanistan. They're trying to arrange another one, so, all in preparation for a trip that he has said he will take. That's the kind of thing that he has to be very careful about.
So, you don't -- it's sort of politics, but you can't have it look like it's politics. Nonetheless, he needs to go over there and to take a look at what's going on, on the ground. And, so, he certainly will do that over the summer. Obviously, he has a V.P. he has got to pick, that kind of thing. And they are certainly looking at people with military defense and international sort of experience and expertise.
So, those are the -- kind of the two things that they're looking at going forward toward the convention.
COOPER: Candy, thanks very much, especially for the hustle on this late-breaking story. Appreciate it. Arianna Huffington, as well, and Ed Rollins, thanks for being with us.
COOPER: AS always, I'm blogging throughout the hour. You can join the conversation. Go to our new Web site, AC360.com.
Politics and religion next, a big political story today -- Christian conservative James Dobson saying Barack Obama has a fruitcake view of the Constitution -- those were his words -- when it comes to religion and politics. He also says Obama distorts the Bible. We have got all the "Raw Politics" on that ahead.
And, later, Don Imus, he says he was misunderstood. He says his latest remarks were anti-racist, not racist. Not everyone agrees, of course. Hear his explanation and judge for yourself.
Then, new developments -- one of 17 girls who got pregnant at a Massachusetts high school is now speaking out. So are others about whether some of their classmates had a pregnancy pact -- when 360 continues.
COOPER: We talked before the break about the new "L.A. Times" poll showing Barack Obama opening a major gap over John McCain, 12 points.
One other item: The poll also suggests that Senator McCain is lagging behind past Republican candidates among Christian conservatives, a crucial piece for any win -- winning GOP coalition.
So, that's the backdrop -- backdrop for a big blowup today over the role of religion in politics involving Barack Obama and a major Christian leader.
360's Tom Foreman has all the "Raw Politics."
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): James Dobson, one of conservative Christianity's most influential voices, is taking aim at a speech made two years ago by Barack Obama at a conference of liberal Christians, in which Obama suggested it would be impractical to govern along biblical guidelines.
OBAMA: Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is an abomination, or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount, a passage that is so radical, that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application?
FOREMAN: Obama specifically named Dobson and said, "Folks haven't been reading their Bibles."
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "FOCUS ON THE FAMILY")
DR. JAMES DOBSON, FOUNDER & CHAIRMAN, FOCUS ON THE FAMILY: He says we ought to read the Bible. I think he ought to read the Bible. I think he's deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own world view, his own confused theology.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Dobson also took offense to Obama saying people who oppose abortion rights, for example, must learn to make their case in secular terms. Democracy demands it.
OBAMA: Because it requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "FOCUS ON THE FAMILY")
DOBSON: And if I can't get everyone to agree with me, it is undemocratic to try to pass legislation that I find offensive to the Scripture.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
FOREMAN (on camera): Obama's campaign points out that this speech as a whole was not about limiting the role of religion. Instead, he spoke at length about how religious folks could be more effective if they learned to better communicate with those who have different beliefs.
(voice-over): Dobson also went after John McCain, criticizing him for not supporting more of the initiatives favored by conservative Christians. But the latest survey by the Pew Forum says most devoutly religious folks still lean Republican.
JOHN GREEN, PEW FORUM ON RELIGION AND PUBLIC LIFE: What Dr. Dobson appears to be doing is trying to draw a contrast between what Obama really believes and what he's been portraying in his campaign.
FOREMAN: If that strategy works, it could undermine Obama's efforts to bring more faith voters into the Democratic flock this fall.
Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: Digging deeper now with a variety of viewpoints, CNN political analyst and radio talk show host Roland Martin is here. He's the author of several books, including most recently "Listening to the Spirit Within." Also, the Reverend Al Sharpton, whose name was mentioned alongside James Dobson in Obama's speech in 2006, and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and author of "Personal Faith, Public Policy."
Welcome to you all.
Tony, on our blog, you wrote that Obama is -- quote -- "saying that, while he's a Christian, he doesn't think that faith or the Bible should have any role in shaping public policy."
I just watched the speech, though, and I came across this passage. I just want to play that for our viewers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: But what I am suggesting is this. Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. So, to say that men and women should not inject their -- quote -- "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of our morality, much of it which is grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That doesn't sound like someone who is saying there's no role for religion in the public square.
TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, if you listen to his entire speech, where he talks about, you know, what passages of the Bible are we going to allow to influence that morality, or public policy, as he put it earlier in his speech, the question here is, as he's reaching out to orthodox Christians, trying to woo their support, they have every right to -- to question his a la carte interpretation of the Bible.
And that's what he's doing, kind of picking and choosing. And, you know, there's something novel here, in that the Democrats, who traditionally have kind of picketed churches, are now preaching in the pulpit in this election cycle, and it's something new.
And I think Christians, orthodox Christians, who they're -- again, they're trying to reach, have every right to determine whether or not he's another sheep in the churchyard or whether he's a wolf in a wool suit. I mean, that's what they're trying to get to.
COOPER: Reverend Sharpton, you were mentioned alongside Dr. Dobson in this speech. Do you feel that Barack Obama is picking and choosing? Does he have an a la carte view of Christianity?
AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I think that it was very well-crafted speech. And, I mean, I don't understand why Dobson was offended. I wasn't when he said that, how do we decide? Are we going to do with a Dobson version or a Sharpton version or whatever? I don't think that's excluding anyone.
It's saying, we are in a democracy, not a theocracy. I would hope that the evangelical community has dialogue with Obama. You know, earlier this year, when some of us, and particularly me, questioned some of the history of the Mormon Church, I ended up in one of the most illuminating experiences of my life.
I went to Salt Lake City and sat with the Mormon leadership for two days, and learned a lot of things. I think, rather than this back-and-forward, maybe the evangelical leaders ought to sit with Barack Obama and really talk, and they may find out a lot more about he, and he them, because I don't understand why we're reading things that clearly wasn't said in the speech.
COOPER: Tony Perkins, do you see that happening? I mean, I understand Dr. Dobson's comments were -- came -- came about because Barack Obama's folks suggested some sort of a meeting.
PERKINS: I don't know which came first. I know there has been some discussion about a meeting. And I certainly -- I will meet with any candidate, have met with candidates, who want to sit down and meet.
And the focus here, from our perspective, is the policy. Now, the faith is important, because that is what shapes our -- our view, and, obviously, impacts where we arrive at on our policy position.
But there's clearly a breakdown when you talk about an orthodox Christian view and the public policy positions that Barack Obama holds. I mean, he -- he was opposed to the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act. He supported taxpayer-funded abortion. He -- he supports overturning the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Those are issues that are of -- not the only issues, but they are certainly issues of major concerns to orthodox Christians. And, so, there's got to be more than just the -- the faith talk. There has to be an understanding of how that impacts public policy.
COOPER: I want to bring in Roland Martin and Reverend Sharpton again in just a moment.
We have got to take a short break. We will have more with our panel right after this commercial break.
And, then, later, Don Imus, he says he was standing up for a guy by asking what color his skin is. Do you believe Don Imus' explanation of his latest racially-charged remarks? Hear what he said. Hear what started it. Listen to our guests from several points of view. Judge for yourself -- tonight on 360.
We will be right back.
COOPER: James Dobson there. You can find his remarks about Barack Obama and Barack Obama's original speech on religion and politics on our blog, the new address, AC360.com.
Continuing to dig deeper now with CNN political analyst and radio talk show host Roland Martin, the Reverend Al Sharpton, and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. Roland, what about it? I mean, Obama has been very active in trying to court evangelicals. Is he off the mark on this speech that he made?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I don't think he's off the mark.
What he is talking about, he's talking to a broader audience here. And that is those who are evangelicals who are on the right, they have defined what the issues have been. He's been challenging progressives.
I think what you have here is, you have -- you have evangelicals who are conservative who frankly aren't happy with John McCain. So, they want to tear down Obama, the person who is talking about faith, because the person they really want to back doesn't talk about faith, is afraid to have any conversations, doesn't get really along with them. That's what you have going on here.
And, see, Tony, what also is important is that Obama is trying to broaden this conversation beyond just traditional issues. When he went to Rick Warren's church and talked about HIV and AIDS, you don't see a lot of other white evangelicals or conservative evangelicals trying to drive that particular issue home.
He's saying, we can broaden this religious topic beyond abortion and homosexuality. That's what people are afraid of. They're afraid he's going to pull some of those voters.
COOPER: Reverend Sharpton, do you agree with that, that that's what Dr. Dobson may be afraid of, this broadening of...
SHARPTON: I think that there seems to be a fear of dialogue.
And I think, rather than talking at each other, if they talked to each other, I think the question is -- I agree with Tony about public policy. But, when we talk about public policy, I think Senator Obama is right. None of us leave our personal convictions or religious feelings at the door. But we also respect the fact that everyone doesn't have to have those same convictions in the public marketplace.
So, I may have some very conservative personal feelings, but I feel you have the right to live your life differently. I might think what you do, Anderson, is going to put you in hell, but I'm going to defend your right to get there. So, I think that that's where I differ with some of my other brothers.
PERKINS: I'm going to try and keep you from going there.
SHARPTON: Well, I am too, but I'm not...
(LAUGHTER) SHARPTON: But there's a difference in forcing him to heaven, Tony, and in legislating him in heaven, and converting him. I would rather convert him. Let me convert him, Tony.
COOPER: I appreciate both of your concerns about my -- my afterlife.
COOPER: I'm personally not all that concerned, but that's another -- a whole other discussion.
Tony, it's interesting, though. In reading Obama's speech, I would have thought it was a speech that a lot of evangelicals would have kind of embraced, because he really is saying, look, there is a role -- you know, secularists are wrong. There is a role for faith in the public square.
COOPER: And -- and it's a question of -- of how you communicate that faith, and you should use science and reason if you're a politician in order -- you can't just use your religious beliefs.
What is -- what is -- I kind of don't get the criticism.
PERKINS: No, no, there is a lot that I do agree with.
In fact, I appreciate the fact that he is talking about his faith and bringing that into the conversation, because Roland's right. That's the only side we're hearing it about. We're not hearing it from the Republican side.
But this is the point, that -- that faith and where it leads us to on our public policy positions. And, when you look at his policy positions, it's different than the faith. For instance, he made a great speech in Chicago on Father's Day about fatherhood.
PERKINS: And he said, you know, fatherhood does not end at conception.
But, you know, when you look at that, when does life begin? My son -- I became a father at -- if I became a father at conception, when did my children become my children? At conception.
See, there's an inconsistency when it comes to some of these other issues.
(CROSSTALK) PERKINS: And, again, I -- I -- I agree with Roland that there are other issues. But, if he's trying to reach to the orthodox conservative Christians, who care deeply about those issues, it's going to require more than just talk. There has to be policy to back it up.
MARTIN: But, Tony, I can say about the exact same thing about those pro-lifers who say nothing about prenatal care, who say nothing about the infant mortality rate in inner cities in this country being higher than Third World countries. They talk about being for somebody in the womb...
PERKINS: That's not true.
MARTIN: ... but they do nothing for them outside of the womb.
PERKINS: That's absolutely not true.
MARTIN: So, Tony, you can go with that.
PERKINS: That's not true.
MARTIN: But here's the issue here.
Obama is not trying to reach the orthodox conservative evangelicals.
PERKINS: He certainly is.
MARTIN: What he is reaching is for that soft -- no, he's not.
PERKINS: Yes, he is.
MARTIN: He's going after that soft group. He's going after those people who refuse to..
PERKINS: He's going after the margins. He's going after the margins.
MARTIN: Tony, he's going after the people who refuse to identify themselves as being conservative evangelicals by saying because he realizes that they too care about faith, but it's beyond abortion and homosexuality. That's who he's talking to.
PERKINS: But, Roland, I don't -- I don't care if he's going after the social conservatives. I think it's great that he's talking about these issues and that we're having that conversation.
SHARPTON: But I think that's the point, Tony. I think that it's time we start having this conversation. And I'm glad to see the presumptive Democratic nominee talking about this, reaching out.
PERKINS: I agree with you.
SHARPTON: I think that it's time.
I mean, many Democrats -- and I say this as a minister who has been a Democrat all my life -- many times, I only heard prayer on election night about the elections.
SHARPTON: At least now we have a candidate that wants to talk about...
COOPER: I want to give Tony the final thought here.
PERKINS: When you enter into that conversation, you open your theology and your policies up to scrutiny. That's what Dr. Dobson -- excuse me -- what Dr. Dobson did.
MARTIN: Well, why don't the three of us get Dobson, Obama and McCain at the table, and see what happens?
COOPER: Well, we had a good discussion at this table, and I appreciate that.
COOPER: Reverend Al Sharpton, Tony Perkins, Roland Martin, thank you very much. Really interesting discussion.
MARTIN: Thank you.
PERKINS: Good to be with you.
COOPER: Up next: new flood fears, as more levees breach in the Midwest. It is just getting worse. We are going to take you to one town where people are taking matters into their own hands, building their own levees to protect their own homes.
Also ahead: Imus firing back, explaining his latest controversial comments.
And how a Florida teen escaped from the jaws of an 11-foot alligator -- when 360 continues.
COOPER: In St. Charles, Missouri, northwest of St. Louis, the Mississippi River breached the levee in two places today, triggering flash flood warnings.
In nearby Winfield, the levee is holding, but just barely. The floodwaters are expected to crest there tomorrow. And if Winfield's levee breaks, the river would swamp 100 homes, several business, a ballpark and 3,000 acres of farm fields.
Tonight, residents are scrambling to try to keep disaster at bay. CNN's Gary Tuchman has the latest.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the water rises in Winfield, Missouri, and more neighborhoods turn into Mississippi River tributaries, I walk down a submerged street where homeowners are taking matters into their own hands.
(on camera) How are you doing? How come you're still at the house? There's water all over the place.
GRANT KEAY, WINFIELD, MISSOURI, RESIDENT: No water in here.
TUCHMAN: No water in there?
(voice-over) Some people are surrounding their homes with their own personal levee systems.
(on camera) Looks like you're in a houseboat.
KEAY: Kind of feels like it.
TUCHMAN: Feels like it?
(voice-over) Grant Kay's house looks like a cork in a bathtub. It's surrounded by water. But he has 110 tons of sand around his home.
(on camera) Your levee system has protected your house?
KEAY: Absolutely. We've got plenty of sandbags, five pumps, two generators. Flood lights.
TUCHMAN: You're staying for good, no matter what?
KEAY: Sure, I'm not leaving.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Down the street, I have to climb a ladder over the levee that Charlie Carson has built to his house. He has spent more than $2,500 to try to keep the water out.
CHARLIE CARSON, WINFIELD, MISSOURI, RESIDENT: In '93, we had ten inches of water in here. I'm not going to let it get wet again.
TUCHMAN: Most of the people in this neighborhood have evacuated, as the water has quickly risen. But...
CARSON: I'm here to stay. TUCHMAN (on camera): But you may send your family out if it gets too...
CARSON: If it gets to the point where they don't need to be here, yes, I will.
TUCHMAN: Same sentiments as Grant Keay, who nonchalantly casts a fishing line off his porch after we say goodbye.
COOPER: Might as well try to get the best out of it, I guess, get some fish. What are the biggest concerns right now in Winfield, Gary?
TUCHMAN: Biggest concern is tomorrow, Anderson. Tomorrow is the moment of truth. Tomorrow is the day that the Mississippi River in this area reaches its highest level.
They've had lots of problems with the levees over the last week. They've afraid they could have significant problems tomorrow.
That's one of the reasons I'm standing here. It's behind a local high school. There are about 15,000 sandbags here, 40 tons of sand. This is the infantry of sand. If there are big problems tomorrow, this sand is shipped out.
COOPER: Amazing picture there. Gary, thanks very much. Gary Tuchman.
Erica Hill joins us again with a "360 Bulletin" on some of tonight's other headlines.
Welcome back, Erica.
HILL: Thank you, Anderson Cooper. Nice to see you back.
I wish I had some better news to start off this screen bulletin. Nearly 850 wildfires now scorching California's wine country and other parts of the state.
In case you're keeping track, that is 200 more than yesterday. Hundreds of homes have been evacuated. Most of the fires were sparked by lightning strikes.
In Florida, a nearly $2 billion deal to help restore the Everglades. The nation's largest sugar cane producer has reached a tentative agreement to sell nearly 300 square miles of the Everglades to the state. Florida's governor says this deal is as monumental as the creation of Yellowstone National Park.
Also in Florida, an 18-year-old loses his arm when he's attacked by an alligator while swimming in a canal. Casey Edwards admits he'd been drinking earlier in the day, but he says that was not a factor in the attack.
COOPER: Wow. Yikes.
All right. Here's tonight's "Beat 360" photo. Melania Trump -- I think that's her name -- Donald Trump and Naomi Watts pose at a party here in New York yesterday.
Here's the caption from our staff winner, Marshall: "I shall call her Mini Me."
(SOUND EFFECTS: Aw!)
COOPER: Naomi Watts.
HILL: Look at the hair on Naomi. It's a lot more understandable than the Donald.
COOPER: Take your time.
Think you can do better? Go to our Web site: AC360.com. Click on the "Beat 360" link. Send us your entry. The competition just got tougher, because the prize is now an "I Won the Beat 360 Challenge" T- shirt.
HILL: You mean, like this one?
HILL: Hey, that's what all the kids are wearing this summer.
COOPER: That's what all the kids want. I know. We're going to announce the winner at the end of the program.
All right. Up next, Imus speaking out. He's not actually apologizing, actually, not apologizing at all, for his latest controversial comments about an African-American athlete. Is he just adding fuel to the fire? You be the judge. We'll play you his comments.
Also ahead, new details about the so-called pregnancy pact at a Massachusetts high school. One of the pregnant girls tells her side of the story, coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DON IMUS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Warren and I were talking yesterday about Pacman Jones being arrested six times in which I think was -- they've obviously been picking on him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Don Imus sounding off and just getting started on his latest racially-charged comments. We heard a mouthful from him today, and what he said just might surprise you.
This time around, the most heated responses are coming from Don Imus himself. He says his remarks about an African-American football player were meant to show how blacks in America were the victims of police profiling.
Here's the latest.
COOPER (voice-over): Far from saying sorry, Don Imus is fighting back against his critics and, he says, injustice.
IMUS: Obviously, I already knew what color he was. The point was, in order to make a sarcastic point.
COOPER: The newest controversy began Monday, with Imus and sportscaster Warner Wolf, discussing Adam "Pacman" Jones, a Dallas Cowboys player with a history of run-ins with the police.
WARNER WOLF, SPORTSCASTER: He's been arrested six times since being drafted by Tennessee in 2005.
IMUS: What color is he?
WOLF: He's African-American.
IMUS: Well, there you go. Now we know.
COOPER: Those comments immediately triggered renewed charges of racism against the radio talk show host. But today, he says he was only using Jones as an example of how cops unfairly target African- Americans.
IMUS: What people should be outraged about is that they arrest blacks for no reason. And I mean, no reason. They arrest this kid six times. Maybe he did something once. But I mean, everybody does something once. They shoot blacks for no reason. We all know about that in New York City. I mean, we already understand all this.
COOPER: Hardly a poster boy for good behavior, Jones, suspended by the NFL for violating the league's personal conduct policy, has a lengthy criminal history, including a guilty plea for biting a police officer, a felony.
The Reverend Al Sharpton reacted to Imus's explanation.
REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I hope he meant what he said, and I hope a lot of Americans do understand that blacks are treated differently.
COOPER: But Sharpton believes Imus should have known better.
SHARPTON: I thought that given Imus' background and his track record, it was disturbing. Clearly, he did not clarify what he meant. He left it out there. He said, "Is he African-American?" He brought up race. That is very disturbing.
COOPER: Last year, Sharpton and others demanded Imus's firing after his infamous on-air remarks regarding the Rutgers women's basketball team.
IMUS: Some hard-core hos. That's some nappy-headed hos right there. I'm going to tell you that.
COOPER: Imus apologized, asked for forgiveness, but was fired. After months out of work, he was hired by ABC Radio. Today, trying to clarify his words about Jones, Imus called attention to the diversity of his radio show staff.
IMUS: The producer of "The Imus in the Morning" program, Tom Bowman, is black. Two of the co-hosts, the cast members of the program, are black, Karith Foster and Tony Palin (ph).
How insane would I have to be? What would I be thinking, what would I mean? Why would I sit here and say, "There you go"? I mean, how does anybody -- how does anybody -- how do you make that connection?
COOPER: As for the focus of the latest Imus flare-up, Adam "Pacman" Jones today released this statement: "Obviously, Mr. Imus has problems with African-Americans. I'm upset, and I hope the station he works for handles it accordingly. I'll pray for him."
COOPER: While Jones prays for Imus, others are backing him. Dick Gregory is going to join us. We'll ask him why he is supporting Imus and why Roland Martin isn't buying the radio host's explanation. Both men joining me next.
And later, the alleged high school pregnancy pact. New details tonight. Some of the pregnant girls say they want to tell you what really happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IMUS: The point was, in order to make a sarcastic point, I asked Warner what color he was. Warner tells me. I said, "Well, there you go. That's the point."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly.
IMUS: What people should be outraged about is that they arrest blacks for no reason.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Raising a point or hiding a racist view? Don Imus says his words about Dallas Cowboy player Adam "Pacman" Jones have been twisted, that by asking what color Jones was, Imus was highlighting the injustice many African-Americans experience at the hands of police. That's what he said. Is that the truth? What do you think?
Joining us again, CNN analyst and radio host Roland Martin, who is critical of Imus. And also with us tonight, civil rights activist and comedian, Dick Gregory, who was on Imus' show today and defends him.
Dick, what about it? Why -- why did you defend him?
DICK GREGORY, COMEDIAN/CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Well, first, I didn't go on the show to defend him. I was booked on the show yesterday to talk about George Carlin. That happened after I was booked.
As a comic, I've made some sarcastic remarks. First, I'm a typical stereotype black. I never heard of Pacman. I read $1,000 worth of newspapers every 12 days, but I throw the sports page away. So I had -- I had to wait until this morning to hear what he said.
And if you listen to the tape, notice after he said "What color?" You hear the sports announcer take that breath, because he knew Don Imus knew he was African-American. And that was the set-up. And I really believe he was talking about racial profiling.
Now, the other side of that is, your track record follows you. Hillary and Bill have said some strange things in this election that, if Obama died tonight from natural causes, it would be people all over the world think they had something to do with it, and they didn't.
And so once you get caught out there, it's hard to get -- and you got to be careful. And he -- look, he's a fantastic comic. He's a satirist. And that's what he was moving -- now, you have a fantastic problem with black folk, because a lot of black folk have never heard a white man, you know, talk about police brutality, talk about racial stereotyping.
Then the other problem is when they was talking about the nightclubs and the guns. Now, Don Imus had been through the whole thing, from drug addiction to alcohol, do you think those was black clubs he was going into? He was talking about white clubs.
And look, I go all over the world. I go past these clubs. Sometimes I go in them. They're in white neighborhoods. They have bodyguards. They have bodyguards standing up there. But we, as African-Americans, and only see black folks in the handcuffs, we assume he was talking about us, and I don't believe he was.
COOPER: Roland, you don't buy Imus's explanation?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN ANALYST: Look, I listened to the comment. I read it. I played it back several times. And I can understand -- I think Don Imus was having a conversation in his head. I mean, if you want to make a sarcastic comment, let the rest of us in on the joke.
The set-up, they were not talking about the arrest and racial profiling. They were talking about Pacman changing his name because he's gotten in trouble.
And so if -- I don't care if he's never heard about Pacman or heard Don Imus. If you just saw or read the statement, you would say, "Wait a minute. Why did he even bring it up?"
If he had clarified, if he had expounded on the point, people would have gotten it. But Don Imus cannot leave something out there, hanging, or hope you figure it out.
COOPER: Roland, do we know, does Imus have a track record of talking about police brutality or talking about profiling African- Americans?
MARTIN: Certainly not to my knowledge. I mean, I don't -- it's not like I listen to his show a lot.
COOPER: Reverend Sharpton saying, "Well, he wasn't out at any of the demonstrations for Sean Bell." I've never heard him say anything.
MARTIN: He wasn't talking extensively about it on his show, as well. And that points to it, as well.
If you're going to make the point -- not only that, Pacman Jones is not the person you want talking about it. Every incident was in a nightclub. He spit in a woman's face. He struck somebody else. Bit a cop.
So if you want to discuss driving while black, walking while black, living while black, don't use that African-American, because trust me, it will not hold up. He's a fool.
COOPER: Dick Gregory, I'm with you. I throw out the sports pages, too. So I'm a little bit flying blind on this whole Pacman controversy, as well. But do you think this is going to blow over, Dick?
GREGORY: I think he's going to have some problems, because there's a whole lot of African-Americans that believe -- look, if 50 years ago I went to jail for child molest, I did my time, I prayed, I asked God for forgiveness, I don't think you would leave me with your grandchild to baby-sit, because that past record stands with you.
And as Roland said, it should have been handled yesterday. But, you know, when you take entertainment and entertainers, they do things. And then when something happens, they -- and so I think for me, I'm not here defending nobody. I got too many black folks I can defend instead of defending a rich white dude.
But I sincerely, as a black man, 75 years old, with ten black children and 11 black grandchildren, I'm very sensitive.
But remember, I'm the one that defended Michael Jackson, because I knew him. And I went on a fast and said he won't be found guilty. Sometimes you know people and you feel things and you go out there on the limb. And if it comes back, you're surprised.
I really believe that he meant what he said, but it's going to be difficult for him to defend.
MARTIN: Fine line, Anderson, he has to be very careful. And that's what he should do. Don't leave it in doubt. Explain what you're talking about. Do not leave it to other people to determine what you actually mean.
COOPER: Don't wait 24 hours to explain. Explain it right away.
MARTIN: Immediately, right after.
COOPER: Dick Gregory, it's always good to have you on the program. We appreciate it.
GREGORY: Always, brother. Thank you.
COOPER: Roland Martin, thanks, as well.
Next on 360, telling their side of the story. One of the 17 girls from the same high school who became pregnant is talking. Was there a pact to be mothers? We're going to have the latest on that.
Also ahead tonight, free ride. A school gives a new car to a 12- year-old kid. What were they thinking? Find out when 360 continues.
COOPER: There are new developments tonight about the 17 pregnant girls at Gloucester High School in Massachusetts. It's a stunning story, one that has the country talking.
Tonight, one of the pregnant girls is finally speaking out. Here's CNN's Randi Kaye with the latest.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She's 17 and pregnant. And today on ABC's "Good Morning America," Lindsey Oliver tried to set the record straight about a pregnancy pact at Gloucester High School.
LINDSEY OLIVER, GLOUCESTER HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: No, there was definitely no pact. There was a group of girls who decided that they were going to -- they were already pregnant before they decided.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Big difference.
OLIVER: Yes, that they were going to help each other with their kids so they can finish school and raise their kids together. To do the right thing was their decision, not "Let's get pregnant," like as a group.
KAYE: Oliver is one of 17 girls who got pregnant at Gloucester High this year.
OLIVER: I think it's just a coincidence. I mean, there's always kids getting pregnant in the school.
KAYE: Oliver says she was on birth control. (on camera) If there was no pact to get pregnant, why then, did the school's principal tell "TIME" magazine the bump in the pregnancy rate was because of seven or eight sophomore girls.
"TIME" reported the principal said the girls made a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together.
(voice-over) The principal hasn't spoken publicly since, and "TIME's" reporter stands by her story.
KATHLEEN KINGSBURY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: I not only verified the story with the principal, I also spoke with several other adults in the community.
KAYE (on camera): this afternoon I spoke by phone with a girl who's a junior at Gloucester high. She didn't want us to use her name, and she wouldn't go so far as to say there was a pact.
But she did tell me that many of the girls got pregnant on purpose. She said after one or two girls got pregnant, the rest followed. She even said one girl did it because she was lonely.
Pact or no pact may not matter in the end. What does matter: 17 young girls will soon give birth. They're going to need more than a pact to raise those children.
Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.
COOPER: Erica Hill joins us again with a "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Erica.
HILL: Anderson, a $300 billion mortgage aid bill is one step closer today to passage in the Senate. This rescue plan is aimed at an estimated 400,000 struggling homeowners. But Democrats are still fighting over some key details here, and President Bush is also threatening a veto.
Meantime, a new report says a record decline in U.S. home prices in April falling more than 15 percent from April of 2007. But there are two small bits of good news here. In many cities, the month-to- month pace of declines actually slowed, and eight metro areas posted gains for March to April.
A Chicago student with a perfect attendance record won a brand- new car, compliments of her school district. Not bad, except she's going to have to wait four years to take it for a spin, because Ashley Martinez is only 12.
HILL: Yes. She's letting her dad drive it, for four years.
COOPER: Probably a wise idea, yes. Time now for our "Beat 360" winners. Tonight's picture, Donald Trump posing with his wife Melania and actress Naomi Watts at a party in New York yesterday.
Our staff winner tonight is Marshall. His caption was, "I shall call her Mini Me."
(SOUND EFFECT: "Aww!")
COOPER: Our viewer winner is Bart from Chicago. His caption, "Hey, buddy. You can make all the wisecracks you want about my hair, but I'm up here with these two beautiful women and you're not."
(SOUND EFFECT: cheers)
COOPER: That's good. Bart, enjoy your 360 T-shirt. You get a look at that 360 T-shirt. If only we had -- there's one.
HILL: The front of your 360 T-shirt. It's lovely, isn't it? Also adorned on the back, in case anybody didn't see...
COOPER: Wow. Looks like a football jersey there.
HILL: Yes, yes. New URL. See that?
COOPER: New URL. Is that what the kids call it?
COOPER: Keeping it real, Erica Hill.
HILL: Also a link. You know me and my technology lingo, Anderson Cooper.
COOPER: I know. Still ahead, hold the hot dogs, pass the nettles. The stomach churning competition. Yes, I said nettles. Consenting adults scarf down plants that turn their tongues black and make their lips swell. Not making this stuff up. It's our "Shot of the Day."
Plus, the latest on tonight's breaking news. Barack Obama's new push to bring Hillary Clinton on board by helping to pay down her campaign debt.
COOPER: Erica, tonight's "Shot," it's all about bad taste. Painfully bad taste. The 2008 world nettle eating championships were held yesterday in -- where else -- Dorset, England.
HILL: Of course.
COOPER: Contestants -- of course -- contestants eat as many stinging nettles as they can in an hour. For those not familiar, nettles are a prickly plant and when eaten raw, they can turn your tongue black and make your lips swell. HILL: Delicious.
COOPER: They've been described as tasting like rancid salad with no (ph) dressing and a mixture of spinach and cow pat. Not sure what cow pat is, but I think I know.
Contestants aren't allowed to bring their own nettles, just so you know. And mouth-numbing substances are not permitted. Swigs of beer are encouraged. Yesterday's winner managed to eat about 64 stinging -- 64 feet of nettles.
HILL: He's the defending champ, by the way.
COOPER: Was he? I didn't know that.
HILL: Yes. Last year it was 76 feet of nettles.
COOPER: I hope he at least got a T-shirt.
Coming up at the top of the hour, the latest on our breaking news. What the Obama campaign is doing about Hillary Clinton's massive debt and whether Bill Clinton will get fully onboard with Obama. That and more next. Stay tuned.