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THE SITUATION ROOM

United States Delivers Stern Warning to Russia; Obama, McCain Prepare For Faith Forum; Most Talked About Democratic V.P. Contenders

Aired August 15, 2008 - 18:00   ET

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


TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Russian troops accused of outright evil. Georgia's president signs a cease-fire agreement, but has bitter words for Moscow. We're standing by to talk to Mikhail Saakashvili live.
President Bush sharpens his rhetoric, portraying Russia as a bully -- his once warm relationship with Vladimir Putin turning cold as ice.

And a rest of faith -- Barack Obama and John McCain are set to appear side by side and talk about religion -- what they need to say and what they better not say.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Tom Foreman. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

The United States is delivering a stern new warning to Russia to get its troops out of Georgia immediately. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says, a cease-fire signed by the former Soviet republic today clearly has not been honored by Moscow.

Georgia's president signed the cease-fire plan after five hours of talks with Rice in Tbilisi. We're standing by to speak with the president live. Russia's president says he will sign the agreement, too, but, so far, there is no commitment from Moscow about when it will withdraw its forces.

The anger and suffering in Georgia, of course, growing by the day. The U.N. says almost 120,000 people have been uprooted, most of them Georgians, a week after Russia intervened in a dispute over breakaway provinces.

CNN's Michael Ware is in Georgia.

Michael, what's the latest?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tom, the latest is that the Russians are not taking their foot off the accelerator. They're simply not listening to Washington. They're not listening to the sharpened rhetoric. And to be honest, there is no incentive for them to do so.

What we know is that, you know, from the beginning, Russia attacked. They invaded Georgia across two fronts. And on both of those fronts, they're actually defying the international community and America's wishes for them to withdraw.

On the eastern front, they have done anything but pull back. Indeed, they have advanced closer to the capital, Tbilisi, where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited this afternoon, than they have ever been in this conflict. They're barely 29 miles from where I'm standing right now.

Meanwhile, on the western front, where we visited today, we found that, although the key seaport of Poti was not under Russian occupation, as many had thought, there was a Russian presence. They sank a number of Georgian navy and coast guard vessels. And they had been conducting armored patrols through that city.

By and large, they had not disrupted the population, nor attacked the infrastructure. And, indeed, this evening, Georgian officials have announced that they believe those Russian forces, as small as they were, have left that city.

On the other hand, much more disturbing is that, as we explored the western front line this afternoon, we found a significant Russian force not withdrawing, but, in fact, digging in deep within undisputed Georgian territory.

So, despite the calls from Washington, we found Russian artillery in entrenched positions with fresh-cut foliage as camouflage. We saw numerous tanks and armored vehicles from the Russian army, and literally hundreds of shoulders who appear to have all but taken up residence at a makeshift barracks. This is in a key position that allows them to dominate much of western Georgia. So, we can see that the Russians are not backing off at all, Tom.

FOREMAN: Do you have any sign of where the Georgian military is in the middle of all of this? You're talking about where all the Russians are.

WARE: Well, the Georgian military barely has been in this fight from the beginning, I'm afraid to say, Tom.

Despite several years of U.S. sponsorship and aid, the presence of more than 100 U.S. advisers, and, indeed, their participation in the coalition in Iraq, the Georgian military is barely able to defend itself.

In the initial attack, the Georgian military went into one of the disputed territory, where there are pro-Russian separatists, to try and quell an artillery barrage and ongoing attacks. That was precisely the provocation that Russia needed, to not only invade that part of Georgia, but another disputed territory, which contains pro- Russian separatists.

And in neither of these areas were the Georgian military able to stop the Russians. Indeed, they had to retreat. And, to this day, Russia controls the areas that's in without any challenge whatsoever from the Georgians or indeed from the U.S. -- Tom.

FOREMAN: Michael, I'm afraid we're going to have to move on. Thanks so much for your report.

Secretary of Condoleezza Rice is calling the cease-fire plan for Russia and Georgia a starting point. She says the aggression by Russia and what needs to happen next are quite clear.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Georgia has been attacked. Russian forces need to leave Georgia at once. The world needs to help Georgia maintain its sovereignty, its territorial integrity and its independence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Rice visited wounded Georgians in a Tbilisi hospital today. She repeated the Bush administration's warning that Russia's military actions will have profound implications for Moscow's relations with the U.S. and the rest of the world, too.

President Bush today offered some of his harshest criticism yet of Russia, accusing it of bullying and intimidation. It is a dramatic reversal of Mr. Bush's relationship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, a relationship he once called remarkable.

Here's our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Tom, it was just a few months ago President Bush and Russian leader Vladimir Putin met and highlighted their personal diplomacy. But, so far, that approach has not influenced Russia's behavior on Georgia.

(voice over): What a difference seven years make.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia has damaged its credibility and its relations with the nations of the free world.

QUIJANO: President Bush's latest slap at Russia and its leaders...

BUSH: Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century.

QUIJANO: ... a far cry from his infamous first read of then Russian President Vladimir Putin.

BUSH: I was able to get a sense of his soul.

QUIJANO: Since then, Washington/Moscow tensions have simmered. A former Soviet republic, Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution not only threatened Russia in its own back yard, experts say, but inspired other democracy activists in the region. Then, in 2005, President Bush delivered a speech in Georgia's capital, making clear his allegiance to their pro-U.S. government. BUSH: The path you have chosen is not easy, but you will not travel it alone. As you build a free and Democratic Georgia, the American people will stand with you.

QUIJANO: Still, President Bush and Vladimir Putin exchanged warm words just a few months ago, punctuated by officially-released images of the two leaders side by side at sunset.

PRIME MINISTER VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): I have always appreciated his honesty and his openness, his willingness to listen to his counterparts. And this is precious.

BUSH: We worked very hard over the past years to find areas where we can work together and find ways to be agreeable when we disagree. It's been a remarkable relationship.

QUIJANO (on camera): But critics argue that relationship has not yielded results on Georgia. The administration says Russia has cooperated in other areas, including curbing Iran's and North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Still, Georgia is one area where the president's freedom agenda has clearly collided with the Kremlin -- Tom.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Thanks to Elaine Quijano at the White House.

Now let's check in with Jack Cafferty on "The Cafferty File" up in New York.

Jack, what are you thinking?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Americans are disgusted with our dysfunctional government, right? You bet they are. They overwhelmingly disapprove of Congress and the president. And for six straight months, at least 80 percent of us say we're dissatisfied with the direction the country is headed.

So, if the system is indeed broken -- and it is -- it seems like a lot of Americans wouldn't want to vote for either the traditional Democrat, the traditional Republican in November. However, a new Gallup poll finds only 2 percent of registered voters name a third- party candidate when asked who they will support for president, 2 percent.

That compares to 83 percent who name either Barack Obama or John McCain. The third-party candidates this time around are Bob Barr for the Libertarian Party, Ralph Nader, the independent, and Cynthia McKinney for the Green Party.

In 1992, Ross Perot got almost 20 percent of the popular vote. It was the best showing ever for a third-party candidate. But, of course, he will well short of being elected president. However, Perot was probably the reason that Bill Clinton got elected the first time around.

When it comes down to it, the way the two-party system is structured often makes it difficult for third-party candidates to get any traction. It's an uphill battle to get on the ballot and to get the kind of money necessary to compete. You're talking about campaigns that spend hundreds of millions of dollars in the race for the White House.

So, here's the question. With all the complaints about our government, why isn't there more support for third-party candidates?

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

FOREMAN: Many thanks, Jack. We will check in later on.

We have breaking news here.

Coaxed along by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the president of Georgia has signed that cease-fire agreement. But he doesn't seem terribly happy about it.

And he's joining us now. President Mikhail Saakashvili joins me.

Thank you so much for being here, Mr. President.

Talk to me about this agreement that you signed. You do not seem terribly happy about it.

MIKHAIL SAAKASHVILI, PRESIDENT OF GEORGIA: Well, no, I'm very grateful to Secretary Rice. We had very, very constructive talks, as well as I'm very grateful to President Bush for taking a very tough position on Russia.

What I'm not happy about is that, first of all, we signed the agreement, but it's -- it doesn't stand yet because, as soon as Secretary Rice left Georgia, Russia has basically widened its zone of occupation. And so far, we are waiting for it to comply with the agreement.

And, then, of course, we cannot be happy with the extent of destruction of human lives, as well as property, committed by Russian troops and mercenaries and irregulars, crowds of drunk and absolutely very, very brutal behaving mercenaries that they brought in, Russia.

They go around. They kill. There are credible reports done by Reuters about internment camps. There is Human Rights Watch report which I have here about the destruction of people, about harassment, about ethnic cleansing committed as we speak.

And I'm so grateful to these brave women from Humans Rights Watch that go to the site to risk their own lives and document these atrocities committed as a result of this brutal Russian aggression.

And -- so, of course, when those things happen, one can hardly be happy. And my heart is broken. And it's a huge tragedy happening right now in my country.

FOREMAN: Mr. President, you indicated that it is your feeling that the Western powers, the NATO powers, in some ways spurred all of this by talking about including your country in NATO, but then not moving to do so, which would have guaranteed you military pressure from other countries.

How do you justify that saying, when, certainly, the United States and many other places would say, we did not start this fight?

SAAKASHVILI: Well, we didn't start this fight either. I mean, we were invaded by Russia in exactly the same brutal manner, like Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968. They invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

The point here is, you showed President Bush talking about democracy in Georgia. And that's exactly what made Russian leadership so furious. They couldn't stand that right at their backyard, there was a real, genuine democracy believing the values of freedom, open society, free enterprise, and freedom of choice.

And what we have here, you know, we -- and our only fault is to try to be free. And the point here is that, you know, when we talk about Western failure, I didn't speak about (INAUDIBLE) West as such or all Western powers, because the president of the United States did it best. This is a bipartisan issue these days. I have been contacted by both candidates very extensively.

What we had (INAUDIBLE) that some European politicians -- and they know -- for instance, Chancellor Merkel today was very brave in Moscow. And I'm really grateful to her. But when it came to NATO membership, some of them went, by refusing it, basically shown -- it was perceived by Russia as a major sign of weakness.

And Russian leadership, which is getting very aggressive, decided to go for it. They thought it was a weak point for the free world and decided to take revenge on the free world.

(CROSSTALK)

FOREMAN: My question now is, what should NATO be doing? What can you do? If your concern is these Russians that Michael Ware told us are dug in your country now and show no signs of leaving, how are you going to get them to leave? And what help do you want in getting to leave? How does this happen without a bigger shooting war?

SAAKASHVILI: Well, first of all, I mean, the -- what we certainly have seen for the last few days is the amazing solidarity of different -- from different countries in the world.

We had volunteers arriving from different countries in Europe, countries that themselves have felt very strongly menaced. The United States -- our soldiers serve shoulder by shoulder in Iraq with Americans for three years, not because we wanted to get (INAUDIBLE) but because we believe in the very same values.

Well, I had to get my 2,000 soldiers to receive this fighting. However, when we saw first American planes landing in Tbilisi airport bringing humanitarian assistance and basically start airlift, it was a major -- then, really, we saw the result of these values we share.

And there are America servicemen coming in. And our people welcome them with open arms and with flags. But this is not the point only. The point is, we need peacekeepers on the ground. We need genuine international peace force.

One thing should be known. We are a small country. Russia is very big. And its forces are very brutal. They have no purpose. They shoot at us the missiles that Soviet Union withdrew from Europe under Reagan-Gorbachev deal, but the Soviet Union has never used the missiles.

These guys here shot those missiles at residential areas. These are medium-range missiles that are weapons of mass destruction. Now, despite all of this, my small nation will never give up freedom, will never give a square mile of our territory.

And I have made it very clear to the Russians, no matter what their pressure is, not matter how much people they kill -- and my heart breaks for every killed person of every ethnic origin in my country -- no matter what they do, this country will never surrender and will never give up its freedom.

FOREMAN: Mr. President, let me ask you a question. You are in your own country now. The Russians are deeply settled in your country. They're a few short miles away from Tbilisi right now.

How can you tend to your own personal protection in this? You have been on TV. You have been very open. And the Russians have been very open in saying they don't want you in power anymore.

SAAKASHVILI: Well, they never wanted me in power in the first place, because they never want in power any democratically elected leader. It's not about me in power. It's about freedom of choice of the people. They hate to tolerate that any people might have its free choice...

(CROSSTALK)

FOREMAN: But how are you coping with that and what must be the imminent threat against you personally?

SAAKASHVILI: Well, yes, they are. But so what?

The main thing is, they are against my people. My people are suffering now. And I'm one of them. But the worst feeling, of course, is that I cannot do much to protect my own people, because they are -- these tanks are running around.

But if they come to the capital, we will protect the capital. I hope President Medvedev honors his -- puts his signature on the cease- fire deal. But until the last Russian soldier leaves all of my country's territory, it's obviously still clear that we will -- you know, we have Human Rights Watch saying that they have thrown on us cluster bombs, et cetera. But one thing should be made very, very clear. They came in uninvited. They came in, as you rightly said, to change the government with their tanks, because they didn't like this government. Georgia was an extremely successful country until now. It was a prospering economy, lots of investments, big, growing middle class, and bright prospects for the future.

And you know what? We are looking right now into the eyes of evil, into the very eyes of evil. It's a very ugly thing to look into. These people are ruthless. These people, in some ways, are behaving inhumanly, in many ways, inhumanly.

But I'm sure we will force them out, together with international community. We will liberate our country. And e will get back our success. And we will rebuild our country again. And we will show them. We will show them that all this effort, all these bombings, all these killings didn't break the spirit of my people.

And this is absolutely essential. And, yes, they told me what about -- I give interviews. I'm on television. I go around the country. I do it on purpose. They should see that nobody in this country, nor a small kid in the streets -- and it's an old Christian countries, one of the oldest Christian countries and one of the oldest European countries -- and it is a modern European country.

The country is functioning. The country is continuing. And we will continue. The president will continue. The citizens are continuing. We will cope. And we will overcome, no matter what.

FOREMAN: President Saakashvili, thanks so much for your insights from inside Russia (sic).

We will keep monitoring the situation. Good luck to you.

SAAKASHVILI: Thank you so much, sir. Thank you.

FOREMAN: The U.S. pushes for something in Poland to keep America safe. But would it work effectively? And why is Russia so angry?

Also, a freak accident that some say comes straight out of fiction. A tragedy takes the life of a pregnant mother. But strangers rally in a superhuman effort to save her child.

And, tomorrow, Barack Obama and John McCain on stage for the first time talking about faith.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

FOREMAN: Barack Obama says his V.P. choice will be the most important decision he makes before Election Day. We're investigating his options and what the different contenders would bring to an Obama White House.

Some critics say Barack Obama acted a little too presidential during his trip to Berlin. Can the same now be said of John McCain as the Georgia conflict exploded?

And warnings of a new tropical storm on the move right now.

Stay with us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: likely presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain poised to face off in tomorrow night's faith forum. We preview the event hosted by Reverend Rick Warren and examine the power of the evangelical vote.

Obama had his moment in Berlin. Now McCain takes on the Russian/Georgian conflict. Is it appropriate at this time?

And, as the U.S. faces off with Russia, President Bush goes on vacation. Is this a good time for him to head out of town?

All of this, plus tonight's political panel.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Tom Foreman. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Moscow is up in arms over a new agreement between the U.S. and Poland that would base missile interceptors in Russia's backyard.

CNN's Brian Todd is looking into that.

Brian, this deal has led to a sharp warning from Russia.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has, Tom. The Russians clearly believe this was done to hit back at them for their push into Georgia. The U.S. denies that. But this deal has some interesting timing and it strikes a nerve at Russian national identity.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have a launch.

TODD (voice-over): U.S. officials are clear: America's new deal for a missile defense shield in Poland is not payback, not timed to punish Russia for its incursion into Georgia.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We were going to sign that agreement as soon as Poland and United States had come to terms. And we have now come to terms.

TODD: But the Russians believe the timing is not coincidental, that they're being targeted. And they have responded with a strong threat. A top Russian general says, by agreeing to put the missile shield on its soil, Poland could be swept up in any potential conflict between Russia and the U.S. -- quote -- "Such targets are the priority to be destroyed, possibly, he said, by nuclear weapons." MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW IN FOREIGN POLICY STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I think he's talking about a war plan, not an actual military operation, and the way Poland would be viewed, as essentially part of the U.S. nuclear complex from this point on.

TODD: The Russians, observers say, still want to project their influence over territory they used to control, like Poland.

But U.S. officials and experts say a defense shield in Poland wouldn't protect America against Russian missiles. First, they say, the Poland base would only have 10 interceptors and not enough kill vehicles to take out hundreds of Russian missiles that would be fired in the event of war.

Second, interceptors in Poland will be there to counter any ballistic missiles fired from Iran.

John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org explains using a telestrator.

JOHN PIKE, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: The Iranian missiles are going to be going straight overhead as they're coming down here to try to hit North America. The Russians do have a base over here that's going to go right by the edge of it. It might be able to get a few of their missiles. But almost all of Russia's missiles -- they're going to be coming out of Siberia, coming out of all of these other locations that this interceptor facility isn't going to be able touch.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: Russian officials are holding the line, saying the U.S. has not presented evidence to show these interceptors wouldn't target Russian missiles and they say Iran doesn't have the delivery systems yet to launch their missiles over Europe and toward the U.S. -- Tom.

FOREMAN: One of the big questions, though, Brian,

Is obviously that Iran could eventually get that capacity, couldn't they?

TODD: They certainly could. Weapons experts have been telling us for a while now that they're developing long-range missiles now. In a few years, the Iranians could have missiles with that range to hit at the U.S. So that is a concern.

FOREMAN: Thanks so much, Brian.

Russian forces are bearing down on former Georgian capital, Tbilisi. The conflict is prompting stern warnings from the U.S. to Russia.

At the same time, likely presidential candidates -- and even President Bush -- are all on vacation.

So does this time off send the proper message at this time?

Let's turn to our political panel and talk it all over a little bit.

"USA Today's" Susan Page is in Washington. CNN's Jack Cafferty is in New York. And David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network in Lake Forest, California.

Let me start off with you, Susan. This question of going on vacation, whether you're a candidate or the president himself, is always dicey when world affairs start heating up.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": Well, that's certainly true. And we've -- we've seen that with presidents in the past being caught a little off guard, something not to be responding quick enough if they had been on vacation. That's been true for President Reagan. It has happened to President Bush when it came to Hurricane Katrina.

On the other hand, you know, these guys do work pretty hard. And when it comes to the president, at least, even when you're on vacation, you have all the apparatus of the White House around you.

When you're a candidate, though, the trouble is to get you out of the public eye. Barack Obama is such an open field this week -- to John McCain to talk about the situation in Georgia. And that's been to John McCain's advantage, I think.

FOREMAN: Jack, what do you think about that?

This certainly plays to McCain's strength on foreign policy. He's been to Georgia number of times, to Russia a number of times. When he's on the campaign trail and Barack Obama is on vacation, no matter how well-deserved, it could look back.

CAFFERTY: Well, I think there's a risk that John McCain is going to overplay his hand here. He's starting to remind me of Al Haig back when -- when Ronald Reagan got shot, Haig raced over to the White House and quickly informed the world, "I'm in charge here." Well, get over yourself. You're not in charge of anything. And we have a president. Granted, he's on vacation.

Now there's talk that McCain is going to send his own emissaries to Georgia, Senators Lieberman and Gramm, which will probably only serve to further muddy whatever waters are over there -- not that they're not muddy enough already.

I'm not so sure that -- that he hasn't overdone it a little bit and maybe it's time for him to just back down a peg or two.

FOREMAN: David, what do you think about that?

DAVID BRODY, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK: Well, I agree with Jack. I would say this, though, that let's remember, this is somewhat of a machismo moment, a little bit, for John McCain. I mean, you know, the foreign policy, matters of war. That all really plays in very, very well to what he wants to do. It's right in his wheelhouse.

So it's kind of a situation of he can't help himself, to a certain degree. And that's one part of it.

The other part of it here is that, let's remember, the last thing that John McCain and his campaign want is to follow George Bush. They want to be out in front of this rather than the president coming out and then all of a sudden John McCain going yes, I agree with President Bush on that. They don't want that narrative at all.

FOREMAN: And, Jack, what do you think about the president himself -- he's the one in charge right now -- heading off to clear brush again?

CAFFERTY: Who cares?

He spent more than one third of two four year terms on vacation. It was mentioned he was on vacation ahead of Katrina. He was on vacation for a month before 9/11 in Crawford, Texas, at a time when he was given warnings, which he dismissed, that Osama bin Laden was planning an attack on this country.

He's a lame duck. Nothing he has said in the last week has had any effect at all on the Russians. He's sent Condoleezza Rice out to talk. And he's talked. And they're all talking. And Russian tanks are 29 miles from Tbilisi.

So, I don't know that it matters a lot where he is.

FOREMAN: Susan, do you tend to agree with that take on George Bush right now?

PAGE: Well, it depends on what you expect him to do. I mean I think that even John McCain has ruled out direct U.S. military action against the Russians. So, but it is true that I think McCain sees this as a chance for him to look like President McCain. And you may think he's gone too far on sending his emissaries there...

CAFFERTY: But he's not.

(LAUGHTER)

PAGE: ...but it does -- it is exactly -- it showcases the biggest advantage he has over Barack Obama, and that's his experience. You know, they -- the president of Georgia says he's talking to McCain several times every day. It sounds like McCain is spending more time with him than with voters.

CAFFERTY: Well, and he talks to us every...

BRODY: (INAUDIBLE) talking about...

CAFFERTY: He talks to us everyday, too. But I'll repeat that the tanks are 29 miles from Tbilisi. The guy who made the most sense to me was General Wesley Clark, who we had on the program about an hour-and- a-half ago, who said we ought to be busy with our European allies and whatever other friends we can round up who might be of a like mind on this -- on this incursion into Georgia and start dealing from some sort of united front with items that are designed to control Russia's behavior.

George Bush has put this country on a unilateral foreign policy path for the last eight years. And we're seeing the fruits of that now. We don't have a whole lot of friends on the play ground. And when the big Russian bear bully gets to flexing his muscles, we're kind of standing around saying general election, I really wish you wouldn't do that.

PAGE: Right.

FOREMAN: And, David, jump in here...

BRODY: And that question...

FOREMAN: ...for the last word of this block.

BRODY: Yes. And that question is going to come up that Jack is talking about, this idea of unilateral and everything about Russia and their relationship with the United States. That will come up to John McCain in the form of, so do you agree with George Bush on this?

And he's going to have to walk a fine line.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BRODY: You can bet he'll distance himself big time.

FOREMAN: Good words.

Susan, Jack and David, ahead we'll have frank talk on faith. The two presidential candidates will share the stage for the first time in months.

As the Democratic convention draws near, is Barack Obama any closer to picking a running mate?

We're reading the tea leaves on that, too.

And late word of a new tropical storm forming.

Where is it heading?

We'll tell you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: Faith and politics are front and center this weekend. Reverend Rick Warren, author of "The Purpose Driven Life," hosts tomorrow's Faith Forum with Senators John McCain and Barack Obama.

CNN will carry it live beginning at 8:00 p.m. You will want to watch and you'll want to listen to what our political panel has to say about this, as we come back.

David, let me turn to you.

BRODY: Yes?

FOREMAN: Has either one of these candidates really hit home with religious communities yet?

BRODY: Not quite yet. But Barack Obama is making quite a bit of headway in many of the faith communities besides Evangelical. He's doing pretty -- he's doing OK with Evangelicals, not great at all. John McCain is somewhat AWOL when it comes to talking about his faith and talking about faith-related issues. And that's why come Saturday night -- Tom, I've got to tell you, it's like going to the dentist's office for John McCain here. It's, you know he doesn't want to do it, but he's going to do it. And everybody's talking about how a lot of these social justice issues are going to come up -- fighting poverty and AIDS, the Jesus question -- whatever that is -- will come up -- abortion, marriage -- all of the stuff John McCain doesn't really feel comfortable talking about.

It's a huge moment for John McCain with Evangelicals and the base. He's got to perform pretty well. The bar is low, but it's there.

FOREMAN: Susan, he's just shown no indication that he really wants to talk about faith much. He has a few powerful stories that he tells -- rarely. But, by and large, he doesn't like talking about it. And all the Evangelicals I talk to say we need to hear this guy say he believes (INAUDIBLE).

PAGE: Yes. You know, a lot of Americans feel pretty private about their faith. The trouble is, if you're running for president and your party's base consists, in part, of Christian Evangelicals, you need -- you need to talk to them. You know, a third of the voters who voted for President Bush in 2004 were white Christian Evangelicals. And they delivered states like Ohio to him, where there was a same-sex marriage proposition on the ballot that really drove out those kinds of values voters.

These are voters that a Republican candidate must be able to count on, not only to support him, but (INAUDIBLE) to turn out to vote.

And when Barack Obama talks about his faith, it does a couple of things for him. For one thing, it reinforces the point that he's not a Muslim. But it also maybe reassures some of these voters that he's not -- it wouldn't be disastrous if he became president. And that will make it harder for Republicans to get that vote to the polls in November.

FOREMAN: Jack, that seems like something that Barack Obama has to keep doing and doing and doing -- reassuring people that he is a Christian, he's not a Muslim, because no matter how many times he says it, people still think maybe.

CAFFERTY: You know, I watched the forum on faith last spring at Messiah College in Pennsylvania with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. John McCain was invited. He didn't show up.

I think this thing has the potential to be devastating for John McCain. The reason I say that is when you talk about something as personal as your faith, it shows in a nanosecond whether, one, you really believe what you're saying, and, two, whether you're comfortable.

Barack Obama is both. Hillary Clinton was both. That was a fascinating thing. I happened to catch it and I watched the whole thing.

I've seen John McCain try to talk about this stuff a few times and it's like watching a kid try to play the violin who hasn't studied the music quite enough. And you're almost a little uncomfortable for him watching it.

BRODY: You know...

CAFFERTY: I think John McCain has to be very, very careful.

BRODY: I think Jack has hit the nail right on the head. I mean I think what this is all about here is that John McCain has got to make sure that it's not just a litany of issues, Tom. You know, a lot of times you'll talk to the McCain campaign and they'll say he's got a 24-year pro-life voting record. And they'll go down the checklist.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BRODY: Throw out the checklist. It's not about the checklist at all. It's about relating emotionally -- you know, that Kumbaya moment for John McCain and voters, especially with Evangelicals. The Evangelicals and the Evangelical leaders want them -- want him to throw them a bone. And he's not doing any of that.

It will be interesting to see how squirmy he gets in the chair on Saturday.

FOREMAN: Susan, one of the things that was suggested some months ago was that McCain was, in fact, throwing them a bone by giving hints about what he would do in terms of with judges, what -- how he would run administration, even if he didn't talk about religion very overtly.

Has that had any effect at all?

PAGE: Well, I think it's had some effect of reassuring activists. But when it comes to people who want to kind of look into your heart, it's not what they want to hear.

You know, a lot of voters don't really go through a litany of issues. They don't have a single issue they vote on. They want to see a president -- they want a president they can trust that they feel is a strong leader.

It's kind of aside from some of the issues. And I think that's certainly true for this group of voters, who care very deeply about these faith issues.

You know, I don't... BRODY: Well...

PAGE: I wouldn't question that John McCain has a deep faith. But I don't think he has a history of talking about it. And that's one of the things we've seen presidential candidates in the last decade or so learn that they just must do.

FOREMAN: And I'm afraid...

PAGE: Tom...

FOREMAN: I don't think we have anymore time.

Thank you very much, Susan Page, David Brody and Jack.

Good for having you here.

And you can watch Barack Obama and John McCain on the same stage for the first time, right here on CNN. That Faith Forum airs tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

A little over a week to go before the Democratic Convention and speculation is reaching a fever pitch about Barack Obama's vice presidential choice.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, looks at some of the most talked about contenders.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The vice presidency is the most important decision that I'll make before I'm president.

CROWLEY (voice-over): Painted as a liberal, he could use a moderate on his ticket -- new to the national scene, maybe a foreign policy expert or a popular Southern governor to help him change the electoral map.

But first, Barack Obama needs to do no harm.

DAN BALZ, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think the choice for Senator Obama really is one in which he is likely to make a relatively safe choice. And I say that because I think that there are enough questions about him that I don't think he wants to add to that with the selection of a vice president.

CROWLEY: Dole would be OK, too. Obama needs no help in the sizzle department. Since June when he secured the nomination, the campaign trail has looked and sounded like the series of tryouts.

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D): Please join me in welcoming my friend, our neighbor, the next president of the United States, Barack Obama.

CROWLEY: Evan Bayh is a moderate democrat, a photogenic former governor, now a senator, in very Republican Indiana, which Obama would like to put in play this fall. But Bayh is criticized by some of his colleagues as an underachiever. And he voted for the war in Iraq -- and opposition to the war is Obama's basic foreign policy argument.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Look, John McCain was wrong about the war in Iraq.

CROWLEY: Joe Biden also voted in favor of the Iraq War resolution. But after 30 plus years in the Senate, he is regarded as a foreign policy expert. He is also a seasoned political pro with strong ties to key Democratic constituencies and he has no problem in the attack dog role reserved for V.P. nominees.

BIDEN: We don't need, as a commander-in-chief, a war hero, John's a war hero. We need someone with some wisdom.

CROWLEY: But Biden is known to wander off message -- even his own. And as a long time Washington insider, he seems at odds with a campaign running on change.

GOV. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: It's flattering to be mentioned. My mom loves it. She calls when she sees it, you know.

CROWLEY: For the freshest of faces on the national scene, there is Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia -- a gateway to the South for Obama, who'd like to reverse years of Democratic presidential defeats in the region.

But with only two years as governor on his resume, is Kaine too fresh of a face for a presidential candidate defending his own credentials?

OBAMA: This will be my final counselor when I'm making decisions in the White House. And I want to make sure that I get it right.

CROWLEY: Kaine, Biden and Bayh are the most talked about possibilities, but not the only ones being vetted in a process hinted at in public pictures, but discussed in private.

In the end, it is both a policy and a political choice -- a complex calculation with different answers depending on what you factor in.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Honolulu.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

FOREMAN: Candy and I and the best political team join Anderson Cooper tonight for an "A.C. 360" special -- "Crucial Choice: The Next Vice President. That's at 10:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Lou Dobbs, of course, is getting for his show right at the top of the hour -- Lou, what are you looking at?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Well, Tom, I'm trying to figure out who's going to be vice president. I was kind of waiting to find out there, but I guess we'll wait until 10:00. FOREMAN: I guess we'll know.

DOBBS: Coming up next, we'll have the very latest for you on the Russian invasion of Georgia and Moscow's refusal to withdraw any of its troops. In point of fact, those troops tonight have now moved within 30 miles of the Georgian capital.

Also, rising new concerns that Senators Obama and McCain are now more focused on the interests of corporate elites than the interests of working men and women in this country and their families. We'll have that story.

And foreign governments and foreign companies spending billions of dollars buying up critical assets. But the federal government is refusing to tell us what is going on. We'll tell you why.

And Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is playing the race card, trying to win votes and demonstrating he is completely out of touch with reality and moving some distance from civility. We'll tell you all about it.

Join us for that and more at 7:00 Eastern, for all the news from an Independent perspective -- Tom, back to you.

FOREMAN: Thanks so much, Lou.

We'll look forward to it.

It wasn't a fairy tale ending at Disneyland -- why protesters dressed as Mickey and Minnie were handcuffed, frisked and loaded into police vans.

A new storm forms in the Caribbean and the warnings are already out. We're tracking Tropical Storm Fay.

And actor/comedian Bill Murray spends most of his time entertaining you. But this time, it looks like he was having all the fun. We will tell you all about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: Carol Costello monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what do you have?

COSTELLO: Well, Tom, forecasters say Tropical Storm Fay is developing over the Dominican Republic. The center of the storm about 35 miles east of Santo Domingo, with about 40 mile per hour winds. Warnings are out for the country's north coast and parts of the southern coast, as well, as well as parts of Haiti and Cuba.

Disneyland -- far from the happiest place on Earth for more than 30 protesters. The costumed demonstrators were arrested yesterday after sitting at theme park gates. More than 2,000 maids, bellhops and cooks of Disney-owned hotels are disputing what they consider unaffordable health care.

And notice that you're spending less money at the pump?

I bet you do. Gas prices have fallen for the 29th straight day. A AAA survey shows the nationwide average of regular unleaded is now $3.77 a gallon. Prices continue to slide since hitting a record high of $4.11 a gallon in July, and are in step with a decline in oil futures.

Well, he wore his finest tuxedo for the occasion. Nils Olav, the famed penguin of the Edinburgh Zoo, was knighted by the Norwegian king's guard today. Sir Nils already has the dubious distinction of colonel in chief. He is the third bird of the same name. The original bird sadly died back in the '80s. But Sir Nils looks great.

And actor Bill Murray is earning his stripes skydiving in front of thousands. Murray made the tandem jump with the Army's Golden Knights at the Chicago Air and Water -- look at him. Mrs. Brady herself, Florence Henderson, sang the national anthem just before the jump. And this all benefits the USO.

That looks like fun.

FOREMAN: A very unusual day out there, Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, it was.

FOREMAN: Thanks so much.

Jack Cafferty joining us again -- Jack, what have you been hearing?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, with all the complaints about our government, why isn't there more support for third party candidates?

Gallup just did a poll. Only 2 percent of people they talked to say they support one of the third -- one of the three third party candidates in the race for president. Eighty-three percent say they're going to vote for either Obama or McCain.

Collin writes: "It's because elections, like everything else in our government, are a racket. They may nominally be two major parties, but there's only one establishment devoted to welfare, war and power. Coupled with crippling ballot access laws and the impossibility of third party admission into the TV doubts and it's nearly impossible for any dissenting voices to be heard."

Omar in New York writes: "Actually, Jack, it's your fault. Well, the collective you, as in the news media. You don't cover third party candidates. You don't inform us as to their positions. When they get fair coverage, people will take note of them. As things are, it's a miracle that even 2 percent vote for them."

For your information, young fellow, we had Ron Paul on this program, THE SITUATION ROOM, I'll bet a dozen times over the course of the primary campaign. He got a lot of exposure on this network and this program. Chad writes: "Give us a competent third party candidate and we'll vote for them."

History says you won't.

Marty in Green Bay says: "I'm supporting a third party candidate, Bob Barr, the clear choice to lead America. The only reason people continue to vote for one of the two parties is because most people don't take the time to find out what they really believe. They go along with the political wind, just like the politicians do in Washington."

Henry in New York: "The reason why is because the media don't pay attention to those third party candidates. Because of this, the electorate doesn't know much about then. Therefore, these candidates can't raise money. And that is the main thing necessary to have a successful campaign."

And D. in Sebastopol, California: "The issues at stake here are far too serious to use the sacrifice bunt play. Sacrifice bunt, voting for a third party candidate, advances the agenda of the candidate, but at the expense of the batter, and that's the American public" -- this is a long way to go here -- "America really needs a home run right now."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and look for yours there, among hundreds of others. Maybe there are some like with basketball analogies -- Tom.

FOREMAN: An excellent at bat, Jack.

Thanks so much.

CAFFERTY: Sure.

FOREMAN: Good talking with you.

On our Political Ticker, the return of Harry and Louise. You may remember the fictional couple agonized over changes to their health care plan in a 1993 political ad campaign. And they helped sink the Clinton administration's push for health care reform.

Now, Harry and Louise are set to appear in a new ad urging lawmakers to put health care at the top of their domestic agenda. The spot is financed by several different organizations and it's scheduled to air during the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

A nonpartisan group reports Barack Obama is getting more donations from members of the military than John McCain is. That would be a reversal of previous presidential campaigns, when more military donations went to Republicans. And it would be noteworthy since McCain is a decorated war veteran and a former prisoner of war. Obama never served in the military.

And we should note, the Center for Responsive Politics based its study on a relatively small sample of military donors -- 859 gave to Obama and 558 to McCain.

And remember, for the latest political news any time of the day, check out CNNPolitics.com. The Ticker is the number one political news blog on the Web.

Get out and stay out -- that's the U.S. message to Russian invasion forces. We'll have the latest from Georgia.

And the Dalai Lama -- this time the target of protesters during a visit to France. Just one of our Hot Shots -- pictures from tomorrow's newspapers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: Here's a look at some Hot Shots coming in from our friends at the Associated Press -- pictures likely to be in your newspaper tomorrow.

In Iraq, policewomen search female Shiite pilgrims for security purposes as they make their way to a religious festival.

In Russia, German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during a news conference.

In France, demonstrators stand behind a banner and protest the Dalai Lama's 12-day visit to their country.

And in Germany, two kangaroos tussle at a zoo.

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

Among Wolf's guests this Sunday on "LATE EDITION," Defense Secretary Robert Gates. They will talk about the Russia conflict and the war in Iraq. "LATE EDITION" starts 11:00 a.m. Eastern time. Always a good show to watch.

I'm Tom Foreman in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Make sure you join me this weekend for "THIS WEEK IN POLITICS." We're on at 6:00 p.m. On Saturday and at 2:00 p.m. On Sunday.

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