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Veepstakes Contest Heats Up; Iraq Uses Oil Billions to Buy U.S. Weapons; Russian Troops on the Move Again

Aired August 19, 2008 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, guys.
Happening now, a new red flag for Barack Obama. Russia's show of military aggression appears to be a drag on the Democrats' campaign.

Plus, the vice presidential guessing game in overdrive right now for both presidential candidates. I'll ask Republican Tom Ridge about his prospects and the possible backlash for John McCain.

And McCain drills down on oil exploration to picture designed that fuels out about Obama's energy policy.

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

Six days before the Democratic convention, Barack Obama supporters have their cell phones and BlackBerrys at the ready. They are waiting for the first word on Senator Obama's choice for vice president. The Democrats' instant message announcement and a rollout of his running mate could happen any day now.

And there's new word on the convention speakers' roster. Sources telling CNN Al Gore, the former vice president, will deliver remarks in Denver on Thursday. The same night Obama accepts the presidential nomination.

And as anticipation builds, there's new reason for concern within the Obama camp. At issue right now, voters' wariness about he'd handle national security challenges. Obama defended himself on that front today in remarks to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and he fired directly back at Senator John McCain's suggestion that his opposition to the Iraq war was politically motivated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have never suggested, and never will, that Senator McCain picked his position on national security based on politics or personal ambition. I've not suggested it because I believe that he genuinely wants to serve America's national interests.

Now it's time for him to acknowledge that I want to do the same.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, who's already in Denver with the CNN Election Express. What are we seeing in the latest polls, Bill, as far as national security concerns and this race for the White House?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, we see the race tightening up. And we see a reason why.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The race is getting tighter. Last month, Barack Obama led John McCain by nine points nationally in the Quinnipiac University poll. And now? Obama's still ahead, but his lead has narrowed to five points.

Here's one reason: we've had a 3:00 a.m. moment, an unexpected international crisis. The Soviet threat may be gone, but a Russian threat has emerged.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And in matters of national security, good judgment will be at a premium in the term of the next president as we were all reminded 10 days ago by events in the nation of Georgia.

SCHNEIDER: McCain saw his opportunity and he took it, vigorously denouncing Russian aggression and warning of the consequences.

Obama was more measured in his response.

OBAMA: The next commander in chief is going to have to exercise the best possible judgment in getting us through these difficult times.

SCHNEIDER: Which candidate do voters believe is better qualified to deal with Russia? McCain by better than 2-1. More experience in military matters and foreign affairs.

Obama argues that judgment matters more than experience. He claims the Bush administration's bad judgment led to this crisis.

OBAMA: We failed to head off this conflict and lost leverage in our ability to contain it because our leaders have been distracted, our resources overstretched, and our alliances frayed.

SCHNEIDER: The sudden emergence of an international crisis is one reason Obama is underperforming.

How do we know he's underperforming? Asked whether they would rather see a Democrat or a Republican elected president, voters nationwide give the Democrat a 12-point lead, more than twice Obama's 5-point lead.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Both McCain and Obama spoke to veterans this week. Now, among veterans nationwide, McCain is more than 20 points ahead, according to the Gallup Poll. Is that because McCain's a veteran and Obama's not? Partly, but 90 percent of veterans are men and most are over 50. Men and older voters are two of McCain's strongest constituencies -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Bill, thank you. We'll see you out in Denver in a few days.

John McCain, meanwhile, shifting his focus from foreign policy today back to a top concern for a lot of voters -- high fuel prices. The Republican toured an oil rig off Louisiana to drive home his call for new oil drilling.

Ed Henry's working this part of the story for us.

Ed, this is another issue where McCain believes he can, in effect, trump Obama.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. In fact, Wolf, John McCain today literally went to new heights to try to sell his energy plan, show some sharp differences with Barack Obama. This is the kind of moment that environmentalists are lashing out, charging McCain is in the pocket of the oil and gas industry.

McCain camp firing back. Actually, they believe he's on the right side of an issue, affecting millions of Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): Images are crucial in any campaign, so, for better or worse, John McCain has now attached himself to this massive oil rig 150 miles off the coast of New Orleans.

MCCAIN: A whole lot of oil and natural gas. As we speak, they are producing 10,000 barrels of oil a day.

HENRY: A dramatic way for McCain to lambaste Barack Obama's skepticism about boosting offshore oil and gas drilling.

MCCAIN: Senator Obama opposes new drilling. He said it won't solve our problem and that it's, quote, "not real." He's wrong and the American people know it.

HENRY: Obama has said he's open to such drilling but only as part of a broader energy fix that includes electric cars and other alternatives to oil and gas.

OBAMA: We have to fundamentally change how we use energy in this country. Fundamental. We have to do it because we're sending $700 billion to foreign nations. It's a huge transfer of our wealth.

HENRY: McCain also wants to boost alternative fuels, but does not want to wait to move forward on offshore drilling. And the American public seems to agree.

A CNN/Opinion Research Poll last month found 69 percent of Americans favor an increase in offshore drilling. But the poll also found only 51 percent believe more drilling will reduce gas prices in the next year -- a point environmental groups have jumped on to defend Obama.

GENE KARPINSKI, PRESIDENT, LEAGUE OF CONSERVATION VOTERS: Senator McCain's plan is a shameless hoax and he should know better. New drilling in protected areas offshore is going to do nothing to reduce gas prices.

HENRY: McCain insists "an all of the above" approach is needed to deal with the current crisis.

MCCAIN: We all know that conservation will not put us -- will not be sufficient to put us on the road to energy independence.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Now a couple of weeks ago the Republicans put out this tire gauge here on my left hand, it basically says Obama's energy plan to mock the talk by Obama that people should inflate their tires. Also today, the Democrats responding with this oil barrel. It says, "ExxonMcCain 2008," clearly trying to fire back a little bit.

This is sort of the silly season of the campaign where they have props. But the fact is on a substantive way the McCain camps shoots back with the fact that when they had to vote on a 2005 energy bill, massive, billions of dollars in energy, oil and gas tax breaks, John McCain voted against the tax breaks for the oil and gas industries. Barack Obama actually voted for it.

BLITZER: But it also had the reason Obama says he voted for it is because it did have some energy -- alternative energy ideas in there.

HENRY: It's that kind of thing to try to build renewable energies. And that's why they are fighting it out on the substance as to who actually has a better plan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed, thanks very much.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: We have yet another sign that Hillary Clinton is doing her dead-level best to take title to the Democratic National Convention. In addition to that laundry list of concessions that she's already wrung out of Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton plan to use the convention to raise money to pay off more of her campaign debt from the primaries.

Hillary Clinton has announced that she will award one lucky donor a trip to the convention with her. And in case that's not incentive enough, Bill Clinton sent an e-mail to potential contributors promising a memorable week with his wife.

Quote, "You'll get to see Hillary speak on Tuesday, and Barack Obama, the next president of the United States, on Thursday. And I hear Hillary and you will have a chat. I'll make sure to stop by," unquote.

Makes you want to go out and borrow against the house, doesn't it?

I mentioned Hillary Clinton is doing her best to take title to the convention. Well, she's going to have her name placed in nomination. There will be a roll call vote. She gets her own primetime speaking slot. She'll be introduced by her daughter, Chelsea. The video preceding her speech will be produced by her own production company, the same bunch that did "The Man from Hope" for Bill Clinton a few years back. Oh and he's going to speak, too.

All this for the loser in the race.

The clock's ticking when it comes to Clinton's debt. According to campaign finance rules, candidates only have 20 days after the convention ends to fund raise for their personal loans.

So, if you see Senator Clinton out front in the convention hall with a cup of pencils, buy one, she needs the money.

Here's the question: is the Democratic convention the appropriate place for Hillary Clinton to raise money to pay off her campaign debts? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog -- Wolf?

BLITZER: You know, there's going to be a lot of fat-cat Democrats at that convention with a lot of money, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Well, I guess that's what she has in mind.

BLITZER: I suppose. All right, Jack, thanks very much.

Russia, meanwhile, continuing to thumb its nose at the west. There's new evidence right now that Moscow's troops are not leaving neighboring Georgia. In fact, they may be digging in.

Our Michael Ware is on the scene in the combat zone.

Plus, Barack Obama and John McCain in their own words and trading places. This time it's Obama who's talking at length about Russian aggression.

And would Tom Ridge be too much of a liability for Senator McCain if he were tapped as his running mate? The former Homeland Security secretary and Pennsylvania governor, he's standing by live to join us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is joining with her NATO counterparts in calling for a quick withdrawal of Russian troops from the Republic of Georgia. In a joint statement following talks in Brussels, NATO warns that regular contacts with Moscow will be impossible until there's a full pullout.

CNN's Michael Ware is in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi with an update on the military situation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Russia's high-stakes military brinksmanship continues here in the war in Georgia, with all indications showing that the Russian troops are staying put in most of their positions.

On the western front, on the Black Seacoast, Georgian government officials say that Russian troops re-entered the all-important seaport city of Poti. There the Georgian government says Russian troops took 21 Georgian military police officers prisoners and took them back to a strong point 30 kilometers from the coast.

Meanwhile, on the eastern front, there were reports from the Georgian government of Russian troops attempting to enter a Georgian military barracks and prevented by Georgian police with a threat, according to the Georgian government, that the Russian troops would return.

Meanwhile, in the city of Gori, an undisputed Georgian territory, again, there's absolutely no hint of Russian troops leaving. Indeed, a Georgian vice prime minister has told CNN that a Russian general informed him that Russian troops may, in fact, set up more permanent checkpoints in the city.

Despite increasing calls from the international community now led by the NATO secretary-general for the Russians to pull back to their positions before this conflict began on August 6th.

Michael Ware, CNN, Tbilisi.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama, says the United States must take a firm stance with Russia over the conflict in Georgia. He says he's been out front in calling for a diplomatic resolution to the dispute even before Russia invaded.

Here are -- here's some of what Senator Obama had to say today at the Veterans of Foreign Wars conference in Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: For months I've called for active international engagement to resolve the disputes over South Ossetia and Abkhazia. I made it crystal clear before at the beginning of and during the conflict that Georgia's territorial integrity must be respected and that Georgia should be integrated into the transatlantic institutions.

I have condemned Russian aggression and today I reiterate my demand that Russia abide by the cease-fire. Russia must know that its actions will have consequences that will imperil the civil nuclear agreement and Russia's standing in the international community, including the NATO/Russia council and Russia's desire to participate in organizations like the WTO and OECD. And finally we must help Georgia rebuild that which has been destroyed. That is why I'm proud to join my friend Senator Joe Biden in calling for additional $1 billion in reconstruction assistance for the people of Georgia.

And these are the judgments I've made and the policies that we have to debate, because we do have differences in this election. But one of the things that we have to change in this country is the idea that people can't disagree without challenging each other's character or their patriotism.

I've never suggested...

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I have never suggested, and never will, that Senator McCain picks his position on national security based on politics or personal ambition. I've not suggested it, because I believe that he genuinely wants to serve America's national interests. Now it's time for him to acknowledge that I want to do the same.

Let me be clear. I will let no one question my love of this country. I love America...

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I love America, so do you and so does John McCain. When I look out in this audience, I see people of different political views.

You're Democrats and Republicans and independents. But you all served together and fought together and bled together under the same proud flag. You did not serve a red America or a blue America. You served the United States of America.

So let's have a serious debate. Let's have a serious debate, and let's debate our disagreements on the merits of policy, not on personal attacks. No matter how heated it gets or what kind of campaign he chooses to run, I will honor Senator McCain's service, just like I honor the service of every veteran in this room and every American who has worn the uniform of the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Tropical Storm Fay slamming into Florida, bringing heavy rains, flooding, and tornadoes. We're going to have a live update from the scene.

And Senator Obama is said to be very close to announcing his running mate. Whose stock is rising? Whose is falling? Will there be a stunning surprise? We're looking at the contenders in our "Strategy Session."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important toys incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Carol, what's going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a promise from the Pentagon to limit the time Army National Guard troops spend away from home to 12 months is costing an estimated $128 million this year. And according to the Associated Press, officials say the tab is expected to double next year.

Plans call for shortening deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and allowing soldiers to live at home during part of their training.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson says energy and environmental issues and negotiations on an investment treaty will top the agenda during the next round of high-level talks with China. The discussions are expected to take place in China around the end of the year. They are not expected to be concluded until the next administration is in office.

And Tropical Storm Fay is leaving a trail of flooding and damage as it churns across Florida with several areas reporting tornadoes in recent hours and 93,000 households are without power. Widespread flooding is being reported in Collier and Palm Beach Counties. And forecasters are predicting up to 15 inches of rain in some areas.

The storm sustained winds of more than 60 miles an hour and is moving slowly eastward toward the Atlantic coast. It is expected to gain strength when it moves back over water. And forecasters say it could turn back west, delivering a second hit to land later in the week.

We'll keep following it. Back to you.

BLITZER: All right, let's pick up on that story, Carol. John Zarrella is our man on the scene right now.

John, first of all, tell our viewers where you are and what's going on.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are in Fort Pierce right along the inter-coastal waterway here and you can see it's really blowing. You can see the water churned up here. It is deep, deep, dark, chocolate brown, just all churned up, all that dust and debris on the bottom.

And, again, we've had our wind meter out, Wolf, and the wind speeds we've been getting anywhere fro 25 to 30 miles an hour, below tropical-storm force, although earlier I had a wind gust below 33 miles an hour. Right now 32, 35, so just below tropical-storm force.

Now the squalls and rain bands continuing move in. And earlier today as we drove into the Fort Pierce area, we came across some extensive street flooding on Route 70, which is an East/West corridor, a main corridor, that runs all the way across the state. But in the Fort Pierce area, that road was impassable in places. Cars driving through it with the water literally up to their -- up to their headlights. So, we're still expected worse conditions here as the storm gets ever closer to us -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, John. We're going to check back with you. It's not just the storm, potential tornadoes, and a lot of flooding. John Zarrella, as he always is, on the scene for us.

We heard Senator Barack Obama tell Senator John McCain to stop questioning his patriotism. You heard it just a little while ago. We're going to get reaction from a top McCain supporter and possible running mate -- the former Homeland Security secretary, Tom Ridge. He's also a former governor of Pennsylvania. He's standing by live, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And Al Gore, as a warm-up act on Barack Obama's big night in Denver. The pros and cons of that, and a lot more in our "Strategy Session."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, arms deals. Iraq's government is spending a lot of money on American weapons, but are some of them ending up in the hands of insurgents battling American troops?

Brian Todd looking into this story for us.

Also, blood-stained mosques. Disturbing new evidence of the horrors of Iraq's sectarian violence. We're going to take you inside a former torture chamber.

And large attacks in Afghanistan right now. We'll have a report on a major insurgent ambush on a French patrol near Kabul, and a new report of an attack targeting U.S. troops.

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

There's another sign that Senator Barack Obama may be losing some of his edge over Senator John McCain. Obama now is four points ahead of McCain in our brand new CNN Poll of Polls, an average of the latest presidential surveys. Obama led by six points in our more recent poll of polls. That was last week.

Joining us now to discuss this and a lot more, a top McCain supporter, often mentioned as a possible vice presidential choice, the former governor of Pennsylvania, former of secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge.

Governor, Secretary -- I don't know what to call you -- thanks very much for coming back in.

TOM RIDGE (R), FORMER PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR: Tom is fine. It's nice to be back. Thank you.

BLITZER: What do you prefer?

RIDGE: Tom.

BLITZER: Tom. I'm not going to call you Tom.

RIDGE: Good.

BLITZER: Either way, it's nice to have you in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Rush Limbaugh, he really went after the notion that Senator McCain should pick any one as his running mate who supports abortion rights, as you do.

And listen to what he said on Monday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE TALK SHOW HOST: It just would be a shame. It would just be a sad thing if he chooses a pro-choice vice president or even a Democrat, because he could just obliterate all the success and all the progress that he experienced on Saturday night with the wrong choice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's referring to his remarks at the Faith Forum...

RIDGE: Right.

BLITZER: ... out in California. Well, it looked like you were one of those guys he's referring to.

RIDGE: Well, Rush has never known to be shy about his giving his opinion and I'm sure his point of view may be held by other people within the party. All I know is that my friend of 25 years, John McCain, is strongly and forever pro-life. He also believes that you shouldn't be judgmental on other people's point of view with regard to this and some other very difficult issues. And, as I said before, I think he will make the right choice for his vice presidential nominee.

And, at the end of the day, I think Rush and everybody else, hopefully, can see that there's a clear choice, regardless of who the vice presidential candidate, a choice that says John McCain is needed now as president of the United States in this perilous time.

BLITZER: And, if he did pick you, he would be the president. He would be calling the shots. You would be the vice president. You would be doing whatever the president asked you to do.

RIDGE: You know, it's an interesting situation. Everybody would be proud to serve as vice president. But, at the end of the day, you're only a private, independent voice giving your opponent and counsel to the president in a private way.

But, at the end of the day, publicly, you echo the president's position. And I think every vice president understands that and appreciates that's the rule.

BLITZER: Let me get back to the top story, Senator Obama today speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars. And you're one of those veterans...

RIDGE: Correct.

BLITZER: ... yourself. You served in Vietnam.

He really went after Senator McCain and others in the McCain campaign for questioning his patriotism. And I will play a little clip for you.

RIDGE: Right. OK. Thanks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We do have differences in this election, but one of the things that we have to change in this country is the idea that people can't disagree without challenging each other's character or their patriotism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The suggestion from Senator McCain, Senator Lieberman, others, that, you know, Obama would do something for political purposes, even if it was against the interests of the United States.

RIDGE: Well, I don't believe that. Neither does Senator McCain.

I was a little disappointed. And he gives great speeches, strong rhetoric, but the notion that Senator McCain, of all people, would challenge anybody's patriotism is strictly a straw man that I think he had to put up in front of that group of VFW and then knock it down.

But I think Senator Obama needs to understand, when you're at the national level, vying for the president of the United States, if we challenge your point of view, in the sense that your energy policy is inflating tires, as opposed to drilling and nuclear, we're not challenging your patriotism. We're challenging your judgment.

If we challenge your view on the surge and its success in Iraq, we're not challenging your patriotism. We're challenging your judgment and experience.

BLITZER: But there have been comments that have been made...

RIDGE: Never from John McCain.

BLITZER: ... that get very -- very, very close to that specific charge from Senator McCain and from Lieberman, among others.

(CROSSTALK)

RIDGE: Well, I don't know. All I'm saying is, he referred to my friend of 25 years, Senator McCain. I take it very personal. John McCain doesn't question anybody else's patriotism.

And, if Senator Obama thinks that the Republican Party or anybody else, even people within his own party, who challenge him on his issues, challenge him on policy, challenge him on the approach he's taking, we're challenging his experience. We're challenging his judgment. We are going to challenge his equivocation on some of the critical issues.

We never, we haven't, and we won't challenge his patriotism.

BLITZER: So, you believe he's a patriotic American...

RIDGE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... who would do -- even if it were against his political interests, do what is best for the United States?

RIDGE: I certainly hope so. I mean, the responsibility of the president of the United States is not to read the polls. It's to render the judgment based upon experience and based upon relationships based on your assessment of what's going on.

So, I don't think Senator McCain or anybody else will ever challenge s man's patriotism.

BLITZER: Here's another criticism that Senator Obama leveled against Senator McCain today at this Veterans of Foreign Wars event. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: so for all of his talk about following Osama bin Laden to the Gates of Hell, Senator McCain refused to join my call to take out bin Laden across the Afghan border. Instead, he spent years backing a dictator in Pakistan who failed to serve the interests of his own people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. As someone who knows a lot about homeland security and the hunt for Osama bin Laden, what do you say?

(CROSSTALK)

RIDGE: Well, I think Senator McCain has been strong in support of the president's overall initiative to combat terror around the world. And, clearly...

BLITZER: But did -- did the U.S. take its eye off the ball by going into Iraq and moving out of Afghanistan and the hunt for bin Laden?

(CROSSTALK)

RIDGE: No, we didn't -- there were certainly fewer troops in Afghanistan. But you ask those men, hundreds -- thousands of individuals who spent months, if not years, looking for Osama bin Laden, they did not take their eye off the ball, clearly.

BLITZER: More -- more, though, could have been done if troops wouldn't have been stretched that thin.

(CROSSTALK)

RIDGE: There are two -- there are more than two venues. Even al Qaeda has said right now, the central venue -- again, this is questioning -- not questioning his patriotism, but his judgment -- even al Qaeda said, the central venue where we really want to make a difference is not in Afghanistan. It's in Iraq.

(CROSSTALK)

RIDGE: And, so, John has his priorities consistent with the enemy's priorities, Iraq and Afghanistan. He's never wavered from either.

BLITZER: Senator McCain was out on an oil rig today talking about a critically important issue, energy independence.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Now, you served in the Congress with him.

RIDGE: Right.

BLITZER: You go way back with Senator McCain.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And the question is this.

When he -- for 26 years, he's been in Washington. And Senator Obama keeps saying, you know what? He never really did much, if anything, to get America weaned off of foreign oil.

Can you look back and think of something he did do in his legislative record that -- that helped move the United States away from this addiction?

RIDGE: Well, I think there have been -- again, I don't know his legislative record as well as the campaign does, but I do know -- I think it was '03, '05, '07 -- there were efforts to deal with nuclear energy. There have been efforts to deal with alternative energies.

I think the senator has a pretty good record in dealing with, in a responsible way, as a senator does, in a very piecemeal way. But what he's called for as a presidential candidate, let's not just talk about tax credits for renewable energies; let's not just talk about clean coal tragedy; let's not just talk about nuclear; as the president of the United States, I want an all-in approach; I want to talk about nuclear, drilling, clean energy technology, conservation, renewable fuels.

A far different perspective you have -- and you must have -- as a president than dealing with individual votes on the floor of the Senate.

BLITZER: I didn't know at the top whether to call you Mr. Secretary or Mr. -- or Governor or Congressman. Maybe somebody day I will call you Mr. Vice President.

RIDGE: We will just have to wait to see, won't we?

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Well, it probably won't be that long to find out.

Thanks for coming in.

RIDGE: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: John McCain goes offshore to promote new oil drilling. We are going to hear from the Republican senator at length as he challenges Senator Obama's position on oil exploration. Stand by for that.

And place your bets on Obama's vice presidential choice. We are going to consider the candidates, the odds. Is there a surprise? -- in our "Strategy Session."

Plus, a new push to ease binge drinking on college campuses by lowering -- yes, lowering the drinking age.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As Ed Henry told us at the top of the hour, John McCain spent part of his day on an oil rig today, in an effort to push his energy plan. He spoke to reporters just before getting on a helicopter to head for land.

Here are some of his comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: The nation is sending $700 billion every year overseas to countries that don't like us very much. And, when I'm president, that's going to stop.

We're going to achieve energy independence, and we're going to by -- do it by using every resource at our disposal to get the job done, including new offshore drilling. New drilling has got to be part of our energy solution. It won't solve this problem alone. Alternative energy will not solve this problem alone. And conservation alone will not.

It will require aggressive development of alternative energies, like wind, solar, tide, biofuels, natural gas. And it also requires expanding traditional sources of energy, like clean coal, nuclear power, and offshore drilling, like that done on this rig.

It's been a real pleasure to be out here to see the technology of the United States of America at work, dedicated and professional workers, who come out here two weeks at a time, and work on behalf of their families. But they also do great work on behalf of supplying the energy needs of America's families. I'm grateful for them.

When I'm president, there will be a whole lot more like them, not only here, in the Gulf, but also off of our East and West Coasts. We need to drill offshore. And we need to do it now. If I were president, I would call Congress back into session and tell them to get to work, get to work on the part of the people, and help put us on the path to energy independence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: In our "Strategy Session" with Donna Brazile and Kevin Madden, did Barack Obama tip his hand today about his vice presidential pick?

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Finally, we must help Georgia rebuild that which has been destroyed. That is why I'm proud to join my friend Senator Joe Biden, in calling for an additional $1 billion in reconstruction assistance for the people of Georgia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: In an -- inside and outside the beltway, political junkies are in a state of heightened alert right now. When will Senator Obama make his decision? Who will it be?

And torn from the pages of "Harry Potter," a real-life invisibility cloak? It sounds too good to be true. But scientists say it's actually possible.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right, let's discuss the vice presidential prospects for Senator Obama.

Joining us, our Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist Kevin Madden, the former spokesman for Mitt Romney.

Let's go through some of the top contenders -- we don't know who it's going to be -- and the pros and cons of each one.

Very quickly, we will go through. The governor of Virginia, Tim Kaine, for example, pro and con. DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Thirteen electoral votes. He would put a very key state into play. He's a popular governor. And I -- there's no question that he would make an attractive candidate.

Con? He's not well known, no foreign policy experience. That -- that could spell trouble.

BLITZER: Joe Biden, what about him, pros and cons?

KEVIN MADDEN, FORMER ROMNEY CAMPAIGN NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY: Well, the pros for Joe Biden is that he is somebody who can go after John McCain on national security issues with a certain degree of credibility that many of the others...

BLITZER: He the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

MADDEN: Right -- that many of the others couldn't.

The con is that he is a gaffe machine. We have seen ti time and time again. I mean, his announcement for his own presidential campaign almost didn't get off the ground because he got caught up with a gaffe and making misstatements.

So, I think a lot of the folks over at the RNC and the McCain campaign are already putting that sort of dossier together.

BLITZER: Joe Biden is from the very small state of Delaware, but does he potentially help Senator Obama in bigger battleground states?

BRAZILE: Catholic, blue-collar workers. He's down-to-earth. You know, you call it a gaffe. This is a guy that doesn't need to be scripted, because he's so easy-going. He loves people. And I think he would make a great and credible V.P...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: He loves to be on television, as we all know. He's a frequent guest. But he's been thunderously silent over these past few weeks...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: ... going against all of his instincts, even on issues like Georgia and Russia. He was just there. We wanted him on. You know what? For him to turn down all these requests, it must be painful.

MADDEN: That's the problem. I mean, he's having his best days as a vice presidential candidate because he's not saying anything.

The second he gets out there on the campaign trail, he starts talking. He -- almost a little bit too verbose. And he could start causing problems for the campaign. At least, us Republicans hope so. And we are going to look for every opportunity to exploit it. BLITZER: Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, he hasn't been shy. He's been appearing on a lot of TV shows. And he's considered a front- runner.

BRAZILE: Eleven electoral votes, a popular governor...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Former governor.

BRAZILE: The former governor of Indiana, serves on the Armed Services Committee. He is a centrist. He would also make an attractive candidate.

BLITZER: How attractive would he be?

MADDEN: Blue-collar Democrats, that is who he would -- they put him on the ticket to attract those folks. The Midwestern roots would help.

But I have got to tell you, he's about as exciting as seeing grass grow. So, I don't think he is really going to energize that Democratic base...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But he would be a very safe choice.

MADDEN: He would be the safe choice. He's the safe choice in very much the way that Tim Pawlenty is seen as the non-confrontational safe choice on the Republican side.

BLITZER: The -- is this a surprise name out there, a Bill Nelson, a Sam Nunn, anybody else you see as a potential...

MADDEN: A Bob Graham, a John Kerry, you know, Tom Daschle. I have a whole list, Sebelius, Clinton, Bill Richardson. I like them all.

BLITZER: So, there could be a surprise? We could be stunned; is that what you're saying?

MADDEN: That's one name that will not appear on the list. And that's Al Gore, because I think Al Gore has other plans this year.

BLITZER: He's already been a vice president, as far as I recall.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: And the folks that put Al Gore out there, they are really bad at starting rumors, because I can't see that happening...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: He will be speaking Thursday night. That's the big night, when Senator Obama accepts the nomination before 75,000 or 80,000 people at Mile High Stadium out there in Denver.

Is that a good move for the Democrats?

MADDEN: Well, sure.

I think that Al Gore's going to be able to go out there and remind Democrats about what they didn't like about 2000, without even mentioning it. And he's going to be able to galvanize a lot of these Democrats to really -- to remind them that every single vote counts, and that, you know, a unified party is exactly what Barack Obama needs to win in 2008.

BLITZER: And, Donna, let me remind our viewers out there, you were his campaign manager back in 2000, so you remember those days well.

How should Senator Obama use Al Gore between the time of the convention and the election on November 4?

BRAZILE: To help him reinforce his message, not just only on change, but on climate change, on the environment, on national security. He's a great surrogate for Senator Obama. He can also help raise money.

BLITZER: You heard Tom Ridge. He was just here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the former governor of Pennsylvania, former secretary of homeland security, who supports abortion rights. And his name is considered a possible -- possible -- vice presidential running mate for Senator McCain.

But Rush Limbaugh, and a lot of the base of the conservatives, the Republicans, they -- they wouldn't be happy. Can Senator McCain go against that base and pick someone who supports abortion?

MADDEN: I think it would be a very problematic choice.

I think that -- that Rush Limbaugh speaks to a lot of the fears that many grassroots conservatives have that such a pick would really cause a stampede at the -- at the convention. It would essentially take us away from a major part of our identity as Republicans, which is that as a party that protects the sanctity of life.

So, I really think that, if you're going to make this an election about first securing your base, and then going after those independents that are going to help you get to that 51 percent, it's a very problematic choice.

BLITZER: Because you know...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... you know there's been speculation even that the man who was the vice presidential running mate of Al Gore in 2000, Joe Lieberman, now a major supporter of Senator McCain, he supports abortion rights, but there's talk that he could be a potential running mate for John McCain.

BRAZILE: If you think Tom Ridge is a problem for Rush Limbaugh, just add Joe Lieberman to the brew, because he's not only pro-choice.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: But there have been some major, major Republicans out there who like Joe Lieberman a lot.

BRAZILE: Well, because they think Joe Lieberman can go back and attack the Democrats. But Joe Lieberman is also pro-gay rights. He -- he's also pro-civil rights. And that runs counter to some of the Republican message.

So, look, the mainstream of the country is pro-choice. And if John McCain would like to appeal to independents, he would stand up for a woman's right to choose.

BLITZER: But just clarify what you just said on the pro-civil rights. You are say Republicans don't favor civil rights?

MADDEN: Yes, let me -- let me disagree with you on that.

BRAZILE: I'm saying, for -- for a Joe Lieberman, who has perhaps one of the strongest records on civil rights issues -- when I say civil rights, I mean, not only referring to equal justice under the law. I'm talking about gay civil rights, women's rights. Civil rights is a broad category. And, on that score, there's no question that the Democrats have been much stronger on that.

MADDEN: Republicans feel very strongly about civil rights. There are many Republicans out there that have been on the forefront of that issue.

There's one reason why that Republicans don't believe in Joe Lieberman. Because he used to be a Democrat, and he practically still is on all the strong -- all the social policies, the economic policies, and -- that -- that we care about.

BRAZILE: Well, I would love to see the day that you all select Joe Lieberman. I will be here defending Joe Lieberman's values, while you are sitting there defending Rush Limbaughs.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right, guys.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We will continue this conversation during the commercial. Donna, Kevin, guys, thanks very much for coming in.

BRAZILE: Yes.

MADDEN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And some stories we're working on right now in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A very dangerous game, that is what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls it, as Russia flexes its military muscle dangerously close to American airspace.

And you have to be 21 to drink legally, but dozens of university presidents now say they want to lower the drinking age. You are going to find out why -- Carol Costello working this story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the hot shots coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In Egypt, flames shoot out and smoke rises from the Parliament Building. Six people have been hospitalized.

In Georgia, students shout slogans, hold banners, and wave Georgian flags to protest Russia's military presence.

In Afghanistan, boys use teamwork to push a filled cart.

And a very special "Hot Shot," check it out, the newest addition to THE SITUATION ROOM family, Nathaniel Wellen (ph). He's the son of our digital deputy diplomatic director, Alex Wellen, and his wife, Chris (ph).

Congratulations to the Wellens, nice little baby -- some of this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures worth 1,000 words.

On our "Political Ticker" today: Six days to go until the Democratic Convention, which will be the first of the YouTube era? Just how big a role will technology play in Denver?

Let's get the answer from our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

What are we going to see online next week, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, right now, it's all still very much under construction, as this YouTube video from the Denver organizers is going to show you. But they promise that, once things gets under way on Monday, it is all going to be available online to voters.

What's that's going to look like, it's live, streaming coverage on their Web site, on the convention Web site, in English and in Spanish. And then you have got the coverage from the bloggers as well, more than 120 of them invited. Some of them will be blogging from inside the Pepsi Center, some of them embedded with their delegations.

Others are going to be in this space right here. It doesn't look like much right now. This is the Denver Nuggets' weight room. They promise this is all going to be transformed for the bloggers. They have also got space outside just down the road in the big tent blogging facility, two floors with Google-sponsored smoothies and massages.

With all this going on, there's one group that really hopes they're not going to get drowned out, the PUMAs. They are Denver- bound as well. As they will say on their Web site, these are the die- hard Hillary Clinton supporters. They say that they have rented space in Denver as well. And they are going to have a live stream going out online from what they are calling their PUMA den.

Wolf, we will have to watch that one.

BLITZER: All right. We will be watching it with Abbi every step of the way.

Let's go back to Jack in the meantime for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour: Is the Denver Convention the appropriate place for Hillary Clinton to raise money to pay off her campaign debts?

Jessica writes from Springfield, Illinois: "No, not appropriate. If she had gracefully suspended her run when we all knew she couldn't win, she wouldn't be $20 million in debt. This is Obama's time, also historic. She needs to butt out."

Larry from Scappoose, Oregon: "I guess the media is so desperate for a story, you are talking about Hillary fund-raising at the convention. To me, it just doesn't matter. As long as she doesn't make a fool of herself on the stage during the speech, it doesn't matter. There are so many important issues that we could be discussing."

True, but they're not nearly as much fun.

Chad in Los Angeles: "I voted for her, but now I'm starting to feel a little embarrassed for her and how desperate she appears now -- all this just to pay off a debt that she will make up with her next book or Bill's next speaking tour."

Karen in Houston, Texas: "What difference does it make what we think? Obviously, the only thing that matters is what Hillary, Bill and her PUMA supporters think. At least, that's what the media and she and her supporters keep telling everyone. I will be so glad when this election process is over, so I don't have to see or hear the Clintons again."

Nicole in the Virgin Islands: "Hell to the no. Let her 18 million supporters retire her debt."

J. writes: "It is in poor form, inappropriate, but I have got an idea. Why doesn't Hillary just charge large amounts of money for people to overnight at her home? It worked when she and Bill lived in the White House. It ought to work in New York, too."

And Ed writes from Florida: "Jack, who are you going to pick on after the convention?"

I will find somebody.

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 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.

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

Happening now, Russian troops on the move again. Some may be preparing to leave Georgia, but others are moving back into one city, and taking more prisoners.

Iraq uses its oil billions to buy U.S. weapons. The shopping list ranges from machine guns to tanks and attack helicopters. But could some weapons wind up in the hands of insurgents?

And a new push to lower the drinking age comes from college campuses. But you'll never guess who is behind it.

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