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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Interview With Illinois Senator Barack Obama
Aired March 19, 2008 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, a 360 exclusive.
We're here at the University of North Carolina, at Charlotte, not far from where Barack Obama wrapped up a town hall meeting earlier this everything.
Now, he is under intense pressure, under the gun, coming off perhaps the speech of his political career yesterday, a speech many believe he had to make to save his campaign. Tonight, he's trying to move on, on to Iraq, but he's still answering some of the lingering questions about his association with the preacher Jeremiah Wright. He now admits that preacher spoke unpatriotic words from the pulpit.
And that's not all he said to me today. We have been traveling with him all day, given near total access.
Tonight, our exclusive interview on Reverend Wright, Iraq, and his opponent, Hillary Clinton. We will also cover Hillary Clinton today in Michigan trying to get the state to hold a new primary, and slamming Senator Obama, she says, for standing in the way. We will get her campaign's reaction to our interview with Obama. We will also get analysis, too, from the best political team on television, joined tonight by Dee Dee Myers, former Clinton White House press secretary.
A lot to cover in this special hour.
We begin with the issue that is still front and center for Barack Obama and has threatened to derail his campaign. When he and I sat down today, he mentioned that he hadn't slept much, between crafting today's foreign policy address and yesterday's message on race, a speech that is still echoing across the country tonight.
The campaign trying to move on today, but still doing damage control.
COOPER (voice-over): By now, you have heard the sermons...
REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: Not God bless America. God damn America.
COOPER: Played endlessly for much of the past week, today, Senator Obama continued to distance himself from his former pastor's angry rhetoric, and tried to gauge how his speech yesterday on race was playing on the campaign trail. (on camera): How badly do you think this has damaged you? How much has it hurt? "National Review Online" says, bottom line, will the speech help you win white working-class voters?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you know, one of the things I said early on in this campaign was, if I was just running the textbook campaign, doing the conventional thing, I probably wasn't going to win, because Senator Clinton was going to be much more capable of doing that than I would be.
We had tremendous success, and I think we were starting to get a little comfortable and conventional right before Texas and Ohio. And, you know, in some ways, this controversy has actually shaken me up a little bit and gotten me back into remembering that, you know, the odds of me getting elected have always been lower than some of the other conventional candidates.
And, if I bring something to this conversation, it's going to be because I do what I did yesterday, which is hopefully open up a new conversation about a new direction in the country.
As a practical matter, in terms of how this plays out demographically, I can't tell you. I don't know. And, you know, this is one of those things you can't poll. And the speech I gave yesterday obviously was not crafted to hit a particular demographic.
COOPER (voice-over): The speech was widely praised for its eloquence.
OBAMA: What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but how many men and women overcame the odds.
COOPER: But Obama himself acknowledges, for some, nagging questions remain.
(on camera): In the past, you said you didn't think that your church was particularly controversial. Yesterday, in the speech, you said that -- you admitted that you did hear in the church remarks that could be considered controversial.
Do you know specifically? Do you remember what you heard?
But let me give you examples. It didn't necessarily relate to some of the statements that have caused such controversy over the last few days. Reverend Wright, on occasion, for example, would talk about infidelity or issues having to do with family life in pretty blunt terms from the pulpit. And people would blush and blanch.
So, it wasn't just related to his political views. He had a blunt style. And so there are -- no doubt that there were times where he might have said something that I didn't agree with politically. As I said before, I had never heard him say things that were as incendiary as the clips that have been shown. COOPER (voice-over): Perhaps more incendiary of all, Reverend Wright's comments just days after 9/11 blaming the attacks on U.S. policy.
WRIGHT: Because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yard. America's chickens are coming home to roost.
(on camera): His conversations regarding 9/11, which you said you were not there for...
OBAMA: That, I was not aware of.
COOPER: Right, but was made aware of, I guess, a year ago, when you were running, did you -- have you talked to him about that?
OBAMA: Well, you know, I told him that I profoundly disagreed with his positions.
As I said before, he was on -- at that stage, on the verge of retirement. And you -- you know, you make decisions about these issues. And my belief was that, given that he was about to retire, that for me to make a political statement respecting my church at that time wasn't necessary.
COOPER (voice-over): By yesterday, however, the necessity of making a political statement on his church and on race was clear to Obama.
OBAMA: Thank you so much. Thank you.
COOPER: Even if the controversy dies down in the coming days, in a general election, if Obama is still in the race, it's likely we will hear more of Reverend Wright's most outrageous sermons.
(on camera): In a general election, though, patriotism is going to come up. I mean, in a general election, patriotism is going to be used by whoever it is who you are facing.
OBAMA: And it would have been -- it would have been used -- it would have been used anyway.
COOPER: But they certainly have more fodder now, and they're going to use the Reverend Wright. They're going to use the comments made by your wife about the United States, about you not wearing a flag pin.
Do you define patriotism differently than, say, John McCain? Do African-Americans define patriotism differently than white America?
OBAMA: I don't think so. But what I do think is that we have come to use patriotism as a cudgel in politics. And I think that, oftentimes, it's spoken about in ways that don't get to what I think is the core of patriotism, which is, you know, are we caring for each other? Are we upholding the values of our founders? Are we willing to sacrifice on behalf of future generations?
COOPER: Do you think what Reverend Wright said was unpatriotic or un-American?
OBAMA: I absolutely think that some of the language was unpatriotic. And I think that, as I said yesterday, his biggest failure was not to criticize America, because I think there's always been a tradition of patriotism through dissent.
I mean, Dr. King criticized America. But I think that his failure was to think that America was static, all right? And, you know, when Dr. King criticized America, it was then with the prospect that we would be true to our best selves.
And that, I think, is the essence of my patriotism, the belief that America is constantly changing and constantly improving, and we will never be perfect, but we can -- we can move in the direction of perfecting our union. And that is the reason I'm in public service.
COOPER: Well, there's little doubt that Senator Obama's statements on the Wright affair have evolved since this controversy began. Some have interpreted that as spin. Others say it is simply due to the painful personal nature of this with the Obamas.
We can only say that you should judge for yourselves.
Tonight, joining me now, CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, CNN political analyst Amy Holmes, and Dee Dee Myers, former Bill Clinton press secretary and author of "Why Women Should Rule the World."
David, very briefly, does Obama need to do more on this issue, or should he try to move off it, as he has today, talking about Iraq, talking about other issues?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Glad to see you in North Carolina, Anderson, God's country.
I think he needs to pivot off and go on to Iraq and then talk about the economy. But he cannot pivot off completely. He's invited the country to have a serious conversation in this campaign about race. He does need to weave it into his campaign now, and not try to avoid it.
I thought the conversation with you tonight, one more example of trying to deal with it. And -- but -- but he needs to move the conversation into a broader framework, get it beyond Reverend Wright, into a general racial reconciliation. COOPER: We're going to have a lot more from our panel coming up after this short break. We will have more with the panel.
Also, politics up close -- the part of a campaign you don't often get to see, what it's like between the events behind the scenes on the road -- that and more tonight only on 360, live in Charlotte.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
COOPER: The crowds here have already assembled. They have been waiting now for about an hour. They're kept back by -- by barricades. Most of these people won't even be able to get in to hear him speak, but they just wanted to come in order to catch a glimpse of the candidate.
COOPER: Senator Barack Obama on the campaign trail today, fighting for North Carolina, the second biggest delegate prize after Pennsylvania, trying, as David Gergen suggested before the break, to pivot off the Reverend Wright issue, on to something he thinks he can win with. He's leading in the polls here in North Carolina, but not by much.
We're back with our panel, David Gergen, Amy Holmes, and Dee Dee Myers.
Dee Dee, I asked Obama if he was even more susceptible now to charges of being unpatriotic by Republicans if he makes it into a general election. Jonathan Martin of "The Politico" took on this issue.
He wrote -- quote -- "The inflammatory sermons by Obama's pastor offer the Republican Party a pathway to victory if Obama emerges as the Democratic nominee. Not only will the video clips enable some elements of the party to define him as unpatriotic. They will also serve as a powerful motivating force for the conservative base."
How -- do you agree with that? I mean, how does Obama not -- get around this at this point? I mean, these videos are out there.
DEE DEE MYERS, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Right.
Well, I think we saw the first step of what will have to be an aggressive strategy to get around it. He had to sort of start a national conversation about race. And, as David Gergen pointed out, he started it, and, so, now you have to continue it, although he did try to pivot back to Iraq today.
I do think that we -- we see the beginning of the pieces of what the Republicans will do, putting together all those elements, Michelle Obama's statements, the fact that he didn't wear a flag pin, the fact that he didn't -- once didn't put his hand over his heart when he was saying the pledge.
All those things, on one level, seem sort of trite and almost silly as issues in a presidential election. But, when you put them all together, I think it's a troubling situation for Senator Obama. And the campaign is going to have to take it on. It's -- it's very difficult, as he goes forward, to -- to address this without becoming distracted by it. It's a tough balancing act he's going to have to pull off.
COOPER: Amy -- Amy, you know, I'm not a big fan of conventional wisdom, but, all along, among conservatives, conventional wisdom has been that Hillary Clinton would be easier to defeat in the general election.
Has that now changed?
AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, certainly, with the explosion of these explosive videos, I mean, everyone can see -- you don't have to be a Republican -- that all you need is one 527 to put those clips together, and Barack Obama's own statements of this pastor as a close, personal mentor and really shaped who he's become as a man, his close relationship over 20 years.
This doesn't have -- this is not a Republican conspiracy here. This is Barack Obama needing to answer these questions and trying to reassure voters.
Now, one of the things I think about pivoting, I don't think it helps Barack Obama to keep talking about this, frankly. I think that, the more he talks about Jeremiah Wright, the more it becomes about Jeremiah Wright and his statements. Jeremiah Wright is not running for president of the United States, but Barack Obama is.
And I think, by pivoting to those economic issues, as David mentioned, it's a way for him to reach out to those very voters who might be extremely concerned by those things that he saw Barack Obama's own pastor saying, you know, in church, and Barack Obama presumably being in the pews, not necessarily for those statements, but for other controversial remarks.
But, as I say, pivoting on the economic issues is a way for Barack Obama to start repairing the damage that's been done here and reaching out to those voters, saying, I understand you. I understand, you know, what ails you, where you're coming from, and what you want me to do as your presidential candidate.
COOPER: You know, David, it seems to hit Barack Obama at a particularly difficult time, when he's trying to appeal to white working-class voters in the state of Pennsylvania. Could this have come at a worse time?
GERGEN: It couldn't have come at a worse time, Anderson. But I have to say, I think the tenor of this conversation has somewhat misjudged that speech. Look, I think he took a negative in his campaign, something that could have crippled his campaign, and turned it basically into a positive yesterday with that speech. I think he's -- he's gotten rave reviews for it. I continue to believe that it's probably going to help him in the suburbs around places like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
It's not going to help him much in the rural areas. You know, so, he's probably going to lose Pennsylvania still. But I must tell you, he's a lot closer to getting the Democratic nomination tonight than he was 48 hours ago. It's -- it's -- it's -- we can talk more about this later, but the other part of this is, is this going to continue to dog him all the way into a general election?
This is March. I would imagine that this issue will have been wrung out and unlikely to be at the center of a campaign. I just don't -- I just don't think that's where the country is on issues like this. This is, after all, his pastor. It's not his vice presidential candidate.
COOPER: Dee Dee, do you agree with that?
MYERS: I don't. I wish that I did.
I -- I think this is something that's going to dog him. I don't think he put it behind him yet. I think the speech was a great speech. I think it was an important speech. I think Senator Obama nailed it. I think he did as good a job as can be done on it.
I think, though, that it -- it reminds us, we haven't gotten past some of these racial issues. And, sometimes, they get dressed up as patriotism, but they're really about something else.
I think that he started an important conversation. And I think, if he's going to get past this, he's going to have to engage people in that conversation. He can -- you know, it is -- he does have to keep focused on voters. He does have to talk about the economy.
But, at the same time, he has to continue to reassure people that there's a path forward. And I -- I -- I don't think we know the answer to that. I don't think we know the answer to how this will affect superdelegates going forward in the Democratic race, how it will affect Senator Obama through the summer.
And, if he becomes the nominee, I think he does carry it into a general election.
I wish that that weren't true, David, but, gosh, if they made Governor Dukakis' patriotism in 1988 an issue, they will certainly make it an issue in this campaign.
COOPER: David, one -- one speech, one speech, however eloquent, how many people actually watched it, compared to how many people have seen these videos over and over and over again on YouTube and on endless cable networks?
GERGEN: Well, I think he said yesterday, listen, we have a choice in this country. If we want to keep on playing these videos for the rest of the campaign, you know, we can have that kind of election. It will be rancid, and I think we will all be very ashamed of ourselves. Or we can have a campaign about real issues.
You know, I -- at some point, my sense of this country is -- I think Dee Dee is right. He hasn't put this fully behind him. I think it remains a wound. I think he's still going to be hurt in the rural parts of Pennsylvania. I think he's going to lose Pennsylvania.
But I also think that it will come -- I think -- I think he's much closer to winning the nomination now. But, in the general election, there are issues, like the economy and Iraq and climate change, that are -- that are transcendent.
GERGEN: I don't think whether he wears a -- wears a pin or not is going to make a difference...
GERGEN: ... or this is going to make that central difference.
HOLMES: And, Anderson, if I could jump in here, I would say that, in terms of the timing, this is a little anti-conventional wisdom here, but that it actually might not be so bad for Barack Obama coming before Pennsylvania, because he was expected to lose Pennsylvania.
GERGEN: Good point.
HOLMES: So, if he's -- if he's able to keep that margin where it is now, or maybe even close it a percentage or two, Pennsylvania might be a testing ground, and he can, you know, demonstrate that, even with this leading into Pennsylvania, he was still able to hold even.
MYERS: But I think he has to keep...
COOPER: David Gergen, Dee Dee Myers, Amy -- I have got to take a break, Dee Dee, but we will have more from you guys coming up after the break.
Coming up, a lot more to talk about. We are going to take you behind the scenes on the Obama campaign, the kind of look we don't often get behind the scenes, with a candidate doing damage control today and trying to move on at the same time.
Later, on the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, a new message from bin Laden.
We will have the latest when this special edition of 360 continues.
COOPER: Coming up: more of the 360 exclusive interview with Barack Obama on the campaign trail here in North Carolina, and also a look behind the scenes, what it's like on the trail.
But, first, Erica Hill joins us with a 360 bulletin -- Erica.
ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, tonight, a new audio message posted online said to be from Osama bin Laden. On that recording, the al Qaeda leader condemns European countries for backing the U.S. in Afghanistan and for allowing the publication of cartoons considered to be insulting to Islam's Prophet Mohammed.
Across parts of the Midwest, rising floodwaters -- up to a foot of rain has fallen in some towns since Monday. According to the local media, as many as 13 deaths may be linked to the nasty weather.
And the runaway bride's ex-fiance now hitched to another woman. This, of course, is a photo of John Mason and Jennifer Wilbanks during happy times, back when they were on their way to wedded bliss. Hard to believe it's been three years since we met them. Jennifer, of course, disappeared from her Georgia home and showed up days later in New Mexico, claiming she had been kidnapped. She later admitted she lied -- Anderson.
COOPER: Three years? It seems like just yesterday.
HILL: It does seem like just yesterday.
COOPER: I can't remember the...
HILL: We were checking out the registry.
COOPER: It's been nice not even thinking about those folks for three years, yes.
I want to point out -- we have been getting a lot of e-mails -- I had some minor surgery on Monday, a little cancerous thing on my face.
HILL: You sure it was just surgery.
COOPER: Everything is fine.
Yes, I have six stitches in my face, as you can see, but everything is fine. We have been getting a lot of e-mails about it. I appreciate all the concern. It's really no big deal.
HILL: Uh-huh. There wasn't a tussle? There was a little -- oh, I don't know -- incident with Charlie Rose or someone?
COOPER: You're alleging that -- you're alleging that I got into a street fight with Charlie Rose?
COOPER: Though we often have -- though we often have to come to blows and fisticuffs, sadly, no. But...
HILL: I know you could hold your own, though.
COOPER: ... had that been a fight, it looked like Charlie would have gotten the worst end of the deal.
COOPER: Right. Exactly.
But, anyway, I appreciate all the e-mails and the concern, but, really, it's nothing to be concerned about.
Still ahead tonight: 360 on the trail with Senator Barack Obama. We got exclusive access inside the campaign and up close with the candidate, capturing candid moments away from the crowd and the cameras -- a lot more of the controversy also coming up.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
COOPER: A grueling day on the campaign trail after a brutal week for the candidate, his campaign in crisis, his candidacy potentially in the balance.
And it is remarkable and also a fascinating time to see any campaign. It's also precisely when most campaigns circle the wagons, shut out the cameras -- not this time.
Here's a up-close look at the day in the life of Barack Obama on the trail.
COOPER (voice-over): Outside a North Carolina technical college, an overflow crowd waits for a candidate who's facing perhaps the toughest week of his campaign.
(on camera): It's about 10:20 in the morning here in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and Barack Obama is scheduled to arrive any minute. It's less than 24 hours after his speech on race in America. And, clearly, his campaign is hoping today to move on. He's scheduled to speak about Iraq.
The crowds here have already assembled. They have been waiting now for about an hour. They are kept back by -- by barricades. Most of these people won't even be able to get in to hear him speak, but they just wanted to come in order to catch a glimpse of the candidate.
(voice-over): Security is tight. Obama has a high level of Secret Service protection. He arrives a few minutes behind schedule, but makes sure to greet his supporters outside. He tells us he's unsure how yesterday's speech will play out on the campaign trail today.
OBAMA: I think it obviously had an impact. People are talking. And that was one of my main objectives, was to try to lay bare some of the tensions that, you know, aren't just in this campaign, but have been in this country for generations now.
COOPER (on camera): Do you think it's been too much of a distraction, this whole controversy?
OBAMA: Well, you know, my sense is, is that, sooner or later, it was going to come up. I wish it could have come up in a more calmer way. I think it, nevertheless, serves a purpose. And, hopefully, the American people will benefit from the debate.
COOPER (voice-over): A debate on race is a complicated one for a senator who says he never wanted to make race front and center in his campaign. Now he's working to make sure it doesn't eclipse everything else.
(on camera): This is actually a pretty small venue for Barack Obama to be speaking in. There's probably only 200 or so people in this crowd.
But this is less a campaign event for Barack Obama to win over new voters. This is really an event for the media. He's trying to get his message out, trying to be seen speaking about Iraq today, trying to show that the conversation has moved on from the controversy over Reverend Wright. Whether or not it actually has remains to be seen.
(voice-over): The speech on Iraq lasts about 45 minutes, and then Senator Obama is once again on the move.
At the airport, Obama has to wait as reporters and photographers scramble to load their equipment on his waiting 737 -- next stop, Charlotte, North Carolina.
The Obama campaign has been using this plane since New Hampshire. About 40 members of the press have made it their home.
(on camera): Senator Obama sits at the front of the aircraft, understandably, surrounded by his advisers and his security people. Most of the traveling press corps sit in the back of the aircraft.
One of the things that they try to do is constantly feed you, we have noticed. I guess one of the -- the easiest ways to keep reporters happy is to keep them well fed. So, this is actually our second lunch of the day, sandwiches, a cookie, even some potato chips.
(voice-over): The atmosphere is surprisingly loose. There's music playing, personal photos taped to overhead luggage bins.
When we land, we're not surprised to find Senator Obama working. But what he is working on does surprise us.
(on camera): You know, everyone back there is kind of thinking you're writing out another speech or something. And here you are, doing an NCAA Tournament bracket.
OBAMA: A little higher priority.
COOPER: How do you see this playing out? I mean, how long do you expect to be doing this?
OBAMA: You mean the campaign?
OBAMA: We know that the last contest that is scheduled is in early June.
And I thought that, actually, Governor Bredesen of Tennessee had an interesting proposal, which is, as soon as we finish with the last primary, the superdelegates should schedule to get together, whatever remaining ones are uncommitted, and go ahead and make a decision. Now, that would probably be the best way to ensure that there's at least a couple of months before the convention.
COOPER: So, you don't see any knockout punch, in terms of popular vote in a primary?
OBAMA: You know, I don't anticipate it at this point. Senator Clinton has been very tenacious.
We feel very confident that we're going to have won more states, we will have a higher portion of the popular vote. And I think we're going to have more pledged delegates. But there's nothing in the rules that says she can't continue on as long as she wants to.
All right, we ready to go? Who is introducing me?
COOPER (voice-over): In Charlotte, the crowd is bigger, and Senator Obama clearly feeds on their energy.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
COOPER: The themes are familiar: change, Iraq, the economy. But perhaps the biggest applause he receives is when he mentions his speech on race.
Afterwards, we speak with him backstage.
(on camera): Earlier today, you said you weren't sure, demographically, how your speech yesterday is going to play. What is your gut telling you? Out there, you were talking about it. It got a lot of applause. What's your gut telling you, more than 24 hours now, later?
OBAMA: My gut tells me that the people who were not going to be voting for me are not going to be voting for me after this speech and, even if they think I made some good points, there are other reasons why they're not going to vote for me. They think we should be staying in Iraq, or they think that I haven't been in Washington long enough.
I think the people who are supporting me are continuing to support me.
COOPER: At the end of a day like this, what do you do? How do you decompress?
OBAMA: Well, you know, I'm really going to have a relaxing evening, going to a couple of fundraisers. And then I fall asleep. Although, I try to watch AC 360 all the time.
COOPER: Please. I don't need your sympathy. I don't want your pandering.
COOPER: Just ahead, more of my interview with Senator Obama. We talked about the heat he is taking for not endorsing Michigan's plan for a revote, at least not yet. Today in Michigan, Senator Clinton challenged him to endorse new primaries in both Michigan and Florida. Time is running out, though. Tensions are rising. We're digging deeper.
Plus, tough questions from Barack Obama about Iraq and his plan to bring the troops home. His rival says he's saying one thing and planning something else. His response, just ahead.
COOPER: Senator Hillary Clinton making a quick trip to Michigan today, where a plan to hold the new primary on June 3 is on the table. Negotiators are scrambling to reach an agreement by tomorrow, when the legislature adjourns for a two-week recess. Sounds nice.
Both Michigan and Florida were stripped of their delegates for breaking party rules and holding their primaries too early. Of course, now days ago, the Florida Democratic Party nixed the idea of holding a new primary. Even so, Senator Clinton, who trails Senator Obama in delegate, challenged him today to agree to new primaries in both states.
That is where our 360 interview picks up.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: I want to play something for our viewers that Senator Clinton said about you and about Michigan today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Obama speaks passionately on the campaign trail about empowering the American people. Today, I'm urging him to match those words with actions. To make sure the people of Michigan and Florida have a voice and a vote in this election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: She's essentially blaming you for holding up a revote in Michigan in June.
OBAMA: It's hard for me to get a sense of how we could be to blame for that situation. We have consistently said we'll play by whatever rules the DNC has laid out.
I mean, Senator Clinton, I have to say on this, has been completely disingenuous. She said when she was still trying to compete with -- for votes in Iowa and New Hampshire that Michigan and Florida wouldn't count. Then, as soon as she got into trouble politically and it looked like she would have no prospects of winning the nomination without having them count, suddenly she's extraordinarily concerned with the voters there. I understand the politics of it. But let's be clear that it's politics.
I want the Michigan delegation and the Florida delegation to be seated. And however the Democratic National Committee determines we can get that done, I'm happy to abide by those rules.
COOPER: Well, today, a top Democrat in Michigan who hasn't yet backed either candidate said there is growing frustration with Barack Obama's failure to either embrace the plan they propose or propose an alternative.
CNN's Candy Crowley joins me now with more on the "Raw Politics."
The Clinton campaign responded already to Barack Obama's interview with me.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. And said, basically, he's being disingenuous, that he said that he would go with whatever the DNC said. The DNC has put out a memo that said, "This fits within our rules." However, they haven't given their official approval to it, because it has to go through the Michigan legislature. So it's sort of a horse on a cart thing going on here.
COOPER: If it doesn't go through the legislature by Thursday, then it's off the table for two weeks.
CROWLEY: We thought that Florida was over, and now they're scrambling to try to find some way to do it. There's always more time. The real deadline is in mid-June when they can no longer have primaries. Now obviously, it takes a month to set these things up.
But, you know, everybody wants to do this in both those states, and they are going to, you know, turn over every rock they possibly can to get this done, because we see Florida now trying to figure out a way again.
COOPER: So, is Barack Obama's campaign just trying to stall for time?
CROWLEY: I would say that both of these campaigns are playing for what would most benefit them. I know that's a surprising thing in politics. But you know, obviously, they looked at it and they say, you know, Barack Obama does very well in open primaries when Republicans and independents can vote.
In this Michigan primary, Republicans that already voted cannot go there. They also argue in the Obama camp, listen, people that knew that the Democratic primary wasn't going to count in Michigan went over and voted on the Republican side. What about those voters?
So they say there's, you know, a realm of unfairness in all of this, but Clinton is trying to push him into a corner, saying well, you don't want them to count?
COOPER: On the Reverend Wright issue, you've been covering Barack Obama for a long time. Has this changed him? I mean, is this the most critical time that his campaign has faced?
CROWLEY: Absolutely, absolutely, yes. I mean, I...
COOPER: And it seems like they don't know how it's going to play out.
CROWLEY: They don't. Because they didn't know how it was playing out to begin with. It was such a quick time between when the Pastor Wright's comments, you know, went viral and, you know, were played over and over on CNN and elsewhere. And the time that he gave this speech.
So there was no time to, first of all, kind of see what happened, what the result of Wright's comments were. So now they're kind of waiting to see if they've stabilized anything. I thought it was the most important speech of his campaign. And it clearly was.
COOPER: No doubt about it. Candy Crowley, appreciate it. Thanks very much. Good to be on the trail with you today.
We should note here that we would love to spend the same kind of day with Senator Clinton as we just have with Senator Obama. I know a lot of you e-mailed us, saying why aren't you giving equal time to Senator Clinton? Well, I've got to tell you, we have asked, but so far no luck. Our invitation remains open. Give us a call.
Up next, Obama on Iraq. Five years after shock and awe -- remember that? -- his plans to bring the troops home, whether he thinks the so-called surge is working, and what he says of the difference between himself and Senator Clinton and, of course, John McCain.
Also coming up, Thursday night a 360 special on the war, "Shock and Awe: 5 Years Later." That's Thursday night at 11 p.m. Eastern. Be right back.
COOPER: Shock and awe, that is how the war in Iraq began exactly five years ago. Five years later, of course, the U.S. death toll now stands at 3,992. Although there is progress with the so-called surge, military progress, a new poll shows that 2/3 of Americans believe the battle is not worth the cost.
Iraq is one of the most important issues, of course, in this election, but it's not easy to get a candidate to talk specifics. In my conversation today with Senator Obama, though, he spoke in detail about Iraq and his solutions.
Here's more of the Barack Obama 360 interview.
COOPER: Is the surge working? I mean, you say it's not working politically. That even though militarily they've had some success. John McCain says it's working militarily and politically.
OBAMA: But what I've said is that, tactically, General Petraeus has made significant improvement in terms of how our troops are deployed and how we are dealing with violence that was out of control in Iraq. And he deserves credit for that. And our military, which has performed brilliantly throughout, deserves enormous credit for that.
What I've said is that our strategy continues to be a failed strategy. No one has answered the question as to how this operation in Iraq that has now lasted five years, will have cost us more than $1 trillion and thousands of lives, how this has made us more safe. And that's the question that still hasn't been answered by John McCain or the president.
COOPER: You've called for one to two combat brigades leaving each month in consultation with commanders on the ground, 16 months total time. Senator Clinton says, essentially, you're saying one thing but planning something else.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: One choice in this election is Senator McCain, who is willing to keep this war going for 100 years. You can count on him to do that. Another choice is Senator Obama, who has promised to bring combat troops out in 16 months. But, according to his foreign policy adviser, you can't count on him to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: She has been trying to get as much mileage out of this one comment from my former foreign policy adviser to the BBC as she can.
Here's the bottom line. I have been consistent throughout about what my plans would be. What I've also said is that I will always listen to the commanders on the ground in terms of the pace of the withdrawal because I care about the safety and the security of our troops.
Now, if Senator Clinton wants to suggest that she is going to make a -- initiate a plan now and will ignore whatever advice she gets, should she take office as president, then I want her to say that. Because that would be the height of foolishness. And it wouldn't lead to better security and safety for the American people.
My commitment to end the war is one that dates back to 2002. Senator Clinton's commitment to end the war dates back to her decision to run for president. And I think the American people can make a decision in terms of who they really trust to want to bring this war to an end.
COOPER: Senator McCain talks about victory in Iraq still. I don't hear you using the word victory much. Is victory still possible in Iraq?
OBAMA: Well, I think what is possible is for us to create a best case in Iraq in which the country is stable, we don't have active -- active terrorist cells inside of Iraq. And that we have redeployed our troops in a safe, prudent and responsible way that allows us to deal with other threats around the globe.
That would be a victory for common sense. It would be a victory for a pragmatic foreign policy that will actually make us more safe.
COOPER: Barack Obama on Iraq.
Up next, we'll dig deeper with our Michael Ware on the ground in Iraq and former presidential advisor David Gergen.
Also ahead tonight, dramatic video from a tourist caught in the middle of the chaos in Tibet. A lot more ahead. Stay tuned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: My commitment to end the war is one that dates back to 2002. Senator commitment -- Senator Clinton's commitment to end the war dates back to her decision to run for president. And I think the American people can make a decision in terms of who they really trust to want to bring this war to an end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: A common theme from the candidate, using Senator Clinton's vote for the war as a reason to trust him to end the war. Of course, Senator Obama said she didn't vote for the war; she voted to give George Bush the authority.
Anyway, Senator Obama told me today the strategy in Iraq continues to be a failed one. He believes U.S. forces should be redeployed, in some cases places like Afghanistan. And Senator Obama questions how the fight in Iraq has really made any of us safer.
A lot of ground to cover. We're digging deeper. Joining us again is CNN's David Gergen. Also with us tonight from Iraq, CNN's Michael Ware, who is embedded with U.S. troops in Baghdad.
Michael, Obama's call for a withdrawal over 16 months, one to two combat brigades each month in consultation with ground commanders. The ground commanders you talk to, what do they say about that? I mean, what do they say would ensue during and after those 16 months?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the key phrase in that sentence is "in consultation with ground commanders." If, indeed, a President Obama were to listen to his ground commanders, right now as the situation stands, without dramatic change, they would not be recommending withdrawal, certainly at a pace like that or within that time frame. Or they would not be looking for withdrawal at all.
We hear General David Petraeus right now saying we need a pause. This is so tenuous. It's a tenuous (ph) situation right now. And General Petraeus has said that we need to keep these troops here and assess and see we -- how we go forward.
You start pulling troops out, once you drop down to a level where there's only enough American soldiers to defend their rear as they pull out, you will see bloody mayhem strike out in this country, Iran press its advantage, and al Qaeda will reignite -- Anderson.
COOPER: David, Clinton's arguing the Democrats can't believe Obama is going to follow through on his promise to withdraw troops based on a former aide's comments. We just heard his response.
Does this, I mean, have any impact on voters? Basically, Obama says, "Well, look, Senator Clinton and I basically say the same thing. We're going to consult with ground commanders on a withdrawal timetable."
GERGEN: I don't think it has much impact on the -- on the nomination fight, Anderson. If anything, there are -- in some states, Barack's, you know, continuous opposition to the war has helped him a little bit versus Senator Clinton.
But in the general election, this is going to be a hard-fought issue, because Senator McCain has staked out a position. However wrong it may have been to get into Iraq, he's been proven prophetic and right about the need for a surge and what it might do. You know, to have him stand up against either Democrat is going to -- is going to provide a sharp cleavage.
And I must tell you, if the Democrat wins the White House, to go to Michael Ware's point, the Democrats are going to have a real dilemma, because he will have promised the country that he's going to get out, or she's going to get out rapidly. But yet, the reality on the ground is, you start pulling the plug, you could also unleash chaos, and then you would be the president who lost Iraq. And if you lose Iraq, your whole presidency could come unraveled.
So it's going to be a dilemma that the Democrats will need to think through carefully and be very careful what they promise in the campaign. Because, as Michael says, when they get in there, they may find, if they do, the reality is very, very tough about getting out too quickly.
COOPER: Well, Michael, let's talk about the reality of political pressure with Senator Obama and Senator Clinton, talking about, you know, the need to put pressure on the Iraqi government in order to try to force reconciliation, in order to try to get them to meet the political benchmarks that President Bush had set. Is that even possible? I mean, does pressure work? And if so, how?
WARE: Well, I wish it was that easy, Anderson. No one wants to see the bloodshed here start anymore than I or the Iraqis that I live with. But it just simply isn't that formulaic. You don't think there's pressure on the Iraqis already?
The Iraqis -- this government is in a position to be able to stonewall or deny America its interests and Washington's own agenda and time frame. Why? Because many of these things are not interests that this government serves.
And it has another backup, flush with cash, ready with military support, all set to step in. And that backup is Iran. Worst-case scenario: this government does not need America.
So America can apply all the pressure it likes. The only pressure that this government or any other would adhere to is military kinds of pressure. Really pressing the administration here.
And so far the most effective tool that the Americans have used is these U.S.-sponsored Sunni militias, putting the insurgents who were killing Americans in government uniforms and using that program as a stick with which to beat this government -- Anderson.
COOPER: Our conversation we will continue further on later. David Gergen, Michael Ware, good to have you.
Michael, stay safe.
Again, tomorrow, a 360 special on Iraq, "Shock and Awe: 5 Years Later." That's at 11 p.m. Eastern tomorrow. Of course, we have our regular program at 10.
Erica Hill right now joins us with "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Erica. ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Anderson, new images of anti- Chinese riots inside Tibet are surfacing. An Australian tourist shot the video in Tibet's capital last week. Again, some of the first pictures we've really been able to see. Michael Smith said he was eating lunch at a restaurant when violence broke out.
Stocks pulling back sharply today. They lost a big chunk of yesterday's gains, the Dow down at least 300 points in the session. The S&P dropped more than 30 while the NASDAQ fell about 60 points.
And who knew Ashley Alexander Dupre -- or Dupre, the high-priced escort who allegedly hooked up with former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, was so busy. Story is out she spent a week posing for "Girls Gone Wild" when she was just 18.
The company's founder, who recently offered her $1 million to pose for his new magazine, well, that offer's off the table after they found the footage of her from three years ago in the archives, Anderson.
COOPER: And he got the PR notice of making the offer, so he doesn't even need to follow through.
HILL: It's a win-win.
COOPER: Just ahead, extreme -- exactly. Extreme weather plus bad timing adds up to a terrifying collision. We'll tell you the whole story. That's coming up.
Plus, five years after Shock and Awe, the toll the Iraq war has taken on women veterans now back at home, next on 360. We come to you live from UNC at Charlotte.
COOPER: Erica, time for "The Shot." First, the set up. Extreme weather in northern Mexico yesterday made travel treacherous. Winds up to 60 miles per hour buffeted a highway, actually knocking down a huge road sign. Look what happened next.
Yikes! No one was killed in the crash, though six people were hurt. All are expected to recover, we're glad to say. Look at it again. Yikes!
HILL: Thank goodness we weren't on that road. That's awful.
COOPER: I know, terrible.
Remember, you can check out all the most recent "Shots," CNN.com/360.
Coming up at the top of the hour, more of our exclusive interview with Barack Obama on the campaign trail.
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