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CNN ELECTION CENTER

California Prepared for the Big One?; McCain Campaign Unveils New Attack Ad; The Politics of Soaring Gas Prices; The Debate Over Tobacco Gets Personal

Aired July 30, 2008 - 20:00   ET

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


CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Barack Obama? That's right, Britney, Paris and Barack, what could they all have possibly in common? Well, believe it or not, they're in John McCain's latest campaign ad. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: He's the biggest celebrity in the world.

CROWD: Barack Obama!

NARRATOR: But is he ready to lead?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: It made us wonder what happened to all that talk a few months ago about a new kind of politics? Remember how the campaigns were going to take the high road? Apparently, that was then and, well, now, not so much. Of course, Obama couldn't resist the opportunity to tweak his opponent either.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I don't pay attention to John McCain's ads, although I do notice that he doesn't seem to have anything very positive to say about himself, does he? He seems to only be talking about me. You need to ask John McCain what he's for, not just what he's against.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: So, you, the voter, you tell us over and over again that you hate negative campaigning in politics. The candidates promise us over and over again they are not going to resort to it, but it does look like we may be back to politics as usual. We are going to take a look at this latest detour down the low road coming up.

Also, tonight, my interview with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. California dodged a bullet yesterday that 5.4 earthquake, but what happens when the big one hits? I will ask the governor that tonight.

And what you pay at the gas pump ticks you off, right? So, how would you feel if you knew Congress was leaving for six weeks without -- that's right -- without doing anything about the energy crisis? Think they're going to get away with it? Well, we will tell you tonight, no bias, no bull. This is the ELECTION CENTER.

But we start with today's political trifecta, Paris, Britney and Obama. John McCain's new attack ad puts all three together and has everybody talking, including Senator Obama.

Dana Bash is covering the McCain campaign.

And, Dana, an ad comparing Barack Obama to Paris Hilton, to Britney Spears, sure, it's going to create buzz, but, in a presidential campaign, is it a bit of a cheap shot?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I will tell you, Steve Schmidt, who's running McCain's campaign, describes the question they're trying to raise with this ad as, do the American people want to elect the world's biggest celebrity or do they want to elect an American hero?

And McCain advisers say they think by giving in, by embracing Obama's appeal, but depicting it as vapid celebrity, it helps illustrate the point McCain has been trying to make for months, that Obama's a mirage and he's not ready and a big part of this is also painting him as arrogant, which they insist in the McCain campaign will hit home with voters that they're really trying to target, especially independents, blue-collar voters and voters in small towns -- Campbell.

BROWN: We're going to talk about that with our panel in a second. But, first, this isn't the first negative ad the McCain campaign has released. And some Republicans have been voicing concerns that this sort of scorched-earth policy may come back and bite him. What are you hearing?

BASH: Several Republican allies of McCain I spoke to today, Campbell, said that they think this celeb ad, as it's called, is really misguided.

One said, it's snark, instead of substance. And I'm hearing worry that in putting up an ad mocking Obama as Britney and Paris, the McCain campaign is missing opportunities to really drill down on what they're trying to get across here, which is that Obama isn't ready to be commander in chief. And beyond this one ad, other overriding concerns I'm hearing is that McCain, as you mentioned, Campbell, has perhaps gone too negative and it's taking away from his above the fray campaign that he has said that he wants to run.

BROWN: And, Dana, we played the McCain ad or a snippet from it a moment ago. Late today, the Obama campaign scrambled to put together a response ad. Let's just play a short snippet of that as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: John McCain, his attacks on Barack Obama, not true, false, baloney, the low road, baseless. John McCain, same old politics, same failed policies.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BROWN: You know, Dana, I guess is this what we're going to see more of from here on out, this kind of focus on the personalities, as they both try to make these distinctions, instead of any discussion of the issues?

BASH: Well, actually, I honestly think that this in particular case, it was an attention getter in the doldrums of July.

But, Campbell, there is no question that what the McCain campaign is conceding right now is that the election is about Barack Obama. And because they're surprisingly close to Obama in the polls, given the state of the country right now, they're trying to define him before his convention.

But some Republicans I talked to, they really want McCain to do more of ironically what Barack Obama was suggesting in a clip you played earlier, that is, describe the (AUDIO GAP) that McCain has, the reasons why voters should vote for McCain, not against Obama. So, the McCain is trying that. They have got a new tag line out this week, country first. He's talking a little bit more about it on the stump today and yesterday. But so far they're not making a big push for that to break through, particularly not in their ads.

BROWN: All right, Dana Bash for us tonight -- Dana, thanks.

So, wow, is this going to work for McCain, trying to turn all the attention Obama gets into a negative, or could it backfire?

We have got three of our most outspoken political observers with us tonight, in Washington, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger, Tara Wall, deputy editorial page editor for the right-leaning "Washington Times" newspaper. She's a former senior adviser to the Republican National Committee. And here with me in the ELECTION CENTER tonight, CNN political analyst and radio talk show host Roland Martin.

Tara, you saw the ad, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton. Are they going over the top here?

TARA WALL, FMR. SENIOR ADVISER, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Listen, it was a little juvenile, yes, and probably somewhat flippant. But it was funny and it was accurate, quite frankly, in a few ways.

Look, Barack Obama is a rock star. He's very appealing. He's popular. We all like him. And the McCain campaign, of course, probably has a little frustration with that. But it is legitimate to raise the issue of whether we're voting for a celebrity. People get excited about him.

Are folks getting excited and are they going to vote for a celebrity or are they going to vote because they understand his positions, know his positions, know what he stands for, and that's what they're energized about? So, listen, it's lighthearted. It's fun. McCain has run other ads as well. It's the middle of the summer. There's nothing wrong with it. He just has to be careful not himself to seem too flippant or juvenile. (CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Roland is laughing out loud.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I'm laughing because...

WALL: Of course he is.

MARTIN: I am, because in a world where the most popular show is "American Idol," where people love celebrity news, the last thing I think you really to do is get people all excited, because this ad will be shown on all the entertainment shows. It will be in all the entertainment publications.

WALL: It already is.

MARTIN: And all those young voters who Obama appeals to, this will get them more even excited.

It makes John McCain look older. It makes him look completely out of touch. Not only that. What he should be saying is, this is what I am going to do for the country. He looks weak. That's what he looks like.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Gloria.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The truth of the matter is that the McCain campaign has had a very rough time trying to break through.

They're having a hard time getting coverage. They're thrilled that we're talking about this ad tonight. They're thrilled that it's on the Campbell Brown show here. They want to break through. The problem is that this is not really the best story they have to tell. McCain looks a little grumpy in this.

And the story that they have got is about McCain's experience and about his wisdom and about how he works across the aisle. That's the kind of message that will appeal to independent voters that he's trying to reach.

MARTIN: That's right.

WALL: And he's doing that as well.

If you look at -- he's run a drilling ad. He's run his love ad, which talks about campaign reform, military reform, his work to be bipartisan and bipartisan efforts. He's done that.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: By the way, McCain is a celebrity.

(CROSSTALK) BROWN: Hang on, guys.

That's not becoming the narrative of the campaign, though. And that's the danger here, because I tell you, I think, when these two guys became the nominees for each of their parties, I think a lot of people said, I'm a Democrat, I'm going to vote for Obama, but I like John McCain. He's not your usual Republican. A lot of Republicans said, I'm going to vote for McCain, but, you know, Barack Obama, he's kind of interesting.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: That's not the case anymore. They're driving serious wedges. And maybe that's the intent.

MARTIN: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: ... a negative strategy?

MARTIN: Campbell, they are driving serious wedges.

But also here's the reality. John McCain is acted like a jilted lover. He once said the press was his base. They are frankly upset. The press seems to be liking Obama, even though you hear the reports about saying it's all negative. So, John McCain, that's what he's really upset about. He was a darling for the last eight years. He's a little bit upset by this.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Tara, is he feeling like his girlfriend ditched him?

WALL: Well, of course. Of course he is. And so what is he going to do? He's going to do what he can to get in the headlines, to make news. That is what campaigns do. That is what strategists do.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: But you do it as a grownup. He's playing the grownup, Tara. He's playing the grownup. So act like a grownup. This is a childish act.

(CROSSTALK)

WALL: Roland, let me finish. This is not the height of what could be the worst negative ad on earth. And I don't think McCain certainly absolutely does not want to get down in the muckety-muck and the mud.

But, at the same time, he has raised the legitimate question about whether folks are going to consider voting for a celebrity. We all know how impressive he is, but there's a real issue here that should be addressed.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Hang on. I have got to get a quick break in.

Gloria, I'm going to start with you when we come back and let you finish that thought.

BORGER: OK. OK.

BROWN: Hold on.

BROWN: Barack Obama's world tour, we're going to talk about that when we come back, big splash overseas, but here at home, actually doesn't look like it did a whole lot for his poll numbers. We will look at that, what worked, what didn't, in just a second.

And then later, Arnold Schwarzenegger the day after the earthquake in Los Angeles. Everyone is asking yet again, is California ready for the big one? I'm going to put that question to the governor.

And check this out. This is our Congress at work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: But this is a boneheaded idea, a boneheaded idea. How much is enough?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: No, there are no boneheaded ideas coming out of Congress. What is that all about? Here's a hint, an intense congressional debate. And it's not going to help with the prices at the pump.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Barack Obama got plenty of attention during his world tour last week. But it looks as though it didn't help him at all in the polls.

In a CNN/Opinion Research poll taken this week after his tour ended, the numbers show Obama leading McCain 51 to 44 percent, statistically, the same as Obama's 50 to 45 percent lead before the trip. So, we're going to will talk about why no bounce here.

With me once again, Gloria Borger, Tara Wall and Roland Martin.

Gloria, I want to start with you and pick up where we left off. We were talking about negative attacks by John McCain, whether they could potentially backfire. But address that as well, this issue of, you know, if things are not looking that great for McCain, why aren't we seeing a bounce for Obama?

BORGER: Well, first of all, let me point out, both of these folks are very well known. They're both celebrities. But we're not seeing a real bounce here, because if you look at the polls, what they show you is that voters in this country still question whether they can identify with Barack Obama's values and with his background.

That was a question that was asked in a "Wall Street Journal" poll. And that gives the key to voters. They're not totally comfortable with Barack Obama. They're not quite sure they know who he is. And it's John McCain's job to make them uncomfortable with Barack Obama, which is exactly what he's doing with this ad with Britney Spears.

He's trying to say the guy doesn't have enough experience to be president. He is a celebrity. He is cool. He gives great speeches, but trust me, because he's too much of a risk.

BROWN: Well, to Gloria's point, Roland, maybe instead of this overseas I can be commander in chief tour, maybe he should have done a more biography tour, here's who I am. Here's who my family is, of those are the concerns.

MARTIN: No. No, he needed that.

We discussed this on my CNN radio show today with David Gergen and he said the payoff will not be in the poll numbers this week. The payoff is going to be how he performs next to McCain in the debates come the fall. This was the precursor to that.

He did need this trip overseas to establish, this is who I am, in terms of operating on that stage, because there were questions there. And you also have got to remember, the primary is a lot different. You're speaking to voters. Voters there were getting to know him. Remember, it was really 11 months before the voters there -- before the tide began to turn and the poll numbers as to who he was. In essence, he is reintroducing himself to the rest of the country.

BROWN: And, Tara, what is the problem on this trip if you disagree with Roland's point, if these poll numbers are accurate...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: She wasn't listening to it, Campbell. Don't worry about it.

(CROSSTALK)

WALL: I agree with him sometimes.

BROWN: Could an issue here be a display of arrogance that some people saw as just a little bit over the top? And let me tell you what I mean.

This is Dana Milbank in "The Washington Post" today. He had a pretty tough column where he wrote -- quote -- "Some say the supremely confident Obama has become a president in waiting, but in truth he doesn't need to wait. He's already amassed the trappings of the presidency without those pesky decisions."

He writes that Obama is acting like the presumptuous nominee, not the presumptive nominee.

WALL: Yes.

And I actually wrote a column similar to this about a week ago, encouraging both candidates to express a level of humility, to start with humility. We all know the saying, pride goeth before the fall, and that each of them need to walk with an air of humility.

There's a fine line there. But I do believe, listen, Barack Obama is a very confident type of person. He's a confident man. And we have to make sure we're not mixing up confidence with arrogance. People mistake that all the time. There have been occasions where, yes, he has gotten a little ahead of himself, with the presidential seal, and when he had to be reminded when he was in Europe that he's not in the White House yet, things of that nature.

But I think that to overall call him arrogant and presumptuous, I think that's a little bit over the top.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Let Gloria go.

BORGER: Campbell, can I just say that I have never met a presidential candidate who wasn't a bit arrogant, OK?

MARTIN: Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

WALL: They have got to be arrogant to run.

MARTIN: Thank you.

BORGER: One, ever, ever.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Male, female, whatever, they're all arrogant, OK?

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: Chris Rock had it in his set. He said, you have got to be an arrogant person to say, you know what, I'm the one who can run the world.

(CROSSTALK)

WALL: That's confidence. Arrogance is when you're kind of looking -- you think you're better than everyone else.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: All right, guys.

MARTIN: You think you're better than the candidate...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Gloria, Tara, Roland, you're coming back later. We have still got a lot more to talk about.

MARTIN: All right.

But our next stop is California and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Aftershocks continue to remind people about yesterdays' earthquake. I'm going to ask Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger if his state is ready for the big one.

And then later, we will see whether anyone, anyone in Washington is trying to do anything about these sky-high gas prices.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Later tonight, the incredible political roadblock on Capitol Hill over energy policy and your gas tank.

But, first tonight, Gary Tuchman has the briefing -- Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, hello.

Late developments on a murder suspect who police say kidnapped his four young children and their mother in suburban Boston. Police arrested Rodlyn Petitbois in New York tonight. Detectives say he took his family away from a crime scene where a woman was stabbed to death. An Amber Alert was issued, but the children and their mother are safe tonight. New York police were on the lookout because the family used to live in Brooklyn.

Another break for the feds investigating the salmonella outbreak. They say serrano peppers and irrigation water at a second Mexican farm were tainted with the same bug that's made more than 1,200 Americans sick.

After criticism from opponents, Israel's prime minister is about to call it quits. Ehud Olmert announced today he will not seek his party's nomination for reelection in September. Once Olmert's party finds a candidate, he says he is gone.

And no drinks for the governor of Washington State. Chris Gregoire wanted to celebrate with her staff at a bar last weekend, but the bouncer turned her away. The 60-year-old governor did not have an I.D. Gregoire went home after being carded. Her husband joined the party.

It used to happen to me all the time, but then my hair started turning gray, and then it wasn't happening anymore.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: That cannot be true. That must have made her day. That would have made my day.

TUCHMAN: I'm sure it did.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: All right, Gary Tuchman for us tonight -- Gary, thanks.

In a moment, California's wakeup call. What if the next earthquake is as powerful as the one back in 1994? We're going to look at what has and what has not been done to prepare for the worst.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: It was the earthquake that just wouldn't quit. Take a look at that. Ninety aftershocks shook Southern California after yesterday's earthquake. For many ,it was a big wakeup call. They want to know if California can handle a much more powerful quake.

And, earlier, I asked Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger what he thought.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Governor, some criticism about what happened after the earthquake. The phone lines were overloaded, making it difficult to get through to 911. How would you rate the state's readiness and response?

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: Oh, we are really ready here in this state. And I think it is because we have so many emergency situations, so many disasters, so many fires, and earthquakes, and mudslides, and things like that, that we have an Office of Emergency Services that works very closely with the local government and also with the federal government.

And this is why we are so quick in responding to all of those disasters and also to the fires.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: A very confident Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But, as CNN's Ted Rowlands reports tonight, many people predict the worst when the big one does hit California -- Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Campbell, yesterday's earthquake, a shaker, here in Southern California has basically prompted the experts to warn everybody living in California to be prepared, because the big one is coming.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it scared me.

ROWLANDS (voice-over): Tuesday's 5.4 quake may have rattled some nerves. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm still kind of shooken up.

ROWLANDS: But experts say that's nothing compared to what's coming when the big one hits, a 7.8 magnitude or higher. And the experts say it will.

Instead of things falling off store shelves, as we see here, stores themselves may be falling down, just as in China after the 7.9 earthquake there in May. Thousands will die. And more will be trapped amid widespread devastation.

At the L.A. County fire-earthquake training facility, Captain Mike Brown says they expect people will largely have to fend for themselves for the first few days.

CAPTAIN MIKE BROWN, LOS ANGELES COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: We have fires. We have collapse of structure. We have an enormous amount of injuries, people screaming for help, calling 911. Of course, the phone lines may be out. So, we may have people out on the street waving us down.

ROWLANDS: One of the biggest problems will be fires. Several broke out in San Francisco after the 1989 7.1 magnitude quake. Experts predict there could be more than 1,000 after a 7.8. The last major earthquake to hit California was in Los Angeles, the 1994 6.7 Northridge quake that claimed 72 lives. Experts say even that was small compared to what may be coming.

DR. LUCY JONES, CHIEF SCIENTIST, U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY: A great earthquake on the San Andreas Fault, a magnitude 7.8, magnitude eight, is absolutely inevitable. Whether it is a disaster or a catastrophe is going to be determined by the decisions we all make between now and then to retrofit, to buy insurance, to develop our resiliency.

ROWLANDS: California has been preparing, spending billions to shore up highways and bridges, and applying stringent codes to make buildings earthquake-ready. Many new buildings are constructed on pads or rollers to help absorb the shock of a major quake.

Still, some say California should do more to protect buildings and schools, as some officials balk at the cost. Still, experts say there's a good chance that, no matter what is done to prepare, very little could be standing after the big one.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: So, what you're saying there, Ted, is, they could essentially spend billions of dollars and still ultimately not be prepared for the big one?

ROWLANDS: Yes, it's basically a black hole. You can keep shoving money into it, preparing and preparing, but, in the end, if a 7.8 hits here, even the experts say you can only do so much in preparation.

But it's difficult for cities and for the state. You have a school that needs retrofitting. It costs X-millions of dollars. Do you do it or don't you? These are the questions that every city has to answer for themselves, every household has to answer for themselves. What do you do to prepare? In the end, though, luck is a huge factor in surviving a mega-quake like the one they're talking about.

BROWN: Yes.

All right, Ted Rowlands from California for us tonight -- Ted, thanks.

As if earthquakes weren't enough to worry about, California has about 7,000 bridges that need repair or even replacement. In fact, every state has hundreds, if not thousands, of bridges in the same sad shape.

And that's why we're working on an ELECTION CENTER special for this Friday night. It's called "Roads to Ruin: Why America Is Falling Apart." And we will have an extended interview with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as part of that special. That's Friday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

But, when we return, your gas tank, your wallets, and dead-end politics. What Congress didn't do about the nation's energy policy just might make you angry.

And then fireworks on the floor of the House. Lawmakers get pretty mad today. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOEHNER: Do we need to spend $5 billion of smokers' money for the government to tell us that smoking's not good for us? I don't think so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: A pretty heated exchange about tobacco on Capitol Hill today. We will go behind the flare-up.

This is the ELECTION CENTER.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: We turn now to the energy crisis. Americans are running on empty, running out of patience. So what is going on in Washington?

Well, it's all politics. Our do-nothing Congress, yes, they are right now, is about to take the summer off without it seems passing an energy bill.

Meanwhile, the latest CNN/Opinion Research poll finds 69 percent of us support more offshore oil drilling. Is drilling the answer? And when is Congress actually going to get around to taking some action here? CNN's senior correspondent Joe Johns live now for us in Washington -- Joe. JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, everyone is suffering from gas prices right now. But if you're looking to Congress to do something to help out, don't count on it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): It sounds like a joke, but you aren't going to like this. Everyone's reeling from skyrocketing energy prices. And Congress, well, Congress could actually pack its bags, head for the airport and take a five-week vacation, without doing anything about it. Nothing.

Even President Bush, who's not exactly Mr. Popularity these days, figured the time is right to stick it to the Democrats who run Congress. Remember, he's a former Texas oilman.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Legislation to open up this offshore exploration is pending in both the House and the Senate, and all the Democratic leaders have to do is to allow a vote. They should not leave Washington without doing so.

JOHNS: Not so fast, Mr. President. This is Washington and an election year. You're suggesting the unthinkable. During that five- week break, most of Congress will attend either the Democratic or Republican National Convention, where they'll blame the other guys for everything they can think of, especially for not doing anything at all.

Despite the anger about gas prices, it almost seems like not passing an energy plan, not passing it, and then blaming the other party for that failure is a political calculation.

TYSON SLOCUM, PUBLIC CITIZEN: Right now, it does appear that the parties are more intent on scoring easy political points timed for the November election than they are on sitting down and working out cooperatively sound comprehensive solutions to America's energy crisis.

JOHNS: To tell the truth, it's already started. John McCain and Barack Obama have really teed this whole thing up.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: On my way over here, George Bush was on TV, talking about his energy plan. Now, think about it, where has George Bush been over the last eight years? Where was John McCain over the last 25?

MCCAIN: And we ought to start drilling for more oil at home, including offshore. We ought to start drilling. Senator Obama opposes that.

JOHNS (on camera): So in case you haven't gotten it already, the Republicans want more offshore drilling, which is popular these days. The Democrats want to crack down on oil speculators. They can't get a compromise.

JOHNS (voice-over): But what seems to get lost among all these bull proposals is this -- neither of these so-called solutions would lower the price of gas anytime soon.

SLOCUM: And what we have to be honest about is that there isn't anything that Congress can do in the short term that's going to drive prices down.

JOHNS: So when you hear members of Congress blaming the other side for congressional gridlock on gas prices, just think, they had a chance to do something but they went to the airport. And those extra fees the airlines charge for high-priced jet fuel, well, that's not a big deal. After all, you, the taxpayer, have to eat that, too.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: So, Joe, after the congressional break, when they finally do come back to Washington in September, is there a chance they're going to be able to pass something then?

JOHNS: Well, sure, there's tremendous pressure to pass some kind of bill. People in Congress are hearing from a lot of voters on this. But there's not a lot of time before these folks have to start campaigning to try to get re-elected or whatever.

Today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did say that he wants to start an energy summit to work on this legislation. So, yes, there's still hope, Campbell.

BROWN: Joe Johns from Washington. Thanks, Joe.

Pretty simple equation, gas prices go up, offshore drilling gets more popular. What does that mean for the candidates though?

Here once again to talk about all this, Gloria Borger, CNN senior political analyst; Tara Wall, deputy editorial page editor of "The Washington Times," and CNN political analyst Roland Martin, with me here in Washington as well.

So, Roland, I mentioned this poll. I just want to bring it up again. Sixty-nine percent of Americans now say they support offshore drilling. 69 percent. Barack Obama opposed to it. Is this a political problem here potentially for him?

MARTIN: I think what this boils down to -- I remember what George W. Bush said in the State of the Union Address a couple of years ago. We are addicted to oil.

I think what this shows is people are freaking out. We want to create those low prices. They're not coming back. And so, I don't necessarily think that more gas is our issue. I think we do need alternative fuels, but we're just so addicted to it.

So, I mean, look, the polling is what it is. I don't necessarily think it's going to have a problem here because you still have states that still oppose to it. That's the other problem. That's a national poll, but it's really going to impact California and Florida. What do the voters there say about it? That's the key. BROWN: Gloria, is this a situation though, in terms of the politics of it, where Obama has a tough case to make and hasn't made it yet, clearly, if you look at those numbers?

BORGER: He does. I think what the American people are saying in the polls, in this poll and in other polls, is that they believe that everything ought to be on the table. That you shouldn't take anything off including offshore drilling.

I think McCain's problem here is that he's a little inconsistent, Campbell, because on the one hand, he says, let's put everything on the table. On the other hand, he's against drilling in ANWR, on the wildlife refuge in Alaska --

MARTIN: And he flip-flopped --

BORGER: So there's a question about that and I think, you know, American people want to look at everything. So the Democrats are on the wrong side on this one piece of the issue because they're remaining firm on it.

BROWN: OK, I want Gloria to come back to that issue in a moment, about the drilling in ANWR.

But let me ask Tara now about another thing in our latest poll number. Fifty-one percent of people say that increased offshore drilling will lower gas prices in the next year. But the fact is, even if the U.S. opened up offshore drilling tomorrow, this is not -- savings wouldn't make it to the pumps for years now. So are politicians being misleading like John McCain with voters on this issue?

WALL: I don't know if they're being misleading. I think they're looking. It's an opportunity to take an issue that's very important to Americans right now and to somewhat capitalize on that. And, you know, these candidates can seem out of touch, if you will, if they're not, you know, addressing.

This could have been addressed months and months, years and years ago. It's been on the table. I think, though, the bigger picture is the long term. And while, you know, Americans may not recognize that this is not something that's a short-term fix, we have to still address the issue. Congress has to address the issue.

I know they're using this as a political football right now, but the fact is, the priority -- this should be a priority, whether it works -- whether it's going to impact now or later.

MARTIN: Tara --

(CROSSTALK)

WALL: We have to be forward thinking in our approach.

MARTIN: Just be honest, it's misleading. You danced around it. It's not going to do anything tomorrow. As Gloria said, they want something now. But the reality is, it's not going to happen now.

WALL: Roland, we all want something now. That doesn't mean you get it now.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: In fairness to Roland's point, I mean, McCain, when he talks about this issue, is implying that it is a solution.

(CROSSTALK)

WALL: No, no, no --

BROWN: He's not suggesting that you're not going -- in 10 years

WALL: I disagree. No. No. I absolutely disagree.

Number one, there are options on the table. What is Barack Obama offering in the way of solutions now?

BORGER: Well, but, Tara, what about --

BROWN: Go ahead, Gloria.

BORGER: What about John McCain's gas tax holiday?

WALL: I don't know what happened to the gas holiday. But, you know, look --

MARTIN: I think it just dissipated.

WALL: The point is -- and there were people on both sides of that issue, Republicans and Democrats, and Barack Obama was against. The point is what is Barack Obama offering? What is he suggesting?

The solutions he has are not going to be quick fixes. They are not going to happen overnight. From clean energy to all those --

BROWN: All right.

MARTIN: That's the point, Tara. There are no quick fixes.

BROWN: OK, guys.

MARTIN: That's precisely the point.

WALL: So let's not just pretend that John McCain alone because he is supporting drilling --

BROWN: Hang on --

WALL: Americans support drilling. That's the point.

BROWN: OK, enough. You didn't have to agree with it. You have to make a case one way or another.

MARTIN: Yes, because they're different.

BROWN: All right, hold that thought. We're going to come back on this. As Gloria mentioned, when it comes to drilling, John McCain and the president aren't quite on the same page.

There is a discrepancy here we're going to talk about. McCain opposes drilling in some places that the president wants to open up like ANWR. Next, what does that mean for McCain? Will that help or hurt with voters?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHWARZENEGGER: I promise the people of California when I ran that I will protect the environment in California, that I will fight for that, that I will find a happy medium that will protect the environment and also protect the economy. And part of it was the debate of offshore drilling, of the coast of California.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Obviously not everybody in favor of offshore drilling. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger told me earlier today that he is fighting it. And you can see more of my interview with Schwarzenegger Friday right here on the ELECTION CENTER. The whole thing is though turning into a bit of a political minefield.

And we're back now with Gloria Borger, Tara Wall, Roland Martin, talking about this.

And, Tara, I do want to address this. Gloria made this point. John McCain's been all over the place on this issue. Gloria brought up he initially supported the ban, just like Governor Schwarzenegger. Now, he's changed his mind and he wants to lift the ban on ANWR. There's a difference there, a lack of consistency. How do you explain that? How does he deal with it?

WALL: Well, quite frankly, and I'll give this one to Roland. Quite frankly, John McCain has flip-flopped on the drilling issue --

MARTIN: Surprise --

WALL: And, and --

BROWN: It's going to make him happy, Tara.

WALL: You only get one, Roland. And I'll say, you know, quite frankly, you know, the challenges for John McCain to step it up even more and to support drilling in ANWR, as most of Americans do and as most conservatives do, and I think that that's the challenge he faces. And when you're talking to moderate to independent voters, this is what they're looking for whether it is long or short term.

But, yes, John McCain, you know, certainly, we're grateful he's come around. Many are grateful he's come around. It would be great if Barack Obama at least steps up and meets in the middle somewhere and comes up with some solutions in addition to the alternatives he's mentioned. But I think, certainly, John McCain could go a lot further in supporting drilling in ANWR, which I don't think he will but he should.

BORGER: You know, the question I think we have to ask, Campbell, is looking at these politicians, will they act on an energy bill before the election is, what's in their self-interest? Is it better for them to have the issue? Or is it better for them to solve the problem in order to get re-elected?

If they decide it's better for them to have the issue, they'll do it. I personally think that because the American public wants something done, they will get something done.

MARTIN: I don't think so. These are political hacks. Democrats and Republicans. They are not going to move on this because, as Gloria said, they do need the issue.

Pelosi, she's smart. She knows she's not going to put it up for a vote because she needs Obama to be able to be bashing McCain over the head to appeal to the liberal base. And McCain doesn't want it as well because he wants the issue as well to hit Obama with. If you vote on it, you take the issue off the table.

BROWN: It's why nothing gets done in an election year. Everybody bottom line this for us. I mean, if Congress breaks --

WALL: It's sad, though. It is sad because at the end of the day, Americans don't want -- this is the kind of partisanship Americans don't want.

BORGER: But if they want to get re-elected in the Congress, they just might surprise us.

WALL: Absolutely. I think there's hope.

BORGER: They just might surprise us and do something.

MARTIN: I'm not holding my breath, Gloria.

BROWN: But let's say -- I'm not holding my breath either.

(LAUGHTER)

Let's say they don't do anything. In terms of the politics of this, who stands to lose more do you think? Is it Obama or is it McCain? Gloria --

BORGER: Well, you know, the Democrats control the Congress. So the Democrats will get blamed, although when you look at the polls, people don't like the Congress so they're not blaming the Democrats.

(CROSSTALK)

WALL: Yes, that's why -- they wonder why their approval ratings are so abysmal. Start listening to the American public, the people that pay you. How many of us could up and leave our jobs for five weeks vacation without addressing the number one issue our boss wants us to address?

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: Tara, the Republicans ran. They won't listen.

BORGER: I don't want to defend Congress here, believe me. I don't want to be in that position, but they did pass a stimulus bill and they did pass a mortgage bailout so that's it.

BROWN: OK. But to that point, Gloria, Tara, Roland, stand by. Because, coming up, where there's smoke, there's fire. We are going to put Congress under the fire, under the flame a little bit, over a debate about smoking that took place today. We're going to show you the whole thing. It's pretty unbelievable, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: For many homeowners, the American dream is turning into a financial nightmare. Well, in just a few minutes, "LARRY KING LIVE" has some help for homeowners in trouble. Larry, what are going to see tonight?

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: We hope so, Campbell. We'll talk about foreclosures, the economy, and other financial pressures that affect virtually everyone. If you're sinking in massive debt and about to lose your home or losing sleep over bills that just keep coming, we'll have some advice for you.

And we'll have some great political talk with Paul Krugman and Ben Stein. All next on "LARRY KING LIVE."

BROWN: All right, Larry. We'll see you in a few minutes.

Coming up, an extraordinary exchange on the House floor today. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN: This legislation's on the floor because people are killing themselves smoking these evil cigarettes. And the distinguished gentleman, the minority leader, is going to be amongst the next to die.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: We're going to have the story when we come back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: We showed you how our hard-working lawmakers haven't done anything about oil prices, so how are they keeping busy? Well, you're not going to believe it. But for a while today, they argued about the evils of cigarettes. And things got pretty hot and pretty personal.

Once again, here is Gary Tuchman with that story -- Gary.

TUCHMAN: Well, Campbell, an interesting and kind of bizarre dustup on the floor of the House of Representatives this afternoon between the House minority leader and the longest serving congressman in Washington. It happened as the House was debating legislation to give the FDA the power to regulate tobacco.

One of the strong opponents of the bill, two-pack-a-day smoker, House Minority Leader John Boehner. Now, he was banned from smoking near the entrance to the House floor when Nancy Pelosi took over as speaker. Congressman Boehner used to hold court in that area, puffing away when the Republicans were in the majority. As a matter of fact, one of the benches where people used to smoke was called the "Boehner bench."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOEHNER: Most of my colleagues know I smoke. I know that smoking is probably not good for my health. Most people who smoke in America know that smoking is probably not good for their health.

Do we need the federal government to tell us that we need to spend $5 billion of smoker's money for the government to tell us that smoking is not good for us? I don't think so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: Well, Boehner continued on, saying enough is enough, and got increasingly passionate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOEHNER: This is a bone-headed idea, a bone-headed idea. I mean, how much is enough? How much government do we need? More and more and more. They're not a smoker in America, doesn't understand that smoking isn't good for you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: But supporters of this bill say it's really designed to protect children who often don't have quite the understanding level of a John Boehner. And Democratic Congressman John Dingell of Michigan decided not to be subtle when he directed comments to Boehner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gentleman from Michigan.

DINGELL: Madam Speaker, I yield myself 15 seconds for the purpose of responding to my beloved friend, the minority leader. This legislation's on the floor because people are killing themselves smoking these evil cigarettes. And the distinguished gentleman, the minority leader, is going to be amongst the next to die. I am trying to save him, as the rest of us are, because he is committing suicide every time he puffs on one of those things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will the gentleman yield? Will the gentleman be kind enough to yield?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: "The next to die," wow. Dingell did yield and the House then did overwhelmingly pass the bill. It would tighten restrictions on advertising and sales of tobacco products to minors and allow the FDA to oversee tobacco like it oversees other drugs. The Senate still has to pass, and it appears to have the numbers to do so, but not might have enough time to take it up this year.

But alas, it could all be for naught, because the White House is opposed to the bill and it could see a veto then. Campbell, back to you.

BROWN: Gary Tuchman for us tonight, Gary.

Here, again, to talk about our government at work is senior political analyst Gloria Borger, Tara Wall of "The Washington Times," CNN political analyst Roland Martin. Oh, will you stop.

MARTIN: That was funny, I'm sorry.

BROWN: Not a very dignified debate, we just saw. Congressmen yelling at each other. What's going on here?

BORGER: Well, you know, actually, these two guys are friends, I should say that. And I think John Dingell got a little overzealous in his feelings that he wanted to protect his friend. He said, you know, you're going to be the next to die, but I want to save you.

This is clearly a debate at its very base about regulation and where government should intrude and where it shouldn't. And what Boehner is saying is, look, I smoke, I know it's bad. I don't think it's the government's job to regulate cigarettes. I don't think that's the job of -- it's too big a government if you do that.

BROWN: The issue they should be focusing on right now as they head into the August recess?

MARTIN: I think it's one of them because also you have health implications. Look, I'm allergic to smoke. I cannot stand smoke. You can't smoke in my house. You got to go to the corner of the yard to even smoke.

But, again, the key is, they are targeting children. And so, there's just nothing worse with seeing, riding along the freeway, you see a mother or a father in the car and the child's sitting right there and they're just puffing away.

That's the real intent. That is, you want to keep it away from minors because that's for the next generation that these tobacco companies are targeting. So I say good job protecting the health of Americans. BROWN: I have to agree with Roland. I used to smoke and I couldn't agree more with Roland. But, Tara, obviously you are a conservative. Do you think this is overreached by the government?

WALL: Yes, in a word. It's certainly unprecedented. And, of course, we all want to protect children, do what we can to protect children. But we want to take another overwhelmed government agency -- and I've worked in government agencies, you know, to now add to their, you know, case load, if you will, tobacco, in addition --

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Tara, given the health risks here --

WALL: Tobacco additions --

BROWN: Given the health risks that we know directly result from smoking...

MARTIN: Right.

BROWN: ... and given the danger for children to be --

WALL: But this agency regulates drugs and food. To add tobacco to that --

BROWN: Tobacco is a drug.

MARTIN: Right.

WALL: And then to say to the tobacco companies, we're going to make less riskier cigarettes. What's healthy about less risky cigarettes? They're all --

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: But, Tara, the other thing is you also eliminate advertising, Tara. You can't leave that out.

WALL: That's not healthy.

The point is, we need to balance what is common sense with where regulation is actually needed --

BROWN: Guys --

BORGER: And that's what they've done in this. They've been working on it for a decade.

WALL: I disagree.

BROWN: All right, guys.

WALL: Pass energy first.

BROWN: Unfortunately, the clock says we have to go. MARTIN: And the smoke has cleared.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: Gloria, Tara and Roland, as always, thanks, guys. Unless you think Congress' entire day went up in smoke, stay with us. If you've got kids, you're going to want to pay close attention to the bill that passed the House moments ago. We're going to have the details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Live from the ELECTION CENTER, here's an update of the hour's headlines.

Late today, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a ban on lead and other dangerous chemicals in children's toys. It's part of a bill to strengthen the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

And American Airlines is still hunting for the computer glitch that snarled its baggage handling system at New York's JFK Airport. Thousands of passengers had to fly without their bags. At least they didn't have to pay American to lose their luggage. The airline waived its $15 per bag handling fee.

That's it tonight from the ELECTION CENTER. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.

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