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Interview with John Roberts on CNN's "American Morning"

May 05, 2008

ROBERTS: Twenty minutes after the hour, an important day tomorrow in the Democratic race for president. People go to the polls in the all-important states of Indiana and North Carolina and joining us this morning from Evansville, Indiana, one of those competitors, Barack Obama.

Senator, it's good to see you this morning.

OBAMA: Great to talk to you, John.

ROBERTS: I want to just stipulate at the beginning of this interview, we are declaring a Reverend Wright free zone today. No questions about Reverend Wright. Our viewers want us to move on so this morning we're going to move on. Is that OK with you?

OBAMA: Fair enough. That sounds just fine.

ROBERTS: Let's get right to the issues then. You have criticized Hillary Clinton about this idea of a gas tax holiday, calling it a typical political gimmick. Here's her response to your criticisms to that.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we have been for the last seven years seeing a tremendous amount of government power and elite opinion basically behind policies that haven't worked well for the middle class.


ROBERTS: So that could be read as a not so subtle dig at you, that you're an elitist who doesn't understand the problem that regular folks are going through with these gasoline prices. What do you say?

OBAMA: I think that's nonsense, if that's what she intended because the fact is that for 20, 30 years, we haven't done what's needed to make sure that people are making ends meet. I mean what's absolutely true is that during the Bush administration, there hasn't been much regard for what ordinary people are going through. But if we're going to deal seriously with gas prices, we're not going to pretend to do something by offering a tax holiday that would at best provide 30 cents a day for three months for a grand total of $28.

ROBERTS: So what would you do instead?

OBAMA: It is more likely, John, just to let me finish, it's more likely to reward oil companies further because they'll just jack up their prices to fill up whatever the gap was that's left by a suspension of the gas tax. So what I have said is, I want to provide a middle class tax cut of up to $1,000 per family per year, a much bigger amount of relief that can cover not only rising gas prices, but also rising food prices and at the same time I want to invest in alternative energy and raising fuel efficiency standards on cars, something that I've been calling for for years and that Senator Clinton has opposed in the past. We can't keep on putting off the day of reckoning, five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now. There's nobody who thinks that a gas tax holiday is going to lower gas prices over the long-term.

ROBERTS: But all of that that you mentioned would take a long time to get through Congress. Is there anything that could be done immediately, if you were president today to try to bring some relief to people at the pump?

OBAMA: What I've said is let's go ahead and pass the second part of my tax stimulus proposal that would put some money immediately in the pockets of people. Listen, I'm meeting people every day who can't get to a job because they can't fill up the gas tank or they are trying to figure out how to make ends meet now that they have had an extra $100 taken out of their bottom line at the end of the month. So I understand how badly people are hurting. If we're serious about helping them, let's provide them some relief, but let's not pretend that we're doing something by suggesting a gas tax holiday that will not be paid for and frankly it is very unlikely that you would see President George Bush sign the kind of windfall profits tax that Hillary Clinton says she would use to pay for it. ROBERTS: Senator, you have also been very critical of Hillary Clinton's statement about Iran and this idea that if it attacks Israel, we would be able to quote obliterate them. Your answer to that same question was far more ambiguous than hers. Is there any room for ambiguity when it comes to the issue of Israel's survival?

OBAMA: That's not what I said, John. I wasn't ambiguous at all. I said that if Israel was attacked, we would respond forcefully and an attack on Israel, one of our most important allies in the world, would be considered as an attack on the United States. Using the word obliterate, however, is the kind of language that we have seen George Bush use over the last seven years and it's precisely that kind of provocative language that Senator Clinton criticized others for in the past, suggesting that if you're running for president, you shouldn't be stirring up international incidents. We now have Iran bringing complaints to the United Nations. Particularly when you're doing it right before an election, it's probably not the best way to approach foreign policy.

ROBERTS: If Iran attacked Israel with a nuclear weapon, would you use the United States nuclear arsenal against Iran?

OBAMA: John, I'm not going to speculate. As I said before, Senator Clinton was the first one to suggest we should never talk about the use of nuclear weapons and gave a lot of us a lengthy disposition on that. Look, here's the bottom line. Israel is our ally and we will protect Israel. More importantly, though, we should be keeping our nuclear arsenal out of the hands of Iran, which is why I have called consistently for a mix of sanctions, but also carrots and direct talks to get Iran to stand down. That's the kind of leadership that we need out of the White House and that's the kind that I intend to provide as president of the United States.

ROBERTS: Senator, you have really been pounded by the Clinton campaign during this primary process, but a lot of people believe that that's nothing compared to what you would face should you become the nominee and have to go up against John McCain in the general election. Some analysts have noted that you have a little bit of a glass chin when it comes to these attacks. The last month that you've had this primary campaign, many people say has not been your best. What are you going to do if you become the nominee to fend off attacks that will come at you from the Republican side?

OBAMA: John, I think as you have said, we have probably taken as many hits as anybody has in this presidential campaign. Senator Clinton has not. John McCain certainly has not and yet I'm still here and, you know, competitive in both North Carolina and Indiana. So we feel very confident about the fact that the American people are interested in who's going to be fighting for them. Who's going to make sure that they're living out their American dream? Who's going to make sure that college is affordable for their kids, that jobs are here and that's, you know, ultimately what this is about. This is not about me and you know, certainly, you know, one of the things I'm confident about is that during the course of this campaign, as long as I stay focused on what people are caring about every single day, then our campaign's going to be just fine. More importantly, I think we can mobilize the American people to start meeting some of the challenges that lie ahead.

ROBERTS: One more quick note if I could, senator because we're running out of time here, if after this entire primary process and you leading in the popular vote, the number of contests won and pledged delegates, if Hillary Clinton becomes the nominee, how will you feel personally on that?

OBAMA: John, I'm not going to speculate on that because I intend to win. That's why I'm here.

ROBERTS: Should it happen, how would you feel?

OBAMA: John, the day before two important elections the last thing I'm thinking about are super delegates. What I'm thinking about are the folks that I'm out there fighting for.

ROBERTS: We apparently have time for one more question, if I could just beg your indulgence here. Florida and Michigan, twice on this program, Hillary Clinton said there's no way to determine who the nominee will be until their situation has been resolved and their delegates counted. Do you agree with that? And can you see a scenario under which you could declare a nominee without Florida and Michigan being involved?

OBAMA: I think there's no doubt that we've got to get Michigan and the Florida delegation seated. That's something that I've talked about consistently.

ROBERTS: But are they critical to the determination of a nominee? Could a nominee be decided without Florida and Michigan being counted?

OBAMA: I think as I said before, that it's important for us to make sure that they are seated and it's important that they're taken into account. I always have said that the people of Michigan and the people of Florida deserve better. Unfortunately we set up the system and a set of rules and you know, none of us ended up campaigning in Michigan or Florida. My name wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan. So the question at this point is how do we make sure that those states are recognized that they're participating but it's following rules and everything is fair. And I think that's what our campaign is looking to achieve.

ROBERTS: Senator Barack Obama for us this morning from Evansville, Indiana. Good luck to you tomorrow. Thanks for being with us. Hopefully we'll be able to talk with you again on Wednesday following the primaries.

OBAMA: Thank you so much John.

Barack Obama, Interview with John Roberts on CNN's "American Morning" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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