DILLON, South Carolina (CNN) - White House hopeful Barack Obama called the debate over the competency of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a "distraction" Thursday, a day after rival Hillary Clinton called for the embattled leader's removal.
"I think this is a distraction - this whole notion of 'is Maliki the right guy?'" Obama told CNN's Don Lemon. "We can replace Maliki with four, five other guys, but if the underlying political dynamic is not changing, then we will not see progress in Iraq."
On Wednesday afternoon, Clinton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released a statement calling for the ouster of the prime minister, saying, "The Maliki government is nonfunctional and cannot produce a political settlement, because it is too beholden to religious and sectarian leaders."
In the interview with CNN, Obama also seemed to echo Clinton's controversial comments from earlier in the week that the surge was "working" in some areas, but reiterated his position that the U.S. should begin an "orderly withdrawal" from the country.
"We know that our troops are performing well under the surge and there has been a temporary reduction in violence,” he said. “But we also know that none of the Iraqi factions have taken seriously the need to come to political accommodation, and we can't create a stable Iraq until that happens - which is why I believe that we need to - more than ever - initiate the kind of responsible, orderly withdrawal that will trigger a change in behavior on the part of the factions.”
(CNN) - California voters are inclined to support a proposed ballot measure that Democratic leaders fear could doom the party's chances of winning back the White House in 2008 by giving Republicans a chunk of the state's large block of Electoral College votes, according to results of a poll released this week.
By a margin of 47 percent to 35 percent, the Field Poll found voters supported a GOP-inspired ballot measure replacing the state's winner-take-all method for awarding electoral votes with a system that would give one vote to the candidate who won the most votes in each of the state's 53 congressional districts and two votes to the statewide winner.
Had that system been in place in 2004, President Bush, who lost California to the Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry, would still have captured 22 of the state's 55 electoral votes. Under the winner-take-all system, Kerry got them all.
The proposed change would be damaging to Democrats, who have come to rely on California's block of votes - the largest haul available in any state - as part of their arithmetic to get to an Electoral College majority. For instance, in 2004, if Bush had taken those 22 California electoral votes, he would not have needed to carry the pivotal state of Ohio, with 20 electoral votes, to go over the top.
"This would all but guarantee that the Republican nominee would get 20 extra Electoral College votes, which could certainly impact the outcome of the election," said Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican strategist.
And that is exactly what has Democrats crying foul.
McCain criticized Sen. Clinton's recent comments on Iraq.
Clinton, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, has been taking some heat over her comments Monday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention where she said the president's Iraq policy was leading to success in "some areas."
On Wednesday, she offered a more critical, pointed assessment of Bush's strategy.
"The surge was designed to give the Iraqi government time to take steps to ensure a political solution to the situation. It has failed to do so," the New York Democrat said. "The White House's report in September won’t change that. It is abundantly clear that there is no military solution to the sectarian fighting in Iraq. We need to stop refereeing the war, and start getting out now.”
In a statement released by his campaign on Thursday, McCain charged that Clinton was changing her stance "after taking heat from anti-war activists and her primary opponents."
"The fact that the New York senator can reverse her position on an issue of grave importance to our national security in a few days sends the wrong signal to our enemies in Iraq and our own troops on the ground," said McCain, who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination. "We must continue to support General Petraeus and the new counterinsurgency campaign to give us the best chance to succeed. Following the path to begin an 'immediate withdrawal' would be a grave mistake."
- CNN Political Desk Editor Jamie Crawford
Compiled by Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau
Making news today...
* Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "is expected to advise President Bush to reduce the U.S. force in Iraq next year by almost half, potentially creating a rift with top White House officials and other military commanders over the course of the war." (Los Angeles Times)
This report comes on the heels of Virginia Republican John Warner, "one of the most influential Republican voices in Congress on national security" (Washington Post), calling on President Bush to start the process of bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq in September.
Full story on CNN.com
* Arthur Bremer, "who shot and paralyzed Democratic presidential candidate George C. Wallace during a Laurel campaign event in 1972, will be released from a Maryland prison before year's end." (Baltimore Sun)
* Mitt Romney is "expected to roll out his healthcare plan" in a speech to the Florida Medical Association's 2007 Annual Meeting and Florida Medical Expo at 12 pm ET in Hollywood, FL.
Romney will "call for a combination of federal tax breaks and incentives to states to help the uninsured afford coverage, while offering strategies to rein in health costs." (Boston Globe)
* "Unless [John] McCain rebounds from his political collapse, it looks as if next year's presidential election will be the first since World War II in which neither of the major-party nominees is a veteran." (Washington Post)
* Former president Bill Clinton will lend his star power at a Hollywood fundraiser next month on behalf of Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, CNN has learned.
Full story on The Ticker
However, the Washington Times examines how Hollywood endorsements are "not all A-list."
* And why is an author referenced in Bush's VFW speech Wednesday calling the use of his quote "perverse?" Find out in Hot Topics below!
* The president is in Crawford, TX, with no public events.
Also on the Political Radar:
* John Edwards continues his Fighting for One America New Hampshire bus tour with a 10:30 am ET health care event in Manchester, a 12:15 pm ET visit to a Veterans' home in Tilton, and a 3:15 pm ET town hall in Wolfeboro.
* After his health care event, Mitt Romney heads to IN to address the Midwest Republican Leadership Conference at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 6:45 pm ET.
* Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) holds a 1 pm ET Tallahassee Community Kickoff at Florida A&M University. Tonight, he addresses the 2nd Annual Collins-Steele Dinner for the Leon County Democratic Party at Florida State University.
* Kristen Gore appears on "The Late Show with David Letterman."
* Mike Huckabee appears on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher."
Political Hot Topics
(Today's top political stories from news organizations across the country)
PACE EXPECTED TO ADVISE TROOP CUT: The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is expected to advise President Bush to reduce the U.S. force in Iraq next year by almost half, potentially creating a rift with top White House officials and other military commanders over the course of the war. Administration and military officials say Marine Gen. Peter Pace is likely to convey concerns by the Joint Chiefs that keeping well in excess of 100,000 troops in Iraq through 2008 will severely strain the military. This assessment could collide with one being prepared by the U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, calling for the U.S. to maintain higher troop levels for 2008 and beyond. Los Angeles Times: Top general to urge Iraq troop cut
NIE "CASTS STRONG DOUBTS" ON VIABILITY OF BUSH'S IRAQ STRATEGY: A stark assessment released Thursday by the nation's intelligence agencies depicts a paralyzed Iraqi government unable to take advantage of the security gains achieved by the thousands of extra American troops dispatched to the country this year. The assessment, known as a National Intelligence Estimate, casts strong doubts on the viability of the Bush administration strategy in Iraq. It gives a dim prognosis on the likelihood that Iraqi politicians can heal deep sectarian rifts before next spring, when American military commanders have said that a crunch on available troops will require reducing the United States' presence in Iraq. New York Times: Report Offers Grim View of Iraqi Leaders
AUTHOR QUOTED BY BUSH SPEAKS OUT: A historian quoted by President Bush to help argue that critics of the administration's Iraq policy echo those who questioned the U.S. effort to bring democracy to Japan after World War II angrily distanced himself from the president's remarks Thursday. "They [war supporters] keep on doing this," said MIT professor John Dower. "They keep on hitting it and hitting it and hitting it and it's always more and more implausible, strange and in a fantasy world. They're desperately groping for a historical analogy, and their uses of history are really perverse." The Politico: Historian: Bush use of quote 'perverse'
WALLACE'S WOULD-BE ASSASSIN TO BE RELEASED: Arthur Bremer, who shot and paralyzed Democratic presidential candidate George C. Wallace during a Laurel campaign event in 1972, will be released from a Maryland prison before year's end, state officials said. Bremer, a loner from Milwaukee who attempted to find fame by targeting the then-Alabama governor and one-time segregationist, has served 35 years of a 53-year sentence. He is expected to win early freedom from the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown as a result of "good conduct credits" earned by being a prison education aide, among other responsibilities. Baltimore Sun: Wallace shooter to be freed
SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE TO EXAMINE MINE SAFETY: A Senate subcommittee that oversees labor questions said Thursday that it would hold a hearing on the Crandall Canyon Mine collapse in Utah. The panel is investigating what went wrong, where false reports of an earthquake originated and the failure to use advanced rescue efforts. Senators also want to know whether Richard E. Stickler, director of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, has imposed proper penalties for code violations by mines and whether the agency has done enough to help rescuethe six missing miners. The committee has asked the agency for information on the Crandall Canyon safety record. Among those invited to testify are Robert E. Murray, chief executive of Murray Energy, a co-owner of the mine, and Cecil Roberts, the president of the United Mine Workers of America, which is representing the families in the investigation. New York Times: Senate Panel Sets Hearing on Coal Mine
RENZI WON'T RUN IN '08: Months of political pressure and mounting legal problems combined Thursday to push Rep. Rick Renzi out of another run for Congress. "I will not be seeking re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2008," Renzi, a Republican, said in a written statement. "I am honored and thankful to serve Arizona's 1st District and appreciate all that we have accomplished together over the past 6 years." The announcement by Renzi, the subject of a federal corruption probe, had been widely expected by political operatives and analysts. Both national parties will now focus their energy and money on the Arizona seat in the 2008 elections, guaranteeing a fierce battle that could help determine control of Congress. Arizona Republic: Renzi won't seek re-election
WHAT DID THE TORCH DO WITH LEFT-OVER CAMPAIGN CASH? When he was last running for the United States Senate from New Jersey in 2002, Robert G. Torricelli collected donations from thousands of people who apparently wanted to see him re-elected. They might be surprised to see how he spent a portion of their money. Mr. Torricelli, a Democrat who was one of the Senate's most flamboyant personalities and prodigious fund-raisers, abruptly quit the 2002 race amid allegations of ethical misconduct and became a lobbyist. Since then, he has given $4,000 from his campaign fund to Puerto Rico's nonvoting member of Congress, $10,000 to Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois and more than $40,000 to Nevada Democratic Party organizations and candidates linked to the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid. All of those politicians had one thing in common: influence over Mr. Torricelli's, or his clients', business interests. New York Times: Now a Lobbyist, an Ex-Senator Uses Campaign Money
'08 COULD BE FIRST CAMPAIGN SINCE WWII WITHOUT A WAR VETERAN NOMINEE: As some of the leading presidential candidates trooped before the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City this week, there was one thing largely missing at the lectern - veterans of foreign wars. With the exception of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), none of the front-running White House contenders served in the military. Unless McCain rebounds from his political collapse, it looks as if next year's presidential election will be the first since World War II in which neither of the major-party nominees is a veteran. Washington Post: 2008: The Year of the Civilian
LIVESTRONG TO SPONSOR PRESIDENTIAL CANCER FORUMS: At least eight presidential candidates have survived cancer or had it strike someone close to them, fueling hopes by retired cyclist Lance Armstrong and others that they'll succeed in a high-profile drive to make cancer research and prevention a priority for the next president. "We have a unique opportunity because of the success of the yellow band," Armstrong said in an interview with USA TODAY, referring to the "Livestrong" wristbands worn by an estimated 60 million people... Armstrong's Livestrong foundation is sponsoring "presidential cancer forums" Monday and Tuesday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He said subjects will include the National Cancer Institute's "shrinking" budget and how to reduce annual cancer deaths (600,000) and diagnoses (1.3 million). USA Today: 'Livestrong' army enlists presidential candidates
DOES THIS MEAN MORE TALK OF VARMINT HUNTING? An unusual move by President Bush to promote hunting on federal lands is calling attention to so-called sportsmen's issues, which presidential candidates have largely neglected on the stump in recent months. Last week, Mr. Bush issued an executive order instructing federal agencies to "manage wildlife and wildlife habitats on public lands in a manner that expands and enhances hunting opportunities." The order also encourages federal officials to respect "state management authority over wildlife resources." The order was immediately hailed by the National Rifle Association, which described the action as "groundbreaking." New York Sun: Sportsmen's Issues Thrust Into 2008 Race
ROMNEY TO LAY OUT HEALTHCARE PLAN IN SUNSHINE STATE: Mitt Romney, expected to roll out his healthcare plan in Florida today, will call for a combination of federal tax breaks and incentives to states to help the uninsured afford coverage, while offering strategies to rein in health costs, such as capping punitive damages in malpractice cases. Drawing on some aspects of the Massachusetts health coverage law he helped enact as governor, Romney will urge states to redirect federal money that is now spent on expensive emergency room care for people without insurance, putting it instead toward helping low-income people pay for health insurance. Boston Globe: Romney to detail his healthcare Rx
RUDY SCORES BEST AMONG VETS: Military veterans are ready to salute Rudy Giuliani as their next commander-in-chief – but treat Hillary Rodham Clinton like a private. Giuliani is the most popular presidential candidate among vets and Clinton is the most unpopular, according to a Gallup poll released yesterday. Giuliani – a supporter of the Iraq war who obtained an occupational deferment during Vietnam – was viewed favorably by 64 percent of veterans. Only 29 percent disliked him. By comparison, 59 percent of vets gave Clinton an unfavorable rating. Only 37 percent gave her a thumbs-up, giving her the poorest overall rating. New York Post: RUDY'S 'ARMY'
CLINTON CAN'T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS ON SURGE, SAYS McCAIN: Arizona Sen. John McCain says Sen. Hillary Clinton cannot have it both ways on the president's surge policy in Iraq. Clinton, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, has been taking some heat over her comments Monday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention where she said the president's Iraq policy was leading to success in "some areas." On Wednesday, she offered a more critical, pointed assessment of Bush's strategy. "The surge was designed to give the Iraqi government time to take steps to ensure a political solution to the situation. It has failed to do so," the New York Democrat said. "The White House's report in September won't change that. It is abundantly clear that there is no military solution to the sectarian fighting in Iraq. We need to stop refereeing the war, and start getting out now." In a statement released by his campaign on Thursday, McCain charged that Clinton was changing her stance "after taking heat from anti-war activists and her primary opponents." CNN: McCain lashes out at Clinton on surge
EDWARDS CONDEMNS CLINTON-ERA POLITICS IN "COMBATIVE" SPEECH: Sharpening his rhetoric against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Edwards used a combative speech [in Hanover, NH,] Thursday to cast his front-running rival for the Democratic presidential nomination as part of a "corroded" Washington culture that is neglecting the nation's problems and doing the bidding of powerful corporations. The former North Carolina senator didn't mention Clinton by name, but he left no doubt he was condemning Clinton-era politics when he said the Lincoln Bedroom should not be "for rent" and cautioned that "nostalgia" was no reason to elect someone president. Los Angeles Times: Edwards attacks Clinton-era politics
WILL OBAMA'S DECISION TO SKIP AARP FORUM HURT HIM IN IA CAUCUSES? Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's decision to opt out of all but a handful of appearances with his opponents this fall means an influential Iowa audience will lose the chance to judge him alongside his rivals next month. Obama plans to skip AARP's Sept. 20 forum in Davenport, where New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson will address about 2,400 Iowa seniors and a national public television audience. The decision to not attend the AARP event, aimed at issues important to people 50 and older, could nag at the Illinois senator, some Democrat activists and political observers said. Des Moines Register: Obama sticks to his plan, will skip AARP forum
OBAMA "IMPRESSES" ON THE "GRAND STRAND": Presidential hopeful Barack Obama rallied a crowd of about 1,800 people Thursday night at Coastal Carolina University, telling them why the nation needs a change and why he's the person to bring it about. The Illinois senator is the second Democratic presidential candidate to politick on the Grand Strand this year. His visit also makes him the first candidate to stump at the university this year, giving him the chance to connect with young potential voters. CCU student Megan Hayes, 18, said she got to shake the senator's hand after he spoke, and even got a hug. "I was really impressed. I'm definitely going to vote for him next year," she said. "I was ecstatic." Myrtle Beach Sun News: Obama impresses crowd at CCU