WASHINGTON--Speaking to reporters on his campaign plane flying from San Juan, PR to Chicago on Saturday, likely Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said he will have to pick a running mate "quickly" once the primary and caucus votes are over.
And.. while the Obama campaign fanned the controversy on Friday over rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) by sending out a reaction quote and a link to her comments about Bobby Kennedy and assassination--locking in perceptions--Obama was somewhat more charitable on Saturday.
"I mean, I think it was an unfortunate remark, but as I said today, I think that when you’re on the campaign trail for 15 months, you’re going to make some mistakes. I don’t think Senator Clinton intended anything by it, and I think we should put it behind us."
On other matters:
*Obama has been attacked by presumptive GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Az.), a former prisoner of war for not having served in the military. Explained Obama, "I didn’t serve as many people my age didn’t because Vietnam was over at the time I was draft age and moved to an all-volunteer army."
*Declined, when asked, to call on people to stop buying gas guzzling SUV's. He said he owns a hybrid.
Press Avail Transcript
Flight from San Juan, PR to Chicago, IL
Saturday, May 24, 2008
BO: I felt like we had a terrific three days of campaigning in Florida. I think the enthusiasm we say not just in the rallies but in the town hall meetings, and the speeches that I gave indicated that we can do very well in that state, and we intend to campaign actively to make sure that we deliver Florida in the Democratic column in November and I had a wonderful time here in Puerto Rico. We got support from both of the major factions politically, and although I’m not as well known as Senator Clinton on the island I think that we can do well there as well. So, with that, let me just open it up.
Q: You spoke again today about the GI Bill. What’s your response to McCain the other day saying he won’t listen to you on veterans’ issues since you didn’t choose to serve in the military?
BO: I’ve said before I respect John McCain’s service to our country, I think he’s a genuine war hero. But I think the notion that somehow I cant speak out on behalf of veterans because of the fact that I didn’t serve, makes no sense whatsoever. I didn’t serve as many people my age didn’t because Vietnam was over at the time I was draft age and moved to an all-volunteer army. But obviously I revere our soldiers and want to make sure they’re being treated with honor and respect. I think the GI Bill is one way for us to do that. I hope that John McCain and George Bush decide they believe the same thing.
Q: When will you, would you, ask the American people to stop buying SUVs? And what do you do in your own life?
BO: Well these days I don’t drive much. I bought a hybrid but we keep it in the garage mostly. This is part of the reason why it’s important to continue to raise fuel efficiency standards on cars. One the advantages if we do so is you can see a gradual hike in fuel mileage standards, as opposed to these abrupt jumps, and that would probably smooth out increases in oil prices. Obviously that’s not an immediate option for this summer, and I think, as I’ve said on the stump, the most important thing we can do right now is provide some relief potentially in the form of an additional tax stimulus, and make sure that the next President starts immediately on implementing the kinds of alternative fuel strategies and gasoline savings strategies that can help reduce our oil consumption over the long term.
Q: [paraphrase] Question about whether people actually buy the gasoline that is better for the environment?
BO: They do now. We’ve seen that this quarter. People are changing their behavior. We’ve seen a slump in the sales of SUVs and big trucks and drastic spike in cars both medium size and small. So I think the American people are going to start to changing their behavior if these prices continue. But the automakers need to get in front of the curb as well, as I indicated in Michigan. I think they’ve done a better job of investment than they have in the past, there’s still more work to do, and the Federal government should help them do it.
Q: [paraphrase] Referenced Obama saying today that doing well in Puerto Rico he will win the nomination. If you do well in Puerto Rico, could you announce victory as early as June 1?
BO: Well what I mean was we have three more contests and if we do well in those next three contests than we should be in a position, hopefully, to say that we’ve won this nomination.
BO: Our goal would be to try to get all the delegates that we need to secure the nomination.
Q: [paraphrase] Question about Senator Clinton’s comments yesterday about the length of the primary season and Bobby Kennedy?
BO: I mean, I think it was an unfortunate remark, but as I said today, I think that when you’re on the campaign trail for 15 months, you’re going to make some mistakes. I don’t think Senator Clinton intended anything by it, and I think we should put it behind us.
Q: [paraphrase] Question about why people outside the United States are reacting so strongly to the campaign?
BO: Well I think people are frustrated with seven years of unilateral foreign policy that seems to disregard the interests and concerns of others countries. And to the extent that I’ve spoken of a different kind of foreign policy, one that listens, one that seeks to build and strengthen alliances around mutual interests, I think that’s something that people are hungry for. They want America to lead; they just don’t want America to bully. And having a decisive break from the foreign policy of the last eight years will make us more safe over the long term and strengthen the cooperation that we get from other countries.
Q: [paraphrase] Do you think America has sometimes been a bully?
BO: I think they’re right that America has ignored the concerns of the international community, often times in very brusque ways that are almost seemed designed to offend. We can pull up quotes from Cheney and Rumsfeld where they essentially said that other countries don’t matter. That’s in sharp contrast to the way the first George Bush, George Bush, Sr., operated. The painstaking amounts of work that Jim Baker put in to set up the coalition for the Gulf War. The way they would engage and conduct exercises even with countries that in a realistic way weren’t that important militarily, and yet the United States would treat them with respect and a sense of equality. All that made a difference when we had to go in, there were folks there. We ended up spending $20 billion on the Gulf War, that’s one of the consequences of having allies.
Q: [paraphrase] Question about John McCain’s age and whether it should matter in the campaign?
BO: I don’t think so. Senator McCain is healthy, he is campaigning actively all across the country, his doctors have given him a clean bill of health, I don’t think it should be an issue in the campaign.
Q: There’s been a back and forth, not only on the GI Bill, but today the McCain campaign criticized you for not voting for the emergency war supplemental that had veterans’ benefits added to it. The question is, is that an issue you might lack credibility on given McCain’s record and you’re going to have to try to make more headway heading towards the general?
BO: I will cede to no one the ability to talk about veterans’ issues. My grandfather was a veteran. Those veterans’ benefits helped my grandparents to raise my mother. I have veterans throughout the state of Illinois who I’ve been fighting for since I came to the United States Senate. I will continue to advocate fiercely on their behalf, and the fact is our track record of treating veterans has not been what it should be. John McCain will have to decide whether he thinks that the current level of benefits is sufficient. If he does, then that’s a substantive debate that we’ll have in November. Anything else?
Q: [paraphrases] Question about differences with Bush/McCain approach to foreign policy?
BO: I haven’t studied his proposals thoroughly. I know my cap and trade system is more aggressive than his. I know that he has not favored fuel efficiency standards on cars. So he’s been much less detailed in terms he expects to meet even the more modest targets that he’s set. Now, that isn’t to say there isn’t some overlap. That is to say that you cant get there unless you’re willing to make some hard choices, and I have not seen in making some serious and hard choices in order to achieve these climate change goals. If you’re not even willing to raise fuel efficiency standards on cars, how is it that he thinks we’re going to reduce greenhouse gases in a significant way? The fact that his position is…well, let me put it this way. The fact that he acknowledges global warming relative to this president is obviously an improvement, but I don’t think that’s far enough.
Q: [paraphrased] Question about seating the Florida delegates and why this wasn’t a larger part of his message in Florida?
BO: Why wasn’t the elephant in the room? I had probably 15 interviews with local press and that was the first question every single one of them asked. At the last rally we had I specifically brought it up.
Q: What do you hope to come out of it?
BO: Resolution. I just want them to decide how to approach this in a way in which the Florida and Michigan delegations are seated, and they’re happy. And if that happens, if they feel they’ve been treated fairly, and they’re seated, then I’m happy. I want to be looking at them when I’m standing on stage in Denver in August.
Q: [Paraphrased] Question about whether he is concerned that talk about the delegates will still continue?
BO: I think that angle will go away once it’s resolved. And of course I’d have to find out who was the …[muffled sound] … Clinton supporters. [reporter interrupts: “uncommitted”]Yeah right, ok. I mean I’m just saying, yes the Clinton campaign has been stirring this up, for fairly transparent reasons. They weren’t stirring it up when they didn’t need the delegates, right? I think, let’s not pretend that we don’t know what’s going on. I mean this is from their perspective their last slender hope to make arguments about how they can win, and I understand that, what ive said is I want to make the Flordia delegates seated. Once they’re seated, then I think this is going to be a story that nobody’s going to think about come August.
Q: [Paraphrased] Question about whether Senator Clinton can still win?
BO: I think you should address that to her. We’re just going to finish up. We’ve got three more contests, we’ve got to hit a certain number in order to achieve the nomination and that’s what we’re shooting for, and that’s what we’re going to use.
Q: She’s been saying inflammatory things on the campaign trail about the Florida delegates, like comparing you to Zimbabwe, and all of that. Do you think that can ultimately hurt the party? I know you say the party will be unified after this, but she seems to be stirring up all of this anger. You don’t think that’s going to follow you to the convention?
BO: I think the Democrats are going to be focused on who’s going to stop the war, who’s going to be making Supreme Court appointments, who’s going to have a serious energy policy, who’s going to bring good jobs and good wages. Who’s going to continue the Bush tax cuts, and who’s going to give a middle class tax cut. Those are fundamental issues that people are going to be making determinations about. And the notion that the folks in Florida who are trying to struggle with $4 gas and not being able to get property insurance for their house during hurricane season are going to be making decisions based on a political tempest that occurred during a primary, I don’t see it. I think that they would be frustrated if they were completely ignored, if they weren’t participating in the convention, but no, I don’t think that’s going to be what will be a determining factor in November.
Q: Let’s talk about the vice presidential search. Aren’t you getting to the point where, because of time left, you have to begin seriously thinking about the vetting process, and how to handle it?
BO: We’ve got 10 days before the primaries and caucuses are over, and at that point we’re going to have to pick it quickly, should I be the nominee, to make sure we’re going through that process in a responsible way.
Q: You can afford to give up those 10 days?
BO: Well I’m not giving them up, I mean we’re, obviously…
Q: Time out of the search process?