Guests: Andrea Mitchell, Brian Williams, Lisa Caputo, Ray Sekoff, Willie Brown, Adam Smith, Lanny Davis, Barack Obama
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: We have got breaking news tonight: Hillary Clinton will end her campaign for president this Friday and endorse presumptive nominee, Barack Obama. And the “Wall Street Journal” reporting tonight that close advisers to Senator Obama are signaling that an Obama-Clinton ticket is, quote, “highly unlikely.” According to the journal, Bill Clinton‘s likely unwillingness to release financial records was the, quote, “deal breaker.”
Joining me now is Lisa Caputo, former press secretary for then First Lady Hillary Clinton. We‘re also joined by NBC political analyst, Jonathan Alter; and, former San Francisco mayor, Willie Brown; and the editor of the Huffington Post, Roy Sekoff.
Lisa, let me start with you. There‘s been a lot of talk of pressure that Hillary Clinton has been under today from members of Congress, from senators to pull out. True?
LISA CAPUTO, FMR. HILLARY CLINTON PRESS SECRETARY: Not true, actually. Let‘s take a step back for a second and everybody should just take a breather. She has 18 million votes. Senator Obama has slightly fewer. She won South Dakota last night as Senator Obama reached the magic number.
What she did last night was I think completely appropriate in terms of courting her supporters, reaching out to her supporters to say, you know—I‘m always here for you. She‘s going to do the responsible thing and migrate her supporters gradually and the right way towards the presumptive nominee Senator Obama. So, there wasn‘t all this pressure. She‘s acknowledging the 18 million people who support her.
ABRAMS: But, look, but there was pressure. I mean, there were people on our air today, Charlie Rangel was on our air today, talking about this saying - but expressing—and look, whether you agree with them or not, they felt that she should have been—said different things last night.
CAPUTO: But you know what, Dan? With all due respect, let‘s just put this in a historical context, if you would. Bill Bradley got out of the race in March and didn‘t endorse Al Gore until July. Jesse Jackson took it to the convention. Ted Kennedy took it to the convention -
ABRAMS: But that‘s an explanation of why they of -
CAPUTO: No. But hold on, why is there a different standard for Senator Clinton?
ABRAMS: I‘m not disagreeing with you. What I‘m saying is that there was pressure. I mean, I‘m not saying there should have been pressure, right?
CAPUTO: You know what? There‘s been talking punditry all day long. If that‘s what, I think, is said about this, instead of taking a step back and recognizing the historical occurrence that‘s occurred. We have the first African-American to seal the nomination and we have the first woman to get 18 million votes. It‘s crazy.
ABRAMS: You‘re barking up the wrong tree with me, because last night, I was the one of this, on saying that I thought that people were overreacting to Clinton‘s speech last night.
But, Andrea Mitchell joins us on the phone who‘s covering the Clinton campaign.
Andrea, all right. Look, we‘ve been talking already about what led to Hillary Clinton to make this decision now as opposed to last night. What is your reporting telling you?
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: My reporting is that she wanted a little bit more time. That she didn‘t realize the extent to which the congressional supporters in the House and Senate would feel pressured. That they really had to make endorsements—they couldn‘t wait any longer.
And when Charlie Rangel organized members of Congress and 23 members then go on the phone with her this afternoon, they said they needed to endorse, they were put on the spot, and they really were pressuring her to do something and do it sooner than she might wanted to. She didn‘t really specify how much time she wanted. She was telling people she was making decisions day by day. But clearly, that was a telling moment.
Now, there was a call that Howard Fineman reported on, a similar call from eight members of the Senate. I was told that her impression that - Senator Clinton‘s impression was that was more supportive, that that was a little bit more understanding and considering the collegiality of the Senate, that‘s understandable. There‘s a very different tone and approach from senators like Barbara Mikulski and Dianne Feinstein, who‘s been among her strongest and original supporters, that‘s a close knit group of women on the Senate.
That said, you know, I think there clearly was pressure and that the timing was advanced.
ABRAMS: And was she surprised, do you think, by the amount of the pressure?
MITCHELL: I‘m not sure if I should speak for whether she was surprise, but clearly this was not pressure that came from the Obama campaign, the Obama campaign has been decidedly respectful of the need for her to decelerate. Look, she‘s been through an extraordinary 16 months of activity and Barack Obama, I think, was being honest when he said publicly that he alone understands what she‘s been through—the journey that they have really been through together.
And so, I don‘t think that he was, and he, certainly, politically wouldn‘t want to be perceived by all of her many supporters, millions of supporters—including passionate women supporters—perceived to be pushing her out. That was the impression that led many people feel to her come from behind victory in New Hampshire, that he was disrespectful to her in that Saturday night debate when he says, “I like you well enough, Hillary.”
So, you know, there were a lot of tactical reasons here as well. But I do think that there was a growing sense of her supporters in the homes (ph) and even I talked to and willing to be named that she didn‘t approach the other night with the graciousness that the moment deserved because of the historic nature of his victory.
ABRAMS: We‘re getting this from our hot file which is where we get the breaking news from, that Friday is expected to be a staff event at the White Haven home in D.C., a private event for her staff members. Saturday, she will suspend the campaign in Washington at an event for supporters.
Lisa, is that consistent of what you know?
CAPUTO: That is accurate. And just to add a little bit to what Andrea has reported, as always Andrea does great reporting, you know, I think it‘s hard to have expected her to concede last night after winning South Dakota, after having the 18 million votes, after not even talking to her staff. She spent today talking to members of Congress, huddled up with her advisers. She had an all staff meeting inside the campaign headquarters.
So, Hillary does think in a methodical way. She will do the right thing. And I think, you know, her intention always was to do the right thing. But this expectation she should have conceded last night, I don‘t think was really fair.
ABRAMS: Well, but it was interesting, if you actually listen to people from the Obama campaign publicly, most of them were saying—look, we‘re OK with this, but there was a lot of pressure in the press.
CAPUTO: Well, I think, pressure in the press and, I think, Andrea‘s reporting is spot on. That, you know, members of Congress who are superdelegates are put in an interesting situation here. Somebody like Rahm Emanuel who‘s worked for President Clinton but is very close to Senator Obama, you know - he stayed neutral. And it was time, you know, for him to make a move and he called Senator Clinton.
ABRAMS: We‘re continuing with our breaking news coverage with the announcement that Hillary Clinton will suspend her campaign officially on Saturday. First, with an in-house meeting on Friday, and then in a public event on Saturday.
Andrea, I‘m finding some of your reporting now, so you can probably tell us more about it, that she will endorse but will not waive her right to have her name placed in the nomination. Can you explain that to us?
MITCHELL: Well, technically, there are a lot of legal things that go into a campaign. And technically, she‘s suspending her name which means that - and her name could be placed in nomination. She‘s not saying that that‘s going to happen but that could be a symbolic moment, that could be one of things that is discussed in the coming weeks between her and the Obama campaign.
As the people involved tell me, this is like a train that‘s moving very fast and to stop it on a dime is difficult. There are a lot of things to be discussed down the road. But she wanted it to be very clear that she is suspending her campaign without negotiating any of these details with the Obama people.
That, you know—obviously, there‘s been political pressure from people on the Hill. Everyone is acknowledging that. But it has not come at the price of her sitting down and saying - well, I‘ll do this if you do this. That‘s not where they are. That will happen. There will be discussions presumably about campaign debt and about, you know, perhaps using some of her people.
And Lisa was one person who has suggested the other night that she‘s got this extraordinary women‘s outreach group which could be an in place operation that could be transferred over to him as they begin to discuss unity. So, she will talk about party unity when she has this public event and she will endorse him and suspend her campaign.
ABRAMS: The “Associated Press” had reported that there was surprise in the campaign that had happened today and that people were scrambling with regard to logistics, et cetera.
CAPUTO: Well -
MITCHELL: I think that‘s probably -
CAPUTO: Go ahead, Andrea.
MITCHELL: Well, Lisa, I think you know better than I. I think it did come out a little bit sloppily.
CAPUTO: I think there is absolutely an element of truth to that. I mean, again, she had not talked to her staff and she was in the headquarters today and I think things started to move progressively quickly. So, yes—I think there‘s an element of truth to that for sure.
ABRAMS: And what about this report from the “Wall Street Journal” that close advisers are saying that an Obama-Clinton ticket is highly unlikely? What do make of that, Lisa?
CAPUTO: Are these advisers to the Obama campaign or?
ABRAMS: It says people in both camps cited what several called a “deal-breaker”—Bill Clinton may balk at releasing records of his business dealings and big donors to his presidential library.
CAPUTO: You know, I mean, this is so speculative. What should happen here is—a process should take place. The Obama campaign, they‘ve announced the committee today, they‘ve expanded to Jim Johnson, Eric Holder, Caroline Kennedy. They should conduct the full vetting process.
I think there‘s no doubt Hillary Clinton should be on that list and, I think, you know, no one would expect that she would go in there and demand to be put on ticket. Not her style.
ABRAMS: Does she want it?
CAPUTO: You know, I honestly don‘t know. I think that she‘s got a lot of options. I think certainly being on the ticket would be very attractive. She would bring an enormous amount to the ticket, the women‘s vote and blue-collar working vote. You know, she‘s won these swing states.
The geopolitics of the prospect of hopefully being able to deliver Florida and Arkansas for that ticket would be huge. But also, to think about going back to the Senate, remember, people run for the presidency who have gone back to the Senate—Senator Kennedy, Senator Gore and then later run for the presidency, elevated their stature. Al Gore is a perfect example, I think, you know, landed onto the vice presidency.
ABRAMS: Willie Brown, look, you‘ve been involved in a lot of the campaigns. What do you make of tonight‘s developments? Let‘s start with the issue of Clinton suspending her campaign this weekend?
WILLIE BROWN, FORMER MAYOR OF SAN FRANCISCO: I think it‘s the most natural step. I‘m just surprised that it came so early. But, after all of calls that must have been made from people on the Hill wanting very much to leave the Hillary camp and go with the winner, she literally had to move ahead of them if she possibly could and I think she did.
ABRAMS: I have to say, Roy Sekoff, a lot of Obama supporters were really upset last night at Hillary Clinton. And look, you know, look, could she have thrown in some lines attacking John McCain and maybe a line or two more supporting Barack Obama—sure.
But why so much frustration and anger last night at the notion that she didn‘t concede—why did she have to concede last night as opposed to this weekend? I mean, are people going to look back on this and say—she stepped down on Saturday as opposed to Tuesday night?
ROY SEKOFF, HUFFINGTON POST: Yes. No, Dan, I don‘t think she had to concede. But I think the moment where Terry McAuliffe said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the next president of the United States,” it just kind of people‘s heads snapped back and went—what fantasy are they living in? I think that moment was really the one that threw people off.
But I‘ll tell you what really surprise me—on the Huffington Post all day today, we had people who were die-hard Hillary Clinton supporters who were saying, it just didn‘t feel right. It wasn‘t the Obama people, you know, that was to be expected. But it was the Hillary Clinton supporter who were saying - hey, look, I‘m not a bargaining chip, I‘m not here for you to negotiate with me.
And that‘s what we saw Ed Rendell say.
ABRAMS: Yes. I know that there were some Hillary Clinton supporters saying. Let me ask you -
SEKOFF: But you also saw Ed Rendell say the same thing, right? I mean, you don‘t bargain with the presidential nominee.
ABRAMS: Right. He didn‘t say the same thing about a bargaining chip, but I saw what he said.
All right. Lisa Caputo, let me come back to you about the mood. Is there sadness within the camp?
CAPUTO: Oh, sure, there‘s enormous disappointment. Absolutely, I mean, 17 months of this, I mean, having gone through just the sure grip of a campaign. I mean, my God, I‘ve done a couple of them myself, and they were abbreviated compared to this. Everything is abbreviated compare to this. So, sure, there‘s immense disappointment.
ABRAMS: Is there a sense, internally - God, we had this, we blew it, it was, it was in our grasps?
CAPUTO: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. I‘d be lying if I said otherwise. I mean, that‘s completely human. Of course there is. It was within their grasp and clearly Senator Obama ran a great campaign. He had an amazing ground game. I think there were mistakes made on the Clinton side obviously.
But, I think, let‘s remember one thing—she‘s already doing the right things. Today, at AIPAC, she got up and really gave a real rounding endorsement to Senator Obama on the Israel issue and really kind of putting her arm around the Jewish voters trying to make them feel OK about -
ABRAMS: And she used the future tense there, too. She said he will make a good friend.
CAPUTO: She did. I mean, that is a major step, I think, in the right direction and really should have gotten more play today than it did because there was so much air time spent talking about what is she doing, why didn‘t she concede? And yet, today, she did something that I thought was enormously positive and the right thing to do for the party.
ABRAMS: You should know that before this breaking news happened that was included in our show. But, you know, this news has come up.
Let me, finally, was it a surprise to you when you heard about it that it was today that Hillary Clinton had said—I‘m out?
CAPUTO: Not entirely, no. Not entirely.
ABRAMS: All right. Lisa Caputo, thank you very much for coming on. Appreciate it.
CAPUTO: Nice to be with you.
ABRAMS: The panel is going to stay with us. We‘re going to continue with more on this breaking news that Hillary Clinton will officially suspend her campaign on Saturday and endorse Barack Obama. We‘ve also going an interview that Brian Williams did with Barack Obama just hours ago where he asked whether he would pick Hillary as his V.P.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We‘re not going to be rushed into it. I don‘t think Senator Clinton expects a quick decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Full coverage of that interview and our continuing coverage of this breaking news coming up in a moment.
ABRAMS: We are continuing our breaking news coverage that Hillary Clinton will officially suspend her campaign on Friday. She will announce it to her staffers on Saturday. It will be announced publicly and we‘ve got some more breaking news about the possibility of an Obama-Clinton ticket. Coming up in a moment.
ABRAMS: Continuing now with our breaking news—the news that Hillary Clinton will suspend her campaign on Friday.
Joining us now is Congressman Adam Smith, a Democrat and Obama supporter.
All right. Representative Smith, there is a lot of pressure on Hillary Clinton from members of Congress today to pull out. What do you know about it?
REP. ADAM SMITH, (D) WASHINGTON: I don‘t know that that‘s actually true. I know Senator Clinton had a conference call with some of her supporters in Congress. You know, I‘ve been listening to the media all day today and I think it‘s very much overblown.
ABRAMS: All right. Well, here‘s Charlie Rangel talking about it on our air today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHARLIE RANGEL, (D) NEW YORK: We have solid support for her. It‘s just that we are having difficulty explaining why we‘re holding back on the endorsement in view of what she said last night.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: That I think Representative Smith was reflective of what many members of Congress were saying, which we‘re told, that there was a conversation with approximately 23 Clinton supporters from Congress, eight senators, et cetera.
I have to say, I saw you earlier on the air saying you didn‘t think there was a rush, saying it‘s OK that there was a dissent within the Obama camp, that this needed to happen immediately.
SMITH: Right. I mean, the bottom line is, Senator Obama finished off an amazing victory last night and that is what we are focused on this morning, and feeling very good about it—about the campaign that he ran, the supporters that he has built up in many different parts of the country, the issues she‘s running on, his message, all that feel good.
And you know, personally, you know, Senator Clinton last night, you know, within hours of after, you know, finally finding out that Senator Obama would have enough delegates, I expect her to stand up and that point and say—it‘s over, I‘m out—I think it‘s a little ridiculous.
To have a couple of days to think about it, to talk to her supporters, to talk to Charlie Rangel and others who are her supporters and figure out exactly what she wants to say and how she wants to say it is perfectly reasonable and that‘s what she did. And as I‘ve—Friday or Saturday I gather, she‘s going to make that announcement.
And meanwhile, on our front, on the Obama campaign, Senator Obama gave a great speech today to AIPAC, he have a great speech last night, which, I think, contrasted very favorably with the speech that John McCain did, so -
ABRAMS: Let me go back to Andrea Mitchell for a minute.
Andrea, but the reality is that the heat was on Hillary Clinton today whether it should have been or it shouldn‘t have been—on Capitol Hill, the heat was on?
MITCHELL: I‘m sorry, could you repeat the question?
ABRAMS: I was asking you about the amount of heat that Hillary Clinton was getting on Capitol Hill today from her own supporters.
MITCHELL: I think a lot. I think, you know, it‘s understandable that Congressman Smith, an Obama supporter, who has been very respectful of Hillary Clinton‘s space (ph), would not be one of the people on the spot. It‘s the people who were (AUDIO BREAK) supporters who are being pressed to support Barack Obama now that he is the presumptive nominee of the party, who couldn‘t explain to her (ph) people, especially if you can imagine people like Charlie Rangel in New York City who has really been, you know, held responsible for having launched Hillary Clinton into politics by suggesting she run for the Senate (AUDIO BREAK).
But look at his district. He represents Harlem. A lot of the people in that community have to be very strong supporters of Barack Obama and, you know, as popular as Charlie Rangel is, I mean, you know, he could run for king in Harlem. He‘s such an extraordinary character and such a great congressman as far as, you know, everyone has ever worked around him is concerned.
This is a lot of pressure on a politician. So, he‘s only one of the many members of Congress who are really getting increasingly distressed. She has Rahm Emanuel who did call her today and he was, you know, (INAUDIBLE) about not endorsing Barack Obama, even though they were close friends, he‘s from Chicago, but he had worked in the Clinton White House and felt as a matter of loyalty and debt to Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton that he really had to stick with them. But he called her primarily today and did come out and endorse.
ABRAMS: Andrea, can we read from the fact that there‘s been some minor confusion about when this announcement was going to be made. First we heard Friday, then it was—it‘s just going to be for staffers, the public announcement will be made on Saturday. Is part of this the result of the fact that they‘re still scrambling to deal with the logistics as we speak?
MITCHELL: Yes. And I think that, you know, these are completely reflective the obvious concerns that staff members—this has been their life for 16 months, many of them are very young. This is not just a matter of passion, it‘s their livelihood, you know, it‘s their families, they‘ve got lots of connections that go back years with the Clintons. Some of them came out of the Clinton White House, from them came out of Bill Clinton‘s operation.
And this is a matter of ideology as well and loyalty. This is an emotional drain on these people and they heard about it because of leaks in the news media. So, she‘s got to deal with that.
ABRAMS: Let me read this to former Mayor Willie Brown. This is from the “Wall Street Journal,” also breaking tonight, says that “close advisers to Senator Obama signaled an Obama-Clinton ticket was highly unlikely. People in both camps cited a “deal-breaker”—Bill Clinton may balk at releasing records of his business dealings and big donors to his presidential library.”
I mean, Willie, it seems to me that that‘s something that could be overcome. I mean, if Hillary Clinton really wanted the job, they could probably deal with this, couldn‘t they.
BROWN: There is no question. As a matter of fact, I would suggest to you that the three people who are on that vetted committee, they will probably—they‘ll have some standards that they will establish. They will talk about how you examine all aspects of the lives of the prospective candidates that they are looking at and, of course, the financial dealings of those candidates will be very, very important.
And I would guess that every possible effort would be made if they said to Senator Hillary Clinton, we‘d like to have you in. They would have every effort to make sure the vetting process would, in fact, established Bill Clinton as an honorable, ethical ex-president of the United States.
ABRAMS: We‘re going to talk more about this issue, the V.P., in a minute. The panel is going to stay with us.
Coming up: More on the breaking news, Hillary Clinton, suspending her campaign on Saturday when she will endorse Barack Obama. And we‘ve also got an interview that Brian Williams did with Barack Obama where he asked him about Bill Clinton today.
That interview and more of our breaking news coverage, coming up in a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS)
OBAMA: I think, you know, she needs to catch her breath, I need to catch mine. I think all of our supporters need to just sit back and let things sink in. We‘re going to go through a process in the vice presidential search where I look at a whole range of options.
This is one of the most important decisions I can make and I think will signal how I want to operate my presidency. And so, we‘re not going to be rushed into it. I don‘t think Senator Clinton expects a quick decision and I don‘t even know that she‘s necessarily interested in it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Whether she is or not, she certainly didn‘t get a whole lot of time to catch her breath because we‘re continuing with the breaking news that Hillary Clinton will suspend her campaign for president with events on Friday for staff; on Saturday, in a public event.
Let me go back to Roy Sekoff from the Huffington Post.
Roy, look, there was a lot of people last night, who were angry at Hillary Clinton, saying, she‘s got to pull out, she‘s got to pull out, why is she waiting, why is she waiting?
Now that she‘s made this announcement, do you think that maybe some of those people were overreacting in saying that she had to get out immediately, that the difference between her getting out last night and her getting out in a week after that, or four days after that, in the end doesn‘t really make much of a difference?
SEKOFF: Yes. Like I said, I think it‘s mostly the atmosphere, Dan. I mean, it was like, basically, a campaign rally, it was until, you know, no one saying she had to get out and make this immediate decision. It was just the tone of the, you know, “Here‘s the next president and I‘ve got the most votes.”
ABRAMS: There were people saying that, there were people saying that as a matter of protocol she needed to get out, that the minute Obama got the magic number, she should have said, he‘s won, I concede. But, I think there is something different.
Let me go to Mayor Brown on this. I think there is something different about this campaign because it was so close and it has been so hard fought that allows Clinton some time to be able to say—I‘m going to figure things out but don‘t worry, I‘m going to concede?
BROWN: Well, not only that. Let me tell you, if I‘m Barack Obama or any other candidate and I‘ve just defeated my rivals, I need their support; I want their support. I‘m going to publicly and privately ask for their support and I‘m not going to expect them to volunteer that support unless I clearly indicate I need it and desire it. Sen. Obama must have Hillary Clinton.
SEKOFF: And Mayor Brown, that‘s what he did last night, right? I mean, he was very gracious.
BROWN: He was more than gracious. As a matter of fact ...
BROWN: ... he was far above the wave that it was unbelievable. And I guarantee you what he said today that you‘ve just quoted, I guarantee you he‘s on the telephone to Hillary asking for her help and saying, “What do I need to do to get you ...
ABRAMS: All right.
BROWN: ... to work as hard for me as you worked for you?
ABRAMS: And if she says, “The answer is I want to be the vice president of the United States? Rep. Smith?
BROWN: His response - his response has got to be, “I‘ve set up a process and a procedure. I‘m calling them right now ...”
HAMMER: But Sen. Obama, “You just said to me, tell me what I need and I‘m telling you - “
SEKOFF: No open ended question like that.
ABRAMS: Hang on. Go ahead. Rep. Smith, go ahead.
SMITH: She‘s not going to say that. Sen. Clinton is a professional, very smart and capable person and ran a very good campaign. And she‘s not going to say, you know, “I‘m not going to support you unless you make me vice president.” That‘s not going to happen.
ABRAMS: No, but that wasn‘t the question. The question was, “What do I need to do to get you campaign as hard and as vigorously as you did in the primary?” I don‘t think there‘s any question ...
SMITH: I don‘t think -
ABRAMS: ... that Hillary Clinton is going to support him.
SMITH: I don‘t think he‘s going to have to do much, I mean other than what he did last night. Obviously, you know, he‘s going to have to be gracious and respectful of her, but he has been, and continuous to be. You know, look, all the speculation that I heard today about Sen. Clinton - It think it‘s just horribly misplaced, I don‘t think there‘s anyone who seriously doubts that Sen. Clinton is going to enthusiastically support Sen. Obama now that he‘s the nominee.
And she is not going to ask for things. I‘ve heard this speculation all day long like there‘s going to be some, you know, back and forth, “You have to give me this. You have to give me that.” That‘s not going to happen.
Sen. Clinton is going to say, “I‘m with you. I will do absolutely everything I can to help you.” And Sen. Obama is going to be gracious and he will probably help her with a couple of things as well. You know, these are two people who know what is at stake here, and they are going to work together to make sure we elect Barack Obama president in the fall.
ABRAMS: Well, you know, that‘s the idyllic way of looking at it. We shall see if that becomes the practical way as well because our guest and the next -
SMITH: I‘ll make a side bet with you on that, Dan. I‘m very confident.
ABRAMS: Well, I can tell you - I‘ll tell you our guests in the next segment is already setting up a petition to make sure Hillary Clinton is the VP, so that could add to a little bit of a wrinkle. But up next, the Brian Williams interview with Obama, what he has to say about Bill Clinton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, DEMOCRATIC PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Moving forward, I‘m going to need Bill Clinton involved in this process. He still is a transcendent political figure in this country and I want him involved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Brian also asked Obama what role Hillary Clinton might play. That interview when we come back with the breaking news coverage in a moment.
ABRAMS: We‘re back with continuing breaking news coverage tonight. NBC News has confirmed that Hillary Clinton will drop out of the Democratic race on Saturday and endorse Barack Obama. That decision apparently made after more than 20 Democratic members of congress urged her to leave the race on a conference call and allow the party to unite around Obama.
Joining us on the phone is Beth Fouhy. She‘s a political reporter for the Associated Press who has been covering the Clinton campaign. Beth, thanks for joining us. All right. So how is this expected to work, meaning logistically.
BETH FOUHY, ASSOCIATED PRESS POLITICAL REPORTER COVERING CLINTON: Well, the ironic thing, Dan, is for a campaign that started at such a juggernaut, it is really seeming to set a sputter to an end. The campaign was actually caught very much off guard by the phone call you described in which Sen. Clinton heard from supporters in congress that even though they wanted her to be president, it simply wasn‘t going to happen and that she needed to bring her campaign to a close to achieve party unity.
So basically, that call and the discussion that happened on that call was the thing that prompted the campaign to say Sen. Clinton was leaving rather than vice versa. The call got her out rather than Sen. Clinton deciding formally to get out. So now, the campaign is scrambling to pull together the logistics of the event that it wants to have. Originally, they said it was going to take place Friday. Instead, it‘s going to take place Saturday, a public event where she will thank her supporters, announce support for Sen. Obama, urge the party to get together and unify to defeat John McCain in November. She‘s going to have a staff party on Friday instead.
ABRAMS: All right. Now, when we say that she‘s going to suspend her campaign, is there some technical difference between suspending her campaign and dropping out?
FOUHY: It‘s a technical difference. It‘s only a technical difference. It‘s not an important difference that matters to anybody beyond FEC lawyers basically. She‘s ending her campaign. Her campaign will be no more. She does allow herself the opportunity to hold on to her delegates. Let‘s not forget she got almost as many delegates as Barack Obama and that is a powerful tool for her as they go towards the convention. And she can use those delegates and what they represent as leverage for something else.
ABRAMS: All right. Beth Fouhy, thanks very much. We‘re just getting this in, that Barack Obama was at a fundraiser tonight in New York City. And he was asked how he feels, the question was now that the last person in America now appears to acknowledge you‘ll be the Democratic nominee. Then Obama said, quote, “Truth is I haven‘t had time to think about it. This weekend, I‘m going home, talk it over with Michelle and we‘re going on a date.”
NBC‘s Brian Williams had a chance to speak with Barack Obama earlier tonight about a range of issues from President Clinton‘s possible role in his campaign, winning over Hillary Clinton‘s voters, to the big question, might Obama make Hillary his running mate?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Specifically on the vice presidential issue, has she, at minimum, tried to jam you?
OBAMA: Well, look, you know, we just completed a very hard-fought contest. And I think, you know, she needs to catch her breath. I need to catch mine. I think all our supporters need to just sit back and let things sink in. We‘re going to go through a process in the vice presidential search where I look at a whole range of options. This is one of the most important decisions I can make. And I think we‘ll signal how I want to operate my presidency.
And so, we‘re not going to be rushed into it. I don‘t think Sen. Clinton expects a quick decision and I don‘t even know that she‘s necessarily interested in that. But, you know, her remarkable accomplishments would indicate that she would be on anybody‘s short list. I‘ve said that before. And I‘m sure by the time this thing is all over, not only will that immediate issue be resolved, but Sen. Clinton and I are going to be working together to make sure Democrats are successful and we take back the White House.
WILLIAMS: As Sen. Clinton points out regularly, there are a whole lot of Democrats who didn‘t vote for Barack Obama, some threatening they would rather vote for John McCain. How do you now, going forward, run your own campaign, and if you‘re successful, run your own presidency while paying homage, while paying tribute to the people who voted the other way that those people who believe passionately in Sen. Clinton‘s candidacy and what she stands for?
OBAMA: Well, first of all, this is not unique to this contest. You‘ll recall in 2000, there were all sorts of John McCain supporters who said, “We‘ll never vote for George Bush,” and they ended up voting for George Bush. You know, it‘s happened before. I don‘t take those who voted for Sen. Clinton as an insult. I just think that they preferred her in a match-up between me and her. But that doesn‘t mean that they are going to prefer me in a match-up with John McCain.
WILLIAMS: What would you like to say about former President Clinton? Did he hurt you in this campaign? Did he hurt himself?
OBAMA: You know, look, there is nobody more talented - there‘s nobody more gifted than Bill Clinton when it comes to, not just politics but understanding the broad cross currents of America.
Moving forward I‘m going to need Bill Clinton involved in this process. He still is a transcendent political figure in this country and I want him involved, and I‘ll be looking for his counsel and his advice.
WILLIAMS: In what way? What kind of involvement?
OBAMA: Look, you know, the guy campaigned hard. I mean he was, you know, one of tough things for us, especially when we were campaigning in big states, was Hillary could be in one corner of the state and Bill would be in the other. And he was visiting, you know, small towns all across America as well as big cities all across America and is a very effective advocate. So we would love him to be campaigning on behalf of Democrats generally in November.
WILLIAMS: What‘s the biggest hurdle as you view it from the perch of less than 24 hours as the presumed nominee of your party?
OBAMA: I think that so far, at least, what we‘ve been seeing from the Republicans is the attempt to paint me as a very risky choice as president, partly around national security but partly around cultural issues. And, you know, “He‘s got a funny name and we don‘t know where he‘s coming from. And he may be, you know, not sufficiently patriotic.”
I think that‘s going to be the race they run. If we end up debating the issues and governments and how we‘re going to move the country forward, I think the Democrats are going to win and I think I‘ll be president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: We will play more of that interview and more of our continuing coverage of this breaking news about Hillary Clinton announcing that she will be dropping out of the race on Saturday. The question, how does that decision impact any chance of her becoming the VP? Up next, in a moment.
ABRAMS: Our continuing coverage of the breaking news tonight. Sen. Hillary Clinton will suspend her campaign and endorse Barack Obama. A group started by two former Clinton aides still plan to run ads in swing states urging Obama to pick Clinton as his running mate.
BET founder, Bob Johnson, said in a letter today that African-American leaders in congress demanding Clinton be placed on the Obama ticket, while a top-Clinton ally, Lanny Davis, is circulating an online petition urging Obama to pick Clinton.
Joining the panel is that man, former special counsel to Bill Clinton, Lanny Davis. Lanny, thanks for joining us. All right. Look, the news tonight that Hillary Clinton is going to suspend the campaign this weekend. Do you think this sort of petition is just going to hurt the cause rather than help?
LANNY DAVIS, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL TO BILL CLINTON: No, the petition is designed to give Sen. Obama, in his best interest, a dream ticket. And we think that he makes the final decision. We respect his decision. I did this on my own without asking permission of Sen. Clinton. In fact, I told her specifically if she told me not to do it, I would do it any way.
So this is my personal decision, that when you have these two candidates who show such strength, 35 million votes, $400 million - they appealed to different constituencies. Sen. Clinton has strength where Sen. Obama does not and vice versa, that this is a dream ticket. And this petition is designed to show Sen. Obama the depth of support around (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
ABRAMS: Let‘s assume people agree with you. Let‘s assume that there are people who say, “You know what? I think he‘s right. I think they would make it.”
DAVIS: There are people -
ABRAMS: There‘s no question. They would make a really good ticket. But you know what? The last thing Obama wants right now, when Hillary Clinton is pulling out this weekend, is Lanny Davis passing around some petition for people to sign to pressure Obama to put her on the ticket.
DAVIS: Well, I‘m not sure that‘s true because Sen. Obama wants to hear and wants to connect with people who he didn‘t get votes from, as well as his own supporters who admire Sen. Clinton and want her on the ticket. And the letter I wrote was very carefully - you can find it at “VoteBoth.com.”
ABRAMS: All right. We got it. OK.
You got your chance to plug. Rep. Smith, let me ask you this. So Lanny is basically saying, look, it‘s respectful, et cetera. Is this going to, do you think, hurt the cause - as an Obama supporter, do you think it hurts the cause of Hillary Clinton getting on the ticket to have this kind of petition submitted?
SMITH: I do not, and I don‘t think it huts Sen. Obama‘s campaign either. You know, look, there‘s a whole lot of people - gosh, there‘s hundreds of thousands of Democrats right now who have very strong opinions about who the vice presidential nominee should be. And they‘re going to express them in a variety of ways.
You know, Lanny, I think, is a strong advocate of Sen. Clinton. I‘ve seen him doing that, you know, ever since this campaign started, and he wants to see her on the ticket and he‘s making his petition. I think that‘s perfectly fine. Now, at the end of the day, as I think we all acknowledge, Sen. Obama‘s going to make the choice here and I think everybody recognizes that. But sure, you can lobby for your favorite choice, that doesn‘t hurt anything.
ABRAMS: Mayor Brown, isn‘t it a dream ticket to some degree? I mean I know there‘s no question that Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton bring some negatives with them. But in the end, if they want to win, shouldn‘t she be the pick?
BROWN: It‘s an absolute dream team, and if Barack Obama asked me, I would tell him, “You should take Hillary Clinton.” On the other hand, though, I think, my good friend, Lanny Davis - I think if I‘m Barack Obama, I really don‘t want to have to disappoint a lot of people who signed a petition because I‘m going to need those people in the fall. And I would hope that that petition is designed so that if my signature goes on it and it isn‘t obeyed, I don‘t leave the side where I should be on in November.
SMITH: Yes, absolutely.
DAVIS: Mayor Brown, what I was trying to say when Dan moved on was that the letter specifically says, “We respect your decision and when you make it, we will support your decision. This is about giving you the enthusiasm that‘s out there for Sen. Clinton.”
ABRAMS: All right -
If he decides on someone else, I‘m still 100 percent for Sen. Obama and hoping everyone else will be as well.
ABRAMS: Fair enough. So what‘s the problem, Roy? I mean why are there so many Obama supporters who are saying still, “No way. No how. We don‘t want her”?
SEKOFF: Dan, I think Barack Obama gave the key in the interview with Brian Williams when he said that the pick was going to show how he‘s going to operate. This is a new era, he‘s about a new politics, is there anything about having Bill and Hillary down the hall that says new to you? I mean, that‘s the thing. I think it goes against the brand. I don‘t think it works. I think it throws it off. And of course, you know, Lanny has the right to do it. But don‘t you think Obama knows that she got 18 million votes? You‘ve been telling us that again and again and again. So I don‘t think the petition necessarily helps put the idea in his head.
DAVIS: No, but what it does do is help connect him to these people who are out there who he really does need to reach. And if we can help be the bridge, which all of us in the Clinton campaign know, that Hillary Clinton is strong among women, among Hispanics, among seniors, among working Americans and where he‘s strong, and you‘re right, in new generation, young people, in new voters and independents and professionals, that combination we hope we can help bridge. So if there‘s anything here that suggests we‘re trying to jam Sen. Obama, that is not true.
SEKOFF: Right. No, but once it gets to the issues, are there really Hillary supporters who are not going to vote for Obama when it comes down to an issue between, we want the war to continue, we want the war to end. We want the tax cuts permanent? We don‘t want the tax cuts.
ABRAMS: There‘s no - Roy, you‘re not going to suggest -
SEKOFF: We want choice, we don‘t want choice. I mean, come on.
ABRAMS: Roy, you‘re not going to suggest that all of Hillary Clinton supporters are necessarily going to vote for Barack Obama, are you? I mean -
SEKOFF: No, I‘m not going to say that. I think that.
ABRAMS: Correct. Yes, of course not.
SMITH: The overwhelming majority.
ABRAMS: I‘m sure the majority will. I‘m sure the majority will. But that‘s not -
SEKOFF: You know, I think the vast majority will.
SMITH: The vast majority.
ABRAMS: All right. But let me ask you, Mayor Brown, has she lost some bargaining power on this issue by making this announcement that she‘s suspending her campaign?
BROWN: Absolutely not. Of course you understand this is five or six months away and she clearly has a cadre of people that are Hillaryites. And Lanny Davis is correct. We‘ve got to have Hillary Clinton doing for Barack Obama what Hillary Clinton did for herself. And when you talk about the business of Clinton in one part of the state and Bill in the other part of the state, just think, if you had Hillary, Bill and Barack, you would be covering this nation like never before.
ABRAMS: Lanny Davis, Congressman Smith -
ABRAMS: Mayor Brown, Roy Sekoff, thanks a lot. I appreciate it.
DAVIS: I‘m for Mayor Brown.
ABRAMS: Coming up next. More on the breaking news of Hillary Clinton suspending her campaign on Saturday. We‘re back in a minute.
ABRAMS: We are getting in some more comments from Barack Obama about the breaking news tonight that Hillary Clinton will suspend her campaign this weekend at a fundraising event in New York. Barack Obama said, quote, “Now that the inter-family squabble is done, all of us can focus on what needs to be done in November.” That wraps up our coverage for tonight. I‘ll see you back here tomorrow night.
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