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 youre on the campaign trail for 15 months, youre going to make some mistakes. I dont 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 didnt serve as many people my age didnt 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 Im 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. Whats your response to McCain the other day saying he wont listen to you on veterans issues since you didnt choose to serve in the military?
BO: Ive said before I respect John McCains service to our country, I think hes 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 didnt serve, makes no sense whatsoever. I didnt serve as many people my age didnt 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 theyre 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 dont drive much. I bought a hybrid but we keep it in the garage mostly. This is part of the reason why its 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 thats not an immediate option for this summer, and I think, as Ive 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. Weve seen that this quarter. People are changing their behavior. Weve 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 theyve done a better job of investment than they have in the past, theres 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 weve 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 Clintons 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 youre on the campaign trail for 15 months, youre going to make some mistakes. I dont 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 Ive spoken of a different kind of foreign policy, one that listens, one that seeks to build and strengthen alliances around mutual interests, I think thats something that people are hungry for. They want America to lead; they just dont 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 theyre 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 dont matter. Thats 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 werent 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, thats one of the consequences of having allies.
Q: [paraphrase] Question about John McCains age and whether it should matter in the campaign?
BO: I dont 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 dont think it should be an issue in the campaign.
Q: Theres 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 McCains record and youre 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 Ive 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 thats a substantive debate that well have in November. Anything else?
Q: [paraphrases] Question about differences with Bush/McCain approach to foreign policy?
BO: I havent 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 hes been much less detailed in terms he expects to meet even the more modest targets that hes set. Now, that isnt to say there isnt some overlap. That is to say that you cant get there unless youre 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 youre not even willing to raise fuel efficiency standards on cars, how is it that he thinks were going to reduce greenhouse gases in a significant way? The fact that his position iswell, let me put it this way. The fact that he acknowledges global warming relative to this president is obviously an improvement, but I dont think thats far enough.
Q: [paraphrased] Question about seating the Florida delegates and why this wasnt a larger part of his message in Florida?
BO: Why wasnt 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 theyre happy. And if that happens, if they feel theyve been treated fairly, and theyre seated, then Im happy. I want to be looking at them when Im 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 its resolved. And of course Id have to find out who was the [muffled sound] Clinton supporters. [reporter interrupts: uncommitted]Yeah right, ok. I mean Im just saying, yes the Clinton campaign has been stirring this up, for fairly transparent reasons. They werent stirring it up when they didnt need the delegates, right? I think, lets not pretend that we dont know whats 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 theyre seated, then I think this is going to be a story that nobodys 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. Were just going to finish up. Weve got three more contests, weve got to hit a certain number in order to achieve the nomination and thats what were shooting for, and thats what were going to use.
Q: Shes 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 dont think thats going to follow you to the convention?
BO: I think the Democrats are going to be focused on whos going to stop the war, whos going to be making Supreme Court appointments, whos going to have a serious energy policy, whos going to bring good jobs and good wages. Whos going to continue the Bush tax cuts, and whos 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 dont see it. I think that they would be frustrated if they were completely ignored, if they werent participating in the convention, but no, I dont think thats going to be what will be a determining factor in November.
Q: Lets talk about the vice presidential search. Arent 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: Weve got 10 days before the primaries and caucuses are over, and at that point were going to have to pick it quickly, should I be the nominee, to make sure were going through that process in a responsible way.
Q: You can afford to give up those 10 days?
BO: Well Im not giving them up, I mean were, obviously
Q: Time out of the search process?