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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on Michelle Obama, John McCain and the Presidential Race

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from February 19, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF SEN. BARACK OBAMA: And let me tell you something: f or the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country, because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.

CINDY MCCAIN, WIFE OF SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: I'm proud of my country. I don't know about you, if you heard those words earlier — I'm very proud of my count ry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: Some thoughts on this controversy involving Michelle Obama and, indirectly at least, her husband, from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of "The Weekly Standard," Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of "Roll Call," and Juan Williams, Senior Correspondent of National Public Radio, FOX News contributors all.

Today the Obama campaign, not in the person of Obama and not in the person of Michelle Obama, but in the person of a spokesperson, put out a statement today clarifying what Michelle Obama meant.

"Of course Michelle is proud of her country. What she meant is that she's really proud of this moment because for the first time in a long time, thousands of Americans who have never participated in politics before are coming out in record numbers to build a grassroots movement for change."

This, obviously, as we saw, Cindy McCain didn't waste any time responding to this, presumably with a bit of a prompt from someone in the McCain camp, or maybe not. What about it, Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: People have been waiting for Senator Obama to have some sort of gaffe or misstep, because he has just run such an excellent campaign. And here comes a gaffe from Michelle Obama.

Look, she is a 44-year-old black woman, and there's no way that a black woman in America who is 44 years old can't be proud of the incredible progress this country has shown in terms of inclusiveness. We've got women on the Supreme Court now. We have woman as secret Secretary of State, a black woman, in fact, if you haven't noticed.

And the idea is — I believe she went to Princeton and then Harvard, and she was at Sidley and Austin, a major American law firm. That is just not possible in the previous generation.

So I guess the best thing to do is say give her the benefit of the doubt. She was talking about America being hopeful and crossing racial lines and showing support for her husband.

HUME: It didn't seem, though, in the way it was phrased when you see it there that it was a hurried comment made in the heat of a rally. I mean, she articulated it in a rather measured pace, and it sounded like "For the first time in my adult life I'm proud of my country."

Mort, your thoughts?

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "ROLL CALL": This is a pattern to her. She is the downbeat to his upbeat. And she said on other occasions that the soul of America is broken.

And when she talks about her own past, she can only remember, seemingly, the people who told her she couldn't go to Princeton or she couldn't go to Harvard Law School, instead of the people who obviously made it possible.

If her grades — as she said, she couldn't have made it if she had been judged just on her test results. Well, if she had lousy test results and she still got into Princeton and Harvard Law School, then somebody believed in her. And why isn't she thanking them and saying that this shows what America is all about?

I mean, he has a totally different sensibility from hers. He has a positive, upbeat, optimistic sensibility.

HUME: Why would he then not intervene here? Do they think —

KONDRACKE: I think they want to make as little of this as they can.

HUME: Isn't it striking though that the response to this came not from the Clinton campaign, which was still arguing about whether Obama committed plagiarism by using some words from supporter Governor Deval Patrick, but it came, instead, from Cindy McCain, not the Clinton camp.

What does that tell you, Fred, if anything?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I don't think they thought there was any problem with it, at first, the Obama campaign.

HUME: Why wouldn't the Clinton campaign jump on this?

BARNES: Because they were letting the press handle it, and we're doing it. So I don't think they needed to do it. I mean, it was almost immediately jumped on by bloggers and others —

HUME: Mostly on the right, wouldn't you agree?

BARNES: Not entirely. I don't think so, but OK, maybe so.

Look, they don't want to be accused again of pushing race into the campaign. I mean, the Clinton campaign is very skittish about that, so —

HUME: So they attack him as a plagiarist, not as a non-patriot? I don't understand.

BARNES: I don't understand it either, but I think you have it right.

In context, she went on to say some other things about how Americans are told that we dwell on what can't work and what we can't do and what we can't change, and we're passing this on to a new generation, and it's dividing us in communities, and so on.

I mean, I really don't think that's the America that she is experienced, actually, particularly when you read about her parents, and with their expectations for her, and pushing her ahead, and demanding that she excel, and so on.

She doesn't sound like the person — her career clashes with these words.

WILLIAMS: One more thing is that she also said she's not sure she can support any Democrat but her husband. I'm not sure that's smart thing to say at this point.

HUME: Let me ask you this question — is this sort of a one-day deal and over, or are we going to hear more about Michelle Obama? Does he need to say something?

WILLIAMS: He needs to say something or she needs to say something. They have to put out the fire.

Look, Cindy — you were right. Cindy McCain making the comment is evidence that there are a lot of people who don't want a Democrat in the White House who are trying to make much of this. That is problematic.

KONDRACKE: Look, she's the wife of the candidate. Wives of candidates, unless they do something totally outrageous, tend not to be the story.

The story is still that Obama is still ahead in delegates, he is probably going to get further ahead today. And if Hillary Clinton doesn't have a blowout in Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania, he's going to still be ahead in delegates, and then it's going to be over.

WILLIAMS: It's about making him out to be this terrible liberal. They're going to use this in an ad.

BARNES: Sure, Republicans will use it. "The National Journal" said he's the most liberal member of the Senate.

Mort, sure, it's about delegates, and so on, but this is an important player in the campaign, Michelle Obama — she's on the cover of Newsweek this week. The fact is that this speech, this isn't the first time she has given it, the one in Wisconsin. She has to get a new speech.

HUME: When our panel returns, Arizona Senator John McCain moves closer to the nomination and sets his sights on the general election. We'll talk about that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to campaign hard here, and I understand that it is a challenge. We are competing very hard for the Republican voters. I respect governor Huckabee's commitment to remaining in this race, and I respect that, and will continue to campaign as hard as I can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: John McCain in Ohio, which is the scene of one of the next big round of primaries coming in a couple of weeks, along with Texas.

Let's take a look at where McCain stands now in his contest, so- called, with Mike Huckabee for the nomination of the Republican Party for President. John McCain: 908 delegates, needing 1,191. Mike Huckabee: 245.

And McCain appear likely in the Wisconsin event tonight to gain even more delegates.

And, of course, it is worth remembering that on the Republican side, when you win an event, you get either all or nearly all the delegates. So Huckabee's prospects look limited. He appears to be soldiering on.

McCain said he respected it, he didn't say he liked it.

BARNES: I would like to see some of the McCain's humor: "I respect governor Huckabee, that jerk." He likes to call the press jerks, and so on. You have to appreciate McCain humor. I do.

This is not exactly a photo finish. Obviously McCain is going to be the nominee. What he has had trouble doing is getting to 50 percent and getting a majority.

HUME: How big an advantage is this early result, really, likely to be for him in the fall, Mort?

KONDRACKE: I think John McCain has got to solidify his base, and he is not really doing it. And Huckabee doesn't help him in doing it. If what Megyn Kelly reported is right, McCain is going to split the conservative vote with Huckabee.

And the good news, I guess, for McCain, that he is finally getting the votes of self-identified Republicans as well as self-identified independents. That is a good thing for him.

HUME: He has been winning Republicans for awhile.

KONDRACKE: He can still be embarrassed in Texas. And Texas is a state that John McCain ought to win going away in the general election.

BARNES: What difference does it makes it he is embarrassed in the primary? Not much.

KONDRACKE: I think he cannot truly concentrate on going into the general election and getting his act straight as to Clinton or Obama unless he gets this over with.

HUME: Thoughts, Juan?

WILLIAMS: I think it is an advantage to having it settled early. I think it is a striking advantage. The Democrats did not anticipate they would still be fighting at this point, and, already, what you see is that John McCain is putting together his fundraising team, getting people like Mercer Reynolds and others in line.

And that if that fundraising kicks in, the message kicks in, I think then you have a better chance to unify the Party and set a course.

BARNES: It's February. The conservatives are going to come home. They are not going to be a problem for him. It is February. They will be there.

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