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Democrats Trade Jabs on Rival Talk Shows


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

There are no more debates before Tuesday's presidential primaries in Indiana and North Carolina. But today Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton did face off in hour-long interviews on dueling TV talk shows. NPR's David Welna has the play-by-play.


DAVID WELNA: Facing a politically mixed studio audience on ABC's "This Week," Hillary Clinton was quick to defend her populist proposal to suspend the federal gas tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York, Presidential Candidate): This gas tax issue, to me, is very real because I am meeting people across Indiana and North Carolina who drive for a living, who commute long distances, who would save money of the oil companies paid this $8 billion this summer instead of it coming out of the pocket of consumers

WELNA: ABC host George Stephanopoulos, who once worked in the Clinton White House, pounded on that claim. He said the gas tax holiday idea has been rejected by everyone from the top two House Democrats to newspaper editorial boards. When Stephanopoulos asked Clinton to name just one incredible economist who supports the suspension, Clinton diverted.

Sen. CLINTON: I'm not going to put my lot in with economists because I know if we did it right, if we actually did it right, if we had a president who used all the tools of the presidency, we would design it in such a way that it would be implemented effectively.

WELNA: Meanwhile in an hour-long interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," Barack Obama panned the gas tax holiday as pandering.


Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presidential Candidate): This defines, I think, the difference between myself and Senator Clinton. This gas tax, which was first proposed by John McCain and then quickly adopted by Senator Clinton, is a classic Washington gimmick.

WELNA: Obama called his own vote eight years as an Illinois state senator for a similar gas tax holiday a mistake, saying it did no good. But for much of his interview with host Tim Russert, Obama faced questions about his controversial former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Obama said when he denounced Wright's inflammatory words in a speech five weeks ago in Philadelphia without denouncing Wright himself, it had been the right thing to do.

Sen. OBAMA: But when I saw this week him come out and speak in a way that was just as divisive, that didn't explain or apologize but rather worsened some of the comments that he had made previously, I felt it was very important to make clear that that's not who I am, that's not who I stand for. I don't think it represented well the church - the African-American church, and I had to make a clear statement. Hopefully we've been able to put it behind us.

WELNA: Over on ABC, when a Republican who plans to vote for Obama asked whether it's time to move on from the Wright controversy, Clinton said it was.

Sen. CLINTON: Well, we should definitely move on, and we should move on because there's so many important issues facing our country that we have to attend to.

WELNA: Both shows focused on Clinton's declaration late last month that if Iran attacked Israel the U.S. "would be able to totally obliterate them." Obama called that language reflective of President Bush.

Sen. OBAMA: The irony is, of course, Senator Clinton during the course of this campaign has at times said we shouldn't speculate about Iran, you know, we've got to be cautious when we're running for president. She scolded me on a couple of occasions about this issue and yet a few days before an election she's willing to use that language.

WELNA: But Clinton said she had no regrets about what she'd said.

Sen. CLINTON: Why would I have any regrets? I'm asked a question about what I would do if Iran attacked our ally, a country that many of us have a great deal of, you know, connection with and feeling for, for all kinds of reasons. And, yes, we would have massive retaliation against Iran. I don't think they will do that but I want to make it abundantly clear to them that they would face a tremendous cost if they did such a thing.

WELNA: Clinton also made it clear she has no plans to quit the race.

Sen. CLINTON: We're going to go through the next contest and, obviously, we're looking forward to Indiana and North Carolina. And then when the process finishes in early June, people can look at all the various factors and decide who would be the strongest candidate.

WELNA: For Obama it will be superdelegates who end this race.

Sen. OBAMA: I think the superdelegates are going to take a look not at momentary snapshot polls, but they're going to take a look at who's run the kind of campaign that can bring about change in America and can actually govern after the election.

WELNA: Obama said he's confident Clinton will remain in the race until the very end.

David Welna, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.