Full Interview: Sen. Hillary Clinton

Katie Couric spoke with Sen. Hillary Clinton on the eve of two closely contested Democratic primaries in Indiana and North Carolina. She explained how her gas tax relief plan is different from John McCain's and argued that she is the best candidate to beat him in November.

KATIE COURIC: So let me start by by asking you, Senator Clinton, you dismissed opposition to your tax gas holiday by economists as elitist, but a new CBS poll finds that about half of all voters also think it's a bad idea. And many think it's politically motivated. Do you think this proposal will end up hurting you more than helping you?

HILLARY CLINTON: No, not at all. In fact, a lot of people don't understand that I'm not proposing that we don't replace the revenues that would be lost. That's Senator McCain's position. In fact, I'm saying we should make the oil companies pay the gas tax this summer out of their record profits so that we don't make the deficit bigger. We don't deplete the highway trust fund.

But all across Indiana and North Carolina people are responding because they're living with it. You know, they're looking at their own economic situation, they're their personal economist, and they're saying, "you know, we just can't deal with this."

If they're truckers, if they commute long distances, if they have to use their truck or their vehicles for their job, like farmers do, it's really a burden. And there is no contradiction between providing immediate relief by trying to give folks, on average, it would be $70 - for a lot of people it would be a lot more, because they drive more - while at the same time we try to get a president who's actually going to declare energy independence and start us on a path to get off our dependence on foreign oil.

COURIC: But, Senator Clinton, a lot of people say it would be a lot less money than $70 for those three months, and Senator Obama said earlier today your plan's a gimmick. It's phony, and rather than helping consumers it will just lead oil companies to raise prices. And, by the way, it would never pass in Congress.

CLINTON: Well, number one, I think we've gotta start going after the oil companies. Senator Obama supported a gas tax holiday without paying for it three times when he was in the state senate. So I'm really focusing on what we can do to give people immediate relief, Katie.

I don't see this false choice that Senator Obama and others set up between, oh, we've gotta wait for the long term. Get a president in January. Oil hit $120.21 a barrel today, I'm convinced that energy traders are manipulating the market.

I would launch an investigation by the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. I would close what's called the Enron loophole which leaves these traders totally unregulated. So there's a lot that I would do.

But providing this direct relief, number one, according to the Department of Energy, would be about $70. But, number two, let's start standing up for the vast majority of Americans again, when the Federal Reserve and the Treasury bailed out their (unintel) to the tune of $30 billion I didn't hear all this hand wringing.

You know, there were folks who were basically being, you know, given an opportunity to avoid the consequences of what they had done, which caused a lot of trouble for everybody else. The people I'm talking to who drive every day for a living, they're just looking for a little help. Because gas is up, groceries are up. They feel really squeezed. and I think they need a president, and they need advocates in public life, who are gonna take on the big interests like oil companies.

COURIC: Yesterday you said we should move on from Reverend Wright, but your campaign continues to raise this issue with superdelegates. So are you telling the public one thing and superdelegates something else?

CLINTON: No, that's just not the case. Our campaign responds to questions and concerns of those that talk to us, voters. A lot of voters on rope lines raise it. I say, "let's talk about the economy, let's talk about healthcare, let's talk about education."

COURIC: You have a lot of superdelegates raising it?

CLINTON: Well, well, it's not, you know, the press has done a pretty good job keeping this in the news for more than a week. Let's talk about, how this is on the minds of a lot of people. It's something that is in the atmosphere. But I have consistently said that I want to run a campaign on the specific proposals that I have put forth.

I've been going across this country talking about solutions. I want to be a problem solver. I think I'm the best candidate. I believe I'd be a better candidate to beat John McCain, and I think when voters, superdelegates, anybody really looks at what's at stake at this election, they should vote for somebody who would be commander-in-chief on day one and end the war in Iraq...

COURIC: But…

CLINTON: …and be the president who turns the economy around, that's what I'm offering.

COURIC: But, Senator Clinton, are superdelegates raising the issue of Reverend Wright with your campaign?

CLINTON: Katie, I know the people across America have thought about this, like they think about everything else that comes into the atmosphere. So, of course, people talk about that. They talk about a lot of things, but what people talk to me about are gas prices and grocery prices and jobs, and trying to make sure that their kids have as good a future as they've had.

COURIC: After tomorrow there will be more superdelegates up for grabs than elected delegates. You need the vast majority of these remaining superdelegates to become the nominee and yet, even since your victory in Pennsylvania, Senator Obama has picked up 22 new ones. You've only gotten 13. Why is that?

CLINTON: Well, I think we're making a lot of progress and many people are waiting to see what happens in the remaining contest. Which I think is a, you know, smart idea. I now have more people who have voted for me, if you include Michigan and Florida, and those were legally officially certified elections, so I sure include them.

Two point three million people voted in those elections, so more people have voted for me. The delegate race is very tight. Neither of us can get to the nomination without getting a lot of delegates, but I think people are going to ask themselves, number one, who'd be the best president, who has the ability to beat John McCain, and I think they'll look at, you know, where we stand when it comes to the votes of - those who actually cast them over the course of the last month.

COURIC: But, Senator Clinton, in fairness, Senator Obama's name wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan.

CLINTON: That was his choice. Nobody made him take - cross his name from the ballot. I kept it on because I happen to think the people of Michigan deserved a chance to have their voices heard and their votes counted. We agreed only that we wouldn't campaign, and I didn't campaign, and in both cases, the voters said, wait a minute, we want to be part of this process. It's a very significant election. We want to be on record as saying who we think should be the nominee and the president. And I think the Democratic party has to come to terms with the fact that two of our biggest, most important states that Democrats sure have to try to win in the fall, deserve to have their votes translated into delegates. And I'm hoping that that happens soon.

COURIC: And, finally, Senator Clinton, when I spoke with Senator Obama earlier today, he said that your argument about attracting working class white voters is the only argument you have left. And that he has won these voters in critical states like Iowa, Wisconsin and Virginia, so have you really cornered that market?

CLINTON: Well, I think it's always important to look at the facts, and to look at this, at the states that I've won. If we had the same rules as the Republicans, which keep their eye on the prize, which started its electoral college in November, I would already be the nominee, because I have won a majority of the delegates from those big states.

That's not the rule, we're playing by the rules, but I want Democrats to really focus on who is best able to win, and I have a very broad coalition of women and working people - people who get up every day and work hard, who we have to try to win back from the Republicans - hispanic voters, young voters in a lot of states where I did better. So, you know, I think that I can make a much stronger case that I go into the race against John McCain much better positioned to actually win in November. That's what we're gonna be talking about, and that's what eventually will have to decide after we finish all of these elections.

COURIC: Will you stay in the game no matter what happens tomorrow?

CLINTON: Well, I never make predictions. We're gonna wait and see how the people of Indiana and North Carolina decide. I started out so far behind in both of these states, they're really must-win states for Senator Obama. He has told other, everybody for several months that he would win both of these states. We've waged vigorous campaigns. We've, I think, made up some ground. We're gonna see what happens tomorrow.

COURIC: Senator Hillary Clinton. Senator, thank you.

CLINTON: Thank you.