Obama, Clinton differ on Iran policy, gas-tax holiday proposal

Monday, May 5, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS -- Barack Obama likened Hillary Rodham Clinton to President Bush for threatening to "totally obliterate" Iran if it attacks Israel and called her gas-tax holiday a gimmick as he tried to fend off her challenge ahead of two pivotal Democratic primaries.

Clinton, in turn, stood by both her comment on Iran and her tax proposal as she gave chase in Indiana and North Carolina to the front-runner for the nomination.

"This is the final push," Clinton told a cheering crowd of volunteer canvassers in Fort Wayne, drawing strength from her Pennsylvania victory two weeks ago as well as polls that show her in a close race in Indiana and narrowing Obama's lead in North Carolina.

A few hours later and a few miles away, Obama urged an audience of several thousand to vote for him.

Maneuvering for advantage and trying to put the controversy over his former pastor behind him, Obama sought Sunday to portray Clinton as a political opportunist on both Iran and her gas-tax plan.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Obama seized on an answer Clinton gave recently when asked what she would do if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons on her watch.

"I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran," Clinton said April 22 in an interview with ABC. "In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them."

Obama said, "It's not the language we need right now, and I think it's language reflective of George Bush" akin to "bluster and saber rattling."

"Senator Clinton during the course of the campaign has said we shouldn't speculate about Iran, we've got to be cautious when we're running for president, she scolded me on a couple of occasions on this issue, yet a few days before an election, she's willing to use that language," Obama added.

Clinton, asked on ABC's "This Week" about Obama's criticism, didn't back away from her comment.

"Why would I have any regrets? I'm asked a question about what I would do if Iran attacked our ally ... and, yes, we would have massive retaliation against Iran," Clinton said. "I don't think they will do that, but I sure want to make it abundantly clear to them that they would face a tremendous cost if they did such a thing."

Turning up the heat on an issue closer to home, Obama called Clinton's proposal for a gas-tax holiday this summer a "classic Washington gimmick" that wouldn't solve anything and would save only $28 for each person. He opposes the temporary suspension of the federal tax and argued that Clinton was pandering for votes.

To underscore that, Obama rolled out a new TV ad for Indiana and North Carolina that derided "Clinton gimmicks that help big oil."

"More low-road attacks from Hillary Clinton. Now she's pushing a bogus gas-tax gimmick. Experts say it'll just boost oil industry profits," the ad says. "Clinton aides admit it won't do much for you -- but would help her politically."

Clinton dismissed the criticism and disputed Obama's suggestions that she and Republican candidate John McCain were the same because they both support a gas-tax holiday.

"Senator McCain has said take off the gas tax, don't pay for it, throw us further into deficit and debt. That is not what I've proposed," Clinton said, adding that she wants the oil companies to pay the gas tax instead of consumers this summer.

Many economists oppose the plan and Clinton demurred when asked to name one who supports it. "I'm not going to put my lot in with economists because I know if we did it right ... it would be implemented effectively," she said.

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