It's not the first time O'Brien has attempted to make race the most important issue, and seems to reflect a pattern in her coverage of news events.
It soon became clear that O'Brien was less concerned about producing answers and more interested in applying political pressure, using appeals to racial solidarity: "If the black leadership is not endorsing the black candidate, then, well, why should anybody else in America get behind Barack Obama?" she asked.
Eventually, an exasperated Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) pushed back: "I can't imagine a black moderator asking a white why he would not vote for a white, merely because he was white."
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR:
The first question out in the open tonight: Where is the love? Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama drawing big, friendly crowds on the campaign trail, but we can't help but noticing that some prominent black leaders are not rushing to jump on the Obama bandwagon.
The holdouts include the Reverend Al Sharpton. Just last weekend, he cautioned voters to check out a candidate's record, as well as their skin color.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Just because you're our color don't make you our kind. We want to know what you're going to represent.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: And check this out.
South Carolina State Senator Robert Ford, who is black, says, "It's a slim possibility for Obama to get the nomination., but then everybody else is doomed." He went on, "Every Democrat running on that ticket next year would lose, because he's black and he's the top of the ticket."
Ford is now apologizing for those remarks. He is still supporting Senator Hillary Clinton for president.
And so are my first two guests this evening, New York Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel and also Gregory Meeks. Gentlemen, nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us this evening.
Let's start with you, Congressman Rangel. You're endorsing Hillary Clinton. You have made that clear. Should we all read this as a big lack of confidence in Barack Obama?
REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D-NY), HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Of course not.
I encouraged the senator to run. I told him, with the type of popularity that he had, if he did not run, he would regret it the rest of his life. But I also explained that Gregory Meeks and some of us, we helped to bring Hillary Clinton to the Senate ball. And, so, therefore, we have some obligation to try, not only to support our favorite daughter, but to bring our congressional delegation together.
So, I haven't formally endorsed, but there is no question that's where I'm going to end up.
O'BRIEN: Congressman Meeks, isn't there a message that is being sent? If the black leadership is not endorsing the black candidate, then, well, why should anybody else in America get behind Barack Obama?
REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK: Well, listen, it's not about -- Barack Obama is not running as the black candidate.
Barack Obama is running to be president of the United States, just like Hillary Clinton is not running to be the woman's candidate. She's running for president of the United States.
And, when you talk about our country and the situation that it's currently in, what we need to do is evaluate who we believe would be the best candidate for this country, at the time that we're in. And I have concluded that that is Hillary Clinton.
So, it's not a black-white thing. It's not a woman thing, you know, even though either one of them would make history. It is that I believe that Hillary Clinton, given her experience and what I have seen her do in New York, as well as here in the Senate, would be the person that is best fitted to be the next president of the United States of America.
O'BRIEN: OK, so, then, doesn't it follow that what you're saying is the white woman is the better advocate for black America than the black guy?
MEEKS: No, because, I mean, there was black candidates that have run before.
Last year, I supported John Kerry, and my friend Al Sharpton was running for president. So, it's the same thing. I have picked, select -- I continue to pick not based upon race, based upon -- you know, I think that Barack Obama has a lot and will contribute a lot to this country.
He's going to be a very significant person for a long period of time. It's just that, in my judgment, at this time, I'm supporting Hillary Clinton, because I think that, you know, she has the wherewithal. I have seen her operate in the Senate. I have seen her work across the aisles, as Charlie Rangel is doing now as chair of Ways and Means.
You know, she came in, and people was wondering what she was going to do. And she became the ultimate workhorse, and was able to cross and work with Trent Lott and Newt Gingrich, when it came time to deliver things. And that's what we need to bring this country together.
O'BRIEN: Congressman Rangel, there are many people who would say Barack Obama is essentially the embodiment of all the people that -- who were involved in the civil rights movement were hoping to get to. I mean, he is the -- the end result, somebody who has taken advantage of all the opportunities that people fought and, frankly, died for you, as you well know -- I'm not telling you something you don't know -- so that it, to them, doesn't make sense that he wouldn't get your support.
RANGEL: You know, it really surprises me, this line of questioning.
I can't imagine a black moderator asking a white why he would not vote for a white, merely because he was white. And, so therefore, this line of questioning -- it is true that African-Americans will identify some sense of pride, because of the color of -- of the senator.
But it borders on being insulting that you would think that we care so little for -- for our country, that we would not be seeking who appears to be the best qualified candidate, notwithstanding the fact that they didn't look like us.
O'BRIEN: There have been people, Congressman Meeks, who have said that Barack Obama's experience doesn't represent -- quote -- "our experience," the black American experience.
Do you agree with that?
You know, that's just people that's wanting to make a story for the news media, et cetera. You know, no matter your color of your skin, when you're here in America, you know, you have experienced it all. And, so, no, I don't buy that at all.
And I think Barack, as I said, he does. I'm supporting Hillary Clinton. Does he make me proud because he happens to be an African- American? Absolutely, he does. He made me proud when he was elected to be a U.S. senator.
So -- but that does not mean that I automatically will just go for Barack Obama or anyone else, for that matter, to determine who I'm going to support for president is based upon race. I believe that Hillary Clinton, you know, is the best person to lead this country at this time, period.
O'BRIEN: Representatives Charlie Rangel and Gregory Meeks talking with us tonight -- thank you, gentlemen.
RANGEL: Thank you.