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Obama: Florida, Michigan are Clinton's 'last slender hope'

  • Story Highlights
  • Barack Obama says Hillary Clinton is "stirring it up" in Florida and Michigan
  • Illinois senator wants resolution to both states' delegate dilemma
  • Obama says he's ready for debate with John McCain about veterans issues, GI Bill
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CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- Sen. Barack Obama accused Sen. Hillary Clinton of stoking anger in Florida and Michigan over the Democratic Party's decision not to recognize the states' primary votes.

"They weren't stirring it up when they didn't need the delegates," he said. "Let's not sort of pretend that we don't know what's going on. This is, from their perspective, their last slender hope to make arguments about how they can win."

Obama, speaking to reporters on his campaign plane late Saturday, also took on Sen. John McCain's suggestion that Obama's lack of military service makes him unqualified to criticize him on veterans issues.

"I will cede to no one the ability to talk about veterans issues," Obama said. "My grandfather was a veteran. Those veterans benefits helped my grandparents to raise my mother. I have veterans throughout the state of Illinois that I've been fighting for since I came into the United States Senate." Video Watch Obama make comments aboard plane »

Obama returned to his home base of Chicago, Illinois, Saturday night after a campaign swing through in Puerto Rico, which holds its primary June 1, and spending three days in Florida.

Obama said he wants a resolution of the controversy over the seating of the Florida and Michigan delegations so that they "feel that they've been treated fairly and they're seated."

"I want to be looking at them when I'm standing on the stage in Denver in August," Obama said.

He said the "anger will go away once it's resolved" and it will not be a deciding factor in the November general election.

"I think the Democrats are going to be focused on who's going to stop the war, who's going to be making Supreme Court appointments, who's going to have a serious energy policy, who's going to bring good jobs and good wages, who's going to continue the Bush tax cuts and who's going to give a middle class tax cut," Obama said.

"The notion that the folks in Florida, who are trying to struggle with $4 gas and not being able to get property insurance for their house during hurricane season, are going to be making a decision based on a political tempest that occurred during a primary, I don't see it," he said.

Obama said he predicted a "substantive debate" with McCain during the general election over veterans issues, especially if McCain continues to oppose the expansion of the GI Bill. Video Watch Obama pledge support to veterans issues »

"John McCain will have to decide whether he thinks that the current level of benefits or the current performance of the VA is sufficient," Obama said.

After Obama took to the Senate floor last Thursday to criticize McCain's opposition to legislation, which passed by a 75-22 vote margin, McCain quickly responded that Obama was taking "cheap shots" on an issue that "he has less than zero understanding of."

"I will not accept from Sen. Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did," McCain said in a written statement.

Asked to respond Saturday, Obama said "the notion that somehow I can't speak out on behalf of veterans because of the fact that I didn't serve makes no sense whatsoever."

Obama said that he, and many others his age, did not serve in the military because the Vietnam War -- and the draft -- ended before he was of draft age.

"Obviously, I revere our soldiers and want to make sure they are treated with honor and respect," he said. "I think the GI Bill is one way to do that. I hope that John McCain and George Bush decide they believe the same thing."

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The updated version of the GI Bill, which has now passed the Senate and House, proposes to essentially provide a full scholarship to in-state public universities for members of the military who have served for at least three years.

McCain supports enacting legislation to expand education benefits for veterans, but he, as well as President Bush and much of the military brass, oppose this specific measure because they worry it will deplete retention rates among those currently serving in the military at a time when recruitment efforts are already struggling.

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