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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Interview With Richard Gephardt; Interview With Christopher Cox, Jane Harman
Aired January 4, 2004 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's noon in Washington, 11:00 a.m. in Des Moines, Iowa, 5:00 p.m. in London, and 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll get to our interview with the U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Richard Gephardt in just a few minutes. First, though, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.
BLITZER: Let's begin in Iraq, where, today, British troops received a surprise visitor.
CNN's Satinder Bindra is in Baghdad. He's joining us now live with details.
SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hello, Wolf.
The British prime minister, Mr. Tony Blair, flew into Iraq from Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, where he was vacationing. He arrived in Iraq's second largest city, Basra, where a majority of 10,000 British troops who are stationed in Iraq are positioned.
Mr. Blair addressed his troops and he thanked them, quote, "from the bottom of his heart" for participating in the war here. He said it was important to win the war, but he said it was also important to win the peace and to win the hearts and minds of Iraqi citizens.
Now, Wolf, also today, U.S. coalition forces releasing some dramatic video. This video shows a raid against a Sunni mosque here in Baghdad on Thursday. In this raid, U.S. forces arrested some 32 people from the mosque. U.S. forces also saying they found a lot of ammunition, arms, explosives and bomb-making material. But members of the mosque say all that was found was some AK-47s, and this is quite normal, given the prevailing security situation here.
Now this raid has created some controversy because senior Sunni leaders have said a Koran was torn in this mosque. U.S. forces strongly denying this allegation and saying they were cognizant of religious sensitivities while they were in the mosque.
BLITZER: Satinder, how long is Tony Blair going to stay in Iraq?
BINDRA: Well, he has probably just left, or he is on his way out. He went to an Iraqi police training academy earlier today, where he saw some of his troops train Iraqi policemen in self-defense techniques.
He also met some Iraqis, but because of the prevailing situation here, and quite understandably so, he will not be staying here long.
BLITZER: Understandably so. Thanks very much.
Satinder Bindra reporting from Baghdad.
Let's turn to presidential politics right here in the United States. In just two weeks, voters will have their first say in a major contest of this year's campaign -- namely, the Iowa caucuses.
The one candidate who's close to catching front-runner Howard Dean in Iowa is Missouri congressman, former U.S. House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt. Also, John Kerry of Massachusetts, we're told, also has, according to, at least, some of the polls, a shot at capturing both Gephardt and Howard Dean.
Earlier today, I spoke with Dick Gephardt.
BLITZER: Congressman Gephardt, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."
Is it fair to say it's do or die for you, politically, right now in Iowa?
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Wolf, I'm going to win in Iowa, because the ideas I'm talking about are bold, and they are resonating with voters out here in Iowa.
I've got the best health care plan to get everybody covered. I've got an Apollo 21 energy plan that will make us independent of Middle Eastern oil. And my trade idea of international minimum wage is really getting people's attention out here.
BLITZER: You've won Iowa in 1988, but you ran out of money shortly thereafter and had to drop out of the presidential contest. There are some suggestions that could happen this time as well.
GEPHARDT: Not going to happen, Wolf. We've raised much more money than we did in the late '80s. We've got plenty of money to get through the early primaries.
We're running ads right now in Oklahoma and in Michigan. And we're going to win in Iowa, and we're going to do well in the other early states. I'm going to win this nomination, and I'm going to beat George Bush.
BLITZER: Howard Dean, in the last quarter, raised about $14 million, $15 million. You raised, I think, close to $4 million. What happened? Why is he able to generate so much fund-raising, and you're not?
GEPHARDT: Well, he's done a good job of fund-raising, there's no doubt about it. But you got to look at two things. You got to look at how much people spend. He's spending a lot of money.
And again, we have adequate funds to get through all these early primaries. We're running ads, as I said, in a couple of states. We're putting mail out in other states. We're doing great here in Iowa. We've run a fabulous campaign. We've got the help of 21 international labor unions, and I've got the best message.
I just don't think Howard Dean can win this race against George Bush, and I think a lot of Democrats are beginning to understand that. He can't take Bush on on trade, he can't take him on Medicare.
BLITZER: Yet he's generating so much excitement among core Democrats, if you take a look at the registered Democrats in the national polls. He's on the cover, once again, the new issues of Newsweek and Time.
Why did this relatively little-known governor from a small state in New England emerge from the pack and become the front-runner?
GEPHARDT: Well, you know, the national polls and who's ahead doesn't really mean very much right now. You've got to win primaries. There's a pattern to this race. You got to win in Iowa, you got to keep going, and you got to get more delegates than the other candidates.
He faces the same test that I do and everybody else does. And just who raised the most money in the last quarter doesn't mean that much.
BLITZER: In the new CNN-Time magazine poll -- we'll put it up on the screen -- in a choice between you and Howard Dean, look at this: Among registered Democrats, he gets 53 percent; you get 28 percent. That seems like a pretty lopsided outcome.
GEPHARDT: But again, Wolf, that's a national poll. You got to look at what happens here in Iowa, then in New Hampshire, then in the other early states.
There's a pattern, there is a pace to this thing. And once you start getting good results, which I will get here in Iowa, this race is going to change completely, and those national polls will change dramatically.
BLITZER: Why is it that you -- you've been around for more than a quarter of century, you've been a leader here in Washington, you ran for president once before. He came out of seemingly nowhere and is doing so remarkably well, and at least right now, according to the national polls, you're not doing that well.
GEPHARDT: Well, again, you can't look at just national polls. You've got to look at what's happening in these other states.
But let me say it again. As voters begin to look at what he has said on foreign policy, his ability to go up against Bush on trade, on Medicare -- he said in the mid-'90s that Medicare was the worst federal program ever, that it should have never happened. That's not a stand that will allow him to take on George Bush and win this race.
BLITZER: You've also become -- you're becoming increasingly more vocal in your criticism of Howard Dean. Let me play this soundbite from what you said in Des Moines on Friday. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEPHARDT: There's a pattern with Governor Dean. First, say something indefensible, then deny you ever said it. Then when it's proven you said it, don't tell anybody why you said it. And then go and say it all over again. If you're confused, imagine how Governor Dean must feel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is he qualified, in your opinion, to be president of the United States?
GEPHARDT: Well, I think I'm more qualified to be president of the United States. And when he takes positions and then says he didn't take that position and then says that we're all lying about his position, it makes him in a bad place to take on George Bush and win this race.
Look, we need a candidate who can take on George Bush and defeat him on issues like trade, on issues like Medicare, on issues like assault weapons ban and the Brady bill and how we deal with gun safety legislation.
This man is not in a place where he can take on and defeat George Bush. We have to defeat George Bush.
BLITZER: Let me rephrase the question, or restate the question. Is he qualified to be president of the United States?
GEPHARDT: I think I am much more qualified to be president of the United States. I think I can beat George Bush, because I have the most experience. I have translated that experience into the boldest and best ideas that are resonant with America's voters. And I can beat George Bush in the Midwest, which is where you've got to beat him. You've got to beat him in the states like Missouri and Illinois.
BLITZER: I understand you feel you're more qualified, but is he qualified?
GEPHARDT: I think I'm more qualified than he is. I really believe I can beat George Bush, and...
BLITZER: You're not going to tell me if you think he's qualified?
GEPHARDT: ... I'm not sure that Howard Dean can, with his stand on the issues, and some of the statements he's made on foreign policy, and the way he has dealt with his own positions, saying that everybody's lying about what he's already said.
BLITZER: Can I conclude from what you just said that you don't think he's qualified to be president?
GEPHARDT: Wolf, I think I'm more qualified than he is. I think he's going to have real trouble beating George Bush with the positions he's taken and the statements that he's made. I just think he's going to have real...
BLITZER: Let me play one of those statements that's caused him some grief, a statement he made about the capture of Saddam Hussein. Let's play it right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The capture of Saddam is a good thing, which I hope very much will keep our soldiers in Iraq and around the world safer. But the capture of Saddam has not made America safer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He reiterated that in recent days in the aftermath of the alert, the terror alert status going up to orange here in the United States, all these planes coming in, escorted, delayed, security anxieties around the country.
Is Howard Dean right, that the capture of Saddam Hussein, in his words, has not made America safer?
GEPHARDT: Wolf, I don't think anybody believes that the capture of Saddam Hussein was not a good thing and did not make America safer. I think that's the kind of statement that calls into question Howard's ability to deal with foreign-policy issues.
Another statement he made was that we shouldn't prejudge Osama bin Laden, that we shouldn't rush to judgment about Osama bin Laden. I mean, nobody I think believes that.
These are the kind of statements that call into question his ability to deal with these important foreign-policy issues.
BLITZER: Well, later he did clarify his statement, or expand on it, suggesting that Osama bin Laden certainly did deserve the death sentence. Presumably, you agree with him on that.
GEPHARDT: I do agree with him. Osama bin Laden gloated about having run an attack on the United States that resulted in the deaths of 3,000 Americans. He is one of the worst people that ever lived in history, and most Americans want him executed and want him dealt with harshly. And to say that we shouldn't prejudge him is just a ludicrous statement.
BLITZER: Was Howard Dean on the right course when he asked Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic Party, to intervene with the eight other Democratic candidates, to lower the rhetoric so that the eventual nominee -- and he would like, of course, that nominee to be himself, Howard Dean -- that the nominee wouldn't be damaged in the running up to the election?
GEPHARDT: Not at all. Look, you always have debates in campaigns. You talk about issues. You try to get different stances and positions out, and you discuss it. That's what's going on here.
I guess Howard is uncomfortable discussing the issues, discussing some of his past positions. If I had some of his past positions, I guess I wouldn't want to debate about it either.
BLITZER: Yet he's getting all these endorsements, as you well remember, of course, all of our viewers in the United States and around the world remember, the former Vice President Al Gore endorsed him.
But look at what Senator Tom Harkin, your colleague from Iowa, is quoted as saying in The Los Angeles Times on Saturday: "I happen to like Governor Dean. I like his combativeness. I like the fact that he seems to be bringing a lot of new people into the party."
He didn't say he was going to endorse him, but he is saying very nice things about him.
GEPHARDT: Well, everybody says good things about many people, as we go along. That's not what's important here. The people in Iowa are going to make this decision. Endorsements are great. We all have endorsements. We all want more endorsements, but the people make the decision.
And they're going to decide this on who can be the best candidate to take on and defeat George Bush, and I believe I'm that candidate, and I believe that's what voters are going to decide here and in a lot of other states.
BLITZER: Bottom line, do you believe Howard Dean would be another George McGovern or Michael Dukakis, in taking the Democratic Party to defeat against the Republican presidential candidate?
GEPHARDT: Wolf, I think I have a much better opportunity and chance to defeat George Bush than Howard Dean or any of the other candidates. I believe I can compete with him on ideas. I believe my experience will match up against his. I think my foreign-policy experience matches up better against his than Howard Dean's. And I think I can beat George Bush in states like Missouri and Illinois and Ohio, those Midwestern states where we really have to beat George Bush.
BLITZER: When we come back, countdown to Iowa. We'll have more of my exclusive interview with the Democratic presidential candidate, Dick Gephardt. His daughter is a lesbian, but he opposes gay marriage. I'll ask him why.
Then, America on alert: Is al Qaeda planning more strikes? We'll assess the terror threat with two key members of the United States Congress.
And later, no let-up in the deadly attacks in Iraq. We'll talk with a panel of experts about what it will take to stop the violence.
LATE EDITION continues right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We return now to my exclusive interview with Democratic presidential candidate Dick Gephardt.
BLITZER: Let's move on, talk a little bit about President Bush. You had some very strong words about him. In recent months, you've been calling him a miserable failure.
But in The Washington Post, in an interview you gave them that appeared on Thursday, you said this: "He's not dumb, but he is not informed, and he's not experienced, and he hasn't surrounded himself with the right people to give him the information and the experience that he doesn't have. And he worries me."
Yet a year ago, almost a year ago, right after his State of the Union address, you sounded very differently when talking about the president. Listen to what you said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEPHARDT: There's been no daylight between us in this war on terrorism. We've met almost every single week and built a bipartisan consensus that is helping America win this war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You were very complimentary to him then. What happened?
GEPHARDT: Well, you know, over the course of time, you watch a person, you see how they respond to all the different issues. And I came to the conclusion that this president was not running a good foreign policy, that he was not informed as he should be, that he doesn't have the experience that he should have, and most importantly, that he wasn't listening to the right people to do the right things with our foreign policy. And I feel very strongly about it. I think we need a new foreign policy that has much better judgment involved in it. This president did not have foreign-policy experience. And he doesn't have the curiosity to find out the broad range of opinion that I think you need to have a good foreign policy.
And most importantly...
BLITZER: But, Congressman, Congressman, excuse me for interrupting, you supported him in the war on terrorism after 9/11, going to war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. You supported his decision to go to war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq earlier last year, in March and April. Where do you disagree with him specifically on foreign policy?
GEPHARDT: First of all, he has not gotten us the help that we need in Iraq or Afghanistan. He has not gotten the U.N., he has not gotten NATO to help us sufficiently, as he should have.
And even after the war ended, he has not gotten the help that we need. It's inexplicable to me that he could not organize the world around us to fight against terrorism. We had the sympathy of the entire world after 9/11.
This is a major failure. This is costing us $1 billion a week. We're losing people every day, and he can't get our people the help that we need. It is a tragic failure on his part.
BLITZER: So you regret supporting him, standing by him when he went and made that decision to go to war?
GEPHARDT: Wolf, our highest responsibility is to keep the people of this country safe. And that's what I thought was the right thing to do then, to do that, and I will always do what I think is right to keep the people of this country safe.
But he has not gone about this well. I have told him over and over again that he needed to get the help of NATO, he needed to get the help of the U.N., and he's not been able to do it, and that is a tragic failure.
BLITZER: And just to pick up on what you told The Washington Post earlier in the week, when you would meet with him privately in the White House, one on one or with a small group of leaders from the Congress who go over there, you emerge from those sessions, what, convinced he simply doesn't have the intellect to be president of the United States?
GEPHARDT: He has plenty of intellect. What he lacks is the experience and the knowledge. And he does not listen to the broad range of important opinion that he ought to as president to make the right decision. He ought to be listening much more to Colin Powell, in my view, and less to Rumsfeld and Cheney.
And he sure should be trying to mount a diplomatic effort in a more effective way to get the help that we need to get all of this done. This is a big job. This is a tough deal. And we need the help of every country in the world. This terrorism is an international problem; it's not just an American problem. And he is not getting us the help that we need.
BLITZER: You feel that he is on top of the war on terrorism right now, in terms of the homeland security? That Tom Ridge, as secretary of homeland security, knows what he's doing? That George Tenet, the CIA director, has the best intelligence information available to the president? Do you have confidence in the way this administration is dealing with current terrorist threats?
GEPHARDT: I do not. First of all, every time we go on to one of these orange alerts, it costs local governments lots of money. They've got to put police on extra duty; they've got to put emergency services on extra duty. He is not getting sufficient funds to the local level so that they can take care of these problems.
Secondly, we are still not looking in any of the containers that come in by sea, which is the way probably terrorists would bring in weapons of mass destruction or components of weapons.
Third, we aren't looking in the cargo that goes into the airplanes without passengers. So we are not looking into who is on the apron of these airports and around these airplanes. We're not doing a sufficient check of who's actually around the plane.
So, in my view...
BLITZER: Let me ask you, Congressman, move on to another issue, a sensitive issue -- we don't have a whole lot of time left -- an issue involving gay marriage, something I believe you oppose even though your daughter, Chrissy, is a lesbian. You love her. She's openly gay.
What's wrong with allowing gays to have formal marriage ceremonies in the United States?
GEPHARDT: I just think civil unions is the answer. I think it's something that can be accomplished. If states go to civil unions, we should conform federal law to that decision.
We've got a big agenda that we need to address. We need hate crimes legislation. We need ENDA (ph) to end discrimination against gays and lesbians. And we need to deal with this situation with civil unions.
We got a lot to do. We can't even get the Republicans to bring up legislation involving hate crimes or legislation involving ending discrimination against gays and lesbians.
BLITZER: I take it you and your daughter disagree on this subject.
GEPHARDT: We do. I don't think gay marriage is the answer. I think civil unions is an appropriate answer. It's something that I think you can pass in states and then we can conform federal law to. BLITZER: Congressman, one final question before I let you go. You're elected president of the United States, you're sworn in, you walk into the Oval Office for the first time, what's the first thing you do? The first five minutes, specifically, what's the first decision that you make?
GEPHARDT: Well, I'd get a new attorney general, because I think the one we've got is not doing this job with balance and common sense.
And then I would mount an effort to pass my health care plan, which would get every American covered with good health insurance that could never be taken away from you. I think Americans would prefer that a lot more than the Bush tax cuts, and it would put more money in the average family's pocket.
BLITZER: Congressman Dick Gephardt speaking with me earlier today from Iowa.
Just ahead, we'll get a quick check of the hour's top stories, including the latest on this weekend's deadly plane crash in Egypt.
Then, the terror threat. How long with the United States stay on high alert? We'll get special insight from two key members of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee.
LATE EDITION will continue right after a short break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: You got to be a fool, frankly, to go New Year's night to Times Square. I mean, I can't understand why people would do that. Just one hand grenade thrown in the air, and people panicking. It's just too tempting a target.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Republican Congressman Christopher Shays of Connecticut ruffling some feathers about ringing in 2004 in New York City's Times Square. Fortunately, the event occurred without incident.
Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."
We're joined now by two of Congressman Shays's colleagues: California Republican Congressman Christopher Cox. He's chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. And California Congresswoman Jane Harman. She's a Democrat. She's the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. She also serves on the Homeland Security Committee as well.
Good to have you both here on "LATE EDITION."
And, Congressman Cox, let me begin with you and get your quick reaction to what your colleague Chris Shays said. As you know, he got himself into a whole lot of trouble with folks in New York City.
REP. CHRISTOPHER COX (R), CALIFORNIA: He did. Well, let me begin by saying that he's an outstanding member of the Homeland Security Committee, as is my colleague Jane Harman.
When we're talking about whether we will or won't go to some public function, we have to remember that there's a broader audience. I think it's very important to think what would happen if there were no Times Square, if there were no Sugar Bowl or Rose Bowl, if there were not American life as we know it. Obviously, that's the result that the terrorists would enjoy.
We've got to follow the guidance, I think, wisely given of the president, of the secretary of homeland security and, I hope, of the Congress as exemplified by our appearing on the steps of the Capitol immediately after September 11th, when nobody really knew what was going on.
We're not going to turn our back on our way of life. And so, it's very, very important that we not send out that message.
On the other hand, I have to say that when we raise the whole country to a higher threat level, embedded in that blunt instrument is the likelihood that a whole lot of people are not going to know what to do with that little, tiny bit of information.
BLITZER: Well, let me get to that in a second.
You got yourself into a little trouble speaking about the subways in New York City at this time of a heightened terror alert.
REP. JANE HARMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, subways are soft targets. And mass gatherings, especially in places like New York, Washington and, unfortunately, Los Angeles, where we both hail from, are also top targets. So, in that sense, Chris Shays was trying to keep the people of New York safe.
But I think that Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD did a fabulous job. And the United States, in general, has done very well in the last few weeks while we've been on high terror alert.
BLITZER: Are you confident that it's safe to take the subway, the subway system in New York City?
HARMAN: I am confident that the mayor of New York and the NYPD are doing everything they can to keep subways safe. It is still a fact that subways are soft targets, and that if someone can penetrate the ventilation system of subways, as was tried in Tokyo about eight years ago, they can harm a lot of people.
So it's a mixed message, Wolf, but I do want to state that I have confidence in the first responders in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, places that are top targets.
BLITZER: What about that, though? You want to weigh in on the subway system, a soft target? How secure are America's subway systems?
COX: Well, I just -- I think America's a soft target. We have a big, open society. Every shopping mall, every office building -- there is no end to it.
The good news is that terrorists are not omnipotent. They cannot strike everywhere at any time. There are a finite number of them. And our job is to go find them before they get us.
But we can't harden every soft target in America.
HARMAN: That's true, but there are some big gaps in our homeland security program.
And let me say, I was one of the original sponsors of the homeland security law and the Homeland Security Department, even before the president was, and I strongly supported the legislation. However...
BLITZER: What are the big gaps you're talking about?
HARMAN: Two years later, we don't have one national integrated threat and vulnerability assessment. The president has finally called...
BLITZER: What does that mean? What does that mean?
HARMAN: That means a systemic study of where we are most vulnerable and an allocation of our resources against our biggest vulnerabilities.
For example, ports -- the ports of L.A. and Long Beach, are where 43 percent of the container traffic for America enters and exits, and yet we still don't have a good system of inspecting containers. That would be one.
But the other huge gap, Wolf, is interoperable communications. Three hundred and fifty firefighters died in the World Trade Towers on 9/11 because the NYPD, circling in helicopters, couldn't communicate with them. That is still true. And that's an enormous vulnerability, and we haven't fixed it.
BLITZER: You're the chairman of the committee. Let's talk about both of those issues.
The ports, the cargo coming into the United States -- how vulnerable are we?
COX: Well, that's exactly where we should be focused. And both Jane and I and the committee, on a bipartisan basis, are working on legislation to beef up our capability to respond.
The administration, on its own initiative, has started something called the Container Security Initiative to look not only at our own ports but further up in the supply chain at these megaports in Singapore and Hong Kong and so on. It's vitally important and, of course, nowhere more than in Los Angeles and Long Beach and those big megaports there.
But also this vulnerability assessment that Jane mentioned is vitally important. The legislation that we've already enacted calls for it. The administration is presently working on it. In our oversight capacity in Congress, we're doing everything we can to speed that along, to hasten it. But we've got to prioritize.
BLITZER: Do you have any sense of...
COX: The consequence of...
BLITZER: ... when the administration will finally produce this document?
COX: Yes, the president just put out a directive that puts the Homeland Security Department squarely in charge of all of the executive branch departments' efforts to get this done by the end of the year.
BLITZER: By the end of 2004?
BLITZER: That seems like a long time from now, to have a set of priorities.
COX: Well, it is in fact an ongoing work, because, if you think about it, just taking a look at the vulnerabilities of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is an enormous undertaking. Our national labs are helping us with that.
We've then got to fold that into the whole matrix of everything in the United States, but prioritizing it, making sure that we look at which infrastructure is most important -- how do you compare subways and airports, for example? -- that's where we should be spending our resources...
BLITZER: Let's talk about...
COX: ... and I'm confident that we are.
BLITZER: Let's talk about aviation security right now. There's been an enormous amount of concern in recent days, since the heightened terror threat level went from yellow to orange December 21st.
With all of these flights either being delayed or canceled or escorted, how -- you've seen the information, supposedly, that's backing up this kind of information -- how vulnerable is the U.S. right now?
HARMAN: Well, raising the threat level, in my view, was justified. FBI Director Mueller called me. I heard from senior CIA personnel about the reasons for raising the level, and I'm fully satisfied we did the right thing. I think our threat warning system, as Chris does, needs a lot of work. It should not be one-size-fits-all. And keeping the American people at a high level of anxiety is not a sustainable strategy.
Having said that, I think we did a good job of identifying specific airplanes where we thought there was a risk, and taking steps to protect passengers and American targets from damage by those airplanes.
BLITZER: Did the federal government overreact in certain instances?
HARMAN: No. I mean, this -- there's no pure science of risk- prediction, and we have to understand that. But this time, unlike, I think, the intelligence that we had on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, this time we were more precise, more accurate, and we acted efficiently.
One of the things it pointed out, though, is that we still don't have an integrated system of watch lists. We've just set up the Terrorist Screening Agency...
BLITZER: You're talking about watch lists. What do you mean by that?
HARMAN: ... as of December 1st, which helps us identify a list of people who could be trying to harm America.
And the information, at least according to public sources that we gave to the French about people who might be on the passenger manifests for the planes that we've stopped from coming here, was inaccurate.
BLITZER: Congressman Cox, without violating any classified information, national security interests, you've seen the intelligence, how specific are these threats to U.S. aviation, trying to hijack another plane and crashing it into some target here in Washington or in the United States?
COX: Well, there is no question that al Qaeda still wants to use airplanes as weapons. There is no question that there's planning going on. And there's no question that the threats, as they've been assessed, are real.
And so, sharing this information with, for example, the French and the British is entirely the right thing to do. These are sovereign governments. They can make their own choices. They have done so, so certainly the United States is not going it alone here. But in the collective judgment of these civilized nations, prudence was the better choice.
BLITZER: Some of these other governments don't like the idea of putting armed air marshals on these planes. The pilots don't like having marshals walking around inside the planes with the passengers, armed. The United States on certain flights is demanding that.
Is there justification for telling these foreign airliners you must have armed air marshals aboard these flights?
COX: Well, these are, of course, flights that are bound for the United States of America, and so we have an abiding interest in what goes on on those aircraft and whether they're used as weapons or not.
We went through this debate, a rather lengthy debate, in our own country.
I think we've reached some reasonable compromises. The United States is offering to train these air marshals for other countries.
So we want to make it as easy as possible for people to fly into the United States of America, but make sure that passenger safety and safety to the people on the ground is paramount.
BLITZER: You feel confident that these air marshals should be armed?
HARMAN: Well, I think that there is justification for it. The risk, of course, is that a bullet could pierce the shell of an airplane and decompression could happen. So, obviously, we have to be careful, and there are better kinds of ammunition and so forth. But hardening airplanes, according to everybody who studies security, is one of the ways that we can best act against al Qaeda.
Let's remember, Wolf, the world is very dangerous. It's great that Saddam Hussein has been captured, and I think that sends a positive signal, and I think it was helpful in Libya's recent action. But al Qaeda remains as dangerous as it was before 9/11. It is a horizontal -- meaning it doesn't need command just from the top -- organization, and it has cells all over the world...
BLITZER: All right, I want to pick up that thought.
HARMAN: ... and that worries me very much.
BLITZER: I want to take a quick break. We'll pick up that thought, more on al Qaeda, the threats, the specific threats to the United States, but we're going to take a quick break.
When we come back, we'll continue our conversation about countering the terror threat. Congressman Cox and Congresswoman Harman will be also -- they'll be taking your phone calls, as well. So this is a good time to call us.
Don't forget to weigh in on our Web question of the week: Do you think any of the Democratic candidates for president can beat George W. Bush? Go to cnn.com/LATE EDITION to cast your vote right now.
"LATE EDITION" will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking forward to 2004. We'll continue to stay focused on our economy, so people can find work, and stay focused on working to keep the peace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Bush on his plans for the new year.
Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."
We're continuing our conversation with two members of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee: California Republican Congressman Christopher Cox. He's the chairman. And California Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman. She's also the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.
Congressman Cox, Secretary Powell wrote in the New York Times this, among other things. He said, "Americans are safer, as 2004 begins, than they were a year ago. Afghanistan is no longer a devil's playground for terrorists, nor is Iraq an incubator for weapons of mass murder that could have fallen into terrorists' hands."
How much safer is the United States right now, let's say, than it was before 9/11, if at all?
COX: Well, it's very easy to make that comparison because of all the things that we have initiated since 9/11 that really just weren't even going on prior to that time.
And Secretary Powell could have continued to say that with respect to the al Qaeda organization, for example, which had menaced the United States for years before 9/11, over 3,000 of those operatives have been disabled, either by killing them or imprisoning them...
BLITZER: But Congressman Harman said that al Qaeda still represents a huge threat, maybe even a bigger threat, to the United States right now.
COX: There's no question that they're still able to function, and there's no question that our job is not finished. I think also there's no question that we will prevail over that organization, and they will be ultimately dismantled.
I was about to say over 300 organizations and individuals connected with financing al Qaeda have found their assets frozen, including through the offices of the United Nations, whose 119 member nations have all agreed to participate in such a freeze.
Those kinds of things weren't going on before 9/11. Neither was the intelligence sharing with law enforcement. Neither was the sharing between Washington and state and local governments and first responders.
We have miles to go, without question. Our to-do list on the Homeland Security Committee is quite significant. But what we've accomplished compared to what we were looking at at 9/11, a great deal.
BLITZER: Do you agree?
HARMAN: Well, my New Year's resolution for 2004 is that we learn the lessons of 2003.
For example, we had some good news about Libya. We learned that economic sanctions over a long period of time and patient diplomacy can work. Those were lessons we did not apply in Iraq.
It seems to me we learned that winning the war in Iraq is much easier than winning the peace in Iraq.
Now, we also learned that our intelligence products leading up to the war in Iraq were deficient. So were our intelligence products leading up to 9/11. Different failures.
But in 2004, if we can fix those things, I'm hopeful that we'll have a much safer world, and that's obviously what everybody wants.
BLITZER: And that's a huge if.
Let's take a caller from Florida.
Go ahead with your question, please.
CALLER: Yes, Wolf. Franklin Roosevelt once said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. With these blanket terror threats from unknown sources, is this really a form of terrorism itself that makes the war on terrorism a neverending story, if all we have to do is go AlQaida.com, and that's enough for a threat?
BLITZER: That's a good question. A lot of people are saying that they're winning by simply threatening the United States.
COX: That's, in fact, what Osama bin Laden is counting on. And in several of his messages, he has said that the people of the United States are cowering in fear.
That's what terrorism requires in order for it to work, because we're a big country. We are a quarter-billion people. Now, they've got to get us to respond in such fashion that the damage that they can inflict, which is necessarily confined to a specific locale, is spread across the whole country.
With our threat warnings, we've got to make sure those don't play into the terrorists' hands, therefore, by having a one-size-fits-all message that's not only nonspecific as to region and infrastructure sector but also doesn't communicate better, more intensely, with people who could use the information, the first responders, as against the global news conference.
BLITZER: Congresswoman Harman, you're on the Intelligence Committee, you're the ranking Democrat. Do you sense that the U.S. government is getting closer, narrowing in on Osama bin Laden, pinpointing more specifically where he might be?
HARMAN: I do sense that. I'm not going to reveal classified information, but I would say that the recent instability in Pakistan, the near-successful assassination attempts on the president of Pakistan, are very troubling, because he has been our ally in the search for Osama bin Laden. And I think it is absolutely critical in 2004 that we find him, just as we found Saddam Hussein.
Let me add, though, that I agree with what Chris Cox just said. I think our threat warning system needs a lot of improvement. I think that the House Homeland Security Committee, under his leadership, can help us improve it, and that will matter.
But another thing to point out is that, as we become more efficient at protecting security of America, we also have to protect the civil liberties of Americans. If we throw out our Constitution and our values in the quest to make Americans safer, I don't think that we have won the war on terror.
BLITZER: Are you suggesting that the government is doing that?
HARMAN: I'm suggesting that it's a careful balance, and that civil liberties and security are mutually reinforcing. And we have to think about that on the front end of these policies that we enact. Congress is trying to do that, actually, but we have to do a better and better job as we find out what the true threats are.
BLITZER: We are almost out of time.
You were recently in the Middle East, and you spent time in Syria. You met, I think with the President Bashar al-Asad, the leader of Syria. There's been a lot of question marks about his commitment to helping the U.S. stop movement into Iraq of potential terrorists.
What was your bottom line, as far as your assessment of President Bashar al-Asad?
COX: Well, I think that he was attempting to say that the Syria Accountability Act, which we had just enacted in Congress and which President Bush had signed just hours before I walked into my meeting with him, was an affront and something that he was willing to put behind him and move forward.
And we made it very clear in that meeting that the Syria Accountability Act, which calls on Syria to stop trafficking with terrorists, which puts a very, very specific requirement before them, is our basis for assessing our relationship with Syria.
He got a very tough message in a meeting that lasted over an hour and a half.
BLITZER: You met with him also.
HARMAN: I did, two years ago.
He is still actively supporting Hezbollah, one of the major terrorist groups, which has 10,000 medium-range rockets on the Lebanese border with Israel. His government and he have a long way to go. I would just point out, though, Wolf, on a positive note, that King Abdullah of Jordan and the king of Morocco are examples of moderate Islamist leaders who are creating stable governments. In Jordan, they just elected six women to the legislature. That's a first in an Arab country. Another good example is Turkey.
So I would just hope, in 2004, thinking positively in the new year, that we would help those countries become major players in the Arab League, and the Arab League would help push the Middle East toward some stability, finally.
BLITZER: Jane Harman and Chris Cox, thanks very much to both of you for joining us.
COX: Happy New Year.
BLITZER: Happy New Year to both of you, as well. Let's hope 2004 is an excellent year for all of us...
HARMAN: You bet.
BLITZER: ... including all our viewers around the world.
Just ahead, former POW Shoshana Johnson was in the spotlight this past week. We'll show you why in our picture of the week.
Plus, Howard Dean riding high in the Democratic race for president. But does he have enough momentum to capture his party's nomination? We'll survey a panel of political experts.
LATE EDITION will continue right after this.
BLITZER: And there's much more ahead on "LATE EDITION."
We'll get a check of the hour's top stories.
Then, the Democratic candidates for president face off later today in Iowa. We'll preview the debate and survey the field. Who's up? Who's down?
And tracking terror here in the United States and around the world -- we'll get perspective from a panel of experts.
"LATE EDITION" will continue right at the top of the hour.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."
The first electoral contest in the road to the White House only two weeks away. We'll talk about how the Democratic race is shaping up in just a moment.
First, though, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.
BLITZER: In just a couple of hours, several of the Democratic presidential candidates, almost all of them, in fact, will square off in Des Moines, Iowa.
Here in Washington to assess what's going on: Stuart Rothenberg, he's the editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report and a CNN political analyst. Joining us from Des Moines is Time magazine columnist Joe Klein. Also here in Washington, Donna Brazile, a Democratic political strategist. She was, of course, Al Gore's campaign manager in 2000.
Good to have all of you here on "LATE EDITION."
Joe, you're out there in Des Moines. Give us a lay of the land right now, just about two weeks before the caucuses. What's going on?
JOE KLEIN, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, I don't think anybody really knows what's happening. There hasn't been a poll out here in a while, at least a public one. And polling is notoriously inaccurate in Iowa, because it all depends on who shows up the night of the caucuses.
And this year, they're predicting a bigger turnout. But it seems to be a much closer race than New Hampshire. Howard Dean, obviously, is the front-runner. Dick Gephardt has a very strong campaign here. And John Kerry has been coming on fairly strong over the last few weeks, with John Edwards kind of trailing behind.
And no one knows how this is actually going to turn out. I think that, you know, this afternoon's debate will see a lot more of an aggressive assault on Howard Dean.
BLITZER: You know, Stuart, a lot of people don't understand the nuances of these caucuses. They think people are just going to go out and vote in Iowa on January 19th. But briefly explain to our viewers, in the United States and around the world, how the people in Iowa, the Democrats, are going to make their decision.
STU ROTHENBERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Iowa Democrats have to traipse out to caucus sites the evening of the 19th. Sometimes they have to go a long way; sometimes it's right around the corner. They will go in -- there will probably be some entrance polling by some networks.
But that's not really how delegates are selected. They go into these caucus sites, they express their opinions, there's discussion, then they recaucus or recalculate the numbers as to who's supporting whom if candidates don't get a requisite number. And that's how delegates are translated into this popular participation.
But it's a complicated process. It depends on how people do at particular caucus sites, urban areas, rural areas. So, we have to see exactly how the results are reported. BLITZER: And this could be a two-hour process for all of these people who are going to participate, Donna, in the Iowa caucuses. They go in around 6:30 local time, but by 8:30 the whole thing should be over. But during those two hours, people try to influence other people to change their minds.
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There's a lot of horsetrading going on during the Iowa caucuses. People go in sometime, you know, backing one candidate and come out, because there's been some horsetrade, supporting another candidate.
Look, it's all about having people who can go in there and really stand up for their person and talk about why that individual is electable. And then they come out with some type of horsetrade in the end.
BLITZER: I interviewed Congressman Gephardt, Joe, earlier today here on "LATE EDITION." I repeatedly tried to get him to say that Howard Dean was, in fact, qualified to be president of the United States. He repeatedly refused to say that. Listen to this one little exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Can I conclude from what you just said that you don't think he's qualified to be president?
GEPHARDT: Wolf, I think I'm more qualified than he is. I think he's going to have real trouble beating George Bush with the positions he's taken and the statements that he's made.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: How bitter is this competition between Gephardt and Dean?
KLEIN: Well, it's bitter between Dean and everybody else, especially Dean and the so-called "Washington candidates," because Dean's been attacking them all year for being flunkies for George Bush, voting for the war, voting for his education plan, voting for the tax cuts and so on.
So there's a fair amount of bitterness out here, and the question is -- I mean, Howard Dean has maybe a third of the party locked down in New Hampshire, and maybe a little bit less in Iowa. There are an awful lot of undecided people still, and the question remains whether those undecideds coalesce around another candidate.
My sense is that Gephardt has really leveled off here. And I was out on the stump with him about four or five days ago, and his message seems very, very tired.
John Kerry may be coming on a bit, because I think he's discovered English as a second language, after legislatese. He's actually more effective on the stump than he has been this year. BLITZER: Do you agree with that assessment on Iowa, that Gephardt, who does have a lot of organizational opportunities -- the unions, by and large, have supported him, and you need that kind of strength in Iowa to get the people out to the caucuses -- Stuart, do you think Gephardt may be a little bit in trouble, leveling off?
ROTHENBERG: Well, Wolf, I actually still think it's primarily a Dean-versus-Gephardt race. I think Joe's right, though, Kerry is a factor. He understands that he can't just focus on New Hampshire. He needs to do well enough in Iowa to give him something of a boost for New Hampshire.
Look, Gephardt had high expectations. They crashed. They're back up again. It's a difficult race for him.
But here's my problem with some of the analysis. I'm not sure why we should believe that undecided voters in Iowa are so fundamentally different from Iowa caucus participants who've already decided. So that I'm not sure there is this last-minute rush that could go to one side or the other. Undecideds may either not participate -- if the evening is snowy and cold, they may not want to go out -- or they may actually break as others have already broken.
If Kerry does well, he could get a little boost, because expectations from him now are just so low.
BRAZILE: And also would give him credibility going into New Hampshire, and I think that's one of the reasons why the Kerry campaign has put all of their eggs now in the Iowa basket, so that they can gain some credibility in the New Hampshire primary.
BLITZER: Listen to, Joe, this soundbite from Howard Dean. He spoke to our Kelly Wallace earlier in the week in South Carolina, complaining about everyone else, all the other Democrats sort of ganging up on him. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEAN: I think that the other guys are so obsessed with our campaign that they're not running a positive campaign. I don't think we can beat George Bush without running a positive campaign. We're going to continue to run a positive campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What's your assessment of what he's suggesting out there, that Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic Party, should intervene and tell the other Democratic candidates, lay off on Howard Dean?
KLEIN: Well, it's kind of like the bully in the schoolyard, when someone finally faces up to him and he breaks down in tears, it seems to me.
Look, going back to what Stuart just said, in my reporting out here in Iowa, and also in New Hampshire, when I talk to people who say they're undecided, they are almost always, almost always have reservations about Howard Dean. Even if they agree with his position on the war, which I think most Democrats obviously do, the reservations are about the way he shoots off his mouth. People in Iowa, the word I keep on hearing from undecided voters here is, "He's glib."
And I think that he may well have created a ceiling for himself with the way he has gone about this campaign, and especially with all of the mistakes and wild statements he's made over the past couple of weeks.
BLITZER: If, for some reason, Joe, he doesn't get the Democratic nomination, that's still, you know, a toss-up right now, do you think he would take his supporters and form some sort of third party? Or would he just go ahead and support the Democratic nominee?
KLEIN: Well, I don't think he would form a third party. I think that's a very unlikely scenario. The more troubling scenario for Democrats is that one of the great things that Dean has done has been to energize young voters. And the question is whether they would just stay home, if they just saw the election as George Bush against a Washington Democrat. And Dean, as I said, has been denigrating Washington Democrats for the past year.
BLITZER: Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the DNC, Stuart, was quoted in the New York Times as saying on Thursday, "All the candidates are going to come together. There is a visceral dislike of George Bush, and it's going to bring these guys together."
He's probably right when he says that, right?
ROTHENBERG: I think he probably is. Democrats, as a party, as a group, are strongly anti-Bush, feel he's taken the country the wrong way, feel he stole the election, go on and on and on. So I think they will rally around him.
However, I would agree with Joe's point here, that, to the extent that Democratic outsiders feel that insiders have taken the nomination away from Howard Dean, I think that Joe is right, that would be a problem for the Democratic Party.
BLITZER: Do you think the money factor, Donna -- you know money and politics, they're closely intertwined -- the fact Howard Dean has all of this money, Clark is doing relatively well, that that's going to be the determinative factor?
BRAZILE: No, I mean, what this says is that Howard Dean has been able convert many of his supporters to be, you know, donors for Howard Dean. And they are not only giving to Howard Dean, they are giving to Democrats like Leonard Boswell in Iowa who are calling on and saying, "Look, give me a little help."
So I think this money factor will enable Howard Dean to continue to run a very vigorous and aggressive campaign and will give the Clark campaign some money to compete in those February 3rd states.
Meanwhile, if Kerry and Gephardt suffer a major loss of defeat in Iowa and New Hampshire, they're dead.
ROTHENBERG: Wolf, the way I'd put it is this, I think that Howard Dean is the only candidate who can win on a sprint or a marathon. He can win the sprint because he can win Iowa and New Hampshire and lock up the nomination. If that strategy doesn't work, if he gets knocked off early or slowed down early, he has the resources, organization and message. He still has a terrific message that he could win over the long haul. He could do it either way.
BLITZER: I want to just get Joe to weigh in on that one specific point, then we're going to take a break.
If he wins, Howard Dean, Iowa and New Hampshire, is it all over? Is South Carolina and the other contests on February 3rd -- he might not necessarily do that well outside of New England and Iowa.
KLEIN: Well, I don't think it's over. It depends how he wins New Hampshire; if he wins Iowa and then New Hampshire. He's not going to win New Hampshire by 25 points, which is, you know, his current poll lead. He's going to win it much closer than that. And if a strong second-place finish there propels Wesley Clark into the South with some momentum, then we have a long race.
And I agree with Stuart that Dean would be pretty strong in a long race, too, because he's going to be strong in New York and he's going to be strong in California.
BLITZER: All right, we're going to ask our guests to stand by. We have a lot more to talk about when we come back. We'll sort through the race for the White House, candidate by candidate. Our guests also will be taking your questions. Call us right now.
And later, fears of new attacks by al Qaeda. We'll get analysis of the war on terror.
LATE EDITION will continue right after this.
BLITZER: The U.S. presidential campaign season kicking into high gear. We'll continue our conversation about President Bush and the Democratic candidates, all of whom want his job.
"LATE EDITION" will be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."
We're talking about this year's race for the White House with three guests: CNN political analyst and Rothenberg Political Report editor Stu Rothenberg; Time magazine columnist Joe Klein -- he's out in Des Moines, Iowa, right now, covering the Democratic contest. Also, here in Washington, Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile.
We have a caller from Georgia. Georgia, go ahead with your question.
CALLER: Thank you, Wolf. Great show. I want to ask your outstanding panel, with the stock market way up and the economy roaring, why in the world would not it be political suicide to repeal the Bush tax cut?
BLITZER: Let's let Stuart Rothenberg handle that one.
ROTHENBERG: Well, I think for the Democrats, the Democrats have this problem, they're trying to get the nomination, they're talking to the Democratic base, and the Democratic base doesn't want to do anything that Bush supported. So repealing the Bush tax cut resonates well among some Democrats...
BLITZER: For the wealthy. But what about the middle class, who are going to have their taxes go up if the Bush tax is repealed?
ROTHENBERG: And that's what we're hearing from John Kerry and a number of other Democrats. I think Democrats don't exactly know where to go on this. Obviously, Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt think they know where they want to go on this. But other Democrats are trying to finesse it. I think it's an open question.
BLITZER: Well, let me ask Joe Klein. You've been spending a lot of time in Iowa and New Hampshire. Is this an issue out there for Democrats?
KLEIN: Yes, absolutely. I think that the total repeal of the Bush tax cuts is an unbelievably silly thing to be advocating, which is what Dean and Gephardt are doing, being that wipes out the child tax credit, the marriage penalty and a bunch of other things that average families are getting.
However, one very strong issue for the Democrats this year is special favors that are going to the rich, to Bush's wealthiest supporters and contributors. Popularism has become the real underlying theme of the Democrats on domestic policy this year. And I think that tax breaks for the wealthy does have some resonance.
Time-CNN poll this week shows that 57 percent of the public believes that Bush pays too much attention to big companies, big corporate interests.
BLITZER: Let me let Donna weigh in on this as well.
Is it suicide, political suicide, for some of these candidates, like Gephardt, for example, to say eliminate all of those tax cuts, including for the poorer people, the middle class?
BRAZILE: I think they have to finesse the way they address the Bush tax cuts. Clearly, in a time of war, we should not have given the wealthy and others this huge tax cut. On the other hand, middle class has benefited. The child tax cut, Joe is absolutely right.
But there's a lot of economic anxiety out there. This is still a president who has had more net job loss than Herbert Hoover. And Democrats will have to talk about the economy in order to resonate with those voters in the general election.
ROTHENBERG: But the two candidates who are the front-runners in Iowa have the same position on this, which is totally rolling back the Bush tax cut. They're the leaders. It can't be such an awful position in a Democratic caucus contest, or in some primary contest, to take that position, can it, Donna?
BRAZILE: No, I don't think so. I mean, especially when you talk about activist voters. But when you go into the general election, you're not talking to just activists.
ROTHENBERG: That's the problem.
BRAZILE: You're talking to moderates and independents. And they felt a little bit of the crumbs from the Bush tax cuts.
ROTHENBERG: Right. Right.
BLITZER: Let's talk about some of the other candidates, Joe. And let me begin with you and talk about Senator John Kerry, who started off a year or so ago with so much promise but clearly has faded. Is he stabilizing, or is he making a bit of a comeback right now?
KLEIN: Well, I think he's making a bit of a comeback right now, but he still has the same problems that he's had throughout.
One is that he can't explain his position on the war in anything less than about 14 paragraphs. And even after he's finished talking, you don't know exactly where he stands.
And the other thing is that he does project a very aristocratic image, which has worked for Democrats in the past: Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy. But I don't know how well it's working right now.
However, he gives the second-best populist pitch, after Howard Dean, of any of these candidates. He is making a much stronger case for himself now. And he does have a fair amount, a very good amount of foreign-policy expertise. And in the end, I think that this is going to be an election that's going to be a referendum on George Bush's foreign policy.
BLITZER: I want you to listen to what General Wesley Clark, Stuart, said earlier today on "Meet the Press" when he was pressed on whether or not he would accept the number-two slot on a Democratic ticket. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not going to be the vice president. I'm not going to accept that nomination.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: What's the point? Why is he coming out so strongly, flatly refusing the notion that if Howard Dean got the nomination, he would accept the vice presidential running-mate position?
ROTHENBERG: Because he knows that if he encourages the vice president speculation, that's what we'll talk about, Wesley Clark for V.P. He's running for president. The only way he can succeed in doing that is to focus himself on the top office and to define himself that way.
I don't know, at the end of the day, what Wesley Clark would do if he was offered the number-two slot. I mean, I know a lot...
BLITZER: Could he accept it after so clearly stating he will not accept the nomination?
ROTHENBERG: Wolf, do you know how many politicians said that they would accept term limits and then changed their minds and run for office? Of course he could change his mind. We can all change our minds. But I don't think he wants to encourage that speculation.
And the idea of Howard Dean and Wesley Clark as a ticket is a little bizarre, if you consider the fact that they're such strong personalities. It's hard to tell who would be willing to take orders. I think they'd both be wanting to give orders.
BLITZER: Donna, I want you to...
BRAZILE: ... shotgun marriage if the two of them came together right now.
BLITZER: Well, it's happened before.
But let's talk about Joe Lieberman. You ran the Gore-Lieberman campaign the last time around. Joe Lieberman was out on ABC earlier today, and he made this point. I want you to listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is about the Clinton Democrats versus what might be called Dean, who now wants to take the party back to where we were before Clinton. And where we were before Clinton was in the political wilderness.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is Joe Lieberman right?
BRAZILE: Well, I think Joe Lieberman has always tried to establish this as a fight between the right and the left in the Democratic Party. I disagree. I think this is a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party, and it doesn't have a left-right connotation. It has to do with enthusiasm, with energy, and what Howard Dean has been able to do, and that is to speak to those who've been outside the political process, who want to have a seat at the political table.
And Joe Lieberman and many other Democrats just misread the tea leaves, and that's why they are behind Howard Dean right now.
BLITZER: Is that your assessment, Joe Klein, as well?
KLEIN: Yes, I think that there's something to that, but there's something more, and it goes back to what Wes Clark said about the vice presidency. Howard Dean would never say anything like that.
You know, what Wes Clark did was what politicians do, you know, he took the standard conventional wisdom course, as Stu just said. And the public now understands when politicians sound like politicians. They don't like it very much.
And so, you know, in this election year, the appropriate response would be, sure, I'd think about it, but first let's see whether more people want me to be president than Howard Dean.
BLITZER: Let me just wrap it up, Stuart, and get your thought on this, because you've been studying these presidential campaigns and elections for a long time.
In the latest CNN-Time magazine poll that's just out, how is President Bush handling his job as president? Approval rating, 54 percent. Disapproving, 37 percent.
With those kinds of numbers, he's going to be incredibly, incredibly tough to beat, no matter who the Democratic nominee is.
ROTHENBERG: I would say, first of all, Wolf, that elections are, first of all, about the president, and they're referendums on the incumbent. And if the voters want to reelect the incumbent, it doesn't matter who the Democrats nominate.
The president has good numbers now. The economy is good. There will be some job growth. It will not make up for all the jobs lost.
But there are still huge question marks in Iraq, in terms of homeland security. This electorate is very sensitive to events. Events are driving poll numbers.
So we'll have to see where the president looks six and eight months from now. But you'd have to think that George W. Bush is in a lot better shape now than he was four or five months ago.
BLITZER: And just imagine, Donna, this might be a nightmare for some Democrats out there, if between now and November of this year they actually find and capture Osama bin Laden.
BRAZILE: Well, it would be a good thing for the country, for the security of America, but I don't think it would let George Bush go into the fall election with a coronation. I think Democrats will give George Bush a fight for every vote. The electorate is still evenly divided between the two parties. And Democrats will get their electoral groove back and take on George Bush and the Republicans.
BLITZER: Joe Klein, you have the last word. The president of the United States, is he vulnerable?
KLEIN: Of course he's vulnerable. He's vulnerable to events, as Stuart said, and it's not just Iraq. You know, you may have an Islamic takeover of Pakistan, and they have a bomb. There have been two assassination attempts against the president of Pakistan in the last couple of weeks. The Saudis are pretty shaky. There's always the possibility of a terrorist attack here in the United States.
If none of those things come to pass, and if Iraq quiets down -- all of these pretty big ifs -- then of course the president is probably going to be unbeatable.
But I do think that we're at the beginning of a long-term religious war against Islamic radicalism. Bush has made some very clear-cut decisions on how that war should be routed, through Baghdad, for example. The question is whether he's made the right decisions.
BLITZER: Joe Klein in Iowa, we're going to be seeing and hearing a lot more from him in the coming weeks and months.
Stuart Rothenberg and Donna Brazile, we'll also be hearing a lot from both of you as well.
Thanks to all of you for joining us.
Just ahead, we'll get a quick check of the hour's headlines. The British prime minister, Tony Blair, in Iraq.
Then, what's next in the war on terrorism? We'll explore the potential threats here in the United States and around the world in 2004.
And there's still time for you to weigh in on our Web question of the week: Do you think any of the Democratic presidential candidates can beat George W. Bush? Simply go to cnn.com/lateedition to cast your vote.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."
Joining us now to help us assess where the war on terror stands right now, three guests: Ken Pollack is a fellow with the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution here in Washington, a thinktank. He's also a CNN analyst who was recently in Iraq.
Jessica Stern is a lecturer at Harvard University and the author of the book, "Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill."
And Kelly McCann is a CNN security analyst, a former U.S. Marine special operations officer. He's also just back from Iraq.
Thanks to all three of you for joining us.
Let's take a look at the latest casualty counts since the war started.
Ken, I'll begin with you.
Since Operation Iraqi Freedom began, 487 U.S. troops have been killed, 370 since the fall of Baghdad, 139 before May 1st in March and April. And thousands of others have been injured, many of them very seriously.
Is the U.S. winning this war in Iraq?
KEN POLLACK, CNN ANALYST: Well, the problem is, Wolf, it's hard to use the casualty account to assess whether or not we're winning.
The war is not going to be won by whether or not we catch Saddam, which we've done. That was obviously an important thing. We saw that. It hasn't solved the problem. We still have an insurgency out there.
The war is ultimately going to be won by whether or not the U.S. is able to convince the Iraqi people to stick with the process of reconstruction, build a new Iraqi government and a new Iraqi economy.
And that process is being greatly slowed by our inability to provide broad security across the country, to make the Iraqis feel safe in their own country.
BLITZER: Did you feel safe when you were there?
POLLACK: Honestly, no, I did not. Even inside the green zone, the very heavily guarded U.S. compound inside the heart of Baghdad. The insurgents still find ways to rain mortar shells down on them.
But again, the most important thing is not whether U.S. troops feel safe and secure in Iraq; it's whether the Iraqi people feel safe enough to resume their lives, to start a new political process, to rebuild their economy. And they aren't.
BLITZER: What was your sense when you were there, Kelly?
KELLY MCCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think we've won the war. I think what we're going to see is, with the deployment of the U.S. police officers, those field training officers, and their Iraqi counterparts as police officers, they're going to have a much more difficult job ahead of them. And that's when we're really going to see stability.
I mean, the bottom line is, the average Iraqi citizen, when he looks out his window and hears gunfire throughout the day, can't possibly feel safe. Yet, it can't be the Army's responsibility, as an occupying force, to maintain the kind of community-based policing that will quell a lot of those problems, so...
BLITZER: How scared were you, if you were scared? You're a former Marine special operations officer.
MCCANN: Not scared. I mean, we were heavily armed, and basically, we had been over there several times. I know that people traveling with us are usually fearful because it's not their realm.
But the bottom line is, you have to be very, very proficient, you have to run signals intelligence to know what people are saying. Look for surveillance -- it's omnipresent -- from the former regime loyalists. You have understand the prints (ph) and indicators you're likely to see with the vehicle-borne bombs, et cetera.
There's an awful lot going on every day.
BLITZER: Jessica, you've spent a career studying terrorists, what motivates these terrorists, the Islamists, if you will. Based on everything you know, what's motivating the enemy of the U.S. in Iraq right now?
JESSICA STERN, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Well, I think al Qaeda's objective is to make it look as thought this is a war between the West and Islam.
And unfortunately, I think we may have played into that objective by going in there and not being prepared to create a functioning state, making it so that Iraqis feel, as Ken said, unsafe in their own homes. That's a major problem.
And we really need to make sure that they are more sympathetic to the goals that we're trying to implement than those that our enemies are trying to persuade them are the right goals.
BLITZER: Well, is there any way of converting, let's say, these opponents of the United States, or are they such true believers in what they're doing that they're going to fight to the bitter end?
STERN: I don't think there's anything we can do to persuade terrorists to come around to our side. What we need to be a lot more concerned about are the people that may or may not decide to provide them various kinds of support -- logistic support and so on.
And so, when we see polls that make clear that Muslims around the world, and in particular in Iraq, are turning against the United States, that's a big problem for us, because it means that the terrorists might get help from those people.
BLITZER: Earlier in the week, the U.S. Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt was briefing reporters, and he made this important point. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY: We are seeing a small uptick in the capability of the enemy. They are getting a little more complex. And for what reason, we don't know, but they are getting a little more sophisticated of late.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Kelly McCann, is that your military assessment as well, that there is an improvement, that the enemy, the U.S. enemy in this particular case, is getting more sophisticated and better?
MCCANN: It's a dynamic struggle. As countermeasures develop, so do tactics, techniques, procedures by the enemy.
There was just one recent assault on a contractor convoy where at high speeds a convoy was intercepted and run off the road at the precise point that a house 50 meters away engaged them. That shows a level of coordination and communication that I spoke about a little bit earlier.
The same is true with the level of the sophistication of the surveillance. There is a lot of footborne surveillance, there's a lot of communications, et cetera.
So they are, in fact, adapting to the security measures that are in place by the U.S. military. That will again change once the country starts to feel the effect of the police out in the communities.
BLITZER: A lot of people, Ken Pollack, thought that with the death of Uday and Qusay, the sons -- the notorious sons of Saddam Hussein, and with the capture of Saddam Hussein, things were going to get better. But apparently that hasn't had that kind of direct impact, at least in the short term.
POLLACK: Yes, Wolf, what we need to recognize is that the insurgency in Iraq, the resistance, is coming from a variety of different groups.
There are former regime loyalists out there who had a very decentralized structure, who weren't necessarily reporting on day-to- day basis to Saddam or his sons, and they still have lieutenants out there who are controlling this operation.
As Jessica Stern has mentioned, al Qaeda is now in Iraq. We don't yet have a very good sense of how strong their presence is, but they are obviously developing enough of an infrastructure so that they can operate.
There are also kind of lone Islamic fundamentalists, both of the Sunni and Shia variety.
And there are also just a lot of Sunni tribesmen in Iraq who don't like the U.S. presence, because we have convinced the Sunni tribes, who represent a small but important fraction of Iraq's population, that they have nothing to gain from the course of reconstruction.
BLITZER: Jessica, between now and the end of June, as you know, the U.S. is supposed to hand over power to some sort of local Iraqi regime. Is that going to change the situation on the ground? Is it going to get off the ground, in fact, this transition?
STERN: I think what really matters is how secure Iraqis feel, more than anything else. We're talking about physical security before we should be worrying about state-building. And I think that how Iraqis feel about their ability to live their normal lives is a critically important factor, more so than perhaps who is running the country.
BLITZER: All right.
STERN: Although I, of course, I think it's...
BLITZER: Go ahead.
STERN: I think it's critically important that Iraqis take control as quickly as possible and, in the interim, that the international community get involved as quickly as possible.
BLITZER: All right, Jessica, stand by. Kelly and Ken, as well. We're going to take a quick break.
When we come back, from the United States, to Turkey, to Saudi Arabia and Iraq, all targets of terrorism in recent months. We'll talk about the global threat and the impact of the war in Iraq.
LATE EDITION will continue right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."
We're continuing our discussion with three guests: CNN analyst Ken Pollack, terrorism expert Jessica Stern, and CNN security analyst Kelly McCann.
Kelly, this whole fear, since December 21st, when the U.S. went to this higher terror threat level -- the aviation, the planes coming into the United States, cancellation of flights, delayed in flights -- how concerned are you about the security of U.S. aviation right now?
MCCANN: Well, I think everybody's concerned about it, because it's a recurring theme. I mean, al Qaeda's made the point that, you know, planes would fall from the sky, et cetera. So no threat or perceived threat can be taken too lightly.
There are some problems with the 30 percent cargo that's loaded onto commercial planes that is not luggage. It's not screened routinely if it's from a known shipper. So that causes great concern.
I mean, the truth is that good security doesn't result in near misses; it results in no incidents. So it's very difficult to measure what, in fact, you missed. And that's the problem. A lot of people feel the need to know an incident was averted, and unfortunately, sometimes we don't get to know that.
BLITZER: Normally, Jessica, as you well know, al Qaeda in the past has waited a couple of years, sometimes three years, before major terror attacks against U.S. interests. That's been a pattern.
But it seems lately that there may this diffusion, if you will, of al Qaeda, and they're not necessarily getting orders from the top. What's your assessment?
STERN: Well, we don't really know why there haven't been major attacks in the United States. It could be that they are waiting to carry out a very, very significant strike that they've been threatening to carry out now.
And it could be that the groups that are prepared to operate in al Qaeda's name that are not really officially part of the international Islamic front might be willing to carry out lower-level attacks.
Unfortunately, we just don't know. And we don't know whether, alas, whether they will be successful in carrying out the major attack they keep bragging that they intend to pull off shortly.
BLITZER: One of the things I know you've studied is the role of women as terrorists. The profile generally out there is that some man, 19 hijackers, all men, are going to commit these kinds of acts. But you suspect, Jessica, that women could be enlisted as suicide bombers as well.
STERN: It's actually not just women. We have to remember that terrorists are very intelligent, and they are very good at adapting to whatever countermeasures we put in place.
So if we're expecting a certain type of person, and we're looking to stop that type of person, they're going to try to recruit people who don't look like what we're profiling and expecting.
And that could be women, it could be illegal aliens in the United States. It could be people coming in to work on farms. We really don't know.
The one thing we do know is that we can't rest, that they will learn from our countermeasures and adapt.
BLITZER: How determined, Ken Pollack, would you say that al Qaeda or some of the splinter, associated groups involved with al Qaeda might be to go after a huge target -- the Super Bowl? Times Square, New Year's Eve, went calmly, very quietly, no problem whatsoever.
But how important is it for them to go after a huge target like that?
POLLACK: Well, certainly, hitting a target that makes a big media splash is an important element for them. As Jessica's pointed out, they have been claiming for a while now that they are preparing for a major attack. There are people inside the U.S. government who believe that the events of the last few days may have been intended to be that big attack.
For the first time ever, they had incredibly good evidence about threats to various airliners, specific flights, both over Christmas and New Year's Eve holidays. That may have been the big thing. And as Kelly and Jessica have just pointed out, those may have just been averted.
One of the things we've seen from al Qaeda in the past is they are very patient. And anytime that they think that the United States or another law enforcement agency is onto them and is prepared for them, they back off, they stand down, they don't launch the attack.
BLITZER: Kelly McCann, is it your assessment that armed air marshals aboard flights really makes a difference?
MCCANN: Not by itself. I mean, it's the compilation of doors that can't be intruded into. It's a combative...
BLITZER: The cockpit doors?
MCCANN: Exactly. It's a combative passenger group that won't allow any kind of foolishness on board planes. It's the screening measures. It's the 100 percent baggage screening. And, in the end, an air marshal.
Now, the other thing is, I think we have to remember that al Qaeda has also said that they would target us economically.
Imagine the money expensed from right prior to the Christmas Day to when we go back to yellow. I mean, the kind of money that they can make us spend by throwing out kind of, you know, chatter that they know we'll pick up is incredible. And I wouldn't say that they haven't figured that out.
BLITZER: All right. Kelly McCann, very disturbing assessment to end this conversation with. Thanks, as usual.
Ken Pollack, thanks to you as well.
Jessica Stern at Harvard, appreciate it very much.
Just ahead, the numbers are in on our "LATE EDITION" Web question of the week. We'll tell you how you, our viewers, voted around the world.
Plus, Bruce Morton's last word.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In Iraq, the U.S. brought down a dictator and is now trying to impose democracy, more or less at gunpoint. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Our Web question of the week: Do you think any of the Democratic candidates for president can beat George W. Bush? Take a look at the results. 80 percent of you say yes. 20 percent of you say no. Remember, this is not a scientific poll.
Time now for Bruce Morton's last word on America and questions about its mission around the world.
MORTON: Vice President Cheney's Christmas card this year includes a quote about God from Benjamin Franklin: "If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?"
Well, it's certainly possible. It's hard to imagine that Hitler's Third Reich or Stalin's Soviet Union had much divine help.
Still, it's a useful place to start thinking about the American empire George W. Bush leads.
Dmitri Simes (ph), a long-time watcher of U.S. foreign policy, writes in Foreign Affairs magazine that, whether or not the United States now views itself as an empire, for many foreigners it increasingly looks, walks and talks like one.
It is an idealistic empire, not one bent on conquest for conquest's sake. President Bush has said more than once that American-style democracy is the best system for all people everywhere.
And in Iraq, the U.S. brought down a dictator and is now trying to impose democracy, more or less at gunpoint.
This kind of democratic imperialism is a big change for the United States. The belief that the U.S. can start wars is new.
Simes (ph), in his article, favors a more traditional approach: alliances, the balance of power and so on.
The principal problem, he writes, is the mistaken belief that democracy is a talisman for all the world's problems, including terrorism. It is also condescending, he goes on, to claim that America has the right to impose democracy on other nations and cultures.
This would be a good issue to have an election about. Those, the neo-conservatives and their allies who favor an evangelistic U.S. imposing democracy, on the one side. Those who, like Simes (ph), favor a more traditional foreign policy, on the other.
The trouble is, the choice may not be that clear. The newspapers these days are full of stories about programs in Iraq being dropped or cut back, police training being drastically shortened and so on, all in the interest of getting U.S. troops out before the election next November.
Politics as usual, and shouldn't surprise anybody, but it will fudge the issue.
Getting out before a system with some reasonable chance of success is established would leave the democratic imperialists saying, "Hey, we never got a fair shot." The traditionalists would huff, "That stuff would never have worked anyway."
But a real choice -- I'll confess to favoring the traditionalist side -- would mean an election about a real issue. Wouldn't that be a treat?
I'm Bruce Morton.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Bruce.
Let's get to some of our viewer e-mail.
Joe (ph) from Washington writes this: "With the fiasco that happened in the last presidential election in Florida, what steps have been taken to ensure all votes are counted? With hundreds of thousands of troops overseas, how will those votes be tallied and collected? Every vote counts, including American soldiers."
Newman (ph) writes from the United Kingdom: "What if the Iraqi people, as a result of the elections, choose to install an Islamic theocracy? Will President Bush and the Iraqi Governing Council respect their decision, or will they simply ignore the results?"
As always, we welcome your comments. Our e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let's take a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines right here in the United States.
Newsweek features doubts about Howard Dean, behind the Democrats' battle to stop him.
Time also asks, who is the real Howard Dean?
And on the cover of U.S. News and World Report, boom times, how high can the economy fly?
That's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, January 4th.
For our international viewers, "World News" is next.
Coming up for our North American viewers, a CNN special, "Time Magazine's Person of the Year." That's followed by "People in the News," then at 3:00 p.m. Eastern, CNN's coverage of the Iowa Democratic presidential debate. Before we go, we'd like to say thank you very much to our "LATE EDITION" director Reza Bakhtar (ph). He'll be leaving us. We will miss him.
There he is. Wave, Reza.
Take care. Good luck in the next chapter in your excellent career.
And join me next Sunday, every Sunday, at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.
I'll be here Monday through Friday at noon Eastern, as well as 5:00 p.m. Eastern.
Until then, thanks very much for watching. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
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