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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

U.S. Says Syria's Planned Withdrawal Not Enough; Bush Makes Controversial Nomination of U.N. Ambassador

Aired March 7, 2005 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


LOU DOBBS, HOST: Tonight, U.S. defense for sale, a new and troubling threat to our national security: foreigners buying one of our top armored vehicle builders as the overseas invasion of our defense industry escalates. And just what is the Bush administration, what is Congress thinking?
Targeting the United Nations. President Bush nominates one of the U.N.'s harshest critics to be our next U.N. ambassador. We'll tell you why and how the nomination is being received at the United Nations.

And identity crisis, the House of Representatives wants applicants for driver's licenses to show proof of citizenship. Nothing complicated about that, so why is the National Governors Association so opposed to the plan?

I'll also be talking with a lawmaker who's fighting back against employers who hire illegal aliens instead of American citizens.

ANNOUNCER: This is Lou Dobbs for news debate and opinion, tonight.

DOBBS: Good evening.

The United States today declared that Syria's failure to set a date for complete withdrawal from Lebanon is unsatisfactory. The Syrian and Lebanese presidents today agreed that all Syrian troops in Lebanon will be withdrawn to eastern Lebanon by the end of this month, but they delayed a decision on when Syria will pull out of Lebanon entirely.

We'll have a report from the White House in just a moment, but first we go to Brent Sadler with a report from the Syrian capital of Damascus.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the Syrian capital, two seemingly inseparable presidents, defying world pressure to agree to a complete and immediate withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon. Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, shares the red carpet with a longtime friend and trusted Lebanese ally, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud.

Their agenda here, to lay down specifics of a two-phase military move towards a withdrawal the world wants but at their own pace. Leading, say top Syrian officials, to a positive end game.

IMAD MUSTAFA, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Not a single Syrian influence in Lebanon. All of our troops outside. The only influence we will have on Lebanon is that based on our historic cultural, family, social ties with Lebanon.

SADLER: Step one, a pledge to re-deploy Syrian troops by the end of this month, evacuating positions held for decades in northern and central Lebanon to a new line closer to Syria, but still well inside Lebanon.

Step two is less clear, planning under close wraps. Military chiefs have been given up to a month to work out the next move. Only at that stage will both governments sign off on a complete withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

But Syria's own political allies in Lebanon are now setting their own street agenda to counter anti-Syrian demonstrations with a mass rally planned Tuesday in support of Syria, called by the armed militant group Hezbollah, hoping to prove that, even as Syria prepares to pull back troops, it can count on another kind of Lebanese support.

Brent Sadler, CNN, Damascus.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOBBS: The White House today described the Syrian announcement as a half measure that doesn't go far enough. Administration officials say the Syrians must withdraw all their troops before Lebanese elections at the end of May.

Senior White House correspondent John king reports -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: and Lou, as the administration criticized the announcement over the weekend by President Assad, the president also worked to keep up the international pressure on the Syrian government.

Mr. Bush left the White House today. He just returned moments ago, but he was in Pittsburgh with the first lady earlier today, focusing on some domestic issues. And while traveling he placed two phone calls, one to the French president, Jacques Chirac, the other to the Saudi crown prince, Abdullah.

Both leaders have agreed with the United States and publicly put their governments on record saying that Syria must immediately and completely withdraw its troops from Lebanon, Mr. Bush thanking both leaders for their support and asking them to stand with the United States in keeping the pressure on Syria in the days and weeks ahead.

As you noted, they watched closely here over the weekend, waiting for President Assad's announcement about a Syrian troop movement within Lebanon, and the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, says that announcement was nowhere near enough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We want to see the complete and immediate withdrawal of all Syrian military forces and all intelligence services in Lebanon. This is a half measure that simply does not achieve that objective.

We stand with the Lebanese people. The Lebanese people are the ones who want a country that is sovereign, and independent, and free from outside interference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now the president himself will keep up the pressure tomorrow. He will deliver a major speech on the war on terrorism here in Washington. And Mr. Bush will say after decades of stagnation politically across the Middle East, that democracy is beginning to take hold.

He will cite the recent Palestinian elections, the recent Iraqi elections, other steps the president will say are steps, finally, towards democracy in that region. And the president will hold out Lebanon as the next critical point for the international community, next critical possibility for democracy in the Middle East, and once again, Lou, demand that Syria not pull its troops back within Lebanon, but get all of them, and all of its intelligence services, out and out now -- Lou.

DOBBS: John, is the White House explaining precisely why this administration has changed its focus, altered its focus from Iran, which is proceeding with a nuclear weapons program, and focused now intensely on Syria?

KING: Well, the president will lay out in the speech, Lou, what he views as the major problems with Iran, as well. The administration says, though, in Lebanon right now you have, if you will, a moving target, an opening, an opportunity to move the ball. And with the resignation of the Syrian-backed Lebanese government, the administration said it had to move quickly.

This is one of those cases where the administration would say you have to deal with several problems at the same time and that Syria and Lebanon at the moment is more ripe, although the president in that speech also will urge Iran to end its nuclear program, urge it to advance the ball in the negotiations with the European partners, although we are told there will be no announcement yet. The administration has to make an announcement on the next step in that strategy. That announcement will not come in tomorrow's speech. More pressure on Syria for now.

DOBBS: Pressure changing dynamics in the Middle East. John King, thank you.

President Bush today nominated one of this country's strongest critics of the United Nations to be our next U.N. ambassador. President Bush selected a top State Department official, John Bolton, for the job. Bolton has repeatedly criticized the United Nations for failure to take tough action against Iran and North Korea. Richard Roth has the report from the U.N.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The nomination of John Bolton hit the U.N. like a thunderbolt. In or out of government service, Bolton has been a harsh critic of the organization.

JOHN BOLTON, NOMINEE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: You start off with a half a phrase in a resolution that nobody reads that then gets turned into a political declaration that suddenly becomes a binding international agreement.

ROTH: At the U.N., one diplomat said everyone is alarmed, but Bolton, while acknowledging his U.N. criticism, said at a State Department working closely with others is essentially to a safer world.

BOLTON: Close cooperation and the time-honored tradition of frank communication is central to achieving our mutually held objectives.

STEPHANE DUJARRIC, U.N. SPOKESMAN: I don't know about what previous biases he may bring here. I think we have -- we have nothing against people who do hold us accountable.

BOLTON: Some U.S. allies may be puzzled by the choice of Bolton after the charm offensive in Europe by the president, but the administration may want Bolton to help reform the view of the U.N., now plagued by scandal, inside America.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: John will also help to build a broader base of support here in the United Nations, for the U.N. -- in the United States for the U.N. and its mission.

ROTH: As undersecretary of state for arms control, Bolton has been the leading administration hard-liner on Iran and North Korea over suspected nuclear programs. Two years ago he called North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il a tyrannical dictator, to which North Korea labeled Bolton human scum.

Ambassadors were more diplomatic at the U.N.

ABDULLAH BAALI, ALGERIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: When you join the United Nations and you interact with diplomats like us, then you change your views. We will certainly have interesting discussions.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROTH: Condoleezza Rice said John Bolton has a track record of getting things done. At the United Nations, that's not always easy, but the U.N. is eager for better relations with the Bush administration. And if it's going to be John Bolton here, they're going to grin and bear it -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Richard Roth from the U.N. The United States today angrily rejected a claim that American troops deliberately fired on a car carrying a freed Italian hostage in Baghdad. The White House called the charge simply absurd. The accusation was made by the freed hostage herself, a journalist.

In an article in her newspaper, the journalist declared, "Our car was driving slowly, and the Americans fired without motive." That journalist was wounded in the shooting. An Italian security agent in the car was killed.

The U.S. Army said the car drove towards a checkpoint at high speed and ignored repeated warnings to stop.

Well, the Italian journalist works for a communist newspaper that is highly critical of U.S. policy in Iraq. The shooting incident and the journalist's remarks have sharply increased anti-American feelings in Italy. Italy, of course, is a key ally of this country in Iraq.

Kitty Pilgrim has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Italy, there was a full state funeral for the Italian secret service agent shot in Iraq. He used his body to shield the Italian journalist who had just been freed. Ten thousand people paid their respects, but some seek to turn the tragedy into a political statement, and protests have erupted.

NILE GARDINER, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: It is a great shame that the far left in Italy is seeking to exploit this recent human tragedy in order to try to build a wedge between Italy and the United States, two very close allies in Iraq and in the broader war on terror.

PILGRIM: The left-wing accusations have gotten out of control. The communist paper the journalist worked for, "IL Manifesto," ran headlines accusing U.S. forces of "assassinating" the Italian secret serviceman. Since the incident, the journalist has stepped up her verbal attack on U.S. forces.

MATTHEW FELLING, CTR. FOR MEDIA & PUBLIC AFFAIRS: If you look back at the reports that she filed, she's called Americans criminals, and that what we're doing in Iraq is nothing short of a massacre. So when someone steps forward like this and has some criticism for the American forces, you're tempted not to give it 100 percent believability.

PILGRIM: Fantastically, some claim the United States forces fired on the car because Italy is said to have paid some $8 million in ransom money for the release of the woman, and that goes against state coalition policy, something the State Department denied today.

RICHARD BOUCHER, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: There's absolutely no shred of truth to the idea that we somehow we did this on purpose.

PILGRIM: Protesters are pressuring the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who has committed 3,000 troops on the ground in Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Now, a White House spokesman today called the incident an accident. A full U.S. investigation is under way in cooperation with Italian authorities. And in the meantime, Italian officials are not denying that a ransom was paid. That perhaps something they would not like investigated too closely -- Lou.

DOBBS: Now, while this is a tragic shooting, it's remarkable that there is not just a simple statement that is an idiotic charge by a communist newspaper that is obviously making great political capital, if you will, out of this tragedy.

PILGRIM: They certainly have an agenda in making these statements, yes.

DOBBS: And interestingly enough, the national media in this country has not put in context what "Il Manifesto," the communist newspaper, nor its agenda.

PILGRIM: It's not considered fully a journalistic vehicle.

DOBBS: It's certainly considered fully a political vehicle.

PILGRIM: Right.

DOBBS: Kitty, thank you very much. Kitty Pilgrim.

Insurgents in Iraq today launched new attacks against Iraqi police and troops. Eighteen Iraqis were killed, dozens were wounded. In the city of Balad, north of Baghdad, a suicide bomb killed five Iraqis, 27 others were wounded. The target was the House of an Iraqi army officer, but most of the casualties were students, students who were lined up ready to go to school on the other side of the street.

Still ahead here, double standards. A claim tonight that many of the midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy are neither the brightest nor the best, and were actually given places at the expense of more qualified candidates.

And U.S. defense for sale. How key parts of our defense industry are now in the hands of foreign countries, raising new concerns about the transfer of U.S. military technology to potential enemies.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Another key U.S. defense contractor is about to be purchased by a foreign company. United Defense, which builds the Bradley fighting vehicle, has entered negotiations with BAE Systems of Britain. Critics say that deal threatens U.S. national security because it would weaken U.S. control of its vital defense industry.

Lisa Sylvester reports from Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bradley fighting vehicles are designed to bring infantry into close contact with the enemy. They are an essential part of today's U.S. Army. But the Bradley fighting vehicle will soon be made by a foreign company.

British-based BAE Systems has acquired the maker of the Bradley, United Defense Industries. Critics see it as another sign the U.S. industrial military base is withering away.

TOM BUFFENBARGER, MACHINISTS & AEROSPACE WORKERS: We're at war today. And giving away our ability to manufacture the means to wage it and defend ourselves is so contradictory, it's almost incomprehensible to have a discussion about.

SYLVESTER: The $4 billion deal is a major coup for BAE, already the largest foreign supplier to the Pentagon. In the past five years, the company has acquired over a dozen U.S. defense-related companies. BAE says it will continue to build the Bradley vehicle in the United States and continue its practice to create jobs here.

WALT HAVENSTEIN, BAE SYSTEMS: BAE Systems North America has created jobs ever since it was -- ever since it's been in existence. And over the last year alone, we created nearly 4,000 jobs here in the United States.

SYLVESTER: U.S. defense workers remain concerned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a very short number of years, the United States will be a different place. We will be at the mercy of others for our defense and our prosperity. It sounds almost un-American to me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: The deal still has to be approved by the company's shareholders and is subject to review by the Department of Justice and the Pentagon. But at this point, Lou, it looks like the agreement will go through -- Lou.

DOBBS: And Lisa, in trying to talk with a number of people today to get their reaction in your reporting on Capitol Hill, congressmen, senators, is this just simply too hot for them to handle?

SYLVESTER: Well, it's one of those things where "buy American," you know, 10 years ago, was quite a popular concept. And for many reasons, as you well know, Lou, it seems like members of Congress are just not as concerned as they once were as far as making sure that these products stay in the United States -- Lou.

DOBBS: Indeed, like so many other products. Lisa Sylvester, thank you very much, reporting from Washington.

That brings us to the subject of our poll tonight: Do you believe the sale of a U.S. defense contractor to a foreign company compromises our national security, yes or no? Cast your vote at LouDobbs.com. We'll have the results later in the broadcast. New evidence tonight of the Army's recruitment difficulties as it tries to find enough recruits to maintain troop levels. The Army says the number of recruits with lower than usual aptitude scores has more than doubled since just last October, but military officials say the number of recruits with low aptitude scores is still below 2 percent of the overall number of new soldiers. The Army wants to recruit 80,000 soldier this year, but in February the Army missed its monthly recruiting goal by 27 percent.

Problems of a different kind tonight facing the Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. A tenured professor at the U.S. Naval Academy says half of the new midshipmen are taking up positions that should be filled be better qualified candidates. The academy's top admiral has criticized the professor, but the professor is standing firm.

Senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre reports from Annapolis.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): According to one outspoken academy professor, half of the brigade of midshipmen got into Annapolis through set-asides, lower standards for racial minorities, star athletes or sailors who have shown potential. "Weaker academics means weaker officers," he says, "officers who may one day have their finger on the button or the trigger."

Some minority students were outraged.

ADAM YANG, MIDSHIPMAN, 1ST CLASS: The fundamental flaw in his argument was that weaker academics make weaker officers. But academics isn't the definition of a good officer.

MCINTYRE: As part of a regular feature called "Nobody Asked Me, But," Annapolis English Professor Bruce Fleming wrote in last month's "Proceedings" magazine, "The academy can do better." "Set-asides," he wrote, "slow class discussions and take seats that better applicants could have filled."

(on camera): So what were you thinking when you wrote this?

PROF. BRUCE FLEMING, U.S. NAVAL ACADEMY: Well, my concern is for the well-being of the Navy and Marine Corps.

MCINTYRE: What kind of reaction are you getting from the students?

FLEMING: Well, a number of them have come in to tell me that I'm saying things they're not allowed to say, and bully for me, and they're really glad I did it. And a number of them are either writing or saying that they don't agree and want to let me know that, too.

MCINTYRE: And isn't that what campus dialogue is supposed to be about?

FLEMING: At some level I couldn't be happier. MCINTYRE (voice-over): The academy's superintendent, the equivalent of the school's president, was furious.

(on camera): Is Professor Fleming in any trouble?

ADM. RODNEY REMPT, SUPERINTENDENT, U.S. NAVAL ACADEMY: No, not at all.

MCINTYRE (voice-over): Admiral Rempt can't fire a tenured professor for speaking out, but he can and did upbraid him. "I would have expected a faculty member with almost 18 years here to exercise better judgment," he wrote in a memo to Fleming. "Your action has served to needlessly criticize the academy, our admissions board and every midshipmen."

(on camera): The Naval Academy disputes the idea that it has lower standards for some applicants and insists its whole person admissions policy looks at far more than just academics.

(voice-over): And the academic insists there are no quotas or racial preferences to achieve diversity.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, Annapolis.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOBBS: Coming up here next, an identity crisis. Why some states are fighting the passage of a federal ban against drivers' licenses for illegal aliens. That story is coming up next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: The House of Representatives passed legislation that would prevent states from issuing drivers' licenses to illegal aliens. The Senate is expected to consider the legislation in the next month. But some governors from all around the country say that's not up to the federal government. They say, instead, states should be deciding who does and does not deserve a driver's license.

Bill Tucker reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It seems simple enough, pass a law setting minimums standards for the issuance of drivers' licenses by the states. But the Real I.D. Act does not enjoy widespread support among the states. In fact, it's widely seen as an effort by the federal government to make the states responsible for immigration enforcement.

MICHAEL BALBONI (R), NEW YORK STATE SENATE: This is a federal responsibility. And frankly, the federal government has never really seemed fit to put the proper resources into the immigration system in the first place. TUCKER: State budgets are already strained. The governors balk at the additional budget requirements which would be imposed by the Real I.D. Act. And state legislators are asking why the act is even necessary in the first place.

CHEYE CALVO, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF STATE LEGISLATURES: The federal government has at its disposal the ability to impose a federal national I.D. And it could do that if it wanted to. It would have to round everyone up and hand out the national I.D. card, and then say that everyone who's in the country needs to have one or they'll be deported.

TUCKER: Presently, 40 states do require some proof of legal status before granting a driver's license. Ten do not.

Tennessee is the only state which offers two classes of licenses, one with full privileges, and one with only driving privileges which cannot be used as identification. What is rarely discussed is that under the Real I.D. Act, no state would be required to change their standard.

REP. DAVID DREIER (R), CALIFORNIA: We don't want to in any way encroach on states' rights. And so what we've said is that any state can offer drivers' licenses to anyone. It's just if they do offer drivers' licenses to people who are here illegally, then those drivers' licenses cannot be used for any federal purpose.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCKER: Now, the Senate Intelligence Reform Bill of 2004 contains the same language, which is why the states don't think any further legislation is necessary. But Lou, here's the real rub. The Real I.D. Act also contains more punitive language, saying you can opt out of going along with us, but maybe perhaps you won't get federal highway dollars as well.

DOBBS: Right. So what we're really get a sense of, not only are there states that are insistent upon playing some games with this at the governors' level, obviously, in terms of allowing illegal aliens to get drivers' licenses, there's some games being played at the federal level. Hearing Congressman David Dreier say we're not going to bother with it suggests this isn't going to have much teeth.

TUCKER: Well, and to say that you believe in states' rights, but then also to put a coercive measure in there opens the ground for argument from the states' rights groups.

DOBBS: And the states' rights groups, many of those governors are the same ones saying why isn't the federal government enforcing immigration laws. The question is becoming, why aren't all of our government officials at the state, local and federal level enforcing the law?

Bill Tucker, thank you, sir.

Later here in the broadcast, I'll be talking with one lawmaker who is fighting back against employers who hire illegal aliens instead of American citizens.

Coming up next on this broadcast, taking heat. Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer joins me. We'll be talking about his new book, about his years in the White House, "Taking Heat."

And thousands of families forced from their homes after a mysterious incident. We'll have that story and a great deal more still ahead right here.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: In a moment, I'll be talking with President Bush's former press secretary. He'll be here to talk about his years in the White House, his new book, "Taking Heat."

Now here's some of the other important stories that we're following tonight.

The chemical spill in Salt Lake City, this spill forced the evacuation of more than 6,000 residents. Crews have pumped the toxic waste from the leaking tanker car. Officials, however, tonight still don't know exactly what was contained in that tank.

In the Dominican Republic, more than 130 people were killed in a prison fire. Officials say, the fire began when two rival gangs set pillows and sheets on fire.

And in Chicago, the parents of white supremacist Matthew Hale said their son did not murder a federal judge's mother and husband. Matthew Hale will soon be sentenced for trying to hire someone to kill the judge. Hale has denied any involvement in the murders. The FBI has offered a reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of their killers.

My guest tonight is the author of a new book. The book is "Taking Heat: The President, The Press, My Years in the White House." Ari Fleischer served as press secretary during president Bush's first term, joining us tonight from Philadelphia. Ari, good to have you here.

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good evening, Lou.

DOBBS: Taking heat, was that part of the job description?

FLEISCHER: It sure was. After I left and reread all the transcripts from my briefings, I figured out -- I guess what I used to do for a living is take a lot of heat.

DOBBS: Well, you know, I think all of us have vivid memories of you standing there in the press briefing room there in the White House. We don't have such vivid memories of the president standing next to you. As a matter of fact, the number times he appeared before the press, remarkably few. Why so?

FLEISCHER: Well, not quite. The number of times you had typical formal large news conferences, remarkably few. But the president frequently took questions from the press two, three, four days a week. He'd take three, four questions at a time from the press pool. And I think the question is, is he accessible? Is accountable with whatever form he finds to be the most comfortable?

DOBBS: Are you -- you are no longer working for the president, is that right?

FLEISCHER: Yes, but...

DOBBS: But you're still very gifted at it.

FLEISCHER: ... those are right answers. But that's still the accurate answer.

DOBBS: I wouldn't dispute the accuracy, I just thought it was remarkably artful, and would expect nothing less of you, Ari.

FLEISCHER: Well, I used to work for him and still believe in him.

DOBBS: Well, you do believe in him -- and that's evident. But what kind of feedback have you gotten from the White House on the book?

FLEISCHER: Well, this was my book, Lou. I wrote this. I didn't vet it through the White House, other than through the normal NSC, National Security Council, lawyers to make sure there was nothing classified. So, these are my thoughts and my feelings about what life was like inside the White House. And what I tried to do was give readers a deeper understanding of President Bush, his character, the pros and cons. I address some of the issues that critics have raised, about how he makes people nervous with his morally declarative speaking style. But I also describe what life is like when you work with the White House Press Corps. How the news gets made, and how the news covered.

DOBBS: The issue of bias has received a great of attention, obviously. And I will say, I think that, if I may say so, that you expressed yourself on this issue precisely the way I see it, the issue of liberal bias. And the biases that do exist within the press corps. Describe that for us, if you would.

FLEISCHER: Well, my experience showed me that the press's first bias is a bias in favor of conflict, regardless of who they cover. The press is tough on everybody, Democrat and Republican. But then when it comes to policy coverage, particularly, and social coverage, especially -- Lou, I just think it's easier to be a Democrat explaining your position to the press, than a Republican. And I think that's because, and surveys show it, the "New York Times" has reported on it, that most reporters are largely Democrats. And despite their desire and their effort to be right down the middle, they say it doesn't matter, give me a Press Corps that's got 80 percent Republican voters and I just think the news will come out differently.

DOBBS: Yes, I think back to, say, 1998, Ari, and I wonder if members of the Clinton administration would agree with you on that.

FLEISCHER: Well, that's why I said that the issue is conflict. The presses first bias is in favor of conflict. Nobody can say they were easy on President Clinton. But then when it comes to policy coverage, coverage of the issues, I do stand by that. I think it is true, and especially true on social issues.

DOBBS: All right, I'll set something up for you. Give us your honest assessment of the White House Press Corps. Were you ability to run successfully a conduit? Or are they challenging, intrepid, intellectually gifted journalists?

FLEISCHER: They're all of that and more. They are some of the smartest, sharpest, toughest, most skeptical people you could ever work with. Personally, I found them to be very affable, enjoyable, pleasant people. Gather them together for the briefing and a feeding frenzy breaks out. But Lou, it's also important to note, that's the way our system should work. I wrote in this book, also, that we are a better stronger country because the press corps gets 1,000 facts right every day. And that too is true.

Our system, the relationship between the press secretary, and the White House, and the press is built on some levels of tension. And that tension is a healthy part of how reporters can do their jobs to uncover what the government is doing, and to cover what the government is doing. I have my beefs within that, and I write about those beefs in the book. But it's still a system that largely works well for our country.

DOBBS: This is a book with your perspective and a terrific one, but let me ask you this. Don't you think it would be -- while there's an appropriate tension and adversarial relationship, don't you, also, think that this -- our modern political scene would be better, if politicians were being straightforward? Now, I'm not just referring to the White House, I'm talking about the Senate, the Congress, the statehouses, local government. If there was more candor, more honesty, more directives, and a greater honoring, if you will, of objective fact?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think what's happened largely, also, is that in the modern media era, where everything is covered live, it's helped polarize the system. Were people speak in short sound bytes, so they can get their little byte on then new. Too much adversity, and the politicians practice it and the press picks it up. A part of me wonders, Lou, what would happen if we had no longer had television coverage at the House, Senate or the White House press briefings, and only major news announcement went on live TV. I think it might lead to a more toned-down atmosphere. Now, I think the public would also miss a lot of our democracy, if you do that. So, I'm intrigued with it, but I don't know that that's the panacea.

DOBBS: Right. I guess, My answer would be get over it, Ari.

FLEISCHER: Well, that's a part of it, too.

DOBBS: And we appreciate you're being here. The book is "Taking Heat," which he did and did it well. Ari Fleischer, thank you.

FLEISCHER: Thank you, Lou.

DOBBS: Taking a look now at some of "Your Thoughts," the subject illegal immigration.

Mike Roberts of Boca Raton, Florida, "Lou, I am pro-immigrant, but anti-illegal immigration. My wife came here from Peru legally and we have many other Latino friends that came here legally. I agree that illegal immigration must be stopped and our borders must be protected. We all say no to drivers licenses or tax paid benefits for illegal aliens."

Wally Fraser in Hurley, New York, "Your guest this past week missed an important point while discussing the pros and cons of a military draft. If we had a draft in place three years ago there would probably be no war in Iraq today. Could you see any politicians backing this war if it meant the possibility of any one of America's children being sent to Iraq over WMD?"

Whit Russell in Rosewell, Georgia, "Please enlighten me how someone who crosses the border and enters our country illegally and then buys a fake Social Security card and applies for a driver license can claim discrimination when apprehended?"

Pamela Stone in San Jose, California wrote in about the minutemen, the volunteers in Arizona who begin in April patrolling -- trying to help patrol our borders with Mexico. "Lou, I wasn't sure if you had seen this before, but my cousins live in St. David, Arizona just 45 miles from the Mexico border and have seen first hand what goes on as the illegal immigrants come across our unguarded borders. They sent me this statement about the volunteer border patrol and I wanted to share it with you. 'Border patrol volunteers are not vigilantes. They're undocumented Border Patrol agents.'"

We thought we'd leave that as the final thought from our audience tonight. We love hearing from you. Send us your thoughts at loudobbs@cnn.com.

A fascinating sight tonight in Australia. A group of surfers rode into the record book. More than 40 surfers riding a single giant surfboard. The surfboard 40 feet long, 10 feet wide, took a month to build and it took 20 people to carry it out to sea. The surfers broke the world record for the most people aboard any single surfboard. That record set by an English team of 14 people, way back in 2003.

Coming up next here, one rising star in the Democratic Party says, President Bush's plan for so-called Social Security reform is simply to risky. Congressman Harold Ford will be here to share his idea's about how to fix Social Security and more, next. Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) DOBBS: As President Bush continues his nationwide campaign to push his so-called Social Security reforms, one leading Senate Republican has come up with a plan of his own. Today Senator Chuck Hagel introduced the first Social Security legislation of the year. Hagel's plan would include raising the age at which retirees can receive full benefits from 67 to 68. Hagel says Social Security is not yet in crisis, but he does agree with the president's view that it cannot be sustained unless changes are made.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Dealing with this problem now means less dramatic and difficult choices later. The earlier we confront the reality of the coming crisis, the more options we will have to come up with a wise and sustainable course of action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOBBS: Senator Hagel says realistically it will be difficult for any Social Security reforms to be passed and signed into law, certainly this year.

Congressman Harold Ford, Democrat of Tennessee is co-sponsoring legislation that would create a new retirement savings plan. Congressman Ford's proposal would create tax-free savings account for each of the 4 million children born in the country each year. The plan would give each child $500 to start with, and allow contributions of up to $1,000 a year. Congressman Ford joins me now.

Good to have you with us.

HAROLD FORD (D-TN), FINANCIAL SERVICES CMTE.: Good evening. Thanks for having me.

DOBBS: We're getting a lot of proposals now on Social Security. Yours is a more direct approach. Put money into the hands of an infant at birth, and then what?

FORD: The idea is to give everyone an opportunity to own early in life. If you're born into a family earning below or beneath the national median income, you would get an additional $500 at birth. And each year the first $500 contributed to your account would be matched by the government. The idea again is to give every young person a chance to own part of this country. I think when people own, they behave differently, whether you own your own home, own your own business or your...

DOBBS: So you're in agreement with President Bush about the importance of the ownership society?

FORD: I think his answer is -- or I should say, proposal, if indeed we can call it that, misses the mark. Finally Chuck Hagel and others are being serious about this. To save Social Security, you can't do it by creating private accounts alone, and the president -- his math just isn't right. And I think he knows that. To Hagel's credit -- Senator Hagel's credit, he at least recognizes that we will have to perhaps adjust the age level or even begin to adjust some benefits for those who are wealthy enough to perhaps have the benefits adjusted.

DOBBS: Well, as you know, Congressman, on this broadcast you can say it just straightforwardly. There's no way to fix Social Security without raising taxes or cutting benefits or delaying the onset of those benefits. Would you agree?

FORD: The math is straightforward as that, absolutely.

DOBBS: And while your proposal I think is intriguing, and I think...

FORD: And it's part of a mosaic. It's not an answer but it's part of a story or a number of things we'll have to do.

DOBBS: And while -- and I sort of put your plan in the same category, frankly, that I do President Bush's on privatization. Yours is more direct. It's precisely what it is.

FORD: It wouldn't divert anything from Social Security.

DOBBS: The idea that we have to mess with Social Security, if I can put it that way, because of the onset of a crisis, you know, and I know, and I think most of our viewers know, Social Security Administration keeps pushing out the year in which we're going to see the fund turn negative on us, and we're talking about a half century before we've got a crisis on our hands, 40 to 50 years is a fair statement.

Why has -- and we have Medicare, which has twice the unfunded liability as Social Security. Why is Capitol Hill, Pennsylvania Avenue, focused on Social Security instead of larger problems, if you will?

FORD: That's a great question. If I were ranking the five biggest domestic challenges the country faces, Social Security might rank fifth behind Medicare, Medicaid, tax reform, education, and then we would come to Social Security.

Yet the president has focused his energy there. I do think he's right on one other thing. We have an abysmally low savings rate in this nation. compared to other industrialized nations, I think we are the lowest and lowest by far. An effort to incentivize people saving more would be a smart thing to do as well.

The president's plan doesn't accomplish that, as I think we're in agreement, this diversion of funds from Social Security with the hope that people would invest well enough to create a big retirement account is just unrealistic. And as much as I applaud him for forcing us to talk about savings, his answer is just way offtrack.

DOBBS: And as certainly you know, Congressman, the fact is with the national savings rate that improved considerably from here because of our trade deficits that are widening and having to import $2.5 billion of foreign capital everyday to sustain a consumption society, we're never going to save that much.

FORD: And I don't think people realize, your show, and you've done a great job at highlighting this issue, but I don't think the American people appreciate the volume of our debt increasingly that is owned by foreign nations. And nothing against the Japanese and the Chinese, but the fact that so much of our debt paper is being purchased by them has to at some point reach a level where we begin to talk about it from a national security standpoint. And hopefully Congress and the president will focus on those things a little more seriously.

DOBBS: Well, thank you for addressing it, we appreciate you being here.

FORD: Thanks for having me. I always wanted to be in the studio with you, so it's a pleasure to be here.

DOBBS: Good to have you in here, come back soon.

"Tonight's Thought" is on America, one of our favorite thoughts on this broadcast: "A nation's domestic and foreign policies and actions should be derived from the same standards of ethics, honesty and morality which are characteristic of the individual citizens of the nation."

A reminder now to vote in tonight's poll. The question: Do you believe the sale of a U.S. defense contractor to a foreign company compromises our national security? Yes or no, cast your vote please at loudobbs.com. We'll have the results here in just a few moments.

One state lawmakers says he's very disappointed in the way in which this administration has chosen to handle the flood of illegal aliens into this country. He is our guest here next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: U.S. Border Patrol Agents are policing the borders and looking for terrorist -- in Iraq. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has sent 30 officers and Border Patrol Agents to help Iraqis secure their borders. A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection says the agents are taking the fight to where the terrorists are while still maintaining strategy at home. Currently the United States has over 1,000 customs and border -- border protection officers stationed all around the world.

Well, turning now to the border security crisis in this country, my next guest says the federal government's failure to enforce immigration laws has led to the growing illegal alien crisis in his state. Georgia State Senator Chip Rogers has proposed five different pieces of legislation. That legislation, in its entirety, would crack down on benefits for illegal aliens and the employers who hire them. Georgia State Senator Chip Rogers joins us tonight from CNN Center in Atlanta.

Senator, good to have you with us.

STATE SEN. CHIP ROGERS (R), GEORGIA: Thanks for having me, Lou.

DOBBS: The idea that your legislation can move forward to crack down on illegal aliens. And we'll start with first the idea that they would receive social services in Georgia. Is that something for which you think you have support in the state legislature?

ROGERS: Well, I know I have support among the voting public. I know in my district, and almost every district I've been in over the last few years, has been, if not the number one issue, one of the major issues. The process just needs to be that making sure that my colleagues in the state Senate and the state House, learn of this same information. I think every time you get out in the public and you begin talking about this issue, you see that it resonates with the public. So, sometimes the jump from the public perception to the legislators finally getting ahold of it. Takes a while, but that's just a process of education.

DOBBS: Nationwide, as you know, the public -- the Americans -- American citizens, by a margin of better than 70 percent are absolutely opposed to illegal immigration. And at the same time your own governor there in Georgia, Governor Perdue, says he thinks it's a federal issue. How do you -- is that artful politics or is that you think a reasonable response?

ROGERS: Well, let me just first say, that I think the governor, Sonny Perdue is doing a great job. But oftentimes we don't see the direct connection between what's a federal problem, and the impact on the states. The federal government is just a collection of the 50 states. Remember that, you know, the federal government is simply a collection of the 50 states plus Washington D.C., so anything that's impacting the federal government is clearly impacting the states. For example, in the state of Georgia, because in 2002, we spent $231 million alone educating illegal aliens. That doesn't include the number of legal students that were here, but whose parents are illegal.

So the numbers are simply staggering. When you take a look at education, healthcare, incarceration, what's happened in our judicial system, environment, infrastructure problems, you add all that together. I think it's probably on the order of about $1 billion a year that Georgia taxpayers are having to pick up the tab for. So, anytime you're talking about a $1 billion problem, I think it's something the legislature seriously needs to look at.

DOBBS: And let's be honest, the taxpayers of Georgia and 49 other states in which there are illegal aliens, frankly, they're paying for the benefits accrued by corporations, businesses, and those who hire illegal aliens. They're subsidizing the lawbreakers. And the first law breakers, frankly, are not the illegal aliens, there are those who are providing economic incentives for those illegal aliens to be here. Would you agree?

ROGERS: Well, there's no question about it. You are absolutely right. And you hit the nail on the head. That what this is not cheap labor, but rather subsidized labor. One way or another we have to pay for it. I don't think it's fair that the taxpayers pick up the tab, because certainly corporations, certain companies, certain businesses want to break the law. And further more, what we've established is a system where, if you abide by the law, you're economically punished because you can't compete, but if you break the law, then you're rewarded in the marketplace. And I don't think we want to have a system that does that.

DOBBS: Congress, two years ago, decided to get rid of unfunded -- unfunded liabilities created by the federal government, those unfunded mandates. Yet these is precisely the situation we're in, isn't it, senator?

The federal government refuses to enforce immigration laws, refuses to enforce our borders and to create real security at our borders. And the results is the states have to pay for the consequences?

ROGERS: Absolutely, there's no question about this. I believe this is the number one unfunded mandate that the state of Georgia and most of the states have to face each and every year. You look at the mandates for healthcare, and you look at the mandates for K-12 education, we have to pick up the tab. We have -- there's no way we can get out of it. And last year alone, a quarter of a billion dollars in Georgia.

DOBBS: Senator Chip Rogers, we thank you very much for being with us.

ROGERS: Thank you, Lou.

DOBBS: Following up now on a story we brought you last week. Police Suffolk County, New York hunted down and arrested 27 of 28 known sexual predators there, all of whom are in this country illegally. Tonight, the 28th sexual offender is in custody. All 28 are now awaiting deportation. Separately, as you have Suffolk County police arrested another illegal alien on charges of sexually assaulting a 3-year-old. Jose Romero (ph) arraigned today in Suffolk County court. He was ordered to be held in local custody until he can make half a million dollars bail. If Romero does make bail, immigration and customs enforcement official say they will detain him immediately.

Turning to another safety concern, results from the latest vehicle crash test show only a small number of small cars are safe in this country. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety performed side-impact tests, none of the 16 small cars received a rating of good. Only two received the Chevrolet Cobalt and the Toyota Corolla received a "acceptable" -- acceptable rating. And that's only when optional side airbags were installed. The rest were all rated poor. The institute called the Dodge Neon a disaster. Those in the poor category include the, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, the Kia Spectra and the Mazda 3.

Still ahead here, the results of our poll tonight and a preview of what's ahead tomorrow. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Now the results of "Tonight's Poll," 95 percent of you say the sale of a U.S. defense contractor to a foreign country compromises our national security. Only five percent disagree, and a large number of votes here tonight.

Thanks for being with us here. Please join us tomorrow evening.

An ambitious plan to create tens of thousands of new jobs for Americans. Michigan's Governor Jennifer Granholm will be our guest.

Then why the efforts to stop the influx of illegal aliens and illicit drugs crossing our border everyday, are failing and miserably. Our special report tomorrow.

In a bold and some might say shocking proposal to make English the official language of this country. Imagine that.

We'll telling you about that tomorrow, please be with us. For all us here, good night from New York. "ANDERSON COOPER 360" is next.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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