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CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS

Bush to Announce Supreme Court Pick Tonight; Washington Buzzing Over Possible Picks; Texas Prepares for Hurricane Emily; Senator Durbin Interview; Senator Grassley Interview

Aired July 19, 2005 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, one of the most important decisions a president of the United States can make. It's been 11 years since it last happened. Now, we're about to hear the name of President Bush's choice for the United States Supreme Court.
Stand by for hard news on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): Supreme Court pick. The president makes up his mind.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to be known as the kind of person who does what he says he's going to do.

BLITZER: He'll let us know four hours from now.

What's at stake? From abortion rights to civil rights, a crucial vote on a divided court, an impact that could last a generation. Does a battle loom in the Senate?

Hurricane and heat. Emily gets stronger, and Texas gets ready as much of the nation swelters and suffers.

ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Tuesday, July 19, 2005.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thanks very much for joining us. I'm in Los Angeles today.

The suspense will soon be over, but is a battle about to begin? President Bush has decided who wants to replace Sandra Day O'Connor as Supreme Court justice. He'll announce his choice in a prime time address to the nation tonight.

The president's pick could hold the balance, perhaps for decades, on a court whose divisions mirror those of the nation. Can he sell it to a divided U.S. Senate?

We'll have full coverage this hour. Let's begin with our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it has been a very exciting day. I got a tip early this morning from inside the White House that the announcement would be happening this afternoon, this evening, that source simply saying, "Put on your best suit. It's going to be a very long day."

And in fact, it will indeed. President Bush will make his announcement at 9 in the East Room, we're told. The president will come out with the candidate. He will make some remarks and then the candidate, as well, will follow up, make remarks, as well. We understand the candidate's family will also be present at the ceremony.

Now of course, the timing, everybody's been speculating about why now, why this has been kind of an expedited track here. Well, we're told the president within the last 72 hours had interviewed several candidates at the White House and, of course, he was dwindling down that short list.

We're also told that the president did not want to be scooped by his own news, and then of course, that he wanted to coordinate with senators their own calendar in actually consulting with them. He wanted to make sure that he got to the right players before they recess next Friday.

And of course, to put the nominee confirmation on the docket and, of course, confirm by that October deadline President Bush, again for a second day in a row, was asked about a potential nominee, and again, the president was coy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: First I'm comfortable with where we are in the process. That's important for you to know. Secondly, that I have thought about a variety of people. People from different walks of life, some of whom I've known before. Some of whom I had never met before. I'm trying to figure out what else I can say that I didn't say yesterday that sounds profound to you without -- without actually answering your question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: So the president ready to answer that question about four hours, Wolf.

Of course, we want to know when it was that he made up his mind. A source who actually attended the state dinner at the White House last night saying the president actually joked to Justice Clarence Thomas who attended that dinner, saying, "I bet you want to know," seeming very proud of his decision. So we'll expect to hear that within four hours or so -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It may seem obvious why he wants to make the announcement in primetime, a much bigger audience out there than during the day. But is there anything else that has gone into this White House decision to ask for a 9 p.m. Eastern primetime address to the nation? MALVEAUX: Well, certainly, to get as much exposure as possible. As you know, of course, Wolf, there was the controversy over knocking the Rove CIA leak controversy off the front pages. The White House insisting that they are going by the calendar, the Senate calendar, not by this controversy.

But having said that, of course, they are certainly pleased that this is the news of the day.

BLITZER: And is there anyone in that short list who may be atop the short list right now, based on what you're hearing at the White House, or are they simply remaining silent?

MALVEAUX: Well, the White House is certainly remaining silent. There's been a lot of speculation over Judge Edith Clement. We have been waived off of that, as well. So there's mixed reports about whether or not she is actually going to be the candidate. Certainly, she was one of the leading contenders, but at this point, Wolf, it is simply a guess.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne Malveaux will be reporting for us throughout the night. Thanks, Suzanne, very much.

As the president weighed his choices, he did consult with Senate leaders, Republican and Democratic. Can he avoid a fight over his nominee?

Let's go to Capitol Hill right now, our congressional correspondent, Ed Henry, standing by -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we don't even have a nominee yet, as you know, but the partisan attack machines are already cranking up. I've already gotten a copy of some Senate Democratic talking points, attacking Edith Clement, one of the potential nominees, saying she's cozy with special interests and she's hostile to minority rights. This again before a pick has even been named.

To give you an idea of the high level huddling going on on the Republican side, meanwhile, we caught White House aide Karl Rove and Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter last night, huddling outside the White House after Specter got called away from a softball game here in Washington for a quick, hurried meeting with the White House to discuss the Supreme Court nomination.

This obviously gives Rove, who's been in a little hot water over the leak case, a chance to talk about something else. And in fact, the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, said something else is at work here. He's charging that basically, this is a deliberate attempt to change the subject.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: It's interesting how the subject has changed from the White House administrative staff to the court today, isn't it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think the timing of that is deliberate?

REID: I don't know. But it's interesting how it's changed. I heard it was going to be next week but now it's this week. And there have been -- interesting, no questions here about the CIA operative being outed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Senate Republican Whip Mitch McConnell says that's nonsense and the onus is now on Democrats to not stall this process.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY WHIP: There is really no reason why we shouldn't have a new Supreme Court justice on the court by the first Monday in October. This is well within the time constraints that have typically been the case when nominations are created. So we think we'll be able to meet the president's goal of having a new member of the Supreme Court by the fall term, the first Monday in October.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Democrats say the speed of the process will depend on just how controversial the nominee is -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ed Henry on Capitol Hill. He'll be watching and waiting together with all of us.

Since the next Supreme Court justice will fill the seat being vacated by Sandra Day O'Connor, there's speculation President Bush may want to nominate a woman. Our Brian Todd has been looking at two possibilities that are widely mentioned -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if President Bush is looking to fill that demographic void left by Sandra Day O'Connor, female accomplished conservative there are two women with some common traits who are rapidly emerging.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Two front-runners, both on the same court, both women. Both with the same first name. Edith Jones and Edith Clement, names spoken by reporters but not yet by the president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you think of Edith Clement for the court?

BUSH: Oh, well, I think it's important -- let me refer you back to the first question.

TODD: Despite that dance, Edith Brown Clement is known to the president. The 57-year-old former maritime lawyer, known as Joy, got her first job on the federal bench in the early '90s, in part due to a recommendation from one of the current President Bush's fraternity brothers. But little is known about how Clement would come down on the key issues of abortion rights and the death penalty, since she's not known as an outspoken conservative and has little in the way of a paper trail.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: She has not written any controversial opinions at all. She signed on to a couple of modestly controversial opinions, but she has no record that her -- that Democrats could really shoot at to say that she is outside the mainstream.

TODD: For that reason, experts say, Clement could have a relatively easy confirmation. Not the case, they say, for Clement's colleague on the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and another front-runner for the Supreme Court nomination, Judge Edith Jones.

From behind that appellate bench for the past 20 years, Jones has cemented a reputation as a staunch conservative, firmly upholding the death penalty, vocally critical of the Roe v. Wade decision.

TOM GOLDSTEIN, SUPREME COURT EXPERT: The decision for which Judge Jones is really best known is her opinion saying, "While I'm a lower court judge, I will apply Roe v. Wade, but I think it was wrongly decided and should be overruled." That really typifies her role as a lower court judge but signals what she would do if she became a Supreme Court justice.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, experts say Judge Jones, who was a top candidate for the high court when Justice David Souter was nominated in 1990, would appeal to President Bush's conservative base. Does he go with that option? The safer choice than Judge Clement, who some experts call the stealth candidate, or someone else?

One expert cautions don't be surprised if it's a third person, someone relatively unknown -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian Todd in Washington. Thank you, Brian, very much.

Another possible U.S. Supreme Court nominee is federal Judge Michael Luttig, a member of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. Luttig, he's seen here -- we'll show some video -- with his wife and children. This is video from today. Was appointed to the federal bench by President Bush's father in 1991.

He's considered a rising star among conservatives. Luttig served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia when Scalia was an appellate judge and for Warren Burger when Burger was chief justice of the United States.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement July 1. In the two and a half weeks since that announcement, President Bush had to weigh lots of legal and political considerations in selecting a replacement. Let's get a closer analysis now, some of those considerations. Joining us now, our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield.

First of all, Jeff, what do you make of the timing of tonight's announcement?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think we're being a little bit overwrought in thinking that this is a clever move to get Karl Rove off the front page. I mean, if a few months from now the special prosecutor indicts anybody in the White House, the fact that we had a Supreme Court nominee now is not going to change that fallout. And if everybody is exonerated, they'll be exonerated.

What I do think is true beyond Karl Rove is that it's very helpful for the president to have this issue in front of the country. I was talking a few weeks ago before O'Connor resigned with two journalists, one for a liberal magazine, one for a conservative magazine.

They used almost the same words to describe the fact that Bush's job approval rate something down, Social Security is stalled. People having doubts about Iraq. And they both said, almost word for word, the best thing that could happen for the president right now is a Supreme Court resignation so he can remind his base about why they like a conservative in the White House. And so he has that.

BLITZER: Do you have any sense on the stakes involved for the president among that conservative base, which direction he might move?

GREENFIELD: Well, if you're looking for a prediction, no, but here's -- here's one key.

Conservatives have been very unhappy with a lot of choices that past Republican presidents have made. In fact, it was stated very well by the "Wall Street Journal" editorial page this morning, which is kind of a -- kind of a, I don't know, the Vatican for a certain kind of conservative movement.

And what they argued in a headline called, an editorial headline, "No More Souters," was that, unless we know by opinions and by speeches and by writings, that a nominee is a reliable conservative, Republican presidents have often tended to choose nominees who become liberal. And they cited Earl Warren, William Brennan, David Souter, Sandra Day O'Connor, Harry Blackman from Nixon.

So from the point of view of the right, they are going to want a choice who they can reliably say is a conservative. It doesn't mean that the person the president picks, even if we don't know anything about him or her, won't turn out to be a conservative. But I think, you'll -- I think, rare prediction, you will hear some grumbling on the logs -- on the blogs from the right unless they know the president's given them a conservative choice.

BLITZER: Although it would be presumably a lot easier to win confirmation if there isn't necessarily a long paper trail involved in this nominee. GREENFIELD: Well, look, that's true. Presidents sometimes do pick candidates that carry with them, or nominees, an absolute sense of what they would be. Robert Bork was that kind of nominee. Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American, picked by Johnson. Antonin Scalia, although he was confirmed without dissent, because Democrats were more interested in trying to keep Rehnquist from being chief justice.

But what I'm saying is you asked the question what about the president's political position? From the get-go, this president has always, with the help of Karl Rove we should mention, made sure that his base was happy. And maybe if he doesn't pick Alberto Gonzales that will be enough.

But I'd be very surprised if he picks somebody who can't be explained to conservatives as an OK, good choice.

And similarly, Wolf, the fact that Democrats we just heard a few minutes ago are already putting out talking points attacking Edith Clement, probably on the basis of opinions, as though that represented her political philosophy. Sometimes judges issue opinions based on the facts of the case, based on settled law that has very little to do with how they as a Supreme Court justice might interpret the law.

So I just find this whole notion that the different sides are rallying with great to do, without even knowing who the nominee is, much less what that nominee's track record is, to me that's a sign of how politics is played in Washington these days.

It's almost like, you know, well, we've raised all this money. We ought to do something with it. Maybe we could wait to find out who the president's going to nominate.

BLITZER: Well, we won't have to wait much longer.

GREENFIELD: That's right.

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield giving us analysis. Thanks, Jeff, very much. We'll be speaking with you throughout the evening here on CNN.

And coming up, we'll have much more on today's big Supreme Court announcement. I'll speak live with two key U.S. senators, Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Charles Grassley, about the possible, repeat possible battle ahead on Capitol Hill.

Also, we're following other news including Emily. How strong will the hurricane get before it makes a second landfall? The latest advisory has just come out.

And a shocking statement about the London terror attacks from the father of a key 9/11 terrorist. Is it a warning sign of more to come? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Once President Bush announces his choice for the United States Supreme Court tonight, the spotlight will shift to the U.S. Senate, which makes the final decision.

Joining us now from the Russell Rotunda on Capitol Hill, Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa. He's a key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator Grassley, thanks very much for joining us. Have you gotten an inside word from the White House yet who this nominee will be?

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Absolutely not. And I hope I get some name given to me before it's actually announced. I think I should have that courtesy.

In fact, tell you the truth, it was, I think, 1:10 something came on the wire that the president was going to give this speech and just to tell you how closely held it is, our leader announced that he just found out by that source that the president was going to announce tonight.

BLITZER: As far as you know, has Senator Specter, the chairman of the judiciary committee, or the leader, Bill Frist, have either of those two senators been informed?

GRASSLEY: Not that I know of. And as of 24 hours ago, when I had a private conversation with one of the two senators you just mentioned, that senator did not know or even know when it was going to be done.

BLITZER: Well, listen to what Senator Specter said here on CNN yesterday. Yesterday, in terms of his preference for a nominee to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP0

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I do, I think it's important to keep balance on the court. And that is in every respect. And I think that Americans are concerned about having somebody who's too far one side or too far to the other side. And the balance is critical.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: As you know, Senator Grassley, Justice O'Connor very often was the swing vote between four of the more, let's say, liberal justices and four of the more conservative justices. She often held the swing vote. Is it important to keep someone in mind who could also have a swing vote position going down the road?

GRASSLEY: I think the first thing to keep in mind that it's very difficult to predict how a person might be, as you question them in a Senate hearing, what they might be doing 10 or 15 years from now, because I remember the questioning of Senator Kennedy of Souter, saying that he probably didn't have respect for the privacy parts of the Constitution and thought maybe that Souter could be a deciding vote on overturning Roe v. Wade. Well, obviously, Souter turned out to be just the opposite. So I don't know whether it does much good for us to speculate whether a person ought to be here or on the left or the right or in the middle. But I think in the end, you've got to look at history answering your question, Wolf.

You've got over a period of 20 years, you know, you've got Republican and Democrats nominating people to the Supreme Court, and the nominations themselves over a period of time brings balance to the court.

BLITZER: Let's take a look at a recent CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll in which this question, Senator Grassley, was asked. Should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion rights for women in the United States?

Twenty-nine percent said yes, the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade. Sixty-eight percent said no. Should that public attitude, the popular attitude, hold sway in the new Supreme Court, whichever direction it moves with this new nominee?

GRASSLEY: No. Judges, or justices have to make their decision on the wording of the Constitution and the wording of the law.

And by the way, I think it would be wrong to speculate that the first question on abortion, that the justices are going to get, or this new justice will get will be the issue of overturning Roe v. Wade. I think you're more apt to get restrictions on abortion, parental consent, due notice, the issue of, well, another one would be taxpayer funding of abortions, things of that nature that would curb the use of abortion, willy-nilly as a birth control, as opposed to overruling Roe v. Wade in the strictest sense.

BLITZER: Do you believe, Senator Grassley, the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade?

GRASSLEY: Well, I believe that they have to apply the law, and it would be right now sticking within the decision of 1972 and modifications of it.

But here again, I think you're going to see the issue not Roe v. Wade being overturned as the first decision the court might reach, but some modification of it, as expressed in various state laws that the justices have had before them recently, partial birth abortion as one is an example.

BLITZER: Senator Grassley is a key member of the judiciary committee. Senator Grassley, you're going to be busy this summer. We'll be busy watching you be busy, but in the meantime, thanks very much for joining us.

GRASSLEY: Thank you, too.

BLITZER: And coming up later this hour, we'll get the Democratic perspective from Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. That's coming up shortly. President Bush will announce his Supreme Court choice in less than four hours. A special "LARRY KING LIVE" starts tonight, 9 p.m. Eastern, 6 Pacific, after that. Please stay with us throughout the night.

"NEWSNIGHT WITH AARON BROWN" follows at 10 p.m. Eastern, and that will be followed by an all new live "ANDERSON COOPER 360." That airs at 11 p.m. Eastern, 8 Pacific.

Hurricane Emily is gaining strength this afternoon as it gets ready to make its second landfall. We'll go live to the Texas coast. That's coming up.

And the father of a key 9/11 terrorist speaks out about the London bombings and why he supports more terrorist attacks. What he said may shock you. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

BLITZER: Welcome back. Much more coming up on President Bush's Supreme Court decision.

But first, let's also check out some other news.

Just hours from now, Hurricane Emily is expected to make landfall for the second time in Mexico. And it's getting stronger as it heads toward the coastline.

While the Texas Gulf Coast appears to be out of the direct line of fire, the region is still taking absolutely no chances.

CNN's Sumi Das is with us now from South Padre Island in Texas with the latest -- Sumi.

SUMI DAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks very much, Wolf.

Well, conditions are growing progressively worse here on this barrier island at the southern tip of Texas. This morning, the island woke up to sunny skies. That sun has since been replaced with rain, wind, thick clouds.

Now, residents were slow to board up their windows, but they did eventually do so. Tourists have also taken action, many of them checking out early from their hotels.

Now, earlier this afternoon, the beaches were closed down, although I have to admit that I have seen some very determined beech combers who have been braving the elements.

The officials here on South Padre Island have been in contact with the National Hurricane Center and the weather service. They received word earlier today that the hurricane posed no potential threat of landfall to south Texas. It seems that northeastern Mexico will bear the brunt of Emily. However, as the crow flies, Mexico is only five miles away, and so South Padre Island remains under a tropical storm and hurricane warning at this time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Sumi Das on the scene for us. Thank you, Sumi, very much.

For the latest on where Hurricane Emily is right now and where it's heading, let's check in with our meteorologist, Jacqui Jeras -- Jeras -- Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, Emily's about 160 miles southeast of Brownsville at this time and it's been steadily gaining strength throughout the day. It's a Category 2 status now with winds at about 100 miles per hour. It's expected to continue to get stronger and likely become a Category 3 before making landfall overnight.

Showers and thunderstorms have been pounding the Texas coast throughout much of the afternoon hours. And a tornado watch is in effect from about Baffin Bay, extending on southward.

The main impacts are going to be coming through the overnight hours. Tropical storm force winds will be pushing into southern parts of Texas. Still expecting a little bit of a turn with this hurricane to the west, and that's why we're expecting to hit into Mexico rather than southern Texas. But we haven't seen that happen just yet. We'll wait and see what happens.

Here's the bottom line, what you need to know for the impact on Texas. Tropical storm force winds will be moving in tonight. Rainfall amounts on average, four to eight inches but locally heavier amounts up to a foot can be expected. Storm surge of five to 10 feet and isolated tornadoes will be a concern throughout the night -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jacqui Jeras with the forecast, thanks, Jacqui, very much.

We're just a month into summer, and parts of the United States are already sweltering in a heat wave.

In Arizona, any breeze feels like a blow torch. The mercury hit -- get this -- 124 degrees yesterday in Bullhead City, and Arizona is by no means alone. Other areas, including the nation's biggest city, are also feeling the heat right now. Let's bring in CNN's Mary Snow. She's joining us now live from New York. Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in cities like New York and the northeast, you'd expect to find this weather in the dog days of August right outside of Central Park right now, it's just below 90 degrees. But it's not just the heat, it's the humidity that's making it feel a lot hotter. And forecasters sat there's no immediate relief in sight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SNOW (voice over): On the streets of New York, it felt like it was about 100 degrees. The hot air mixed with humidity made some people feel like.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A wet sponge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really hot. It's burning up. The humidity is crazy right now.

SNOW: Further north, beach-goers sought relief outside of Boston in places like Winthrop, Massachusetts following a heat advisory from Boston's mayor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd rather the winter, I can get warmer easier than I can get cooler.

SNOW: And in places that are usually cooler, like Canada, there's no relief. Toronto was sweltering as temperatures hovered close to 90 degrees. Ontario has had to import power to keep up with high electricity demands. Jeffrey Schultz makes his living predicting the weather. He says the extreme heat is part of a bigger pattern.

JEFFREY SCHULTZ, CHIEF CLIMATOLOGIST, WEATHER 2000: We're absolutely having a hotter summer than normal. This is something that we actually saw coming for a while, thanks to one of the key ingredients, the amount of drought or lack of precipitation.

SNOW: In desert areas where people are used to little water and oven like heat, temperatures are hitting record highs. Las Vegas, Nevada, for example, has been sweating through a heat wave that began last week and has the thermometer hitting around 115 degrees Fahrenheit. The hot spell has lasted even longer in Phoenix, Arizona, where several deaths are being blamed on weather that started in late June. The state's firefighters have been challenged battling, not only the heat, but wildfires sparked by dry conditions.

And dry conditions are being felt in Illinois outside Chicago and area meteorologists say has had more days of 90 degree weather than in the past two summers combined. Schultz calls it a new weather regime, that means hotter summers and colder winters.

SCHULTZ: What we're seeing right now is an upswing in certain ocean currents that are linked to the atmosphere that are really going to give us the type of weather patterns that we used to see back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (on camera): And the forecasters we spoke with said that they expect these kind of weather cycles to last for the next several years. And they say not only do they expect hotter summer and colder winners but also more hurricanes. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Mary Snow in New York City, where it's very, very hot. Thanks, Mary, very much. Let's return to our top story. The president picking a Supreme Court nominee tonight. But will the Democrats filibuster? Will it turn into a supreme battle on Capitol Hill? Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, he's standing by to weigh in.

Plus, key talks at number ten Downing Street. Prime Minister Tony Blair trying to tackle home-grown extremism.

And later, a look at the man some called a hero and others harshly criticized. The life and legacy of General William Westmoreland. All that, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're less than three-and-a-half hours away from announcement that could change the course of U.S. law for decades to come. President Bush will announce who he's going to nominate to the U.S. Supreme Court and that could be the prelude to a bitter Senate confirmation battle. Democratic Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, he's a key member of teh Senate Judiciary Committee, he's joining us now live from the Russell Rotunda on Capitol Hill. Senator Durbin, I assume since Senator Grassley wasn't informed, you have not either.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D),ILLINOIS: No, there's been some wild speculation, Wolf, about the people that might be named to the Supreme Court, but you know it's just speculation. The White House kind of has a history of floating a name, yanking it back and throwing another one. So I'm going to wait patiently for 9:00 tonight on Eastern time.

BLITZER: If -- is it your sense that there's almost certainly going to be a bitter very partisan debate on Capitol Hill or do you think this can be resolved in an amicable bipartisan nominating process?

DURBIN: I was really hopeful last week. The Chief of Staff of the United States Andrew Card, called me from Scotland, asked what my thoughts were about the process. Did I have any names I might suggest. Teh president wanted me involved. And then they invited the leaders, Democrats and Republicans in to meet with the president for breakfast. It was really moving in a very positive way and then it stopped. That was the end of it. As of eight or nine days ago, there was no more contact as best I can determine. So now the president's making the choice. I hope we can avoid a bitter battle. But understand, this is a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land. The person who fills this appointment is going to be in on decisions that will affect every American's rights and liberties.

BLITZER: Edith Clement was confirmed. She was confirmed I think unanimously when she was nominated. If she's nominated now for the Supreme Court, you voted for confirmation for her once before, is it assumed you would vote for confirmation for her for the U.S. Supreme Court?

DURBIN: No, because when you would ask her a question, for example, what is your position on a woman's right to choose in Roe versus Wade, she'd say well that's settled law, the Supreme Court decided that. Well that's a good answer for someone seeking a circuit court position. But if you're going to the Supreme Court, obviously you have to ask other questions. Asking her or other nominees, what are your basic values when it comes to women's rights, privacy, worker's rights, human rights, trying to find out what they believe, whether they're in the mainstream of thinking, because those on the Supreme Court will be guiding the law of this country for a generation.

BLITZER: So it's by no means certain you would vote to confirm her. Is that what you're saying?

DURBIN: That's exactly right. I go in with an open mind and I voted for her for the Circuit Court, but now I'll take a look at it from a different perspective. Is it a matter of her following the law of the Supreme Court, that was the question for Circuit Court, but now a different question. What kind of law does she think should guide America? Does she believe that our Constitution, which doesn't include the word privacy, really guarantees a right of privacy of every individual and family. That's one of the more basic questions that would be asked of any nominee.

BLITZER: In a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll we asked how important it was that a woman replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court. Thirteen percent said essential, 65 percent said it was a good idea, 19 percent said it doesn't matter, two percent said it was a bad idea. What do you say?

DURBIN: I want a good person, man or woman. But I thought it would have been a great choice by the president if he makes that choice to follow on with the first woman who ever served in the Supreme Court Sandra O'Connor with another woman. Having two women on the Supreme Court is not over doing it. Many of us believe that the more women who are involved in the process, the more likely we're going to have a good outcome.

BLITZER: Are you among those Democrats who think the president timed this announcement tonight to try to change the subject away from the Valerie Plame CIA leak?

DURBIN: Well, believe me, I'm sure it's crossed somebody's mind in the White House that the sooner they can get away from Karl Rove questions and Scooter Libby questions the better.

But the fact is, the president had a responsibility here that started with Sandra Day O'Connor's announcement of her retirement. He has to move the process forward so, in the Judiciary Committee, we can do our job and try to fill this vacancy before the court starts anew in October.

BLITZER: You're the minority whip: Should the Democrats get equal time or a chance to respond on television tonight following the president's announcement?

DURBIN: I don't think so. This is the president's decision. I hope he chooses well. And after he makes that choice, we're not going to rush to judgment on the Democratic side. We're going to give a fair hearing to the person involved, ask the important questions, and make sure the American people, as well as the Senate, understand whom this person will be that will have a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: Senator Dick Durbin is a member of the Judiciary Committee. He'll be among those holding the hearings. We'll be watching every step of the way.

Senator Durbin, thanks very much for joining us.

DURBIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And coming up at the top of the hour: "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT." Lou standing by in New York with a preview. Lou, let me guess: The Supreme Court on your agenda?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": It is. As a matter of fact, it's at the top of the agenda tonight. We'll have the latest developments for you on President Bush's announcement tonight of his first U.S. Supreme Court nominee. That's coming up in just under 19 minutes.

We'll also be reporting on China's massive military buildup. A new Pentagon report long delayed by dissension within the Pentagon and external politics, describes how China might defeat Taiwan before the United States could intervene. My guests tonight, two of the country's foremost experts on China's rising economic and military power.

Also, almost two weeks after the London bombings, almost four years after September 11th, just how vulnerable is the United States to radical Islamist terrorism? Admiral James Loy, former deputy Homeland Security secretary, will be here to give us his assessment.

And the deadly West Nile virus is rapidly spreading across the country. National health officials say the public should be preparing now for the worst. We'll have a special report for you from one of the hardest hit states, California.

All of that and a great deal more coming up at the top of the hour. Please join us. Now back to Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Lou. We will certainly be joining. A complete line-up from "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT."

When we come back: Shocking comments from the father of 9/11 pilot, the terrorists Mohamed Atta. You won't believe what he's saying about his son, the London tear terror attacks and future attacks on Westerners.

Also, there are new pictures just into CNN, one of the trains involved in the London terror attacks is brought to the surface.

Much more coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In recent years, many of the Supreme Court's most controversial rulings have been 5-4 decisions. If the nominee President Bush announces tonight is confirmed, it could have a huge impact on future court decisions. Joining us now, our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

Give us your gut sense. Basically, is he going to go with a safe nominee, Jeff, of do you think he's going to go with a more conservative nominee that would dramatically appeal to his base?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The latter. I think he is a conservative. President Bush is not his father. He is a president who wants to change this country and one of the most consequential ways he can change this country is changing the Supreme Court. And the O'Connor seat, even more than the chief justiceship, should that come open, is a way to change America and he is, I think, going to change it in a very conservative way.

BLITZER: Let's talk about some of the names: Michael Luttig. What would that do?

TOOBIN: Michael Luttig is one of the most distinguished and most conservative members of the federal appellate bench. Even though he's only 50 years old, he has been on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals based in Richmond since 1991 and he's compiled, you know, one of the most thoughtful and conservative voting records of any justice -- of any judge in the country.

He was a law clerk to Antonin Scalia. He was an advisor to Clarence Thomas, when Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court. He knows the system. He would be a home run for conservatives.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about some of the others. Alberto Gonzalez, the attorney general.

TOOBIN: You know, Alberto Gonzalez has been the subject of intense attacks from conservatives over the past three weeks since Sandra Day O'Connor stepped down. Conservatives -- many of them believe that he is not a true enough conservative to serve their agenda on the Supreme Court.

Mostly because of a single opinion he wrote when he was on the Texas Supreme Court. He seems -- whether that's true, whether he is in fact not a conservative, is unclear to me, but the conservative movement seems to regard him really with great disfavor at this point.

BLITZER: Earlier today, there was a lot of speculation about Edith Clement, but that speculation now seems to be going away. What about the other Edith, Edith Jones who was confirmed, as you well know?

TOOBIN: Edith Jones was the finalist for the position that ultimately went to Justice Souter in 1990. President -- the first President Bush chose Justice Souter instead and Judge Jones has continued to serve on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Extremely conservative: Has all but called for the overturning of Roe v Wade; very pro-death penalty; has been reversed by the Supreme Court because of her pro-death penalty views. Along with Michael Luttig, she is, I think, the home run for the conservatives.

BLITZER: So, if there's a real conservative -- someone way to the right, let's say, of Sandra Day O'Connor, given the nature of this U.S. Supreme Court: Four moderate liberal-types of judges, four moderate conservative judges. This person that the president will nominate, assuming this person is confirmed, will hold the balance of power?

TOOBIN: Let's be specific. Affirmative action was upheld 5-4 by Sandra Day O'Connor's vote. That's over: Affirmative action done. The late-term abortions upheld, 5-4 with Sandra Day O'Connor's vote. That's over. I mean, those are the kind of decisions that could change immediately: Ten commandments -- Banning the Ten Commandments, a 5-4 vote. That's over, too.

BLITZER: A lot of issues could have an enormous impact; not only these issues, but many others down the road. We'll be watching. We're a little bit more than three hours away from learning what the president's decision is. Jeff Toobin will be watching with us throughout the night.

TOOBIN: You bet.

BLITZER: Jeff, thank you very much.

When we come back: A sign of terror attacks to come? An alarming reaction to the London attacks from the father of a 9/11 terrorist. We'll tell you what he's saying right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Now to the London terror aftermath. We have new video just coming into CNN showing part of a bombed subway train wrapped in blue covering, being lifted by a crane and removed from the tracks near the Edgware station. The British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with Muslim leaders today. On the agenda, home-grown Islamic extremism. Blair asked the assembled clerics, lawmakers and business leaders to fight what he called "the twisted logic of terrorism," which he said is based on a perversion of the true faith of Islam.

In Egypt, shocking words of the London bombing from the father of a 9/11 pilot and terrorist. CNN's Chris Burns has the story from Cairo.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was in a Cairo neighborhood not far from the great pyramids that September 11 ringleader and pilot Mohammed Atta grew up. Today we've come here to the building where Atta lived with his family, not in poverty but in a relatively middle-class surrounding. His father, an attorney. When we spoke to his father, however, the reaction to the attacks in London was as extreme as it gets. He praised the London attacks and said he hoped for more.

(on camera): Atta's father told CNN that the 9/11 and London attacks were only the beginning. He refused an on-camera interview unless we paid him $5,000. That, he said, would be enough to pay for another bombing in London.

(voice-over): It's hard to know how many people here share Atta's father's views. A couple of students we spoke to near their Cairo campus did not express hostility.

MOHAMMED IMAM, STUDENT: Because it gives us a bad figure. Plus, we don't need to have another negative stereotype about the Arabs.

BURNS: Some here see extremism as an outgrowth of anger over hard-line, one-party rule here, and high unemployment, estimated at 25 percent.

IBRAHIM MINA, STUDENT: I think it's social problems reflects on the society. Some people don't have work, don't have jobs. They have -- their minds are empty and nothing to do. They begin to go for to religion. They think of religion wrong.

BURNS (on camera): How do you stop this from continuing?

MINA: Education. First, first, education.

BURNS (voice-over): Mohammed Atta's father told us, there will be many more Mohammed Attas. It may take a lot of education to fight the breakdown of civil society here in one of the cradles of civilization.

Chris Burns, CNN, Cairo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: For some, he was a hero; for others, a symbol of a war they opposed. We'll take a closer look at the legacy of a controversial Vietnam general. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're just getting this in from our correspondents John King and Dana Bash. Despite all the earlier suggestions that perhaps Edith Clement, a federal judge, would be the president's nominee, we're now getting -- being told she is not the president's choice. We don't know who the president's choice will be. We will know for sure 9:00 p.m. Eastern, a little bit more than three hours from now, when the president addresses the nation.

He was a hard-charging hero in World War II and led paratroopers in Korea. Then, he became overall U.S. commander in another war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GENERAL WILLIAM WESTMORELAND: We will prevail in Vietnam over the communist aggression.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: From 1964 to 1968, General William Westmoreland oversaw a massive buildup in South Vietnam, where U.S. troops strength reached half a million. As the war droned on, Westmoreland became a lightning rod for criticism back home in the United States. He failed to gain permission to attack communist forces in North Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos. He was recalled after the enemy's success in the 1968 Tet Offensive, and was made Army chief of staff.

Westmoreland steadfastly defended his role in the war, and later became a champion of veterans' causes.

William Westmoreland died yesterday of natural causes, at the age of 91.

Remember, you can always catch WOLF BLITZER REPORTS weekdays, 5:00 p.m. Eastern. Don't forget, "THE SITUATION ROOM" launches August 8th. That's coming up. And if you're up later tonight, I'll be a guest on "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Los Angeles. "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starting right now, Lou standing by in New York to pick up our coverage -- Lou.

END

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