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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Congress Prepares to Vote on Iraq Pullout; Firefighters Battle California Blaze; Interview With Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha
Aired November 18, 2005 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news happening now.
Congress debates pulling troops out of Iraq. The vote happens soon. The talk is tough, and the politics downright nasty.
ANNOUNCER: The war of words heats up in Washington.
John Murtha makes a plea to pull out of Iraq. And, tonight, Congress puts it to a vote. Will lawmakers vote to take the troops out of Iraq?
Robert Blake liable for the wrongful death of Bonny Lee Bakley, after a criminal court found him not guilty of murder -- now he's ordered to pay $30 million in damages.
And fires rage in Southern California. With walls of flames as high as 30 feet and over 2,000 acres burned, residents on alert for evacuation. Tonight, we will get the latest from Ventura, California.
ANNOUNCER: This is ANDERSON COOPER 360. Live from the CNN studios in New York, here's Anderson Cooper.
COOPER: And good evening again.
We begin with breaking news tonight.
The debate raging in Congress tonight has been very tough, contentious and very political. You are looking at a live picture right now of the House, where the vote is likely to take place in the next hour or so. The resolution calls for an immediate pullout of troops from Iraq. Now, it was put forward by Republicans -- their strategy, force Democrats to vote on a pullout, something suggested yesterday by Democratic Congressman John Murtha.
Now, most Democrats do not support a pullout. So, by forcing a vote, Republicans hope to split and weaken the Democrats.
CNN's Ed Henry is on Capitol Hill, following the action.
Ed, what's the latest?
ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the bottom line is, Anderson, you're right, very little drama left. This vote is going to come probably in the next hour, and the resolution is going to fail by a wide margin. It might be even be unanimous against it.
There will at the end of the evening be absolutely no change in U.S. policy toward Iraq, mostly political posturing here, starting with, as you noted, the Republican speaker of the House today, Dennis Hastert, trying to drive a wedge within the Democratic Party, basically, trying to get the Democrats on record by bringing up John Murtha's resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
But the problem for the Republicans is they ended up not actually bringing up Murtha's resolution. Instead, they brought up, as you said, a Republican-written resolution that left out that six-month transition period that John Murtha is talking about to give troops as much time as possible to get out as safely as possible, not get out immediately.
Instead, the Republicans wrote it to basically say -- calling for the termination of the mission in Iraq, the immediate pullout, as you mentioned. That makes it easy for Democrats to vote no, say this is not what Murtha was calling for. It gave Democrats an opening to say, this is really just a cheap political stunt.
And Republicans walked into it a little bit by really making this personal about John Murtha with some personal attacks, including a freshman Republican lawmaker, a couple of hours ago, Jean Schmidt of Ohio, quoting one of her friends back in Ohio, basically calling John Murtha, who served in Vietnam, wounded twice, won two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, calling him a coward. Take a listen.
Pandemonium ensued on the House floor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JEAN SCHMIDT (R), OHIO: He asked me to send Congress a message. Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run. Marines never do.
SCHMIDT: Danny (ph) and the rest of America and the world want the insurance from this body...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The House will...
SCHMIDT: ... that we will see this through.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The House will be in order. The house will be in order. The House will be in order.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY: Now, Republican Senator John Warner chastising -- chastising his fellow Republicans over in the House tonight, putting a statement saying it's time to end the political posturing, instead, John Warner saying, this debate, this nasty debate that has been playing out on the House floor shows why there needs to be bipartisanship, now more than ever, over the war on Iraq.
But, Anderson, clearly, tonight, very little bipartisanship in the air up here.
COOPER: And, Ed, for -- for -- I mean, allegedly, this is a debate about the war in Iraq and about a troop pullout or not. You don't hear much of that in -- in the testimony on Capitol Hill this evening. It all seems to center around -- around Congressman Murtha.
HENRY: That's right.
It's become personal. And, in a way, Democrats think that Republicans may -- may have made a political miscalculation here by even forcing this vote. Again, it is going to down. There's no drama. And there's going to be no change in policy, really, at the end of the evening. But it draw -- it ended up drawing more at the to John Murtha, more attention to his plan.
We are still talking about it at this late hour. Instead of letting lawmakers go home for the Thanksgiving break and maybe let this thing go away for little bit, instead, the Republicans are really drawing more attention to this very personal, very nasty debate obviously still raging in the country and in the Congress -- Anderson.
COOPER: The vote probably going the happen within this hour.
Ed, stay with us for a moment.
We would also want to bring in Mike Hirsh, senior editor with "Newsweek" magazine, CNN's own political analyst as well, Bill Schneider, and our colleague Tom Foreman.
Gentlemen, quite a night on Capitol Hill.
Tom, let -- let me start off with you.
What about this? Do you think the Republicans made a mistake -- a mistake in doing this? Because they will say, look, we wanted to kind of cut the momentum away from Murtha going into this two-week holiday.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know what this is, Anderson?
You hit the nail on the head a minute ago. This is a fight about the fight. It's not about the issue. You read the stuff tonight, there's precious little -- you watch what they have said. You have seen all their comments, all the releases. There's precious little here about the merits of how this war will be carried forward, how we would get out of this war if we wanted to. It's all about Democrats being mad at Republicans, Republicans being mad at Democrats. And I think, based on what we have seen in many polls over a lot of years now, this is going to bite both of them, because, once again, what it presents to the American voter is a sense of people in Washington who are busier fighting with each other than fighting the enemy or planning how we will fight the enemy, whomever the enemy may be.
That's what I think about this, Anderson.
COOPER: Bill Schneider, you follow these polls closely. Do the American public not -- do they -- do they follow this stuff? Do they not want to hear this kind of vitriolic rhetoric?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: What they want to hear is an exit strategy that says, the end is in sight. There's a light at the end of the tunnel in Iraq. The United States can begin to withdraw. They're not demanding immediate withdrawal.
That is what the House is voting on tonight. And they're going to turn it down. And, look, even if they passed it, it wouldn't pass the Senate. And even if it passed the Senate, it wouldn't mean anything. It's a nonbinding resolution. All of this really is about a political game.
John Murtha received a lot of acclaim from his fellow Democrats for calling for a timely redeployment of American troops in Iraq starting right away. So, the Republicans are saying to the Democrats, you're praising him. You gave him a standing ovation in your caucus. Put your money where your mouth is.
COOPER: Mike Hirsh, I want to talk to you in a moment.
But John -- but Murtha is speaking right now. Let's listen in to what he is saying.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: When you start getting all these accolades, you think you're a big shot.
I remember, one time, President Carter asked me to go to the seven game of the World Series with him. And Tip -- and Tip O'Neill and I went down. There were only four of us and 15 Secret Service people in the plane.
But we got in this helicopter and, of course, flew over all these other people going to the ball game. Well, Carter was not the most pleasant guy to be with.
MURTHA: He wanted to talk all business. And Tip O'Neill wanted to talk nothing but baseball. (LAUGHTER)
MURTHA: So, we get about halfway there. And it's not a very long trip to Baltimore. And Tip finally got him warmed up.
We land, and we only land a block away from the stadium. But we had to have an armored car drive us in. And so, the president said, you sit in the middle there, Murtha. And Tip sat on the left side and president on the right side. Some guy yelled out some obscenities. He said, my God, they must have recognized Murtha in the car.
COOPER: We are going to follow what Murtha is saying. We are going to bring you any highlights.
Mike Hirsh, did the Republicans make a mistake -- mistake tactically in doing this tonight?
MICHAEL HIRSH, "NEWSWEEK": Probably they did.
But, I mean, this is an exercise in irrelevance in my view for other reasons, mainly because the plans are going forward by the Pentagon and the White House for a mid-2006 drawdown, dramatic drawdown. The political military strategy's going forward.
I mean, I think what most of the country is missing here, as they watch Congress, you know, take each other on is that, in fact, there's a strategy for getting out of Iraq. I think this added political pressure will probably make a little bit of difference, perhaps in, you know, telling the White House that it has to go ahead with the strategy.
But there's no question that 2006 is going to be the key year for drawing down troops.
COOPER: Well, just today, Mike, we learned that a top U.S. general has submitted a troop withdrawal plan. It basically calls for U.S. troops -- it's been submitted to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He has not signed it at this point, but this is a plan by a U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, basically calls for brigade-sized withdrawals in 2006, depending on a number of considerations being met inside Iraq, in terms of Iraqi troops level.
Is that a significant document, do you think?
I mean, this is one of a series of plans we have been hearing about since before the summer. There was a little back-and-forth between the Defense Department and the White House over this. Casey had alluded to a dramatic drawdown last spring. He was slapped down by President Bush, who didn't want to give out any kind of a timetable.
But, nonetheless, these plans are there. Those of us who cover the Pentagon have heard about them. And, you know, I think that, no matter what, if things -- if conditions remain just as they are now, they will go forward. You will have a trained-up Iraqi force holding some of these areas that they're clearing, clearing out of insurgents, and you will have a current force of, you know, 140,000 or so nearly halved perhaps by mid-2006.
COOPER: You also have elections, Ed Henry, coming up, off-year elections. How -- how does that influence what's happening tonight, mood on the Hill toward the war in Iraq?
HENRY: Well, I think what Michael is putting out is right on point, because Republicans on the Hill know that, when they watch those polls showing slipping support for the president, slipping support for the war in Iraq, they are the ones whose necks will be on the line next November, not the president. He's a lame duck.
And those troop drawdowns, something that Republicans are looking at very anxiously, very eagerly. They obviously don't want to do it too quickly. They want to make sure the job is done right. But, then, on the other hand, they certainly want to go to the voters next November with less troops than there are right now and with a plan that seems to be in place that would suggest that, if the troops will not be out completely within a year or so, at least that there's a plan on the way.
That's why, putting aside the partisanship on both sides tonight, think back three days ago in the Senate. It was pretty resounding. I believe it was 87 votes.
HENRY: Both parties coming together and saying, we need a plan.
COOPER: Let's listen...
HENRY: And -- and -- yes.
COOPER: Let's listen in to -- to Congressman Murtha for a moment.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
MURTHA: ... Appropriations Committee a criteria for success, because we were so unhappy.
This was in May. Bill Young and I put a criteria for success in the bill. It was a Moran (ph) amendment, because we were not happy with the result. Nobody was talking to us. Nobody would tell us what was going on. And we felt it was absolutely necessary that we put this into writing.
I went to Iraq. I went to Iraq about two months ago. And I talked to the commanders. Now, all of you know the commanders are very hesitant to say anything that's not in the policy of the White House. And I agree. That's the way it should -- it's run by the civilians. That's the way it should be.
But I could tell how discouraged the commanders were. The one Marine commander said, I don't have enough troops to -- to monitor the border, the Syrian border.
Now, why didn't they have enough troops? Because of the deployment, because of the small number of people that are serving in our armed forces today. We told them, the Armed Services Committee, under Duncan Hunter's leadership, said, you can take 30,000 more people. They can't recruit to that.
They have fallen 10,000 short. And not only have they fallen 10,000 short. They're now taking 20 percent category 4's, which they said in the volunteer army would never happen. The war is not going as advertised.
The American public is way ahead of us. If you heard the World War II veterans, if you heard the Vietnam veterans, the wives and the widows, on the phone, crying to my staff and myself when I'm talking to them, if you heard them reaching out and asking for a policy, a bipartisan policy -- when I introduced this resolution, I didn't introduce this as a partisan resolution.
I go by Arlington Cemetery every day. And the vice president, he criticizes Democrats. Let me tell you. Those gravestones don't say Democrat or Republican. They say American.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
MURTHA: And Dick Cheney is a good friend of mine. He was a good secretary of defense.
Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course. It's evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the Iraqi people, or the Persian Gulf region. That's my opinion.
General Casey said in a September 2005 hearing, the perception of occupation in Iraq is a major driving force behind the insurgency. Now, you hear what I'm saying? General Abizaid said the same day, reducing the size and visibility of the coalition forces in Iraq is part of our counterinsurgency strategy. We're two-and-a-half years...
COOPER: You are going to hear more from Congressman Murtha. Later on 360, you are going to have an extensive conversation with him, as we are also going to hear from the White House.
Tom Foreman, do you think Congressman Murtha expected more support from his fellow Democrats? Because I understand, when he announced this to them behind closed doors, they gave him a standing ovation. Then, when he came out and made this announcement calling for withdrawal, it seemed like they were -- a lot of them were kind of running for cover, saying, no comment.
FOREMAN: You know what, Anderson? I -- I think that this speaks to the disconnect that he just addressed a minute ago, when he said the American public is way ahead of us. I think, sometimes, you see people in elected office who really do care about issues on one side or the other. And they speak their heart. And, in those moments, I think they believe what they're saying very strongly. They have heard from their constituency, and they can't help but believe that that message will get through.
But, in the end, Washington is a town of politics. And, as we talked about earlier, as Bill Schneider was talking about, Ed was talking about, these people have to run for reelection again. And many people, in the end, are weighing it against the practical politics. And that's part of this disconnect with the American public.
FOREMAN: Because I have talked to a lot of people out there who have said, look, just tell us one way or the other what the plan is, so we have an idea that we can follow it or not.
COOPER: And that's, supposedly, what they're debating tonight, though we are not hearing much about it.
Mike Hirsh, Bill Schneider, Ed Henry, Tom Foreman, we will check in with you later, as we get nearer to a vote.
Tonight's vote comes on a particularly bad day in Iraq. That tops what's happening at this moment.
Insurgents launch a coordinated wave of attacks. Suicide bombers killed at least 90 worshipers in two Shiite mosques. In Baghdad, six people died in a suicide car bombing. Another car bomb, this one targeting U.S. troops, left three injured.
Back in Washington, the guessing game goes on. The investigation into the White House leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame will continue. Today, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald asked to seat a new grand jury. He says that his work is not over, which means more indictments could be handed up.
And, right now, people in Florida are keeping a close eye on Tropical Storm Gamma. It's just north of Honduras, with winds as high as 74 miles per hour. The path could be similar to Hurricane Wilma. Gamma is the 24th named storm of the season and, similar to Wilma, that means heading to Florida.
Coming up next on 360, I will talk with Representative John Murtha, the man at the center of all the commotion of Capitol Hill, about what to do next in Iraq. He says his plan has been misrepresented. We're going to try to sort out the facts. And we will get the White House reaction as well.
And, in California, fierce winds, intense flames, 200 houses in danger, a fast-moving wildfire bearing down. We're on the ground there with the latest. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
COOPER: An update now on our breaking news -- a live picture of the House of Representatives, where Democratic Congressman John Murtha is speaking right now.
We are awaiting a vote on a resolution calling for immediate pullout of troops from Iraq. The GOP maneuver was prompted by Murtha, who yesterday called for troop withdrawal.
Now, the reason his comments have caused so much consternation is because of his remarkable military record.
Joe Johns takes a look.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Military roots don't get any deeper than Jack Murtha's. A former Marine drill instructor, he was also the first Vietnam combat veteran elected to Congress. His family has fought for the United States, all the way back to the Revolutionary War. His great grandfather fought for the Union in the Civil War. This's his cap in Murtha's office.
As a 33-year-old father of three, Murtha himself volunteered to go to Vietnam. And when he was offered a position stateside instead, he refused. He fought, was wounded twice, and received the Bronze Star for Valor and two Purple Hearts, which makes the White House comparisons to left-wing anti-war filmmaker Michael Moore all the more puzzling to some people, including Murtha.
MURTHA: And, so, now they're saying that I'm a whatever they're saying about me, but that doesn't change me from the substance of what I'm talking about.
JOHNS: It's not just his personal history. From his position as the top Democrat in the House on defense spending, he made sure the U.S. military got what it needed to fight. That model aircraft carrier on his cabinet, Murtha's wife christened the real thing. Murtha's fellow Democrats are outraged at how he has been attacked.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The senator from Massachusetts.
JOHNS: Including Senator John Kerry, who had his own military record questioned during the '04 campaign.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I don't intend to stand for, nor should any of us in the United States Congress stand for another swift boat attack on the character of Jack Murtha. It, frankly, disgusts me that a bunch of guys who never chose to put on the uniform of their country now choose, in the most personal way, in the most venomous way, to question the character of a man who did wear the uniform of this country and who bled doing it. It's wrong.
JOHNS: But that's not Murtha's style. Low-key and serious, his response to the Michael Moore comparison is to compare the current president to his father, a man Murtha greatly respected.
MURTHA: He had an exit strategy. President Bush I said, I am not going to go into Iraq, because I don't want to occupy it and I don't want to reconstruct it. President Bush II said, I have no exit strategy. Victory. Winning. That's not a strategy.
JOHNS: Murtha knows the men and women fighting in Iraq may not appreciate his suggestion that they should be withdrawn. But he has no second thoughts about speaking out, a determination that grew on him during numerous visits to wounded veterans at Walter Reed Hospital.
MURTHA: These young people that I go to visit almost every week and -- and talk to them, and they're so unselfish. And I see them with -- with legs off, hands off, blown apart. We have to get the Iraqis to take over this thing.
JOHNS: If the idea behind the White House attacks on Murtha is to deter others from following his call for a withdrawal, it might work. But if the idea is to shut Murtha up, a man who has served his district under six presidents, they're probably wrong.
Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
MURTHA: All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free, free from the United States' occupation. I believe this will send a signal to the Sunnis to join the political process for a good and free Iraq.
COOPER: And you are watching Congressman Murtha right now still delivering his comments. Actually, he has just stopped delivering those comments -- a vote likely to take place within the next hour, the Republicans forcing the issue, trying to get everyone to -- to vote yes or no for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
Of course, the resolution is likely not to pass. The Democrats have said they -- they will not vote for it. They say that doesn't even go along the lines with what Congressman Murtha has been proposing.
Later on 360, you are going to hear Congressman Murtha himself about exactly what his plan for withdrawal is.
Right now, Erica Hill from Headline News joins us with some of the other stories we are following.
Good evening, Erica.
ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson. Good evening. to you. A new audio statement believed to be from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, it's posted on a Web site frequently used by his terror group, al Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Zarqawi took an unusually defensive tone in this statement, seeking to shore up support, after widespread anger after last week's suicide bombing in Amman, Jordan.
Still, on the tape, the speaker said he was not about to stop the bloodshed and threatened tourist sites in Jordan and also threatened to behead Jordan's King Abdullah II. He said Jordan is targeted because it's serving as a protector for Israel and because the country helps the U.S. military in Iraq.
The company that made the more than 18,000 body armor vests being recalled by the Army and Marine Corps saying on Friday there have been no reports of failures and that the government did supervise the testing procedures used on those vests.
Also tonight, Robert Legendre, the second of two inmates who escaped from an Iowa prison, is back in custody. He was found sitting in a stolen pickup in Missouri. The other escaped convict, Martin Moon, was arrested on Thursday near Chester, Illinois.
And, in Tokyo, a male stork whose beak snapped off last year after getting stuck in metal wiring got an artificial beak today. A dentist attached a prosthetic using a dental adhesive. The stork had lost weight because he found it difficult to catch live fish. Understandable here. And, worse, due to all the stress, he apparently no longer was getting along with his female breeding mate.
The poor guy.
COOPER: Oh, man, that's tough.
HILL: So, hopefully, with the new beak, maybe he can find a new lady friend.
COOPER: One broken beak and then -- and the ladies don't love you anymore?
HILL: Apparently, that's all it takes in the stork world.
COOPER: Man, it's tough, tougher than the adult world.
COOPER: Erica, thanks very much.
Next, on 360, in the West, a wildfire burning out of control in Southern California. Thousands of acres have been torched. 360 is on the scene -- a live report coming up.
Actor Robert Blake acquitted in a criminal trial of murdering his wife -- well, today, a jury in his civil trial disagreed. And now he is going to pay. We will talk to the lawyer for the victim's family.
Around America and the world, this is 360.
COOPER: Debate still raging on Capitol Hill over the Republicans' resolution for an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
Of course, they are not really proposing an immediate withdrawal. They're just trying to force the Democrats to vote yea or nay on the -- on the resolution. We continue to follow it. We expect a vote within the next 30 minutes or so.
In California tonight, more than 1,000 firefighters are battling a fierce wildfire that's already burned nearly 2,000 acres. And it is threatening some 200 homes outside Los Angeles. The fire started this afternoon. It tripled in size in a matter of hours. The Santa Ana winds are the problem, a serious problem right now.
CNN's Ted Rowlands is standing by in Ventura with the latest -- Ted.
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Those winds have picked up considerably in the last hour, Anderson.
And that is a real concern for firefighters. It is what they're watching this evening. The temperature has dropped, however, with the setting of the sun. And that will help on one end.
They're monitoring the hills here in Ventura County very closely. This afternoon, it was quite a scene up there, where hundreds of homeowners had to flee on a moment's notice, as the winds picked up considerably and blew flames through a canyon near a number of hillside homes.
People were aware that it was a possibility that they had to evacuate because this fire was started -- or did -- was noticed at 3:30 this morning. So, homeowners had a bit of time to gather their belongings. But then, when the word came down that they had to go, they had to go on a moment's notice.
Firefighters battled the blazes. A crew we were following was overcome by flames for a short period of time. They held their ground. They were able to protect their fire truck and protect the hillside home that they were guarding. All in all, no homes were lost today, and just a couple of outbuildings. One firefighter did suffer smoke inhalation. But it could have been much worse. They're monitoring the situation very closely tonight.
They hope to get this fire under control sometime tomorrow, if Mother Nature continues to cooperate -- Anderson.
COOPER: Ted, these pictures we are looking at are just incredible of the fire, so close to that fire truck. You said you were with the crew who was almost overwhelmed. What was that like? I mean, how quickly did these winds shift? How quickly does the fire shift?
ROWLANDS: It was amazing.
It started coming up over the hillside. And you could tell that the adrenaline level started to pick up with the fire crews and with the people literally who were waiting outside their homes. They had their cars packed up, but they were just sort of watching the action.
And, then, we were talking to one of the homeowners, and a firefighter came up and said, it is time. Let's go. Let's go.
We followed a crew. Tom Larson (ph), the photographer, had to back up at one point, because the flames were gigantic and were coming right at us and right at him. Luckily, there wasn't a lot of fuel in that area. And now it is all burned up. So, those homes today, which were in grave danger, now are looking pretty good, because the fuel has been burned out. And firefighters were able to save those homes.
COOPER: Unbelievable images. Ted, I'm glad you're safe and as well your cameraman. Thanks very much.
Still to come on 360, Florida is told a storm may be on the way. Can you believe it? Tropical Storm Gamma, they say it may go on the same path as Wilma. We are going to bring you the latest forecast.
Plus, his words seemed to have tipped the scale in the debate over the war in Iraq -- my conversation with Congressman Murtha. What's his plan for the war? Does he really want the troops out right now?
We are watching the vote that is happening right now -- the debate. We anticipate a vote sometime within the next half-hour or so. They're still debating the measure. We will bring it to you as it happens live.
From America and around the world, this is 360.
COOPER: Right now, breaking news -- Congress debating a resolution calling for the removal of all U.S. troops in Iraq.
There, you see Representative John Murtha speaking again.
It has been a very ugly political battle. It was prompted by Congressman Murtha, who, by no means, is the first person to criticize the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq. But, you might say, he pushed the debate over the edge in recent days.
Republican leaders are trying to get the Democrats to put their votes where their complaints are, after Murtha demanded a withdrawal yesterday.
The measure on the floor right now, the measure that we anticipate a vote on in the next hour, is not exactly what Murtha has called for. Earlier today, I spoke with the congressman.
COOPER: Congressman Murtha, in your statement, you said that American troops have become the primary target of the insurgency, they're united against U.S. forces, and we have become a catalyst for violence.
Hasn't that been the case, really, since we have been in Iraq? In your mind, what has changed now?
MURTHA: Well, what changed was Abu Ghraib and the fact that Abu Ghraib sent a message to the world that torture was -- was all right with -- with America.
And I think it was a mistake for the administration not to immediately jump on that issue, and to not only chastise the people that did it, but to also chastise the other people who were involved in it.
And, of course, the Arab world, then, united against us when they saw this. Incidents have gone up. They doubled. The average has doubled since Abu Ghraib. And last month, we have got four times as many people killed or injured -- and injured -- as we had before. So, this sent a signal throughout the world that we're lowering our standards to the al Qaeda standards.
COOPER: What, though -- I mean, back in May -- I know your position on this has -- you have been critical of the way the war has been executed for quite some time. Back in May of 2004, you were arguing for -- for basically more boots on the ground. Perhaps even a draft, you were advocating.
On "LOU DOBBS" back in, I think it was May of 2004, you said -- quote -- "It would be an international disaster, I think, if we pulled out. But the alternative is, we're going to struggle along, get more and more young people killed." And then you talked about going out to visit these hospitals.
Why now have you pushed for an immediate pullout?
MURTHA: Well, what we're saying is redeployment, if you hear the words exactly as I have said them.
What -- I have come to the conclusion, after being in Iraq two months ago, listening to the commanders who say we don't have adequate forces to carry out our mission, for instance, to protect the border, that the Iraqi troops, unless we're with them, can't handle the job, and then I listened to the commanders there, who told me that none of the economic indicators have improved -- for instance, electricity is below pre-war level.
Oil production is below pre-war level. Water is not sufficient. And incidents have gone from 150 a week a year ago to over 700, almost 772. Now, when you say incidents, that's a very clinical issue. But when you talk about people, when you visit the hospitals, like I do, you begin to realize the suffering. And then you see that 80 percent of the Iraqis want us out of there and 45 percent feel it's justified to attack Americans. You begin to realize we need a change in direction.
COOPER: Well, that 80 percent figure that you have been quoting, I mean, that's from one British poll that was quoted in "The Washington Times." I mean, there have been other polls in past months that -- that the numbers are different. And it's not really clear how accurate polling can be.
MURTHA: Well, I'm sure there's been White House polls that have said differently.
But let -- let me just tell you this. The incidents are not a question. The incidents have gone up. And the casualties have increased to four times as many as there were just a year ago for this particular month. Now, this is not a war of words. This is a real war. We're fighting a war that is hurting young people. We have a very small percentage of the people in this country serving.
COOPER: But you're saying...
MURTHA: We have the families -- Anderson, you want to listen to what I'm saying?
We -- I'm passionate about this. I go to the -- have you been out to the hospitals to visit these troops?
MURTHA: Do you go out every week?
MURTHA: No, you don't.
So -- so, you don't see what I see. I see legs off, arms off. I see these -- these young people being hurt badly. And the military says we can't win it militarily. The Iraqis aren't going to be willing to cooperate with us, unless we give them the responsibility.
I think this gives them the incentive to take over their country. I think that the military, once we pull out, we no longer unify them against us. And, so, I -- I very passionately believe that it will be better.
COOPER: It was interesting. I read that you said that, when you go and you talk to these commanders, that they say what they're supposed to say, but you can kind of sense they don't believe it, and you know the difference. You have served. Describe that more.
MURTHA: Well, what I see is the difficulties that they face. I see discouragement when they don't have enough troops. I see that -- that they know the facts of what's going on, on the ground. You know, this administration fired General Shinseki. You remember that? When he said we needed 200,000 troops? They're very quick to get rid of somebody if they disagree with them.
So, we have a war where we went in with barely enough troops to win the war, and then we didn't have enough troops for the transition. We didn't find weapons of mass destruction. So, when they say something, you don't necessarily have to take it -- you don't just take that sheet of paper and believe it because they send it over to you.
COOPER: The White House, what they have said yesterday -- I'm sure you saw their statement, comparing your position basically to Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party. And they said: "After seeing his statement, we remain baffled. Nowhere does he explain how retreating from Iraq makes America safer."
How does this make America safer?
MURTHA: Well, I will tell you exactly how it makes it safer. And I appreciate the substance of the question.
It makes it safer because we're the enemy. We are what the -- have united the Iraqis against us. And so I'm convinced, once we redeploy to Kuwait or to the surrounding area, that it will be much safer. They won't be able to unify against the United States. And then, if we have to go back in, we can go back in.
COOPER: Does it send to a message to the rest of the world that the United States is not capable of maintaining, you know, long term, a military operation, that, ultimately, political will, political support back at home will erode it?
MURTHA: Anderson, they're going to move those troops out there next year. They are going to have a schedule for withdrawal next year. And you can say it now or you can say it next year.
COOPER: Every time I have gone out on patrol in Baghdad with troops, I'm always amazed, not only how great the troops are, but how diverse they are in terms of their politics. Some are Democrats. Some are Republicans. Some are independents. Some want to be there. Some don't want to be there.
When you hear the White House saying that having this debate hurts morale and hurts the troops in the field -- you have been in the field -- does it?
MURTHA: I will tell you what hurts the morale of the troops in the field is when they go to field with inadequate number of troops, when they go to field with inadequate equipment, when they go into the field unprepared. That's what hurts them.
And, if you remember, I'm the one that found the body armor shortages, the shortages of up-armored Humvees and those kind of things. That's what hurts the troops. What hurts the troops is when they have people who have hurricane losses in their areas, like -- like some of them have been deployed after their houses have been destroyed, and their spouses are left at home to take care of the carnage, because we're so short.
And the recruitment figures show you how difficult it is and how the public is really reacting. It is fine for somebody else to go. These people sit in their air-conditioned offices.
And I know you have been out there, and you know how hot and how difficult it is to be out in the field. But these folks sit in their air-conditioned offices. They say, well, stay the course.
COOPER: That was Congressman John Murtha.
We continue to watch this debate which is unfolding on Capitol Hill. It is happening now. We anticipate a vote some time relatively soon. We will bring that to you live, of course.
And, earlier today, I spoke with the White House -- there's a live shot right there in this very heated debate. Hear what they have to say about Congressman Murtha's comments.
COOPER: (AUDIO GAP) .. expected to give a little later today in Asia.
Now, we are monitoring breaking news from Capitol Hill, debate, a very raucous and vitriolic debate at times, on the House floor over a resolution, a Republican resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. A vote on the resolution is expected soon.
We are bringing you all sides of the intense debate.
Earlier, I spoke with the White House communications director, Nicolle Wallace, about some of the comments made by Congressman Murtha.
COOPER: I spoke with Congressman Murtha this morning. And he said that one of the main reasons he's pushing for troop withdrawal from Iraq is that the insurgency has dramatically increased in the last year. He said, last year, at this time, there were 150 incidents a month. And now there are over 700.
I mean, is that your take on the insurgency? Vice President Cheney, a couple months ago, said that they were in the last throes of the insurgency.
NICOLLE WALLACE, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, let me first say something about Congressman Murtha. We have nothing but respect for him and his service to this country. And I believe that he made his announcement yesterday and his comments today from a place of deep conviction. And I think that stands in contrast to some of the things that you hear on Capitol Hill these days.
But we could not disagree more with his analysis about the situation on the ground in Iraq or the best way to keep Americans safe here at home.
COOPER: But, I mean, are things getting better in Iraq?
Because he -- I mean, what he is saying is that not only is the insurgency increasing, but he's saying electricity is not at, you know, pre-war levels. It's below pre-war levels, oil production is below pre-war levels, and water is not sufficient. What kind of progress is being made on the ground?
WALLACE: Progress is being made on the ground in Iraq every day.
And all you have to do is spend some time over there. My deputy just returned from spending three weeks in Iraq. And they have made extraordinary progress. And, listen, again, don't take my word for it. Take the word of the generals who are on the ground and calling the shots. And they are the ones who give the president his information about what's happening on the ground in Iraq. There are also...
COOPER: But how are you measuring...
WALLACE: Hang on.
COOPER: How are you measuring progress, though?
I mean, if -- Murtha seems to be measuring it by, you know, looking at economic levels, looking at, you know, attacks against U.S. troops.
WALLACE: Well, we can look back to an historic election in January. We can look back to another historic election on the referendum. And we can look forward to the December 15 election.
Look, this fledgling democracy is taking hold in the heart of the Middle East, in a place where, if we let it go to the terrorists, it will certainly become a base for terrorist training and terrorist attacks on America and her allies. That is not debatable.
Now, we have different measures for success. And it is the -- the job of the Defense Department and of the generals who travel back and forth between Iraq and Washington to regularly brief members of Congress. And, you know, my understanding is, this information has been provided.
But what we have with Congressman Murtha is a policy difference. And that is not only legitimate, but healthy and necessary at a time of war. COOPER: President Bush saying it is irresponsible to use politics at a time like this, when there are troops in the field. I mean, isn't linking someone to Michael Moore and calling him, you know, sort of Michael Moore politics, isn't that using politics?
WALLACE: Well, I think the politics that we have talked about are politics that John McCain actually called -- called people out on. I think he is a highly respected referee in American politics.
And he said it was a lie for Democrats to say that George W. Bush lied about pre-war intelligence. And that was the specific political activity that the president referenced.
But, you know, we must have an honest debate. I mean, the policy that we advocate is a conditions-based withdrawal from Iraq. Everybody wants to see our troops come home. Where we differ now is that the president and most Republicans still believe that we will leave when this fledgling democracy can take care of her own security. And that is happening every day. Iraqis are taking control of more and more battle space in Iraq.
Every day, the Americans are taking more of an advisory role, and the Iraqis are taking the fight to the enemies. You know, more Iraqis die in terrorist attacks in Iraq than anybody else.
And, so, I -- you know, I think Americans need to know that, despite some of the debates that take place in Washington, while important and often interesting, what's happening on the ground is the most important thing.
COOPER: One other thing I want to just ask about very quickly -- Murtha has been saying that 80 percent of Iraqis don't want the U.S. in Iraq and 45 percent feel justified in attacking U.S. soldiers. He's -- it is a British poll that I guess he's quoting from "The Washington Times."
Do you believe that 80 percent of Iraqis don't want the U.S. there?
WALLACE: You know, I don't know how to read American polls. I am not even going to venture into trying to understand or analyze Iraqi polls.
But I will tell you this. If the leaders of a free and democratic Iraq wanted us to leave, we would go.
COOPER: Next on 360, a roundtable discussion on the debate happening right now on the House floor of Iraq. We are going to talk with "Newsweek"'s Mike Hirsh, CNN's Bill Schneider and Tom Foreman.
We will be right back.
MURTHA: I thought how proud I was of -- of them.
COOPER: Debate continues on the House floor, Congressman Murtha speaking still, a resolution calling for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq.
We would also -- we continue to monitor this and waiting for this vote.
We are going to bring in Mike Hirsh, senior editor with "Newsweek" magazine, CNN's own political analyst Bill Schneider, as well as CNN's Tom Foreman.
Again, gentlemen, thanks very much.
Mike, you think there's a certain irony in all -- in the timing of all of this, because of events on the ground in Iraq.
I mean, I think the interesting thing is that, at a moment we seem to be reaching a sort of white-hot pitch of debate over what to do in Iraq, behind the scenes, the Pentagon and the State Department and the White House have reached a real consensus about the political military strategy.
The Iraq -- the ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been forging ahead with a plan to separate the Sunni community from the extremists, dealing on the tribal level in a way that his predecessors, particularly Jerry Bremer, did not do.
The Pentagon has finally converged around a counterinsurgency strategy, which they didn't really have for a long time, which is this clear, hold and build idea, based on training up Iraqi troops. And from what I hear, there are more ready Iraqi troops than has been -- has been said in the media.
So, you know, the irony is that, while things I think are every bit as bad as Representative Murtha says on the ground, they have something resembling a coherent strategy for the first time in, like, two years.
COOPER: And yet, Bill Schneider, the support for this war is at its lowest point yet.
SCHNEIDER: That's right. Most Americans say that they were misled into this war. They think that the war was not worth fighting.
Look, I was around during the Vietnam War period. When we interviewed Americans then, they say the same thing they are saying now: Win or get out.
What John Murtha has said is: We're not winning. We can't win with the number of troops we have. So, the alternative is, we should get out of there, because we are becoming the target. We're making the situation worse. Now, he's calling for a timely redeployment, he argues, not an immediate withdrawal. When this resolution is defeated, when Democrats vote against it, as they will tonight, Republicans would like to be able to say, hey, look at that. They don't support John Murtha. He's not their hero. But I think a lot of Democrats would say, this was really a stunt pulled by the Republicans. We were not voting on what John Murtha was talking about.
And, Tom Foreman, I mean, they can say that because, seriously, what the Republicans are demanding a vote on is -- is not really precisely what John Murtha has been proposing.
FOREMAN: Yes. Exactly.
I mean, there's more posing going on up on Capitol Hill tonight than in a nude art class. I mean, you have got people on both sides saying a lot of things, some very heartfelt, like Representative Murtha. No question this man feels very strongly about this.
But we have had bickering breaking out in the past 20 minutes over, well, are we voting on this part; are voting on that part?
And it goes back to what Mike said a minute ago and what we have been talking about all along. This conversation tonight has precious little to do with exactly where the troops are, where they're going to be, and how we are going to either stay in this war or get out of it. And, in my experience with these voters out there, that's what they need to hear. These debates like this tonight don't help either party, I don't think.
COOPER: Well, that -- it is easier for politicians to talk about the politics of it all and the finger-pointing of it all and not the strategy of it, because that's probably the most complicated thing out there.
We are going to continue to follow this.
Mike, Tom and Bill, thanks very much.
We will continue to -- to be watching the debate, which still goes on, on Capitol Hill.
Coming up next on 360, well, more latest -- more on the latest round of mudslinging in Washington. The House is expected to vote on the resolution. We will be following that.
Also, a lot more ahead -- a wildfire raging in California, threatening hundreds of homes tonight. Are firefighters any closer to containing it? We will bring you the latest.
This is 360.
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