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Presidential News Conference; Rebuilding Risks in New Orleans; Black and White Flag

Aired March 21, 2006 - 09:58   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I am Daryn Kagan at CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.
About an hour and a half ago, our morning change, getting word that President Bush decided to hold a news briefing at the White House. That's expected to begin any moment. The second time we'll hear from the president in a format where he's going to answer questions in two days.

Yesterday, it was in Cleveland at the City Club of Cleveland. There he answered questions from the public. Today might be even tougher. Today from reporters. We'll get to the White House in just a moment.

First I want to welcome back in John Roberts and call on your many years of covering this White House.

Are you surprised that we're hearing from the president again in this format?

John, can you hear us?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SR. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, I'm sorry, Daryn. We were just crossing over the control room here. What was the question, again?

KAGAN: The question was are you surprised that we're hearing from the president again so soon, in this format where he's going to be answering questions?

ROBERTS: No, you know, because it was either the last time or the time before that he did one of these press conferences, that he did it very soon, if not the day after, a couple of days after. He did one of these events, you know, the town hall type of meeting where he took questions from the audience.

What the White House seems to like to do is to make the best use of his time, the most efficient use of his time. So when they get him spooled up to do these question and answer sessions, which are far more freewheeling now than they ever used to be -- you know, it used to be that they would take scripted questions, the questions were submitted in advance and they were taking them from mostly friendly questioners. Now, it's pretty much an open type of forum.

So when they get the president spooled up and ready to go with one of these events, they like to be able to capitalize on that by perhaps throwing in a press conference. They feel that he's got the energy up, they feel he's got some pretty good momentum. And he's much more able to be able to field questions from the national media.

You know, the president was famous for not doing many of these press conferences at all, and then when he would come into them after maybe a lay-off of three or four months, he'd look a little bit stiff -- look a little bit stiff, he wouldn't look like he was really comfortable with the material. And therefore, now, when they figure they've got him warmed up, they'd like to take advantage of these events. It makes him look much smoother and much more facile with all of the information.

KAGAN: All right, John, you're going to stick around and listen in with us. We'll talk to you after this news conference. We also Have Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Ed Henry will be joining us from Capitol Hill.

Kathleen Koch is in the briefing room at the White House.

Kathleen, what are you hearing that we might be hearing about during this briefing?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're told by a senior administration official, that the president will come out and make brief remarks. He will focus initially on Iraq, with this weekend marking the third anniversary of the war. The president will give sort of a summary, as he has in recent days, sort of what he did yesterday in Cleveland, talking about the war, it's progress, what's working and what hasn't.

Then we're also told that he will discuss the economy, the continuing strength of the U.S. economy and what the Bush administration is doing to keep it strong. And the official who I spoke with said that the president does like these rough-and-tumble exchanges, as John was mentioning, such as the one he had yesterday with that audience in Cleveland, speaking for nearly an hour, taking 11 questions. Obviously, the questioning here in the briefing room will be significantly tougher, but it's something that the president looks forward to, and senior administration officials told me he would be doing on perhaps a bimonthly basis as his presidency continues -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Kathleen Koch in the briefing room downstairs at the White House. Kathleen, we'll let you take a seat there. We are getting the indication that its less than a minute before the president will be coming out, President Bush, in just a minute. Afterwards, we'll talk with John Roberts. We'll go to the Pentagon and talk to Barbara Starr. We will check in with Kathleen Koch, and also we'll check in on Capitol Hill with Ed Henry as well.

As I was saying, President Bush yesterday going to Cleveland and speaking there and answering a number of questions there, especially as -- well, looks like the president is here. Let's go ahead and listen to the president.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yesterday, I delivered the second in a series of speeches on the situation in Iraq. I spoke about the violence that the Iraqi people had faced since last month's bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra.

I also said that for every act of violence, there is encouraging progress in Iraq that's hard to capture on the evening news.

Yesterday, I spoke about an important example of the gains we and the Iraqis have made, and that is in the northern city of Tal Afar. The city was once under al Qaeda control. And thanks to coalition and Iraqi forces, the terrorists have now been driven out of that city.

Iraqi security forces are maintaining law and order, and we see the outlines of a free and secure Iraq that we and the Iraqi people have been fighting for.

As we mark the third anniversary of the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the success we're seeing in Tal Afar gives me confidence in the future of Iraq.

The terrorists haven't given up. They're tough-minded. They like to kill. There's going to be more tough fighting ahead.

No question that sectarian violence must be confronted by the Iraqi government and a better trained police force, yet we're making progress. And that's important for the American people to understand.

We're making progress because we've got a strategy for victory. And we're making progress because the men and women of the United States military are showing magnificent courage and they're making important sacrifices that have brought Iraq to a historic moment: the opportunity to build a democracy that reflects this country's diversity, that serves its people and is an active partner in the fight against the terrorists.

Now Iraq's leaders must take advantage of the opportunity. I was encouraged by the announcement Sunday that Iraqi leaders made -- are making progress toward a council that gives each of the country's main political factions a voice in making security and economic policies.

It's an indicator that Iraq's leaders understand the importance of a government of national unity.

Our ambassador to Iraq, Zal Khalilzad, is very much involved in the process and will encourage the Iraqi leaders to put aside their differences, reach out across sectarian lines and form a unity government.

Here at home, I'm also encouraged by the strength of our economy. Last year, our economy grew at a health 3.5 percent. Over the past two and a half years, the economy has added nearly 5 million new jobs. That's more than Japan and the 25 nations of the European Union combined.

The national unemployment rate is 4.8 percent. That's lower than the average rate of the 1970s and the 1980s and the 1990s. Productivity is strong. Inflation is contained. Household net worth is at an all-time high. Real after-tax income is up more than 8 percent per person since the beginning of 2001.

The growing economy is a result of the hard work of the American people and good policies here in Washington.

I believe America prospers when people are allowed to keep more of what they earn so they can make their own decisions about how to spend, save and invest.

So I'm going to continue to work with Congress to make the tax relief permanent. I'm going to continue to work with Congress to restrain federal spending. I'm going to continue to work with Congress to achieve the goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2009.

We cannot take our growing economy for granted. And so I look forward to working with the Congress to make sure we invest in basic research and promote math and science education.

I'm going to work with Congress to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

I know it came as a surprise to some of you that I would stand up in front of the Congress and say, "We've got a problem; we're addicted to oil." But it is a problem. And I look forward to working with both Republicans and Democrats to advance an agenda that will make us less dependent on foreign oil, an agenda that includes hybrid cars and advanced ethanol fuels and hydrogen cells.

I'm going to look forward to working with Congress to make sure health care is affordable and available.

We're going to work with Congress to make sure we meet our commitments to our fellow citizens who were affected by Katrina.

I appreciate the step that the House of Representatives took last week on passing a supplemental appropriations bill that funds Gulf Coast reconstruction and, of course, supports our men and women in uniform.

I look forward to working with the Senate to get that supplemental bill passed and to my desk.

Now I'd be glad to take any questions you have, starting with A.P. person.


QUESTION: Iraq's interim prime minister said Sunday that, "Violence is killing an average of 50 to 60 people a day and that if this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."

QUESTION: Do you agree with Mr. Allawi that Iraq has fallen into civil war? BUSH: I do not. There are other voices coming out of Iraq, by the way, other than Mr. Allawi -- who I know, by the way; like; he's a good fellow.

President Talabani has spoken. General Casey the other day was quite eloquent on the subject. Zal Khalilzad, who I talk to quite frequently -- listen, we all recognize that there is a violence, that there's sectarian violence. But the way I look at the situation is that the Iraqis took a look and decided not to go to civil war.

A couple of indicators are that the army didn't bust up into sectarian divisions. The army stayed united. And, as General Casey pointed out, they did, arguably, a good job in helping to make sure the country stayed united.

Secondly, I was pleased to see the religious leaders stand up. Ayatollah Sistani, for example, was very clear in his denunciation of violence and the need for the country to remain united.

The political leaders, who represent different factions of the Iraqi society, have committed themselves to moving forward on a unity government.

And no question that the enemy has tried to spread sectarian violence.

They use violence as a tool to do that. You know, they're willing to kill innocent people.

The reports of bound Sunnis that were executed are horrific. And it's obviously something we're going to have to deal with; and, more importantly, the Iraqis are going to have to deal with it.

But I see progress. You know, I've heard people say, "Oh, you know, he's just kind of optimistic for the sake of optimism." Well, look, I believe we're going to succeed.

And I understand how tough it is. Don't get me wrong. I mean, you make it abundantly clear how tough it is.

I hear it from our troops. I read the reports every night.

But I believe the Iraqis -- this is a moment when the Iraqis had a chance to fall apart and they didn't. And that's a positive development.

QUESTION: Thank you. You describe Iran as a threat. Yet you're close to opening talks with them about Iraq.

What would be the objective in these talks if they are not negotiations? And is there a risk of getting drawn into the nuclear issue?

BUSH: Thanks for asking that question. A couple of months ago, I gave Zal, our ambassador in Iraq, permission to explain to the Iranians what we didn't like about their involvement in Iraq. I thought it was important for them to hear firsthand, other than through press accounts. He asked whether or not it made sense for him to be able to talk to a representative in Baghdad.

I said: Absolutely. You make it clear to them that attempts to spread sectarian violence or to maybe move parts that could be used for IEDs is unacceptable to the United States.

It is very important for the Iranians to understand that any relationship between Iraq and Iran will be negotiated between those two countries.

Iraq is a sovereign government. They have a foreign policy. And when they get their unity government stepped up, they will be in charge of negotiating with the Iranians their foreign policy arrangement.

So this is a way for us to make it clear to them that -- about what's right or wrong in their activities inside of Iraq.

Secondly, our negotiations with Iran on the nuclear weapons will be led by the E.U.-3. And that's important because the Iranians must hear there's a unified voice about -- that says that they shall not have a capacity to make a nuclear weapon and/or the knowledge as to how to make a nuclear weapon for the sake of security of the world.

It's important for our citizens to understand that we've got to deal with this issue diplomatically now.

And the reason why is because if the Iranians were to have a nuclear weapon, they could blackmail the world; if the Iranians were to have a nuclear weapon, they could proliferate.

This is a country that is walking away from international accords. They're not heading toward the international accords. They're not welcoming the international inspections or safeguard measures that they had agreed to.

And so our policy for the Iranians in terms of the nuclear program is to continue to work with the E.U.-3 as well as Russia and China.

Later on this week, there's going to be a P-5 -- that's diplomatic sloganeering for the permanent members of the Security Council -- plus Germany, in working together to make sure that the message remains unified and concerted.

If you're a nontransparent society, you've got a negotiating advantage over six parties, because all you have to do is, kind of, try to find, you know, a -- the weakest link in the negotiating team. And so, our job is to make sure that this kind of international will remains strong and united, so that we can solve this issue diplomatically.

Helen, after that brilliant performance at the Gridiron, I am...

QUESTION: You're going to be sorry.


BUSH: Well, then, let me take it back.

QUESTION: I'd like to ask you, Mr. President -- your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime.

Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is: Why did you really want to go to war? From the moment you stepped into the White House, your Cabinet officers, former Cabinet officers, intelligence people and so forth -- but what's your real reason? You have said it wasn't oil, the quest for oil. It hasn't been Israel or anything else. What was it?

BUSH: I think your premise, in all due respect to your question and to you as a lifelong journalist -- that I didn't want war. To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect.


BUSH: Hold on for a second, please. Excuse me. Excuse me.

No president wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it's just simply not true.

My attitude about the defense of this country changed in September the 11th. When we got attacked, I vowed then and there to use every asset at my disposal to protect the American people.

Our foreign policy changed on that day. You know, we used to think we were secure because of oceans and previous diplomacy. But we realized on September the 11th, 2001, that killers could destroy innocent life.

And I'm never going to forget it. And I'm never going to forget the vow I made to the American people, that we will do everything in our power to protect our people.

Part of that meant to make sure that we didn't allow people to provide safe haven to an enemy, and that's why I went into Iraq.


BUSH: Hold on for a second. Excuse me for a second, please. Excuse me for a second. They did. The Taliban provided safe haven for al Qaeda. That's where al Qaeda trained and that's where...


BUSH: Helen, excuse me.

That's where -- Afghanistan provided safe haven for al Qaeda. That's where they trained, that's where they plotted, that's where they planned the attacks that killed thousands of innocent Americans. I also saw a threat in Iraq. I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That's why I went to the Security Council. That's why it was important to pass 1441, which was unanimously passed.

And the world said, "Disarm, disclose or face serious consequences." And therefore, we worked with the world. We worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world.

And when he chose to deny the inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did. And the world is safer for it.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Secretary Rumsfeld...

BUSH: You're welcome.

I didn't really regret it. I kind of semi-regretted it.


BUSH: That's right.

Anyway, your performance at the Gridiron was just brilliant, unlike Holland's (ph) which was a little weak.



QUESTION: Secretary Rumsfeld has said that if civil war should break out in Iraq, he's hopeful that Iraqi forces can handle it.

If they can't, sir, are you willing to sacrifice American lives to keep Iraqis from killing one another?

BUSH: I think the first step is to make sure a civil war doesn't break out. And that's why we're working with the leaders there in Baghdad to form a unity government.

Obviously, if there is difficulty on the streets, the first line of defense for that difficulty will be the Iraqi forces, which have proved themselves in the face of potential sectarian violence, right after the bombing of the mosque in Samarra.

The forces are -- part of our strategy for victory is to give the forces the skills and the tools and the training necessary to defend their own country, whether it be against Zarqawi and the killers or whether it be those who are trying to spread sectarian violence. And they have proven themselves.

And so our position is, one, get a unity government formed; and secondly, prepare the Iraqi troops, and support Iraqi troops if need be, to prevent sectarian violence from breaking out.

QUESTION: Mr. President, I'd like to ask you for your reaction on the latest insurgent attacks in Baghdad: 17 police officers killed and a bunch of insurgents freed.

I spent a fair amount of time in front of that hotel in Cleveland yesterday talking to people about the war and saying you were there to talk optimistically. And one woman who said she voted for you said, "You know what? He's losing me. He's been there too long. He's losing me."

What do you say to her? I say that I'm talking realistically to people.

We have a plan for victory, and it's important we achieve that plan. A democracy -- first of all, this is a global war on terror, and Iraq is a part of the war on terror.

Mr. Zarqawi and al Qaeda, the very same people that attacked the United States, have made it clear that they want to drive us out of Iraq so they can plan, plot and attack America again.

That's what they have said. That's their objective. I think it is very important to have a president who's realistic and listens to what the enemy says.

Secondly, I am confident -- or I believe; I'm optimistic -- we'll succeed. If not, I'd pull our troops out. If I didn't believe we had a plan for victory, I wouldn't leave our people in harm's way. And that's important for the woman to understand.

Thirdly, in spite of the bad news on television -- and there is bad news; you brought it up. You said, "How do I react to a bombing that took place yesterday?" It's precisely what the enemy understands is possible to do. I'm not suggesting you shouldn't talk about it.

I'm certainly not being -- please don't take that as criticism. But it also is a realistic assessment of the enemy's capability to affect the debate, and they know that.

They're capable of blowing up innocent life so it ends up on your TV show. And, therefore, it affects the woman in Cleveland you were talking to.

And I can understand how Americans are worried about whether or not we can win. I think most Americans understand we need to win. But they're concerned about whether or not we can win.

So one of the reasons I go around the country to Cleveland is to explain why I think we can win.

And so I would say: Yes, I'm optimistic about being able to achieve a victory. But I'm also realistic. I fully understand the consequences of this war. I understand people's lives are being lost.

But I also understand the consequences of not achieving our objective by leaving too early. Iraq would become a place of instability, a place from which the enemy can plot, plan and attack.

I believe that they want to hurt us again. And, therefore, I know we need to stay on the offense against this enemy.

They've declared Iraq to be the central front. And, therefore, we've got to make sure we win that. And I believe we will.

QUESTION: Good morning, sir.

Mindful of the frustrations that many Americans are expressing to you, do you believe you need to make any adjustments in how you run the White House?

Many of your senior staffers have been with you from the beginning. There are some in Washington who say...

BUSH: Wait a minute, is this a personal attack launching over here?


QUESTION: Some say they are tired and even tone-deaf.


Even within your party, they say that maybe you need some changes. Would you benefit from any changes to your staff?

BUSH: I've got a staff of people that have, first of all, placed their country above their self-interests. These are good, hard- working, decent people. And we've dealt with a lot. We've dealt with a lot. We've dealt with war. We've dealt with recession. We've dealt with scandal. We've dealt with Katrina.

I mean, they've had a lot on their plate. And I appreciate their performance and their hard work and they've got my confidence.

And I understand Washington's a great town for advice. I get a lot of it: sometimes in private from my friends and sometimes in public. There are those who like to stand up and say to the president, "Here's what you ought to be doing."

And I understand that. This isn't the first time during these five and a half years that people have felt comfortable about standing up, telling me what to do. And that's OK. I take it all in, and appreciate the spirit in which it's delivered, most of the time.

But, no, look, I'm satisfied with the people I've surrounded myself with. We've been a remarkably stable administration, and I think that's good for the country.

Obviously, there are some times when government bureaucracies haven't responded the way we wanted them to, and like citizens, you know, I don't like that at all.

I mean, I think, for example, of the trailers sitting down in Arkansas. Like many citizens, I'm wondering why they're down there, you know. How come we've got 11,000? So I've asked Chertoff to find out, "What are you going to do with them? The taxpayers aren't interested in 11,000 trailers just sitting there. Do something with them."

And so I share that sense of frustration when a big government is unable to, you know -- it sends wrong signals to taxpayers.

But our people are good, hard-working people.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?

BUSH: Sure.

QUESTION: Aside from staff changes, are you listening to suggestions to bring somebody else into the White House, a wise man, a gray beard, some old-time Washington hand who could steady Congress, is very upset about things...

BUSH: I've listened to all suggestions; I really am. I mean, I'm listening to Congress. We're bringing Congress down here all the time. And it's interesting to hear their observations. They're, obviously, expressing concerns. And it's an election year, after all.

And it seems like history tends to repeat itself when you're in the White House. I can remember '02 before the elections: a certain nervousness. There was a lot of people in Congress weren't sure I was going to make it in '04 and whether or not I'd drag the ticket down.

And so there's a certain unease as you head into an election year. I understand that. And my message to them is: Please continue to give me advice and suggestions. And I take their advice seriously.

But also remember we've got a positive agenda. We've got something to do. It's important for Congress to have confidence in our ability to get things done.

We're supporting our troops. Over the last 12 months, we've got two Supreme Court judges confirmed, we've got the Patriot Act reauthorized over the objections of the Democrat leadership in the Senate.

We've got some tort reform passed. We've passed a budget that cut nonsecurity discretionary spending. I mean, there's a series of -- we've got an energy bill passed.

We worked to get a lot of positive things done. And now we've got an agenda to continue, to keep this economy growing and keep this nation competitive.

I meant what I said in my speech. We shouldn't fear this future. In other words, we shouldn't allow isolationism and protectionism to overwhelm us.

We ought to be confident about our ability to shape the future. And that's why this competitiveness initiative is important. That's why this energy plan that gets us less addicted to oil is important. We got some interesting ideas on health care that we need to continue to press to make sure consumers are actually a part of the decision-making process when it comes to health care decisions.

We've got an aggressive agenda that, by working together, we'll get passed.

But I do. I listen.


BUSH: I'm not going to announce it right now. You know, look, they've got some ideas that I like and some I don't like. Put it that way.

QUESTION: You've said throughout your presidency that you don't pay that much attention to the polls, that...

BUSH: Correct.

QUESTION: There was a handful that have come back, and they all say the exact same thing; that a growing number of Americans are questioning the trustworthiness of you and this White House.

Does that concern you?

BUSH: I believe that my job is to go out and explain to the people what's on my mind. That's why I'm having this press conference, see? I'm telling you what's on my mind. And what's on my mind is winning the war on terror.

And I understand war creates concerns. Nobody likes war. It creates a sense of uncertainty in the country. You know, the person you talked to in Cleveland is uncertain about our ability to go forward. She's uncertain about whether or not we can succeed, and I understand that.

War creates trauma, particularly when you're fighting an enemy that doesn't fight soldier to soldier. They fight by using IEDs to kill innocent people. That's what they use. That's the tool they use.

And it creates a sense of concern amongst our people. And that makes sense. And I know that, and one of the reasons why it's important for me to continue to speak out and explain why we have a strategy for victory, why we can succeed.

And I'm going to say it again: If I didn't believe we could succeed, I wouldn't be there. I wouldn't put those kids there. I meet with too many families who's lost a loved one to not be able to look them in the eye and say, "We're doing the right thing," and we are doing a right thing.

A democracy in Iraq is going to affect the neighborhood. A democracy in Iraq is going to inspire reformers in a part of the world that is desperate for reformation. Our foreign policy up until now was to, kind of, tolerate what appeared to be calm, and underneath the surface was this swelling sense of anxiety and resentment, out of which came this totalitarian movement that is willing to spread its propaganda through death and destruction, to spread its philosophy.

Now, some in this country don't -- I can understand it -- don't view the enemy that way. I guess they, kind of, view it as an isolated group of people that occasionally kill. I just don't see it that way. I see them bound by a philosophy with plans and tactics to impose their will on other countries.

The enemy has said that it's just a matter of time before the United States loses its nerve and withdraws from Iraq. That's what they have said.

And their objective for driving us out of Iraq is to have a place from which to launch their campaign to overthrow moderate governments in the Middle East, as well as to continue attacking places like the United States.

Now, maybe some discount those words as, kind of, meaningless propaganda. I don't. I take them really seriously. And I think everybody in government should take them seriously and respond accordingly.

And so, I've got to continue to speak as clearly as I possibly can about the consequences of success and the consequences of failure and why I believe we can succeed.

QUESTION: You said you listen to members of Congress, and there have been growing calls from some of those members for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- also from his own former subordinates, like U.S. Army Major General Paul Eaton, who described him in a recent editorial as "incompetent and tactically inept."

Do you feel that personally you have ever gotten bad advice on the conduct of the war in Iraq? And do you believe Rumsfeld should resign?

BUSH: No, I don't believe he should resign. I think he's done a fine job of not only conducting two battles, Afghanistan and Iraq, but also transforming our military, which has been a very difficult job inside the Pentagon.

Listen, every war plan looks good on paper until you meet the enemy, not just the war plan we executed in Iraq but the war plans that have been executed throughout the history of warfare. In other words, the enemy changes tactics and we've got to change tactics, too.

And no question that we've had to adjust our tactics on the ground. And perhaps the clearest example is in the training of Iraqi security forces.

When we got into Iraq, we felt like we needed to train a security force that was capable of defending the country from an outside threat. And then it became apparent that the insurgents and Zarqawi were able to spread their poison and their violence in a ruthless way. And therefore we had to make sure that the Iraqi forces were able to deal with the internal thereat.

And we adjusted our tactics and started spending a lot more time getting the Iraqis up and running, and then embedding our troops with the Iraqis. And it's been a success.

But no question about it, we missed some time as we adjusted our tactics. We had to change our reconstruction strategy. You know, we thought it would make sense initially when we went in there to build big, grand projects, which turned out to be targets for the insurgents to blow up.

And a better strategy was to be spending reconstruction money at the local level so that local leaders committed to a peaceful and unified Iraq would benefit. In other words, people would see tangible benefits from an emerging democracy, and the leaders would be viewed as people helping to improve their lives.

And so this is a war in which we changed tactics. It's a war in which we've adjusted and learned lessons in the process of the war.

QUESTION: Just after the 2004 election, you seemed -- you claimed a really enviable balance of political capital and a strong mandate.

QUESTION: Would you make that claim today; that you still have that?

BUSH: I'd say I'm spending that capital on the war.

QUESTION: Well, is that costing you elsewhere, then?

BUSH: I don't think so. I just named an agenda that, over the last 12 months, that would be, I suspect, if looked at objectively, would say, "Well, they got a lot done." I'd be glad to repeat them if you like, which is...


QUESTION: ... Social Security.


BUSH: Wait a minute. Please no hand gestures.


Social Security -- it didn't get done. You'll notice it wasn't on the list.


Let me talk about that if you don't mind. First of all, Social Security is a really difficult issue for some members of Congress to deal with, because it is fraught with all kind of political peril.

As a matter of fact, it's been difficult for a lot of Congresses to deal with. You know, the one time in recent memory that it was dealt with was when there was a near crisis; in other words, when the system was about to, like, fall into the abyss. And people came together and solved it.

Well, they thought it was a fairly long-term fix. It turned out to be a lot shorter fix than they thought.

So I'm disappointed Congress didn't want to go forward with it, but I'm not surprised. Therefore, I've tried a new tactic. Last year, the tactic was to believe that once the people saw there was a problem, they would then demand a solution. And we made progress on describing the problem.

I think the American people now are beginning to get the picture; that if we don't do something, Social Security and Medicare will go bust. If we don't do something, future Congresses, not this Congress, but future Congresses are going to be confronted with some serious decisions about raising taxes enormously or cutting benefits drastically or other programs drastically.

And so that issue sunk in. It's just that there wasn't that connection with action inside the body of the respective chambers, although there were some noble efforts made by some members of Congress to get something started.

And so the new tactics to get people involved in this process is to try to take the politics out of it and bring members of both parties in both chambers together. There's quiet consultations going on to get this commission, committee, together of members that could get something put in place that would have a bipartisan appeal to it.

Bipartisanship is hard to achieve in Washington these days. I readily concede that. But, yet, this issue is one that's going to require a bipartisan approach.

It's simply not going to be an issue where, you know, one party without the cooperation of the other party tries to move a bill. At least that's how I view it.

But I'm committed to moving the issue. I think it's important. And I'm not deterred by the fact that nothing happened. As a matter of fact, I take great pride in the fact that i was wiling to bring up the issue whole others might not have.

That's the job of the president. The job of the president is not to worry about the short-term attitudes. The job of the president is to confront big issues and to bring them to the front and to say to people: Let's work together to get it solved.

And I'm going to continue working on it.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. On the subject of the terrorist surveillance program, not to change the (OFF-MIKE) bipartisanship, but there have been now three sponsors to a measure to censure you for the implementation of that program.

The primary sponsor, Russ Feingold, has suggested that impeachment is not out of the question. And on Sunday, the number two Democrat in the Senate refused to rule that out pending an investigation.

QUESTION: What, sir, do you think the impact of a discussion of impeachment and censure does to you and this office and to the nation during a time of war and in the context of the election?

BUSH: I think during these difficult times -- and they are difficult when we are at war -- the American people expect there to be an honest and open debate without needless partisanship. And that's how I view it.

I did notice that nobody from the Democratic Party has actually stood up and called for the getting rid of the terrorist surveillance program. You know, if that's what they believe, if people in the party believe that, then they ought to stand up and say it. They ought to stand up and say, "The tools we're using to protect the American people shouldn't be used." They ought to take their message to the people and say, "Vote for me. I promise we're not going to have a terrorist surveillance program."

That's what they ought to be doing. That's part of what is an open and honest debate.

I did notice that, you know, at one point in time, they didn't think the Patriot Act ought to be reauthorized -- "they" being at least the minority leader in the Senate. He openly said, as I understand -- I don't want to misquote him -- something along the lines that "We killed the Patriot Act."

Now, if that's what the party believes, they ought to go around the country saying, "We shouldn't give the people on the front line, who are protecting us, the tools necessary to do so."

That's a debate I think the country ought to have.

QUESTION: You mentioned earlier that you were encouraged by some of the discussions going on over a unity government over the last few days. Do you now have in mind a target date for forming a unity government?

BUSH: As soon as possible.

QUESTION: And how much of a factor do you think that will be, if it's achieved, in turning around or at least improving the situation with public opinion?

BUSH: Here in America?


BUSH: That's a trick question, because you want to get me to talk about polls when I don't pay attention to polls. (CROSSTALK)

BUSH: At least after five and a half years I was able to rout you out.

First of all, I have no idea whether or not a -- how Americans are going to react to a unity government. There'll be a unity government formed and there could be an attack the next day. I mean, so it's hard for me to predict.

I do know a unity government, though, is necessary for us to achieve our objective. I do know that the Iraqi people -- 11 million of them -- voted in an election in December, which is like four months ago. And the message I received from that is I hope the same message that those who have been in charge of forming a unity government receive, and that is the people have spoken and they want democracy.

That's what they said. Otherwise, they wouldn't have participated. They expect there to be a democracy in place that listens to their demands.

And so, most importantly, I believe a unity government will begin to affect the attitudes of the Iraqis, and that's important for them to get confidence not only in the government, but in a security force that will provide them security.

Confidence amongst the Iraqis is what's going to be a vital part of achieving a victory, which will then enable the American people to understand that victory is possible.

In other words, the American people, their opinions I suspect will be affected by what they see on their TV screens. The unity government will affect -- first and foremost -- the Iraqi people, and that's a very important part of achieving success.

We do have a plan for victory, and victory is clearly stated, and that is that Iraq is not a -- becomes a safe haven -- and that's important for the American people that Iraq not be a safe haven for terrorists.

Their stated objective is to turn Iraq into a safe haven from which they can launch attacks.

Secondly, a part of the plan for victory is for there to be security forces capable of defending and providing security to the Iraqi citizens.

And thirdly is that democracy and that government take root to the extent that it can't be overturned by those who want to stop democracy from taking hold in Iraq.

These are clear objectives. And they're achievable objectives.

QUESTION: Mr. President, in the upcoming elections, I think many Republicans would tell you one of the big things they're worried about is the national debt, which was $5.7 trillion when you took office. It's now nearly $8.2 trillion. And Congress has just voted to raise it to $8.9 trillion.

QUESTION: That would be a 58 percent increase.

You've yet to veto a single bill, sir. I assume that means you're satisfied with this.

BUSH: No, I'm not satisfied with the rise of mandatory spending.

As you know, the president doesn't veto mandatory spending increases. And mandatory spending increases are those increases in the budget caused by increases in spending on Medicare and Social Security.

And that's why -- back to this man's question right here -- it's important for -- this man being Jim...


Sorry, Jim. I got a lot on my mind these days.

That's why it's important for us to modernize and strengthen Social Security and Medicare in order to be able to deal with the increases in mandatory spending.

Secondly, in terms of discretionary spending, that part of the budget over which Congress has got some control and over which the president can make suggestions, we have suggested that the Congress fully fund the troops in harm's way. And they have. And for that, the American people should be grateful.

Secondly, we suggested that Congress fund the reconstruction efforts for Katrina. They have spent now a little more than $100 billion. And I think that's money well spent -- a commitment that needed to be kept.

Thirdly, we have said that, other than security discretionary spending, that we ought to, last year, actually reduce the amount of discretionary spending. And were able to do so.

Ever since I've been the president, we have slowed the rate of growth of nonsecurity discretionary spending and actually cut nonsecurity discretionary spending.

Last year I submitted a budget to the United States Congress. I would hope they would meet the targets of the budget that I submitted in order to continue to make a commitment to the American people.

But in terms of the debt, mandatory spending increases are driving a lot of that debt. And that's why it's important to get the reforms done.

QUESTION: For the first time in years, interest rates are rising in the U.S., Europe and Japan at the same time.

QUESTION: Is this a concern for you? And how much strain are higher interest rates placing on consumers and companies? BUSH: First of all, interest rates are set by an independent organization of which...


BUSH: Well, I'm not quite through with my answer yet. I'm kind of stalling for time here.


Interest rates are set by the independent organization. I can only tell you that the economy of the United States looks very strong. And the reason I say that is that projections for first quarter growth of this year look pretty decent.

That's just projections. That's a guess by some economists. And, until the actual numbers come out, we won't know.

But no question that the job market is strong. When you have 4.8 percent unemployment, 4.8 percent nationwide unemployment, that indicates a strong job market.

And that's very important. One of the measures as to whether or not this economy will remain strong is productivity. And our productivity of the American worker and productivity of the American business sector is rising, and that's positive because productivity increases eventually yield higher standards of living.

Homeownership is at an all-time high, and there's been all kinds of speculation about whether or not home building would remain strong. And it appears to be steady, and that's important.

In other words -- and so, to answer your question, I feel -- without getting into, kind of, the, you know, kind of, micro- economics, from my perch and my perspective the economy appears to be strong and getting stronger.

And the fundamental question that those of us in Washington have to answer is, what do we do to keep it that way? How do we make sure we don't put bad policies in place that will hurt economic growth?

A bad policy is to raise taxes, which some want to do. There are people in the United States Congress, primarily on the Democrat side, that would be anxious to let some of the tax relief expire. Some of them actually want to raise taxes now.

I think raising taxes would be wrong. As a matter of fact, that's why -- and I think it's important for us to have certainty in the tax code. That's why I'd like to see the tax relief made permanent.

You know, it's a myth in Washington, for Washington people to go around the country saying, "Well, we'll balance the budget; just let us raise taxes." That's not how Washington works.

Washington works raising taxes and they figure out new ways to spend. There's a huge appetite for spending here. One way to help cure that appetite is to give me the line-item veto.

You mentioned vetoing of bills. One reason why I haven't vetoed any appropriations bills is because they've met the benchmarks we've set.

On the discretionary spending, we've said, "Here is the budget. We've agreed to a number." And they met those numbers.

Now, sometimes I like the size of the pie; sometimes I didn't particularly the slices within the pie. And so one way to deal with the slices in the pie is to give the president the line-item veto.

And I was heartened the other day when members of both parties came down to the Cabinet Room to talk about passage of a line-item veto.

I was particularly pleased that my opponent in the 2004 campaign, Senator Kerry, graciously came down and lent his support to a line- item veto and also made very constructive suggestions about how to get one out of the United States Congress.

Let's see here. They've told me what to say.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you've spoken about Iraq being a beacon for democracy throughout the Middle East. Yet, we've had troubles in Iraq and we've seen aggressiveness from Syria and Iran.

Are you concerned that the Iraq experience is going to embolden authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and make it tougher to (INAUDIBLE) democracy there?

BUSH: There's no question that if we were to prematurely withdraw and the march to democracy were to fail, the al Qaeda would be emboldened. Terrorists groups would be emboldened. The Islamo- fascists would be emboldened. No question about that.

There are a lot of reformers in the Middle East who would like to see Iraq succeed. And I think that if we were to lose our nerve and leave prematurely, those reformers would be let down.

So failure in Iraq, which isn't going to happen, would send all kinds of terrible signals to an enemy that wants to hurt us and people who are desperate to change the conditions in the broader Middle East.

Listen, it's an interesting debate, isn't it, about whether or not this country of ours ought to work to spread liberty? I find it fascinating to listen to the voices from around the world as to whether or not it is a noble purpose to spread liberty around the world.

And it is a -- I think it's -- at least my position is affected by my belief that there is universality when it comes to liberty. This isn't American liberty. This isn't, you know, America's possession. Liberty's universal. People desire to be free.

And history has proven that democracies don't war. And so part of the issue is to lay peace is to give people a chance to live in a peaceful world where mothers can raise their children without fear of violence, or women are free to be able to express themselves.

QUESTION: But I have a difficulty...

BUSH: Excuse me a second, David. Excuse me for a second, please.

That we ought to pursue liberty; we ought to not be worried about a foreign policy that encourages others to be free.

That's why I said in my second inauguration address: The goal of this country ought to be to end tyranny in the 21st century. I meant it. I said that for the sake of peace.

Now what is your follow-up...


QUESTION: Sorry. I was wondering: Have the difficulties of the last three years made the job of those reformers more difficult?

BUSH: Well, if the United States were to lose its nerve, it would certainly make the job of reformers more difficult.

If people in Iran, for example, who desire to have an Iranian- style democracy, Iranian-style freedom, if they see us lose our nerve, it's likely to undermine their boldness and their desire.

What we're doing is difficult work. And the interesting thing that is happening is that -- imagine an enemy that says: We will kill innocent people because we're trying to encourage people to be free.

What kind of mindset is it of people who say: We must stop democracy? Democracy is based upon this kind of universal belief that people should be free.

And yet there are people willing to kill innocent life to stop it. To me, that ought to be a warning signal to people all around the world that the enemy we face is an enemy that ascribes (sic) to a vision that is dark and one that doesn't agree with the universal rights of men and women.

As a matter of fact, when given a chance to govern or to have their parasitical government represent their views, they suppressed women and children.

There was no such thing as religious freedom. There was no such thing as being able to express yourself in the public square. There was no such thing as press conferences like this.

They were totalitarian in their view. And that would be -- I'm referring to the Taliban, of course.

And that's how they would like to run government. They rule by intimidation and fear, by death and destruction. And the United States of America must take this threat seriously and must not -- must never forget the natural rights that formed our country.

And for people to say, "Well, the natural rights only, you know, exist for one group of people," I would call them, you know -- I would say that they're denying the basic rights to others.

And it is hard work. And it's hard work because we're fighting tradition. We're fighting people that have said, "Well, wait a minute. The only way to have peace is for there to be tyranny."

We're fighting intimidation. We're fighting the fact that people will be thrown in prison if they disagree.

QUESTION: Sir, you said earlier today that you believe there's a plan for success. If you did not, you would pull the troops out.

And so my question is, one, is there a point at which having the American forces in Iraq becomes more a part of the problem than a part of the solution? Can you say that you will not keep American troops in there is they're caught in a crossfire and a civil war? And can you say to the American people -- assure them that there will come a day when there will be no more American forces in Iraq?

The decisions about our troop levels will be made by General Casey and the commanders on the ground. They're the ones who can best judge whether or not the presence of coalition troops create more of a problem than a solution -- than be a part of the solution.

Secondly, I've answered the question on civil war -- our job is to make sure that civil war doesn't happen, but there will be -- but if there is sectarian violence, that's the job of the Iraqi forces, with coalition help, to separate those sectarian forces.

Third part of your question?

QUESTION: It was: Will there come a day -- and I'm not asking you when; I'm not asking for a timetable -- will there come a day when there will be no more American forces in Iraq?

BUSH: That, of course, is an objective. And that will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq.

QUESTION: So it won't happen on your watch?

BUSH: You mean a complete withdrawal? That's a timetable.

I can only tell you that I will make decisions on force levels based upon what the commanders on the ground say.


QUESTION: Mr. President...

BUSH: No, you're not Cannon -- that Cannon.

You're Ken.

Sorry, Cannon.

QUESTION: Two years ago, Gavin Newsom, the mayor of my hometown...

BUSH: You're Ken.


BUSH: You thought I said "Cannon"?

QUESTION: No, I thought you said "Can"; I'm sorry.

BUSH: Bassonet (ph). Well, that's a no.


QUESTION: Mr. President, two years ago, Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, heard your State of the Union address, went back to California and began authorizing the marriage of gay men and lesbians. Thousands of people got married.

The California courts later ruled he had overstepped his bounds. But we were left with these pictures of thousands of families getting married. And they had these children. Thousands of children.

Now, that might have changed the debate, but it didn't.

But in light of that, my question is: Are you still confident that society's interest and the interests of those children in gay families are being met by government saying their parents can't marry?

BUSH: I believe society's interests are met by defining marriage as between a man and a woman. That's what I believe.

QUESTION: Mr. President, on immigration, yesterday you answered a question from a woman and said, "The tough question here is: What happens if somebody who's been here since 1987?"

QUESTION: Will you accept a bill that allows those who have been here a long time to remain in the country permanently, illegally?

BUSH: I also said. Let me make sure -- first of all, I'm impressed that you're actually paying attention to it.

The people I saw in the press pool weren't. They were like -- Elizabeth was half asleep.


Yes, you were. OK. Well, the person next to you was. They were dozing off, you know. I could see them watching their watches kind of wondering how long he's going to blow on for, you know. Let's get him out of here so we can go get lunch, is what they were thinking.

So at least you paid attention. Thanks. I also went on to say that people who haven't been here need to get in line like everybody else who is line legally. My point is that if we were -- first of all, whatever has passed should not say amnesty. In my judgment, amnesty would be the wrong course of action.

We have a way toward legality in terms of citizenship. Now, there's a difference between someone who's here legally working and someone who's a citizen.

And that's part of the -- I maybe didn't make that distinction perfectly clear. This is going to be -- this could be a fractious debate. And I hope it's not. Immigration is a very difficult issue for a lot of members, as you know. It's an emotional issue.

And it's one that, if not conducted properly, will send signals that I don't think will befit the nation's history and traditions.

My view is that border security starts with a good, solid strategy along the border itself. You know, there's Border Patrol agents, technology, the capacity to pass information quickly so that Border Patrol agents will be more likely to intercept somebody coming across the border illegally.

There needs to be enforcement mechanisms that don't discourage the Border Patrol agents. They work hard. They get somebody coming in from country X. The person says, "Check back in with us in 30 days." They don't.

In other words, they end up in a society that has created some despondency -- not despondency -- it's got to discourage people who are working hard to do their job down there and realize that the fruits of their labor, you know, is being undermined by policy that on the one hand releases people kind of into society, and on the other doesn't have enough beds to hold people so that we can repatriate them back to their countries.

Chertoff has announced the fact that we're getting rid of this catch-and-release program.

Thirdly, there has to be enforcement -- employer enforcement -- of rules and regulations. The problem there, of course, is that people are showing up with forged documents.

And I mentioned this onion picker that I met yesterday -- onion grower -- who was worried about having labor to pick his onions. But he's not -- I don't think he's in a position to be able to determine whether or not what looks like a valid Social Security card or whatever they show is valid or not.

Which leads to the fact there's a whole industry that has sprung up around moving laborers to jobs that Americans won't do. It's, kind of, when you make something illegal that people want, there's a way around it -- around the rules and regulations.

And so you've got people, coyotes stuffing people in the back of 18-wheelers or smuggling them across 105-degree desert heart. You've got forgers and tunnel-diggers. You got a whole industry aimed at using people as a commodity.

And it's wrong and we need to do something about it. And the best way to do something about it is to say that if an American won't do a job and you can find somebody who will do the job, they ought to be allowed to do it legally on a temporary basis.

One of the issues I did talk about -- the man asked me the question about, "Don't let people get ahead of the line." And so I made that clear.

But one of the issues is going to be to deal with somebody whose family has been here for a while, raised a family, and that'll be an interesting debate. My answer is: That person shouldn't get automatic citizenship.

Listen, thank you for your time.

I've got lunch with the president of Liberia right now. I'm looking forward to greeting the first woman elected on the continent of Africa.

I appreciate the opportunity to visit with you all. I look forward to future occasions.

KAGAN: We've been listening to President Bush. Just this morning, he announced he was going to have this news briefing in the White House. He covered a number of topics, from Iraq to Iran, the growing U.S. economy, immigration, as well.

We have a full team of our A-team players to look back on what the president had to say. Want to welcome in Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, our Candy Crowley, John Roberts and Ed Henry on Capitol Hill.

John, you've been to just about every White House briefing since 1999. So we want to start with you just on the very existence of this news briefing, and also the tone that you thought the president took today.

ROBERTS: Well, the president's obviously much more comfortable in this format than he was in years past. I thought the most interesting thing was that he felt comfortable enough to be able to call on Helen Thomas. It's the first time in more than three years he's called on Helen. He shut her out back at the end of 2002, and this is the first time that he has dared to allow her to ask a question.

She said, you'll regret it, and then she went for the question that I know that she's been itching to ask for more than three years, since I sat with her so many times in that briefing room, as she tried to pepper Scott McClellan with it. And that is, why did the president take the nation to war in Iraq? She's been looking for that reason for a long time now. The president said, at the end of what was a very testy exchange where she tried to interrupt him a number of time, I didn't really regret it -- well, maybe I kind of regretted it. You know, what I saw as the only news he made today was on the issue of Iran, saying that he wants talks between the United States and Iran over Iran's involvement in perhaps destabilizing Iraq, and this idea that Iraq is not in a civil war.

But I think one of the real problems for the president here, Daryn, is that the music is sounding awfully familiar. He doesn't have a lot new to say. There's not a lot of new territory for him to explore. There's not a lot of new explanations for him to give the American people about why things in Iraq are taking as long as they are, and how some of these other problems have cropped up on his radar screen.

And he didn't say, no, I'm not going to bring any new blood into the White House, either. He said, I'm not going to tell you about it right now. I've heard some suggestions from Congress, some of which I like, and some of which I don't like. But he didn't flat out say no.

KAGAN: He said there's lot of free advice in Washington. He did point that out.

ROBERTS: No, and no shortage of that.

KAGAN: Yes, absolutely. You know that.

Candy, let's go ahead and bring you in here.

On the topic of Iraq, the president still very adamant that he believes that U.S. troops do belong there. And as he said a number of times, should stay there until victory is found.

Let's listen to a sound bite that the president talked about, keeping U.S. troops in Iraq.


BUSH: If I didn't believe we could succeed, I wouldn't be there. I wouldn't put those kids there. It's -- I meet with too many families who have lost a loved one to not be able to look them in the eye and saying we're doing the right thing. And we are doing the right thing.


KAGAN: The president saying the U.S. would not be in Iraq if there was not a plan for victory. I think it's filling in those space that some people perhaps have some frustration with, Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure. But it's also -- I mean, the totality of this news conference and -- is part of an ongoing effort by the president that I think is capsulized in that sound bite you just played, and that is the president's problem in the polls which affect his ability to get things done on Capitol Hill, to have the freedom to do what he wants in Iraq, are moved by those poll numbers which have fallen. Why have they fallen? Because Americans have looked at what they see and said this war doesn't look winnable, it's not worth the sacrifice.

So, there's this ongoing effort by the White House to kind of find this sweet spot between being realistic -- and I think you heard that today, yes, we've made missteps, and we've heard it before, but just recently. You know, we've made mistakes, it's going to be tough, these people are really brutal.

So, there's this realism that everyone has been wanting, but yet he needs to be optimistic enough to say, look, this war is still winnable, because when the American people look at what they see or read, the newspaper reports, they've kind of made up their minds at this point that it's not winnable. So he's looking for that sweet spot. And I thought this whole news conference when it came to Iraq was a dance looking for that place.

KAGAN: Yes. And yesterday when he was in Cleveland, he was saying, I know there are a lot of Americans out there who look at me and want to know what do I see in Iraq that they don't see.

CROWLEY: Exactly. Exactly. So, he has to both acknowledge what Americans are feeling and yet kind of, you know, open up his vision and say, look -- and I thought that was a particularly effective sound bite. He said, "I wouldn't put those kids there if I didn't believe this was winnable."

So, again, this is an ongoing -- no one news conference, no one anything. This has been going on for a couple of months since December, when he made a series of speeches on Iraq and began to admit mistakes. But this, I think, is just part of the continuum of trying to bring the American public around to both realism and optimism.

KAGAN: Candy, thank you.

Barbara Starr, to you at the Pentagon. I think it was our Kathleen Koch asking the president about calls for the secretary of defense, for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. The president said flat out he's not interested in that letter of resignation.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Daryn. That's really no surprise.

President Bush, a longtime supporter, obviously, of his secretary of defense, very loyal to his senior cabinet members. So I don't think there was really any surprise there.

But I did think it was interesting to note what the president went on to say right after that, saying, "Every war plan looks good on paper until you meet the enemy." The president then going on to describe some of the adjustments the U.S. military has had to make in Iraq.

Well, that's a long-standing, very common phrase, no war plan survives first contact with the enemy. But the question that is on the table, of course, is whether the senior generals in the U.S. Army, his most senior war planners, should have anticipated some of what did occur in Iraq, should have anticipated the insurgency, should have anticipated this outbreak of sectarian violence. And did they tell the secretary of defense, and did the president get the information that this type of thing should have been anticipated?

It's a very common phrase to say that you can't anticipate what might happen, but, of course, the very senior military commanders are paid to do just that -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Barbara, thank you.

And finally, to Capitol Hill.

Ed, I know there's many critics of the president and his war plan on Capitol Hill, but he was also asked today about the budget -- about the debt, and saying -- it was pointed out -- 58 percent increase since he took office. That was a chance for him to get in his push for the line item veto, which he would very much like to have.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He would. But, you know, most people in both parties, leaders in both parties realize it's not going to become a reality. And you also heard him questioned about the fact that he could veto an overall bill, not a single provision. Right now, he has that power and has not yet done that.

And I think -- and a real interesting moment came when he was asked about sort of the politics of Iraq and everything else, all these issues on the table heading into the midterm elections. And he basically dismissed Republican concerns, saying, look, people were nervous in 2002, 2004, and we prevailed. But I think the key difference between then and now is that security was sort of the saving grace for the president and for Republicans.

Republicans up here all of a sudden are saying, wait a second, is it going to be the saving grace again, or is Iraq going to be an albatross in November? The pressure is building.

Just yesterday, not just from liberal Democrats, but a more centrist Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, gave a speech out in California calling for Secretary Rumsfeld to be fired. And Republicans are hearing that pressure.

Just yesterday, the president was in Ohio, as we all know. Well, the Republican senator who's facing a tough reelection in that state, Mike DeWine, didn't want to spend a lot of time with the president yesterday.

In New Jersey, a big Senate race there as well. The Republican candidate, Tom Kean, Jr., didn't even show up for a fund-raiser until much later, a fund-raiser that Vice President Cheney threw for him. Fifteen minutes after the vice president left, that's when the Republican candidate, Tom Kean, Jr., showed up.

Democrats are saying that's because they don't want to be posing with the president, with the vice president, because they're too polarizing right now -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Ed Henry on Capitol Hill.

Ed, thank you.

To Barbara, Candy and to John Roberts as well.

And President Bush -- we move on to other news of the morning.

Welcome back and rebuild at your own risk, that is the word from New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin. He is revealing his new plan for rebuilding the Big Easy. They mayor's proposal allows homeowners to rebuild anywhere. That includes the low-lying areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. But if you think that troublesome issue is now settled, think again.

Here's our Gulf Coast Correspondent Susan Roesgen.


SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mayor Ray Nagin insists New Orleans is on the verge of something great.

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: This committee's recommendations offer a solid framework for rebuilding.

ROESGEN: The new blueprint drafted by his handpicked committee calls for better neighborhoods, better schools, better just about everything. No one will be stopped from rebuilding a damaged home, and even neighborhoods with fewer than 50 percent of their pre-Katrina population will be welcomed back. But all that comes with a warning.

NAGIN: The Army Corps or Engineers has warned me that some of our lowest lying areas of New Orleans east and the Lower Ninth Ward will have some flooding from levees overtopping if another hurricane travels along the same path as Katrina, even with the restoration of higher, better fortified levees.

ROESGEN: What the mayor did not say is whether those low-lying areas will be fully redeveloped. This map shows the areas the mayor mentions, the Lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East, the areas in red, severely flooded after Katrina, and likely to flood again.

And the message some people are getting in these predominantly African-American areas is that the city will eventually abandon them.

BABATUNKI AHMED, RESIDENT: A smaller footprint means you don't want my mama back. You don't want my grandkids back!

ALBERT CLARK, RESIDENT: This is a racist, no good, rotten committee. It doesn't represent the grassroots, it doesn't represent poor folks; it represents the rich, the ruling class.

ROESGEN: The public comment was loud, but powerless. The mayor's plan is final, pending approval by the state, which is in charge of dolling out federal dollars for the recovery. (on camera): The next step in the process will be sending teams of neighborhood planners, city architects, urban design specialists, into each neighborhood in New Orleans to try to figure out how many homeowners do plan to try to come back.

Susan Roesgen, CNN, New Orleans.


KAGAN: Let's get another opinion after Mayor Nagin's rebuilding plan.

Joining us from New Orleans, city council president Oliver Thomas.

Mr. Thomas, good to see you once again.

OLIVER THOMAS, NEW ORLEANS CITY COUNCIL PRESIDENT: Thank you, Daryn. It's always good to see you.

KAGAN: So -- always good to have you on.

What do you think of this plan? Rebuild if you want, but we've got no guarantees for you that your house is going to be safe.

THOMAS: Well, I think Susan's report just basically hit the nail on the head. What about that planning process? If neighborhoods are going to have to prove their viability, then they're going to need the resources, they're going to need the contacts with planners, engineers and architects to talk about how they bring their neighborhoods back.

Are the levees going to protect them? Will they be able to get flood insurance? What are the -- what are the new FEMA maps going to say about the elevation in their communities?

The planning process is extremely important.

You know, when you talk about telling people to build at their own risk, you know, we should never put citizens in harm's way. But if we can protect them and give them the assurances they need, that they need, that their neighborhoods will not only be viable, but they're going to get the resources they need, they're going to get the government services that they need, then they have the right to come back to their communities.

KAGAN: What about what that one man said in the meeting? He said this is a racist, rotten, no-good committee. It represents the interest of the ruling class.

THOMAS: Well, you know, there's a lot of emotion around, especially since most of the affected areas were African-American. But the people in Lakeview, the people in Gentilly, a lot of people in Mid-City, who are not African-American, you know, they have the same anxiety. They're feeling the same way about a lot of the powers that be. You know, we really need to take race out of the discussion and talk about how we come together and unite to make sure that everyone has a chance to come back to the city that they want.

Now, he did say one thing that people need to pay attention to that I brought up a long time ago.

KAGAN: When you say "he," you mean the mayor?

THOMAS: No, no. The gentleman who made the comment...


THOMAS: ... about the smaller footprint.


THOMAS: If you are saying that that footprint is going to be smaller, then what are we doing through the planning process to provide people an opportunity to come back into the part of the city that we are going to help to repopulate? We need to -- we need to -- we need to have some planning to talk about that.

If a neighborhood cannot prove its viability, and I want to come back home, the where do I go? That needs to be worked on.

KAGAN: And for those not as intricately involved in the rebuilding of New Orleans, when you say footprint, let's talk basics about what we're talking about here, about the exact geographic area of New Orleans that will be rebuilt?

THOMAS: Well, you know, the boundaries will not change. I mean, the parish and the city are the same. But if you're talking about planning and allowing permitting and allowing people to live and build and do work in communities, if you cut down the city into certain areas where you can only do those things, then that means the footprints -- footprint would change.

Now, if we're going to do that, let's talk about how people are reincorporated into parts of the city where we're going to increase density and where we're going to rebuild. But everyone should have the opportunity to work to plan their community. Especially people that are displaced.

But if the science says that we cannot -- and we cannot protect certain areas, we can't put people in certain areas where they'll be in harm's way, whether it's flooding, whether they won't be able to get insurance coverage, or where we can't protect them from better levees. But we need to go through that planning process and include all of the 13 planning communities to make sure that we understand the science and understand the realities of that.

Right now, we don't know. This is just an open discussion right now. There's no strategy and no data attached to any of the recommendations.

KAGAN: What about the buyout program, $150,000 to go away and not rebuild? THOMAS: Well -- well, you know, maybe not to go away. You know -- you know, let's talk about incentives to rebuild in areas where there isn't a problem, in areas where communities do prove their viability. It should not be, I'm going to pay you to leave the city or leave the state.

The first thing we need to do is, how do we incorporate people and how do we make them whole from the tragedy first? If the levees don't break, people aren't suffering. So let's -- you know, let's -- we're not buying people out.

And really, $150,000 isn't really enough -- enough. A lot of people have $2 million worth of depression, $2 million worth of anxiety. They couldn't give them enough to make them and their families whole. What about the families who have lost loved ones, or are still missing loved ones?

You know, let's use this as a blueprint for the discussion about where we go. Let's include all of the communities. Let's have professional planners and architects assigned to these communities. And let's start the discussion right now about what's viable and what's not.

Right now, it's just a concept.

KAGAN: How do you think this is all going to play out in next month's mayor race -- mayor's election?

THOMAS: Well, you know, I really don't know. It's really hard to gauge the way people feel.

I think a lot of people have already made their minds up, to be honest with you. Anyone who's jockeying for support right now means you didn't have it already. So I would hope people are being honest with the voters and telling them how they feel, because right now, the people can really read through the BS anyway.

KAGAN: When you say jockeying for support, is that addressed to the current mayor, Nagin?

THOMAS: Well, I mean, I think anyone. I mean, anyone who feels like you have to convince people to vote for you or change positions to make them vote for you.

Look, all I know is the people are real savvy right now, they're real hurt. And, look, and they're really understanding what they want and how they view New Orleans and how they want New Orleans to come back.

I would say the best thing to do if you're running for office is lay it out there and be honest with the people and give them the reality. That's what I would advise all political people to do.

KAGAN: We asked our viewers if people should be allowed to rebuild in New Orleans. And we got a couple -- a couple e-mails back. I just want to read them why I still have you here and maybe get some response.

The first one from David in New York.

THOMAS: Right. Right.

KAGAN: He says, "We don't stop people on the Pacific Coast from rebuilding on fault lines or people in the Great Plains from rebuilding in Tornado Alley. What makes New Orleans any different?"

THOMAS: Yes, Daryn, it's something that we discussed on your show several months ago when people started talking about eliminating neighborhoods. You know, if a tornado, flood plains in the Midwest, you know, four hurricanes in Florida and 64 counties affected, you know, let's not talk about how we eliminate people. Let's talk about how we include and enhance people.

Now, if a certain area is dangerous because of environmental quality, the levees will not be able to protect them from surges, they can't get insurance coverage, that's a whole other animal. But if can deal with those issues, let's talk about how we make people whole again.

People have lost too much. Let's not take everything from them.

KAGAN: And finally, this next e-mail from Tom, he didn't give his state, but I think it reflects some Katrina fatigue that's out there across the country. It says, "If someone chooses to rebuild there, it should be made clear the U.S. government will not be made responsible for any expenses related to natural disasters, and they're doing so at their own risk. Why should we pay for anyone to rebuild on faulty sites when they know the risk in advance?"

Go ahead.

THOMAS: Well, as U.S. citizens who are tax-paying, our government is responsible for all of us, especially when your government levees fail, period.

KAGAN: Oliver Thomas, president of New Orleans City Council. Short and sweet. Thank you for your time.

THOMAS: Thank you, Daryn.

KAGAN: I know you're busy.

THOMAS: Thank you.

KAGAN: Thank you.

THOMAS: All right.

KAGAN: Well, violence explodes in a suburban Ohio neighborhood when a teenager walks across his neighbor's lawn.


OPERATOR: You shot him with a shotgun? Where is he?



KAGAN: That bizarre story just ahead on CNN LIVE TODAY.

Also, they're working the movies usually behind the scenes, but they appear on camera for an important message.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I fell asleep at the wheel a quarter miles from my house after working 17 hours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I wake up going, do-do-do-do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I ended up falling asleep at the wheel, taking my car into a tree at 50 miles an hour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I woke up when a cop stopped me. And I said, "What did I do wrong?" And he said, "I've been following you. You ran seven red lights in a row."


KAGAN: A new documentary has a warning that goes from Hollywood to your home. The dangers of sleep deprivation.

And speaking of dangerous, NASCAR racer Bill Lester, he drives this race car. But what drives him? You might be surprised. He joins me next right here on CNN LIVE TODAY.


KAGAN: Developing story to check in on. Let's go over to Betty Nguyen.


An Army dog handler has been found guilty today -- in fact, just earlier -- of abusing detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison by terrifying them with his dog and doing it for his own amusement.

Here's a picture of Sergeant Michael Smith, just 24 years old. Now, he was found guilty today of six of 13 counts. Jurors deliberated 18 hours over three days. The sentencing will actually happen in a few hours after lunch.

Here is another picture of Sergeant Smith with his black Belgian shepherd there. Again, he was found guilty of six of 13 counts of abusing detainees by terrifying them with a military dog.

Now, to give you an idea of what he could face in the sentencing once it occurs in a couple of hours from now, if he was convicted of all 13 accounts, which he was not convicted of -- he was convicted of six of those counts. But had he been convicted of those 13, he could have faced 24 years in prison.

So we'll see a little bit later today what his sentencing is. But I do have to tell you, he's not the only one on trial. Another dog handler will face trial in May. His name is Sergeant Santos Cardona (ph). And nine other soldiers have been convicted of abusing detainees in Iraq.

So we will stay on top of this and bring you the latest as soon as we know that sentence.

NGUYEN: All right, Betty. Thank you.

We're going to lighten things up here and bring you some inspiration.

NASCAR, one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S., but the checkered flag is not only the stark contrast of black and white. This week, NASCAR driver Bill Lester became the first African-American to run in a major NASCAR event in 20 years. But in an industry built on speed, Lester chartered a methodical course to achieve his dream.

Our Ray D'Alessio has his story.


BILL LESTER, NASCAR DRIVER: I come from a fairly atypical background. I mean, I don't know, I look like a typical Nascar driver, right? I mean there's nothing different about me, right?

RAY D'ALESSIO, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Kidding aside, Bill Lester is all business when it comes to racing. The 45-year-old has been driving full-time on Nascar's truck series for the past four seasons. But on Monday, he finished 38th in the Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He's just the third African-American ever to compete on Nascar's top circuit.

LESTER: The thing that was cool was just racing with these guys and learning some of the tricks of the trade and hopefully gaining these guys' respect.

D'ALESSIO: Lester might have missed his racing opportunity had it not been for his wife Cheryl. In 1998, he left the security of a six-figure salary at Hewlett-Packard to chase his life-long dream of being a professional driver.

CHERYL LESTER, BILL'S WIFE: And I kept telling him, look, you really want to do this. This is your passion. You need to do it full time. You need to devote all your energy to make this happen, just like all the other race car drivers out there.

B. LESTER: I didn't want to live my life not being able to do what it is I wanted to do with it. And so I was willing to take the risk and my wife was willing to support me in taking the risk. And so everything so far has been paying it off. D'ALESSIO: But Lester's opportunity didn't come easy and it didn't come without some second-guessing.

B. LESTER: There's always been creeping doubt, you know, when you get rejected by, you know, sponsorship proposals or approaching people and, you know, you're not what they're looking for or whatever the case might be. Obviously it's hard to swallow that.

D'ALESSIO: Eventually Dodge sponsored him. Now he's back by Waste Management. Lester is currently the only African-American driver on any of Nascar top three circuits and he's racing for one reason.

B. LESTER: I'm doing this for myself. I'm doing this for my family. And I'm glad that so many people, especially from the minority community, have taken note of what it is I'm doing. But, you know, I drive for Bill Lester. I mean, at the end of the day, you know, if it wasn't for my self-belief, I wouldn't be here.

D'ALESSIO: Ray D'Alessio, CNN, Atlanta.


KAGAN: And Bill Lester joins me here in Atlanta where, as Ray mentioned, he finished 38th in yesterday's rain-delayed Golden Corra 5 00. Congratulations.

LESTER: Thank you. I appreciate it, Daryn.

KAGAN: I know a lot of local papers thinking you might not even qualify. So you overshot your goal perhaps.

LESTER: Yes. I mean, the first objective was to get in the show. I mean, if it was a case that when the rain hit, unfortunately, on Sunday, if it hit on Friday I would have been watching the race on Monday from home.

So I was in a situation where I had to qualify, get in the show on merit, which was on time because I didn't have a guaranteed starting position like a lot of the other drivers did. So that was an accomplishment in itself. And the next thing to do was to get 500 miles under my belt. That was the longest race I've run at one point in my life.

KAGAN: Congratulations on that.

LESTER: Thank you.

KAGAN: Some of your post-race comments say you're looking forward to the day when people talk to you about racing, not about race. Personally, I think your story is about risk. That you would walkway from a very nice engineer's job and go after a dream takes some nerve that a lot of people just wouldn't have.

LESTER: Yes, I think that's true. I think most people are risk- averse. They kind of live in their comfort zone. And, you know, if there's something there that might -- that they -- a situation where they may not be able to be successful, they may not take the chance. They may not take the risk.

And, you know, I was looking at it from the standpoint that I didn't want to look back on my life at some point and say, coulda, woulda, shoulda. I wanted to make sure that I gave myself every opportunity to pursue and live my dream.

KAGAN: But beyond race, there's the issue of your age, 45 years old and a rookie.

LESTER: Yes. I'm fairly atypical in that respect. But, you know...

KAGAN: Not the youngest guy trying to break in there on the track.

LESTER: That's true.


LESTER: But, I mean, believe it or not, I was knocking on the doors of corporate America 20 years or so ago. But, you know, the reception just wasn't -- was very cold. You know, I mean, it was a situation where the terms of "inclusion" and "diversity" were not being thrown around. And...

KAGAN: So you had this dream 20 years ago and that -- it just wasn't the time?

LESTER: Oh, yes. To be honest with you, engineering was a means to an end. It wasn't something that I really wanted to do with my life. It was a way that I could go out and buy that first race car.

And so, I thought that, you know, with basically being able to do what I did early on in my career in the mid '80s, which was rookie of the year in northern California, road racing champion, where I basically honed my skills, I thought I would be able to turn into a professional racecar driver essentially very quickly. But, you know, my overnight sensation, so to speak, has taken essentially a 20-year -- 20 years to get here.

KAGAN: And what about the significance of race? What about what you might represent in terms of the opportunity and expanding and bringing new fans into NASCAR?

LESTER: Well, you know, I hope to think that I'm going to be a catalyst for change. I mean, I did not get in this sport to be that, but the fact of the matter is that I've been given a rare opportunity and a unique responsibility to help try to make it easier for those that are coming up behind me. And so, I'm hoping to think that this will make it the case, that they don't have to struggle nearly as hard as I am.

KAGAN: That might include your son, two and a half years old. Not only do you have this amazing wife at home, a little boy. Would you like to see him be a racecar driver or an engineer when he grows up?

LESTER: I would like for him to do whatever it is that he wants to do with his life. And I'll support him wholeheartedly. But if it is such a situation since he's being exposed to racing at such a young age that he wants to pursue that, believe me, I'll be able to help him in every which way I can.

KAGAN: But right now it's about Hot Wheels? That's about his speed for cars?

LESTER: Yes, Hot Wheels and little cars and such. He's all about that.

KAGAN: And the next race you go back to the trucks. So you're not done with trucks.

LESTER: That's correct. My full season, my commitment this year is in the NASCAR truck circuit where I race for Toyota. And we're going to be at Martinsville, Virginia, in early April.

KAGAN: But we'll see you in two more Nextel races before that season is over?

LESTER: No question. We'll be at Michigan in June, then will be in Fontana Speedway in September. And I hope to think that we're going to do some more there if corporate America is willing.

I'm working with this agency here in Atlanta, my hometown, Championship Group, and they're trying to put everything together to give me more races this year.

KAGAN: Very good. And come next big game, you went to Cal, I went to Stanford. We might have to have a little wager here.

LESTER: No question.

KAGAN: Then we'll see how competitive you are.

LESTER: There you go.

KAGAN: Bill Lester, congratulations and good luck in your future.

LESTER: Thank you, Daryn.

KAGAN: Thank you.

Well, you can call it our animal video of the day. You're going to have to see this one.

Kitty, kitty. Whoa! That is a long way down.

Don't worry. You know me and animals. I wouldn't show it to you if it didn't have a happy ending. But kitty didn't take the best way down from the tree.

We'll have the story for you just ahead.



KAGAN: Let's go ahead and take a look at what's happening right "Now in the News."

From Iraq, a bold raid by insurgents. About 100 of them stormed a police station north of Baghdad armed with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. The U.S. military says the shootout that followed killed at least 15 police officers and 11 attackers. Insurgents managed to free around 30 terror suspects from the jail.

Not far away in Samarra, U.S. and Iraqi troops are rounding up suspected insurgents for a sixth day. The military says about 60 people have been detained in that crackdown. Troops have also confiscated several weapons.

The trial of confessed al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui got a late start this morning after a closed door meeting. The judge vetted possible new witnesses for the prosecution. They include two possible replacements for witnesses deemed tainted by last week's scandal of improper coaching. Today, jurors will hear from a former Moussaoui roommate who says the defendant spoke of preparing for a holy war.

In the Middle East, Israel is on high alert today. It comes after Israeli police say they foiled a bombing. Security forces suspected that an attacker had infiltrated the country, so they blocked a major highway, stopped a van and found a bomb inside. Ten Palestinians were arrested.

Coming up, many in the movie business say that long hours are leading to sleeplessness nights and tragic accidents. The story is part of Dr. Sanjay Gupta's series on "Sleepless in America."


KAGAN: All this week, we're reporting on something that we all need, but few of us get enough of, sleep or a lack of it. It can lead to health problems, mental lapses and even tragic accidents. Take Hollywood, for example. Fifteen-hour work days are common in the industry and they've led to death and now a backlash. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta has the story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looked like he's in very bad shape. Like his car was totaled. There's a whole lot of smoke.

HASKELL WEXLER, PRODUCER, "WHO NEEDS SLEEP?": I start shooting the documentary when a friend and fellow worker died driving home after a 19-hour day.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Brent Hirshman (ph) fell asleep after working more than 15 hours for five straight days on the movie "Pleasantville." Normally, Oscar winning Cinematographer Haskell Wexler is the quite guy behind the camera, shooting movie classics like "In the Heat of The Night" and "Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolf." But in his own documentary, "Who Needs Sleep?," Wexler becomes vocal.

WEXLER: So I'm saying, who do we go through?

GUPTA: Calling on union leaders, even the federal government, to set limits on the number of hours a day movie crews can work. Wexler points out in the documentary that working long hours on movies is now the norm in Hollywood.

WEXLER: Since then, there have been a lot more accidents and a lot more people injured and killed.

RICHARD DONNER, PRODUCER, "PLEASANTVILLE": When we were shooting the "Lethal Weapon" series, it got so bad that we had three or four major automobile accidents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I fell asleep at the wheel a quarter mile from my house after working 17 hours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I wake up going . . .

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I ended up falling asleep at the wheel, taking my car into a tree at 50 miles an hour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I woke up when a cop stopped me. And I said, what did I do wrong? And he said, well I've been following you. You ran seven red lights in a row.

GUPTA: Wexler interviewed stars who confirmed the long, grueling days.

JULIA ROBERTS, ACTRESS: As an actor, I am given a kind of a union buffer in that I have to be allowed a certain number of hours between the time I leave work and the time I have to come back to work. So if I see the crew getting worn out and tired and overworked, then I won't -- then I'll say, no, I have to have my 12 hours. Because if I have 12 hours, I know they have a fighting chance at a nap or something.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question, how much do these long hours affect creativity? For actors, maybe not as much as one would think, because we go back to our dressing rooms, we sack out. The people on the line, though, the cameraman, the assistants, the people who don't get that chance to rest for a while, can imagine what 18 hours does to their concentration.

BILLY CRYSTAL, ACTOR: When we were making "61," I knew it was going to be hours. We had a lot of baseball stuff to shoot. If you think a baseball game moves slowly, try shooting a baseball game. (INAUDIBLE). It was very eloquent in it, saying nothing good happens when there's long hours. People don't function well. People get hurt. GUPTA: Putting in long hours on the set is a relatively new phenomena. When Wexler worked on movies like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," 12 hours was considered a long working day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If Mr. McMurphy (ph) doesn't want to take his medication orally, I'm sure we can arrange that he can have it some other way.

WEXLER: "Cockoo's Nest" was not long -- it was long hours at that time, because long hours then was like going over nine hours. The average day is 15 hours. Fourteen or 15 hours.


GUPTA: Nowadays Wexler says a group called 12 On 12 Off is fighting the movie executives and those who budget and schedule movie crews to reduce the work day to 12 hours. Not everyone agrees with Wexler's message. Some crew members in the movie industry say, if you can't work the long hours, get out of the business.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes our jobs require long hours to get our shots. And there's plenty of 9:00 to 5:00 jobs out there if you can't hack it.

GUPTA: Wexler's response, be careful, because studies show a lack of sleep dumbs down intelligence, slows reflections and reduces memory. It can also lead to diabetes, obesity. And then again, it just might kill you. And another thing, says Wexler, isn't there more to life?

WEXLER: It poses the question, what do you want out of life? What's really important to me? What do you think that bloody tenth hour of overtime is going to buy you that's going to make you happy? And it has to be guys like me who don't give a [ bleep ] or at least are at a point in their career where you can make a lot of noise and realize that there's more to life than roll and cut.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


KAGAN: And Sanjay will have a special on sleep this weekend, Sunday night, at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

OK. Now maybe a kitty who could have used some sleep. We all know that a cat has nine lives, but wait until you see how this kitty used up at least one of them. This is Piper. Whoa! Took a tumble from 80 feet up. She landed on her feet. What did she do? She started running.

She had been up in that tree for a week. Her owner had tried all sorts of schemes to get her down. But when a professional tree climber was finally called in, Piper decided, you know what, I'm doing this on my own.

OK. And here's the real happy ending for you. Piper, she's fine. She didn't break any bones. And, as we said, she landed on her feet. So, Piper, that's at least one of your lives down. And, please, don't go climbing that tree again. Incredible. You know we're not going to show you that video if it didn't have a happy ending.

All right, kids, you want a career filled with action. More action than Piper when you grow up? Well, go figure. The Pentagon drafts toy soldiers as a motivational tool.


KAGAN: There is legal news on Kennedy cousin, Michael Skakel. Our Betty Nguyen has that.


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, a Connecticut Supreme Court today has denied Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel's request to reconsider his appeal of the has murder conviction. Now Skakel, who is 45 years old, is serving a 20 years to life sentence for his 2002 conviction in the beating death of his Greenwich neighbor, Martha Moxley.

Now that beating happened back in 1975 on October 30th to be exact. Skakel appealed his conviction to the Connecticut Supreme Court last year, arguing that the statue of limitations had run out on what he was being charged for in 2000. Now, the supreme court there in Connecticut denied that appeal back in January and today they have denied his appeal to reconsider that appeal. So, there you go.


KAGAN: Betty, thank you.

For any teenager who has ever ticked off a neighbor, what about this story from just outside of Cincinnati. An Ohio neighborhood reeling from a deadly clash between a retiree and a 15-year-old neighborhood. The flash point, apparently the youngster walked across the man's yard. Here is the 911 call moments after the killing.


DISPATCHER: Tell me what happened, Charles?

MARTIN: Kid's just been giving me a bunch of [ bleep ] making the other kids harass me and my place, tearing things up.

DISPATCHER: OK. So what did you do?

MARTIN: I shot him with a [ bleep ] 410 shotgun twice.

DISPATCHER: You shot him with a shotgun? Where is he?

MARTIN: He's laying in the yard.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KAGAN: The neighbor says that the suspect, 66-year-old Charles Martin, was friendly but he was obsessed with his manicured lawn. They say he sometimes would be seen measuring its depth with a ruler. He now is in custody.

It's no secret the Pentagon is having some challenges in signing up war time recruits. The Army missed its recruitment goal for fiscal 2005. To motivate kids to be tomorrow's soldiers, the Pentagon is turning to a company that makes "Star Wars" toys. With more on that, Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr.


BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Here at the Gentle Giant Studios in Los Angeles, Sergeant Tommy Rieman is getting a full body scan, turning this real life silver-star soldier into an action figure hero. A computer spends up to 30 hours printing a three dimensional wax model and then the prototype is turned into a doll like this.

SGT. TOMMY RIEMAN, U.S. ARMY: It's not a doll, it's an action figure.

STARR: Rieman and eight other soldiers are being turned into action figures as part of an Army program to inspire young people to join the military. Back at the Pentagon, Tommy Rieman recalls December 3, 2003.

RIEMAN: I received a bullet in the arm.

STARR: His unit was ambushed on patrol south of Baghdad, badly outnumbered, riding in a Humvee with no doors, no armor. Tommy threw his body in front of enemy fire to protect his buddies, knowing that enemy bullets would hit his body. With 13 bullet and shrapnel wounds, refused medical care until his whole team got to safety.

RIEMAN: My wounds doesn't count if all my guys are dead.

STARR: On this third anniversary of the war, Tommy and his guys are still very close.

RIEMAN: Actually my team leader, Staff Sergeant Perhaska (ph), I named him the godfather of my child. So it just shows you the bond and great relationship that we still have as a team. There's actually two more guys that are serving in Afghanistan and Iraq for the second and third time.

STARR: But thrilled as he is to be this action figure for children, Tommy Rieman says kids need to know war is not about toy figures and video games.

RIEMAN: It inspire somebody and they can look up and say, you know, he's an E5. He's 25 years old. But he's an action figure. I can do that too. And it gives them something to look forward to and relate. STARR: Still, aside from the inspiration, how many new fathers can say this?

RIEMAN: I have a son. And when he's five years old, he's going to be playing G.I. Joe with my action figure. I mean, that means the world to any father. And, I mean, the only word I can use for it is just cool.


KAGAN: And our Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon.

Barbara, so the military sees this more as a motivational tool rather than an a recruitment tool?

STARR: They do indeed, Daryn. In fact, these eight soldiers who are going to become action figures -- they're not dolls, remember that -- they are also going to be incorporated into a video game that the Army is developing with their real-life stories and, you know, with the iPod generation, the feeling is that that's the way to approach young kids, get them to understand what the military is all about. They have to make their own decisions, of course. But just expose them a little bit more.

And when you hear the stories of these young soldiers, like Sergeant Tommy Rieman, really it's heart grabbing. I have to add in one point. Tommy, of course, wounded 13 times. I said to him, my God, you know, wounded 13 times. And he said to me, oh, no, ma'am, I was only shot twice. The other 11 were just shrapnel wounds. It was really no big deal. You begin to understand what these young people have been through in Iraq and why the Army has selected them for this very unusual program.

KAGAN: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Barbara, thank you.

We're going to check in on weather next. We're talking snow, tons of it, in the plains states. Taking a look at what's happening today.


KAGAN: And there's a whole new meaning to spring cleaning in Nebraska this morning. People spending the first full day of spring digging out from a major snow storm. More than a foot of snow fell on parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, and the Dakotas. At least five deaths are blamed on the storm.

In Oklahoma, it's a different problem. There are reports of at least two tornadoes touching down yesterday. No reports of any injuries.

Dave Hennen is watching the national weather picture for us.



KAGAN: I'm Daryn Kagan. International News is up next. Stay tuned for "Your World Today." And then I'm coming back. I'll be back in 20 minutes with the latest headlines from here in the U.S.



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