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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Zalmay Khalilzad; Interview With Senators Lugar, Biden

Aired October 29, 2006 - 11:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11 a.m. in Washington and here in New York, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4 p.m. in London and 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition." We'll get to the battle for Congress in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now. Fredricka Whitfield standing by at CNN headquarters. Fred?
(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Fred, thank you very much. We'll get back to the news shortly. October, though, now the fourth deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq since the war began 3 1/2 years ago. All the recent polls show that Iraq is the top issue for American voters who head to the polls in only nine days.

Joining us now from Miami is the Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, and here in New York, Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel. Good to have both of you here on "Late Edition." Thanks very much for coming in.

And Charlie Rangel, let me start with you. John Boehner, who's the Republican majority leader in the House of Representatives, was just on television, and he said this, and I want to get your quick reaction. Listen to what John Boehner said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOEHNER, U.S. HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: I think Donald Rumsfeld's the best thing that's happened to the Pentagon in 25 years. This Pentagon and our military needs a transformation. And I think Donald Rumsfeld's the only man in America who knows where the bodies are buried at the Pentagon, has enough experience to help transform that institution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A strong vote of endorsement. A lot of Republicans now questioning Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. Not John Boehner. He's coming out strongly in his support. Your reaction?

REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: That's what the election's all about, Wolf. It's true President Bush may not be on the ballot, but people like Boehner and people who support Rumsfeld and Cheney and Bush, they're on the ballot. And that's why we only get two years. You don't have to wait to get the president. This is a referendum on the war and the incompetency of the Bush administration.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen. What do you think about what John Boehner just said? And I'll repeat that quote: "I think Donald Rumsfeld is the best thing that has happened to the Pentagon in 25 years." You agree with him?

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: Well, I think it's a shame to take this complex issue of winning the international war on terror and putting it at the level of whether you like or not like Donald Rumsfeld, and whether you like or don't like President Bush's personalities and the statements that he's made. We've got to win this battle in Iraq. It's not just whether you're for the war or against the war. It's whether you want to win or are you going to lose.

BLITZER: But do you have confidence, Congresswoman, do you have confidence in Donald Rumsfeld?

ROS-LEHTINEN: I do. And I think that we need to do everything we can to support the troops and be victorious in Iraq. If we're not, we're going to be looking at a radical Islamic jihadist entity taking over the entire Middle East. Do we want to make sure that we have the sacrifice to prop up a democracy, to train the Iraqis, to stop the sectarian violence and to make sure that we get the job done?

The only policy that we could have is one of victory. My stepson served in Iraq. My daughter-in-law served there. We know that it's tough. But it's necessary and it's just.

BLITZER: Charlie Rangel, you served in the U.S. military during the Korean War. You know the pressures on the U.S. military. Respond to the Congresswoman.

RANGEL: Well, we're very thin in terms of the troops. But in responding to her, over 70 percent of the American people don't have confidence in the president of the United States as it relates to the war, and therefore, Cheney and Rumsfeld. And so I think that those who support the president, who even as today has given no reason why we invaded them in first place, that finally came out to be true. Whether it's weapons of mass destruction, Al Qaida...

BLITZER: But now that the United States, Congressman, is there, the question is, what do you do now? It may not necessarily have been a hotbed for international terrorism under Saddam Hussein's regime, but it potentially at least is right now.

RANGEL: And we created it.

BLITZER: So what do you do about it?

RANGEL: This is no time to stay the course.

BLITZER: So what do you do, you just leave?

RANGEL: No, you bring in the Saudi Arabians, the Egyptians, the Jordanians. It's their playground. They're supposed to be friends of the president. What makes people think that the terrorists are just after Israel and the United States? They're right there. They should step forward. And we should come there and give them support.

BLITZER: Congresswoman, do you have confidence in this Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is very close, as you well know, to the Iranians?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, I think that he's made a very forward- looking statement, along with our U.S. folks in Iraq. And he says that we want to end sectarian violence. We want to unite all of these groups. He's our partner with the United States in trying to defeat these Islamic jihadists.

But you know, when Charlie says that whether we're for the war or against the war or whether we went in there for weapons of mass destruction or this or that, we're so far beyond that. And Wolf, you asked the right question. What are you going to do? Now that we're in this fight, are we going to do what bin Laden said, who said, you know, we are weak spiritually and psychologically, even though we're strong militarily. Are we going to give in to the Islamic jihadists?

BLITZER: But what about the argument, Congresswoman -- what about the argument -- excuse me for interrupting -- that the Iraqis have had 3 1/2 years, $300 billion. The U.S. has given a lot of its finest in trying to help them. What about the argument that they need some pressure in order to get the job done, otherwise they're simply going to rely on Uncle Sam forever?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, I think that that's why the president is correct in saying that we're going to be establishing benchmarks. We're going to make sure that we train more Iraqis, that they are going to be able to defend themselves, and that they know that we're not going to stay there forever.

And, you know, there's been that comparison that was made this week about World War II. Remember that the casualty count for World War II, how many lives were lost there. And each life that has been lost in Iraq is a terrible, terrible loss, but it's only been a short amount of time. We are training the Iraqi forces. We've got to defeat these Islamic jihadists.

BLITZER: All right. It's been 3 1/2 years since the start of the war, but let me bring back Congressman Rangel. Because the vice president took direct aim at you this past week saying this: "I think the Democrats are committed, if they get in, to reversing the tax cuts," the tax cuts put forward during the Bush administration. "Charlie Rangel would become chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and he's said he doesn't think a single one of the Bush tax cuts should be extended. He thinks they all ought to be terminated and ended. So it is an important issue."

That's the vice president going after you. Is he precise in his words?

RANGEL: Once again the vice president hasn't the slightest clue about what he's talking about. He's never talked with me and neither has anyone in the administration about taxes. The president...

BLITZER: Have you said that you want to reverse all of the Bush tax cuts?

RANGEL: Of course not. What I did say was that, if they want to have tax reform, if they want simplification, everything has to be on the table. You can't pick and choose what you want and say you've got to overhaul the system.

So they selected that. I don't blame them for doing this before the election. But after the election, if they want to save Social Security; if they want to deal with Medicare and they want to deal with simplification, everything has to be on the table.

BLITZER: If you're the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee which oversees taxes here in the United States, what tax cuts that the Bush administration put in place will you want to see removed?

RANGEL: Well, the one tax burden that has not been removed is on the alternative minimum tax, where Republicans and Democrats have done nothing as these middle income people have gone into a higher bracket.

I would hope that the administration would join with me in doing it. But there's no Rangel Democratic way to do it. It has to be done in a bipartisan way.

I will be reaching out to the White House and to the Republicans, hoping that we can get something done.

Congresswoman, here's what the chairman of the Democratic Party, Governor Howard Dean, said on this specific issue this past week. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN, CHMN., DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: The Republicans are claiming that we're going to do this and we're going to do that. We're not particularly interested in raising taxes except getting rid of some of the oil company and insurance company tax breaks.

We're not particularly interested in impeaching the president. I don't think you're going to see that come up at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, I'll give you a quick chance to respond to that, Congresswoman.

ROS-LEHTINEN: And the check's in the mail. OK. I think it's very clear. If people were to pay attention what's going on with the economy right now, gas prices are coming down. The unemployment rate is coming down. Job creation -- over 6.6 million new jobs. You've got construction on the rise. This economy is doing so well. Inflation is down. Every economic indicator says that we're coming back strong. Look at the stock market. And how has that happened? was it by accident? No.

It's because of the Republican-led tax cuts, because of our economic policies. And that's what the American people should be focusing on. We wish that it was "the economy, stupid." Those were the good old days. Now the economy's doing really well, thanks to the Republicans, and no one seems to be paying attention.

BLITZER: There's debate on how well the economy's doing, especially for the middle class, but that's another issue that we're going to get to. Hold on to both of you. We have a lot more to talk about, with only nine days until the midterm elections. We'll speak to our guests about their party's prospects for victory.

Then, relentless sectarian violence threatening Iraq's future. I'll speak live with U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad and ask him if the Iraqi government is failing to carry its share of the fight.

And later, here on "Late Edition," my complete, unedited interview with Lynne Cheney, the wife of the vice president, plus some personal thoughts from me.

And don't forget to stay with "Late Edition" and CNN for the best political team on television for all your campaign news. You can also get an inside view of the top political stories at any time. Just go to CNN's political ticker, CNN.com/ticker. Much more "Late Edition" right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting today from New York. We're talking with our guests, Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York.

You heard the Congresswoman, Charlie Rangel, say the economy is in good shape, the stock market -- the Dow Jones is at a record high right now.

I know that a lot of Democrats are complaining, though, that that benefit has not necessarily filtered down to the middle class.

RANGEL: She also dismissed whether or not the president misled us into war. I don't think, when you've lost 2,800 American lives and hundreds of thousands of innocent people, that you can just say, well, we're in it and how do we get out of it?

BLITZER: But if the then-director of the CIA says to you, Mr. President, it's a slam dunk; they have stockpiles of chemical, biological weapons of mass destruction, the president is supposed to rely on his CIA director, right?

RANGEL: One of the reasons the Republicans are in trouble is that they never congressionally ever checked any of that out in the House or the Senate.

The truth is, we hear from those people that were inside the White House that the president was very selective, that there was evidence that there was no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that we should have gone after Osama bin Laden. And so that's not clear.

But the truth is Wall Street is not voting on November 7. It's going to be the guy, the family that has two jobs, that are concerned about their pension funds, that health care costs is rising and they're unhappy with the economy and unhappy with the administration.

BLITZER: Congresswoman, I'm going to read to you a quote that was in an article in The Washington Post today. And let me get your reaction to this.

"Where did the revolution go astray? The answer is simple. Republican lawmakers forgot the party's principles, became enamored with power and position and began putting politics over policy. Now the Democrats are reaping the rewards of our neglect and we have no one to blame but ourselves."

That wasn't the flaming liberal who said that...

ROS-LEHTINEN: Dick Armey.

BLITZER: That was the former Republican majority leader Dick Armey, himself, of Texas.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Sure.

BLITZER: A lot of Republicans, conservatives, right now, are upset that, during these past six years of Republican control of the executive and the legislative branches, spending has skyrocketed and so many of those basic fiscal conservative policies of Republicans seem to have gone away. I want your reaction.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, Wolf, first of all, let me point out that, when you asked Charlie a question about the economy, he changed the subject right away and started talking again about weapons of mass destruction. Once again, it's the same old same sing-song.

But on this question, I think our conservative base is coming home. In this last week we've seen a slight change in the polls. So that conservative base that Dick Armey, who is a good friend of mine, was talking about, they have been disenchanted with our runaway spending, with our deficit. But already you saw the deficit coming down. That conservative base is coming back. We've got a...

BLITZER: It's not going to help, though -- I assume you agree it's not going to Katherine Harris, the Republican candidate for the Senate, in her race against Bill Nelson, the incumbent Democrat.

ROS-LEHTINEN: I don't think much is going to help there, but you never know. But no, on to winnable races, we've got a 72-hour get- out-the-vote campaign that's second to none. We've got NRCC fully engaged and funding races. We've got the bully pulpit of the White House. We've got a great economy.

And we've got the issues that, I think, are going to bring that conservative base back here to our base. And we've got, here in Florida -- you bring up Katherine Harris.

One doesn't know. It's turnout, turnout, turnout. And we've got Charlie Crist, a very great next governor of Florida. So turnout is the key. And 72 hours can make the difference.

BLITZER: Charlie Rangel, the president says don't start dancing in the end zone yet and don't start measuring your drapes as the chairman of the ways and means committee. A lot can happen over these next nine days.

RANGEL: He's 100 percent right. And really, even if we do win, we've got a lot of work to do to bring some sense of bipartisanship together. The nation's in a lot of debt as a result of this administration. And yes, I am very concerned about the war, and I don't care what you talk about.

If you have to go to these funerals as often as I do, you would be concerned, not about weapons of mass destruction, but how in the hell do we get out of Iraq?

BLITZER: A very quick final question to you...

ROS-LEHTINEN: How do we win in Iraq?

BLITZER: ... Congresswoman. I just want your quick reaction to the image we saw of Fidel Castro yesterday making an appearance and insisting reports of his death were, in his words, premature. I know you've been very much involved in this whole U.S.-Cuban relationship over the years. Give us your quick reaction to his appearance on Cuban television?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, he's certainly around, and we don't think there's going to be a change, whether it's Fidel or Raoul or anybody else who's part of the communist infrastructure. What we want is free elections in Cuba, freedom for political prisoners and a multiparty system, like we have a Wolf Blitzer right here on CNN who can freely express their thoughts, and a Charlie Rangel and an Ileana Ros- Lehtinen going at it, and have that freedom of expression. That's all we want for Cuba. And there's no role for Fidel Castro, Raoul Castro in that scenario.

BLITZER: I think Charlie Rangel would agree with that.

ROS-LEHTINEN: I'm sure he does.

RANGEL: I want that, too, but the embargo doesn't work. It is more supportive of Castro than bringing him down for democracy.

BLITZER: We'll leave that for another debate. Congressman, Congresswoman, an excellent discussion here today. Thanks to both of you for coming in.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you. I need your mom's vote, Wolf.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right. My mom's down there in Florida as well. She'll be voting. She always does.

And just ahead on "Late Edition," a conversation with the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad. Can he bridge the differences between the U.S. and Iraqi government? But up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now. And this note for our North American viewers. Don't forget, right after "Late Edition" at 1 p.m. Eastern, John Roberts hosts a special "This Week at War." That's coming up from Baghdad.

Much more "Late Edition," right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from New York today. President Bush and the Iraqis are talking, but are they on the same page? We all watched this week's back-and-forth over timelines, milestones, how to meet security and political goals.

Joining us now from Baghdad to help us better understand what's going on, a key player in all of this, the man in the middle, the United States ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome back to "Late Edition." And the confusion started earlier in the week, at least in part, I think, with what you said. I want you to listen to your remarks on Tuesday. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Success in Iraq is possible and can be achieved on a realistic timetable. Iraqi leaders must step up to achieve key political and security milestones on which they have agreed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was followed the next day by comments from Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, in which he said, "I want to stress that this is a government of the people's will, and no one has the right to set a timetable for it. This is an elected government, and only the people who elected the government have the right to make time limitations or amendments."

It sounded very much like you and the prime minister were on different pages. KHALILZAD: I think that was not a real issue. That was a problem in how what I said was interpreted or translated to him and how it was played by some of the media here. What he understood as it was explained to him was that I had determined what issues and by when the Iraqis had to decide.

And of course, he's the prime minister of an elected government. He wants to be, both in appearance and in reality, a leader of his own country. So what I had, in fact, said, as you played it was that the Iraqis had decided on some goals and timelines, milestones for achieving those goals.

Not that I had determined those and was announcing them for the prime minister to implement. I think that when that was explained to him when I met him after I'd come back from northern Iraq -- because I left for the Kurdish area after my news conference, we met that evening. And then we issued a joint statement. And if you read that joint statement, the prime minister then speaks specifically about the objectives and timelines in our joint statement. I think that was done, in my view, largely because of what was perceived as the implication of what I had stated, which was that I was determining what goals and what timelines the Iraqis would follow.

BLITZER: So basically those timelines, those timetables, whatever they're going to be called, that's something that the U.S. and the Iraqi governments will try to work out together.

There was, though, another issue that he raised that I thought was even more disturbing in terms of the U.S.-Iraqi relationship when Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, said this: "If anyone is responsible for the poor security situation in Iraq, it is the coalition. I am now prime minister and overall commander of the armed forces. Yet I cannot move a single company without coalition approval. I have to be careful fighting some militias and terrorists. They are better armed than the army and police. The police are sharing rifles."

His criticism of the United States for not doing enough to help train the Iraqi military, the Iraqi police force, I thought was stunning given how much the United States has sacrificed over these past 3 1/2 years. But I'd be anxious for your response.

KHALILZAD: Well, I think that's more of a real issue there. And that is that the prime minister is anxious to have more responsibility for the security of the country. He wants to have appropriate capabilities and command and control of forces.

And at the present time, the situation is, Wolf, that he controls two divisions. Those two divisions are under complete command and control of the Iraqi forces, although even they do need coalition support to -- in some of their activities and operations. In addition, of course, local police forces are under Iraqi control.

But the remainder of Iraqi forces as well as coalition forces are under the command and control of the coalition forces. So we welcome his desire to have more forces, to have more capable and credible forces and for him to have command and control of Iraqi forces that are currently under coalition control under his control and for him to assume greater responsibility.

And we have established, in the aftermath of the conversation between the president and the prime minister yesterday, a joint committee to look at how to accelerate that. We have a plan in place for how that transfer of command and control, increasing the capability of the Iraqis and for Iraq to assume complete control over time of the security responsibility, we're looking at how to expedite that, given the prime minister's desire for this to happen as quickly as possible. A development that we welcome, and we embrace.

BLITZER: It sounded, though, a little bit to, at least to an American audience that this prime minister of Iraq was ungrateful, if you will, to the United States for all the United States has done for Iraq over these 3 1/2 years. I want to get to this article that appeared in today's Washington Post by Anthony Shadid, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. He just came back to Iraq after a year away.

Here's his conclusion: "Baghdad's resilience is gone, overwhelmed by civil war, anarchy or whatever term could possibly fit. Baghdad now is convulsed by hatred, paralyzed by suspicion; fear has forced many to leave. Carnage its rhythm and despair its mantra. The capital, it seems, no longer embraces life."

In other words, according to Anthony Shadid, who spent a lot of time in Iraq, the situation now in Baghdad is so much worse than it was a year ago. Is that your assessment as well?

KHALILZAD: I think there is no question that Baghdad has gone through a very, very difficult period in the course of the last several months, particularly in the aftermath of the attack against the Samarra shrines, where Al Qaida attacked the shrine that led to increased sectarian violence, something that the terrorists wanted to happen.

And in the aftermath of that, death squads associated with militias and groups, Al Qaida and some others from the Sunni side, got involved in very, very substantial, very negative, very costly violence in which a lot of civilians lost their lives and many mixed neighborhoods faced very difficult set of circumstances. But in much of the rest of Iraq, on the other hand, a situation has been in more than half of the provinces quite positive developments have taken place, economic development has taken place, agricultural production has increased, the number of cell phones have reached 7.2 million, electricity production has gone up by about 30 percent.

So there has been positive things in part, but Baghdad in particular in the aftermath of the Samarra attack did have and continues to go through a very difficult situation, although in the last several days it has been better than it was during Ramadan.

BLITZER: Let me wind up with an allegation made by Saddam Hussein's attorney, who has written a letter to President Bush suggesting that the verdict of the Saddam Hussein trial is going to come up next Sunday, November 5th, and he charges this is designed to coincide with the midterm elections here in the United States on November 7th to give the Republican Party and President Bush a boost because he says it's foreordained that Saddam Hussein will be convicted, will be guilty.

The timing of this announcement, give us your assessment, because as you know, there's probably going to be a lot of suspicion here in the United States that it's timed to coincide with the midterm election.

KHALILZAD: Well, that decision was made by the Iraqi judges. The United States had nothing to do with the selection of the date. And we don't know whether the judges have come to a judgment or not. We do help the court in terms of the logistics and in terms of the technical assistance that the court needs and in terms of providing security.

But we don't determine the date for holding the meetings or the trial or the date for making the decision or announcing the decision with regard to Saddam Hussein.

BLITZER: Zalmay Khalilzad is the United States ambassador to Iraq, arguably one of the most difficult and dangerous assignments in the world. Mr. Ambassador, be careful over there. Thanks very much for joining us once again on "Late Edition."

KHALILZAD: Wolf, thank you.

BLITZER: And coming up, my exclusive interview with the vice president's wife, Lynne Cheney. She even takes on CNN. You're going to want to see this complete interview unedited.

Up next, though, the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, defending his plans in Iraq. But is his strategy working? We'll speak with two military experts. "Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York.

Joining us, now, in Seattle, retired U.S. Army Major General Paul Eaton. He's the former U.S. military commander of Iraq troop training. And in Washington, the New York Times chief military correspondent Michael Gordon. He's the co-author of the best seller "Cobra II: Inside the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq," a terrific, terrific book.

Gentlemen, welcome back to "Late Edition." General Eaton, I'll start with you, and I'll start by playing an excerpt of what the president of the United States said on Wednesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: On the military side, our commanders on the ground are constantly adjusting our tactics to stay ahead of our enemies. We're refining our training strategy for the Iraqi security forces so we can help more of those forces take the lead in the fight and provide them better equipment and firepower to be successful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: General Eaton, you spent a long time in Iraq, training the Iraqi military. You're now back in the United States. You've been critical of the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

Is this current strategy, trying to get the Iraqi military and police force up to speed, working?

MAJ. GEN. PAUL EATON (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Wolf, it would work a whole lot better if the nation, if the Department of Defense, if Secretary Rumsfeld would resource this mission the way it deserves.

This needs to be a Manhattan Project, to stand up to the Iraqi security forces. You'd never know it, given the reports that I'm getting on what's going on.

BLITZER: Well, what would, specifically -- what do you think needs to be done?

EATON: First, you need to throw considerably more resources against it. The equipping component...

BLITZER: When you say more resources, you mean deploy more American troops?

EATON: Well, it's a redistribution of American troops. And I'll approach it in two parts. One, General McCaffrey had a report out last April that was highly critical of the equipping function for the Iraqi security forces.

We're still not there; 2 1/2 years later, we are still not giving the resources to the Iraqi security forces that they deserve they need to prosecute their mission.

Second, we have an insufficient number of advisers in all the units of the Iraqi security forces, police as well as army. I'd nominate an article, recently published in military review by Lieutenant Colonel Doug Ollivant, to everybody's reading, because this man has got a terrific approach to put spine in the Iraqi security forces.

BLITZER: All right. Michael Gordon, you just came back to Washington from Iraq. You were embedded with the U.S. military. The overall U.S. military commander in Iraq, General George Casey, offered this assessment on the training of the Iraqi military this past week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. GEORGE CASEY, IRAQ MULTINATIONAL FORCE CMDR.: It's going to take another 12 to 18 months or so until, I believe, the Iraqi security forces are completely capable of taking over responsibility for their own security.

BLITZER: Is that a fair assessment to you? You know General Casey. He's a serious guy. In 12 to 18 months, the Iraqi can completely take over their security?

MICHAEL GORDON, NEW YORK TIMES: I think it's over-optimistic. From what I could see, on the ground, with two Stryker battalions in Baghdad and then, in July, in Al Anbar province, the Iraqis really aren't ready to do that. And I don't expect they'll be ready in 12 months' time.

I don't think the problem is so much equipment. I think the problem really has to do with the will of the Iraqi forces to, sort of, rise to the challenge and, really, the Iraqi government to marshal its own resources and commit them to the fight.

You know, General Thurman, who is the commander of American forces in Baghdad -- he asked for six Iraqi battalions as reinforcements for this operation, which is called Together Forward. He got two of them. He couldn't get the four additional battalions. He's still waiting for them.

BLITZER: The bottom line, because I read all of your dispatches, is that the Iraqi military, specifically, at any one point, there's a large number of Iraqi troops who are AWOL. They simply go away for a week at a time. They simply don't show up. They don't have the kind of training; they don't have the kind of commitment that the U.S. military clearly has.

GORDON: Well, I don't want to cast aspersions on all of the Iraqi security forces because you do have a lot of committed people and brave people. And they've sacrificed a lot of their lives.

But there is a problem with the Iraqi army, in that a lot of the units have been raised locally in different parts of Iraq. And they simply don't want to redeploy to Baghdad. They regard that as leaving the security of their home areas.

And there's a big, big problem with the Iraqi police because the Iraqi national police have been infiltrated by some of the very militias that we're now trying to contain.

And in fact, General Casey noted in that press conference that the Iraqi national police are going to have to be put through a retraining program before they really become a reliable force that we can count on.

And I saw this in Baghdad. I was with an American unit that came to Baghdad hoping to restore order, only to discover that the Iraqi police unit they were partnered with was corrupted by the militias.

BLITZER: General Eaton, Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary -- he had a news conference this week and he made this additional point. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Any idea that U.S. military leaders are rigidly refusing to make adjustments in their approaches is just flat wrong.

For example, when assessments were made that training of the Iraqi army needed to be adjusted to focus on internal security and fighting terrorists, the military didn't say, well, let's just keep on doing the same. They changed their training strategy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You believe it would make a difference if he personally stepped down?

EATON: Wolf, it would make a terrific difference. We need to change our strategy, our operational approach and our tactical approach. And we need a new team in the Pentagon to do it.

BLITZER: Well, what would be the specific difference if there were a new defense secretary?

Because as you heard, the president voiced this outspoken support for Donald Rumsfeld this past week, saying, don't blame Rumsfeld if you have a problem with Iraq's policy; blame me, he said.

EATON: If you were to get a new secretary of defense, you would re-energize the whole approach that the nation is going after in this war. You would open up the foreign policy options to the secretary of state to bring Iran and Syria into the solution set instead of the adversarial set. You would open up a fundamental warming to bringing in the grand alliance.

So at the strategic sense -- I recently spoke in London and I was very taken aback by the visceral approach that my audience had against the secretary of defense.

We need a new man in there. We need a new team. And we need that team to listen very carefully to the Baker-Hamilton output.

BLITZER: Well, that's not going to be coming out for a few more weeks, maybe a few more months, that commission report.

Michael Gordon, you've always been a great reporter. You've always been very, very candid with your readers in the New York Times, going back to our mutual days when we both covered the Pentagon during the first Gulf War.

Would it make a difference for U.S. military commanders if Rumsfeld were to go?

GORDON: I don't have a personal position on Secretary Rumsfeld. I think the larger issue -- and I can understand, by the way, why President Bush said what he said because all of the key decisions made by Secretary Rumsfeld have been endorsed by the president. So they're linked in that sense.

But I think the key question is not one of personalities. It's whether we have the correct strategy at this point and to what extent this strategy needs to be modified. One thing I concluded is that whatever strategy you want to adopt in the future, it's not going to work unless Baghdad is secure. It's the seat of the government. It's where a quarter of the population lives. And right now it is not secure.

BLITZER: Well, let me just rephrase the question, Michael Gordon. What are you hearing from military commanders in Iraq and elsewhere? What do they say about Donald Rumsfeld behind the scenes, active-duty U.S. military personnel?

GORDON: To be completely honest with you, they don't talk about it much. They're focused very much on trying to get done what needs to be done in their individual sector, their part of Baghdad or in the capital at large. I mean, they're up against a very difficult situation where we've committed additional reinforcements to Baghdad and yet there's been an increase over time in sectarian violence.

So really, the whole operation is at stake. And I heard a lot of concerns about whether we had a viable Iraqi security partner, but I also saw, I thought the troops that I saw at this point in time despite all the difficulties, still remained pretty committed to this mission.

BLITZER: Michael Gordon's the co-author of "Cobra II," an excellent, excellent book. General Eaton, thanks very much for coming in as well.

Coming up next, in case you missed it, what was said on the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States about the upcoming midterm elections.

And please be sure to join us next Sunday for a midterm election special on "Late Edition." That's going to air at 5 p.m. Eastern. We'll bring you all the latest insight and analysis on all the key races. In addition to our two hours at 11 a.m. Eastern, special "Late Edition" next Sunday at 5 p.m. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows in the United States. All of them centered on the conversation around the issues and the high political stakes in the upcoming midterm elections.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEN MEHLMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: If you believe that we should not see a big increase in taxes across the board, then you should vote Republican. If you believe this November that it's important we have tools like the Patriot Act, like the program that has made sure there's surveillance of the enemy, like interrogation of people like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, if you believe there ought to be missile defense. If you believe all these tools that we've had that keep us safe at a time we're at war, Republicans have been in favor of those tools. Unfortunately, most Democrats have been against them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Here's why we're running. We want middle-class tax fairness for the American people. We want middle-class Americans to benefit from this economy, not just the folks that have contributed to the president. We want a defense policy that's tough and smart. The fact is the Republicans have failed us on defense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR ELIZABETH DOLE, (R-NC): Democrats are not going to take over the Senate. We're going to maintain the majority. But if they were to take over the Senate, it would weaken our economy, tax increases, it would weaken our security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. GOV. MICHAEL STEELE, (R-MD): When this race is about Democrats and Republicans in a state like Maryland, which is two to one, all they have to say is the boogeyman's Republican, and all you guys remember you've got to vote for us "D's." What I'm trying to do is break through that noise and say, I represent something different. I represent, I think, a different challenge for my state and for my country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN, (D-MD): I'm one of those Democrats who have been able to work across party line to get things done. I've been able to get major bills passed in a very partisan environment because I know how to work with Republicans. Mr. Steele was recruited by the Bush administration. You look at what he's done. I'm concerned about what he will bring to our state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR: Oh, I'm not a shill for the Democratic Party. I approached them. I sat down to find out what candidates were pro stem-cell in races where they're opposed by anti-stem cell candidates. And I had no predisposition toward Democrats or Republicans. It would be fine with me either way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. Much more "Late Edition" right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I know the American people understand the stakes in Iraq. They want to win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush reaffirms what he says is his plan for victory. What will it take for the United States' mission to succeed? Insight from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's two top members, Republican Chairman Richard Lugar and ranking Democrat Joe Biden.

With just nine days to go until the midterm elections, will voter anxiety over Iraq bounce Republicans from power? Or could concerns over the war on terror and gay marriage deny Democrats the majority? We'll explore the key issues and hot races with Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter and CNN Senior Analyst Jeff Greenfield.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LYNNE CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT'S WIFE: What this government has done is effective. That's not broken government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And the complete, unedited interview I did with the wife of the vice president, Lynne Cheney. She pulls no punches as she defends her husband and the Bush administration.

Welcome back. We'll speak with senators Richard Lugar and Joe Biden in just a moment. First though, let's check in with Fredricka Whitfield for a quick check of what's in the news right now. Fred?

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred. And joining us now with their take on U.S. strategy in Iraq, the midterm elections and more, the two top members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In Washington, the committee's Republican chairman, Richard Lugar of Indiana. And in his home state of Delaware, the panel's ranking Democrat, Joe Biden. Senators, thanks very much for coming in.

Senator Lugar, I'll start off with you. Excuse me. I want you to listen to this clip of what President Bush said earlier this week about the situation in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We're winning and we will win. Unless we leave before the job is done. The crucial battle right now is Iraq. And as I said in my statement, I understand how tough it is. Really tough. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Senator Lugar, you're a straight shooter. Is the United States winning in Iraq right now?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: Well, I agree with the president. We will win if we are in Iraq or in the area. I make that distinction because I don't know any more than anybody else does how effective the Iraq government will be. In the last instance, whether they can secure the country, whether they can have a stable central government, whether they can distribute the oil money and pay their bills.

But in any event, they are going to need some security, and we are going to need some security. And our troops are that security. By that I mean the borders of Iraq are important. Not only to the Iraqis but to other countries. And without there being border security, there's likely to be an invasion of Iraq from others.

In addition, if we withdraw, we clearly open the borders but we do have once again an incubator for terrorism in Iraq, comparable, I suspect, to the Afghanistan situation we tried to clean up after 9/11. And therefore, we've got to be thinking globally and strategically about the Middle East and I suppose, hoping, that the Iraqi government will in fact be strong enough, will be capable enough with our assistance, and as a democratic government, do the job.

BLITZER: Senator Biden, is the United States winning in Iraq right now?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Well, just look at the storyline here, Wolf. Most deadly month in a long, long time. No fundamental change. The administration continues to be in disarray. There were four different press conferences last week saying different things. Yesterday, Maliki and the president spoke to try to seem to be on the same page. Maliki saying to our ambassador, I'm not your man in Iraq. Don't tell us what to do.

And while all this was going on, as Dick said, there's no plan to distribute the oil money equitably in order to deal with the sectarian violence. There does not seem to be any plan to move beyond where we are, and there is no call for a regional plan, which Dick has called for, I've called for, Secretary Baker, Secretary Schultz, et cetera, so that we in fact find ourselves in the position where we can deal with the border from the other side of the border.

That is, as it borders these other countries as well as internally. So I don't see much -- I'm not very hopeful that the administration sees the need to have some real change.

BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, do you have confidence in this prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki?

LUGAR: Well, he is the prime minister. I think we want to stay away from judgments now about whether the prime minister is competent or not. He is the prime minister. And we are going to take for granted what he's saying that he will make those decisions with his people. This is the element here in which we have fostered democracy.

We've succeeded. This is an elected government. They have a constitution, they have a road map. If they wish to join together various provinces and be more autonomous, they could in fact distribute the oil money, and they could in fact train people.

We're getting now into some name-calling backward and forward, in which the prime minister indicates that he doesn't think we've trained their troops very well, and we've pointed out a lot are AWOL and not very conscientious. And ours are sort of left in the middle. So I'm not going to engage in that today.

I think our ambassador is giving full support. The president, as you said, has been on the telephone at least twice, at some length, to try to at least gain the greatest solidarity we can gain.

BLITZER: Senator Biden, here is how the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, sized up the situation earlier in the week. Listen to this, and I'll get your reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: You're looking for some sort of a guillotine to flowing down if some date isn't met. That is not what this is about. This is complicated stuff. It's difficult. We're looking out in the future. No one can predict the future with absolute certainty.

So you ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it's complicated. It's difficult.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He was speaking to reporters but I suspect he was speaking to you and other critics as well.

BIDEN: "Relax," huh? While we're getting killed, while 140,000 troops are there, while they have no plan for success, and he's telling us to relax. Come on.

Look, Wolf, I think his leadership has been abysmal. But that's a different issue. I'm not about to relax as long as we have 140,000 men and women in that country in the midst of a growing civil war with no plan for a political solution and no serious means by which we are calling in the neighbors to figure out how they support any solution that comes forward. I wish he'd get a little more sense of urgency.

BLITZER: Here's what Lindsey Graham, Senator Lugar, said earlier in the week to the Associated Press. Republican of South Carolina: "We're on the verge of chaos in Iraq, and the current plan is not working." As you know, Senator Lugar, there's an increasing chorus now of Republicans who are breaking ranks with the administration on Iraq.

LUGAR: Well, I'm well aware of that. I read the press. But that's not really very helpful one way or another. I would just say, and I think in the constructive spirit of our conversation today that Senator Biden and I have tried really to work together and bring together as much bipartisanship in the Foreign Relations Committee to be helpful to the process of our troops and our commanders there, and our ambassador. People that are really on the ball and have to be there.

Now, I would just say that the president and the Congress, however the election comes out, will have a lot to do with our leadership and who does what. But for the moment, it seems to me we've got to keep our eye on the ball. It is urgent. We cannot relax.

And the facts are that we're offering advice to a fledgling government. We are hopeful they are successful because that will make the Middle East more successful.

BLITZER: Senators, stand by for a moment. We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to discuss. Senators Lugar and Biden, they are standing by.

Also, still to come here on "Late Edition, " my complete unedited interview with the vice president's wife, Lynne Cheney. She had some strong words for the Democrats, for CNN, strong words in defense of her husband. I'll also share some personal thoughts.

And we'll also take a closer look at how things stand and how they could shake out in the overall political fight for control of Congress. That's with our political panel. They are standing by.

For our North American viewers, don't forget at the top of the hour, at 1 p.m. Eastern, it's "This Week at War." Our host, John Roberts, he's in Baghdad. You're going to want to see this program. That's coming up for our North American viewers at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting today from New York. We are talking with the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar and the committee's top Democrat, Joe Biden of Delaware.

Senator Biden, I want you to listen to what the vice president, Dick Cheney, said the other day. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Decisions about American troop levels will be driven by conditions on the ground and the judgments of our commanders, not by artificial timelines set by politicians in Washington, D.C.

For the sake of our own generation, and the ones that follow, we have a clear responsibility to press on in this fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right. I want your response to what the vice president said.

BIDEN: What does that mean? I don't know what it means. The president of the United States announced benchmarks. No one else did. The administration announced benchmarks. No one else did.

When you ask them what it means, they don't say what it means. They dope say what the benchmarks are about. And the real question, here, is what happens if the Iraqi government continues to be dysfunctional?

Let's assume it stays dysfunctional like it is now, six months from now.

Do we continue to keep 140,000 American troops in the midst of a dysfunctional country, in a dysfunctional government that, in fact, can't get its act together and is in a civil war so that we, in fact, can say we stayed our ground?

What are the conditions upon which this administration is trying to establish?

And so when the vice president uses this rhetoric, he's also the one that says we're doing remarkably well in Iraq. I think he needs a reality check.

BLITZER: Senator Lugar?

LUGAR: Well, the Foreign Relations Committee has distributed to all of our colleagues the monthly statistics on what is occurring in all of Iraq. And the fact is that we have very special problems in the Kurd area; likewise, in some of the provinces that are not Baghdad or Al Anbar.

It's important for, in a sophisticated way, for each one of us -- as opposed to getting into slogans as to whether we're winning, losing, cutting out and so forth, we need to get to the heart of the matter of who these people are and how they relate to other countries around them and to an overall Shiite-Sunni battle in the whole region that could have been triggered off -- and the problems in Lebanon, now, recently.

I think that's the kind of debate we want to have -- hard to have, I'm certain, in the next nine days. But I hope we get back to it very soon.

BLITZER: The political season is clearly here, nine days to go before the election, Senator Biden. And the president is predicting that the Democrats will not take the majority in either the House or the Senate, in part because of this. Listen to what he says.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNTIED STATES: I do not question their patriotism. I question whether or not they understand how dangerous this world is. And this is a big issue in the campaign. Security of the country is an issue, just like taxes are an issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's his theme, Senator Biden, that if the Democrats take over, they're going to raise the American people's taxes and they're going to weaken their security.

BIDEN: I do not question the president's patriotism. I question his judgment. And the American people are going to have a referendum on Iraq and his whole security plan. It's going to determine what happens in the next two years.

If it turns out that they repudiate the president's judgment, then I think you're going to see a bipartisan effort that flows from that, putting pressure on the administration to make a significant change in its policy.

If in fact they conclude that the president's judgment on Iraq and other matters relating to security has been correct, then I think nothing is going to change.

And so I think this is pretty straightforward and clear. I do not question the president's patriotism. I do severely question the judgment of he, Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary Cheney. I think they have dug us in a very deep hole.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Lugar?

LUGAR: In some states, Iraq will clearly be the leading issue, but followed closely by the economy, either a good or a bad economy and the overall war on terrorism.

I'm not certain which will determine people's votes. But I would say, probably, the quality of the candidates will still be the major factor, as opposed to an overall referendum, either statewide or nationally.

BLITZER: Here's -- I just want to wrap this segment up, Senator Biden, with this whole issue of alleged torture. The president, the vice president dispute the notion that the United States engaged in torture.

The vice president had this exchange with a radio talk show host the other day in North Dakota. Listen to this little clip.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Would you agree a dunk in water is a no- brainer if it can save lives?

CHENEY: Well, it's a no-brainer for me, but I -- for a while there, I was criticized as being the vice president for torture. We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in.

(END AUDIO CLIP) BLITZER: The vice president flatly disputed this notion that he suggested in that interview that the United States has engaged in what's called water boarding, which some have suggested is a form of torture. But I'm wondering what you think, knowing what you know.

BIDEN: Well, look, water boarding is, in fact, in most countries, viewed as torture. As a matter of fact, if you go to the museum relating to torture in Cambodia, prominently centered and as you walk in, is an actual water board. It's an actual device on which you water board people.

Now, I don't know what other kind of "dunking" there is. I'm not going to second-guess what the vice president said or meant by what he said to the North Dakota reporter.

But this administration -- let me be precise. The vice president has never indicated anything that I've seen or done that he would think that that is not a particularly useful device.

But again, I -- it's just, the rest of the world views water boarding as torture. The Geneva Convention views it as torture. I think it is torture. And I hope our nation does not, or anyone in our country in position of authority thinks it's an appropriate device to use as a matter of routine.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it right there. Senators, thanks very much for coming in. Senator Biden and Senator Lugar, always good to have you on "Late Edition."

Still ahead, my exclusive interview with the wife of the vice president, Lynne Cheney. She's defending her husband and the president.

But up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting today from New York. On Friday in "The Situation Room" here on CNN, I interviewed the wife of the vice president, Lynne Cheney.

The interview has generated quite a bit of commotion. And we're now going to replay the complete, unedited version.

First, though, some history. I've been covering the Cheneys for many years, including on a day-to-day basis, when he was the defense secretary during the first Gulf War and I was CNN's Pentagon correspondent.

Mrs. Cheney has been a frequent guest on my programs. In recent years, I've often invited her to discuss her new children's books, but she always is open to discussing the news of the day.

In this most recent interview, she, of course, knew we would be speaking about politics. That was reaffirmed to her staff only hours before the interview.

As a former co-host of CNN's "Crossfire" program during the 1990s, she knows her way around the media. She was never shy in sparring with Democratic strategists Bob Beckel, her co-host.

Still, I was frankly surprised when she came out swinging on Friday, surprised by what she said about CNN's "Broken Government" series, specifically the excellent one-hour report by our chief national correspondent, John King, one of the most precise and respected journalists in Washington, and CNN's decision to air sniper video provided to our intrepid Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware by insurgents in Iraq, which Anderson Cooper specifically branded, and I'm quoting now, "a single propaganda tape;" surprised at her sniping at my patriotism.

Here now, the full interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now, the wife of the vice president of the United States, Lynne Cheney, no stranger to CNN.

Thanks very much for coming in.

L. CHENEY: Thank you, Wolf, for having me.

BLITZER: And we're going to talk about this excellent new book, "Our 50 States: A Family Adventure Across America." This is a book that I recommend for all ages, and I see it's already a best-seller.

L. CHENEY: I'm very proud of this book. It was an effort of two years for Robin Glasser and me. And it was inspiring the whole time. It's a story of the whole country told by a family going on a road trip. And my grandchildren love it.

BLITZER: I want to get to that, all that. But I want to pick your brain a little bit on news that's happening right now, including your husband, the vice president.

He was interviewed earlier this week out in North Dakota and he had this exchange with a radio talk show host. Listen to this.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP FROM RADIO PROGRAM, COURTESY WDAY)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Would you agree a dunk in water is a no- brainer if it can save lives?

CHENEY: Well, it's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the vice president for torture. We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: It made it sound -- and there's been interpretation to this effect, that he was, in effect, confirming that the United States used this water boarding, this technique that has been rejected by the international community that simulates a prisoner being drowned, if you will; that he was, in effect, supposedly confirming that the U.S. has been using it.

L. CHENEY: Wolf, that is a mighty house you're building on top of that mole hill there, or a mighty mountain. This is a complete distortion. He didn't say anything of the kind.

BLITZER: Because of the dunking, using the water and the dunking?

L. CHENEY: I understand your point. It's kind of the point of a lot of people right now to try to distort the administration's position. And if you really want to talk about that, I watched the program on CNN last night which I thought, is your 2006 voter program, which I thought was a terrible distortion of both the president and the vice president's position on many issues.

It seemed almost straight out of Democratic talking points, using phrases like domestic surveillance. When it is not domestic surveillance that anyone has talked about or ever done. It's surveillance of terrorists. It's people who have al Qaeda connections calling into the United States. So I think we're in a season of distortion. And this is just one more.

BLITZER: But there have been some cases where innocent people have been picked up, interrogated, held for long periods of time, then simply said, never mind, they're let go.

L. CHENEY: Well, are you sure these people are innocent?

BLITZER: They are walking around free right now and nobody's arrested them.

L. CHENEY: You made a point last night of a man who had a bookstore in London where radical Islamists gathered. Who was in Afghanistan when the Taliban were there. Who went to Pakistan. You know, I think that you might be a little careful before you declare this as a person with clean hands.

BLITZER: You're referring to the CNN "Broken Government" special. This was the one that John King reported on last night.

L. CHENEY: Right there, Wolf, "Broken Government." Now what kind of stance is that? Here we are. We are a country where we have been mightily challenged over the past six years. We've been through 9/11, we've been through Katrina. The president and the vice president inherited the recession. We're in a country where the economy's healthy, that's not broken.

This government has acted very well. We have tax cuts that are responsible for our healthy economy. We're a country that was attacked five years ago. We haven't been attacked since. What this government has done is effective, that's not broken government. So, you know, I shouldn't let media bias surprise me, but I worked at CNN once. I watched your program last night ...

BLITZER: You worked as co-host of "Crossfire."

L. CHENEY: And I was troubled.

BLITZER: All right. Well that was probably the purpose, to get people to think. To get people to discuss these issues. Because ...

L. CHENEY: Well, all right. Wolf, I'm here to talk about my book. But if you want to talk about distortion ...

BLITZER: We'll talk about your book.

L. CHENEY: Right, but what is CNN doing? Running terrorist tape of terrorists shooting Americans. I mean, I thought Duncan Hunter asked you a very good question and you didn't answer it. Do you want us to win?

BLITZER: The answer of course is we want the United States to win. We are Americans. There's no doubt about that. Do you think we want terrorists to win.

L. CHENEY: Then why are you running terrorist propaganda?

BLITZER: With all due respect, this is not terrorist propaganda.

L. CHENEY: Oh, Wolf.

BLITZER: This is reporting the news. Which is what we do, we're not partisan.

L. CHENEY: Where did you get the film?

BLITZER: We got the film, look, this is an issue that has been widely discussed. This is an issue that we reported on extensively. We make no apologies for showing that. That was a very carefully considered decision why we did that. And I think, I think that if you're ...

L. CHENEY: Well I think it's shocking.

BLITZER: If you are a serious journalist, you want to report the news. Sometimes the news is good, sometimes the news isn't so good.

L. CHENEY: But Wolf, there's a difference between news and terrorist propaganda. Why do you give the terrorists a forum?

BLITZER: And if you put it in context, if you put it in context, that's what news is. We said it was propaganda. We didn't distort where we got it. We didn't distort anything about it. We gave it the context. Let's talk about another issue in the news and then we'll get to the book.

The Democrats are now complaining bitterly in this Virginia race, George Allen using novels that Jim Webb, his Democratic challenger has written in which there are sexual references. And they are making a big deal out of this. I want you to listen to what Jim Webb said today in responding to this very sharp attack from George Allen. L. CHENEY: Now, do you promise, Wolf, that we are going to talk about my book?

BLITZER: I do promise.

L. CHENEY: Because this seems to me a mighty long trip around the merry go round.

BLITZER: This is in the news today and your name has come up. So that's why we are talking about it. But listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES WEBB (D), VIRGINIA SENATE CANDIDATE: There's nothing that's been in any of my novels that in my view, hasn't been either illuminating surroundings or defining a character or moving a plot. I'm a serious writer. I mean, we can go and read Lynne Cheney's lesbian love scenes if you want to get graphic on stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

L. CHENEY: You know Jim Webb is full of baloney. I have never written anything sexually explicit. His novels are full of, um, sexual explicit reference to incest, sexually explicit references, well, you know I just don't want my grandchildren to turn on the television set. This morning Imus was reading from the novels. And it's triple X-rated. BLITZER: Here's what the Democratic Party put out today, the Democratic Congressional Senatorial Campaign Committee. "Lynne Cheney's book featured brothels and attempted rape. In 1981 Vice President Dick Cheney's wife Lynne wrote a book called "Sisters" which featured a lesbian love affair, brothels and attempted rapes. In 1988 Lynne Cheney wrote about a Republican vice president who dies of a heart attack while having sex with his mistress." Is that true?

L. CHENEY: Nothing explicit. And actually that is full of lies. It's just absolutely not true.

BLITZER: But you did write a book entitled "Sisters."

L. CHENEY: I did write a book entitled, "Sisters."

BLITZER: But it did have lesbian characters.

L. CHENEY: No, not necessarily. This description is a lie. I'll stand on that.

BLITZER: There is nothing in there about rapes and brothels?

L. CHENEY: Wolf, could we talk about a children's book for a minute?

BLITZER: We can talk about the children's book, but I just want to ...

L. CHENEY: I think our segment is like 15 minutes long and we've now done 10 minutes of ...

BLITZER: I just wanted to clarify what's in the news today, give you a ...

L. CHENEY: Sex, lies and distortion. That's what it is.

BLITZER: This is an opportunity for you to explain on these sensitive issues.

L. CHENEY: Wolf, I have nothing to explain. Jim Webb has a lot to explain.

BLITZER: Well he says he's only -- as a serious writer and novelist, a fiction writer he was doing basically what you were doing.

L. CHENEY: Jim Webb is full of baloney.

BLITZER: We'll leave it at that. Let's talk a little bit about your book, "Our 50 States." A family adventure across America.

L. CHENEY: You know, one of the reasons I wrote this book is because we spend so much time, nowadays, talking about things that are negative. And it's not the fault of any particular segment of the society, but we have come to define news as bad news. And so our kids get a steady diet of this is wrong, the government is broken, the war isn't working, the economy's terrible. Even when those things aren't true, our kids are getting a steady dose of negativity.

What Robin and I wanted so much to do is to talk about what a wonderful country it is. We wanted to give our kids something positive, and I hope that's what we've done in this book. It's very, very pro-American. This is a book that's very patriotic. There is no question about our view that this is the greatest country in the face of the earth. And that is what we want kids to take away from it.

BLITZER: Indeed, the kids who read this book will learn a lot about the 50 states. That's what it's called. But a lot of the landmarks in those 50 states.

L. CHENEY: Well not just landmarks, but the vast variety and diversity of our culture. You know we have everything from the preservation hall banned in New Orleans to Mariachi music in Texas to the Philharmonic in Boston. We've got all kinds of food.

There is a lovely little girl in this book her name is Annie and she writes back to her grandma again and again about the different foods she is enjoying or not. In Boston she says the beans are great but she's a little doubtful about the cod. So, it's not just about landmarks, it's also about the kind of history and culture that I think kids will enjoy very much.

BLITZER: And it is beautifully illustrated.

L. CHENEY: Robin Glasser is a dear person and a very talented individual and I'm very happy to work with her.

BLITZER: We can certainly disagree on what is news, what is serious news. But we can agree that this is a beautifully-done book.

L. CHENEY: Well I appreciate that, thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: How is your husband doing? Because there is always concern about his health.

L. CHENEY: Well I'm not sure why there's always concern about his health. He's been out on 140 campaigns. He's raised $40-some million dollars for Republican candidates around the country. He's been very busy. He has been serving the nation very well, as I think George Bush has been a really great leader for us during this time of some trials.

BLITZER: We're going to leave it right there. It was kind of you to come in.

L. CHENEY: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: You came armed. I guess you knew what you wanted to do.

L. CHENEY: Wolf, I am always prepared for you to ask questions that maybe aren't quite fair, but they are pretty tough.

BLITZER: You did a good job.

L. CHENEY: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And up next, we'll discuss the Lynne Cheney interview with some more tough and fair questions. And with only nine days until the critical midterm elections here in the United States, we'll explore the key issues in the close races with our political panel.

And this note: Next Sunday, please be sure to catch our "Late Edition" midterm election special. We'll have insight and analysis on all the key races. That will air at 5 p.m. Eastern next Sunday. We'll also be on the air at our regular time, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Eastern. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." Joining us now to take a closer look at how things are shaping up going into Election Day, only nine days away, three of the best in the business when it comes to politics.

In Washington, Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. He's also the co-author of the new book, "The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get It Back." Also in Washington, The Cook Political Report's senior editor, Amy Walter. She's also a CNN political analyst. And here in New York, CNN's senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield. Guys, thanks very much for coming in. I want to just go once around very quickly and get your quick response -- Jeff, starting with you -- on this interview that's generating somewhat of a commotion that I conducted with Lynne Cheney.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Well, I think there are a couple of things. There's clearly a group of people who believe that running that sniper video was the wrong thing to do. I mean, this is an argument that goes back when people used to speaker view the leaders of the Soviet Union and invite them onto their shows, showing pictures of wounded or dead GIs.

And the answer of most journalists is, this is news. The fact that American troops are under attack, and we're showing you that the other side is using this for propaganda purposes does not mean that you are transmitting propaganda. But I think she had a point to make, and she's very good at doing that.

BLITZER: She's very good at that. Norm Ornstein, was there a political agenda here, knowing that the Republicans are trying to really galvanize their political base., going after sort of the news media, the elite news media, if you will. Is that a good strategy in these final days before the election in getting vote out?

NORM ORNSTEIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INST.: It's a tried and true strategy, Wolf. And there's no question that you get a lot of response from people out there to the notion of bias in the press. And for a party that is especially struggling now to try to get its base motivated, that's one of the best ways to do it. And I'm sure that was very much in mind.

BLITZER: Are they doing that? Are they succeeding based on what you are seeing of House and Senate races across the country, Amy? Are they getting that base out? Because the Republicans have a really good track record of being able to do that.

AMY WALTER, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Well, that certainly is the key question. Here we are just a few days out from the election. What we know fundamentally is that there are more seats in play than any of us expected, certainly even a couple of months ago. And the big question is not just who's turning out Democrat versus Republican. Though what we're seeing in the polls is that Democrats certainly more motivated than Republicans.

The big concern is, what happens with these independent voters. These ones who two years ago, four years ago were evenly divided in terms of their support between President Bush and John Kerry. And now these folks are incredibly angry.

They're very frustrated with what's happening in Washington. They are breaking against the president, breaking against Republicans by more than a two-to-one margin in some districts, especially if you're up in the Northeast or in the Midwest, like Ohio. It's more like 75 percent against. So where those people go on Election Day is going to be very critical. BLITZER: Jeff, the ads, the commercials, the political commercials are getting pretty nasty right now. I suspect they're going to even get even nastier as the election gets closer. Watch this little clip -- It's been all over the place -- on the Tennessee race going after the Democrat Harold Ford, Jr.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNKNOWN: I met Harold at the Playboy party. Harold, call me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Does a commercial like that work?

GREENFIELD: We're going to find out. They pulled that ad. Ken Mehlman said, you know, I get this weird legal situation where I pay for those ads but I don't even see them. In the Corker campaign, the Republican candidate for senator in Tennessee, objected to that ad. And Harold Ford, for his part, is saying that this is clearly playing off an old core racist notion of black men looking for white women.

I don't know whether that ad is going to work. One thing that has to be said about race in general is there's an old rule that whatever a black candidate is polling, particularly if he has not run for that office before, you've got to deduct a little because there are people who will not say to pollsters, I'm not going to vote for a black guy.

I do not know whether that's still true. I know it was true in the 1980s. It happened to Doug Wilder. It happened to Tom Bradley running for governor of California. Ahead in the polls. Wilder barely won. Bradley didn't. Whether it's still true in 2006 is a very interesting (inaudible). I don't know the answer to that question.

BLITZER: You know, that's a good question. Norm Ornstein, what do you think?

ORNSTEIN: You know, I think in a place like Tennessee, it's always going to be a concern. Right after that ad ran, Corker's numbers jumped up a little bit. And, you know, it may make a difference here.

I'll tell you, Wolf, I've been traveling around the country. And wherever I go, I look at local television. It's wall-to-wall ads. And they are so awful. It's worse than I've seen it in 30-plus years. You want to take a shower after you watch an hour's worth of local television, wherever you go.

BLITZER: But do they work, Amy? I assume they do these ads because they work, even though a lot of people say you know what, they could have a boomerang effect. They could be counterproductive and turning off a lot of people.

WALTER: Well, we got a preview of just how bad these ads were going to be. Very early in year, when Republicans admitted, they said look, the environment is really bad out there for us. The only way we're going to win these races is we have to discredit the Democrat. You're going to see some really, really negative ads.

The bottom line, of course, is that it does work. I think it's also getting harder for the media, the media consultants and for the actual ads to break through. Right? You have 300 television stations. You have people's attention so spread everywhere that to break through that now, the consensus is you need to make these ads even tougher and stronger. But you're right. In the end, they could also backfire.

GREENFIELD: Just very quickly, that's one of the reasons why Michael Steele, the Republican candidate for senator of Maryland, I think his ad people have done him a great service. They have these kind of light-hearted ads. There's no music. There's no dark pictures. He kind of makes fun of negative ads. It's shot against a pure white background like the Macintosh ads.

And from just purely judging them on effectiveness, I think those are the ads, by not going negative, have kind of broken through. And I think one of the reasons why Steele is giving Ben Cardin a tough time in Maryland, a clearly Democratic state, may be that his ads have struck a different note.

BLITZER: You would never know from any of Michael Steele's ads that he's a Republican, but that's another matter. We're going to continue this conversation. Much more to talk about. We'll also delve through some more of the key issues and the key races as we count down to Election Day with our political panel. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're coming our conversation with three of the best political analysts in the business, Jeff Greenfield, Amy Walter, and Norm Ornstein.

Norm, let me just pick up on the Senate race right now. Right now, going into this contest, there are 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats, one independent. The Democrats need a net gain of six seats. There are eight or nine in play, if you include Maryland, as a lot of people now do. There would be nine seats in play, seven of them held by Republicans, two by Democrats, if you include Maryland.

What's your sense?

Is this doable right now for the Democrats to become the majority in the U.S. Senate?

ORNSTEIN: It's doable, but it's still an uphill slog, Wolf. Republicans, now, are putting some money into Maryland. They're putting some money into Michigan, as well as New Jersey, three states Democrats hold, believing that, if they can win any one of them, then Democrats will lead a net pick-up of seven; they'll have to completely run the table. And winning states like Tennessee and Virginia remains a difficult task for Democrats, as well as winning all the others. Missouri is very much up for grabs. Democrats can do this, with a climate that's turned so sour for Republicans and with a turnout that's likely to enhance their chances.

But in some of these states, like Virginia and Tennessee, it's not clear that the national tide or the national mood will work in exactly the same way. So I think it's still a less than even chance that they win a majority in the Senate.

BLITZER: In that Missouri race, Amy, it's very, very close, by all accounts, the incumbent Republican, Jim Talent, versus Claire McCaskill, the Democratic challenger.

And embryonic stem cell research has emerged, with Michael J. Fox, the actor, doing a commercial on behalf of Claire McCaskill in Missouri; Rush Limbaugh then criticizing Michael J. Fox.

What's your sense? How does this race shape up right now?

WALTER: Well, you know, the thing about Missouri is we know, at the presidential level, Republicans have been successful in the last two elections.

But at the statewide level, every single race has always been very, very close, two or three points, coming into the final stretch. And when we talk about turnout -- we brought that up earlier this the program -- this is one of those states where that is going to be so very important.

You know, McCaskill had been hoping to do better in some of the rural areas, those places where, traditionally, Democrats don't do as well.

The suburban areas is where Democrats are hoping that the issue of stem cell research may bring some of those, especially women, back into the Democrats' fold.

But I think this is one of those races that literally goes down to the wire. I have an expectation that, on election night, Wolf, we're still going to be waiting well into the night for the results from here.

BLITZER: I'm not going to be surprised.

(LAUGHTER)

We'll be working all night, maybe for days to come. Jeff Greenfield's used to that, given recent history.

Here's the advice that former president Bill Clinton offered Democrats in these late days, going into the election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't give up on anybody. Don't give up on independents who say they don't vote or don't vote for Democrats. Don't even give up on Republicans who say they've never voted for a Democrat before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. He's got, usually, pretty good advice for Democrats. What do you make of this?

GREENFIELD: Well, I mean, I've never heard a guy trying to rev up a base say, why don't you give up?

BLITZER: No, but he's saying, go after the Republicans, the swing voters. Don't just worry about your liberal base.

GREENFIELD: Right. But clearly, what we know -- and there's a wonderful paper that was put out by a thing called "Third Way."

What we know is that Democrats have increasingly been troubled because the country has skewed so much away from them in recent elections that they need an overwhelming share of the independents to be competitive in a lot of these states.

Now, this year, because there's a lot of Republican discontent, along with Democratic normal discontent that I think what Clinton is saying is, look, in a lot of these regions -- in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania, New York, where there are some Republicans, we can get some of those folks onto our side.

And I think one of the strategies about the stem cell research initiative is, in the past, social issues on the ballot have tended to help Republicans, gay marriage being the most obvious one.

So in this case, a place like Missouri, the hope is you'll get moderate Republicans and independents who think stem cell research, embryonic stem cell research should be financed by the government, to come out and when they do that, they're more likely to vote for our person.

BLITZER: Norm, everyone agrees that the Democrats have a much better chance taking the House than the Senate. They need a net gain of 15 seats in the House of representatives.

It's still nine days to go, but what do you think?

ORNSTEIN: Oh, I think it would be stunning if they didn't take the House.

And we're now talking about the possibility of a gain of 30, 40 or more. When a wave starts to hit and it doesn't show any signs of abating, the number of potential seats that you can win expands.

And now, you know, most of the playing field is on a Republican turf. They've got great difficulty allocating the money that they've got to try and figure out where to put it. It's like that game, "Whack-a-Mole." They're popping up everywhere. And they don't know where to put it down. so there is a real chance, I think, of a substantial gain here.

BLITZER: Norman Ornstein's new book -- the co-author of the book entitled, "The Broken Government: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get it Back." You're going to want to read this book. I want to thank you, Norm.

ORNSTEIN: Thanks.

BLITZER: I want to thank Amy, Jeff Greenfield, always a good discussion with the three of you. Thanks very much.

This important note for our North American viewers: Stay with CNN. At the top of the hour, "This Week at War." It's a special edition, John Roberts reporting from Baghdad. That comes up right at the top of the hours. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: That's your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, October 29. Please be sure to join me next Sunday and every Sunday, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, for the last word in Sunday talk.

And this note: Next week, please all be sure to catch our "Late Edition" midterm election special. That will air at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, next Sunday.

And all this week, starting tomorrow, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, please join Paula Zahn and me for our special two-hour, expanded "Situation Room." We'll have the breaking news, plus all the political news and the updates as we head to the finish line on Election Day.

Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York.

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