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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

Chaos in Iraq; John Kerry Apologizes for Comments About Military; Worker Under Fire for Reporting Illegal Aliens; Leading Public Interest Groups Demanding Congress Fix Broken Campaign Finance System

Aired November 1, 2006 - 18:00   ET

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


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, President Bush declaring that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should remain in his job, but U.S. strategy in Iraq is on the verge of failure. American casualties are rising, and rising sharply.
Three distinguished former military officers who are demanding Rumsfeld's resignation are among my guests here tonight. We'll be talking straight about this war in Iraq and the conduct of this war.

There is outrage tonight over state bureaucrats who are ignoring our laws and giving illegal aliens taxpayer-funded benefits they're not entitled to. A state official who didn't follow the policy but did obey the law and nearly lost his job as a whistleblower, we'll have that special report and a great deal more straight ahead here tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Wednesday, November 1st.

Live in New York, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody.

President Bush today rejected demands for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld despite the rising chaos in Iraq. One hundred five of our troops were killed in Iraq last month. It was one of the highest monthly totals of the entire war.

Meanwhile, the battle between the White House and Senator John Kerry over the war in Iraq continued for a second straight day. Senator Kerry tonight apologized for his remarks earlier this week when he said students who don't work hard could get stuck in Iraq.

Jamie McIntyre reports tonight from the Pentagon on our military's latest assessment of the rising chaos in Iraq.

John Roberts tonight reports from Baghdad on the increasing divisions between the United States and the Iraqi government over our strategy.

And John King reports from Philadelphia tonight on Senator Kerry's apology and what it means for this election campaign.

We turn first to Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon -- Jamie. JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, is it bad day or a bad trend in Iraq? That's the question being raised by a briefing slide published today by "The New York Times" that the U.S. military never wanted you to see.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): With 105 U.S. deaths in Iraq last month, October was the deadliest for U.S. forces in two years. But at the Pentagon the defender in chief of Iraq policy argues the war-torn country is still headed in the right direction.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: It is not a smooth road. It's a bumpy road. We know that. We've said it repeatedly.

MCINTYRE: However, an internal briefing slide from two weeks ago obtained and published by "The New York Times" has a different take. It shows Iraq, at least on October 18th, as inching closer to chaos and away from peace.

The White House says the chart reflects a single bad day.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And that was a snapshot taken at the height of the Ramadan violence. If you got the same report last week, you would have found out that national sectarian incidents from 21st to the 27th dropped 23 percent.

Jessica...

QUESTION: Is devolving into chaos the same as winning?

SNOW: Now, because what you have just done is you've attached your interpretation to a single chart. It doesn't devolving into chaos. And furthermore, I just told you since then you've had a pretty dramatic reversal.

MCINTYRE: Still, critics who have argued for months Iraq is slipping into a full-scale civil war say the chart, which includes a note at the bottom that violence is at an all-time high and spreading geographically offers an unvarnished view of what military commanders really think.

COL. DOUG MAGREGOR, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Our forces are now islands of impotence in a sea of violence and chaos over which we exert, frankly, very little strategic influence.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: Now, the U.S. Central Command refused to comment directly on this slide, but in a statement given to CNN, said that General John Casey, the top central commander, discusses both the reality of the situation in Iraq with his commanders -- he's been doing that for a month -- for months -- and they noted that in August he warned publicly that Iraq could move toward a civil war if the rising violence isn't stopped -- Lou.

DOBBS: Jamie, thank you.

Jamie McIntyre from the Pentagon.

Insurgents in Iraq killed one of our troops in Baghdad. The soldier was killed by a roadside bomb. He is the first soldier to be killed in Iraq this month.

2,819 of our troops have now been killed in this war since it began. Insurgents and terrorists today launched a new series of gun and bomb attacks in Baghdad one day after U.S. troops lifted a blockade against a radical Islamist neighborhood. At least 11 Iraqis were killed in those attacks. Police also found the bodies of 35 people, all apparently victims of sectarian killings.

John Roberts reports now from the Iraqi capital -- John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SR. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lou, obviously another deadly day here in Baghdad. It's what we see every day, although the violence in the last 24 hours is not what it was last week, when we saw 80 people killed across Iraq in one day.

And that total now for American deaths in the month of October, 105, just missing by two the third highest total -- monthly total. That was 107 back in January of 2005. But you can see, Lou, it's been almost two years since the level of violence against U.S. troops was that high.

A couple of words that you hear increasingly in private conversations with members of the U.S. military -- this is not yet for public consumption, but privately they will say the words "ethnic cleansing" is what's going on in the neighborhoods in Baghdad and increasingly in the towns and villages surrounding Baghdad as Shiites try to move Sunnis out of neighborhoods, Sunnis try to move Shiites out of neighborhoods.

I mean, here is how strange this whole violence is becoming. Today we learned that the head of the national basketball association here in Iraq, a Sunni, was kidnapped, along with a coach of a disabled volleyball team. And the other day a presenter on Iraqi television who deals with sports was killed as she was driving through her neighborhood, along with her bodyguard.

So, Lou, virtually no one is immune from violence here in Baghdad and the surrounding areas, as it seems to be increasing at a spectacular level. However, it still appears to be at the militia level and the death squad level. It hasn't yet devolved to the point where it's family on family.

Some of these Sunni and Shiite families have lived in neighborhoods for generations fairly peacefully. It isn't devolved to that point yet, but U.S. commanders are warning that if it does, Lou, that's when the whole thing could be lost.

DOBBS: John, thank you very much.

John Roberts reporting from Baghdad. A new CNN opinion poll tonight shows Iraq is a major issue for voters in these upcoming midterm elections. The poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation says more than 80 percent of voters believe Iraq is either extremely important or very important. Only four percent of those voters say Iraq is not important to their vote.

Senator John Kerry today tried to end the escalating controversy over his comments about the war in Iraq earlier this week. The senator said he is sorry for saying students who don't work hard could get stuck in Iraq.

Senator Kerry said, "I personally apologize to any service member, family member or American who was offended."

In a moment, we'll be going to Suzanne Malveaux at the White House for reaction there, but first we're going to John King, who is in Philadelphia tonight.

John, how is the senator's apology playing out right now on the campaign trail?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, Democrats had hoped that apology came yesterday, but tonight they are happy that it came, and they are hoping that it helps them move past the uproar you are speaking about.

You might see behind me some supporters of Republican Rick Santorum. We're just a few days away from an election, and Senator Kerry was supposed to be right here in Philadelphia tonight for a get- out-the-vote rally for the Democratic candidates in the state of Pennsylvania. This is one of three events he canceled today because of this uproar.

We were just out in the Philadelphia suburbs. I can tell you what Democrat who is happy with this apology is Patrick Murphy. He's an Iraq war veteran, he's running for a congressional seat in a very tough district.

Publicly, he was standing by Senator Kerry, although he said it's a good thing Senator Kerry has apologized so that Democrats can focus on the real issue. Among them, the issue you talked about at the top of the show, whether Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should have been long ago fired.

Another man grateful for this apology tonight is the Senate candidate here in Pennsylvania, Bob Casey. We saw him earlier today, mobbed by reporters after an event here in Philadelphia.

What did they want to ask? "Should Senator Kerry apologize? Why isn't Senator Kerry coming to your event tonight? Should you give back money you received from Senator Kerry?"

So, while publicly, again, Mr. Casey was standing by John Kerry, his campaign told Senator Kerry he would not be welcomed here tonight.

I also spoke today with a man who is no stranger to rough and tumble politics. He's the governor of Pennsylvania, the former mayor of Philadelphia, the former chairman of the Democratic Party, Ed Rendell. He called it a terrible distraction in the final few days of the campaign. Governor Rendell saying it is critical for Democrats, though, to move past whatever Senator Kerry said and put the focus on President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Forget what John Kerry said about the war in Iraq. Let's assume it was a stupid statement. Let's focus on what they've done in the war in Iraq.

They lied to us about why we were going to war. They were totally unprepared for the type of war they had to fight. They've made a total hash out of any recovery efforts, and now we have become part of the problem and there seems to be no way out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now most Democratic strategists, Lou, think this will soon pass, but they do say it could have an impact in a few of the top 20 targeted House races where it is right down to the wire, especially in conservative Republican districts. We got a glimpse of that earlier today in Kentucky.

One Republican the Democrats hope to defeat on Election Day is Ron Lewis. First lady Laura Bush was down there today. Mr. Lewis taking square aim at Senator Kerry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RON LEWIS (R), KENTUCKY: And I don't know how they do military training in Massachusetts, but we have the best and brightest right here at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So, again, Lou, the apology is welcome from Democrats tonight. I can tell you, though, they're happy he apologized, they wish he had done it yesterday.

The bottom line, though, is they are furious at Senator Kerry for doing this in the first place. They say someone with his experience should have known better than to give the Republicans an issue like this so late in the campaign. They're hoping, though, Lou, it will be over tomorrow. But even if it is, they say they lost a day or two to this -- Lou.

DOBBS: OK. John King, thank you very much, reporting from Philadelphia.

The White House tonight saying Senator Kerry's apology is the right thing to do. Before Senator Kerry delivered that apology the White House had stepped up its criticism of the senator and his remarks Monday.

Suzanne Malveaux reports from the White House -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, Republican strategists say this really was a gift for the White House, and the White House has certainly been using this to try to frame the debate, if you will, over the elections, of course, around national security. But the White House reacting to Kerry's apology.

Dana Perino, the deputy press secretary, this evening saying, "Senator Kerry's apology to the troops for his insulting comments came late, but it was the right thing to do. Our military is the best and the brightest, the most courageous and professional of any military in the world, and the president is honored to be their commander in chief."

Now, as you know, Lou, this comes after two days of the White House essentially using the Kerry controversy to make the case -- try to make the case that Democrats are weak when it comes to national security.

I asked Press Secretary Tony Snow, "With this apology, does this story go away? He was rather coy. He said, "That's up to you."

But we can tell you that Vice President Cheney, is going to be talking, addressing this Kerry controversy once again in about an hour at a Republican campaign event out of Montana -- Lou.

DOBBS: Suzanne, thank you very much.

Suzanne Malveaux from the White House.

Later in this broadcast, three of the country's top political analysts join us to assess the impact of any of the senator's remarks on this midterm election. And voter activist groups are trying to protect our democracy from flawed e-voting machines, while most election officials remain silent.

We'll have a special report on volunteers and activists who are making an important difference in this democracy.

Also tonight, many state officials are ignoring our laws. They're giving illegal aliens taxpayer-funded benefits they're not entitled to. Why?

We'll have that story.

And what in the world are our courts thinking? Two U.S. border patrol agents who simply did their jobs are given harsh sentences, while two agents who accepted huge bribes are sent to jail for just a few years.

We'll have that special report.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) DOBBS: Outrage tonight over our government's failure to protect our workers on the front lines in the fight against illegal immigration. Two U.S. border patrol agents have received six-year sentences for taking bribes.

In Oklahoma City, a state worker is under fire for doing his job following a rule that requires him to report illegal aliens if they apply for benefits.

Christine Romans reports on the Oklahoma City civil servant who has to defend himself for simply following the law.

Casey Wian, in Los Angeles tonight, reporting on unbalanced sentences handed down to convicted U.S. border patrol agents.

We begin with Christine Romans -- Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, a civil servant speaking out to us tonight on the front lines about just how easy it is for illegal aliens to get taxpayer-funded benefits.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (voice-over): Stephen Thomas is an 18-year veteran of Oklahoma Public Service, determining eligibility for public assistance benefits. But obeying the law nearly cost him his job.

STEPHEN THOMAS, OKLAHOMA DHS EMPLOYEE: A five-day suspension without pay. I was transferred to another office. And at the time I was escorted through my office in front of my peers by armed security.

ROMANS: His offense? Back in 2003 he told a man seeking food stamps that anyone in the country illegally can be reported.

THOMAS: They said that I threatened the client with our policy. And I explained to them, I did not threaten him. I was trying to explain what our reporting requirements were. And they got scared and they didn't want to apply.

ROMANS: Thomas was finally cleared of all charges last year, but his case highlights serious trouble on the front lines for taxpayer benefits. Giving food stamps to illegal aliens is illegal, but according to Thomas and workers like him, thousands are improperly receiving these benefits.

In fact, in a Department of Human Services DVD obtained by CNN, employees are instructed...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let us not be immigration police, for the lack of any other word. Let us determine our eligibility and leave other folks' responsibility to them.

ROMANS: Evidence this scandal is wider than just one employee, says Congressman. Ernest Istook, the Oklahoma Republican nominee for governor. He has demanded a federal investigation, telling the Department of Homeland Security and USDA that food stamps are routinely awarded to households headed by illegal aliens -- "... the state appears to be intimidating its employees to prevent them from personally reporting those illegal aliens."

REP. ERNEST ISTOOK (R), OKLAHOMA: The workers tell me that illegal aliens with impunity tell them, "Yes, I'm here illegally. I admit it. But can't you give me benefits and just put it in the kids' names?" And then the state doesn't turn them in.

ROMANS: Oklahoma's Department of Human Services says only American children of illegal aliens get taxpayer-funded benefits and insists there is no cost to Oklahoma taxpayers for food stamps to people in the country illegally.

But the cost to Stephen Thomas, almost $10,000 in legal fees just to keep his job.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: The agency he works for denies any allegations that employees there are intimidated. And they say their workers are trained to follow strict guidelines for issuing food stamps and for issuing other benefits -- Lou.

DOBBS: Now, will he be compensated for the time that he's lost?

ROMANS: He is petitioning to be compensated for...

DOBBS: He's petitioning?

ROMANS: ... for -- that has not been decided yet, but he's been cleared.

DOBBS: Unbelievable.

ROMANS: But there's $10,000 in legal fees. He would like to get those fees back.

DOBBS: Incredible. And the idea that there is a State Department video telling employees of that division to not follow the law.

ROMANS: We hear this over and over again, "We're not the immigration police." Even though it's very clear in the law...

DOBBS: It's their law. It's not the federal law. That's incredible.

Christine, thank you very much.

Christine Romans.

That brings us to the subject of our poll tonight. We want to know whether you believe it should be unlawful for state governments to provide taxpayer-funded social and educational benefits to illegal aliens. Yes or no?

Please cast your vote at LouDobbs.com. We'll have the results here later.

Six years for violating public trust, that's the sentence handed down to two U.S. border patrol agents who were convicted of taking bribes to allow illegal aliens to go free. But it hardly seems correct when you take a look at the case of two other agents who chased down a known drug smuggler and wounded him while in pursuit. They were sentenced to 11 and 12 years each.

Casey Wian has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former California border patrol agents Mario Alvarez (ph) and Samuel McClaren (ph) this week received six-year prison sentences for taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from Mexican smuggling gangs.

JAMES MCCLAFFIRTY, U.S. BORDER PATROL: This investigation started because several of our agents noticed some questionable behavior.

WIAN: Among the charges, releasing an illegal alien smuggler in the parking lot of this Calexico, California, Wal-Mart. U.S. attorney Carol Lam (ph) said in a statement, "These are border patrol agents who smuggled illegal aliens. It doesn't get much worse than that."

So why were their sentences so much lighter than those received by border patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean in Texas last month? Those agents pursued, shot and wounded a Mexican drug smuggler but failed to report the shooting, yet they received 11 and 12 years in prison for mistakes made trying to do their jobs.

Alvarez and McClaren, meanwhile, received half the prison time, though they admitted to taking bribes and actually helping the criminals they were supposed to apprehend.

T.J. BONNER, NATIONAL BORDER PATROL COUNCIL: I think that the sentences that the two agents in San Diego received were extremely light, especially when you consider that they knowingly and willfully violated the public trust. More troubling is the fact that two agents who were doing their job, defending themselves against a known armed drug smuggler in Texas, received sentences double that these agents received.

WIAN: Prosecutors in Texas charged Compean and Ramos under a law intended to target drug smugglers and other violent criminals, using a gun to commit a crime. It carries a mandatory 10-year prison sentence.

LAURIE LEVENSON, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Prosecutors have a lot of discretion in deciding which charges to bring. But frankly, once they decide that a law enforcement agent has crossed the line into criminal behavior, they are inclined to throw the book at them.

WIAN: Levenson says a presidential pardon is a possibility.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: Now, last week, a dozen U.S. congressmen sent a letter to President Bush asking him to pardon agents Ramos and Compean. And, of course, Congress has promised hearings into their case by the end of the year, but as of now no date has been set -- Lou.

DOBBS: And because of your reporting we know, too, that three jurors in that trial feel that they were intimidated in casting their ballot -- their vote for guilty.

Is there any follow-up investigation aside from the hearings in Congress?

WIAN: Not that we're aware of. There is an appeal ongoing.

The attorneys representing Ramos and Compean have filed a notice of appeal. They will appeal this. But legal experts don't give it much chance in the appeals court. They say the agents' best hope is a presidential pardon -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Casey.

Casey Wian.

Coming up next, voting activists, not government officials, are taking the lead in pointing out the serious problems that e-voting machines pose to the integrity of our upcoming election. We'll have that special report.

And government watchdog groups have a plan to rein in special interests, but the plan is meeting with unbelievably some resistance from incumbents.

We'll have that story.

And we'll see who will wield the power in Congress if the Democrats do well on Election Day. We'll be talking with our panel of election experts, political strategists and analysts.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Well, let's take a look at some of your thoughts.

Chuck in Indiana wrote in to say, "Lou, I'm tired of trying to figure out what the correct term is for individuals who enter our country illegally. Is it immigrant, undocumented, illegal alien, or just trespasser? I know what it would be if someone entered my yard without an invitation."

And Larry in North Carolina, "Lou, I cannot believe anyone who claims to be middle class would vote for an incumbent. My wife and I barely make $50,000 a year. With drug costs and health insurance rising so fast, we are sinking fast." And Louis in Illinois, "My son just finished his English class assignment titled 'War on the Middle Class.' While reading it I thought I'm raising another Lou Dobbs, and he doesn't even watch your show. But he sure is listening."

Send us your thoughts to LouDobbs.com. We'll have more of your thoughts here later in the broadcast.

Each of you whose e-mail is read here receives a copy of my new book, "War on the Middle Class".

Tonight, voting activists, not our government, leading the battle for voting security. They have been calling for action to fix the problems while the government is remaining silent and in denial.

Chief among the correspondents working on this story, Kitty Pilgrim. She has the details for us tonight -- Kitty.

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, these citizens are really the real heroes. Now, across the country they are demanding audits, they have mobilized groups. They have insisted on paper records of electronic votes. They have sued state governments for tighter rules. They've called out lax election officials, and they are making a difference.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM (voice-over): Who makes sure that your vote counts? In this election it's most likely a citizen activist group. For example, the Chicago Office of People for the American Way Foundation are training 3,000 students to troubleshoot problems on electronic voting machines on Election Day.

JULIE SWEET, PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY: These kids are going to be there for us, just to kind of look over the election judges' shoulders. And if they have problems, then the kids step in and they figure out how to make it work.

PILGRIM: Groups that have spearheaded the effort include VoteTrust USA, Common Cause, Mainstreet Moms, Voter Action, verifiedvoting.org, Voting Integrity Alliance, Florida Fair Elections Coalition, Cleveland Center for Election Integrity, votersunite.org, saveourvote.org, Accurate, and academic researchers at Johns Hopkins and NYU's Brennan Center.

They inspire each other. One of the founders of Florida Fair Election Coalition talks about going to the polls with Bev Harris of Black Box Voting, one of the early critics of security flaws in electronic voting.

SUSAN PYNCHON, FLORIDA FAIR ELECTION COALITION: They were taking buckets of paper trash out the back door of the elections office as they were talking to Bev inside, telling her that they didn't have the records. So I rescued those with another woman from Broward County. We rescued all those records from the trash.

PILGRIM: Activists appear on Capitol Hill wearing "Got Paper?" T-shirts, demanding a voter-verified paper trail.

At Princeton, a computer science professor, Edward Felton (ph), and two graduate students demonstrated security flaws in Diebold's computers, becoming the unofficial gold standard of safety.

This week, owners of Sequoia voting machines were asked if they would submit their equipment to Princeton for a test.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you supply them with a machine and some software to look at?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we'll take it under advisement.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Now, why do activists have to take action on their own? Many elections officials fell down on the job, they simply trusted the voting machine companies to fix any flaws. That leading to elections that are not sufficiently transparent.

If the voting machine manufacturer declares the results and election officials blindly accept them, someone has to -- has to cast a critical eye on this entire process -- Lou.

DOBBS: Citizen activists, thank god for them, because this is another case where government is just simply failing, failing the people and putting the integrity of the election at risk.

And terrific job as always. One of the principal people covering this story.

Kitty Pilgrim, thank you very much.

And this Thursday night at 9:00 p.m., tomorrow evening, the documentary "Hacking Democracy" premieres on HBO. The documentary exposes the vulnerability of our country's electronic voting systems. It's certainly important to watch, Thursday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, on HBO.

Coming up next, Democrats believe they can take back the House this year. We'll have a special report on what the Democrats will do if they win control of the Congress, at least in estimation of some.

And Congressional candidates have been asked to put the voters' interests before their own. We'll tell you why some candidates, well, they're are balking. Can you imagine?

And Iraq on the verge of chaos. U.S. strategy, on the verge of failure. Three former military commanders join us for some straight talk on this war and its conduct.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Well, this is the scenario the Democrats would dream of: waking up on November 8th and finding they've won control of both the House and the U.S. Senate. Now here are just some estimates as to what the House and Senate would look like, should the Democrats win majorities in both houses.

Andrea Koppel reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL (voice-over): They're among the most liberal politicians in America. Nancy Pelosi, Alcee Hastings, John Conyers, Henry Waxman and Charlie Rangel. And if Democrats win back the House next week, they're set to rocket to the top positions in Congress. Republicans have seized on the prospect of liberal lawmakers running the House as a way to fire up their base on the campaign trail. The president singled out New York's Charlie Rangel, though not by name.

BUSH: I think it is interesting to note that the person who wants to be to be the head of the Ways and Means Committee for the Democrats said that he can't think of one tax cut that he would extend. He said that's code word for get ready, if the Democrats take the House, your taxes are going up.

KOPPEL: Embattled Indiana Republican John Hostettler's campaign is using this radio ad to scare voters away from his Democratic opponent.

ANNOUNCER: Speaker Pelosi will reauthorize the Clinton gun ban. Give amnesty to millions of illegal aliens with Detroit liberal John Conyers, and raise taxes with New York liberal Charlie Rangel.

KOPPEL: In a recent interview with CNN, Nancy Pelosi said Democrats are for tax cuts but only for the middle class.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: We want to do things that are positive rather than tax cuts to the wealthiest people in our country, which is only taking us deeper in debt at the expense of the middle class.

KOPPEL: But a member of the House Republican leadership, Eric Cantor, told CNN, he doesn't buy it.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), VIRGINIA: We've already heard from the ranking member on the Ways and Means Committee that there is not one of the Bush tax cuts that he would support for renewal, which to me means a tax increase for many Americans to the tune of maybe $2,100 for each family.

KOPPEL: Republicans also point to other Democrats who will be in charge, like Florida's Alcee Hastings, a former federal judge impeached by the House in 1989 in an alleged bribery scheme, who could be the next chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Hastings says he did nothing wrong.

And Michigan's John Conyers, who has called for President Bush to be impeached, and until recently on his congressional Web site, demanded an investigation into what he called "administration abuses of power." And if the Democrats take power, the 21-term Michigan lawmaker would likely become the next chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL: And even though these lawmakers would become their party's public face, their clout may be limited, due to a significant number of more moderate, rank and file Democrats, Lou, who often find themselves at odds with their more liberal leadership -- Lou.

DOBBS: Andrea, always amused by this liberal/conservative thing, the idea that they would be liberal, being Democrat, and being liberal would not be exactly untoward or unexpected. I guess we could describe all of the current leaders of those committees as conservative, correct?

KOPPEL: Conservative Republicans, not necessarily. I mean, there are some Republican lawmakers, as we all know, who have more moderate voting records. But certainly, the Democrats that they're looking for these chairmanships are all extremely to the left of their party, Lou.

DOBBS: OK. Andrea, thank you very much.

Andrea Koppel from Washington.

Common Cause and other leading public interest groups tonight are demanding Congress fix this nation's broken campaign finance system. They are asking Congressional candidates to support comprehensive, public financing of election campaigns. They say it's finally time to put the public interest ahead of corporate interests.

Lisa Sylvester reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The disgraced former members of Congress, the lobbyists who bought them, the lawmakers who remain under a cloud of suspicion. They show a political system in Washington out of control. And Congress refuses to reign in the influence pedaling.

MARY BOYLE, COMMON CAUSE: Right now we have special interests that are controlling the agenda. It's their voices that are being heard, because they are giving all the campaign contributions. We think it should be the public's voice.

SYLVESTER: A group of watchdog organizations has launched a campaign to convince candidates to put voters first, ahead of special interest groups. Three hundred and fifty-nine candidates so far have signed a pledge to clean up Congress by supporting spending limits and public funding for campaigns, setting new restrictions on gifts by lobbyists and fully disclosing lobbyist contributions.

John Sarbanes is running for Maryland's third district. He has signed on. So has his opponent, John White, who has not taken a dime from political action committees.

JOHN WHITE (R), MARYLAND CONG, CANDIDATE: At least people in my district will know I'm not beholden to anyone. No ones hand is in my pocket. And I don't have a black book of people that I owe money to.

SYLVESTER: The pledge list includes Democrats and Republicans. But challengers far outnumber incumbents, by at least three to one.

BOYLE: It's a hard sell for elected officials because they are comfortable and they trust in the system that brought them there.

SYLVESTER: But it's a system that has served the few and not the many.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Common Cause is singling out and candidates who are running on a reform Washington platform but have not signed the pledge. One example, Michael Steele. He's running for a Maryland Senate seat. His campaign has featured several anti-lobbyist ads, but he has not signed the pledge after repeated invitations. And his campaign office did not return our calls -- Lou.

DOBBS: Yes, I have to say, in my opinion, Common Cause is taking on this issue at a critical time when the public interest does need to be served. The entire country has to look at the idea of clean elections, public financing, because it is the only money available that would be a countervailing influence in a political system that is now absolutely dominated by corporate America.

Lisa Sylvester, thank you very much.

Coming up next here, for weeks many Republicans, keeping their distance from President Bush. This week Democrats keeping their distance from Senator Kerry. Who are they to turn to? I'll be talking with our distinguished panel tonight about just who the candidates in both parties can turn to for national help.

Also tonight, the rising chaos in Iraq, a major issue in this election. Three retired military commanders join me for some straight talk on this war, its conduct and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's future. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: American strategy in Iraq appears to be on the brink of failure, 105 of our troops killed in Iraq last month, the fourth- highest monthly total of this war.

President Bush today insisted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should stay in his job. But three distinguished former military commanders say Rumsfeld should resign now. Those officers, former Army generals John Batiste and Paul Eaton, and former Marine Corps Colonel Thomas Hammes join us now.

Good to have you with us, gentlemen. MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Good to be with you.

DOBBS: Let me turn to you first, Colonel. The idea that president today said straightforward he should stay in that job until the end of President Bush's presidency. What's your reaction?

COL. THOMAS HAMMES, U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET.): I think that would set us up for complete failure. We already have a strategy devised in-country that works, but the administration, and particularly the Pentagon, are not supporting it. They are not providing the dollars or the people to get the job done.

DOBBS: General Eaton?

MAJ. GEN. PAUL EATON, U.S. ARMY (RET.): We have got to move this guy out. We've got to have a complete senior leadership change in the Pentagon right now in the civilian sector. And we have got to admit that we have got to shift a plan and we have a new team to do it.

DOBBS: John Batiste?

BATISTE: You know, we've got a failed state in Iraq, and it didn't need to be that way. It's all because we went to war with a tragically flawed strategy and we need to start over. We need an alternative, and that starts with fresh leadership at the top of the Department of Defense.

DOBBS: Let's show everyone what the president said today addressing that issue, John Batiste. President Bush said, quote, "I'm pleased with the progress that we're making," talking to news agencies today. "They've got what they can live with."

Do we need to send more troops to Iraq, Colonel?

BATISTE: That's ...

DOBBS: Go ahead, John.

BATISTE: That's probably the case, but I want to turn this a bit. As an American citizen, I'm not pleased with the performance of our Congress over the past five plus years to provide the oversight that they're required to do by our Constitution. And we all, as American citizens, have an opportunity on 7 November to vote and get it right.

DOBBS: Paul, what if I said to you, as an American citizen, I'm not pleased with the fact that three-and-a-half years later, with finest troops in the world, that our generals haven't gotten the job done either and I'm not too happy with the general's staff. What would you say?

EATON: Well, I would tell you that the generals -- these are good men. We all know them. I will say that they operate within the constraints imposed by this administration, operate under the constraints of a very severe and flawed secretary of defense. Now, the interface between policy and execution in the military is at the four-star rank, and we've got to get the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to subscribe to the Goldwater-Nichols Act of '86, direct contact with the president of the United States with all the advice that he can muster from the general officers.

DOBBS: Why do you think that's so critically important?

EATON: We need to hear another voice coming out of the Pentagon from a different voice from that of the secretary of defense. We need to get uniformed leadership to speak frankly to the Congress under subpoena, if we can get a Democratic Congress elected here, and get the generals to speak in public.

DOBBS: Getting the generals to speak in public, Tom Hammes, let me ask you this. The general's staff responsible, as I was just saying to Paul, for the conduct of this war. Certainly, I'm not giving anyone in the civilian leadership -- believe me -- a pass here, but the idea that we're into this insurgency for this period of time and whether or not having that direct conduct would at least lead to greater candor, why is it that we are in a situation in which there seems to be an inability to train adequately the forces?

We know that some very good people have been put in charge of those training efforts but we seem to have terrible intelligence. We seem to have a military that while adapting to this insurgency, not adapting in a way in which they can achieve a solution. What is your thinking about what the general's staff should be doing?

HAMMES: Normally, you would have about two years for a conventional force to figure it out, and it took us about that long to figure it out and begin to rewrite our doctrine. What we failed to do is make a point to Congress that you have to pay for the war and man the war and then use the right troops.

Rather than staying in our large cantonments, we need to be out providing massive numbers of advisers to Iraqis. We have a tremendously immoral situation in that we're sending both Americans and Iraqis in with insufficient equipment.

We have Americans in the United States without equipment to train. That's flat out immoral. We're the richest country in the world and we're asking people to face death, and we're not willing to spend money to support them.

DOBBS: And yet we have $469 billion appropriated, John Batiste, to carry out this war. What in the world are we doing there?

BATISTE: It's a great question, Lou. You know, our Army and Marine Corps right now are in serious trouble. If the Army had to deploy more than a couple of brigades anywhere in the world to face another problem right now, they would be hard pressed to do it.

Insufficient troops on the ground initially was the problem. Our strategy didn't account for the transition that needed to happen between attacking and zone war fighting and building the peace, peace enforcement. It didn't happen on any level, and we had to learn it the hard way.

DOBBS: And the hard way is the loss of some very good young soldiers and marines and sailors.

The idea, Paul, that this country is wrestling with a strategy right now, I don't know -- I would just like to ask any one of you to talk to this. I don't know what the strategy is on the part of the United States in Iraq for achieving victory. Do you?

EATON: We have focused so much on the military component of this thing to the detriment of our foreign policy and the diplomatic approach around the country, getting after Syria, putting our ambassador back there, putting an embassy and an ambassador in Iran to get all of those countries, all with a vested interest that we get this thing right.

The military component we have pursued endlessly and we have failed to bring the full power of the United States of America to bear on a problem that is a vital interest to this nation.

DOBBS: Is Iraq a testament to returning to the Powell doctrine? Should we have ever breached that doctrine?

EATON: Amen. The fact that we backed off from the Powell doctrine, that we let the secretary of defense come in with his agenda of lighter, leaner forces, which is not how you fight an insurgency, and we have neglected some very good input from some very qualified, young leaders with ideas on how to prosecute this war.

DOBBS: General, Paul Eaton, thanks.

BATISTE: Shame on us for violating principles of war from the beginning.

DOBBS: General John Batiste, thank you. And Thomas Hammes, thank you very much, Colonel. Appreciate it. We hope you will come back to continue the discussion. Unfortunately, it is a discussion I think we're probably going to have to continue.

Still ahead here, with Senator John Kerry's surprise apology today, Democrats breathing a little easier. I'll be talking with our political analysts and strategies about the impact and the prospects. Stay with us.

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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York. Coming up at the top of the hour, President Bush standing by his men. He says Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are both here to stay until he leaves office in January 2009.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, Iraq in turmoil. U.S. military commanders indicate Iraq is edging toward chaos if not in a civil war already. Also, John Kerry.

BLITZER: John Kerry. Some say he had foot-in-mouth disease. Republicans, even some Democrats pounding away this campaign trail gaff. He's apologized now. Is it enough?

ZAHN: And running away from President Bush. Find out why some Republicans are distancing themselves from the commander-in-chief. We'll have that, plus we'll speak with Ann Coulter and Andrew Sullivan on the election and Iraq and you will see Lou Dobbs return after this short break.

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DOBBS: Joining me now, former White House political director, Republican strategist, Ed Rollins. Errol Louis, "New York Daily News" and Democratic strategist Robert Zimmerman.

Robert, let me turn first, we've got the apology from Kerry. We've got Democratic candidates telling him to stay the heck away. His apology, he wasn't listening to your counsel here last night.

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well actually, he did apologize last night and he apologized again. As he said before, it was a botched joke. And I think the more important point is this. Obviously he's smart to stay in Washington and avoid the controversy. Republican candidates are running away from George Bush when he comes into their states. That's a factor to consider, too.

DOBBS: So basically we've got basically both parties trying to run away from their titular leaders, if not their actual leaders.

ZIMMERMAN: George Bush owes the American people an apology and that's what Democrats have to address. An apology for sending our troops into battle without armament and equipment and without strategy to win in Iraq.

DOBBS: Errol, what do you think?

ERROL LOUIS, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: I think the Democrats managed to find one of the few national politicians less popular than George Bush right now and there he was kind of mucking around.

I think when you look at his standing in the polls actually, he's running fifth right now among Democratic likely presidential prospects. He's behind Clinton, he's behind Obama, he's behind Al Gore, he's behind John Edwards right now. He needs to get back to Washington, turn off the phone, sit back and wait until after the election.

DOBBS: The likelihood isn't there, Ed, that that phone isn't going to ring anyway.

ED ROLLINS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL DIRECTOR: The phone's not going to ring. I mean, he should get back, as Don Imus told him this morning, windsurfing on the tidal basin. It's a very pleasant time now and you know, sort of remind people of why they didn't like him.

The one thing that he does, we can't build an image around Nancy Pelosi, nobody knows who Nancy Pelosi is, but we can remind people with John Kerry of the weaknesses that many people thought the Democrats had on the national fence and I think that to a certain extent is the next couple days, has worked to our benefit. And that's going to help us a little.

DOBBS: Let's turn to Tennessee. Harold Ford there among the first to call for that apology. Is that going to help him in Tennessee where he's running apparently slightly behind likely voters?

ZIMMERMAN: It's an irrelevant issue. This is the kind of issue that captivates Beltway pundits and political pundit in Washington. To the public at large, yes, I think Harold Ford was wise to do that because he doesn't need the distraction.

But to the public at large, according to the CNN poll, over 80 percent are worried about the war in Iraq or extremely worried about the war in Iraq. And this election is going to be decided not by these political side shows. They're going to be decided by the real issues that affect the middle class in this country.

ROLLINS: The issue that I want to make again, it is about the war in Iraq. It is about homeland security and it is about strength of leadership. And the one weakness the Democrats have always had and John Kerry was the leader of the party and is still a titular leader, along with Howard Dean, is are the Democrats strong enough to lead the country at a time of crisis and a time of homeland security? And that's the issue that we want.

ZIMMERMAN: And with George Bush at 37 percent approval rating, I don't think he's one to lecture anyone about leadership or for that matter, morality.

ROLLINS: We'll just basically see. We'll just basically see. You've already lost twice and we'll see. This is about congressional elections.

ZIMMERMAN: One that's decided by the Supreme Court.

DOBBS: Errol, by any standard, it is your turn to weigh in on this, you can straighten these fellows out.

LOUIS: Well, I think what we have to really keep in mind is that you have a president who is under 50 percent, under 40 percent actually as far as his popularity ratings. Last time you had somebody that unpopular who was going into a midterm election was Jimmy Carter in 1978 and they lost -- the Democrats, the ruling party at the time lost 15 seats. And 15 seats is what's needed right now to turn the House over. So from the basic standpoint, even with the Kerry gap, the Democrats are on track to do basics of what they wanted to accomplish next Tuesday.

ROLLINS: I'm glad you reminded of that great Democratic leader that they had.

ZIMMERMAN: Just make a very quick point. Democrats have to recognize that tomorrow there's going to be another personal attack on another Democrat and the day after that. We have to stay focused, not on the defensive, and stay focused on the issues that matter, how this administration deserted the health care issue. They didn't produce lobbying reform. These are real issues, not just talking points.

DOBBS: All right, let me go if I may then to the poll, our CNN poll conducted by Opinion Research. Let's take a look at extremely important issues to your vote come Tuesday. They are led just as Robert Zimmerman said by Iraq, 49 percent. Terrorism, 46 percent. Ethics in government, 37 percent. Economy, 33 percent. Immigration, 29 percent.

Errol, what do you think? Do you think that's the real deal?

LOUIS: I don't know if it's the real deal state by state. You look at individual states and there are real economic crises going on in a lot of different places. But overall, that will tell the story.

ROLLINS: The critical thing is what are the Democrats going to do about this? Let me finish. You keep saying the war, the war, the war. What are the Democrats going to do January 20 if they're in the leadership?

ZIMMERMAN: We're the only ones with a plan to stop the war.

ROLLINS: What is your plan? Tell me again what your plan is.

ZIMMERMAN: The plan is to redeploy our troops and to refocus the fight on terrorism.

ROLLINS: Redeploy them where? Where are you going to redeploy?

ZIMMERMAN: Around Kuwait and the surrounding areas. The issue is putting in lobbying reform, the Republican congressional leadership.

ROLLINS: Stay on the war.

ZIMMERMAN: I'll stay on the war. What is the plan George Bush has put forward?

DOBBS: Errol, I want to apologize here. The man has been caught in a crossfire here.

LOUIS: Yes, he has. I thought those three commanders you had on were pretty good.

ZIMMERMAN: They are, I'd agree with that.

DOBBS: They're outstanding men. Errol, thank you very much. Robert, thank you. We'll continue this.

ROLLINS: We're getting close, we have to have a little argument.

DOBBS: Absolutely, thank you. Results of our poll real quickly, 93 percent of you say it should be unlawful for state governments to provide taxpayer-funded social and educational benefits for illegal aliens. That's our broadcast for tonight. Thanks for watching. Good night from New York. "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer and Paula Zahn begins now.

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