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Congressional Democrats Oppose President Bush's New Iraq Plan; Interview With Joe Biden

Aired January 5, 2007 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou. And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.
Happening now, top Democrats launch preemptive strikes against the president as he shuffles his Iraq team and finalizes a new war strategy. Tonight, the new Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Joe Biden, says the White House effectively has given up on Iraq. I'll speak with Senator Biden.

Also this hour, his boat and his dream of sailing around the world are wrecked, but a California man is heading for safe harbor. And his relieved loved ones are speaking out this hour.

And hug, hug, kiss, kiss. It's the new thing in the new Congress where a woman now runs the show. Tonight, Jeanne Moos on the politics of puckering up.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Just days before the expected announcement of the new strategy for the war in Iraq a major shakeup at the Pentagon that's certain to impact the troubled U.S. mission. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announcing that Admiral William Fallon, head of the U.S. military's Pacific Command will replace General John Abizaid as head of the U.S. military Central Command which oversees both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And Lieutenant General David Petraeus will replace General George Casey as the chief commander of all forces in Iraq. This news coming as President Bush met with lawmakers over at the White House to discuss the war, and one top Democratic senator now saying he's convinced White House insiders at the highest levels believe it's already too late, and that the war already has been lost. The White House publicly disagrees.

We have complete coverage for you with our congressional correspondent Dana Bash. She's standing by live. But let's begin with Brian Todd. He's got more on this story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight new questions for the administration over who's on message on Iraq, even within the top levels of the White House. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Just ahead of the president's big announcement on Iraq, a crucial White House meeting with senators. A top Democrat says they leveled with Mr. Bush.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: Both Republican and Democratic senators expressed grave concern about the situation in Iraq. I personally indicated that an escalation of troop levels in Iraq was a mistake.

TODD: And as the president shakes up his combat command, new questions. Is everyone inside the White House on message on Iraq? The new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden, tells journalists he thinks some top members of the Bush administration possibly even Vice President Cheney believe the war is lost. Biden and his aides tell CNN that impression is based only on his belief that Cheney and others have to know how bad the situation is.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: I have no inside information to that effect -- none whatsoever.

TODD: Cheney's aides would not comment on Biden's remarks telling CNN Cheney's goals remain the same as the president's, a free and democratic Iraq that can govern, sustain and defend itself. But a former adviser to Republican and Democratic presidents says there may be some cracks inside the White House.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I have heard for some time now there are individuals in the administration in the military who believe we've lost it, that the best thing we can do is manage defeat. There are others in the administration who believe that victory is still possible.


TODD: Aides to two top Republican senators, one of whom has close ties to the administration, tell me they have no indications that any top White House officials believe that Iraq has lost. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting -- thank you, Brian.

And just one day after Democrats took control of Congress they're taking the gloves off when it comes to the situation in Iraq. The new House speaker and the Senate majority leader are both sending a stern message to the president that a troop surge, as it's called, would be a mistake.

Let's turn to our congressional correspondent Dana Bash -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you said it is just day two of the new Democratic-controlled Congress, and already the bipartisanship is giving way to confrontation. This afternoon the new House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, was in her hometown of Baltimore for a celebration, and there she dropped some new hints about how she and other Democrats intend to use their new power.



BASH (voice-over): The new House speaker put the president on notice. Congress will keep funding the Iraq war, but he has to better explain his policy.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: We are not going to be in a position of saying to him your plan has been successful so far. Here is a blank check for you to continue endlessly.

BASH: That, hours after Nancy Pelosi joined the new Democratic Senate majority leader warning the president in this blunt letter not to raise troop levels in Iraq. They called surging troops a serious mistake and a strategy that you have already tried and has already failed.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The surge is a bad idea. The president has said he was going to listen to his commanders. If he's listening to his commanders, he can't do this. I know he's shuffling some in and out, obviously because they're not telling him what he wants to hear.

BASH: On that the president's shakeup of his military team, the House speaker said the general now in line to take command in Iraq has an excellent reputation but has disappointed her in his latest mission.

PELOSI: General Petraeus has been in charge of the training. I think we need to see something better than we've seen from him now.

BASH: The Democrats told Mr. Bush his urgent focus should be on troop withdrawal starting in four to six months, a clear reminder the White House war strategy will now face heightened scrutiny in Congress, not just from Democrats. Republican senator and likely presidential candidate John McCain warned reported plans of a temporary surge of about 20,000 troops won't work because it's not enough.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It has to be significant and sustained. Otherwise do not do it. Otherwise, there will be more needless lost of American lives.

BASH: McCain favors committing 35,000 additional troops and even then...

MCCAIN: There is no guarantee for success in Iraq. From everything I witnessed on my most recent visit I believe that success is still possible, but it will be very difficult.


BASH: And senators of both parties got a chance to directly challenge and question the president at the White House today at a meeting there about Iraq. Senators who attended tell CNN two of them, at least, that Republicans were as skeptical and concerned about his plans to increase troop levels in Iraq as Democrats were. One senator saying that it was clear that it was a quote, "big ask" in the words of that senator to do this, and that it will be very hard for them to explain back home to their constituents -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana thanks very much -- Dana Bash reporting.

New changes also announced affecting the nation's intelligence operations. President Bush is nominating retired Vice Admiral Mike McConnell to be the new director of national intelligence, a position created only two years ago in the wake of 9/11. Mr. Bush wants the current director, John Negroponte, to be the next deputy secretary of state.

He'll replace Robert Zoellick who left the post in July to work in the private sector. Both positions require Senate confirmation. The switch is attracting special attention from some relatives of the 9/11 victims.

Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow. She's in New York with their reaction -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some 9/11 families say they are concerned that there is a change of U.S. intelligence directors after a relatively short amount of time.


SNOW (voice-over): For some Americans, President Bush's nomination of retired Vice Admiral Mike McConnell as director of national intelligence is not just one of keen interest, but a choice that affects them personally. Carie Lemack is one such person. Her mother was killed in the September 11 attacks. Since then she's kept close tabs on the DNI.

CARIE LEMACK, FOUNDER, FAMILIES OF SEPT. 11: My first thought was why did we create the DNI? It was to make sure that the gaps and the failures that led up to September 11 never happen again. And you need institutional memory. You need somebody who's going to be making the tough decisions and who's going to stick with the job.

SNOW: Former top spy John Negroponte was the first and only national intelligence director and held the job for only 20 months. Critics question how much could have been accomplished in that time. While some say the jury is out on the former top spy they are applauding the experience of his nominated successor, retired Vice Admiral McConnell. McConnell served as director of the National Security Agency during the 1990's and during the first Gulf War he became a familiar face when he served as intelligence adviser to General Colin Powell giving routine briefings on troop movements. Experts say this new post will require more than spy skills.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: This is not a James Bond job. It's more of a Bill Gates' job in terms of developing integrated systems across a wide number of agencies. SNOW: Sixteen agencies to be exact. All agree McConnell is faced with threats that are ever-changing.

LEMACK: And what are we doing to stop Osama bin Laden who has pledged to kill 4 million Americans with nuclear bomb? What are we doing to stop him from getting one of those nuclear bombs?


SNOW: The 9/11 family members say it's hard to know exactly what progress has been made in integrating the nation's spy agencies, because so much of the work is classified, but they say it is no secret that much work needs to be done and they vow an unblinking critical eye on the new spy chief -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a tough job for him. Thanks very much, Mary, for that.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. President Bush is looking for a new lawyer. White House counsel Harriet Miers resigned yesterday. Some see it as part of a remake of the president's legal team as he gets ready to face the new Democratic Congress looking toward investigations. Miers led an office that would have overseen any potential legal clashes, if the Democrats decide to start using their subpoena power to look into anything from detainee policy to connections to Iraq contractors, the response to Hurricane Katrina and the domestic spying program.

"The Washington Post" reports that Bush advisers decided Miers wasn't ready for such a tough fight. One senior Republican adviser says the White House knew they needed to get a tough street fighter and they were getting advice like this -- we quote here. "You guys better lawyer up and lawyer up in the right way. You better understand the need and the peril and the urgency. You need somebody as tough as Clinton aides Harold Ickes or Bruce Lindsey because they're coming for you.

So here's the question -- who should be President Bush's new lawyer? E-mail your thoughts on that to or go to

BLITZER: There are some pretty tough Republican lawyers here in town as well. Let's see what happens, Jack. Thanks very much for that.

Coming up, Senator Joe Biden's provocative claim that many in the Bush administration simply believe Iraq already has been lost. The new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is our guest. That's coming up next.

And Arnold Schwarzenegger limps to his inauguration but he's on solid political footing. Does the California governor know something other Republicans should know? And loved ones celebrate a sailor's rescue after three days adrift. We're going to tell you what's happening right now in this survival story.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: President Bush has said the United States can't accept anything short of victory in Iraq, but a powerful Democrat believes that privately some top White House officials have a very different take on the war.

And joining us now, the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden, Democrat of Delaware. Mr. Chairman, congratulations. Thanks very much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: I woke up this morning; read this interview you granted to "The Washington Post." Let me read one line from it. I have reached...

BIDEN: Sure.

BLITZER: ... the tentative conclusion that a significant portion of this administration maybe even including the vice president believes Iraq is lost. That's a pretty shocking statement. Give us the context. Tell us what you know.

BIDEN: Well, let me tell what you I think. As I said, I have a tentative conclusion. I start with the premise that Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld are very smart guys. I've known them and worked around them and with them for the last 30 years. They're very bright. I could not believe and we've been on your show and talked about this, that the last three years they actually felt we were making progress. I could not believe the assertions about them saying we've trained up Iraqis and we're doing so well that they actually believed.

And so I've reached the conclusion that they had to know how bad things were, but they had to have reached the conclusion of one or two conclusions. Either the radical change necessary in order to get this back on the right path was something they weren't willing to recommend, or, two, they concluded that the best thing to do is keep this stitched together and hand it off to the next president. And that's the tentative conclusion I have reached, because these are very smart guys...

BLITZER: So are you just surmising this based on...

BIDEN: I'm surmising this.

BLITZER: You have no inside information that... BIDEN: I have no inside information to that effect, none whatsoever. Here they are at a time now where they're basically rejecting the recommendation of everybody in the world. Everybody in the United States that has made that they have respect for. The Baker/Hamilton Commission, the recommendations made by their own military, et cetera, and I think it's very difficult for them to change policy. The idea -- I don't think they're willing to take a risk on talking to Iran.

I don't think they're willing to take the risk on engaging Syria. I don't think they're willing to take the risk on putting more pressure on the government to -- in Iraq to take over more responsibility and, therefore, because they're not willing to take the risk and they have no real alternative, 30, 20, 15,000 troops are not -- emphasize -- are not alone going to change the situation on the ground. And so I think they have to know that.

BLITZER: So here's the question, Senator. What can you do about it? If it's not going to make any difference and more Americans are simply going to die in the process over the next year or two, even if there is this so-called surge, what can you as the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee do to stop that, if, in fact, you feel strongly that it is over and it's a waste of time and energy and lives?

BIDEN: Well, by the way, see, I don't think it's over in the sense that I think we should take those radical steps, those chances recommended by the Baker/Hamilton Commission, the chances recommended by me and Les Gelb and others, they're taking a chance. They're a significant alteration of course. They're not willing to do that, obviously. So what can I do to stop them continuing to sort of incrementally go at this thing by adding another 15,000 to 30,000 troops?

The honest to God answer, Wolf, is nothing. The reason I spoke out between Christmas and New Year's in my opposition was in the hope that my voice might be added to those of Secretary Powell and others to dissuade them from taking this step. So one was to try to have joined the chorus of those opposing this and hopefully maybe they'd reconsider. That seems not to have worked.

BLITZER: You do have...

BIDEN: The second thing...

BLITZER: You do have one option, as you know. That's the power of the purse to stop funding the war, if you will.

BIDEN: The truth is that's not a real option. Wolf, the idea that -- I was there when we tried that during the Vietnam War -- it is a very -- it is a very blunt instrument that does not work very well. You have to cut off all funding, not just for the war. The president can still steam folks in to the region. The fuel that goes in to the aircraft carriers from which the aircraft fly off of, the tanks and the rest. You can not say as a practical matter, we're going to cut off the money for the bullets and the rifles of the young men they -- and women, that they say are going to stay there.

It's a false threat. What will change things in my view, Wolf, and the reason why I'm holding these extensive hearings with Senator Lugar in the Foreign Relations Committee is to lay out the reasonable options that are laid out there by others who may have a different path for us to get a more positive result, and to bring along and show that there's not just Democrats but a significant number of Republicans who do not support essentially staying the course and adding 15 or 20,000 more troops.

I believe the only thing that will ultimately change the president's mind, and that is to make a radical change in course is if, in fact, he looks out there and sees that the bulk of the Republican senators no longer support his position. That's the political reality.

BLITZER: Senator Joe Biden speaking with me earlier. He's also going to be holding hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next Thursday. Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, will be testifying, and Senator Biden also told me that he's going to be creating a committee to run for president by the end of this month.

Still ahead tonight right here in THE SITUATION ROOM he used to be an action movie hero but today limping on crutches he appeared anything but, still we'll tell you why Arnold Schwarzenegger's big day in California could be a lesson for other Republicans.

And he's an American who was lost at sea for three days. We'll have the latest on what's happening with him now. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Let's check back with CNN's Fredricka Whitfield for a closer look at some other important stories making news -- hi, Fred.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, Wolf. Late today a New Orleans judge set bail for three city police officers and one former officer charged with murder in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The four are charged with killing two men and wounding four others on the Danziger Bridge over the city's industrial canal. The four will be required to wear electronic ankle monitors and remain under house arrest.

A third storm in as many weeks is dumping more snow on eastern Colorado. In the foothills just west of Denver a foot of new snow fell in some areas. In rural areas east of the city officials say strong winds and drifts as high as 10 feet are making it difficult to clear roads and highways. The storm is headed toward hard-hit areas of western Kansas and Nebraska where 10,000 homes are still without power.

And just a short time ago the inflatable roof over an indoor stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia collapsed. Witnesses say wind appeared to rip a hole in the roof of the BC Place Stadium releasing pressure and causing it to deflate. The stadium hosts concerts and sporting events and is slated to be the sight of the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics. It was not in use at the time and so there were no injuries reported -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's good news on that front. Thanks very much, Fred, for that.

Just ahead, another take on the question has the Bush administration given up on Iraq? I'll ask a top Pentagon reporter, Tom Ricks, the author of the best selling book "Fiasco" for a "Reality Check". You'll want to see this.

And later, sealed with a kiss -- is Congress ready to embrace Nancy Pelosi's warmer and fuzzier way of greeting colleagues? Stay with us.


BLITZER: To our viewers here in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information arriving all the time. Happening now -- resist the urge to surge. That's what the top Democrats in the Congress are telling President Bush saying the idea of sending more troops to Iraq is one that's already been tried and has already failed.

Count him in -- Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas wants to be president, and an aide says he'll announce his intention in a few weeks. The senator filed papers for a presidential exploratory committee last month.

Start looking for gas prices to go down soon. Because of falling oil prices, analysts say prices are set to fall and that you may even see cheaper prices this weekend.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that Lieutenant General David Petraeus will replace General George Casey as the chief commander in Iraq. How will his leadership differ and what difference can it make for the troubled U.S. military mission in Iraq?

Once again let's turn to our Brian Todd -- Brian.

TODD: Wolf, America's new top general in Iraq has a reputation as an innovative optimistic and determined commander. From all indications he'll need to tap in to every bit of that.


TODD (voice-over): Mounting casualties at a key turning point. Will General David Petraeus take the fight to the insurgents any differently than his predecessor, General George Casey, or will the much-anticipated surge in troops be a surge to defeat?

LT. COL. ROBERT MAGINNIS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): I see Petraeus as more complex, imaginative, someone that is willing to take risks. He'll do things with a smile but he's vicious behind the scenes. TODD: Two Army veterans who know this Princeton and West Point educated officer tell us he's got the intellect, background and backbone for what will likely be a very tough new phase of combat.

GEN. DAVID GRANGE, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I do believe he has to take on a different way and I think he is aggressive enough to do so.

TODD: By most accounts, Petraeus knows this kind of fight. He led the first efforts to train Iraqi forces. And just signed off on a lengthy new army field manual on counterinsurgency.

One key passage, quote, "killing insurgents, while necessary, by itself cannot defeat an insurgency. Gaining the initiative," it says, "involves securing and controlling the local populace and providing for essential services."

In an Internet article he wrote for the army a year ago, Petraeus said "money is ammunition." A reference to what won him hearts and minds when he commanded U.S. forces in northern Iraq early in the war.

LT. COL. ROBERT MAGINNIS, U.S. ARMY (RET): I was in Mosul in 2003 when he was there, enthusiastically showed his cement plant, all the small businesses he started.


TODD: Those who know him say with that experience in Mosul and in training the Iraqi army, David Petraeus understands the cultural complexities of Iraq. But one retired officer told me he wishes Petraeus would have been put in place maybe two years ago. And he wonders if it's not too late now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I've interviewed him. And I can assure you and our viewers he's a very, very smart guy. Thanks very much, Brian, for that.

Meanwhile, we're tracking another important angle about Iraq, as you've just heard, Democratic Senator Joe Biden says he thinks some top Bush administration officials, perhaps even including the vice president himself, have privately decided that Iraq is lost. Something the White House disputes.

We want to talk a little more about that as well as this major shakeup underway involving key military figures.


BLITZER: Joining us is Tom Ricks of the "Washington Post."

He's the author of the best-selling book, "Fiasco."

You recently traveled to Iraq with the new secretary of defense, Robert Gates.

Tom, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Well, what do you think, first of all, about this notion that top administration officials may already have concluded, you know what? It's over. The U.S. is not going to achieve its objectives and it's only a matter of time?

Have you heard anything like that in all your reporting?

RICKS: I really haven't. But it is clear that they expect to be in Iraq longer than just the next two years. So, yes, it's sort of a plain fact that this is now becoming a problem for the next president, more than it is for the current one, that the next president is going to be the person who ultimately decides what the U.S. does in Iraq.

BLITZER: Well, explain that, because I'm a little confused. There's still two years left.

You don't think over the next two years they can do whatever is necessary to try to resolve this situation in Iraq and see U.S. forces, at least many of them, come home?

RICKS: Yes, I think you could do that. That's kind of what the Iraq Study Group recommended -- bring your troop presence down to about 70,000 and use those troops to emphasize training and security for the new Iraqi government.

But even so, that posits that you're going to have troops in Iraq for many, many years to come and everybody thinks that as long as you're going to have troops in Iraq, there will be some fighting going on.

So, you might get a much better situation -- it's doubtful, but you might have a much better situation with the changes that we see coming in the coming months. But even so, I think there's a general expectation of the U.S. military that troops will be there for many more years.

BLITZER: Because you've heard a lot of the critics say, you know what?

They've tried this so-called surge, they've brought up the numbers of troops in the Baghdad area, in the Al Anbar Province and guess what?

It hasn't achieved the goals. And just to throw another 20,000 or so more troops into the situation, merely would endanger them without really achieving much.

RICKS: There's a real concern about that in the U.S. military. And even John McCain, who is an advocate of a surge, was saying today at a speech that I attended, that if you had the kind of small surge that the indications are that the Bush administration is contemplating, that is, 10,000 to 20,000 troops for just a few moments, McCain was saying he didn't think that would do much, and, in fact, would be kind of dangerous and sort of the worst of both worlds, having a surge but not much of enough of a surge to really do anything.

BLITZER: Whatever happened to the notion of overwhelming force?

You and I covered the first Gulf War. The U.S. deployed a half a million troops to liberate a small country like Kuwait, which the Iraqis had occupied. Colin Powell wanted to use that overwhelming force to get the job done quickly.

In this particular case, Donald Rumsfeld wanted a leaner, meaner, if you will, military machine.

Why not simply build up the U.S. presence to 300,000, 400,000 and see if he can resolve it once and for all?

You hear that from some advocates.

RICKS: Well, it worked back in '91, when you and I were both dealing with the first Gulf War, because it was a short, sharp war, a blitzkrieg like war and the ground aspect lasted just a few weeks.

We are now in a war that's into its fourth year. This war in Iraq has gone on longer for the U.S. military than World War II did.

So if you're going to have those type of troop numbers, 300,000 to 400,000, you would have to have a much, much bigger military.

Basically, everybody in the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps is either in Iraq, getting ready to go to Iraq or just back from Iraq. That's the life they live. I know guys who are coming back here and being home for only 10 months before they head back out again. That's their life for the least three years.

So it's one thing to have 400,000 troops for four weeks. It's another thing to have 400,000 troops for four years. You would really have to change the size of our military to do that.

BLITZER: In other words, we can't do today what we could do 15 or 17 years ago, given the nature of the size of the Marine Corps and the Army.

Let me get, briefly, into this -- the shuffle of the command structure in Iraq. General Abizaid retiring. General Casey leaving and becoming the Army chief of staff.

Critics are already saying you know what?

They're simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, that this isn't going to make a big difference.

You know all these guys.

What do you think?

RICKS: Well, I do. I know some of them pretty well. I wouldn't see it as a house cleaning, but I think it is significant for a couple of reasons. First, by promoting General Casey to be the Army chief of staff, for the first time, we'll have an Iraq veteran sitting on the joint chiefs of staff. And that's going to give him a very big voice in deliberations at the Pentagon and in talking to the president at the White House, both the current president and the next one.

Also, by having an admiral take over Central Command from General Abizaid, that gives Army General Petraeus in Iraq a lot more running room. He's going to be the top Army dog out there in that fight. And so I think Petraeus is going to have a lot more maneuverability than, say, Casey had, serving under another Army general, Abizaid.

So it's going to be interesting in both those respects, to see the role that Casey plays back in Washington and the larger role that Petraeus is being given in Iraq.

BLITZER: Tom Ricks writes for the "Washington Post."

He's written a brilliant book entitled "Fiasco." If you haven't read it and if you're interested in the war in Iraq, as you should be, you should read it.

Tom, thanks very much for coming in.

RICKS: You're welcome.


BLITZER: And still ahead tonight, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sworn in for his first full term on crutches. We're going to take you live to Sacramento for a look at his inauguration.

Plus, details of a dramatic rescue at sea of an American sailor adrift and alone on his disabled boat hundreds of miles from shore.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Arnold Schwarzenegger actually limped to his inaugural on crutches today, but the California governor may be politically stronger than ever after mining some important middle ground. The Republican told supporters at his swearing-in ceremony that "centrist" -- and I'm quoting now -- "does not mean weak."

Let's turn to CNN's Peter Viles. He's in the California capital of Sacramento with more -- Peter.

PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf. A remarkable performance by the governor today for a couple of reasons. One, we weren't certain this morning whether he'd be able to stand up. Remember, he'd broke his leg in a skiing accident, had major surgery on the leg. He was there on crutches. He managed to stand up long enough, 15 minutes, to give a remarkable speech.

He started by talking about a big mistake he made in the middle of his first term, where he said he, quote, "took the wrong approach. He called it a failure. This is when he went to war against the state employee unions and lost in that special election. He said he learned from that.

He learned that Californians are hungry for a new kind of politics, he said a politics that puts aside old arguments between the parties.


GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: They'll like some of the Republican ideas, but then they also like some of the Democratic ideas. And then at the same time, they think that some Republican ideas are too far to the right and they think some of the Democratic ideas are too far to the left. And they rightly know that if you just stick to one party's proposals, you miss half of the good ideas.


VILES: Now, we've all heard speeches like this from politicians before, Wolf, and then usually you get a call for broad bipartisanship. Bipartisanship is a way of saying to both parties, you're great, you're strong, you have good ideas.

This governor did not call for bipartisanship. He said, we need to move beyond that, not bipartisanship where the parties are important. We need to move to where the ideas are important and something he calls post-partisanship.


SCHWARZENEGGER: We don't need the Republican roads or Democratic roads. We need roads. We don't need Republican health care or Democratic health care. We need health care.

We don't need Republican clean air...


SCHWARZENEGGER: ... or Democratic clean air. We all breathe the same air.


VILES: On the environment, Wolf, there was also a very barbed message in this speech for those in the Republican Party and in the Bush administration who don't believe the case for global warming has been proving.

On that issue, the governor said, look, if you have a child who is sick with a fever and the fever is getting worse, and you go to 100 doctors and two of them say your child is OK, and the other 98 say your child is sick and needs medical attention right now, who are you going to listen to? He says he's going to listen to the people that say global warming is a pressing concern and the government needs to act immediately -- Wolf. BLITZER: Peter Viles, our man on the scene in Sacramento. Thank you, Peter, for that.

Safe and sound. Right now an American sailor is said to be doing just find after being stranded at sea for three days.

CNN's Chris Lawrence is joining us from California with more on the man's ordeal -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Ken Barnes' rescue came just in time with his supplies and his satellite phone battery both running low.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Rescued off the southern tip of South America Friday, an American sailor called his girlfriend and family back home.

KEN BARNES, RESCUED FROM BOAT: I'm on the fishing boat. (INAUDIBLE). And I'm OK. Everything's OK and I should be there in about a day or two.


K. BARNES: Can you still hear me?

CHAMBERS: Yes. Can you please get some sleep?

LAWRENCE: Ken Barnes is speeding back to shore thanks to an international rescue effort. The Chilean Navy sending a search plane to find a distress beacon that guided a nearby fishing boat to Barnes. His family is relieved to know he'll be home in a few days.

CHAMBERS: But I won't feel that until he's in this house.

LAWRENCE: Barnes left Long Beach, California in late October and planned to spend eight to nine months at sea. He was fulfilling a lifelong dream to circumnavigate the earth alone. But some 500 miles off the coast of Chile, he ran into a horrible storm. It destroyed his mast and steering, crippled his engine. He took on water, and drifted for three days while nursing a deep gouge in his leg.

BRITTNEY BARNES, DAUGHTER OF KEN BARNES: It's sad that he didn't make it all the way, but at least he tried his best and he can't predict the weather. He's a good sailor and he was well prepared. You just can't predict the weather and it's bad down there.

LAWRENCE: The area around Cape Horn has been called "The Graveyard." And for Ken Barnes, it very nearly was.


LAWRENCE: Barnes' family says it's OK if he still wants to sail, but from now on, he's going have to do it much, much closer to home -- Wolf. BLITZER: Good idea, Chris. Thank you very much for that.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton. She also has been following Barnes' rescue online -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, Ken Barnes entire trip, the month, if not years planning and right up until this rescue all chronicled online at Ken Barnes' Web site. This is which has been updated throughout today by friends with these pictures, the Chilean Navy working in conjunction with the crew of that fishing vessel, arriving at Ken Barnes' boat today.

That's what it looked like. This is what it looked like before, now, with both those masts snapped off because of that storm.

There was another Web site also tracking this, that of Donna Lange, another solo sailor who was in the vicinity. She was unable to get to Ken Barnes' vessel, but now we hear he is heading home -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, let's wish him the best. Thank you for that.

Up ahead, is there a new touchy-feely atmosphere on Capitol Hill? Jeanne Moos reports on the kissing that's going on in Congress.

But first, Jack Cafferty is asking, who should be President Bush's new lawyer? Your e-mail and Jack after this.


BLITZER: More than anything, the war in Iraq has come to define the Bush presidency. But is the president running out of time?

Our special correspondent Frank Sesno is here with more -- Frank.

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: In a word: maybe. Look at this week. Democrats are in. They're already second guessing the surge strategy. The President is supposed to be announcing, along with other things next week. Look at the polls. Nearly three quarters of Americans say they don't think the president has plan. So not much running room and not much time.


SESNO (voice-over): There have been storm clouds before. A few years ago when things were looking bleak, this president rebounded. They called him the "Comeback Kid."

Now time is running out for this president. And at this point, George W. Bush may be the "Last Chance Kid," facing a last chance to shape policy at home and abroad.

He's not talking that way, of course.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Together, we have important things to do. SESNO: And he wrote in "The Wall Street Journal," there's "plenty of time" with only a quarter of his presidency left.

In Congress, the new House speaker accepted the gavel.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: In the spirit of partnership, not partisanship.

SESNO: But no one in this town thinks that will last very long. And nowhere is the last chance more important than in Iraq.

The focus is on troop strength -- up, down, by how much. But the real issue, military experts say, is not how many, but toward what end, what will they do, and what else is happening?

So the White House is positioning the president's pending Iraq initiative in the broadest terms. It will be strategic, they say, not just about a troop surge, a term they hate.

There will be new leadership, a new general in charge in Iraq, a new admiral at CENTCOM, and a new ambassador in Baghdad.

The president also wants hard decisions and hard commitments from the Iraqis. A nearly two-hour video conference call with the prime minister just yesterday, a last chance.

Because they can talk partnership all they want, but the political tide is coming in fast. The new Congress, an anxious public, and presidential politics already at warp speed.

The "Last Chance Kid" loves sports. And He has his eye on the game clock.


SESNO: And, of course, the game clock is ticking, Wolf, but never, ever underestimate the power of the presidency and I think that what we're going to see next week is a very deliberate effort to put the Iraq -- the next step for Iraq in a very strategic sense, to tie it not just to the military activities, but to diplomatic and political activities on the ground and elsewhere.

The question is, whether the Congress and the public and the chattering glasses, anybody else will look at anything other than troop strength, numbers.

BLITZER: Frank Sesno, thanks for coming in. We'll see you next week. Frank Sesno, our special correspondent.

Jack Cafferty in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: White House counsel Harriet Miers resigned yesterday, and some see that as part of a remake of the president's legal team as he gets ready to face the new Democratic Congress who might be looking towards investigations.

So our question was, who should be President Bush's new lawyer?

The most popular answer we got was this guy, Chris in St. Charles, Missouri: "I think President Bush would have to find some way to exhume the corpse of Johnnie Cochran. I doubt there's a lawyer in the world with the skills to get Bush out of the hole he's dug himself in."

Florence in Las Vegas: "I think he should get the same lawyer the average, middle class American can afford under his administration, a public defender."

Richard in Montreal: "In answer to your question, I think Alan Dershowitz would be the perfect choice because he can find an argument to justify anything."

Arthur in Palm Springs, California: "Bruce Cutler. Look what a great job he did for John Gotti."

Bill in Pennsylvania: "President Bush needs a new, tough lawyer, a no-brainer. The toughest in the business, Hillary."

And Al in Port Orchard, Washington: "I think he ought to pick Saddam Hussein's lawyer now that he needs a new client." That's cold.

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to and read some more of them online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, there's no indication yet who that lawyer's going to be but it's clearly for these final two years for the president a critical selection.

CAFFERTY: Well, and judging by everything that's being talked about on Capitol Hill with the Democrats coming in, he's going to need one.

BLITZER: All right, jack. Have a great weekend. Thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: You too.

BLITZER: Let's find out what's coming up right at the top of the hour in a few minutes. That means Paula is standing by.

Hi, Paula.


We will shine a light on America's hidden secrets, bringing intolerance out in the open tonight. A noose left where a cable TV company's black employees were sure to see it hanging.

Also out in the open tonight, the new, stricter rules for Americans who want to adopt babies in China. Should what you weigh or how you look really determine whether you can adopt a baby or not? We'll bring the details out in the open tonight coming up at the top of the hour. Hope to see you then. BLITZER: You'll see me. Thanks very much, Paula, for that.

Up ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the kiss on Capitol Hill. Some members of Congress are changing the way they greet the new House speaker. Only our Jeanne Moos will have this special look. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Nice night here in the nation's Capitol.

Let's take a look at some of the hot shots coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be your hometown newspapers tomorrow.

In Lahore, Pakistan, protesters burn an American flag to condemn Saddam Hussein's execution.

In Wrightstown, New Jersey, members of the Patriot Guard salute during the funeral for Army Private First Class Eric R. Wilkes (ph). Wilkes died Christmas morning from injuries he sustained in Iraq.

A Belarusian feeds sparrows with seeds from his tongue today in Minsk.

And in India, elephants line up for the opening ceremony of an elephant festival. The three-day event aims to create awareness for reducing threats against the species. Some of today's hot shots. Pictures often worth 1,000 words.

Something's going on here in Washington. Now that there's been a shift in who controls the Congress, there's also been a change in greetings for some power brokers.

Our Jeanne Moos takes a look.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pucker up and prepare for the kissing Congress. The new 110th Congress probably saw more kisses in a single day than the 109th saw in a year. There were kisses blown and kisses accompanied by whispers, kisses to the right, kisses to the left, group hugs with kisses.

When the speaker was a guy, all there were handshakes, maybe a manly arm around a shoulder. But Nancy Pelosi was tenderly touching faces pre-kiss, with a new touchy-feely Congress.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), OHIO: To the first woman speaker in our history, the gentlelady from California, Nancy Pelosi.

MOOS: There the gentlewoman was, gently embracing the man she's replacing. Kissing men, kissing women. When a male politician kisses another male, they get their picture in the paper or used by the opposition, as Joe Lieberman found out after he was buzzed by President Bush and his fellow Democrats held it against him. Even kissing your wife carries risks. Remember how Al Gore was flayed for this passionate display?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There haven't been this many lips flapping about a liplock since Ellen's famous TV kiss.

MOOS: On the "Tonight Show," they recreated the kiss.

JAY LENO, "TONIGHT SHOW" HOST: Hey, what are you doing? Al! Hey, Al!

MOOS: Poor male politicians get mocked even if they just hold hands with a crown prince.


MOOS: And God forbid the president massage Germany's female chancellor. And the Bush backrub even became a game on the Internet. The other day when the two met...

BUSH: No backrubs.

MOOS: ... the president was still atoning for his act five months after the fact.

In politics, physical contact is so tricky, you can hear President Bush ask whether he should kiss Condoleezza Rice at her swearing in.

BUSH: Am I supposed to kiss you?

MOOS: He got the go-ahead.

Of course, it's all right for politicians to kiss kids, unless you're Russia's president kissing a little boy's belly button. That pushes people's buttons.

The feminine influence was all over the new House as kids overran it. And even as Nancy Pelosi cradled one of her grandkids, that didn't deter colleagues from kissing.

You can kiss the 109th Congress good-bye and the 110th hello.


MOOS: Make way for puckering Pelosi.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Only Jeanne Moos can do that.

This programming note: Sunday on "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk, my exclusive interview with Iraq's Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser.

Also senators Trent Lott and Barbara Boxer and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, all of that begins 11:00 a.m. Eastern, two hours Sundays, "LATE EDITION."

Until then, thanks very much for joining us. "PAULA ZAHN NOW" starts right now -- Paula.


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