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THE SITUATION ROOM

Democrats Figuring Out What To Do With New Majority Power To Oppose War; Final Preparations Underway For President's Speech Tomorrow Night; Bloody Battle in Baghdad; Democrats Hope To Implement 9/11 Commission Recommendations; Edward Kennedy Interview

Aired January 9, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: 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 today's top stories.
Happening now, intense warfare right in the heart of Baghdad. U.S. troops are in the thick of the fight on the eve of the president's big Iraq speech.

Are American forces in the combat zone counting on getting reinforcements?

Also this hour, Democrats struggling with their response to Mr. Bush's new war plan. I'll ask Senator Ted Kennedy about his call for Congress sign off on any troop increase and whether he's at odds with any of his party's leaders.

Plus, House members start the clock on their first 100 hours.

Is it a time frame for real action or simply a political stunt?

We'll get a reality check.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A leading Democratic critic of the Iraq War is laying down the gauntlet today for the president less than 48 hours before Mr. Bush unveils his next moves in Iraq.

Senator Ted Kennedy says the president should be required to get approval -- Congressional approval -- before he can boost troop levels. Kennedy's call is further complicating Democrats' efforts to forge a unified response to Mr. Bush's new battle plan.

My interview with the senior senator from Massachusetts. That's coming up this hour.

In Iraq today, another vivid reminder of the huge challenges for military and political leaders there, as well as right here in Washington. About 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi forces battled insurgents in some of the fiercest fighting in Baghdad in months.

CNN's Michael Holmes is in the Iraqi capital. Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, also standing by.

But first to our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, with more on what's going on, on the eve of the president's big speech -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what's happening is that Democrats are really wrestling with just how they are going to use the power that they have in the majority, how aggressive they're going to be in challenging the president's plan on Iraq. And that really is giving an early test to their discipline and unity.

Just a short while ago, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, announced that there will be a Senate debate and a vote on a resolution, a non-binding resolution, that would say that they disapprove of the president's plan to boost troop levels in Iraq.

But there are some, especially those on the left, who say that is not why Democrats were elected and a symbolic resolution doesn't go far enough.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): If the president wants to send more troops to Iraq and spend billions more dollars to support them, Democrat Ted Kennedy says Congress must first vote on it.

SEN. TED KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Let the American people hear yes or no, where their elected representatives stand one of the greatest challenges of our time. Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam.

BASH: The liberal Senate veteran is not just challenging the president, but also fellow Democrats, scrambling behind-the-scenes to figure out how far they can and should go with their new majority power to oppose the war.

KENNEDY: We cannot simply speak out against an escalation of troops in Iraq. We must act to prevent it.

BASH: But instead of Kennedy's hard-hitting approach, the majority leader announced the Senate would vote on a symbolic resolution opposing more troops in Iraq.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: If there is a bipartisan resolution saying we don't support this escalation of the war, the president's going to have to take not of that.

BASH: Republican leaders are urging caution.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: I think it is inappropriate for the Congress to try to micro-manage, in effect, the tactics in a military conflict.

BASH: But the president can no longer rely on a GOP firewall of support. Republican Senator Gordon Smith, who recently soured on the war, tells CNN he thinks Kennedy's idea for a new Congressional authorization is a good one. SEN. GORDON SMITH (R), OREGON: But the more the Congress can be involved I NATO decision-making, the better. And that's what the American people are asking for. They're going to hold us accountable. Then let's have the tools of accountability, so we can be held responsible.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: For now, Democrats say their main focus will be to scrutinize the president's Iraq plan in hearings, and those will start later this week. And there is still a lot of debates, though, behind- the-scenes, Wolf, on whether or not Democrats can or should block any additional funding for those additional troops.

And what they are saying behind the scenes, especially somebody like Senator Kennedy, is, you know, if you wait too long, perhaps the troops will already be in the field and then Democrats will be in the untenable political position that they have been all along, by saying, you know, we want to stop this, we might even want to cut off funding, but we simply don't want to do that because that will harm men and women who are already in combat -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thank you very much.

Dana Bash on the Hill.

And I sat down with Senator Kennedy this afternoon. I asked him about his call for Congressional approval of any increase in U.S. troop levels in Iraq. My one-on-one interview, the complete interview with Senator Kennedy, that's coming up this hour. We're only moments away from that.

Let's go to the White House, though, first, and the final preparations now underway for the president's speech tomorrow night and the tough sell he'll try to make.

We'll turn to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I've been talking with sources all day who are familiar with the president's plan here, "The New Way Forward," it is called. And they confirm that the president is calling for an additional 20,000 U.S. troops to be phased in to Baghdad and the area, that there will be a contingency force in Kuwait, as well.

And there are two big differences, they say, from the other failed plans of trying to secure Baghdad.

The first one, they say, is that Iraqi President Nuri al-Maliki has committed to Bush a flood of Iraqi troops to be brought in with U.S. forces. Wolf, one U.S. source saying that there will be a big redeployment of Iraqi troops from other areas into the capital city, who will partner with American forces within a matter of weeks -- not months, but within a matter of weeks; that being a very important point. The other one, of course, is that they say the other difference is that Maliki has personally reassured President Bush that the -- what he says the rules of engagement for Iraqi troops will change; that is, that they will go after the Shiite militia associated with the powerful leader, Muqtada al-Sadr; that the president is confident, that he is optimistic that Maliki will, in fact, carry out that pledge.

Now, while the White House is not giving any details about this, we heard earlier from officials who are also expressing faith.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Iraqis understand that they have -- that it is important for them to step up and succeed. Again, the end point of this -- when we talk about the president's policy, what you're aiming at is an Iraqi government that's fully capable of handling all the responsibilities, from the rule of law to security to economic rules and so on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, certainly everyone is not convinced that the Maliki government really is going to follow through. One of Reid's (ph) sources familiar with deliberations over the plan say that there is concern inside the office of the joint chiefs, real doubt whether or not this strategy makes sense or will be adequate. Inside the Pentagon, a source telling me, he described the mood as anxious, as nervous. He said like taking a deep breath before you take that roller coaster ride.

The point they're making here is they don't believe the military component really is the most important one, but it's all the other things, as well -- economic, reconstruction. There will be a $1 billion jobs plan for Iraqis. That they certainly hope, the administration's thinking is -- proves that the United States, this administration is committed to the success of Maliki's government and that this, this time, is the best chance for Maliki to achieve that success -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the first test for him will be to see if he cracks down on Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, fellow Shiites. If he doesn't, that first test will have been a failure on the part of the Iraqi government from the Bush administration's perspective.

Thanks, Suzanne, very much.

Suzanne Malveaux, Dana Bash, as you know, they are part of the best political team on television.

And this important note. Stay right here on CNN for complete coverage of the president's Iraq speech tomorrow night. Paula Zahn will be joining me and the best political team on television for our two hour special, beginning right here in THE SITUATION ROOM at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

And remember, for all the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.

Let's go to Baghdad now for the latest on the especially fierce fighting in the Iraqi capital today.

CNN's Michael Holmes is there -- Michael.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as the U.S. contemplates more troops coming here, a dramatic example of what those troops would face -- disparate groups with varying agendas, but a common enemy. And that played out on the streets of the capital today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES (voice-over): U.S. jets screamed overhead. Apache strike helicopters fired missiles, all in the heart of Baghdad. The battlefield was the Haifa Street area of the capital, the scene of previous battles with insurgents. But this was a torrid and bloody affair.

U.S. and Iraqi military officials said dozens of insurgents had been killed or wounded, many others detained, including what were described as some foreign nationals. No reports yet on U.S. or Iraqi casualties.

Haifa Street is in a predominantly Sunni district and home to Baathist loyalists. It's also one of the city's main arteries linking north and south.

There have been numerous skirmishes in the area. Summary executions, too. This battle took place two years ago.

U.S. officials told CNN this time the fighters were a combination of foreigners, former regime elements and members of Al Qaeda In Iraq. The Iraqi government said the area had always been problematic. A spokesman said it contained what he called "dens of terror." He also said the fighting would continue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Operations will be thunderous and stealthy to stop groups in that area from threatening Baghdad's security. We must cleanse this area. The operations will continue until we cleanse the area.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: But as darkness fell over Baghdad, the shooting died down somewhat. What the dawn will bring is uncertain.

Iraqi officials say failure in the battle for Baghdad is not an option. One reason why they welcome the prospect of additional U.S. troops -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michael Holmes in Baghdad for us.

Michael, thank you very much.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, California's health care system is broken, according to that state's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. So he's proposing a system of universal health care for California, where there are now more than six million uninsured people. Schwarzenegger says it'll cost about $12 billion and the money for the program will come from new fees on doctors, hospitals, employers and insurers.

Criticisms is expected to come mostly from Schwarzenegger's fellow Republicans. They say the plan will be expensive for small business.

But this just isn't about California. Nationwide, there are more than 45 million uninsured Americans. And since our Congress and president refuse to do anything about it, health care may be another one of those issues where states eventually have to take matters into their own hands. In the past year, both Massachusetts and Vermont have passed laws that require residents, all of them, to get health insurance, the state helping out if they can't afford to pay the whole tab themselves.

So here's the question -- is Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan for universal health care in California a good idea?

E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the clock starts ticking on the House Democrats' first 100 hours. We'll take a closer look at what the Democrats are passing right now and whether these first 100 hours are just a political stunt.

Plus, much more on Iraq.

Do Americans agree with the president about adding more troops to the conflict?

We'll break down some brand new poll numbers.

Plus, Senator Ted Kennedy wants the Congress to have the final say in a troop increase.

But does his plan have a prayer of success?

Stick around. Senator Kennedy, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, only minutes from now.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On Capitol Hill, House Democrats have started the clock ticking on what they're calling their first 100 hours.

On their agenda today, homeland security. But some critics are accusing House leaders of having something else on their agenda -- partisanship and self-promotion.

Let's turn to our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel.

She's watching the House and the clock -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What are you talking about, Larry?

BLITZER: I think we're having some...

KOPPEL: Wolf, almost three years after the 9/11 Commission issued its recommendation, a number of those have, as yet, to be implemented. Well, Democrats hope by the end of the day today that will change.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER ELECT: The clerk will report the title of the bill.

KOPPEL (voice-over): And with that, the Democrats' ambitious hundred hour agenda was off and ticking. Six bills to be debated and voted on over six days, each focused on a different issue -- minimum wage, stem cell research, student loans, prescription drug prices and cutting subsidies to big oil, all popular campaign promises Democrats hope to make good on.

Their message?

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Here's a chance for Congress to stop dragging its feet, to become the do something Congress.

KOPPEL: First up, a bill to enact the remaining 9/11 Commission recommendations, including screening all incoming cargo at large ports within the next three years, a pipe dream, according to the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: There's 11 million containers that come into the country. There is no technology right now that is guaranteed to work.

KOPPEL: Another problem?

Paying for it.

REP. DON YOUNG (R), ALASKA: What we're asking in this bill is the expenditure of huge dollars for, really, window dressing and not results.

KOPPEL: Blocked by Democrats from reviewing it in committee or offering amendments, Republicans smelled politics. REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: It's truly a shame that the new Democratic leadership has chosen to turn what was a bipartisan, carefully calibrated approach to safeguarding our nation's security in the aftermath of 9/11 into a partisan political tool.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL: But the Democrats' majority leader, Steny Hoyer, disputes that notion and says that it's all about the nation's security, which is why they wanted to get it done as quickly as they have.

But, clearly, Wolf, there is a political calculation involved in the timing of all of this. Congress watchers say it's a way for the Democrats to come out of the box as a united caucus, presenting that united front before, down the line, we see more contentious issues come up, where you have moderate and conservative Democrats, a growing number of whom are in this Congress right now, who are going to potentially face off with their leadership over issues like raising taxes and also abortion -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Andrea Koppel reporting for us.

She was talking to her photographer, Larry.

She wasn't calling me Larry.

Sorry for that little technical snafu.

Andrea reporting from the Hill.

The House Democrats' so-called first 100 legislative hours keep ticking tomorrow.

The goal for Wednesday?

To increase the federal minimum wage.

On Thursday, Democrats want to tackle another issue many voters care deeply about -- expanding stem cell research.

On the agenda for Friday, legislation to allow the government to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for Medicare recipients.

On Wednesday, January 17th, Democrats hope to cut interest rates on student loans. The next day, they'll try to push through legislation to end subsidies for big oil and to invest in renewable energy.

And remember, stay with CNN as the clock ticks on these first 100 legislative hours. It's going to take about two weeks for those 100 legislative hours to be completed. They only deal with the Congress, the House of Representatives, while it's in business, in session.

So is the 100 hours real action or just a political show?

Coming up, I'll ask Paul Begala and J.C. Watts.

They're standing by in today's Strategy Session.

Plus, something new from Apple Computer. We're going to tell you about the new products they're unveiling today.

Stick around.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Carol Costello for a closer look at some other important stories making news -- hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.

Hello to all of you.

Taunting Saddam Hussein moments before he'd be put to death was completely wrong. That's what British Prime Minister Tony Blair says. In his first public comment at it, Blair says it was unacceptable to torment Hussein minutes before his hanging. But Blair insists the world should not forget the brutality of Hussein's crimes.

In the meantime, Hussein's co-defendants, also found guilty of crimes against humanity, could be executed in a matter of days. That's according to an Iraqi government spokesman, who says the government is determined to execute them.

In Somalia, a chain reaction of chaos. First, a massive explosion ripped through a bustling square in the capital. Then a gun battle broke out. It's unclear just who was involved in that attack. In the meantime, villagers in southern Somalia say there have been more air strikes there. It's not clear if they were carried out by Ethiopian or U.S. forces. This after Sunday night's strike on suspected Al Qaeda operatives in Somalia carried out by U.S. aerial gunship.

From one scene of chaos to another, it was the people against the police today in the capital of Bangladesh. Angry protesters hurled stones, bricks and angry words at police. Police answered with rubber bullets and tear gas. More than 20 people are hurt.

At issue?

Protesters are pressing for electoral reforms.

And back here in the United States, it's the device, you know, that gadget lovers have long been waiting for. It's an iPod. It's also a phone that also allows you to surf the Internet. It's Apple's new iPhone. Apple's CEO, Steve Jobs, unveiled it today at the company's annual Macworld conference. Jobs calls it revolutionary and the revolution will apparently begin in June, when the iPhone goes on sale starting at around $500. You should wait a couple of years. It'll come down, Wolf. BLITZER: It'll eventually be $10, but that's the way these things normally start.

Thanks very much for that, Carol.

We'll check back with you shortly.

Up next, do you think we should send more troops into Iraq?

We'll take a closer look at where Americans stand in the political battle over a troop increase.

Plus, Senator Ted Kennedy wants the Congress to vote on whether more troops are sent into the conflict. The senior senator from Massachusetts set to join us, next, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, in Baghdad, Iraq, fights -- some of the fiercest fighting against insurgents in months.

And here in Washington, Senator Ed Kennedy, Edward Kennedy launches an uphill fight to require Congressional approval for any troop increase in Iraq. My interview with Senator Kennedy is just ahead.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid isn't going as far as Senator Kennedy, but he says the Senate will vote on a resolution as soon as next week responding to the president's new Iraq strategy.

President Bush is fine tuning the Iraq speech he'll give to the nation tomorrow night. Sources say he'll call for an influx of at least 20,000 troops. Those sources say the troops would be deployed in phases to motivate Iraqis to meet certain military and political goals.

And the House is nearing its first big vote in what it's calling its first 100 hours. On the table, a bill to enact the remaining recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Bush will have his work cut out for him tomorrow night if, as expected, he calls for an increase in troop strength in Iraq. Democrats in Congress aren't the only ones warning that what they call an escalation of the war would be a huge mistake.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, if President Bush calls for a troop build-up in Iraq, what kind of reception can he expect to get from the American people?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Americans oppose a troop build-up in Iraq. Just over a third of the public favors a temporary increase in U.S. troops to help stabilize the situation. Sixty-one percent say no.

SEN. TED KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The American people sent a clear message in November that we must change course in Iraq and begin to withdraw our troops, not escalate their presence.

SCHNEIDER: Can the president turn public opinion around? He faces several obstacles. One is the view that the war is going badly. More than 70 percent of the public feel that way, the highest number ever. Americans are split over whether the United States is likely to win in Iraq. They're not sure. They're asking, is this really our war?

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: What this president is proposing to do is to send more troops to back the Shiites in Iraq in a civil war. That, to me, is not what the American people ever were told.

SCHNEIDER: The goal is political reconciliation in Iraq. How does that happen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In some ways, it's a chicken-and-egg question. Does security get political process, or does political process beget security?

SCHNEIDER: A U.S. victory seems to depend on what the Iraqis do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the Iraqi leadership is willing to make the hard adjustments politically they need to make, we can win in Iraq. If they're not willing to make those adjustments, we will never win in Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: So, our success depends on what they do? That's likely to be a tough sell. Americans may not share President Bush's confidence in the Iraqi government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has more confidence in Prime Minister Maliki than I have been led to have. And he's going to give him one last chance.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Americans don't like to fight political wars, especially when they are about someone -- somebody else's politics -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider reporting for us -- thank you, Bill.

And don't forget, tomorrow night, our special coverage of the president's address to the nation begins 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Paula Zahn will be joining us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. The president's speech starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. That will be followed by a special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE," and then "ANDERSON COOPER 360," 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

Senator Ted Kennedy is warning today that Congress should not follow President Bush deeper into -- and I'm quoting now -- "the quagmire in Iraq." The Democrat is demanding that Congress sign off on any troop increase the president might order in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now, the senior senator from Massachusetts, Senator Ted Kennedy.

Senator, thanks very much...

KENNEDY: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: ... for joining us.

You realize, of course -- at least, all the experts say -- you don't have the votes, necessarily, to get this passed.

KENNEDY: Well, first of all, the war in Iraq is the overarching issue of our time. It was the overarching issue in the November -- on the elections.

The American people are way ahead of the House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States. It's only a question of time before the Congress and the Senate catches up with the people. What they want to do is bring an end to this war.

The last thing that the American people want is to insert tens of thousands of new American troops into a civil war in Iraq. And they want the Congress to do something. I have outlined a pathway where that can be done, so we will get real accountability, and we will find out who is standing up for the American people, and who is going to be continuing to support this administration's failed and flawed policy.

BLITZER: Have you checked with the leadership, Harry Reid, the new Senate majority leader? His spokesman, Jim Manley, put out a statement today saying: "Senator Kennedy's resolution underscores the significant opposition on the Hill and with the American people to the president's plan. This is only one of several ideas about how to respond to the president's proposal on Iraq."

KENNEDY: Well, that's so.

I have talked, for example, to both Harry Reid -- I have talked to Carl Levin, who's developing a proposal -- Joe Biden is developing a proposal. I have talked to Congressman Murtha, who's got a very interesting idea, in terms of phasing in the accountability in the House of Representatives. So, all of this is taking place at this time.

But the encouraging aspect, from the American people's point of view, is that we're no longer just going to be a blank check for this administration. We had a Republican administration, controlled the House. Republicans controlled the Senate. And they were just a rubber stamp for the president, and we have seen this enormous continuation and the escalation of the war.

Time is for a political solution in Iraq, not adding more American lives to a civil war.

BLITZER: Because you might -- even if you got the votes in the Senate and the House, the president could then veto that legislation. You would need veto-proof kind of roll calls.

KENNEDY: Well, the fact has a way -- if you have the will of the American people being so overwhelming, at that time, where you get that kind of support, where I believe we will have Republican support in both the House and the Senate, the president is going to have to make adjustments.

Just look at the fact the Democrats just won the Senate of the United States by one vote, a small majority in the House. Then, he fired Don Rumsfeld the next day. And he's gone into a period of time to look for a changed policy.

That's just as a result of the election. People have the power. The real question is whether Congress and the Senate are going to do something, rather than just talk, whether it's going to be something beyond rhetoric.

Will we really take a stand and do what we have done in the past, in Lebanon and also in Vietnam, where we said, "Here, Mr. President; you have to get positive authorization, new authorization, if you're going to surge, you're going to provide -- going to commit more American soldiers into the civil war"?

BLITZER: How worried are you that, if the U.S. decided to pull out all of its forces, rather quickly, from Iraq, there would be a bloodbath, the Iranians would align themselves with the Shiites, the Sunnis would align with al Qaeda, and all hell would break out in Iraq?

KENNEDY: Well, I think, first of all, all hell is breaking out at the present time. I think what you have over there is, you have most of the forces in there don't want the United States to succeed, but most of the forces in there don't want the United States to lose.

And the real kind of question is: Can we be clever enough, smart enough, to be able to get both the Iraqis to make the kind of judgments and decisions, and be able to be wise enough and smart enough to be able to rotate American troops home? I think that's...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So, what should -- if you had your way, what would you do in Iraq, given the hand you're dealt right now? What should the U.S. do?

KENNEDY: Well, the first thing is, I believe what General Abizaid has said before the Armed Services Committee, which I'm a member, what General Casey said before the Armed Services Committee. And they believe that they -- at the present time, the enhancement of American forces in that will be a crutch for the Iraqis not to take judgments and decisions. The Iraqis have to be convinced. And they will never be convinced, until you begin to rotate American troops out of the combat...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Will they step up to the plate?

KENNEDY: Well, then, that's going to be -- but they're not going to be convinced until that point.

Look, clearly we have interests in that region, but we don't have interests in fighting a civil war. And, for this administration to continue, Americans to be involved in a civil war between Sunni and Shiite, on that part, no.

How many Americans do you think, members of the United States Senate, would vote for a resolution to put American servicemen in harm's way, between the Shia and the Sunnis? It doesn't exist.

BLITZER: So...

KENNEDY: That's what's happening today.

BLITZER: ... is this Vietnam?

KENNEDY: Well, it is, in the concept that the administration has looked for a military solution for the outcome. That was true in Vietnam. That is true in Iraq today.

It I -- everyone understands you need a political resolution. American servicemen have been there for four years, longer than World War II. They have been -- done everything that they have been asked to do. They were underarmed, undermanned, and without a strategy to win. And they have served valiantly and courageously. And they deserve a policy that is as good as their courage.

BLITZER: You voted against that original resolution way back. And you say that was the best vote in your 42 years in the United States Senate.

Saddam Hussein was executed, as you know, in the last few weeks. Was the country better off, was the U.S. interest in that part of the world better off under Saddam Hussein?

KENNEDY: Well, the fact is, he was a brutal dictator. I mean, there's no -- no question about that. But the question is: Are we -- did we really fight against those who attacked the United States, which was the al Qaeda? The answer to that is clearly no.

This administration, rather than pursuing Osama bin Laden and pursuing the al Qaeda, and when you had the al Qaeda just virtually in a small group, what we have seen is that has metastasized all over the world. And we have less respect, less ability to deal with that particular challenge in the world today than we did previously. And that is accumulation of mistakes.

BLITZER: Well, unfortunately, we're out of time, but thanks very much, Senator.

KENNEDY: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

KENNEDY: Nice to see you, Wolf, as always. Good to see you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And coming up in the next hour: What do Republicans think about Senator Kennedy's plan? We will get the GOP perspective from Senator John Cornyn, a key Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He will join us live.

Up next, though, in our "Strategy Session": Is the House Democrats' first-100-hours campaign good government in action or merely a publicity stunt? J.C. Watts and Paul Begala standing by to join us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In our "Strategy Session": Democrats lay down the gauntlet for President Bush on Iraq. They are warning the president against increasing the number of American troops in Iraq before the president gives his prime-time speech tomorrow night.

Here to discuss that, our CNN political analysts -- Paul Begala is a Democratic strategist. J.C. Watts is a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Harry Reid wants, I guess, a symbolic resolution, a sense of the Senate resolution, saying, the president has got a bad idea. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: It would seem to me, if there is a bipartisan resolution, saying, we don't support this escalation of the war, that the president is going to have take note of that. I think that's the beginning of the end, as far as I'm concerned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You agree with him, that, if the Senate passes a bipartisan sense of the Senate resolution, which is purely symbolic, does not have the weight of law, the president would necessarily listen?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, yes, because he will watch -- the key word in what Senator Reid just said was "bipartisan."

The president understands he has lost the Democrats. I think that is lamentable. We shouldn't on foreign policy. But he has driven the Democrats away by refusing to accommodate his policy to the realities.

Now he is losing the Republicans. We saw Senator Gordon Smith -- and he's a Republican who is up for reelection in '08 -- in the piece that Bill Schneider ran earlier. He is walking away. There at least 10 Republican senators who I think would vote against President Bush's policy on a sense of the Senate resolution, because they think it's the wrong policy, but, also, their constituents think it's the wrong policy.

BLITZER: What do you think, J.C.?

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is a symbolic act, Wolf.

But I think the president, obviously, would keep his eyes on it. I don't think that it would have a bearing on whether or not he goes forward with a troop surge or not. But I do think that he would pay attention to it.

I would just hope that the president will take note of what his advisers, what the security team is saying, what the generals over on the ground, what they are talking about. You know, that's where he has to make his decision, that data, that information, those facts.

And I think that would possibly support it, if there is benchmarking, if there is some type of scoring being kept. You know, there is an old saying in football that, if you're not keeping score, it's just practice. You know, we need to have a benchmark to determine...

BLITZER: Except the Iraqi government is saying, pretty clearly -- Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his top advisers are saying: Don't treat us like that, like some kind of subordinate. We're a sovereign government. And, if you don't like what we're doing, you don't have to listen or whatever, but don't just treat us like a bunch of school kids.

WATTS: Well, and, Wolf, I don't think that's the case. I think the American people, I think Republicans, Democrats, even the Republicans that want to stick with the Iraqis, I think they're saying, you know: We want you to stand up. We're going to stand with you, until you will stand up, and then we will stand down.

But, at the same time, they do have some responsibility in what's going on in Iraq. And we can't use as a benchmark American soldiers being killed every week and billions of dollars being spent.

BLITZER: Because, in that part of the world, as you well know, Paul, pride and humiliation, those are important factors. And the Iraqis say, you know, they don't want to be humiliated and treated like -- badly by the United States. BEGALA: Well, but they are already humiliating themselves.

Look, the United States of America -- Iraq was no threat to America. And, yet, we invaded anyway. And I think Senator Kennedy was right to oppose that war.

But, then, having broken it, there is some moral obligation to fix it. Most Democrats don't want to, as Mr. Bush says, cut and run. But the Iraqis are going to have to take care of their own problems. And it looks more and more, as Senator Kennedy said in his interview with you, like a civil war. And how many Americans want their sons and daughters to be in the middle of a three-sided civil war? Not very many.

BLITZER: You used to serve in the House of Representatives. Let's get to this first 100 hours on their legislative calendar. The Democrats are saying, you know what? These six items they want to pass, they're all important, including raising the federal minimum wage.

A lot of critics are saying, it's a pure publicity stunt.

What do you think?

WATTS: Wolf, I don't think it's a publicity stunt. I think there is substantive policy in what they're talking about doing.

I think they made -- if I would have been advising them -- and I said this a week ago -- I would have advised them not to shove it down the throat of Republicans, allow them to have a say in debating this, going through committees and all those things, simply because I think there is some substantive policy there that needs to be debated.

You know, if they are that confident in the agenda that they're going to roll out over the next 100 hours, why not put it on the floor, let the -- let every new member, old member talk about it, discuss it, debate it, and let them go on record...

BLITZER: All right.

WATTS: ... having had their say?

BLITZER: That sounds reasonable.

BEGALA: It does. And it's not a bad point.

But against it is the reality that we have gone 10 years without a minimum-wage increase. We have debated it. We have had hearings. We know everything there is to know about it. Everything has been said. Just not everybody has said it. So, let's just vote. There's 5.6 million Americans right away who would get a pay raise if the Congress would do this. This is the longest we have ever gone without an increase in the minimum wage.

There's millions of Americans who would get cheaper prescription drugs if we negotiated for lower prices. Why on earth are we putting oil companies on welfare? We ought to take away those subsidies, the Democrats argue. They ran the election on this. They won the election. I think they are doing the right thing, and delivering for the American people.

BLITZER: He sounds reasonable, too.

(LAUGHTER)

WATTS: Well, and, Wolf, we can -- you know, we can both make good arguments on it.

But the fact is, why not let those 54 new members in the House of Representatives have their say on it, other than just showing up and voting on it? And that is my point. Everybody -- a lot of people, they made comments about the minimum wage, stem cell, you know, the oil companies, but they hadn't had a chance to come to Washington, as their constituents wanted them to, and have their say on the floor of the House. And I think that's being missed.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

Paul Begala, J.C. Watts, as all of our viewers know, they are part of the best political team on television.

And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.

Up next: With an eye on 2008, Mitt Romney holds a fund-raiser to let the rest of the field know that he's for real. How did he do?

And, in the next hour, Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas with a preview of the president's speech -- are members of his own party starting to run away from the unpopular president?

Stay tuned. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our "Political Radar" this Tuesday: Republican Mitt Romney claims new assets in his likely presidential campaign. The former Massachusetts governor wound up raising a whopping $6.5 million during a call-a-thon in Boston yesterday.

And Romney has picked up the endorsement of Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina. Romney is working to cut into rival John McCain's support in South Carolina, key GOP presidential battleground.

Al Sharpton says he is seriously thinking about running for president again. The civil rights activist made a long shot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. Now Sharpton tells the Associated Press he will make a decision about running some time in the next couple of months.

Jim Gilmore is more than just thinking about jumping in. The former Republican governor of Virginia today took the first formal step toward a presidential run. The conservative best known for slashing taxes filed papers to open a presidential exploratory committee.

And an update today on Senator Tim Johnson four weeks after surgery for bleeding in his brain -- his office says the South Dakota's Democrat condition has been upgraded from critical to fair. Johnson's long-term prognosis, though, still isn't clear. His spokeswoman says she expects Johnson will recover and run for reelection next year. She tells CNN, his campaign team continues to work to put Senator Johnson in position to do exactly that.

More now on Mitt Romney -- a stunning fund-raising effort in Boston yesterday had some very high-tech help. In raising millions for a possible presidential bid, the former Massachusetts governor tapped into a new online resource that could change the way political candidates raise money.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, 400 volunteers, 320 laptops and a brand-new online fund-raising tool all came together to bring in this cash.

Mitt Romney -- Romney's team is calling their new online database Commit. It's where their volunteers can go online and track donor information using this, logging in any time. They can direct names, numbers, donations, all the money coming in.

They even track a donor's position on any given issue. It's all online. So, it can be used online at home at any time. We saw a similar concept being used for get-out-the-vote efforts in the November elections -- both sides, Republicans and Democrats, getting together online databases full of voter information, names and numbers that their volunteers could access at home -- the Romney team applying this concept to their online fund-raising with this tool.

The software behind the online database, Salesforce, say that they are working with campaigns on both sides to help them maximize their donor outreach -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much for that, Abbi Tatton.

Up next: Last night's game, it was a long one for Ohio State college football fans. But one fan in particular will need a good night's sleep to pay up on his wager. We are going to have the details.

And in "The Cafferty File": Is California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan for universal health care a good idea? Jack with your e-mail, that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It was time to pay up -- or, better yet, push up -- for Sherrod Brown this afternoon.

The senator from Ohio lost his bet with Senator Ben Nelson -- Bill Nelson of Florida after the Florida Gators crushed the Ohio State Buckeyes last night in college football's national championship.

The friendly wager had the losing senator doing the same number of pushups as the total points scored in the game. That would be 55.

And not doing pushups, but getting some good face time on national TV last night, Senator and presidential hopeful John McCain, who is also a Vietnam War veteran, was among four war heroes who took part in the pre-game coin toss.

The national championship was played in McCain's home state of Arizona.

Jack Cafferty is joining us now with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf: Is Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan for universal health care in California a good idea?

George writes from Carpinteria, I think is name of the town, in California: "The only rational solution to the health insurance problem is a state-run single-payer system of universal health insurance. Using insurance companies to deal with the problem adds at least 20 percent to overall health care costs. It's time we got our heads out of our ideology and did the practical thing."

Patricia in Palmdale, California: "I would go for this initiative if the governor had kept this for naturalized citizens and natural- born citizens. The second he included illegal aliens, he loses me."

John in Philadelphia: "Arnold has the right idea. Try something. Try anything. We all know how good doing nothing is. The most controversial part of the plan is to cover the children of illegals. Let me make a point. Preventive health care is always cheaper than emergency care, so cover them, too."

Jim in Oak Park, California: "Of course it's a good idea. Does anyone realize the cost of ill people who cannot work? There is a tremendous return on investment to this plan, if we can secure our borders and deal with the magnet effect of internal migration. Go, Arnie."

B.D. writes from New York: "Somebody has to do it. Our new Congress is too busy watching football games to get anything done. The federal government has talked about it for years, done nothing -- and I mean nothing. Nothing has happened. Our president doesn't have a clue and doesn't seem to care one iota. I applaud Governor Schwarzenegger for standing up and doing the right thing" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack, for that.

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