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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Bush Gets Ready to Unveil New Iraq Strategy; Interview With Senator Ted Kennedy

Aired January 9, 2007 - 19:00   ET

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


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, as the president gets ready to unveil his new Iraq strategy, we have new details coming into THE SITUATION ROOM about when more troops might be deployed and where they'll be sent. It's 7:00 p.m. here in Washington, where Democrats are drawing up their own plans for opposing the president. I'll speak with Senator Ted Kennedy.

It's 3:00 a.m. in Iraq, all out war in the heart of Baghdad, hundreds of U.S. troops fight it out with insurgents. We're on the scene.

And some top Republicans may have their fingers on the pulse of the public. Do they have the right prescription for health care reform?

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

As the president today was putting the final touches on his new battle plan for Iraq, there was a pitched battle raging right in the center of Baghdad. Hundreds of U.S. and Iraqi troops backed by attack helicopters slugged it out with insurgents and foreign fighters. The president will reveal his plan for trying to quell the violence tomorrow night, but we have new details now on when more U.S. troops will be sent to Iraq and when they might be able to start thinking of actually coming home.

CNN's Arwa Damon is in Baghdad. Our senior national correspondent John Roberts is standing by. But let's go to the White House first. Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux with the latest -- Suzanne

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a U.S. official tells me tonight that President Bush will announce one of his goals is that Iraqi troops have operational command and control over the entire country. That is in charge of their own security by November of this year. This plan will also begin with deploying more than 3,000 U.S. troops in the next couple of weeks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MALVEAUX (voice-over): President Bush's new Iraq plan includes two big differences from previous failed attempts to secure Baghdad.

(SHOTS)

MALVEAUX: Sources familiar with the strategy say Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has made a personal commitment to President Bush that he will soon flood Baghdad with more Iraqi troops to join the added U.S. forces within weeks and Maliki personally assured the president the rules of engagement for Iraqi troops have changed. That they will take on the militia of the powerful Shiite leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, something Maliki had been loathed to do. Mr. Bush is said to be confident and optimistic.

(on camera): But not everyone is convinced. Sources familiar with the administration's deliberations say there is real concern inside the office of the joint chiefs. Doubt that the strategy makes sense or is adequate.

(voice-over): Inside the Pentagon another source describes the mood as anxious and nervous, like taking a deep breath before you take that roller coaster ride. Many are quietly questioning whether Maliki is up for the task. Those familiar with the plan stress that while the military component of a phased increase of 20,000 U.S. troops is an important piece, it is not the most important.

Also key will be political progress toward ending the sectarian violence. While the plan will not include a check list for Iraq's government, which sources say would be considered humiliating to Maliki, it will outline critical milestones the Iraqis must meet, including making changes to its constitution, reversing its policy of isolating Saddam loyalists, moving toward national reconciliation, and finalizing a formula to share oil profits among various Iraqi factions.

The plan will include an economic package featuring a billion- dollar jobs program aimed at getting Iraqis back to work and away from militias and insurgent movement. There will also be twice as many State Department officials in Iraq to coordinate reconstruction projects with Iraqi companies. Sources say the president's thinking is that these components will show Maliki that the U.S. really is committed to its success and that this plan is Maliki's best chance at achieving it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And Wolf, sources also say the president's thinking is that Maliki is a Shiite, but he is also an Iraqi patriot and that ultimately he will put the interest of his country before any particular sect. He believes in Maliki. He has faith, but as you know, Wolf, this is a big gamble.

BLITZER: They have been disappointed in the past. We'll see what happens now. Thanks, Suzanne, very much.

Tonight, top Democrats are promising to hold President Bush accountable if he goes ahead and orders more troops to Iraq. Senator Ted Kennedy though is going further. He's throwing down the gauntlet at Mr. Bush and at the leaders of his own party. The Massachusetts Democrat introduced legislation that would prevent the president from beefing up troop levels unless he gets formal additional congressional approval. I sat down with Senator Kennedy today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The American people are way ahead of the House of representatives and the Senate of the united states. It's only a question of the 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: My full interview with Senator Kennedy -- that's coming up this hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is taking a more cautious approach in responding to the president's new Iraq war plan. He announced he'll hold a symbolic vote as early as next week opposing more troops in Iraq. Would it be appropriate for congressional Democrats to cut off funds for a troop increase? I put that question to former Democratic Senator Max Cleland, a Vietnam War veteran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAX CLELAND (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: It's appropriate for the Congress to exercise its constitutional responsibility as the holder of the purse strings. The president is the commander in chief in terms of the military forces, but the Congress raises the money under our Constitution for the Army and the Navy and our military forces.

It's highly appropriate for the Congress not only to make sure it exercises its constitutional responsibility in terms of money going to the war, but actually in terms of oversight about how that money is spent. And in terms of the cost of the war, I just got back from Walter Reed this afternoon. If I could take every member of the Congress by Walter Reed just what I saw -- to see just what I saw this afternoon, they wouldn't vote for a surge in war, which means a surge in casualties and deaths. They would vote to redeploy our troops...

(CROSSTALK)

CLELAND: ... exactly what we ought to be doing.

BLITZER: Tell us what you saw.

CLELAND: I saw young men, 19 years of age, bandages around their head, legs off. Other legs so fractured with shrapnel, they had to be extended and nurses pushing them. I saw that in the wake of the Vietnam War. I was one of those people. And for me to see that again really just gets me. I can't stand it. So I can't believe that in the wake of the American public's rejection of the direction this president has taken this country in terms of the war, and the election of a Democratic Congress and the report of the Iraq Study Group that says more diplomacy rather than a military build-up, that we're actually going the route of the military build-up. And that is exactly the wrong direction.

It will make more casualties. It won't make anything safer in Iraq. As a matter of fact the national intelligence estimate says say we're doing more harm than good there. So it's time to redeploy the forces out of harm's way and stop killing 100 kids a month.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Max Cleland served as a U.S. Army officer in Vietnam where he lost both legs and an arm to a grenade.

It was some of the fiercest fighting in months. Almost 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops today fought a pitched battle with diehard insurgents right in the center of the Iraqi capital.

CNN's Arwa Damon is embedded with U.S. troops there -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was the most intense firefight that the capital has seen in quite some time, happening right in the heart of Baghdad on Haifa Street, pitting Sunni extremists against U.S. and Iraqi security forces. The gun battle lasted for some 10 hours. The intensity of the firefight at times it seemed that the shots were just coming from all directions, pinning U.S and Iraqi forces on rooftops.

They came under sniper fire, rocket-propelled grenade fire, mortar rounds that shook the building, machine gunfire, and small arms fire. They say that the enemy that they were facing out there was a sophisticated one. Their movements, they say, indicative of individuals who have received prior military training.

Now, this is an area that is under Iraqi control. However, over the last period of time, security there has deteriorated. The Iraqi army wanted to go in and clear a two-mile stretch of it of all weapons once and for all. They asked for American help to get that job done. They wanted the American weapons, the American sophistication of fire power, air power, as well as help with coordination to get the job done -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon reporting for us from Baghdad.

If the United States redoubles its efforts in Iraq, it will come at a price. The president's Iraq strategy may involve putting many more American lives at risk, and then there's the cost in currency.

Let's turn to our senior national correspondent John Roberts -- John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SR. NAT'L CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf. The president's plan for an economic initiative for Iraq is a clear indication that military mite alone cannot win the war, that winning Iraqi pocketbooks is as if not more important as winning hearts and minds. The question, will the money go where it is supposes to, and will it make a difference?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS (voice-over): In Iraq's tattered economy militias and insurgent groups are about the best employers around. They'll pay 500 to $5,000 to plant roadside bombs and good money just to videotape the attack. The goal of this new jobs initiative is to give poor Iraqis an alternative.

FRED BARTON, CTR. FOR STRATEGIC & INT'L STUDIES: I think it's too little too late. We've tried this before. We've had as many as 40 to 60,000 Iraqis in sort of make-work jobs. That's not what people are looking for right now. We -- they're looking for something that's going to be a bit more promising that has a bit more of a future.

ROBERTS: And how to ensure the money goes where it's supposed to? Iraq has been something of a black hole for reconstruction funds. In 2003-04, the U.S. coalition provisional authority lost track of $8.8 billion raised largely from Iraq's Oil for Food Program. The money is still unaccounted for. Following the dollar remains a huge challenge says the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

STUART BOWEN, INSP. GEN. FOR IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION: It's a mixed story. There's no one place to point the finger. The fact is, is that the Iraqis need to get their house better in order to manage their own infrastructure. And it's very difficult to do that in the unstable environment that is Iraq today.

ROBERTS: In the early going, coalition employees were part of the problem. In one Iraqi town where nearly $100 million went unaccounted for, seven million of it outright missing, the inspector general's office seized money, weapons, expensive watches, cars, even a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and brought charges against several American officials. In Iraq, the bad guys don't go away. They just change faces and names.

BOWEN: Corruption continues to be an issue within the Iraq government. It's been an issue for a couple of years now. And that's part of the effort of my office is to bolster the anticorruption entities in Iraq.

ROBERTS: If the Bush economic proposal goes through, U.S. patrols could soon be carrying thousands in cash to spread around Iraqi streets. The plan is to clear and secure neighborhoods and hire locales to clean up garbage, paint schools or other odd jobs, but how to ensure the money goes into the pockets of residents and not the coffers of local militias.

BARTON: We should be giving the money to existing employers, hospitals, businesses, grants, and loans to them so they hire more employees. That's a much better way of doing it than saying we're going to clean the streets for the next six weeks and then we go back to another model. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: During his first tour of duty in Iraq, General David Petraeus ran a similar program in Mosul that was pretty successful, but the money for that ran out. Petraeus left, and Mosul went down hill. While Petraeus coming back to Iraq now would oversee this new jobs program, since he's been out of the country, the militias have become far more powerful, and the sectarian divisions in Iraq far more passionate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So basically what could have been done maybe two or three years ago is going to be a lot more difficult now?

ROBERTS: Many people believe that it's already too late. That the divisions are too deeply set, that the militias have got themselves ingrained too deeply in the communities and that people aren't going to buy into a minor jobs program. Other people, though, think it's a very good idea.

BLITZER: We'll see. John, thanks very much.

And we're just getting this in from our producer up on Capitol Hill, Deidre Walsh (ph). She's telling us now that House Democrats have decided that they're going to formally vote on the president's proposals to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, to increase U.S. assistance, economic assistance to Iraqis. There will be a vote on the president's proposal -- that coming in from the Speaker's office, the spokeswoman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

We'll follow this story obviously very closely. The Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says there will be a vote in the Senate. Now Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker, says there will be a vote in the House. We'll see what happens.

Don't forget tomorrow night, our coverage starts 7:00 Eastern right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Paula Zahn will be joining me and the best political team on television to set the stage for the president's address to the nation. Our coverage starts 7:00 p.m. Eastern in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Jack Cafferty will be with us every step of the way as well and he's joining us now from New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: By a margin, Wolf, of almost two to one, the American public is opposed to sending any more troops to get killed in Iraq. A new "USA Today"/Gallup poll shows 61 percent of those surveyed oppose the idea of a temporary but significant increase in troop levels. Thirty-six percent approve.

The poll also shows that approval of the job the president is doing in Iraq has sunk now to an all-time low of 26 percent. Not only is the public against more troops, so are some members of the military. The generals who oppose the idea they're being replaced. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said he's not sure sending more troops would work. A lot of members of Congress have already come out against the idea ahead of that speech tomorrow night. There don't seem to be a whole lot of folks besides President Bush who think this is a particularly good idea. Here's the question. What does President Bush have to say tomorrow night to sell his plan for a troop increase to the American people? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. See you later this hour.

Coming up, the House starts the clock on its first 100 hours. Is it a serious call to action or a political stunt?

Plus, an inside look at U.S. forces on the hunt for al Qaeda suspects in Somalia. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is in the region.

And Senator Barack Obama as you probably never seen him before. Our Jeanne Moos dives into this question. Do we want to see our politicians in swimsuits -- all that coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The new Democratic leaders of the House have launched what they're calling their first 100 hours. We're keeping track of the time they're putting in and their progress. See that clock in the lower right-hand corner of your screen? When it's moving, the 100 hours are ticking by. When it's on hold, the House is not working on legislative business. The House has been working into the night on its first order of business in these, the first 100 hours. That would be a bill addressing the 9/11 Commission recommendations that weren't passed by the previous Congress.

Let's check in with our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, enacting those remaining 9/11 recommendations was one of the pledges the Democrats made out on the campaign trail. We have just learned that the House vote has completed and that this measure has passed by a vote of 299-128.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The clerk will report the title of the bill.

KOPPEL (voice-over): And with that, the Democrats ambitious 100- 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), HOMELAND SECURITY CHMN.: 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 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)

Now the Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer disputes that notion and says, in fact, the effort to push through these 9/11 recommendations so quickly within the fist 100 hours is proof that Democrats place an incredibly high priority on beefing up the nation's security, but Wolf, clearly there is a political calculation in the timing. The Democrats want to come out of the gate presenting a united front. Again, the measure just passed moments ago by a vote of 299-128 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Six and a half hours down, another 93 1/2 hours or so to go. Thank you, Andrea for that. We'll watch that clock tick every step of the way.

Up ahead tonight right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, he says Congress should not follow President Bush quote, "deeper into the quagmire in Iraq." That would be Senator Ted Kennedy. He's against more troops going to Iraq. Coming up, I'll ask him how he hopes to prevent that.

And the governor of California wants universal health care for everyone in his state. Could this become a national trend? Mary Snow is standing by with her report.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Now to the battle against terror in Somalia -- today, villagers in southern Somalis are seeing air strikes. It's not clear if they were carried out by Ethiopian or U.S. forces. Meanwhile, American forces continue to perch themselves near Somalia in their hunt for suspected al Qaeda operatives.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is in the region with more -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here in East Africa, the people have long memories of al Qaeda attacks. The U.S. military action against the terrorist group is welcome news here. The U.S. military has assembled essentially an armada off the coast of Somalia. The aircraft carrier Eisenhower has arrived in the region, available to conduct bombing missions if so ordered or reconnaissance missions over Somalia looking for those al Qaeda suspects.

There are also four Navy war ships off the coast, patrolling, trying to keep any al Qaeda suspects from escaping. All of this after the Air Force Special Operations AC-130 gun ship conducted that raid, that mission against an al Qaeda training camp in southern Somalia. The U.S. military, along with African intelligence services, have been looking, have been on the hunt for five top al Qaeda operatives on the run from Mogadishu over the last several days as the Islamic militia government there was thrown out of power.

Now, people here in the region, government officials say they do believe a blow has been dealt to al Qaeda, but no one yet predicting the end of that terrorist network here in East Africa -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, thank you for that -- Barbara Starr on the scene for us.

And just ahead, Democrats lay down the gauntlet with President Bush over Iraq. They're warning against increasing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. I'll speak with Senator Ted Kennedy about what Democrats hope to do to try to stop that.

And Apple CEO Steve Jobs is calling. He wants you to answer with this gadget. It plays music, pulls up the Internet, and Jobs is calling it revolutionary. We're going to tell you what the revolution is all about.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, President Bush will reveal his new Iraq strategy tomorrow. We're already learning important details tonight. Among them, a source saying the president envisions Iraqi troops having operational control over Iraq by November. And that more U.S. troops will start going to Iraq by the end of this month.

Just minutes ago, the House passed a measure to implement some of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. It's the first item on the Democrats' 100 hours of legislative agenda, final vote -- 299-128.

And right now, airline pilots have to retire at the age of 60, but that could change. Today, the federal government said it's reviewing whether or not to change that rule.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. A little more than 24 hours from now, President Bush will present his new Iraq strategy to the nation and the world. He'll have to persuade a skeptical Congress and a war-weary American public to back a plan, which sources say will put another 20,000 troops in Iraq. The president would seem to have his work cut out for him.

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd. He's watching this story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the sense of anticipation and high stakes going into tomorrow night is intense. It's pegged to one central question: Will this be the move that will turn the corner in Iraq?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Fine tuning what many believe is a make or break plan for stabilizing Iraq, the president works behind closed doors. Democrats and Republicans from Congress shuttle in and out to consult.

REP. MIKE PENCE (R-IN), INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS COMMITTEE: This is a commander-in-chief who has decided not to fail in Iraq. I was -- I found his arguments and his strategies persuasive.

TODD: More daylight from White House officials, who refused to characterize this as a last ditch plan. But they say the speech will acknowledge that the president's optimism on Iraq has been tempered by events of the past year.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The terrorists did succeed in unleashing sectarian violence. And now that has created a new sense -- a new set of realities that one must contend with, and the president will talk about that.

TODD: A new set of realities that Mr. Bush will address, sources say, by sending at least 20,000 more troops, announcing a billion dollar jobs program, an ambitious reconstruction effort.

But already, what the president is calling his "New Way Forward" faces a potential roadblock -- a bill proposed by Senator Ted Kennedy to force the president to seek Congressional approval for his planned influx of troops.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D-MA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Such an escalation would be a policy of desperation built on denial and fantasy. It is stay the course under another name.

TODD: Kennedy's effort will likely fail, but does put Democrats on record against escalation. New polls show a majority of Americans are already in that camp.

How can the president turn the tide?

SIMON HENDERSON, WASHINGTON INST. FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: He's got to give this plan a real push and put it over with conviction. Mr. Bush might not talk of timetables, but there is a timetable out there. It's the timetable of the next presidential election.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Analysts say that means this plan might be what determines whether the next president inherits a successful turnaround in Iraq or more sectarian violence that could spill beyond Iraq's borders -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, thank you. Brian Todd reporting.

Tonight, Senator Kennedy says Congress must be prevented from following President Bush deeper into what he says is the quagmire 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 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 that, 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, of 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 is -- 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 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 while Democrats are digging in their heels, ready to oppose the president's new strategy, Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas is still in the president's corner. He says the new Iraq battle plan should be given a chance.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX), ARMED SERVICES CMTE.: What we're doing now is not working and that's why we need a new strategy, and that's what I think the president will announce tomorrow night.

And contrary to some early reports, this won't be strictly an American or coalition strategy. This is going to be the Iraqis taking the lead. And the Maliki government has got to take the lead and the responsibility, supported by a surge in American forces, to help stiffen their spine to do what they say they're going to do, and that's high stakes drama. No question about it.

BLITZER: Do you really believe that the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, will get tough with Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, who controls -- what -- 20 or 30 seats in the Parliament that support Nouri al-Maliki? You think there's going to be Shiite versus Shiite fighting in Iraq?

CORNYN: I share your skepticism, Wolf, because of the political realities on the ground. But this is the test for the Maliki government. If they don't do this, then they're not going to be successful at all. But we cannot risk a failed state in Iraq, which will endanger the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: John Cornyn, the Republican senator from Texas, speaking with me earlier.

And 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 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up ahead tonight, universal health insurance. Does California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger have the right prescription for America's health care crisis? We'll have details of his ambitious plan. Mary Snow with that.

Plus, his fans can't get enough of him, but a new photo may be more of Barack Obama than some want to see. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's a bold and controversial move. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger calling for universal health insurance in his state. Is it part of a national trend? Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow. She's joining us now from New York with the story -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, with no clear solutions in sight, health experts say many states will be looking to California for answers on how to fix health care.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Will California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's universal health care plan be a prescription filled by the rest of the country?

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: If you can't afford it, the state will help you buy it. But you must be insured.

SNOW: The tab, an estimated $12 billion.

Part of the plan would require employers, doctors and hospitals to contribute toward cost. Whether or not it can be executed is another question, especially since California has about 6.5 million uninsured residents.

PETER HARBAGE, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: If California can pull it off, it's a model for other states where those issues really aren't quite so high.

SNOW: Health care experts say the key word is "states."

LAURA TOBLER, NATIONAL CONF. OF STATE LEGISLATURES: I think states are taking the leadership on health care reform. There has not been a consensus at the national level to reform health care in any significant way.

SNOW: The last significant health care reform push came in the early 1990s, proposed by then first lady Hillary Clinton. HILLARY CLINTON, FMR. FIRST LADY: I'm here as an American citizen, concerned about the health of her family and the health of her nation.

SNOW: The health care plan never got off the ground, but it did leave a mark.

SHERRY GLIED, MAILMAN SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: I think it did become somewhat taboo at the federal level, and we haven't actually seen a real break in that taboo yet at the federal level. And there's been a lot more action at the state level.

SNOW: What's also gaining notice, Schwarzenegger is the second Republican governor in two years at the center of health care reform. Last year, former Massachusetts governor and now potential Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney signed the most comprehensive plan of its kind, mandating state residents to have health insurance coverage.

GLIED: The Massachusetts trick on that was to go with this idea of an individual mandate. So we're going to put some money out there, but we're basically going to say to people, you have to have health insurance. And if you don't get it, we're going to penalize you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Residents of Massachusetts who don't have insurance by July 1st face a fine. The California plan does not include penalties -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thanks very much. And this additional footnote: As part of the plan, and it may be raising some serious concern among anti-immigration groups -- the government's proposal would require that California provide all children, regardless of their immigration status, the kind of health care coverage through an expansion of the state and federal programs that they might not be getting right now.

We'll continue to watch this story with you. In the meantime, let's check back with Carol Costello for a closer look at some other stories making news -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. Hello to all of you.

I have an update on Senator Tim Johnson for you. He's suffered a brain hemorrhage last month. The South Dakota Democrat is now in fair condition. He had been in critical, and he's now off a ventilator. A spokeswoman says the next step is rehabilitation, adding that Johnson still has not spoken. His condition is being closely watched, because without him, Democrats would lose their Senate majority.

Suzanne Somers and her husband say they will rebuild. Her multimillion mansion was among five destroyed by a wildfire that raced through Southern California's exclusive Malibu community. She wasn't home at the time, but she says she can learn from this setback. Six other buildings were damaged by wind with flames. Fire officials now put the loss at $60 million, and they say they're not ruling out arson.

An emotional homecoming for a sailor whose adventure at sea hit rough water. Ken Barnes back in California tonight after being rescued from his disabled boat off the coast of Chile last week. Barnes was trying to become the first American to sail alone and non- stop from the West Coast around the world. And yes, he says he would still like to complete his goal.

That's a look at the headlines right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Carol, for that.

Describing it as revolutionary, Apple's CEO unveiled the new iPhone today at the company's annual Mac World expo. With a closer look at the phone and the reaction online, let's turn to Abbi Tatton. She's watching this story -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, with its long-awaited iPhone, Apple hopes consumers will trade in multiple gadgets for just this one. iPod, phone, and Internet all in one, the iPhone will be available in this country in June. Customers will have to sign a two- year contract with Cingular for service, and fork out for the $500 price tag -- that's $600 if you want the larger memory.

The unveiling had the expo abuzz and online discussion sites lighting up today. The majority of the discussion has been positive that we've seen, although some concerns have been raised about the price, and there's been some skepticism about the speed of downloads.

Investors seem positive. Apple stock today surged 8 percent, while the stock of some of Apple's future competitors fell -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you for that. Abbi Tatton reporting.

Up ahead, Senator Barack Obama making a splash in an unlikely photo spread. We'll tell you what's going on.

And Jack Cafferty wants to know, what does President Bush have to say to sell his plan for a troop increase to the American people? Jack and your email, all coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack's back with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour is what does President Bush have to say tomorrow night to sell his plan for a troop increase to the American people?

Miles in Allentown, Pennsylvania: "For those of us who lived through the escalation of Vietnam, it's impossible for the president to convince us that an increase in troops is either or effective. The initial mistakes made in the early days of this war cannot be corrected. President Bush blew it and he needs to admit it and get out." Sid in Riverton, Utah: "President Bush can say whatever he pleases. Most U.S. citizens stopped listening to this failed leader last year and voted against his policies. Start the impeachment hearings now. President Bush is the commander in chief of the military, but he works for the U.S. taxpayer. Fire him.

Donald writes: "I am for withdrawing troops as long as you can guarantee this country's safety. You cannot. The job is not done. We haven't been attacked in five years. To say we aren't winning the war is foolish."

Bob writes: "Unfortunately the president doesn't have to sell his plan to increase American troops. He will do it no matter what the American people say. And who's going to stand up to him? The people can't stop him because he has the power to deploy the troops. The Democrats talk about a symbolic vote to oppose this. Just more words."

JoAnn in Ohio: "At this point, President Bush couldn't sell ice cubes in Hell."

And Dave in Shell Beach, California: "He would have to say that if it works, he and Cheney will resign. And if it, he and Cheney will resign. But if it's so-so and hard to tell if it's working, he and Cheney will resign."

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

BLITZER: See you tomorrow, Jack. Thank you very much for that.

Let's find out what is coming up at the top of the hour on "PAULA ZAHN NOW" -- Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Thanks.

We're going to be shining a light on America's hidden secrets, bringing intolerance out into the open. Tonight, some allegations that police are trigger-happy with their stun guns all over the country, especially when their targets are minorities.

Also, a high school that won't allow a gay student the same privileges that other students have. And then, another school where a hearing impaired boy can't bring his service dog to class. Are both of those school teaching lessons in tolerance?

Please join me at the top of the hour.

And I look forward to joining you tomorrow for a two-hour special edition of your show tomorrow, Wolf, as we lead into the president's speech.

BLITZER: It will be great to have you here in Washington tomorrow.

Paula will be joining us for our special two-hour SITUATION ROOM starting at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, leading up to the president's address to the nation.

Thanks, Paula, very much.

Coming up, he spent lots of time pressing the flesh. Now Senator Barack Obama's actually showing a little bit of flesh.

CNN's Jeanne Moos uncovers the story for us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: If the presidential race included a swimsuit competition, Democratic Senator Barack Obama might have an edge over his opponents.

CNN's Jeanne Moos explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sorry, but we refuse to obey the headline, quote, "Stop looking at it."

It being Barack Obama in a swimsuit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A little flabby, I'm sorry to say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He looks gorgeous.

MOOS: There he is in a two-page spread in "People" entitled "Beach Babes". The babes range from Jessica Alba in a bikini to actor Hugh Jackman with his six-pack abs.

The senator's inclusion led to this "Washington Post" headline: "The Honorable Beach Babe from Illinois.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would vote for her, to be honest with you.

MOOS: That would be Penelope Cruz.

How did a possible presidential candidate get mixed in with the beach babes? In the words of Senator Obama himself: "It's, uh, paparazzi... Stop looking at it!"

"It's embarrassing," he told the "Washington Post".

The pictures were taken while the senator was vacationing in Hawaii. Watery shots can come back to drown a politician.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Kerry, which ever way the wind blows.

MOOS: The first President Bush wasn't afraid to take off his shirt and dive in.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's wonderful!

MOOS: But George W. Bush was smart enough to know what not to wear at a summit in Cancun.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No Speedo suit here. Thankfully.

MOOS: This image of Arnold Schwarzenegger ricocheted around the web, temporarily terminating his pumping iron image.

Even the woman running president of France got nabbed in her bikini. Segolene Royal weathered the exposure well.

But when LBJ revealed his surgical scar, it left a mental scar on all of us.

As for Obama:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He has rolls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rolls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He looks pretty good to me.

MOOS: She left, then came back to add:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He doesn't look so good that he's spending all his time working out. He's probably paying more attention to policy matters.

MOOS: Obama is known for working out at a Chicago club. A columnist who happened to run into him in the locker room memorably said, "Obama doesn't have enough fat on his body to make a butter pat."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to see Ted Kennedy in the same pose.

MOOS: And then there's the shot of the Clintons dancing on the beach that ended up on the front page. Boy, did they look white as ghosts.

Funny how a guy who looks a little like he's swimming in his business suits looks not so skinny when he's actually swimming.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Buy big, look small. Buy big, look small. That's what I say.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thank you, Jeanne, for that report.

Tomorrow, as we get ready for President Bush's address to the nation on Iraq, Paula Zahn will be joining us right here in the SITUATION ROOM together with the best political team on television for our two-hour special. It begins at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

"PAULA ZAHN NOW" starts right now -- Paula.

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