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Interview With Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold; Former 'New York Times' Reporter Testifies in CIA Leak Trial; Obama's Achilles' Heel?
Aired January 30, 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: Congress vs. the decider on Iraq. A leading Republican reminds President Bush he's not the only one who can make choices about the war. But, at the same time, there's a surprising new show of support today for Mr. Bush's plan for a troop buildup.
Also this hour: How much does experience count in the race for the White House? One candidate's admission sets off a new debate about who has got the best resume and whether star power matters more.
Plus: the presidential campaign 2.0. It's a new high-speed version of the political process for a fast-paced, plugged-in era.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
All that coming up -- first this hour, a holy ritual of mourning in Iraq turns into a shooting gallery for insurgents. More than 50 people, Shiites and Sunnis, were killed in tit-for-tat sectarian violence across Iraq today. Most of the dead were Shiite pilgrims turning out in droves for the final day of the Ashoura ceremony, the holiest day for Shiite Muslims.
They were targeted in the streets of Baghdad and Diyala Province while taking part in rituals that include beating their heads with knives and swords.
Against that bloody backdrop, the political debate over Iraq goes on here in Washington -- another Republican today calling on President Bush to reconsider, calling on him -- on the carpet, actually.
Senator Arlen Specter had some sharp words about Mr. Bush's claim that he is the decider. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I would suggest, and suggest respectfully, to the president that he is not the sole decider.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Ed Henry is standing by over at the White House for some reaction to Senator Specter.
Let's go to Dana Bash on Capitol Hill.
A lot of activity happening today, Dana. What is the latest?
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot of activity, indeed, Wolf.
Well, what you just heard from Senator Specter is a direct challenge to the president on something that we heard most recently Mr. Bush say on Friday, and, as you just heard, Senator Specter repeat, that he is the decider when it comes to military strategy and general -- general war strategy in Iraq.
What Senator Specter said, unsolicited, in -- today on Capitol Hill in a hearing about war powers is that, when President Bush makes statements like that, it is both unhelpful and wrong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPECTER: The president repeatedly makes reference to the fact that he is the decider. I would suggest, and suggest respectfully, to the president that he is not the sole decider, that the decider is a shared and joint responsibility.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Now, Senator Specter, if you recall, back in the past year or so, when the Republicans still had control of Congress, he was one of the few Republicans chairmen who really fought hard against the president on a couple of issues, especially the issue of the wiretapping program, made clear that he did not think the president had executive power. This is a continuation of Mr. Specter's push.
I had a chance to talk to him briefly in his Capitol office. And he said that what he hopes is that the president listens to what he calls friendly voices, Republican voices,and that he does come to Congress and have a discussion, before, actually, continuing with his military strategy to send more troops to Iraq -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Senator Specter has been on record for a long time, for many months, that this is already a civil war in Iraq. We are going to be speaking with him in our next hour as well.
Dana, we also heard from the two co-chairmen of the Iraq Study Group. They were testifying up on Capitol Hill today. What is their bottom-line message?
BASH: Well, it's interesting. As you hear Senator Specter and other Republicans say that they don't support sending more troops to Iraq, the president did get some qualified support from a very important couple of people. And that is the chairmen, the co- chairmen, of the Iraq Study Group.
What they essentially said is: Give this -- this troop increase a chance, but -- and there was a -- a big but there -- they also were very frustrated with the concept of not -- of the administration not pursuing enough diplomacy when it comes to Iraq, and also not putting the screws, as -- as Lee Hamilton put it, on -- on the Iraqi government.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES BAKER, CO-CHAIRMAN, IRAQ STUDY GROUP: My bottom line on the -- on the surge is, look, the president's plan ought to be given a chance. Give it a chance, because we heard all of this. The general that you confirmed 81-0 day before yesterday, this is his idea. He's the supporter of it. He's now the commander on the ground in Iraq. Give it a chance.
LEE HAMILTON, CO-CHAIRMAN, IRAQ STUDY GROUP: I think you're at a point now where you have to bear down on the Maliki government, because of their non-performance over a period of time. And, if they don't perform, and if they don't perform pretty quickly, then, we will lose it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Now, there, you heard it, as I said, some qualified support from the co-chairmen of the Iraq Study Group, but also some frustration, especially with the fact that the administration has not engaged enough in diplomacy and with those countries that the administration refuses to deal with, Iran and Syria -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Dana, on the Hill.
And there's a lot of other activity on the Hill as well. Just a short while ago, the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and other House Democrats briefed reporters about their just completed trip to Iraq.
Congressman John Murtha took aim at plans for a troop buildup and had questions about contractors working in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, we're going to have extensive hearings to find out exactly what's going on with contractors. I hear estimates of 100,000.
But the worst thing is, we don't know. They don't have a clear mission. And they're falling all over each other.
I saw nothing in Iraq, I heard nothing and found nothing that led me to believe that redeployment is right -- not the right strategy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We are going to have much more on the debate over contractors in Iraq. That's coming up in our next hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Bush is talking up the economy today, hoping not to talk about the growing Republican criticism of his Iraq strategy.
Let's go to the White House.
Ed Henry standing by with more -- Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's right.
White House aides really seem unfazed by Senator Specter's comments there about the president not being the only decider. They are basically saying, look, the president engaged, in their eyes, in unprecedented outreach to allies and critics alike on Capitol Hill. They say, he listened. He made his decision to send more troops to Iraq. He is now sticking with it -- White House spokeswoman Dana Perino telling CNN a short while ago -- quote -- "Congress controls the money. The president controls military forces. The president is not the only decision-maker, but he is the only commander in chief."
That reference, of course, to money is what you heard in vice -- in your interview with Vice President Cheney, where he was basically daring Congress to cut off funding. That is what the White House is basically saying, if you read between the lines, that they can give all the speeches they want, they can pass nonbinding resolutions, but it won't really matter unless they try to cut off funding. And the White House is fully aware that is politically perilous for Democrats -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, the president was out, as you well know, in -- in Peoria, Illinois, at a Caterpillar plant, today, Ed, talking about the economy, the global economy, if you will.
I want to point out some numbers in our latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. Sixty-three percent of Americans agree that the economic conditions in the country are good, but they aren't giving the president a lot of credit for that. More than half, 53 percent, disapprove of the way the president is handling the economy.
How worried is the White House, Ed, that the president's economic message is simply not getting through?
HENRY: Very concerned that, no matter what they do -- you probably just heard me trying to speak over the helicopters -- the president now back at the White House from Peoria.
And, as he tried to do just a week ago in the State of the Union, trying to shift the focus ever so slightly to the domestic agenda. As you point out in those poll numbers, he is not getting credit for a good economy. He sees most of his legislative agenda stalled on Capitol Hill, especially with Democrats running the show now.
Today, he was also stopping at a diner in Peoria. I couldn't help but notice that something on the menu written on the chalkboard said that they were serving fried mush. I -- I spoke to one of the waitresses a short while ago. She told me it's a very popular dish. It's corn meal fried up. You couldn't help but wonder if the president is trying to make sure that his agenda isn't fried mush on Capitol Hill. Right now, he can't seem to get any traction -- Wolf. BLITZER: And that's largely because of the problems in Iraq -- Ed at the White House.
Let's go over to the legal drama that's taking place only a few blocks away, the secret conversations that the White House hoped would never be made public. But they are being made public today in the CIA leak trial.
Earlier, it entered a new phase with the testimony of a former "New York Times" reporter.
Brian Todd is over at the courthouse with the latest -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the woman who spent 85 days in jail for refusing to disclose to investigators her conversations with Lewis Scooter Libby is now testifying against Scooter Libby. And she is doing that as we speak.
She is Judith Miller, former "The New York Times" correspondent. She has told the court about two conversations that she had with Scooter Libby about former Ambassador Joe Wilson, a critic of the Bush administration's rationale for going to war with Iraq, and about Joe Wilson's wife, former CIA officer Valerie Plame, a very critical two meetings that she said she had with Scooter Libby on June 23, 2003, and on July 8, 2003, in which Libby told her that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.
These were two conversations that took place before Libby told investigators he heard about Valerie Plame for the first time. Libby said he didn't hear about Valerie Plame until July 10 in a conversation with Tim Russert of NBC News. Judith Miller just told the court about two conversations that she had with Scooter Libby days and even weeks before Scooter Libby's claim to hear Valerie Plame's name for the first time.
So, that testimony is ongoing. The defense is now cross- examining her. We're told by our producer, Kevin Bohn (ph), who's just in the -- he's in the courtroom, where I just was. He buzzed us just a moment ago, saying that this defense cross-examination is very contentious -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, it looks like this is at least the third or fourth prosecution witness who has now said that Scooter Libby told them about Valerie Plame long before he insists he heard about it from -- from a reporter, Tim Russert.
TODD: That is correct.
Judith Wilson -- I mean -- excuse me -- Judith Miller just said that she had the two conversations with on him on June 23 of 2003 and on July 8, 2003. Scooter Libby says that he first heard about Valerie Plame Wilson on July 10, 2003, from Tim Russert. Now, Tim Russert is going to take the stand later this week.
But the defense is already punching holes in Judith Miller's memory here. A defense attorney came up and cross-examined her while I was in the court. And -- and he said, essentially: Didn't you testify to the grand jury? When you did testify to the grand jury, you didn't even mention the June 23 conversation. You didn't remember it.
And she said, that is correct. She did not. She had to go back to her notes and consult that.
So, the defense is right now, very contentious cross-examination, trying to punch holes in Judith Miller's memory.
BLITZER: As they did Ari Fleischer, Cathie Martin, and several of the other witnesses who have already testified.
Brian will stay on top of this trial for us.
From trial exhibits posted online to colorful insight from the bloggers credentialed for this trial, the Internet is giving us a fly- on-the-wall view of the Libby trial.
Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She is following this part of the sorry -- Abbi.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, no cameras inside this court -- this court -- courtroom, but these Web sites are taking people, readers, right inside.
From the liberal Firedoglake, writing this morning, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in a seersuckery-type suit, and writing just a few minutes ago about Judith Miller, saying, "seated, staring forward, shifts in chair," this site saying, looking uncomfortable today.
And the bloggers aren't just looking at what the witnesses are saying, what is happening inside the courtroom. They are also listening in to what the reporters are saying to each other, reporters that are now finding themselves at the very center of this trial.
Other Web sites giving you an eye inside the courtroom -- this is the Web site of the special prosecutor, where, each day, trial exhibits are being uploaded, like this one, a record of the call from Scooter Libby to the CIA days after the -- the Joe Wilson column came out. There are records of e-mails of talking points from a Cheney aide to then White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, and a schedule of Fleischer's from July 7, 2003.
Fleischer has testified yesterday that it was at this lunch that Libby told him about Wilson's wife, that coming just a couple of hours after that haircut there.
And we're checking on this site of the -- from the office of the special prosecutor, Wolf, because we're expecting another batch of these documents to be uploaded in the next couple of hours -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, thanks.
I didn't know that Ari Fleischer's name is Lawrence A. Fleischer. I just learned something from that memo. Thanks very much.
Jack Cafferty, you -- you didn't know his name was Lawrence A. Fleischer, did you?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: No, I didn't.
CAFFERTY: Have you ever had fried mush?
BLITZER: Yes, I hear it all the time.
CAFFERTY: No. I know, we hear it all the -- I will tell you, you haven't...
BLITZER: I have never -- I have never -- I have never eaten fried mush.
CAFFERTY: You have not lived until you have had fried mush. You get this cornmeal, and you -- and you -- and you fry it in a little oil, and you put some butter and even some maple syrup on it. And, I'm telling you, it's fine dining...
BLITZER: All right.
CAFFERTY: ... great cuisine, very popular in other parts of the country. They don't eat a lot of it in New York and Washington.
Some of the harshest criticism, Wolf, of President Bush's plan to escalate the war in Iraq is coming from an unlikely source, a Republican Senator, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. He's a Vietnam veteran. And he's a co-sponsor of a resolution to oppose the president's plan for escalation of the war.
He's accusing the administration of playing a ping-pong game with American lives. And he's described the war as -- quote -- "the worst foreign policy blunder since Vietnam" -- unquote. There's a -- a great interview with Hagel in "GQ" magazine, in which the potential White House hopeful says the administration was -- quote -- "hell-bent on going to war in Iraq."
Hagel thinks Congress has abdicated its responsibilities when it comes to checking the power of the president, and needs to exercise oversight of the war's funding. When asked what it would take to secure Baghdad, Hagel says -- quote -- "It's not ours to secure. We have never understood that. We have framed this in a way that never made sense: 'Win or lose in Iraq.' Wait a minute. There is no win or lose for us. The Iraqis will determine how this comes out."
Some are questioning Hagel's motives for speaking out now, in light of the fact that he might run for president, and the war, of course, is a very unpopular issue.
Anyway, here is the question: What does it mean if Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is a tougher critic of the Bush administration than many Democrats in Washington?
E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I'm going to try that mush one of these days when I get to Iowa.
CAFFERTY: It's terrific.
BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.
Coming up: Mitt Romney on the campaign trail explaining his conversion, some of the social issues. But can he connect with crucial conservative voters? John King standing by for that.
Plus: To get to the White House, you probably have to win Ohio. We're going to take a closer look at which candidates have the early lead in the Buckeye State.
And later: Should Congress cut the funding for an increase of U.S. troops in Iraq? Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, he is standing by to join us live, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Presidential hopefuls out on the campaign trail topping our "Political Radar" today.
Mitt Romney is wrapping up two days of campaigning in the crucial early primary state of South Carolina. The former Massachusetts governor is meeting with conservative voters and defending his evolution on key social issues like abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research.
Sam Brownback is back in Iowa, which holds the nation's first presidential caucus.
But the senator from Kansas isn't the only Republican White House hopeful campaigning in Iowa today. Mike Huckabee is also there. The former Arkansas governor is making his first stop on the campaign trail since officially starting up his presidential campaign yesterday.
Former Iowa Governor and White House hopeful Tom Vilsack reports, his campaign raised $1.1 million during the last seven weeks of 2006. That's more than he aimed for, but far behind such Democratic rivals as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. A new survey finds Senator Clinton beating out potential -- potential -- Republican rivals in Ohio. A new Quinnipiac University poll shows Clinton topping John McCain, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani in separate head-to-head matchups. McCain beats Barack Obama, but loses out to John Edwards in the new poll. Ohio, of course, was the state that decided it all back in 2004, putting President Bush over the top.
And, remember, CNN is a partner in the very first presidential debates of the campaign season. We are going to bring them to you from New Hampshire on April 4 and 5 of this year.
We will talk a little bit more now about Republican Mitt Romney's swing through South Carolina and the explaining he has had to do along the way on some of the social issues.
Our John King is here with us.
This is a delicate dance he's got to go through to recruit some of these social conservatives.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is.
And, traditionally, Wolf, South Carolina has been the firewall, if you will. Candidates who stumble early on -- George W. Bush, Bob Dole back in 1996, a bit of a shakeup -- that's where they recover and try to prove that they have the conservative base of the party in their camp to go on and be the nominee.
Governor Romney, Former Governor Romney, now, the great advantage he has in this race is that he doesn't work in Washington, like all the senators running for president. So, he's out on the campaign trail all the time. And he has spent a lot of time in South Carolina, at the public events, which you just showed the pictures of, but, also, very smartly and very importantly, one on one, in small groups, with these evangelical, social conservative pastors and activists on the ground, because he does have a problem.
Two or three years ago, he was pro-choice, favored abortion rights. Now he says he is pro-life, against abortion rights. He's had an evolution on gay rights as well. You mentioned stem cell research.
His point is, many candidates over the years have done this -- Ronald Reagan did it; George H.W. Bush did it -- that this is who he is now, and he's surrounding himself with people who might not be known to you or me or people around the country, but are very well known in those communities, to say: I mean it.
But that is one of his biggest challenges, proving that, when he says he will be anti-abortion, defend the Republican platform, that he won't change his mind again. He is, so far, getting pretty good reviews, but there's still some skepticism.
BLITZER: Is there a conservative candidate out there right now who is simply captivating the conservative base, the real conservative base of the party?
KING: There was -- if you will go back six months ago, there was a big Romney buzz, a lot of people out there saying, this was the guy emerging as the early -- quote, unquote -- "conservative alternative" to John McCain, who would say: You know, I'm pretty conservative. Why do you need an alternative to me?
But Romney had the buzz early on. But, because of the skepticism, because of people asking questions, and, frankly, just because people are starting to choose sides, and it gets a little more difficult, even this far out, that's why you have Huckabee, Brownback, even former Wisconsin Governor and HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, people who have longstanding, very conservative records on those social issues, saying, "I think I'm going to run, too," or "I am going to run, too," they are sort of hovering, just to see, can Romney survive this credibility test right now about his positions?
How does McCain fare early out? Will Rudy Giuliani keep support, or will the Republican base say, no way; we are not taking a guy who supports gay rights and abortion rights?
So, you do have what we call second-tier candidates, hovering, if you will, waiting to see if somebody in the top tier falls out.
BLITZER: They want to have a breakout moment as well. We will watch it with you.
KING: Long way to go.
BLITZER: Yes. Thanks very much, John, for that.
Coming up: How old is too old for airline pilots? We are going to tell you about some new rules that could be affecting all of us who fly.
Plus: Which party has got the upper hand in the political battle over the war in Iraq? Find out in today's "Strategy Session."
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring the wires, keeping an eye on all the video feeds coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
She is joining us from New York with a closer look at some other important stories making news.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Hello to all of you.
How old is too old for a pilot to fly an airplane? That is the issue the Federal Aviation Administration is weighing in on. New rules proposed by the FAA would allow pilots to fly until they turn 65 years old. That's five years older than the mandatory retirement age for pilots now.
There is a twist to the FAA proposal, however. At least one person in the cockpit would have to be under 60 years old.
New developments in the case against terror suspect Jose Padilla -- a federal appeals today court reinstated a key count against him and two co-defendants. The reinstated count concerns alleged terror-- related acts inside and outside of the United States. If convicted, Padilla could get life.
Lawyers for Padilla and the other defendants have 21 days to appeal. Their trial is expected to start in April. They face charges of conspiracy and providing material support to Islamic extremist groups. Padilla has pleaded not guilty.
In West Virginia, what would cause a gas station to simply blow up? That is what officials are trying to find out. The Flat Top Little General Store is a pile of twisted debris right now. The unexpected explosion there knocked out power to buildings three miles away, and killed at least four people. One official says as many as seven could be dead. Authorities think a propane tank may have exploded.
And, in politics, payback can be -- well, payback can cost thousands. It looks like members of Congress will not be getting a pay raise this year. Republicans are angry that Democrats used the issue of congressional pay in last year's campaign. So, Republicans will not allow Democrats to reinstate an annual pay hike that lawmakers had agreed to. They were supposed to get an extra $2,700 this year. But they will just have to get by on their salary of $165,200 -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That's life in the fast lane.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Carol, for that.
And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
Happening right now: The speaker of the House says the situation in Iraq, in her word -- quote -- "catastrophic." Nancy Pelosi, just back from visiting Iraq with a congressional delegation, she says, in her estimation, there was no evidence of badly needed political and diplomatic initiatives.
Meanwhile, Iraq's situation can be turned around, but time is short -- that's the word from U.S. Admiral William Fallon. He is poised to become the next commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East. At his confirmation hearing earlier today before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Fallon also said, it may be time, in his words, to redefine the goals in Iraq. And how to handle Iran -- if the Bush administration were to find out Iran is supplying militants in Iraq, what options might the U.S. government have to prevent it?
Our Brian Todd standing by to take a closer look at some scenarios.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's get back to the presidential campaign and what some people see as Senator Barack Obama's Achilles' heel. That would be experience. It's now a topic of debate and a thinly veiled dig by a fellow Democrat.
Let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, yesterday, we saw the first defining issue emerge in the race for the Democratic nomination.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Recently, someone asked John Edwards about his decision to run for president in 2004, after just one term in the Senate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some people say that it was too soon for you to do that, that you needed more time and more experience in Washington. How would you respond to that?
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They may have been right.
SCHNEIDER: What has changed this time?
EDWARDS: You learn from going through a national election the intensity of the spotlight is extraordinary. It exposes everything good about you and everything bad about you.
SCHNEIDER: Asked why he was a better candidate than Barack Obama, Edwards responded, according to the Associated Press: "Experience. I have been through a presidential campaign."
Here's Obama's response to the criticism that he lacks experience.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: The important thing is not experience, per se. Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney had the best resumes in Washington, and initiated a fiasco in Iraq.
SCHNEIDER: Hillary Clinton showcases her experience -- and not just in government.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I am going to be asking people to vote for me based on my entire life and experience. The fact that I'm a woman, the fact that I'm a mom is part of who I am.
SCHNEIDER: A CBS News poll asked whether Hillary Rodham Clinton has the right experience to be president. Fifty-nine percent said yes. And Barack Obama? Twenty-seven percent said yes. Forty-three percent didn't know.
Some Democrats worry that Clinton has too much political baggage, and that Obama doesn't have enough. That could open the way for Edwards, or another Democrat, especially one with experience in world affairs.
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: I believe these serious times demand serious people who have real-world experience in solving the challenges we face.
SCHNEIDER: How important is experience to the voters? It varies from one election to the next. In the turbulent year 1968, voters were looking for a president with a lot of experience, Richard Nixon. In 1976, after Watergate, voters wanted someone untainted by Washington experience, Jimmy Carter. Obama is betting that 2008 will be another year when experience is not a high priority -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Bill, we will watch this part of the story together with you.
Coming up in our "Strategy Session": Speaker Pelosi, the delegation of House Democrats have returned from Iraq more convinced than ever, they say, that President Bush's policy in Iraq is doomed to fail.
And a chorus from Congress over the war in Iraq. Will the Democratic-led Congress move to actually start cutting off funds? Senator Russ Feingold, standing by to join us live, he believes the Congress should do exactly that.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Many of us who cover presidential politics can't help but sit back and sometimes marvel that so much is actually going on in the 2008 race, and it's only January 2007. Some are likening it to a campaign on steroids.
But our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, is looking at it from a somewhat different angle -- Jeff.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Wolf, since the rest of our colleagues are torn between wringing their hands about how soon the presidential campaign is starting and plunging full-scale into over- covering it, let's take a bold step toward the next thing to worry about: how soon this will all end.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GREENFIELD (voice-over): For a spectacular example of double- think, check out yesterday's "New York Times." While the editorial page bemoans the 23-month campaign, two stories splashed across the front page, and lots more inside, help fuel the very focus the editorial page deplores.
GREENFIELD: Well, maybe it's just that times it is, and they are, a'changing.
RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Welcome to Iowa.
GREENFIELD: The press corps is showing up in the early states like Iowa and New Hampshire in numbers that suggest it is 2008 already.
And now a gaggle of big states, tired of being overshadowed by the smaller states, are seriously thinking of moving their contests into February, which could well mean that the nomination contests will be effectively over around Groundhog Day.
If so, it would be a part of a continuing trend. Not that long ago, the primaries were marathons, not sprints. George McGovern didn't wrap up his 1972 nomination until the convention. Ronald Reagan almost beat Jerry Ford at the convention in 1976. Ted Kennedy and President Carter battled into the summer in 1980, as did Gary Hart and Walter Mondale in '84.
But, in the more recent battles, the nominees clinched victory before spring. And, this time out, it will likely be even earlier.
And here is the real issue. No, it's not the need for early massive money or the shortchanging of a thoughtful political argument. No, no, the real issue is much more important.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE VIEW")
JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST: There was a "Newsweek" poll that...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREENFIELD: What is everybody going to talk and write about?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NBC)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The latest NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" polls shows...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREENFIELD: All this year, we can cite meaningless irrelevant poll numbers, since most normal Americans have, sensibly, not begun thinking about a vote they won't have to cast for a year.
If the victors are crowned early in 2008, what then? Can the republic really take six or seven months of talk about who the vice presidential nominee will be or what the acceptance speeches will sound like?
GREENFIELD: Friends, I don't care if you watch C-SPAN2 for erotic arousal. Nobody can take half-a-year of that kind of gasbaggery. It's entirely possible that, by the time the conventions arrive, 90 percent of the country will think the election happened already, and, come November, you will be able to shoot a cannon into a polling precinct and not hit a living soul -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You think, in other words, we're just going to be bored to death by the time this is all said and done?
GREENFIELD: I figure, by November 2008, we will be talking about 2012, or maybe 2016.
BLITZER: Some people -- I'm not kidding -- already looking ahead, in case the Democrats do lose this time. Then, what happens the next time?
GREENFIELD: We need a rehab center for people like us, them, whatever.
BLITZER: That would be -- us is the correct way of saying it.
BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield, thanks very much.
GREENFIELD: Thank you.
BLITZER: And up next: our "Strategy Session" -- a Republican senator taking on President Bush over who is the decider.
Plus: Should Congress cut funds to make sure President Bush doesn't send more troops to Iraq? Senator Russ Feingold standing by. The Democratic senator from Wisconsin will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: A Republican senator effective -- effectively telling President Bush he is not the only decider.
We want to talk about that and more in our "Strategy Session" today. Joining us, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn and CNN political analyst Bay Buchanan, president of American Cause.
Here is a really little clip from what Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said earlier today.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I would suggest -- suggest, respectfully, to the president that he is not the sole decider.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now, he said that, you know, on his own. Nobody prompted him to say that.
What do you make of this latest development?
PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I will tell you, Wolf, two- thirds of the country thinks that the Congress should be calling the shots on -- on Iraq and on foreign policy, let alone domestic policy.
This president, I think, has got himself in such trouble when he uses words like "I'm the decider." If he is going to do anything, he ought to take a page out of Arnold Schwarzenegger's book and work with the Democrats to get stuff done.
BLITZER: What do you think, Bay?
BAY BUCHANAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there's no question Arlen Specter is speaking for a lot of other individuals in this town. They think they're president.
BUCHANAN: I mean, the people in this town, there are so many who think they are so important that they can actually suggest that they should have a say in how this war is being run.
If the Senate and the House want to have a say, they only have one say. They gave him authority to run this war. He runs the war. He is the decider, as the commander in chief. If he doesn't want to -- if they want to step in, then, cut the funds. That's all their choice is. That's period. That's all they can do.
FENN: You know, there is another issue here, too. And you have got a lot of Republicans up in the Senate next time, 21 Republicans, for 12 Democrats. These folks are nervous. They're scared about getting reelected. They want to see something done. They are afraid this president is going to bring them down. And they're looking two years...
BLITZER: Peter makes a fair point. Several of those Republicans, normally loyal foot soldiers in the president's battles of -- are speaking out against the president. Norm Coleman, for example, of...
BLITZER: ... of Minnesota jumps to mind.
BUCHANAN: There's no question there are -- they may -- they're distancing themselves. And they have every right to. This is a key issue. The American people are very concerned. They want this battle to end. They want us to come home from Iraq.
So, our leaders should express themselves. But, before they say they should be the ones deciding on what is going on in Iraq, they either take their responsibility and authority that they have and make a difference, or they just come on your show and talk about it, and let people know that they differ.
But they cannot be the person making the calls in Iraq, or we're going to have a repeat...
BLITZER: Do you see, Bay, evidence, as some critics are suggesting, that the White House already is in a state of panic?
BUCHANAN: Well, you know, there is good reason, if they are. I do not see a state of panic. I -- I see a president who is very deliberate about what he is doing in Iraq. He's given the generals certainly responsibility. They are moving ahead.
They are very, very deliberate in their efforts. And they have told the American people what they're going to do.
There -- is there panic in this sense? You cannot maintain a war in this country without the American people's support. You just can't do it. And, so, the American -- so, the president has. He's tried to reach out to the American people. He will continue to do so. And that is the only way he is going to be able to keep a force over there.
BLITZER: What do you think, Peter?
FENN: I will tell you, they're in quicksand up to their necks right now, Wolf. And I think they're really worried about this latest strategy.
They know that, unless they make progress in Iraq in the next six weeks, they're toast.
BLITZER: Six weeks? That's -- you know, they need six...
FENN: That would be -- that would be an eternity.
BLITZER: They said they need at least six months.
BUCHANAN: I think they have six months.
FENN: But, politically, I don't think they have got six months, to be honest with you.
I think -- look, I think you have got generals over there, you have got military people who are going to come out and speak out against this war.
And I will tell you, I -- I -- I just think that they have got to move fast, if they're going to -- if they're going to recover.
BUCHANAN: Well, I think they have six months, for this reason.
I don't see Congress moving to cut anything. And, so, if they don't do that, the president can continue. And, then, if, in six months, the president is now saying, we're now pulling back, we're turning this area over to such and such, and we're going to do this, then, the American people are going to relax.
BLITZER: Let me -- let me -- let me ask Peter, because you know the Republicans -- the Democrats quite well. Russ Feingold is going to be here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He is among those Democrats -- not many -- saying cut the funds, use the power of the purse.
Nancy Pelosi isn't saying that. Joe Biden is not saying that. Chris Dodd is not saying that.
What do you -- what -- do -- do...
BLITZER: ... you think that there is momentum moving towards that among Democrats?
FENN: On cutting off funds, probably not, Wolf.
I think what they want to do is, they want to get a vote, a majority, even get Republicans involved. Look, John Warner has got a good resolution. They get 60 to 70 votes on that one, that -- that will send a message to this president.
But my old boss, Frank Church, went in with -- with John Sherman Cooper in Vietnam and cut off funds for Cambodia. Now, that took a lot of guts. A lot of folks were against them. But I will tell you, it may come to that down the road. And that may be the six-month plan.
BLITZER: All right. Guys...
BUCHANAN: Down the road. Down the road.
BLITZER: ... we have got -- we have got to leave it there. A lot of us remember Frank Church, a decent, very decent, guy, indeed.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in, Peter and Bay.
Up next: Has the time actually come for Democrats to put up or shut up when it comes to the war? We will talk with Senator Russ Feingold. He's standing by to join us live. And in our next hour: Gone are the moderates. Chaos in Iraq has chased away the reformers. Has Iraq's last chance for peace gone with them? We will speak with Sabrina Tavernise of "The New York Times." She is just back from a long tour of duty there.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
Should Congress simply cut off funding for the war in Iraq?
My next guest thinks so. Democratic Senator Russ Feingold is joining us now from Capitol Hill.
Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: Good afternoon, Wolf.
BLITZER: Some of the critics say, if do you that, it would undermine, it would hurt the U.S. troops in Iraq.
What do you say?
FEINGOLD: Well, that's just another one of these red herrings, false argument that is put out. Nobody is talking about taking anything away from the troops.
What we're saying is, there should be a time frame to redeploy the troops. In other words, we don't say to somebody: Hey, give us your rifle and give us your helmet. You are going to stay here in Baghdad.
The fact is, our bill that I'm putting in tomorrow would say, the troops have to be out within six months after the bill is passed. That's the safest thing for the troops, is to not be in Iraq.
BLITZER: In an interview with Politico.com, this new Web site, you told Roger Simon that you were upset about what you called the timidity of several of your fellow Democrats who refuse to join you in using the constitutional power of the purse to stop the war.
FEINGOLD: Well, my concern has been in the past that, sometimes, Democrats have been too timid on this issue.
There is a little bit of old habits dying slowly going on here in the Senate. But I'm optimistic. The nonbinding resolutions that are coming up, Wolf, are ones that I can support, as long as they are only the first small steps.
What has to follow -- and what I hope Democrats and Republicans will follow with -- is a binding resolution that says, this thing has to end. We have to get out of Iraq.
And I feel, on the Senate floor, just a few minutes ago, that many Democrats, as well as Republicans, are realizing that we have to have a real strategy, not just resolutions.
BLITZER: In other words, you -- you think that Harry Reid, your Democratic leader, the majority leader in the Senate, Nancy Pelosi in the -- on the House side, Hillary Clinton, among others, they're -- they're not doing what they should be doing right now, namely, using the power of the purse?
FEINGOLD: Well, I think the proof will be in the pudding.
What is being done right now, the idea of having a resolution that says, look, this policy doesn't make sense, and we shouldn't have the escalation, that is good. And what they are doing is positive. It's just that it's a very small step. It's almost like a sideshow, compared to what has to be the real step, what the American people asked for in -- in November, which is, we need to redeploy the troops from Iraq, not just stop the surge. The troops have to come out.
This is hurting our national security. It's hurting our military. And I think the leaders of the Democratic Party in both the House and the Senate will come around on this.
BLITZER: Here is what Senator Clinton said in Iowa this weekend on this specific issue. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: This president can veto whatever we pass, and, given his track record, can ignore what we do.
So, unless we get a very strong political consensus that includes Republicans, as well as Democrats, we are not likely to change this president's policy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: In other words, to paraphrase, she seems to think that what you're suggesting, at least right now, given the lack of votes, would be a waste of time.
FEINGOLD: Well, that's just wrong.
I mean, the fact is that, if we are able to cut off the funding for the war, the president will not be able to conduct the war. And, so, what Senator Clinton's remarks relate to are other things, like nonbinding resolutions.
It does not apply to the kind of bill I'm offering. And, let's remember, these are some of the same people that told us we ought to go into Iraq in the first place. These are people that said you simply can't oppose a war like Iraq.
They were wrong on that. And they're also wrong about this. We need to get out of there.
BLITZER: What -- what they say, your critics, administration supporters, is that, as bad as the situation in Iraq is right now, Senator, it could be a whole lot worse. The civil war could simply explode into not only ethnic cleansing, but genocide, and infect the entire region.
You have got a bad hand that you're dealt right now. What do you do in this kind of an environment?
FEINGOLD: Well, what they miss there and what they choose to ignore is the reality on the ground, is that the situation is already very much like what you just described.
And I happen to think that the fact that our troops are there and in harm's way actually encourages some of this violence, not through any act of our own troops, because it's an environment that actually encourages people to act the way they are.
The fact is, if we got out of there, it might get worse for a while for the Iraqis. But I also think it gives them a chance to try to figure out their own future, without us standing there with a military force.
But, in the end, what is most important is the security of the American people. As important as Iraq is, what really matters is that our people be safe. And Iraq is bleeding us of our strength. That has to end.
BLITZER: Here's what you said. I want to bring it back and put it up on the screen.
You told "The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel" back in November, November 10: "Those who were there and came to the judgment the Iraq war was a good idea have to answer for some concerns I have about their judgment. That was a really bad judgment."
You voted against the resolution authorizing the president to go to war, like Senator Kennedy. But Hillary Clinton voted for it. John Edwards, when he was in the Senate, voted for it. Chris Dodd did, Joe Biden.
That's a pretty strong criticism of your Democratic colleagues.
FEINGOLD: Well, look, it's a criticism of anybody that bought into these arguments that, somehow, the Iraq war made sense after 9/11.
To me, it was obviously foolish and didn't make sense. And, so, those who voted for it made a mistake, as most of them have admitted. That doesn't mean they can't do the job in the future.
But I think it's an important test of judgment, whether somebody realized that Iraq clearly was not the right move in the fight against those that attacked us on 9/11. And that has to be factored in when you consider somebody for the office of president of the United States.
BLITZER: You announced a few months ago you were not going to seek the presidency. You regret that decision? FEINGOLD: Not at all. It's great. I can do an interview like this, and somebody doesn't say that I'm not doing this just because I'm running for president. You can just say what you think.
FEINGOLD: And I'm enjoying my work, and, obviously, today, being able to chair a committee about the constitutionality of ending this war. This is just the work I was hoping to do. I want to bring an end to this war.
And, here in the Senate, I have a chance to help make that happen.
BLITZER: Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin.
FEINGOLD: Thank you.
BLITZER: Hey, Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
FEINGOLD: Good to be on the show.
BLITZER: All right. We will have you back soon -- always outspoken.
Still to come in the next hour: Senator Arlen Specter, he is always outspoken as well. He has a very blunt message for President Bush today: Guess what? You're not the only one who has a say on what happens in Iraq.
Senator Specter will join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour.
But up next: Jack Cafferty. What does it mean if Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is a tougher critic of the Bush administration than many Democrats? That is Jack's question -- Jack with your e-mail when we come back.
BLITZER: Check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: What does it mean if Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is a tougher critic of the Bush administration's plans to escalate the war in Iraq than many Democrats?
A lot of mail.
Blanche (ph) in Los Angeles: "Maybe Senator Hagel remembers Vietnam better than those that didn't serve, including a great many Republicans. Even John McCain doesn't seem to remember what happened."
Curtis (ph) in Philadelphia: "Jack, it means Hagel is an old- school Republican who is sick and tired of his beloved party being dragged through the mud by quite possibly the very worst presidential administration this great country has ever had. Oh, and he is also contemplating a run for the White House."
Mary in Dover Plains, New York: "The fact that Chuck Hagel has shown more backbone than most Democrats makes him my favorite senator, and the only Republican I would consider supporting for the presidency. He may very well be the only politician with both a brain and a moral compass in all of Washington."
Jim in Houston: "Hagel's comments would warm my heart if I were an insurgent in Iraq. As such, I would vote for him. I hope enough folks wake up to the tone this has for our enemies. Again, I'm tired of hearing in the media these weak-kneed politicians playing to the stage, instead of proposing anything concrete."
And Dan in Cincinnati: "Hi, Jack. Senator Hagel has real backbone. And, instead of a backbone, the Democrats have fried mush" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.
And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening right now: It's 5:00 p.m. here in Washington, where there's a battle over war powers. Who is the decider when it comes to sending American troops abroad? A key Republican arguing, President Bush must share that responsibility -- I will speak live this hour with Senator Arlen Specter.
And it's 1:00 a.m. in Iraq, where millions brave bombs and bullets to gather in the streets. We're going to bring you a rare firsthand look at the shocking Shiite ritual dating back more than 1,300 years.
And from flooding to drought to disappearing species, scientists are pooling their knowledge about global warming. And they're worried. A grim new report tells us why.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the THE SITUATION ROOM.
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