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THE SITUATION ROOM

The White House and Congress Still Fighting Over Iraq Funding; The Latest Developments in the Race for the White House

Aired April 3, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Happening now, President Bush fires back at Democrats in Congress, accusing them of a dangerous political dance. I'll ask White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino about the new finger-pointing over Iraq war funding and pullout deadlines.
Also this hour, our eye popping new presidential poll from New Hampshire. One Democrat flits, another surges. I'll ask John Edwards for his take on the shake-up in the Granite State.

And who's the Republican frontrunner in the White House contest?

We're looking for answers by following the money.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The political game over Iraq is ratcheting up again today. President Bush is warning Democrats that any delay in the war funding and any risk to the troops will be their fault. He is urging Congress to pass a war spending bill soon, even if it's one he vows to veto because it includes withdrawal deadlines.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My attitude is enough politics. They need to come back, pass a bill. If they want to play politics, fine. They continue to do that, I will veto it. But they ought to do it quickly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel, is standing by.

But first we go to White House correspondent Ed Henry -- it is all about timing when it comes to strategy in the White House.

What have we heard from the president today?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was so interesting, Suzanne. In the Rose Garden, the president's mood was very placid. It seemed to match the weather out here. It's beautiful. Cherry blossoms everywhere.

But make no mistake -- when you listen to the president's actual words, this was a shot right across the Democrats' bow.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): The tulip tree in the Rose Garden may have been in full bloom, but the president's message was anything but flowery.

BUSH: Congress' failure to fund our troops on the front lines will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines. And others could see their loved ones headed back to the war sooner than they need to. That is unacceptable to me.

HENRY: With Vice President Cheney looking on from behind a shrub, the president chided Congress for taking its spring recess before finishing work on war funding bills that call for U.S. troops to start leaving Iraq.

BUSH: Democrat leaders in Congress are bent on making a political statement and they need to send me this unacceptable bill as quickly as possible when they come back. I'll veto it and then Congress can get down to the business of funding our troops without strings and without delay.

HENRY: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid quickly made clear he's not backing down.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: He's been very uncompromising and that's the reason we're in the quagmire we're in in Iraq. He should become in tune with the fact that he is president of the United States, not king of the United States. And he has another branch of government, namely a legislative branch of government, that he has to deal with.

HENRY: But the president hammered Democrats, noting only 40 percent of the surge troops have made it to Baghdad.

BUSH: I believe not only can we succeed, I know we must succeed. And so I decided to -- at the recommendation of military commanders, decide to send reinforcements as opposed to leaving Baghdad and watching the country go up in flames.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

HENRY: Now, the president stopped short of demanding that Congress end its vacation and come back for any sort of a special session to deal with this war funding bill. That may have to do with the fact that the president's taking a few days off himself later this week, heading to his ranch for the Easter break himself -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Ed, I understand that there's a delegation that is going to North Korea, bipartisan.

How is that playing out? And what does the White House think about that? HENRY: Quite interesting, because Democratic Governor Bill Richardson, a presidential candidate, is going to be helping to lead this delegation to North Korea, along with the former Veterans Affairs secretary, Anthony Principi. So you have a Democrat and a Republican.

They're going to be heading to North Korea to bring back the remains of U.S. servicemen from the Korean War. What's interesting is, number one, Richardson as a presidential candidate, this helps him raise his stature ever so slightly on foreign policy. The White House has taken great pains to say they didn't pick Richardson, the North Korean government picked Richardson because of their previous diplomatic dealings with him.

But, secondly, it also suggests that perhaps -- and I stress perhaps -- some diplomatic channels here are opening between the U.S. and North Korea, coming out of some of that early success in the six party talks -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Ed, thanks so much.

And on Capitol Hill, the top Senate Democrat is pushing back at President Bush, accusing him of failing the troops with his Iraq strategy.

Our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel -- tell me, is there any sign that the Democrats now are willing to give any kind of ground?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not even an inch, Suzanne.

And, in fact, today, the majority leader, Harry Reid, seemed to be digging in even further. And, as you heard in Ed's piece, saying Mr. President, remember you're president of the United States, not king of the United States. He also seemed to give him a civics lesson, reminding him that there is a third branch of government, and that's over here in Congress, and Congress wants to change the course in Iraq -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: The troops are going to run out of money fairly soon. He is talking mid-April.

What is Congress saying?

What are Democrats claiming?

KOPPEL: Harry Reid just is not buying that. He says that the facts don't bear that out. He points to this recent study that was done by the non-profit Congressional Research Service, which says, in fact, the money won't run out until some time in July.

He also said that President Bush is misrepresenting the facts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REID: The troops aren't about to run out of money. The independent, non-partisan Congressional Reference Service says there's enough money to go until July. His own generals have said it will last until the end of June. So let's get real.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOPPEL: In fact, Senator Reid says that if anybody wasted time, it was President Bush, in delaying getting his war supplemental over to the Congress -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Andrea, very different how each one of them is using a different timetable to emphasize their own political position here -- the president, mid-April; you're saying this report, July; and, obviously, Peter Pace is saying somewhere in May.

So very, very interesting.

Now, another flashpoint between President Bush and Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Syria, a nation the U.S. accuses of sponsoring terrorism. Pelosi meets with President Bashar Assad tomorrow. She is expected to discuss Syria's alleged role in supporting militant groups active in Lebanon and Iraq.

President Bush was asked today why he opposes the visit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: It's one thing to send a message, it's another thing to have the person receiving the message actually do something. So the position of this administration is that the best way to meet with a leader like Assad or people from Syria is in the larger context of trying to get the global community to help change his behavior. But sending delegations hasn't worked. It's just simply been counter- productive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: We'll have more on the Pelosi visit and the political fallout ahead in our Strategy Session.

Now, surprising new terms and tightening in the Democratic race for the White House. And they're happening in New Hampshire. We have a few CNN/WMUR polls from the leadoff primary state.

Look at this. John Edwards has narrowly squeezed into second place in a survey of Democratic primary voters conducted by the University of New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton now stands at 27 percent. Edwards is at 21 percent and Barack Obama is in a virtual tie with Edwards, with 20 percent. Al Gore, who isn't running, gets 11 percent.

Now, since our poll in February, Senator Clinton has lost eight points, Edwards has gained five points and Obama has held relatively steady.

Democratic candidate Obama and Christopher Dodd have stopped in New Hampshire today. So did Republicans Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is in New Hampshire, too.

She is covering all of this -- Senator Obama's campaign -- Candy, what do we expect is going to happen? What is the cause of this race getting so close with the Democrats?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I suspect that a part of it is over the past month, since the last time this poll was taken, we saw Al Gore at the Oscars and we saw the announcement of Elizabeth Edwards's recurrence of her cancer.

So there is some of that in these numbers -- Al Gore picking up by a couple of points and John Edwards picking up by five points, all of it taken out of Hillary Clinton's numbers.

So that's part of what's going on here, some of it the natural ebb and flow of what happens in polls from time to time.

But I'll tell you another thing that's really interesting, Andrea -- I'm sorry -- Suzanne, which doesn't really -- isn't really explicable to me at this point, and that is when we ask for favorables, that is, do you have an unfavorable or a favorable opinion about some candidate or another, you will find that Hillary Clinton's favorables has dropped by 10 points in a month.

Now, what's going on there is unclear, but that's a pretty major drop.

MALVEAUX: Candy, what can we expect from the Obama camp?

Obviously, they haven't released their estimates when it comes to their fundraising figures.

What do you estimate it will be and what does that mean for the campaign?

CROWLEY: Well, there is a report out today in the "New York Times" that it should be somewhere around $20 million. We're getting some indications that it will be larger than that.

What we're finding out right now, obviously, is that the Barack Obama campaign is loving this rollup to these numbers.

Let's say, though, they expect to be pretty darned competitive with Hillary Clinton, who, as you know, came in at around $26 million. The other night, when we were with Barack Obama, he was talking about the need for campaign finance reform. And he said listen, it's not hypocritical of me, but I have to tell you, I don't like raising all this money. And he called them "obscene amounts."

So we'll find out what an obscene amount is probably tomorrow.

MALVEAUX: OK, great.

Thank you so much.

Week all of them are playing the media just a little bit, getting a little bit more attention there, squeezing us one more day. So we'll see what those numbers look like.

Thanks again.

Candy Crowley, Andrea Koppel and Ed Henry are all part of the best political team on television.

Up ahead, much more on the Democratic battle for the White House. John Edwards joins us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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

Now, of course, time for The Cafferty File.

Jack Cafferty joining us from New York -- what are you looking at?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Between going on break -- the House for two weeks, the Senate for one -- and going to Iraq, it's no wonder nothing gets done in this country.

Since 2003, 365 members of Congress have visited Iraq.

Remember 2003?

That's when President Bush declared major combat operations over and the U.S. death toll in Iraq was 140. Today, the U.S. death toll is 3,258. The fighting rages on, the country of Iraq consumed by a civil war.

Nevertheless, Michael Luo of the "New York Times" suggested this morning that visits to Iraq are becoming a required part of the political wardrobe for any U.S. lawmaker who wants to be taken seriously in the debate over the war. They go and they come back quickly. Usually they spend only a day inside the green zone in Baghdad.

When they get back here, their views on the war seldom change -- the supporters support it, the opponents oppose it. But they got their picture taken talking to some general, so I guess we're supposed to take them more seriously.

Senator John McCain just got back, talking about what a lovely place it is -- perfectly safe to go out and walk around in Baghdad's central market.

The truth is this -- John McCain was surrounded by more than 100 U.S. soldiers in armored Humvees whose sole job was to protect him and General Petraeus. There were five helicopters circling overhead -- three Blackhawks, two Apache gunships.

An insurgent would have to be smoking crack to try to make a move against McCain under those circumstances.

I'll tell you what, give me five helicopters and 100 soldiers and I'll take you on a tour of the South Bronx on a Saturday night. Here's the question -- how helpful is it for lawmakers to visit Iraq?

E-mail us at caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Jack, I've strolled through the South Bronx many times without that kind of security.

What are you talking about?

CAFFERTY: I'm talking about he had five helicopters and 100 soldiers in armored Humvees and he's talking about how safe Iraq is.

Doesn't that register?

MALVEAUX: Do you know that 300 -- I think -- 65 members of Congress have actually visited Baghdad.

CAFFERTY: I think I said, since 2003, 365 members of Congress have visited Iraq.

MALVEAUX: Amazing.

Absolutely amazing.

Thank you, Jack.

And if you want a sneak preview of Jack's questions plus an early read on the day's political news and what's ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM, sign up for our daily e-mail alert. Just go to cnn.com/situationroom.

And coming up, the battle for the Republican presidential nomination. It appears more than ever to be a toss-up.

Plus, the showdown between President Bush and the Democrats over the Iraq War. Deputy White House Press Secretary Dana Perino joins me live at the bottom of the hour.

And later, John Edwards speaks out about his jump in our new poll in New Hampshire. My one-on-one interview with the Democratic presidential hopeful next hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: The Republican presidential campaigns are busy spinning today. They're either bragging about or explaining away their first quarter fundraising estimates.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is here -- Bill, all of this cash flowing around, we know it's very competitive.

What are the kind of questions that are coming up here regarding the campaign and all this money?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, how about this?

Who's the frontrunner in the Republican race?

Now, that question has gotten a lot harder to answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): And the Republican frontrunner is?

KATON DAWSON, SOUTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN PARTY: Right now there isn't a frontrunner.

SCHNEIDER: The frontrunner was supposed to be John McCain. He's been mending relations with conservatives he used to pick fights with, like Jerry Falwell and George W. Bush.

But McCain's had some problems lately. He's no longer first in the polls. His fundraising puts him in third place among Republicans. McCain's trip to Iraq this week has tied him even tighter to President Bush's war policy.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It certainly seems that we are on the right road.

SCHNEIDER: Rudy Giuliani is the frontrunner in the polls, but he's number two in fundraising.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We only started like January 27th. We ended up with a lot of money.

SCHNEIDER: What happens if you're running third in the polls, but first in fundraising, like Mitt Romney?

Your campaign gets a second chance.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's time to have somebody go to Washington who knows how to change things for the better.

SCHNEIDER: Change?

Romney is a Republican.

Are Republicans looking for change?

Maybe.

DAWSON: I would think that the message of change is resonating along with what the vision is for the next eight years.

SCHNEIDER: Romney is a Washington outsider who can sell change. McCain's mistake may have been to jump aboard Bush's ship just when it was about to run aground.

A lot of Republicans are unhappy with all three leading candidates. They're hoping to entice one more contender into the field.

DAWSON: I've certainly seen a lot of excitement for Senator Thompson. We know him. We watched his record in Washington and I think that he'd be a very viable candidate.

SCHNEIDER: Conservatives longing for another Ronald Reagan are wondering -- could Fred Thompson play that role?

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Usually, the Republican race is an orderly succession, while the Democrats have a free-for-all. Well, this time the Republican race looks more wide open -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: So what did we see on the Democratic side? Any surprises?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the orderly succession doesn't look so orderly. Hillary Clinton's lead has dropped in New Hampshire. It now looks like it might well be a three-way race, at least in that crucial state.

And if Obama comes up with more than $20 million, then he will be taken as a very serious contender. He's running as an outsider and an anti-establishment candidate. But when you raise money like that, you do not have -- you're not really running with a pickup team. It's a very professional operation.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Bill.

Still ahead, a new measure of Iraq's security and parallels between this war and Vietnam.

Plus, Senator Hillary Clinton comes out swinging against the president's Iraq policy.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Our Carol Costello is monitoring the wires. She's keeping an eye on all the video feeds from around the world.

She joins us now with -- in New York with the latest.

What are you tracking this hour -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I've got a lot of stuff to tell you about, Suzanne.

Here is a possible clue that Iraq's dicey security situation might be improving. Iraq's government is pushing back Baghdad's nighttime curfew by two hours. An official with the Iraqi Interior Ministry says the curfew will now begin at 10:00 p.m. instead of 8:00 and will be lifted an hour earlier than usual, at 5:00 in the morning. New pictures of 15 British marines and sailors held in Iran released today by the Iranian News Agency. The Brits have been held for 12 days now. British Prime Minister Tony Blair says the next two days will be fairly critical for diplomatic efforts aimed at their release. An Iranian official tells British radio there is no need to put the military personnel on trial. Blair says he's encouraged by the official's words.

Iraq's deputy foreign minister confirms that an Iranian diplomat has been released by his kidnappers. Jalal Sharafi, deputy secretary of the Iranian embassy in Baghdad, arrived in Teheran earlier today, just hours after his release. Sharafi was kidnapped by gunmen two months ago. The United States denies any involvement in his abduction and the U.S. military says it played no role in Sharafi's release.

Could this lead to the release of British sailors?

Iraq's deputy foreign minister says maybe it'll help. Maybe.

We are getting an update now on a story we've -- you've been seeing all afternoon here on CNN. A woman is dead and the man believed to have killed her is in extremely critical condition after a shooting today at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Witnesses say a man shot the woman twice in the face. Turner Security says one of its officers then shot the man, also in the face. Atlanta police say the midday violence stemmed from a domestic dispute.

And that's a look at the headlines right now -- Suzanne.

I was getting feedback in my ear and I had to take that thing out for a second.

MALVEAUX: it happens to the best of us, Carol.

OK.

Thanks again.

And up next, President Bush's latest attack on Democrats and their push for a withdrawal deadline in Iraq. I'll ask Deputy White House Press Secretary Dana Perino about the political war going on over funding of the war.

Can the president win?

And does presidential candidate John Edwards support Congressional Democrats in their push back against Mr. Bush?

I'll ask him when we talk about the war and Edwards' new polling gains in our next hour.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Happening now, a surprising political twist. John Edwards leapfrogs over an opponent in one critical state. We'll tell you who he is beating. And Edwards will be here himself, offering his reason why.

Also, he is not a district attorney. He plays one on TV. But if Republican and actor Fred Thompson decides to go after life in the real job promotion, you may see less of him on "Law and Order." We'll explain.

And what could be better than coming in at first place?

Senator Hillary Clinton bested all other candidates in the latest round of fundraising. But some say it still might not be good enough.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Bush is accusing Democrats of a political dance over the Iraq War funding. But he, too, is stepping on risky political territory, as both sides try to blame the other of putting U.S. troops in danger.

We are joined now by Deputy White House Press Secretary Dana Perino.

Thank you so much for joining us.

DANA PERINO, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Thanks for having me.

MALVEAUX: Of course, what we've seen here is President Bush issuing a bunch of warnings, saying, look, I'm going to veto this legislation, we need to deal with this urgently.

But, on the other hand, you've got Speaker Pelosi in Syria. You've got Senator Reid saying he is going to cut the funding for the troops.

Clearly, this is not a strategy that is working for this president.

Is it time to change the strategy?

PERINO: I actually believe that it's the president who is on much stronger ground than the Democrats.

Let me take you back a little bit.

It was 57 days ago that the president told the Congress what he was going to need for the troops that are serving for us in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it was more than 25 days ago that he told them he would veto the bills that they wasted time cobbling together votes in order to pass with bare majorities when they knew it was going to meet his veto. And they don't have the votes to override it.

So it's President Bush who is standing firm with the troops, with the Iraqis and with the troops' families. And that's a much better place to be than where the Democrats are.

You're right. They're not here in town. They left town without doing their work.

MALVEAUX: But they...

PERINO: In fact, the Democrats didn't even appoint conferees before they left in order for us to actually have a conversation.

MALVEAUX: Well, they seem to be thumbing their noses at the president here. They don't seem to be listening to his messages, his warnings here or his threats.

Do you think that he ought to approach them in a different way, perhaps come to the negotiating table, or even behind the scenes, talk to them in a different tone?

PERINO: Unfortunately, I think it's the Democrats who have thumbed their noses at the troops.

The president has said he wants this money for the troops in full, on time, and without any strings attached. The worst thing that we can do is tell commanders on the ground -- micromanage that from Washington, D.C. President Bush understands that. And we would hope that the Democrats would see how lacking in wisdom their philosophy is.

MALVEAUX: Why should the American people, Dana, believe that the White House picture, the White House line here, that this is a fight between the Democrats and the troops, and that, if their legislation doesn't pass, somehow, they -- that they are not providing for the troops. It's ultimately the president who is going to veto that bill.

PERINO: We have told them, for many weeks, that the path they were going down was going to meet the president's veto. Let's look at what this bill does. Let's look at what this bill does.

MALVEAUX: So, is he not the one who's actually denying the troops that money?

PERINO: Absolutely not.

MALVEAUX: He's the one who's putting that veto pen...

PERINO: Absolutely not.

They have cobbled together these votes using mandatory withdrawal dates, which just tells the enemy exactly when we're going to leave, so they can plot and plan. It mandates the failure of our troops. It adds -- they had to go and sell peanut storage and spinach growers' votes in order to cobble together a bare majority.

This president is standing on the side of the troops. He is the one who has gotten the money for them in the past. And all he is asking for is that, if they want to have other votes regarding peanut storage and spinach growers, have that in the typical budget process that's a parallel process going on right now.

MALVEAUX: So, you're saying, if he strips -- so, you're saying, if he strips away the extras here, then he will go ahead and sign on to the bill?

PERINO: No, the president said he wants the money for the troops in full, on time, and without strings attached. And that includes not hand-cuffing our generals on the ground.

MALVEAUX: Let's take a listen, real quick, to the majority leader, Reid, what he said earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We are not going to allow the president to continue the failed policy in Iraq. We represent the American people's view on this failed war. And we're going to continue to put pressure on the president that he will change course in this war that has been so bad for the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now, Dana, the president uses the line often. He says: Look, you know, this is something that he -- that members of Congress are going against the generals here. It's the will of Congress vs. the will of the generals.

But, members of Congress, if you listen to them, are saying: We reflect and we're reflecting the will of the people, the will of the American people.

When you look at all the polls, they say they don't want to be in Iraq. They want to get out.

Does the president understand that members of Congress are taking their message of the people, not necessarily going up against the generals here?

PERINO: I believe that Senator Reid's comments defy common sense.

What the president has said is that we needed a new strategy in Iraq. We have worked to create a new strategy based on what the military advisers said would be the best plan. And, then, in his very own Senate, they confirmed unanimously General Petraeus, who said that the worst thing you can do when you're battling a counterinsurgency is to give the enemy hope. But that's exactly what Senator Reid's and Nancy Pelosi's bill does.

And, so, it is this president who understands that we want the troops home. War is emotional. It is hard. It is hard to see our troops who are in harm's way and to know that their families are desperately missing them at home. But we want our troops to win, and we want to fulfill the mission that they went on.

MALVEAUX: Dana, the president emphasized earlier today a sense of urgency getting that bill to his desk. He's going to veto, and then we move on next part of the process here.

Why is the president going to Crawford? He's going on vacation. Members of Congress are on vacation. Why not call them back and say, look, let's get this done now?

PERINO: Members of Congress had plenty of notice that they were going to have to work on a bill that the president could sign. And they decided to leave town without even appointing conferees. The president is taking a short weekend break at Crawford, but he's here working. He's been here working all week. And he will be working throughout the weekend.

As you know, Suzanne -- you have been there many times -- those are working trips. And the president is more than willing to talk to them. But how can you do that when the Democrats don't even appoint conferees in which to have a conversation?

They should just get the bill to the president's desk. He will get the veto over with. And then we can have a conversation about getting money to our troops that's in full, on time, and without strings attached.

MALVEAUX: Dana Perino, thank you so much.

I'm sure we're all going to be working this weekend, no doubt...

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: ... over the holiday.

Thanks again.

PERINO: Thanks. OK.

MALVEAUX: And coming up: the Iraq war and Vietnam War flashbacks -- new insights into a commander in chief's doubts decades ago.

And a question of isolation. Our Ed Henry presses the president on the chilling effect of the war.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Now a revealing new look inside the White House, a portrait of a president putting on a brave face, despite a faltering war -- the year, 1969.

Our Brian Todd here has more.

Brian, obviously, we're learning a lot more about the struggles inside the White House during the Vietnam era.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Suzanne.

This new book by historian Robert Dallek says, at the height of Vietnam, President Nixon had serious doubts about the war, but he kept them mostly to himself.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A glimpse into a president's private thoughts. Was Vietnam winnable?

In a 1969 phone conversation between President Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, Nixon said: "In Saigon, the tendency is to fight the war to victory. But you and I know it won't happen. It is impossible."

Yet, Nixon remained optimistic in public, and even told aides that Democrats who said publicly what he was saying privately about the war should be lambasted as the party of surrender -- that according to the new book "Nixon and Kissinger."

Do these revelations hold any lessons for today? One former aide to Nixon and other presidents says every wartime leader faces tension between public optimism and private realism, including today's.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: It's absolutely clear that, within the Bush administration today, there are people who believe that there is no military solution, there is no military victory in sight. There are some who are still praying it can be turned around.

TODD: But President Bush himself is focusing on the positives.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The reinforcements we have sent to Baghdad are having an impact. They are making a difference.

TODD: Still, Henry Kissinger is blunt in his assessment of the current war in Iraq, telling the Associated Press on Sunday, "A military victory, in the sense of total control over the whole territory imposed on the entire population, is not possible."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: The book also quotes the diary of a Nixon aide, H.R. Haldeman, saying Kissinger advocated a pullout from Vietnam in the fall of 1972, an election year -- quote -- "so that, if any bad results follow, they will be too late to effect the election."

Kissinger's office said he's traveling and could not comment on the book -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Brian, we know that President Bush, dealing with stress, that he tears through these paths in Crawford on his bicycle. What did Nixon do in times of stress regarding the war or even conflict with Kissinger?

TODD: Well, the book does depict a very manipulative and insecure President Nixon and a manipulative and insecure Henry Kissinger. Again, Kissinger wouldn't comment on this book. But it goes so far as to say that, during the early hours of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Kissinger even kept the details of what was happening from Nixon for about three hours, to keep him from intervening, and then made decisions on his own -- so, very, very, you know, kind of Machiavellian -- Machiavellian politics there.

MALVEAUX: It's fascinating.

TODD: Right.

MALVEAUX: Thanks again, Brian Todd.

TODD: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: President Bush was asked today about parallels between his struggle with the Iraq war and President Nixon's dealings with Vietnam.

Our White House correspondent Ed Henry grilled Mr. Bush about a charge by conservative columnist Bob Novak. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: What do you say to critics like Novak who say that you are more isolated now than Richard Nixon was during Watergate?

BUSH: How did he define "isolated"?

HENRY: He said you were isolated, primarily, from your own party; that Republican leaders on the Hill were privately telling him that, on the Gonzales matter in particular, you're very isolated.

BUSH: I think you're going to find that the White House and the Hill are going to work in close collaboration, starting with this supplemental.

When I announced that I will veto a bill with -- that withdrew our troops, that set artificial timetables for withdrawal or micromanaged the war, the Republicans strongly supported that message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Up next in the "Strategy Session": President Bush accuses Democrats of playing politics and risking the lives of U.S. troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Democrat leaders in Congress seem more interested in fighting political battles in Washington than providing our troops what they need to fight the battles in Iraq.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: He's going to have to deal with Congress. And this Congress is saying, we need a change in direction in the war in Iraq. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Are congressional Democrats overplaying their hand?

And presidential candidate John Edwards is making new strides in New Hampshire. Can he sustain the momentum? Both topics coming up with Paul Begala and Ed Rogers in our "Strategy Session" -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: President Bush butts heads with the Senate's top Democrat. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lands in Syria for controversial talks that have in no small measure ruffled White House feathers. And some surprises in the race for campaign cash early in the presidential contest.

Joining me for today's "Strategy Session" are Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and his Republican counterpart, Ed Rogers.

I want to talk about this high-stakes game of chicken that is happening between the president here and the Democrats. Obviously, Senator Reid upped the ante here, with Feingold saying, look, we're going to cut off the funds here if we don't get this passed.

You remember what happened back in the Clinton days. You remember who won that battle.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

MALVEAUX: I mean, the government shutdown happened. And who was to blame? It was members of Congress. Congress took that.

BEGALA: Could that be because Bill Clinton was talented and beloved, and George Bush is neither? I mean, I don't think...

(CROSSTALK)

ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: He was talented.

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: The beloved thing, that's in parentheses.

BEGALA: That's in part how he became beloved, is that he stood up to Newt Gingrich, when Newt Gingrich was trying to cut Medicare. Medicare is a beloved program. It provides health care for senior citizens.

The war in Iraq is opposed by 60 percent of Americans. And that number is growing every single day. Harry Reid is on the side of the American people.

ROGERS: Yes, but defeat in Iraq is not supported by 60 percent of the American people.

BEGALA: We are defeating. We are being defeated, rather. Defeat is the Bush strategy.

ROGERS: But we don't have to be. Defeat isn't inevitable.

BEGALA: It is if Bush is running things.

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: No, not at all.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I think Reid is on very solid ground here.

MALVEAUX: What kind of legislation needs to come to the president's desk in order to resolve this?

ROGERS: A clean bill that's a supplemental that funds the war.

We all know what's going to happen here. It's not a mystery. The Democrats are going to pontificate and talk for a while. They are going to pass a bill. The president is going to veto it, and it's going to go right back up.

General Petraeus has said, by the middle of April, this becomes detrimental. It becomes -- to have an impact on our performance in the field. We need to get this moving. And, so, then they are going to pass something that's acceptable, and that's going to be that. But everybody will have made their point. Fine.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: At some point here, I mean, the American people are going to run out of patience. At what point do you think, Paul, the Democrats overplay their hand?

BEGALA: Never.

MALVEAUX: Have they gotten to that point?

BEGALA: Never. I'm serious. Here's the problem.

ROGERS: No, the Democrats never overplay their hand. Of course they will.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: They often do.

ROGERS: Of course they...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: But they will not here, if they continue to oppose President Bush on this war.

The country hates this war. They want to end the war. We're tired of seeing President Bush blindly and stupidly leading good, heroic men and women to their death in his war in Iraq.

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: Hey, Bush hates the war, too. Nobody wants out more than Bush.

BEGALA: But here's the problem President Bush has. I watched him today.

And, actually, I thought Ed's scenario of, later, Congress passing the bill the way Bush wanted, I would have shared that prediction 24 hours ago.

But, today, he -- the president was so pigheaded and partisan. He was not a man trying to bring together different folks. He could have called Harry Reid to come to the White House, and Reid would be there tomorrow and try to work something out.

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: And Harry Reid taunting the president.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: He runs a co-equal branch of the government.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: Let me ask you, Ed...

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: I was worried about this.

MALVEAUX: ... what did you think of the president's tone? Because, obviously, he's come out with threats here. He says: I'm not going to give in here. I'm not going to negotiate.

I mean, and that's not working. It's a strategy that is not working for him.

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: Good for the president to get out there. People say he is isolated. People say he doesn't know. Good for him. Get out there. Take all questions. Be very forthright, very matter of fact about what's going to happen, about what it is he wants, about what the consequences are.

I was glad the president did. Now, I have been critical of some of the White House's P.R. strategy so far in the last few weeks. This was a good thing to do. He laid it out very nicely in a very calm, deliberate, presidential way.

MALVEAUX: But, ultimately, what we saw today, what we saw yesterday was the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, thumbing his nose...

ROGERS: Yes. Yes. Harry Reid...

MALVEAUX: ... thumbing his nose at the president, because he upped the ante here with his new legislation.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: And, also, we saw Speaker Pelosi in Syria.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: It's a strategy that doesn't seem to be working for this president. It seems like this is a tone that is not resonating with the Democrats.

ROGERS: Well, it's certainly not resonating with the Democrats. And the Democrats are increasingly sort of poll-driven.

MALVEAUX: But they are in charge.

BEGALA: Right.

ROGERS: Well, they are in charge of a component of the government, absolutely. And they have got to work together at the end of the day.

And that's why I said, we all know what's going to happen. What is going to happen is, they are going to send a bill that's unacceptable. The president is going to veto it. And then what?

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: But does the president ultimately have to give?

ROGERS: Petraeus says, by the middle of April, it begins to have a consequence. And are the Democrats going to be forthright and go ahead and fund our troops, or are they not? That's what the question is going to be.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: Let's take a quick listen.

I want to move on here to obviously Speaker -- Pelosi, rather, is in Syria. Let's take a quick listen to the president, his ideas about the fact that she's there, defying their wishes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The best way to meet with a leader like Assad or people from Syria is in the larger context of trying to get the global community to help change his behavior. But sending delegations hasn't worked. It's just simply been counterproductive.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MALVEAUX: Now, Paul, she has no standing officially to do any negotiations here. She is on her own. I mean, if Syria was serious about peace, they would be reaching out to Secretary Rice or the president. Why isn't this any more than a political theater? What can she accomplish?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: First off, she has standing. She's the speaker of the House of Representatives. She runs an equal branch of government.

MALVEAUX: But...

BEGALA: And, throughout this conversation, there's been this notion that somehow it's Mr. Bush who runs our government, and Speaker Pelosi or Senate Majority Leader Reid are somehow thumbing their nose at him. That's not correct. There's a partisan element to Mr. Bush's criticism, which shows me that he's not on the level about this.

Frank Wolf, a leading Republican on foreign policy, a Republican congressman from Virginia, met with President Assad in Syria a few days ago. The White House did not attack him.

Senator Arlen Specter, Republican senator, met with Assad.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: The president today said Republicans -- the president today said Republicans and Democrats do...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: After he's backed into a corner.

MALVEAUX: ... do not -- do want -- do not want them to go to Syria.

BEGALA: The president's father sent his secretary of state, Jim Baker, who is a guy who helped rig the recount in Florida, and made Bush president...

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: ... sent him 13 times to meet with Assad's father before we went to war in the first Gulf War over Kuwait.

That's what you do. You talk to your enemies. That's the purpose of foreign policy, not to talk to your friends.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: If all we did was talk to our friends, it would be Bush alone in a phone booth.

(CROSSTALK) MALVEAUX: Ed, in all fairness, Republicans have been over there. The Iraq Study Group has called for discussions with Syria. Obviously, if this is some way that she can break through, back channel, perhaps she can do some good.

ROGERS: I'm a little off message here. It's fine for us to be against it, but we should do so quietly. Who knows. Maybe her going there, we will learn something new.

Maybe they will become more flexible. Maybe they will want to become more helpful and pass a message back to the executive branch. So, I am positive, and I am supportive of the fact that she is there, that she's listening, that something good may come of it. I think the White House has -- is a little too negative on this and maybe should just be more quiet.

MALVEAUX: So, you two are in agreement? That's amazing. I have to end it right there.

ROGERS: A little bit.

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: Not much.

MALVEAUX: Right there, of course.

Ed Rogers...

BEGALA: We will never let it happen again, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: ... and Paul Begala.

Still to come: John Edwards, he is coming on strong in our new poll in New Hampshire. We will go one on one with the Democratic presidential hopeful next hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But just ahead, your answers to Jack Cafferty's question of the hour: How helpful is it for lawmakers to visit Iraq? Jack will read your e-mails.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: And it's the war in Iraq that tops today's "Political Radar."

Senator Hillary Clinton is challenging President Bush's plans to veto a bill that would set a timetable to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq. The Democratic presidential front-runner says Mr. Bush would be vetoing the will of the American people. Clinton made her comments while campaigning today in Iowa.

Similar words from Clinton's main rival, Senator Barack Obama. He's also speaking out against the president's veto threat. Obama's on the trail in New Hampshire. Also in New Hampshire, Senator Chris Dodd -- the Democratic presidential hopeful says he is joining senators Harry Reid and Russ Feingold as co-sponsors of an Iraq war bill. It would eliminate money for the war if Mr. Bush rejects the congressional proposal to set a troop deadline in Iraq.

And he's not even in the race, but Al Gore is in second place in a new poll among California Democrats. The new former vice president is just six points behind Hillary Clinton in the new Field Institute poll. Gore says he is not interested in running for president again. But he's never 100 percent ruled it out.

Without Gore in the race, Clinton leads Barack Obama by 13 points. California is becoming a major player again in presidential politics, now that it's moved up its primary to February 5.

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

In an area where campaign gaffes constantly and instantly show up online, one Democratic presidential candidate wants you to use YouTube to his political advantage.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner.

How do they propose that?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Suzanne, it's actually Senator Joe Biden's campaign that thinks that, he is so good on the issues, they built a Web site to prove it.

They just launched this site, headtohead08.com. And what it lets you do is watch a clip of Senator Biden talking about the war in Iraq, and then watch a clip of any of the '08 Democratic hopefuls talking about the war in Iraq. They're going to add other issues in the coming months.

But the idea, the Biden spokesperson tells us today, is that they just think he is so strong on issues, they are not afraid to put these two head to head -- any two candidates, that is, Biden against anybody on the Democratic side.

Now, what they say is that they are also not afraid to link to other candidates' Web sites. They want to give voters as much information as possible. They say they scoured YouTube to find the best clips possible to put the candidates in the best possible light. They knew they were going to come under some scrutiny.

There are some community sites online, like YouTube and MySpace, that already compile candidates' videos, but this site, Biden campaign says, will help candidates -- or -- excuse me -- voters, rather, make a clearer distinction -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: So, to use YouTube to your advantage.

Thank you very much, Jacki.

And Jack is in New York with "The Cafferty File."

Jack, what do you have?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: How helpful is it for lawmakers, U.S. lawmakers, to visit Iraq?

Jim writes from Toronto: "Very helpful. It gets them out of town for a while, keeps them busy, gives them something to talk about when they get back, and makes them feel important, that they are doing something positive for the country, besides wasting tax dollars."

Janet in Henderson, Nevada, writes: "Could those 100 troops guarding McCain have been used somewhere else? How about the Black Hawks? How much did it cost the taxpayer? McCain shouldn't have wasted time, money, or resources to promote a lie that my blind grandmother could see through."

David in Texas writes: "I think it's highly productive for members of Congress to visit Iraq. Maybe Baghdad will one day benefit like New Orleans has from all that political attention."

Donald in Pennsylvania: "If a lawmaker truly wants to visit Iraq to fact-find, then do it quietly and uncovered by the press. What McCain did was try to prove his ridiculous statements of the prior week. He looked like a fool. As a side note, please ask John McCain, how much did it cost our government to put on his little shopping spree?"

Eileen in Bend, Oregon: "Jack, it's only helpful if they pick up a gun and join in the fight. If they can't do that, then they might as well stay home."

And Tom writes from Interlachen, Florida: "Visit? The ones who voted for the war ought to be made to live there."

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Jack.

And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: the fight over funding the Iraq war -- angry new barbs today between the White House and Congress, the positions more and more entrenched, their frustration clearly showing. Who will blink first in this high-stakes showdown?

Also, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrives in Syria on a mission the White House calls dangerous diplomacy. Her controversial meeting with President ...

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