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Senate Approves War Spending Bill; Russia Concerned about U.S. Missile Defense Shield; George Tenet; Jack Valenti Died.

Aired April 26, 2007 - 1900   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.
A powerhouse in Hollywood and politics has died -- the life and death of Jack Valenti, that's coming up this hour.

Also a climatic political battle over funding and ending the war in Iraq -- the president's veto pen is poised after defiant votes by Democrats. Will be there be any room for compromise when the dust settles?

Also tonight, a former CIA director's angry attack on the Bush administration -- George Tenet says his words were used against him in a despicable and dishonorable way.

And something is cooking in Bill Clinton's fight against childhood obesity -- his campaign is taking the former president into a celebrity kitchen.

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

Tonight Democrats are sending President Bush their most forceful message yet about ending the war in Iraq, a message they know he will reject. The Senate gave final approval today to a war spending bill that would require troops to start leaving Iraq by October 1. Now Republicans and Democrats in both chambers of Congress are anticipating the president's veto and the next round.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: This legislation is tragic. If Iraqis make progress, we leave. If they don't, we leave.

This is not a choice. It's a mandate for defeat that al Qaeda desperately wants.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: What the president doesn't like about the bill is that it has accountability, something that has been missing in the four years we have been in this war.


BLITZER: Let's begin our coverage with our congressional correspondent Dana Bash. When, Dana, will the Democrats send this bill to the White House?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, next week, Wolf, and there are few reasons for that. First, they know that the president has the bully pulpit and Congress isn't going to be in town tomorrow or this weekend. They want to be around when the president actually vetoes this bill.

Also Democratic sources say they want to show the president, remind him of their power just by holding it here for a few days, but there is another reason. It is the political fortunes that Democrats say of their timing. That is next Tuesday is the fourth anniversary of the president's ill-fated so-called mission accomplished event aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. Democrats say that, if nothing else is a reminder to the American people that the administration certainly did not expect to be where they are right now in this war.

BLITZER: So the president vetoes it. It's dead on arrival obviously, the White House. Then what, Dana?

BASH: They honestly don't know and I can tell you there was a telling moment today when the Senate Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, said he wants to get a new war funding bill to the president by June 1. And you could hear the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, chiming in quickly saying or sooner.

The reason that was telling is because Democrats know full well, Wolf, that if they don't pass something that the president can sign soon, they're going to get attacked for endangering troops in combat. But this is a tough one for them because in order to pass something, they have to -- they want to have support from the left flank of their party. Many of them still want to keep pushing to end the war by using this funding bill.

BLITZER: Dana Bash on the Hill for us -- thank you.

This bill, by the way, marks the first the Democratic-controlled Congress will send President Bush binding legislation on the war. And when he carries out his veto threat it will be only the second time he's done so in his presidency.

Meanwhile, the bill sets some benchmarks for Iraq's government. Among them, deployed trained Iraqi security forces in Baghdad and give Iraqi commanders more leeway to make decisions without political intervention. A second goal is the disarming of Iraq's militias. Another benchmark, ensure that Iraq's oil and other resources benefit all Iraqis. The bill says Iraq should reform its process of removing officials with ties to the Saddam Hussein regime and it calls for the protection of minority rights.

So what might be the practical effect of this bill be on the situation in Iraq. Our Michael Ware has covered the war since it began. Today he's in New York.

Michael thanks very much. Good to have you here stateside. What would it mean practically speaking -- and you've been there from day one. You've spent four years covering this war -- if the Democrats had their way and by the end of March of next year, U.S. combat forces pulled out of Iraq?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, at that point, or very soon thereafter, you would have some kind of regional conflict in the Middle East almost without a doubt. You would instantly see the Shia militias that essentially are driving this government. They're the ones who own this government, because this government isn't a government in the sense that we understand it.

It's a loose alliance of these militias. The U.S. intelligence says it's backed by Iran, so you would immediately see them consolidate their power. That means consolidating Iranian influence. They'd also look to expand that. Now the Arab states in the region, America's allies, have been screaming about this since before the invasion, would not be able to sit back. They would have to respond by supporting the Sunnis. So you would see the country immediately turn into an Iranian proxy kind of territory or Iranian sponsored territory and then an al Qaeda dominated Sunni-Arab regional backed semi state, war with each other that would suck in all the regional players. It's nothing but disaster -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And it's an awful scenario the way you described it, but what about this September? It is a few months down the road. The president keeps referring to what General Petraeus says that by September we should know basically whether this new strategy, this so-called surge is working. What changes would you expect to have occurred by September?

WARE: OK, for a start I think many people are looking to General Petraeus' remarks and his reference to September as him coming to deliver the magic solution. Well it's not that at all. Simply what General Petraeus is going to do in September is have a look at the strategy that they're using now, and he's going to say if it's working or if it's not, he has no expectation that he's going the say, it has worked and that the job's over and that it's finished.

He's merely going the say, we continue this and go forward or we need to look at other options. We're now hearing top military commanders talk about what some of those other options are. A major general in Iraq has now opened the door to the possibility that the solution in Iraq, the political solution everyone talks about, may be a non-democratic state.

So even in September, if things are going as best as they could be hoped, the generals are saying there won't be an end to the violence, we're going to need patience. This is just the beginning. It's not the end.

BLITZER: I have heard several Arab leaders, allies of the United States, say to me privately what they need in Iraq, Michael, is another strong man, almost like Saddam Hussein who can control the situation there on the ground.

WARE: Indeed. What this U.S. major general, Robert Nixon (ph), who commands a division in northern Iraq pointed to was precisely that. When he listed the elements of U.S. victory, he said it's leaving behind an effective and functioning Iraqi government that can deliver services to its people and that is a partner with the U.S. and the world against terrorists.

Now I said to him, you can have all of those things without a democracy -- his response -- indeed. You see that across the Middle East. So, that's what shaping as the alternative. That's plan B, a Musharraf like Pakistan, a strong man with a quasar (ph) democracy who first and foremost delivers security.

BLITZER: Michael Ware in New York for us -- Michael, thanks very much.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York for "The Cafferty File" -- a Pervez Musharraf in Iraq, that's what they need. You're smiling.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, they had that. You know, they had Saddam Hussein. Iraq was under control. Now they've got this thing, where -- and I love Michael Ware, but he suggested if we leave they're going to fight. Well they're fighting with us there. The difference would be if we left, our people wouldn't be getting killed. And the fighting in that part of the world has gone on for thousands and thousands of years. Anyway, that's something, another story.

And right now we've got to talk about missile defense for Western Europe. The Bush administration says it wants to deploy a missile defense system in Europe, extensively to protect those countries from Iran and North Korea. The size of the threat currently posed by those two countries is certainly debatable.

One person who doesn't think this is such a hot idea is Russian President Vladimir Putin. He is less than thrilled with the idea of the United States deploying interceptors in Poland and building radar stations in the Czech Republic and elsewhere and he's making his views known.

He says Iran and North Korea pose no immediate threat. And he thinks the United States is trying to target Russia's strategic missile arsenal. The missile defense debate is expected to dominate two days of NATO talks. Russia says if the U.S. goes ahead, it may be target the installations we build in Eastern Europe. It's all beginning to sound very Cold War-ish (ph).

Here's the question. Is a missile defense shield for Europe a good idea? E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.

Coming up -- the former CIA director, George Tenet tells CBS the White House used him as a scapegoat for going to war in Iraq and that the leaking of his famous phrase, quote, "slam dunk" helped ruin his reputation.

Also, John McCain takes fire from John Murtha for joking about something that's killed so many U.S. troops.

And a world famous scientist goes after an ultimate thrill and gets it; bound to a wheelchair, Steven Hawking (ph) gets the chance to see what it feels like when weight doesn't matter.

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


BLITZER: Former CIA Director George tenet is blasting the Bush administration. He says it made him a scapegoat for the war in Iraq, ruined his reputation, and ended his career. Tonight CBS News is releasing more excerpts from the Tenet interview that will air on "60 Minutes." At issue here a remark Tenet acknowledges he made in a reference to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He said and I'm quoting now -- "it's a slam-dunk case".

According to CBS, Tenet says he doesn't believe that a slam-dunk comment influenced President Bush's decision to go to war. But he says that's the message that was sent when his remarked was leaked to the journalist Bob Woodward. Tenet says he was taking out of context and he complained to the White House.


GEORGE TENET, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I remember picking up the phone and calling Andy Card, who is a terrific human being and somebody I've always trusted...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President's chief of staff at the time.

TENET: President's chief of staff -- Hi, Andy. I said, you know, we believe -- I believed that he had weapons of mass destruction and now what's happened here is, is you've gone out and made me look stupid. It's the most despicable thing I've ever heard in my life. Men of honor don't do this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Men of honor don't do this.

TENET: You don't do this. You don't throw people overboard. You don't call do this -- you don't call somebody in. You work your heart out. You show up every day. You're going to throw somebody overboard just because it's a deflection. Is that honorable?

It's not honorable to me. OK and that's how I feel. Now had it happened and who orchestrated it and what happened, you know, at the end of the day the only thing that you have is trust and honor in this world. It's all you have. All you have is your reputation built on trust and your personal honor. When you don't have that anymore, well you know there you go. Trust was broken.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Between you and the White House.

TENET: You bet. You bet.


BLITZER: For more on all of this, we're joined by the former acting director of the CIA, CNN national security adviser John McLaughlin. John, you were the deputy director when Tenet was the director. You were there I believe when that slam-dunk comment was made.


BLITZER: Is he justified in being as irate as he is?

MCLAUGHLIN: I believe he is.


MCLAUGHLIN: George has been in the Washington qusinart (ph) for four years now. A lot of blame has been pasted on him and George in his book I'm sure will take responsibility for mistakes that we all made. But in this case, this particular meeting wasn't a meeting to decide whether we were going to war or not. And the impression given by the way it's been described is he said slam-dunk and everyone said great, we're going to war. It's important to keep the context in mind for this meeting...

BLITZER: What was the meeting about?

MCLAUGHLIN: This was a meeting to describe whether there was information that could be declassified and presented to the public, to help people understand what analysts at that time believed to be true, now understood not to have been true.

BLITZER: But the point was...

MCLAUGHLIN: ... a meeting about presentation.

BLITZER: But he believed it was a slam-dunk that there was enough public information that could be made to show there were weapons of mass destruction.

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, if he had said this a little differently, you know instead of saying slam-dunk, he said you know I think we can do better, this whole controversy wouldn't have happened. But everyone forgets the context here. This meeting occurred two weeks after the first military deployment orders had been issued to send troops...

BLITZER: Before the war though started.

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, before the war started. But there was a lot in motion at this point...


MCLAUGHLIN: This was not a meeting about whether we were going to war or not.

BLITZER: Let me read to you...


BLITZER: ... the reaction tonight from the White house, the National Security Council spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, quote, "The president made the decision to remove Saddam Hussein for a number of reasons, mainly the national intelligence estimate on Iraq and Saddam's own actions, and only after a thorough and lengthy assessment of all available information as well as congressional authorization."

That NIE, that national intelligence estimate, did say there were stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which we now know is wrong.

MCLAUGHLIN: That was one of the factors in the decision-making, but as everyone has discussed since then they were also thinking at the time that there was some sort of connection between Saddam and 9/11, something that the CIA disputed. They were also seeking to change the political dynamics in the Middle East. And it's important to remember in terms of context, too, that at the time of 9/11, on September 12, 13, 14, 15, there were people in the administration who at that time were already talking about Saddam Hussein's likely culpability in 9/11. So yes, the estimate had a role but it was one piece in a very broad tapestry of things.

BLITZER: And I assume in the book he'll take responsibility for that NIE?

MCLAUGHLIN: Absolutely.


MCLAUGHLIN: One of the things I'd stress to you and to the American public is that the CIA has taken probably more responsibility than any other institution in our government. There have been four major studies that have been done, commissions and so forth, of that NIE and the intelligence. The CIA has taken all of that to heart and changed practices. The CIA itself commissioned a study, the effort by Charles Dolfer (ph), which came back and pointed out that the weapons weren't there and that then became the basis for the WMD Commission. So the -- I wish other organs of our government would take the same kind of -- we had a similar look at the Congress or the policy process or the media or any other part of our fabric here that was involved in the march to war.

BLITZER: I suspect that we're going to be getting a lot more of these kinds of bombshells from George Tenet once his book is formally released next week.

MCLAUGHLIN: There's more there.

BLITZER: I'm sure there is. John McLaughlin thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: And CNN's Larry King will ask George Tenet about his slam-dunk comment, the fallout, a lot more. The former CIA director is a guest Monday night on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE". That airs 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Still ahead here tonight right in THE SITUATION ROOM, who's better at confronting terrorism? Would it be Democrats or Republicans?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know we have a terrorism problem around the country. The problem is we don't have the leadership in the Republican Party to fight that terrorism the way it needed to be fought.


BLITZER: The Democratic Party chairman, Howard Dean, joins us -- lots more to say about terror, the war in Iraq.

Plus, Bill Clinton in the kitchen with TV's Rachel Ray (ph), cooking for a cause. We'll tell you about it.

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


BLITZER: Tonight a loss for both the entertainment industry and the political community here in Washington. The long-time head of the Motion Picture Association of America, Jack Valenti, has died after suffering a stroke in March. He was 85 years old.


BLITZER (voice-over): With his shock of silver hair and his impeccable clothes, Jack Joseph Valenti was a fixture in Washington for more than four decades.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cannot dispute the fact that I have been around a long time. That's a matter of record.

BLITZER: He was Hollywood's most well-known lobbyist in Washington. And in the late 1960's as president of the Motion Picture Association of America, he began to rewrite the existing version of the movie rating system. Before Valenti's intervention, all movies released in the United States carried four distinct ratings, G, M, R and X. Under his guidance that all changed to the ratings system still in use today -- G for viewers of all ages, PG, parental guidance suggested, and R, restricted to those 17 and older.

Years later another more subtle rating, PG-13, suitable for children older than 13, came into general use. The rating NC-17 replaced the X classification. Jack Valenti became widely known to Americans when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963. His advertising and political consulting business was in charge of the press on that trip. He got that job because he was a close friend and admirer of Vice President Lyndon Johnson. And he was present in that famous still photograph of Lyndon Johnson swearing-in onboard Air Force One. He came to Washington as one of LBJ's most devoted aides and ultimately worked at a wide range of jobs inside the Johnson White House. Jack Valenti retired from his movie lobbying position in 2004 at the age of 82, insisting his job was anything but political.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's an open secret that I came directly from the Johnson administration into this job. So I'm saying to you from my standpoint and from -- for the rostrum from which this job springs is nonpolitical. It is all American.

BLITZER: Politicians love to be seen with movie stars. For 40 years Jack Valenti made certain that Hollywood played its part on Capitol Hill.


BLITZER: Jack Valenti had written a memoir called "This Time, This Place, My Life in War, the White House and Hollywood" (ph), publication had been delayed until October in hopes that Valenti would have recovered by then -- our deepest condolences to his family.

Just ahead -- Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean -- is he worried about the field of Republican presidential candidates?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the Republicans are experiencing Bush fatigue and they really are running in the opposite direction from where the American people want to go.


BLITZER: My one on one interview with the Democratic Party chairman. That's coming up.

Also -- John McCain's war humor -- find out why Congressman John Murtha says it's no laughing matter.

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


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, cheeseburgers, that's what President Bush will be serving the Japanese prime minister tomorrow at Camp David. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is on his first U.S. visit as prime minister. Tonight, he'll be dining with the president and the first lady at the White House -- cheeseburgers not on the menu tonight.

The first steps are the hardest -- New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine taking his first steps since his car accident two weeks ago. Aides say he had the help of a walker and that doctors are pleased with his progress. We wish him a speedy recovery.

And what a ride -- world renowned physicist Stephen Hawking bound to a wheelchair for nearly 40 years today got a taste of weightlessness. He took off in a space shuttle designed to simulate zero gravity.

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

They're both battle hardened Vietnam War veterans and now they're lobbying grenades at one another over the war in Iraq. It started with an attempted joke by Senator and Republican presidential candidate John McCain and that set off Democratic Congressman John Murtha. And this war of words was set in motion.

Here's CNN's Kathleen Koch -- Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was just last week at a campaign appearance in South Carolina that Senator John McCain raised eyebrows by joking about bombing Iran. Well, this time the joke was about roadside bombs. And some people just weren't laughing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you want to start with? The bomb Iran song or the walk through the market in -- what do you...

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think maybe shopping in Baghdad. I had something really picked out for you, too. It's a nice...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you really?

MCCAIN: Yes, it's a nice little IED to put on your desk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's very lovely of you. Thank you.

KOCH (voice-over): It was a comedy show and the line was a hit. But Senator John McCain's humor fell flat with one congressman on Capitol Hill.

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Imagine a presidential candidate make a joke about IEDs when these kids are blown apart. It's outrageous.

KOCH: IEDs, or roadside bombs are responsible for a majority of U.S. combat fatalities in Iraq. Still, Senator McCain doesn't plan to apologize. On "Good Morning America" the decorated Vietnam War vet and former POW called Murtha's criticism hysteria.

MCCAIN: When I was in combat and tough situations we used humor all the time all I can say to Murtha and others, lighten up and get a life.

KOCH: Just last week, McCain crooned an answer to an audience question about how to respond to Iran's suspected weapons program.

MCCAIN: That old Beach Boys song. Bomb Iran. Bomb bomb bomb ...

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: I think all of the candidates need to be very careful about what they say on the campaign trail. John McCain is John McCain and you're not going to change him.

KOCH: And today at a political rally in South Carolina, McCain's staff cranked up the Beach Boys' song "Barbara Ann" whose words he changed last week. And aides said it was to show, quote, "We're not going to get pushed around on things like that."


KOCH (on camera): Many here in Washington are familiar with Senator McCain's very dry sense of humor. It's simply part of who he is. It is now up to the voters to decide whether they get they get the joke or the joke's on him. Wolf?

BLITZER: Because he was in South Carolina campaigning today, Senator McCain missed the vote on the war funding bill. When asked why he missed it, an aide said, everyone knows where Senator McCain stands on Iraq and that his presence would not have changed the votes' outcome.

Congress passed that war spending bill including its timetables for a pullout, is that an act of defiance as a lot of people are suggesting? The White House though likening it to an act of defeat. The administration says it includes a date for surrender. So how do Democrats respond to this harsh criticism?


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Joining us now, the chairman of the Democratic Party, the former governor, Howard Dean. Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: Wolf, thanks for having me on.

BLITZER: Sam Brownback among other Republicans, they're really railing against this Democratic initiative to try to bring the troops home from Iraq. Listen to what Senator Brownback, a Republican presidential candidate, just said.


SEN. SAM BROWNBACK, (R) KS: If the president were to sign this, and he is not going to sign it, but if he does sign it, if he would sign it, would be the day that al Qaeda would declare victory.


BLITZER: All right. Those are strong words from Senator Brownback.

DEAN: Wolf, many of us believe that al Qaeda earned a victory when George Bush made the incredible blunder by deceiving the American people and going into Iraq. And that is a huge problem. This president has mismanaged our defense, he has mismanaged our positions in the Middle East and now we're paying the price for it but the fact of the matter is the American people want us out of Iraq, the Democratic Party was elected into control of the House and the Senate because the American people want us out of Iraq. We're doing what the American people have asked us to do.

BLITZER: But there are al Qaeda elements now in Iraq. Maybe they weren't there before Saddam Hussein was overthrown. What do you do about that threat of al Qaeda that obviously still exists right now in Iraq?

DEAN: The plan that most of the Democrats have embraced would be to leave a significant number of troops in the Middle East, not in Iraq but in the Middle East for dealing with terrorism.

We know we have a terrorism problem around the country. The problem is we don't have the leadership in the Republican Party to fight that terrorism the way it needed to be fought.

BLITZER: The Republican presidential frontrunner right now, the former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, he is also going after Democrats. He said this on Tuesday. "If any Republican is elected president, and I think obviously I would be the best at this, we would remain on offense. I listen a little to the Democrats and if one of them gets elected, we are going on defense. We will wave the white flag on Iraq. The Democrats do not understand the full nature and scope of the terrorist war against us."

You want to respond to Giuliani?

DEAN: He has got two problems, Wolf. The first is he sounds like Cheney. That's the kind of stuff the Republicans have been talking about for a long time, but they're incapable of defending America, as it's turned out, because they have not told us the truth.

The second problem is that Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York when 9/11 struck. There was a previous terrorist attack. He had a number of years to do the things that a commission recommended they do and he didn't do them.

So I would argue that Rudy has put himself in a pretty serious problem. One, sounding like one of the most unpopular vice presidents in American history and two, he has got his own record of not being prepared when he should have been.

BLITZER: Joe Lieberman has a column in the "Washington Post" today agreeing with the Republicans, basically. "There is only one choice that protects America's security, he says, and that is to stand and fight and win."

DEAN: Well, we appreciate Joe, but Joe is not in agreement with the Democratic Party on this one.

BLITZER: The Giuliani campaign is doing really well among the Republicans and I suspect you're probably worried if he gets the Republican nomination based on these new Quinnipiac University polls in three battleground states that have just come out. Hypothetical match-ups.

For example, the Democratic frontrunner right now, Hillary Clinton versus Giuliani. In Florida, Giuliani wins 49-41 percent. In Ohio he wins 46-41 percent. In Pennsylvania he wins 47-43 percent.

And if Barack Obama were to get the Democratic nomination, in this Quinnipiac University poll, Giuliani does even better, 49-38 he wins in Florida, 45-37 in Ohio, 45-41 he wins he wins in Pennsylvania. How worried are you that a moderate Republican like Rudy Giuliani that supports abortion rights for women, gay rights, has reservation about guns. How worried are you that he could make a dent among independents and Democrats?

DEAN: I am not very worried, honestly Wolf. First of all, poll numbers at this stage of the game mean virtually nothing. Second of all, he has a lot of character issues that he has to answer for and this - overwhelmingly Americans are going to vote on honesty and integrity and Mayor Giuliani is going to have a lot of things to answer there.

We've begun to reach out to Evangelical Christians and that's a real problem with him. His personal life is a serious problem for him.

BLITZER: Describe those character issues.

DEAN: I'm not going to get into that stuff. I don't like attacking people on their personal lives but I can assure you that in the Republican primary, given what went on in the 2000 Republican primary in South Carolina between George Bush and John McCain, those attacks will be made in the Republican Party.

So that's the first issue. The second issue is why wasn't New York prepared for 9/11 when Giuliani was mayor? And the third issue is he adopted the Bush-Giuliani - the Bush-Cheney approach to the Iraq War and that is not what the American people want.

So I am not the least bit worried. I think we have got a very strong field. I think the Republicans are experiencing Bush fatigue and they really are running in the opposite direction from where the American people want to go.

BLITZER: I want to give you a chance to clarify some remarks you made on the news media the other day at a Mortgage Bankers' Association meeting. The A.P. quoting you as saying, "Politicians are incredibly careful not to say anything if they can possibly help it except if it is exactly scripted and if you want to hear anybody's true views you cannot do it in the same room as the press."

You went on to say, according to the A.P., "If you want to hear the truth from them, you have to exclude the press."

Clarify what you mean by that.

DEAN: Sure. I think a lot of times, and you'll see it again and again. I certainly saw it when I was running for president. Particularly in print, folks will say things and rearrange things so as to take out of context what people has said and I think that has happened again and again.

Politicians in both parties are very, very fearful of that. What I advocate is once in a while - Obviously you need a First Amendment, you need a free press but once in a while people ought to go to town meetings and talk directly to the American people without having the print reporters and the columnists and the opinion makers make those opinions.

I think there ought to be a free exchange between people and their candidates and I don't think you can always rely on the press to let the facts be known as the facts actually happened in the hall.

BLITZER: Governor Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party. Thanks, governor, for coming in.

DEAN: Thanks for having me on, Wolf.


BLITZER: And still ahead tonight, Bill Clinton opening up about a very key part of his past. He went on a very popular TV show to talk about it. We're going to tell you what's going on.

But when does no really mean no? New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he won't be running for president. But political operatives aren't so sure. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The New York Major Michael Bloomberg will be the first to say he's not running for president in 2008. But that's not quelling the buzz that he may enter the race as an independent. CNN's Mary Snow has her ear to the ground in New York. Lot of fuel, that's fuelling, shall we say, this speculation, Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is, Wolf. And as the presidential campaign intensifies so does the speculation. When Mike Bloomberg makes high-profile public appearance it seems he can't shake off the questions of 2008 run.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I'm going to ask Al for an autograph afterwards.

SNOW: When former Vice President Al Gore and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg shared a stage at a film festival, Bloomberg couldn't resist poking fun at something else the two men share: speculation they will run in 2008.

BLOOMBERG: Al, don't you just hate those rumors about running for president?

SNOW: Those rumors followed Bloomberg to Mexico earlier this week.

BLOOMBERG: Let me make it clear. I am not a candidate for president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, he may be saying no, but this is a presidential year in which all bets are off.

SNOW: NYU professor Mitchell Moss describes himself as a friend of Bloomberg. He makes secret he wants the moderate Republican mayor to run as an independent candidate. And money isn't a problem. Bloomberg's estimated to be worth at least $5 billion. Political observers are keeping the speculation alive, despite Bloomberg's objections.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's got some political operatives who are looking at it pretty closely. So, I know that they are paying attention. They are thinking about it.

SNOW: The rumors about '08 seem to rise along with the high- profile issues Bloomberg takes on, for example, an ambitious environmental initiative for New York, teaming up with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to fight global warming, and a campaign leading U.S. mayors in a crackdown on illegal guns.

Those around him say, the fact he's a mayor not facing reelection frees him up to concentrate on issues he cares about. But those who keep tabs on politics say Bloomberg's mind could be changed, depending on the presidential nominees chosen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If there's a very conservative Republican in that post, then it really opens the field for moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats alike to an independent race for Michael Bloomberg.


SNOW (on camera): So what could keep Bloomberg out of the race? The conventional wisdom is that if Bloomberg's predecessor and fellow New Yorker Rudy Giuliani winds up as a nominee, that would be a red light for Bloomberg. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. I know you'll stay on top of the story, Mary, for us. It's a far cry from the diplomatic dinners he is used to so why was the former President Bill Clinton cooking in the kitchen of the TV culinary star Rachael Ray? Let's go back to CNN's Carol Costello. She is here to tell us what this all about.

And there was a very good cause that was behind this, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a good cause and it was a funny appearance. And you know, it is smart move to appear with Rachael Ray. She's a force, Oprah Winfrey launched Ray's talk show and Ray is a hit with the Oprah crowd.

Bill Clinton, well, he was on to talk about childhood obesity but he did manage to mention his wife.


RACHAEL RAY, TALK SHOW HOST: Please welcome President Bill Clinton.

COSTELLO (voice-over): He's still got it. President Clinton entered the land of Rachael Ray. Where perky cooking terms abound. And he didn't miss a beat.

RAY: I was just chatting with him. I said you stand over there, President Clinton. I'll do all of the cooking. He said, I can cook. When Hillary and I were dating I did all the cooking, can you believe that?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: Not all the cooking, that's not fair.

COSTELLO: Actually, that was one of two Hillary references. The rest of hour was devoted to Clinton's Alliance for a Healthier Generation. An organization that combats childhood obesity. Ray, who is enormously popular with women, has joined Bill Clinton's fight.

RAY: And I'm going to be his parental ambassador. I'm pledging that ...

COSTELLO: After the Ray/Clinton team launched their partnership by reminding us Clinton weighed 185 pound at the age of 13. Recalling his love of popular foods like greasy burger and French fries. His constant battle of the bulge. Who can forget those jogging clothes.

RAY: I'm guilty of standing in line at fast food places, too.

B. CLINTON: Oh, me too.

RAY: Kids like a lot of the fast foods because they are fun.

B. CLINTON: They are fun and I've got a scar down my chest to prove it.

COSTELLO: He's referring to his heart surgery.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NY: He's going to be fine.

COSTELLO: He told Ray's audience his heart condition was the result of years of eating unhealthy food. He urged parents to buy healthy, even at fast food restaurants.

B. CLINTON: Let's be fair, a lot of these places have offered healthier meals. They do it to check the responsibility box. But there is not a lot of demand for it from their customers.

COSTELLO: Clinton ended his visit stirring turkey bouillabaisse. And he had the audience eating out of his hand.


COSTELLO (on camera): I don't know if that's turkey bouillabaisse but that's what Rachael Ray said it was. Looked yummy, didn't it, Wolf?

BLITZER: Looked delicious.

COSTELLO: Seriously, though, childhood obesity is a big problem. Clinton urges parents to help their children to eat healthy and to exercise or he says the next generation is in danger of dying younger than their parents.

BLITZER: Carol, I want you to listen to some of these startling statistics that we have that certainly drive home this weight problem plaguing young Americans.

Listen to this. In 1971 five percent of children ages two to five were considered obese. Now more than 13 percent are considered obese. Four percent of youngsters six to 11 were obese back then. Now that figure is over 18 percent and the percentage of obese kids ages 12 to 19 has gone up in the past three decades from more than six percent to more than 17 percent. This is a huge problem.

Up ahead -- Russia's president gets downright defensive over a U.S. missile defense shield closer to his turf. Jack Cafferty is wondering is a missile defense shield for Europe a good idea?

And later - you remember this. We saw President Bush yesterday doing this. Now he has to live it down. Jeanne Moos puts her special twist on the president's twist and shout. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty in New York. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the United States wants to build a missile defense shield for Europe. We ask asked if you thought that was a good idea.

Stan in New Jersey says, "No, we don't need to build a missile defense system in Europe. We need first to mind our own business and then build a missile defense here in the U.S. and then rebuild New Orleans."

Neil in Massachusetts, "Yes to a missile defense system for the U.K. No for the rest of Europe. Britain has demonstrated its solidarity with us many times and without fail since World War II. The rest of Europe, not."

Wally in New Albany, Indiana. "The government won't let us put up a shield at our own borders to stop illegal immigration and we're supposedly running out of money for the war in Iraq. Why should we pay for a missile shield over countries who are giving at most token support in Iraq? No."

George in Fort Worth, Texas. "Jack, it's a great idea for the companies that make the missiles and the politicians that have their hands in their pockets. Remember, many Americans make a lot of money as war profiteers. And that's not counting Wall Street. They're making tons of blood money."

Carmen in San Mateo writes, "Yeah, Jack, Europeans need this. One under each arm should do the trick."

Tom in Palm Springs, California. "I think a missile defense shield for Europe is fine if France and Germany want to foot the bill but not if it comes out of what's left in our treasury. How about one for New York, Washington, DC, Chicago, Los Angeles. On second thought, forget about Washington."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to We post more of them online along with video clips of this nonsense. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. Jack Cafferty, will be back tomorrow. Let's find out what's coming up at the top of the hour with Paula. Paula?

PAULA ZAHN, CNN HOST: Hi, Wolf, thanks. We're going to take a look at the Senate's vote on an Iraq pullout and what it would really mean for Iraq's future. Also out in the open at the top of the hour, John McCain's controversial joke about Iraq, IEDs and "The Daily Show's" John Stewart. Did McCain cross a line this time?

And what happened today in court when cops shot down a 92-year-old woman in her own home went before a judge. A woman who has done absolutely nothing wrong. All that and more coming up at the top of the hour, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be watching, thank you, Paula, for that. Still ahead, we promised to show Roger Ebert defying doctor's orders, showing the courageous side of his fight with cancer, that's coming up.

Also the president cut loose and CNN's Jeanne Moos isn't about to let it end there. You'll want to stick around for this.


BLITZER: Remember seeing President Bush dancing at the White House event yesterday? CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a "Most Unusual" look at how far and how fast the video got picked up.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ditch the presidential seal, lose the podium, make way for the dancer in chief. Already seen it you say? But you haven't seen everywhere it ended up after you first saw it. Jay Leno didn't even bother to make a joke.

JAY LENO, TALK SHOW HOST: This is your president at work.

MOOS: Jon Stewart ended his show with it.

JON STEWART, TALK SHOW HOST: Here it is, your moment of Zen.

MOOS: David Letterman slipped it into his great moments in presidential speeches segment.



DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST: You get the feeling that he might be under the impression that he's attending a luau.

MOOS: And after viewing it at "The View," they scored it.

Our president seems to like to shake his thing. Here he was in Brazil joining in the festivities. Here he was in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. He hears music, his head bobs. His hands do that robotic thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He dances like a white guy from Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think he'll ever end up on "Soul Train."

MOOS: The guy who could derail "Soul Train" is Karl Rove. Rove makes President Bush look like Michael Jackson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's kinda like this, yeah he was getting into it.

MOOS (on camera): Maybe the best way to judge the president's moves is by the laughter and applause each move got on the comedy shows.

(voice-over): Drumming. Horizontal hand gestures. Upraised arms with fingers pointed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He had a kind of woo! You have to give the man credit for getting out there and doing it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As a former music student, I can't endorse this kind of behavior.

MOOS: If you want better president boogying, head to the internet where you determine the moves. There the president was publicizing Malaria Awareness Day.

And before he is aware, the West African dance company director won't let him escape.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, you're not going ...

MOOS: At least President Bush didn't go as wild as Russian President Boris Yeltsin, may he rest in peace. It's fun to watch our leaders let loose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like watching an elephant dance. It's not how good they are, it's how they can dance.

MOOS: When a leader gets down, don't expect to him to live it down. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Only Jeanne Moos does those kinds of reports.

Let's do a follow-up now. That video we promised you yesterday. Carol Costello is watching. This is an emotional story, Carol.

COSTELLO: Yeah. We told you he would do it last night and he did. Popular film critic Roger Ebert defied doctors' orders, attended his annual film festival in Champagne, Illinois last night and then he appeared on CNN with his wife Chad (ph). It has been almost a year since cancer surgery cost Ebert part of his jaw and his ability to speak. But his wit remains. Look at him up there.

Ebert wrote in a "Chicago Sun-Times" column Tuesday, "I ain't a pretty boy no more. And he can't speak, he wrote everything down, Wolf. But he gave the note paper to his wife and she read his comments to the crowd. Very touching.

BLITZER: We wish him only, only the best. Carol, thanks for bringing that to us.

That's it for us. Let's go to Paula in New York. Paula?


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