Skip to main content
U.S. Edition
Search
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 

Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Bush Vetoes Timetable for Withdrawal; Immigration Debate; Interview with John Kerry

Aired May 1, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


(MARKET WRAP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Thanks very much, Susan.

Happening now, President Bush on the Iraq mission still to be accomplished. Four years after his famous aircraft carrier speech, he's about to veto a timetable for ending the war. The timing of that veto no coincidence. Democrats trying to make the most of this day in Iraq War history.

I'll ask Senator John Kerry if his party can agree on a plan B for ending the war.

Plus, immigrants take their plea for reform to the streets. Will rallies across the country spur Congress to create a new path for citizenship? This hour, the protests and the politics of the border wars.

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

It's showdown time at the Bush White House. The Democrats' timetable for withdrawal from Iraqi areas on the president's desk this hour. In fact, the documents arrived at the White House only moments ago. Mr. Bush isn't planning on wasting any time pulling out his veto pen. The White House says the president will explain his rejection of the war funding bill a little over two hours from now.

Democrats gave the doomed legislation a high-profile send-off just a short while ago here in Washington. And they made a final futile appeal to Mr. Bush to sign it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID, (D) NV: Veto means denying our troops the resources and the strategy that they need. After more than four years of failed policy, it's time for Iraq to take responsibility for its own future. Today, right now, we renew our call to President Bush. There is still time to listen to the American people. There is still time to sign this bill and change course in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: This new Iraq showdown is playing out exactly four years after president bush declared major combat operations in Iraq over. With the now famous "Mission Accomplished" banner behind him aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. Let's bring in our White House correspondent Ed Henry. Ed, how is the White House, the president specifically, marking this controversial anniversary?

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what a contrast from four years ago. No theatrics, no landing on an aircraft carrier. Obviously, instead, the president going down huddling in Florida with military leaders trying to show -- the White House trying to send out a message that the president is huddling there trying to come up with a strategy to win the war while they believe Democrats are back here in Washington are playing games.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): There was no flight suit or "Mission Accomplished" banner in sight Tuesday afternoon as the president huddled with generals at U.S. Central Command in Florida on the fourth anniversary of declaring ...

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the united states and our allies have prevailed.

HENRY: Four years later, major combat operations continue, and so does the effort to justify the war.

BUSH: Four years ago, we confronted a brutal tyrant who had used weapons of mass destruction, supported terrorists, invaded his neighbors, oppressed his people and tested the resolve and the credibility of the United Nations.

HENRY: The original claims that Saddam Hussein still had WMD at the start of the war are long gone. As are the rosy scenarios about victory.

BUSH: Terrorists and the extremists continue to unleash horrific acts of violence.

HENRY: The president is adamant about trying to claim progress, but still hedges.

BUSH: There has been a decline in sectarian violence, and in some areas of the capital, Iraqis are returning to their neighborhoods with an increased feeling of security.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (on camera): And in other sign of the hedging, he said General Petraeus has said that al Qaeda is probably public enemy number one in Iraq. Of course, you'll remember the president's own national intelligence estimate back in February said that al Qaeda has actually been eclipsed by sectarian violence as the top threat in Iraq.

Wolf? BLITZER: This is only going to be the president's second veto since taking office six years ago. Walk us through the next few hours. How does it play out?

HENRY: Well, Wolf, just about in the last 10 or 15 minutes, just across from where I'm standing on the West Executive Drive, in fact, an SUV arrived from Capitol Hill with the bill. Then it went down into a tunnel. A couple of staffers got out and brought it into the Old Executive Office building. It will be there waiting for the president. He arrives back via Marine One about 5:45 Eastern Time or so here on the South Lawn of the White House. Then the president will go behind closed doors. He'll privately veto this. He actually signs what's called a veto statement.

Then he'll come out about 6:10 Eastern Time, speak for less than 10 minutes. We're told he'll lay out the same themes we've been hearing for weeks in terms of pushing back against the Democrats saying the troops need this money and then actually, officially, the White House sends back this bill to Capitol Hill on Wednesday morning, not tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. We'll have complete coverage, of course, of the president's remarks. That's coming up during the 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour.

In this latest test of wills between the president and the Democrats, our polling shows the public is siding more with the Democrats. The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll taken last month shows 60 percent of Americans are more likely to side with Democrats in Congress in the dispute over an Iraq withdrawal timetable.

Thirty seven percent say they are more likely to side with President Bush. Once Mr. Bush vetoes the current bill, 48 percent of those polled say Congress should pass a new bill that also provides war funding and sets a pullout timetable, 37 percent say Congress should provide war funding without a timetable. Thirteen percent say Congress should cut funds for the troops altogether.

Now let's turn to the cross-country show of frustration over the political stalemate on immigration reform. Thousands of people are on the march in various cities across the country demanding a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.

Reform advocates are trying to put new pressure on Congress as the presidential campaign season kicks into higher gear. CNN's Thelma Gutierrez is in Los Angeles where the demonstrations are significant. You seem to be right in the middle of things over there, Thelma.

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Wolf, you can say I am definitely right in the middle of things. I'm on the ground on Spring Street right in front of City Hall here in Los Angeles where a rally is just getting under way right now. Now there are thousands of people around me. They've been chanting slogans all morning long. They've been carrying flags. The majority of what I can see here from my vantage point are American flags. And many of these people are wearing white t-shirts. They say they are wearing these white t- shirts in peace. As a symbol of peace.

They are also carrying signs demanding immigration reform and they are carrying banners denouncing the recent ICE raids that have been taking place throughout the country. Now as we have seen people here, there's a very diverse crowd. We've seen members of the Nation of Islam, we've seen student organizations represented, we've seen union groups. And student groups.

Here we are talking to a young girl, Megali (ph), who is just 18 years old. Her parents are in the process of being deported right now. And she brought a banner. It says, "Stop the raids and deportations. No more separation of families."

Megali, tell me, how will this impact your family if your parents are deported. How is that going to impact you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It will cause me to drop out of school, too look for a job and to take care of my brothers, the only one I have right now. And it would be very difficult to -- well, to survive without my parents who have always been there for me to help me.

GUTIERREZ: What do you say to other people who say, well, you can go to Mexico and be with your parents?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it won't be the same. Over there, they have different -- it's a different style of living. We don't have the same liberties we have here.

GUTIERREZ: All right. Thank you so much. This is the kind of thing we're seeing out here, Wolf. Many different voices represented in this crowd. Back to you.

BLITZER: Thelma, thanks very much.

Jerry Brown, the attorney general of California, and Lou Dobbs, our own Lou Dobbs, they are standing by. They'll be joining us later in THE SITUATION ROOM to discuss this day and immigration reform.

This, by the way, is often used as a day of civil protest here in the United States and around the world. That's May 1st. It goes back to the late 1800s when labor unions were beginning a movement for an eight-hour workday. Union activists called a one-day general strike in Chicago. That triggered what's known as -- came to be known as the Haymarket riots.

World socialists seized on those riots and the movement for an eight-hour workday declaring May 1st a day of demonstration in support of labor.

By the way, Thelma Gutierrez and Ed Henry are part of the best political team on television. And remember, for all the latest political news at anytime, check out our political ticker at cnn.com/ticker.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York with the "Cafferty File." Hi, Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It's the same old stale bread we get served every election cycle. With the exception, perhaps, of Senator Barack Obama who is actually a fresh face in all of this, the presidential field, both parties, beginning to resemble a family reunion you'd rather not attend. Go right down the list.

One case after another of been there, done that. Maybe that's why there's a sense of excitement for several candidates who have not yet thrown their hat in the ring but might, for example, former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson who places third in some of the Republican polling. That mean he's right behind John McCain and Rudy Giuliani and he's not even in the race yet.

Politico.com reports that although Thompson has not made a final decision yet, he's, quote, "on track to be ready to announce his candidacy in June or July."

Then there's New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. He insists he's not running but one Republican pollster thinks that running as an independent, Bloomberg might be able to attract as much as 25 percent of the popular vote. And he's very, very rich. Personal wealth more than $5 billion, ergo, no fund-raising headaches.

And there are others. Newt Gingrich has said he'll decide whether or not he's running in the fall. So here's the question this hour. Who is not in the presidential race that you think should be, in why? E-mail caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. Wolf?

BLITZER: Curious to think who our viewers like out there. Thank you, Jack, for that.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we'll have much more on the political showdown over Iraq. It's unfolding right now. Will Democrats use the power of the purse in their battle for the White House? I'll ask John Kerry, the senator and former democratic presidential nominee. He joins us here. That's coming up next.

Plus, rallies from coast to coast. But will Congress do anything to reform immigration? We'll go live to Capitol Hill to find out.

Plus, was al Qaeda's leader in Iraq actually killed in a shoot- out today? We're going to go to Baghdad to find out about that. We'll learn more about Abu Ayyub al Masri. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush plans to veto an Iraq withdrawal timetable very soon. And Democrats are scrambling to figure out what to do next. Will they use their most powerful weapon, the power to cut off funding to the troops?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now from Capitol Hill, Democratic Senator John Kerry. Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D) MA: Glad to be with you.

BLITZER: This is the moment that Democrats have an opportunity to try to end this war in Iraq and bring U.S. combat forces home. What's going to happen now because the president is going to veto this legislation?

KERRY: Well, the president is going to veto it, but what we really should be doing is changing the course of our policy in Iraq, Wolf. The only thing the Iraqis will respond to is some tough love. Leverage, deadlines. They need to compromise. There's nothing our troops can do to make that happen.

BLITZER: What about the power of the purse? Why not simply stop the funding for the war, put a specific hard timeline, get the votes and bring the troops home as a result of that?

KERRY: I don't think it's that simple. I think every one of us has an understanding of the complexity of the region and the dangers in the region. We're not trying to be irresponsible. We're trying to be responsible. And the way you are responsible is by creating a new security arrangement for the Middle East. And even under our plan, we maintain some troops regionally in order to buffer against Iran and continue the process of prosecuting al Qaeda.

The president and the vice president continually take our plan and misstate what it is. It is not a plan for abandonment. It is not a precipitous withdrawal. It is a leveraged effort to get the Iraqis to settle their differences and move forward so our troops can come home.

BLITZER: You had a very, very haunting statement, a comment that you made when you came back from the Vietnam War and testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. You said this. You said, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

You regarded the Vietnam War as a mistake. Was the war in Iraq a mistake?

KERRY: Yes, it was a mistake. It was a mistake to go. It was a mistake on a number of different judgments that they made. And I've said that many times. But the outcome does that have to be the same mistake. If they leverage the kind of security arrangement that I have talked about and others have, and if they secure some level of stability in Iraq through political accommodation.

But they can't do it without a sufficient level of diplomacy. They can't do it without pushing the Iraqis to do what they have proven unwilling to do for almost five years now.

BLITZER: If it was a mistake, though, this war four years ago, how do you morally justify sending young men and women into battle and they are going to die, at least some of them, for what you say is now -- has been a mistake? KERRY: I think it was a mistake to make the decision to go to Iraq, Wolf. But now that you are in Iraq, you don't want to compound that by making matters worse by not implementing a sensible way to strengthen the region as you depart. So, you know, I am not saying -- and I've said this continually. Every soldier who has decided to serve is a patriot. And they deserve our gratitude for their sense of duty and for the courage with which they've served.

And the way to honor the sacrifice that they have made, despite the mistakes of Rumsfeld, Cheney, the president, the mistakes of Paul Bremer, the mistakes of the military themselves, and they'd tell you that.

The way to honor that sacrifice is to get the policy right now. And the way you get it right now is by creating this new security arrangement, having the diplomacy necessary to get the Sunnis and Shias to settle the differences of a civil war. None of us signed up to send our troops to a civil war. Not even the military said they want to plunk their troops down in the middle of a civil war.

In fact, Donald Rumsfeld said if it became a civil war, we shouldn't be there. So it's time to face reality. The president isn't. We are.

BLITZER: Do you ever think, senator, I'm sure you do, about what would have been different, what might have been different had you been elected president back in 2004?

KERRY: Well, I think -- look. I think -- I've learned, it's a lost exercise to go back and go through that. I think everybody knows it would have been different based on what I said during the campaign and what I said I would do. I clearly would have engaged in a much more robust diplomacy in the region.

And, obviously, would have hoped the outcome now would be different. I know this. I would have engaged with Iran and with Syria much earlier, at least four years ago now, given the fact that this administration -- excuse me, at least two years ago, two and a half years ago, but we should have engaged at least four years ago when the French, the British and the Germans began that initiative.

And our absence from that has helped to create a stronger Iran and, frankly, a weaker United States in the region.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it there, Senator Kerry. Thanks very much for joining us.

KERRY: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And up next, how much would you pay to live in a U.S. embassy overseas. We're going to get the situation online.

And later, the politics behind the immigration battle. Will the debate split the Republican Party? I'll ask Bill Bennett and Paul Begala in today's "Strategy Session."

They are standing by live.

Plus, Lou Dobbs goes head-to-head with California's attorney general, the former governor, Jerry Brown. They are staking out strong positions on this debate over immigration. It's a debate you're going to want to see.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring the wires, keeping an eye on all of the video feeds coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from around the world. She's standing by with a closer look at some incoming stories making news right now. Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some developing news out of Florida to tell you about. We're just getting word that a gunman might be on the loose in Jacksonville. At least six people have been shot. Their injuries not believed to be life threatening. The shootings happened near downtown. Officials say they don't know if the gunman is still at large. Of course, we're watching developments for you and we'll bring them to you as developments unfold.

An update for you now regarding the firing of those eight U.S. attorneys. Today a House Judiciary Subcommittee approved the issuing of a subpoena for a key figure in the controversy. Now that would be former deputy attorney general James Comey. The chairman of the house panel says Comey may be able to shed light on the firings and that Comey has agreed to comply with the a subpoena and will appear at a hearing on Thursday.

U.S. military and intelligence sources tell CNN that a shadowy office meant to enforce an extreme sectarian agenda with an iron fist has been established by, Iraq's prime minister. Sources tell us it's called the Office and that it's abusing its power which includes being able to overrule other government ministries.

A spokesman for Iraq's government denies that Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's advisers are trying to push a Shiite agenda.

And is the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq dead or alive? An anti-al Qaeda leader says Abu Ayyub al Masri is dead, killed in fighting today. Put on a Web site, an insurgent group says the al Qaeda leader is safe and is still fighting what they call, quote, "the enemies of God."

Iraqi officials say they need a body before they can confirm or deny al Masri's death. That's a look at the headlines right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: The Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, Carol, has made many claims over the past several months. Many of them turned out to be false. We'll see if this one turns out to be true. In the next hour we'll be speaking with our own Michael Ware, get his sense of what's going on. Carol Costello joining us. How much would you pay to live in an American embassy? The State Department is now selling off some high-priced real estate in countries around the world. Let's bring in our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner. What is for sale, Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How much you got, Wolf?

BLITZER: I'm sure not enough.

SCHECHNER: Not even close, I'm sure, although you probably make enough money to come close to some of them. Twenty nine properties around the world like this former Navy annex in London for $180 million.

The State Department is upgrading its facilities and making more secure facilities so it is selling off the old properties. And that falls to this office, the Office of Overseas Buildings Operations. They have some 3,500 U.S. government properties around the world, like this grand colonial in Nepal for $6 million or the former U.S. ambassador's residence in Tripoli which is on the market for $1.5 million.

This has been empty since 1980 so it's going to need some renovation. You have also got a three-story residence in Ottawa. You can see some interior pictures here. This one on the market for $2.25 million. This was also used in the movie "Mr. and Mrs. Bridges," so it may look familiar.

Go to cnn.com/situationroomblog. We've posted some links so you can take a look if you have got some spare cash laying around.

BLITZER: Got some real estate guys out there probably looking for a bargain. Thanks very much, Jacki, for that.

Up next, demonstrators accusing Congress of buckling at the knees when it comes to immigration reform. We'll check in and see what lawmakers have and have not done.

And later, when President Bush actually vetoes an Iraq War pullout timetable, will there be any room for compromise with Congress? Bill Bennett and Paul Begala, they are standing by for our "Strategy Session." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now -- the U.S. military launches its own YouTube-style Web site in the battle for hearts and minds. You'll want to see what kind of videos are on this Web site.

Also, whose oil is it anyway? There's turmoil over oil in Venezuela as Hugo Chavez snatches some control from U.S. and European companies from an oil-rich region. How might that affect how much you pay for gas?

And you may remember last year's plane crash involving New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle. There's a new report on why it most likely happened. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

From east to west, there's rage unfolding on many streets across the United States. Angry masses are in the streets today demanding immigration reform and calling on Congress to act now. Let's go to our congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

She's standing by on Capitol Hill. Where does the government right now, I guess both branches of government, the executive and the legislative, stand on this process to try to get some immigration reform through the Congress and signed into law by the president?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, two weeks from now, on May 14, the Senate is slated to restart the politically explosive immigration debate.

And there's no question that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle see this as a top priority. But there's a huge uncertainty as to whether they can finally find consensus.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): They march for immigration reform all around the country, but their protests are aimed right here. And, on Capitol Hill, lawmakers on all sides of the issue and the president's point men have been urgently negotiating for nearly a month. So far, the only agreement out of those talks is how hard it is to agree.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Our negotiations over the last few weeks have not been easy.

REP. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), GEORGIA: All of the meetings that I have been in are very intense, because this is the number-one domestic issue in the country. And passions run deeply on all sides.

BASH: Immigration reform is one of the few issues where President Bush and Democrats in Congress see eye to eye, a guest- worker program and a path to citizenship for illegal workers who pay a fine and leave the country temporarily.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Resolve the status of those who are already here, without amnesty and without animosity.

BASH: But GOP demands for tighter border security and opposition to what many label amnesty remain fierce.

ISAKSON: Securing the border on the south, and doing it in a realistic, meaningful way, not just a lick and a promise.

BASH: To get support from conservatives, like Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson, sources say bipartisan negotiators are considering a compromise.

A guest-worker program and path to citizenship for illegal immigrants would only kick in after the administration shows progress in securing the border and enforcing immigration laws. Democrats and the White House see that as a way to lure House Republicans, who successfully killed immigration reform last year.

REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MO), HOUSE MINORITY WHIP: Most of our conference in the House believes you have to secure the borders before these other problems can be appropriately solved.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Democrats say they will work with the White House on this, but at a price. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has told the White House she won't bring immigration to the House floor unless the president can deliver at least 70 GOP votes. She believes that will not only give this a real bipartisan label, but it will also protect Democrats from Republicans hammering them on this issue in 2008 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, as you know, last year, Senator John McCain took a very high profile on this issue, co-sponsoring legislation with Senator Ted Kennedy, including a pathway towards citizenship.

What about now, now that he's trying to win the Republican presidential nomination?

BASH: No profile at all in terms of what he is doing on this issue here in Congress.

I can tell you that, according to many who are involved in these intense negotiations, Senator McCain's staff is still very, very involved in trying to find compromise. But we are not seeing or hearing from Senator McCain here in Congress at all on this issue. Same goes for Senator Sam Brownback, also a Republican contender, of course, for president.

He had a high profile. He supported the Senate bill, which did allow for a path to citizenship last year. He doesn't anymore.

BLITZER: Dana, on the Hill for us, thank you.

Meanwhile, protesters -- when protesters like these -- like these that you are about to see talk, the politicians often do listen.

Let's go to our Bill Schneider. He's in Los Angeles.

There are huge demonstrations unfolding right now across the country. Bill, what's the likely impact?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Politicians look at these demonstrations, Wolf, and they ask, how many of these people are voters likely to vote the issue, and how many people on the other side are voters likely to vote the issue?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Some politicians look at immigration demonstrators and see future voters. Democrats see Latinos as the key to an emerging Democratic majority. All the Democrats running for president favor immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We do need to work together on comprehensive immigration reform.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We also need to combine that with comprehensive immigration reform.

SCHNEIDER: But they know there are voters on the other side outraged by the notion of amnesty. So, Democrats insist legalization must be earned.

CLINTON: And then giving them a chance to pay a fine, pay back taxes, learn English, and stand in line.

EDWARDS: I would have some requirements, which some wouldn't agree -- some people won't agree with.

SCHNEIDER: Republican candidates are divided. Four favor a legal path to citizenship, as does President Bush. Four oppose creating a path to citizenship. Two candidates, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, and one potential candidate, Fred Thompson, are willing to consider legalization, but insist that illegal immigrants should not be put ahead of those waiting for citizenship legally.

President Bush and his supporters don't want to see Republicans write off Latino voters. They face a torrent of criticism from conservatives and others infuriated by the prospect of amnesty. Polling indicates that Americans who oppose amnesty are more likely to consider the issue extremely important, and to vote the issue right now, particularly in Republican primaries, which is why Republicans who support comprehensive reform have been sounding defensive.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We gave amnesty, and we didn't secure the borders. Now we have got 12 million people who are here illegally. So, our first priority has to be to secure our borders.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: They should have to pay a penalty, because there should not be amnesty.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Immigration is a divisive issue. People feel intensely on both sides. A politician who takes either side on a divisive issue risks losing votes. So, what does a politician want to do? Change the subject -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, we're going to watch these demonstrations across the country today. Thank you very much for that.

Bill Schneider and Dana Bash are part of the best political team on television.

And, remember for all the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker. Coming up, we're following up on new reports that the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq is dead. How has the group changed its tactics, as it targets leadership in the Iraqi government? We're going to explore that.

Plus: immigrants on the march for reform, but Congress divided over creating what's called a new path towards citizenship. CNN's own Lou Dobbs and California's attorney general, Jerry Brown, they are standing by to discuss this issue. They have different views on what Lou Dobbs is calling amnesty in this reform package.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with CNN's Abbi Tatton.

There's an interesting story emerging online right now involving Joe Biden.

Abbi, what exactly is going on, because it's causing a little bit of a stir already out there?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this was at an event on Friday night, a South Carolina fish fry, where Biden was asked, what will you do after Bush vetoes the Iraq funding bill? And this was the response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I got a (INAUDIBLE) The idea we're not building these new Humvees with the V- shaped things is just crap, man. Kids are dying who don't have to die. And the second thing is, we're going to shove it down his throat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: The last part there is a little bit hard to hear, but I will repeat it, Biden saying, "We're going to shove it down his throat."

Biden was talking to the man about wanting to fund mine-resistant vehicles, or MRAPs. And a spokeswoman for Biden's presidential campaign says that Senator Biden's blunt response shows that he's -- quote -- "very serious about this." He's going to do what it takes to get the MRAPs funded -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks for that -- Abbi Tatton reporting.

Coming up next: the political maneuvering before the president's veto.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Failure in Iraq should be unacceptable to the civilized world.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: After more than four years of a failed policy, it's time for Iraq to take responsibility for its own future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Will Democrats take the next step, cut off funding to the troops? Paul Begala and Bill Bennett, they are standing by to answer that question, as the veto countdown continues.

Also in our "Strategy Session": Will pro-immigration rallies across the country move Congress and the president to take action? Or will it just add to the divisiveness of the border wars?

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The so-called "Mission Accomplished" anniversary tops our "Political Radar" today.

As we mentioned earlier, four years ago today, President Bush declared that major combat operations had ended. He gave a speech aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and under a banner that read "Mission Accomplished."

Today, the Democratic presidential front-runners all criticized the president for making the speech. And Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards also urged Mr. Bush to sign the Democrats' Iraq war spending bill that includes a timetable for U.S. troops to come home.

Senators Clinton and Obama today announced they have accepted our invitations to take part in our presidential debate in New Hampshire. With Clinton and Obama on board, all the Democratic White House hopefuls have now committed to attending the debate.

CNN, WMUR-TV and "The New Hampshire Union Leader" are co- sponsoring debates for both political parties. The Democratic debate is set for Sunday, June 3. The Republicans face off two nights later, on Tuesday, June 5. All the Republican candidates have agreed to attend and participate in this GOP debate. I will be moderating both of those debates in New Hampshire.

One more note about the senator from New York -- she teamed up today with Bono. Clinton and the lead singer of the rock group U2 joined on a conference call with reporters to push for a bill that would beef up education efforts in impoverished countries.

But this doesn't mean Bono is necessarily backing Senator Clinton for president. He's just endorsing her policy on global education.

Let's get to our "Strategy Session" today: the countdown to a veto over war funding, and rage on the streets in many parts of the United States on the issue of immigration reform. Joining us now, our CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and our CNN contributor Bill Bennett. He's a Washington fellow at the Claremont Institute, the author of the brand- new book "America: The Last Best Hope (Volume II)," already doing well on the bestsellers list.

Thanks, guys, to both of you, for coming in.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Here's the question.

If the Democrats can't override the presidential veto -- he's about to sign that veto -- what can they do, realistically? They want to get money to the troops. They don't want the troops to be without money. But they can't override the veto. How do they get troops to start coming home from Iraq?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the first thing they do is, they beseech the president to sign the bill.

BLITZER: They have done that.

BEGALA: Right. Read the bill, first, Mr. President, which I doubt he's done. And it's actually a good piece of legislation.

It funds the war, which many Democrats don't want to do, but they swallowed hard and did it. And it changes the mission. These are two things that I think the country wants. And I think that they have achieved, actually, a pretty good compromise, in trying to -- to, yes, fund a war that many Democrats don't want to fund, but also transition the mission , so that troops can come home and focus on things that they ought to be doing, like going after al Qaeda.

BLITZER: The end-of-March timeline for a withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq is a target date. It's not a binding, necessarily, date in this legislation, which the president is going to veto.

BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The president said he doesn't want timetables. He doesn't want benchmarks. They can beseech. He will not sign it. He will veto this bill, and they will have to go back.

My guess is, what happens is a short-term spending bill for a couple months. We understand, from the Defense Department, they have got enough money to last through the end of July. General Petraeus has said he will be back on Labor Day.

By the way, notice the cards that General Petraeus holds. He's a very, very powerful person -- comes back after Labor Day. When he speaks, the whole world will be listening.

But he cannot sign this bill. It may mean short-term political gain for the Democrats. I think, long term, it is not political gain for the Democrats, if they have their way, which they may have, because... BLITZER: Well, what is the political fallout?

BENNETT: ... because there was -- there is some movement on the Republican side in that direction that we saw today in "The Washington Post."

BLITZER: Right.

What do you think? What's the political fallout, assuming, as a lot of people do, the president vetoes? Then they come up with some sort of compromise that has some benchmarks in there, but it eliminates that hard and fast timeline for combat troop withdrawal.

BEGALA: Yes, I think that -- Bill may be right, that the so- called short leash is the most likely outcome.

There's another outcome, though, which is, you take out the timetable that really seems to be sticking in the president's craw, that -- that most Democrats strongly support. Well, you pull that out. And then you do have benchmarks, so that the president of the United States has to certify that he is sending poorly trained troops into combat, which he is doing. But he should have to account for that to those troops, as their commander in chief, and to the American people.

Then benchmarks for the Iraqi government that they have to meet, a benchmark for sharing the oil revenue among the Sunnis, as well as the Shiites, benchmarks for demobilizing these Shiite militias that we now get reports that the Maliki government may be secretly helping -- so, real benchmarks for the Iraqi government.

I think the president would do well to do more to hold the Iraqis' feet to the fire. OK, don't give them your timetable, even though Congress wants it, but he should, I think, come around and agree to some of these benchmarks and -- and -- that the Democrats want.

BLITZER: And maybe a benchmark that the Iraqi parliament doesn't take a two-month vacation while American troops are dying.

BENNETT: Sure. One can put all sorts of pressure on them.

However, to say that, if they get weaker and weaker, then we leave, as Ted Koppel points out, makes no sense at all. The weaker they get, the more they need American strength. It's a very difficult situation.

But, again, I think, in the long run, the question that has to be asked is not, do you like the war? Should we have gone in? Should we -- should this ever have been started? The question is, what happens if we leave and there is a bloodbath, and then the second or third largest oil supply in the world is under the control of Iran and al Qaeda? Then -- then, is that a satisfactory result?

And, for that, the Democrats may be held responsible. BLITZER: Let's talk about immigration, a lot of Americans and illegal immigrants, as well, demonstrating on the streets of various cities across the country today.

Listen to the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, speaking out about this issue earlier here on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "AMERICAN MORNING")

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: There's no question it's more secure. If we measure it in terms of the flow across the border, if we measure it in terms of what we're hearing from people who are on the border in local communities, we see a measurable change and a shift in momentum.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, going into this presidential campaign, how big is this issue, immigration, going to be for Democrats and Republicans?

BEGALA: It is a big issue. I think it's bigger for Republicans. I think it divides their party more than it divides the Democratic Party, because it divides the -- the -- the voter base of conservative people who don't support much immigration at all, much less illegal immigration, against the business base, which, frankly, wants those folks in there, because they depress wages.

It's a really difficult thing. Now, I give the president credit. This is not popular thing with his base, and he very rarely -- very rarely -- breaks with his base. But he's broken with them, and consistently.

A few days ago, he went to Miami-Dade College, gave a speech strongly supporting his bill to create a path toward citizenship.

But this is what's going to happen. The House Democratic leadership has told the House Republican leadership that, if you don't deliver 65 to 75 votes for the Bush immigration bill, you aren't getting a bill. So, the president is going to have to move 60 or 75.

BLITZER: All right.

BEGALA: Now, they took that playbook from Newt Gingrich, who told Bill Clinton, if he wanted NAFTA, he would have to get 100 Democrats to vote for it.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, very quickly.

BENNETT: Some day, Paul and I will meet, and both applaud the president. It won't be today.

(LAUGHTER)

BENNETT: I'm part of that base he's leaving.

I get a lot of Democrats calling the show, saying, we're not happy with the Democratic Party on this.

I think you're right. There's more unity in the Democratic Party, but this is -- will really divide George Bush's base. Jon Kyl says he's moving closer to the direction that Kyl and other conservatives think he should have, but I don't think it's anywhere near close enough. This thing will explode among the base, if he passes it.

BLITZER: It's a hot-button issue. There's no doubt about that.

Paul Begala, Bill Bennett, thanks to both of you.

BEGALA: Muchas gracias.

BLITZER: You're welcome.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Still to come: a delicate balancing act for Tony Snow, tending to his health while tending to a hungry press corps as well, one day after his return from cancer treatment. And we are going to show you how the White House press secretary is doing. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And, if it were a personal ad, it might read, "Wanted: Fresh Presidential Candidates." Who is not in the president -- presidential race right now that should be, and why? Jack Cafferty with your thoughts -- when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As we have been reporting, there are conflicting reports today about whether al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri is dead.

But the group's rein of terror in Iraq is likely to continue no matter who is at the helm.

CNN's Hugh Riminton is in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HUGH RIMINTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an ex-con from Jordan, who established al Qaeda in Iraq. His masterstroke was to take his exceptionally violent insurgent group in 2004 and seek and receive the blessing and the al Qaeda brand name from Osama bin Laden.

Zarqawi's death was announced several times before it actually happened in a U.S. airstrike in Diyala Province last June. Zarqawi's replacement was named within a week, an Egyptian, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, a master bomb maker and longtime follower of bin Laden's number two, Ayman Al-Zawahri.

Soon, with a $5 million bounty on his head, rumors of his demise were also circulating. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): My message to the terrorist Abu Ayyub al-Masri, we are very close to you, closer than you think and imagine.

RIMINTON: Iraqi security analysts say al-Masri lacked Zarqawi's personal charisma. But that has not stopped the organization developing politically, while engineering a near constant barrage of atrocities.

(on camera): Late last year, under al-Masri, al Qaeda formed up the Islamic State of Iraq, naming its own cabinet. This was a political apparatus in pursuit of its long-term strategic goal, the establishment of an extreme Muslim state in Iraq. Al-Masri named himself minister of war.

(voice-over): It was his predecessor, Zarqawi, who had openly pushed sectarian war in Iraq, so that al Qaeda rapidly made Shias their enemy, as much as the U.S.-led occupation. Al-Masri has maintained that course.

But, under al-Masri, al Qaeda has also fought hard against new pressure brought by a changed U.S. tactical plan, devising more sophisticated roadside bombs to beat the new-generation American anti- bomb techniques.

Last month, al Qaeda also claimed responsibility for two suicide truck bombs used to kill nine U.S. soldiers and wound 20 more at a patrol base in Diyala Province. The U.S. was quick to acknowledge Tuesday that, even if al-Masri has been killed, as reported, that would not end al Qaeda violence.

Hugh Riminton, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York for "The Cafferty File."

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question is: Who is not in the presidential race, he tried to say, that should be, and why?

Julie in Ohio writes: "Senator Chuck Hagel, hands down the best Republican for the job."

Ike writes: "New York Representative Charles Rangel. I think he's intelligent, aware, experienced, thoughtful, and nobody's fool. Not all members of the government appear this way to me. I would vote for Rangel in a New York minute."

Sylvia, Haynesville, Louisiana: "Jack, I would like to see Bill Moyers as president. The kind of integrity and intelligence Mr. Moyers has is exactly the prescription for healing this country could use." Ryan in Seattle: "I would like to see some farmer from Iowa with no political ambitions whatsoever run for the White House, perhaps an economics professor from a community college, anybody who is just an average Joe with above-average intelligence, somebody who will represent the rest of middle-class America."

Charles in Saint Ann, Missouri: "Lou Dobbs gets my vote. Why? He seems to be the only guy on television willing to take a stand against illegal immigration, the war against the middle class, and the growing threat of China, without the usual political spin and psycho- babble you hear from the politicians."

Pat in Petersburg, Michigan: "I can think of two, Jack: Governor Brad Henry of Oklahoma, former Virginia Governor Mark Warner. They both are very popular, moderate Democratic governors of Southern states that, traditionally, Republicans control. Only a Southern Democrat can win. Clinton, Carter, and LBJ are three examples."

Mark in New York: "I think the only one of the seven dwarfs not in this race currently is Bashful."

And Martha in Rew, Pennsylvania: "Well, we have got a woman, an African-American, a Latter Day Saint, an Italian-American lapsed Catholic, an Hispanic, and a Southern WASP. How about a Native American, gay atheist?" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

CNN U.S.
CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNNAvantGo Ad Info About Us Preferences
Search
© 2007 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by CNN.com
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines