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THE SITUATION ROOM

Cheney's surprise visit to Iraq and urgent message. The defense secretary firing back at House Democrats. Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner talks about the White House veto threat. Find out what American voters passionate about.

Aired May 9, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


SUSAN LISCOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A long strange trip it's been. Thanks for the memories. We'll see you guys tomorrow. And guess what, the Dow is closing on a high note, the 25th record high for the Dow in 29 sessions.
It's time for "THE SIT ROOM" and Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Thanks, Susan.

Happening now, Dick Cheney's Iraq surprise. The vice president delivering a tough and urgent message to Iraqi leaders behind closed doors.

Also this hour, the defense secretary firing back at House Democrats over Iraq.

And the White House now putting a new veto threat in play. Some Republicans are breaking ranks and showing their impatience. I'll speak about it with the House Minority Leader John Boehner.

And beyond Iraq, what do voters care about most? Our brand new poll ranks the top issues and the American public's passion for them.

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

Up first this hour, the buzzword for Vice President Cheney's surprise trip to Iraq -- urgency. He's publicly claiming Iraqi leaders are feeling the need to prove they're making progress and to do it fast.

Privately, Cheney is making sure the government in Baghdad fully understands that the clock is ticking. And patience is wearing thin.

Our White House Correspondent Ed Henry is standing by.

Ed, what's behind the vice president's decision to head to Baghdad today?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this White House is under heavy pressure not just from Democrats, but fellow Republicans as well, to turn the situation in Iraq around. So this is a classic good cop, bad cop approach.

The president and his public speeches has been gently prodding the Iraqi government along. Now he sends in the vice president, the enforcer, to be more blunt.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): Vice President Cheney delivered a stern message to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. Aboard Air Force 2 enroute to Iraq, a senior administration official told reporters, "We've got to get this work done. It's game time." A startling statement more than four years into the war.

LAWRENCE KORB, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: The administration is becoming increasingly desperate because they know time is running out.

HENRY: The vice president made clear U.S. patience is growing thin. Especially with the Iraqi parliament planning a two-month summer break.

Two years ago, this month, the vice president said, "I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."

Based on his latest briefings, Mr. Cheney says the situation is getting better.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They do believe we are making progress. But we've got a long way to go.

HENRY: Indeed, during his visit, there was an explosion that rattled the windows at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Reporters were raced to a basement attack shelter, before getting the all clear signal. The vice president's schedule was not interrupted. And he proclaimed himself impressed by the answers he got from Maliki.

CHENEY: I do believe there's a greater sense of urgency now than I've seen previously.

HENRY: But last June during the president's own unannounced trip to Baghdad, he expressed similar confidence in Maliki.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I appreciate you recognize the fact that the future of your country is in your hands.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: This is a familiar role for the vice president, just like in February when he was sent on a secret mission to Pakistan and warned President Musharraf that, if he didn't get tough on al Qaeda, that could mean losing U.S. aid.

Also remember, on that trip, there was a senior administration official who also briefed reporters about the trip and, at one point, said, "I don't operate that way," in reference to the meetings with Musharraf. Clearly, Vice President Cheney outing himself as that senior administration official. This time no word on who the anonymous official is, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's talk about funding for the war effort. The president vetoed the first bill that Congress sent him.

Now Democrats in the House have a proposal to fund at least partially the U.S. military involvement in Iraq through the end of July, and then deal with the rest of the funds later. What's the White House reaction?

HENRY: Tony Snow very clearly, aboard Air Force One today, on the way to Kansas where the president was taking a look at the tornado damage, said there's a veto threat, basically issued that veto threat. Said the president would veto it because this would tie the hands of General Petraeus. They believe it would not give the military long- range planning, that they need long-term money, not short-term funds, Wolf

BLITZER: So this is a flat veto threat or did he say they're considering a veto?

HENRY: He made a veto...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: They would absolutely veto if the Democrats sent them that legislation? I'm a little confused.

HENRY: Absolutely. Tony Snow issued a threat and said, if we get the bill, it's going to tie the hands of General Petraeus. It's going to be vetoed.

BLITZER: OK, Let's go to Capitol Hill. Dana Bash is watching all of this unfold.

Dana, what about that? The White House threatening to veto new legislation if the Democrats fund it only through the end of July.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: First of all, a reality check here, Wolf. It's very unclear, perhaps even unlikely this would get to the president's desk. We don't know what will happen in the Senate.

Nevertheless, the House speaker just came out with a response. And she said the president has chosen confrontation over cooperation. That seems to be a reaction to criticism that Nancy Pelosi is getting for deciding to go ahead with the House's own bill here instead of agreeing to negotiate, to sit down with the White House and accept their invitation to start talking and meeting about a way forward in a bipartisan way -- Wolf?

BLITZER: The Defense Secretary Robert Gates was testifying on Capitol Hill today. What was his bottom line message on this issue?

BASH: He came armed with some detailed arguments about the fact that he thinks the House idea of a short-term spending bill would be highly disruptive.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BASH (voice-over): Defense Secretary Robert Gates blasted a House Democratic plan to delay more than half the president's war funding request until midsummer.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The bill asks me to run the department of defense like a skiff. And I'm trying to drive the biggest super tanker in the world. And we just don't have the agility to be able to manage a two-month appropriation very well.

BASH: In response, House Democrats hit the administration for mismanaging the war and said withholding money will hold the president accountable.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL, (D), ILLINOIS: We have had four years of the same policy producing the same results. And what we're saying is those days are over.

BASH: Gates' criticism of the latest House spending bill was aimed squarely at Democrats, but growing Republican impatience about Iraq was on display.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R), PENNSYLVANIA: There's a sense here, certainly by the Democrats, and growing among Republicans, that there has to be some progress, significant progress to sustain it beyond September.

BASH: Congressional Republicans are under relentless political pressure to break with the White House on Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, you have placed our nation in peril. Our only hope is that Congress will act now to protect our fighting men and women.

BASH: These ads, sponsored by the anti-war group votevets.org, are now running against 14 GOP lawmakers facing tough reelection battles.

Election Day is a year and a half away, but Democrats say it's never too early to tap into anti-war sentiment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're going to be lots of opportunities here to try and change direction. I hope that our Republican colleagues will finally get the message.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: What's making it most noteworthy about this extraordinarily early campaign to pressure Republicans is it's not just about winning elections in 2008, it's about the here and now. It's about trying to get more votes for the Democrats for their majority as they try to put pressure on the president to change policy in Iraq.

BLITZER: Dana Bash on Capitol Hill.

And Dana and Ed Henry, as you know, are part of the best political team on television.

Remember, for the latest political news at anytime, check out our political ticker. Go to cnn.com/ticker.

Jack Cafferty also part of that best political team, joining us with the Cafferty file.

Hi, jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some people don't like when you say that.

BLITZER: You are part of the best political team on television.

CAFFERTY: Well, yes, perhaps.

Democratic Presidential Candidate John Edwards, who often campaigns about eradicating poverty, worked for a hedge fund back between presidential campaigns. Edwards told the Associated Press he did it to learn about financial markets and their relationship to poverty.

John Edwards is a multimillionaire who managed to make it through law school, but found it necessary to work for Fortress Investment Group, a hedge fund, to learn some basic economics. Of course, he was paid, too. But he refused to say how much. He said his compensation will be made public when he releases his financial disclosure forms next week.

At the time Edwards was working for the hedge fund, he also was running a poverty center at the University of North Carolina. Presumably, the university offers classes in economics. And those classes probably include things like how the financial markets affect poverty.

Here's the question. John Edwards says he worked for a hedge fund primarily to learn more about financial markets and their relationship to poverty. Do you see any contradiction there? E-mail your thoughts to you caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. Wolf?

BLITZER: We'll be interesting to see next week how much money he actually made. I assume it was a nice little bundle.

CAFFERTY: He's stumbling around here with the $400 haircuts and the hedge funds and the "I won't tell you how much I got paid." These are not good moves to be making early on in this campaign.

BLITZER: Jack, stand by. We're going to hear what our viewers have to think about it, as well.

Coming up, the top House Republican isn't holding back about a new Democratic plan to hold back Iraq war fund.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Treating our young men and women in uniform like kids on a monthly allowance I think demeans our troops.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: It's not just Democrats, though, who are antsy about Iraq. I'll ask the House minority leader, John Boehner, about the benchmarks he's setting for success.

Plus, Senator Barack Obama's overstatement. Will his comment about a tornado disaster damage his presidential campaign? James Carville, Rich Galen are standing by for our strategy session.

And Al Gore may be costing other Democrats campaign cash, even though he insists he's not running for president. We'll explain. Stay with us. You're in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: If the Bush administration officials needed stronger evidence that fellow Republicans are really anxious for signs of progress in Iraq, they got it this week from the top Republican in the House of Representatives.

Just a short while ago, I spoke about that with the House minority leader, John Boehner.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: I want you to clarify what you said on Sunday. You suggested this. You said by the time we get to September, October, members are going to want to know how well this is working and if it isn't, what's plan B. You're referring to the new strategy in trying to deal with the security situation in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. What did you mean?

BOEHNER: Is that all of our troops will be in place with the surge come the end of June. And so we'll have July, we'll have August. We'll have some idea in September how well this plan is working. We'll also have a better idea how the Iraqi government is doing in terms of the types of actions they need in order to take more control over their own destiny. So that's all.

It's a natural time, I think, in the calendar. Members will have been home the month of August on a district work period. And when we get back in September, there's going to be a reassessment.

BLITZER: If the situation, Congressman, is then as it is now, the insurgency continues, U.S. casualties continue, what would plan B be?

BOEHNER: Well, Wolf, what I'm looking for is success in Iraq. I'm hopeful that we'll be able to calm the violence. I'm hoping that when the violence begins to die down, the Iraqi government will have the room that it needs in order to make the tough decisions that they have to make.

Right now, what we have to do is get the resources to the troops in the supplemental spending bill here on Capital Hill that's mired in mud. The Democrats, a week ago at the White House, said they would work with their Republican colleagues, work with the White House to try to come to some agreement.

On the House side, I can speak for, there's been no negotiation. There's been no reaching out.

As a matter of fact, last night, there was a meeting when Mr. Bolton, Jerry Lewis, the ranking Republican, and Dave Obey, the chairman of the committee, and it was nothing more than a lecture from Mr. Obey, about he's going to proceed.

BLITZER: One of the proposals on the table is to fund the troops through the end of July, about half of the funding, and then reassess what the situation is then, and then come up with the balance of funding afterwards. Is that an option acceptable to you?

BOEHNER: No, it is not. Treating our young men and women in uniform like kids on a monthly allowance I think demeans our troops. There is no planning that can go on in terms of getting supplies in line. No, contracts can be let. This is no way if you're trying to win a war.

When I look at this proposal, all it is a prescription for failure in Iraq.

BLITZER: What about the benchmarks, the notion that the Iraqis themselves, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki have to make certain -- take certain steps on debaathification, for example, letting former members of the Baath Party come back and work in the government or elsewhere to disband the militias. A step so far they haven't been able to do, to distribute oil wealth.

What about linking the funds to their taking those kinds of tough decisions, which they clearly have not been able to take yet?

BOEHNER: I believe that benchmarks are a good idea. Second to those benchmarks, requiring the administration to report to Congress every 30 days on how well we're meeting those benchmarks, are a good idea.

I used to run a small business. I had benchmarks every month. I had goals we needed to accomplish. But if I didn't meet my goals or didn't meet my benchmark, I didn't shut down my business. I tried to figure out how to make progress, what do I need to do in order to meet the benchmark and so what I call -- these are much benchmarks for success.

I don't want benchmarks in there that are there only for the reason of trying to bring about failure to Iraq.

BLITZER: So you wouldn't accept what they're calling binding benchmarks? You want them only as goals? BOEHNER: I want them as goals. I think the administration ought to report to Congress every 30 days so we can measure how well the Iraqis are doing in meeting the goals that the Iraqis and the U.S. together agreed upon.

BLITZER: A lot of America's friends in the Arab world -- in Egypt in, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the moderate Sunni-led nations -- they don't have confidence. They say they don't have confidence in Nouri al Maliki and say he's effectively a tool of the Iranians. What do you say to critics that suggest he's not doing what he should be doing?

BOEHNER: Wolf, we're asking the prime minister to do something that Iraq has never done in their 5,000-year history, and that is to engage in self-government. We're expecting them to accomplish an awful lot in a short period of time.

This is the fourth government in four years. They're learning how to be a democracy, learning self-government. This is not going to operate as smoothly as the United States Congress. We all know how smoothly that operates.

BLITZER: They're planning on taking a two-month vacation. I know the vice president is in Baghdad even as we speak urging them to work as opposed to going on vacation to get the job done. What do you say to the Iraqis?

BOEHNER: I think that's a very good idea. They need to get their job done. They need to take action when it comes to the sharing of the oil revenues, the debaathification of the Baath Party members. Try to bring more unity to their government.

There are a lot of pieces to this plan that have to play out. And that's why I think supplying the troops with the funds they need now, with a clean bill, we'll have a chance over the next few months to make some decision about what's going to happen long-term and how well the plan's working.

BLITZER: The minority leader in the House of Representatives, John Boehner. Congressman, thanks for joining us.

BOEHNER: Thank you, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We'll get a different perspective in the next hour. I'll speak with the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Congressman Charlie Rangel. We'll get the Democratic perspective on this funding issue. He'll be here in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Still to come, is Vice President Cheney's message to the Iraqis getting through? Will it help the White House's Iraq problem here at home? James Carville and Rich Galen are gearing up for our strategy session. And Civil Rights Activist Al Sharpton coming under fire with an apparent slam at Mitt Romney's Mormon religion. Romney is charging bigotry. Sharpton says that's a lie. The fireworks, all that, coming up right here in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring the wire. She's keeping an eye on all the video feeds coming into "THE SITUATION ROOM" from around the world.

She's joining us now from New York with a closer look at other important stories making news.

Hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Oftentimes, he must be comforter in chief. That's the job President Bush performed in Kansas, hoping to bring comfort to an area ravaged by those deadly tornado-packing storms.

Mr. Bush went to Greensburg. That town is virtually wiped off the map. The president got a first-hand look at the devastation, heard first-hand accounts of people's losses and promised speedy relief.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH: The people here will be -- find they are blessed to have neighbors who care. Total strangers will come and help them. Our role as government officials is to work with the state and local folks to get whatever help is appropriate here. Whatever help is in the law, to be here as quickly as possible.

COSTELLO (voice-over): The president said he brought with him prayers and concerns of the nation.

Regarding another natural disaster, parts of Missouri are partly underwater. Relentless rain has flooded cornfields and highways in knee-deep water and partly submerged many homes. National Guard troops are aiding the relief effort, with the state using prison inmates to lay out sandbags. Missouri's governor has already declared a state of emergency.

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

BLITZER: Thanks, Carol. We'll get back to you shortly.

Some of the world's top scientists are embarking on one of the most ambitious Internet projects ever. They're creating an interactive database of every single living creature.

Let's turn to CNN's Jackie Schechner.

How many species are actually out there, Jackie? JACKIE SCHECHNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, right now, there's 1.8 million different named species of animals, plants and other forms of life on earth. They're all being compiled together in a project called the Encyclopedia of Life. It's all online and it's all going to be free.

Twenty-two organizations are coming together to scan in scientific information, textbooks, field guides. They're also putting on line audio and video. All of this information is going to be compiled in one place.

You'll be able to do things like see and read about an animal or a plant, but also be able to hear it, be able to watch it in its environment, map where it lives.

Like Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopedia that anyone can edit, people will be able to submit to the Encyclopedia of Life. But all the information is going to be vetted by scientists before it's put on line. So you'll be guaranteed it's scientifically accurate.

This, of course, is a massive project. They expect to have some 50,000 entries in by the end of 2008, and the full 1.8 million within the next ten years, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jackie, what a project. Thank you.

Up ahead, immigration back on the front burner in Congress. But is it an issue voters are excited about? We have brand new poll numbers. They may surprise you and the presidential candidates.

And a U.S.-funded news channel that's supposed to improve America's image in the Middle East is now accused of actually stirring up some hatred. We'll tell you what's going on. Stay with us. You're in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, Iran. How might Iran figure into attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq? Right now, there's a disturbing increase in the number of attacks using bombs that could blow up even heavily armored U.S. vehicles. U.S. officials believe Iran is the source of many of them. We've got the details.

Also, an academic scholar based here in Washington being detained right now in Iran. She was arrested, thrown in prison and is said to be in need of medical care. Now the U.S. is condemning her detainment.

And a prominent reverend blasts a well-known Mormon. Eyebrow raising words from Al Sharpton have some asking if he's questioning presidential candidate Mitt Romney's belief in God. We have all sides of this controversy.

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

As you weigh who you want to be in the next president of the United States, so what issues might weigh into your decision? Our fresh CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll shows Iraq tops the list of issues important to American voters. Close behind are the issues of terrorism, education, health care, and gas prices.

Joining us now our Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider.

What's behind these numbers, Bill?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, in our new poll, we tried to find out not just what people's opinions are, but what issues voters really care about.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): What matters in politics is not just how many people are on each side of an issue, but how much they care about it.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Other than Iraq and health care, there's no issue on the minds of the American people today, other than maybe gas prices, than immigration.

SCHNEIDER: Take the Iraq issue. Nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose the war, but do they care about the issue as much as war supporters? Fifty-eight percent of those who oppose the war say the issue will be extremely important to their vote. Only 38 percent of war supporters feel that way.

War critics don't just have the numbers. They also have the intensity. Americans are divided over abortion, just like some politicians.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: In my case, I hate abortion. I would respect a woman's right to make a different choice.

SCHNEIDER: But people who describe themselves as pro-life are twice as likely to say the issue will be extremely important to them than people who call themselves pro-choice. Abortion opponents have intensity on their side.

A solid majority of Americans favors allowing illegal immigrants who have been living in the United States for a number of years to stay and apply for citizenship if they have a job and pay back taxes. Critics call that amnesty.

REP. LAMAR SMITH (R), TEXAS: It encourages even more illegal immigration. So, it's not a part of the solution. It's part of the problem.

SCHNEIDER: Amnesty critics have intensity on their side. They are much more likely to say the issue will be extremely important to their vote than people who favor a path to citizenship.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SCHNEIDER: And that's why politicians pay so much attention to letters and e-mails and voters who show up at town halls. They want to know who really cares about an issue. Intensity matters, not just numbers -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, thank you.

Bill Schneider is our senior political analyst.

Let's take a closer look at some of our new polls on immigration, an issue that is clearly returning to the front-burner in the Senate next week.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows there's overwhelming support for allowing illegal immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship, if, if they have a job and pay their back taxes. Look at this: 80 percent say they favor that plan. But, when you take out the path to citizenship, the public is split; 48 percent of those surveyed say they would support a temporary worker program that would not lead to U.S. citizenship; 50 percent oppose it.

Key senators of both parties say they have agreed on the outlines of a bill that would toughen border enforcement and provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, about 12 million estimated to be here in the country. But it's unclear if details can be worked out by Monday, when the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, has set a deadline to begin debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REID: There are excuses why we shouldn't do this. But, overwhelmingly, the American people acknowledge that something needs to be done. Overwhelmingly, we as Democrats acknowledge something should be done.

Now, I -- we're going to live for today and tomorrow, not -- we're not going to rehash what went on in the past. But we -- any time anyone wants to talk about what went on in the past, we can talk about that. I hope it's a new day. I hope it's a day that the president will get personally involved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Harry Reid speaking about immigration. We are going to continue to follow that story.

Another story we're following involves your money. It's paying for a news channel meant to soften some harsh anti-American sentiment in the Middle East. But can it do that by airing words from a man who despises the U.S., who actually encourages death to an American ally?

Brian Todd has been looking into the story.

Brian, what is this news network and why is it coming under fire from members of Congress and others right now? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's called Al-Hurra, a TV news and public affairs network established to win hearts and minds towards America's policies in the Middle East. And it's now accused of betraying that mission.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A network underwritten by U.S. taxpayers for $63 million a year, set up to counterbalance the likes of Al-Jazeera, now accused of an outright double-cross, as it gave airtime to anti- American views.

Critics say, by airing an hour-plus speech by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, accused by the U.S. of heading a major terrorist group, Al-Hurra isn't exactly cutting through anti-Western propaganda in the Middle East.

JOEL MOWBRAY, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: By the five-minute mark, he told the people in the audience, who were firing their guns in celebrations, not to waste their bullets, and to save their bullets for where they belong, the chest of the enemy, the Israeli enemy.

TODD: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a de factor member of Al-Hurra's board, has said this about the airing of Nasrallah's speech.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The new director fully admits it was a mistake.

TODD: Now, some in Congress who control Al-Hurra's purse strings are calling for Rice to investigate the network's practices and are threatening to withhold money if things don't change.

REP. STEVEN ROTHMAN (D), NEW JERSEY: We should not be putting on terrorists who are advocating killing Americans on a U.S. taxpayer- funded television station.

TODD: Critics say Al Hurra, which means "The Free One" in Arabic, started to veer away from its mission last November, with the hiring of Larry Register as news director. Register, until 2001 an executive producer at CNN, has, according to his detractors, focused coverage less on corruption and human rights abuses in the Middle East, and more toward anti-American events, like the Holocaust-deniers conference in Tehran.

Register wouldn't comment. In a statement, a spokeswoman admitted some errors under Register's leadership, but said the network is committed to fairness, and added, "Al-Hurra is the only channel in the region that has programs dedicated to the discussion of the rights of women and human rights in the Arab world."

In the view of one analyst, the network's credibility depends on it airing all shades of opinion.

RIAD KAHWAJI, INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST AND GULF MILITARY ANALYSIS: If you keep getting guests that represent only one side of the equation, then people would look at you suspiciously. But, when you bring people that present all views, then you would be taken more seriously.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But critics say it's one thing to air a sound bite of someone like Hassan Nasrallah. It's quite another, as Al-Hurra did, to air his entire speech, with anti-Western rants and threats -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What do the critics in Congress want Al-Hurra to do now, Brian?

TODD: Well, some want Larry Register to step down. The network says it stands by him 100 percent. Some congressmen also want transcripts of the network's content produced constantly in English, so people can monitor that.

But a network officials says that is too expensive. Still, they can provide those transcripts on request.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you -- Brian Todd reporting.

And still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM: Al Gore may be changing the climate of the Democratic presidential race by keeping cash out of the actual candidates' hands. We're watching that story.

And Congressman Charlie Rangel dives into the clash of the New York titans, a possible presidential battle between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. You going to want to hear what he has to say.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: If they get their way, Al Gore will, repeat will, run for president.

Even though the former vice president is firm, saying he has no plans to run, you might be surprised to learn just what his hard-core supporters are actually doing right now.

Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow. She's in New York.

Mary, you have been watching the story. What is going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, there's been so much speculation. And heightening that speculation about Al Gore's future was a dinner in D.C. last night.

So, former Gore staff members and fund-raisers met. Al Gore wasn't there. Some who attended say it was a planned reunion, nothing else. But it comes as speculation mounts about whether Al Gore will make a late entry into the 2008 race.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): He may have no plans to run for president, but Al Gore has his holdouts, hoping he will change his mind.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hear from people all the time, people who are friends of mine and used to work for him, and also just people that I don't even know who e-mail me from around the country. So, I think there are a lot of people holding out hope that he will eventually run.

SNOW: People close to Gore say there's no evidence he's gearing up to run. Still, one Democratic fund-raiser who didn't want to be named told us he is withholding endorsing an '08 candidate, waiting to see what Gore does.

As far as what Gore has said about running:

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't have plans to be a candidate again.

SNOW: And, yet, Gore shows up in presidential polls. His fight against global warming keeps him in the spotlight.

On a recent "LARRY KING" show, even Gore's former boss didn't rule it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, LARRY KING LIVE)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You have got the prospect that Vice President Gore might run.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW: Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee says he would be popular.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: I really think that the country -- Al Gore is the type of person the country needs. He has got all the requisite experience. He's learned from his defeat.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I hope Al Gore enters the race. I think it would be good for the country.

SNOW: But skeptics say time is running out. And, with the race so crowded, there's stiff competition for staff and money.

DOUG HATTAWAY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: People will hold out, but only so long. There's a lot of enthusiasm about the current field of candidates. And people are going to feel pressured to get involved before the trains leave the stations here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And some say, realistically, Gore would have to get into the race by Labor Day in order to be effective in this campaign, if he does enter -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Of these loyal Gore supporters, these holdouts, as we're calling them, what do they think, if there is a consensus, on the current crop of Democrats?

SNOW: They say that they like the current crop. They certainly don't want to offend any of the candidates out there. But they point to one thing, and that is experience.

And they that is why they're holding out hope that Al Gore will eventually run.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, watching the story for us, fascination with Al Gore, thank you.

From a possible candidate to the current crop out on the trail today -- Hillary Clinton's in Maryland. That's where the Democratic front-runner landed the endorsement of the Maryland governor, Martin O'Malley. Next week, another governor, New York's Eliot Spitzer, expected to support her as well.

John McCain is in Michigan today, meeting voters and fund- raising. The senator from Arizona also talking energy, saying the country's policies need serious revamping.

Mitt Romney is on the trail in Iowa right now. Tonight, the former Massachusetts governor holds a town forum.

And Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani is in Alabama. It's his second trip there in the past month. Alabama has moved up its primary to February 5, which a lot of people are calling super-duper Tuesday.

Up next in the "Strategy Session": Senator Barack Obama is known for his rhetorical flourishes on the campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am proud of the fact that, back in 2002, I stood up before 3,000 people in downtown Chicago and said, this war is a bad idea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But we're going to show you an instance where his words didn't necessarily match the record.

And Vice President Cheney in Iraq today delivering what's being described as a tough message. But is time running out for the White House and for the Iraqis to get it right?

All that coming up -- James Carville, Rich Galen, they are here in our "Strategy Session."

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Today, the vice president, Dick Cheney, made an unannounced visit to Iraq and senses a greater sense urgency, he says, for progress there.

Joining us now in our "Strategy Session," the Democratic strategist James Carville, the Republican strategist Rich Galen.

I will play a little clip of what the vice president said in Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did make it clear that we believe it's very important to move on the issues before us in a timely fashion, and that any undue delay would be difficult to explain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, what do you think?

I mean, when Cheney goes to Baghdad, tells Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, Jalal Talabani, the president, you guys have got to get your act together, I assume that resonates in Baghdad.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: If they could, they would. It's five years of going -- we're in our fifth year there. And it's nice that he's going. He's feeling the political pressure at home. The voters sent him a pretty good message. I don't blame him.

But what's there to say? That -- they don't get their act together. They're not training their army. They're not passing legislation. They're trying to take two months off in the summer. I don't blame the vice president. If my legacy was tied up in this thing, I would go over there and beg them to do something, too.

BLITZER: Well, one thing they could do is not take a two-month vacation, the Iraqi parliament, and get to the business of dealing with the de-Baathification, the oil revenue, some of the constitutional issues.

(CROSSTALK)

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: As the only one of the three of us who has actually been there in the summertime, let me tell you, you will do anything to get the hell out of there for two months.

But the -- there's a bigger issue here, that, when they were negotiating the TAL, transitional administrative law, one of the guys came out and told me that they don't do this. They do a lot of negotiating in the Arab world, but, at the end of it, either you have the goat or I have the goat.

What they're learning how to do -- and I wish it were going faster -- is, they're learning how to split the goat. You get half of it. I get half.

They're not good at that.

BLITZER: But the clock is ticking. And they don't have a lot of time.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And I believe that parliament is air-conditioned. So, they don't have to necessarily be working outside.

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: These guys take -- our guys have a very sophisticated air-conditioning system, and they take all of August off. So, this is sort of -- this is done everywhere.

CARVILLE: You know, not everywhere do they have 150,000 American soldiers on the ground that don't have air-conditioning. Not everywhere have we lost 3,300-and-something people, 25,000 wounded.

So, these are extraordinary times. They had better stick around. This is not regular.

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: Let me just say something about the trip.

If everybody's looking for a benchmark, here's a benchmark, when a senior Western official, American, European, British, whatever, when they can go to Baghdad, and it doesn't have to be an unannounced trip, that's...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: That would be a good sign.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So far, that hasn't happened. That hasn't happened yet.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let's shift to some of the new polling numbers that we're getting from the ARG, the American Research Group.

Democrats' choice for president, James, watch these numbers. You can see them up on the screen, three states, California, Florida, and Michigan. Hillary Clinton in California beats Obama 37-28 percent. In Florida, she wins 45-17 percent. In Michigan, she beats Obama 38- 25 percent. Edwards comes in consistently third.

I guess, in those key, critical states, she's doing well. But the question is, is this going to make a difference right now in those states for her, as she goes out there and generates support?

CARVILLE: As a person who is sympathetic to Senator Clinton's candidacy, I might add, I think these numbers do mean something.

And, if I were Obama... (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: It helps her fund-raise.

CARVILLE: It helps her fund-raising.

And Senator Obama has gotten a ton of very, very favorable publicity, a lot of energy, a ton of money. I understand that they're early, but I think most political analysts would have expected him to be doing a little bit better.

And these comport with national polls that I saw three or four of them myself, that showed her even doing a little bit better. I'm not a person, even as a Hillary supporter, who will say early polls are determinative. But there is something -- there is something in these polls...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let's look at the Republican numbers.

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: Before you go away from this, apropos of the previous segment, I wonder how different, if any, these poll numbers would have been if Al Gore had been included in these polls, especially in Florida. I suspect...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: But there are a lot of national polls where Gore is included. And, to be fair to Senator Clinton, they don't have a great effect on the order of the polls.

GALEN: It might have in Florida.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Rich, here's the Republican numbers in these same three states, California, Florida, and Michigan.

Giuliani in California narrowly beats McCain, 27-24 percent. In Florida, he handily beats McCain, 31-18 percent. Look at this, though. In Michigan, Mitt Romney wins, 24 percent to McCain's 22, 19 percent. That may be the result of his father, a former governor of Michigan.

GALEN: I suspect that's true. He's very, very well known there. He's from Michigan. And Romney also does pretty well in New Hampshire, because there's -- because he's the next-door neighbor. And, as James knows, you can come in second in New Hampshire if you beat -- if you only come in second to the next-door neighbor and still be the comeback kid.

(CROSSTALK) GALEN: But, again, in the Republican polls, to make my point, they did include Thompson, whereas they didn't include Gore in the Democratic polls. Not a huge difference, but it was 13, 14 percent across the board.

CARVILLE: Right.

BLITZER: Senator Obama flubbed a line the other day. I want to play for our viewers what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Just in case you missed it, this week, this week, there was a tragedy in Kansas; 10,000 people died, an entire town destroyed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Later in the speech, he said he was tired. His spokesman said he meant to say 10, which was the right number, not 10,000.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What do you make of this?

CARVILLE: Completely meaningless. I mean, he just made -- he was tired.

A candidate gets out. He obviously meant to say 10. And I think that any campaign, Republican or Democrat, or anybody that would jump onto this is just waiting to leave themselves open when sometimes at night they say something that just -- that comes out...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: The president said that the queen is -- 1776. He obviously didn't mean it. It would be ridiculous. It might be funny, but it is completely meaningless. And Senator Obama shouldn't suffer any detriment because of this.

GALEN: No, not about the 10,000. Missing by a couple of orders of magnitude, anybody can do.

But I think his immediate response to politicize a tornado, I think that is telling. And I think that's kind of a rookie mistake.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Well, I think the governor of Kansas pointed out that there was -- the National Guard being there.

GALEN: That's right.

CARVILLE: But -- whether politicized or not. But he should not...

GALEN: But everybody...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Everybody could have a problem in...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: ... wrong way.

BLITZER: And, God knows, I make plenty of those slips of the tongue myself.

CARVILLE: Me, too. Me, too.

BLITZER: So do you.

GALEN: I don't.

BLITZER: So do Rich.

We all do.

Thanks, guys, very much.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Still to come: John Edwards working for financial markets, does it contradict his anti-poverty message? Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail.

Plus: The Reverend Al Sharpton says he was completely taken out of context. But Republican Mitt Romney suggests Sharpton is guilty of religious bigotry. We're looking into the story.

And floods, fires and drought -- a weather nightmare across parts of the United States. We're tracking the storms, the flames, and the danger.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Talk of a national primary tops our "Political Radar" today.

The Republican Party chairman, Senator Mel Martinez, says he fears a free-for-all among states as they jockey for early primary dates, says the Republican Party should consider a single national primary in the future.

Mitt Romney wants to expand the U.S. military. And he's also calling for increased funding. He makes the pitch in a new ad today in Iowa, New Hampshire, and on national cable TV.

John Edwards is running a commercial in Iowa. The ad calls on members of Congress to keep pushing for a withdrawal deadline for U.S. troops in Iraq.

Jack Cafferty is in New York, and he's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: John Edwards says he works for a -- he worked for a hedge fund primarily to learn about financial markets and their relationship to poverty.

And our question is, do you see any contradiction in that?

Gene in Houston writes: "It's a perfect example of his reality disconnect. Maybe he should have gone to work at Wal-Mart or McDonald's, not a multimillion-dollar hedge fund. That's why these people have no connection to the middle class. They don't even know where to look for it."

David in Tucson writes: "Dear Jack, the fact is, the impact of hedge funds on poverty in America is not a subject taught anywhere in school, except maybe graduate school economics courses. If you want to really know how hedge funds work, you have to get a job there. Of course, jobs at hedge funds pay in proportion to the money you handle, which, being in the billions, means millions in commissions."

Scott in Illinois writes: "A hedge fund providing insight to poverty is as much an oxymoron as military intelligence. No one works for a hedge fund unless they're capitalists working for the almighty buck. Who is he kidding? If he was interested in helping the poor, then he would be doing something like former President Carter, building houses for Habitat For Humanity."

Paul in Illinois writes: "Jack, so the only way a Democrat can advocate for the poor is to wear Birkenstocks and live in a studio apartment? Nonsense. John Edwards is just fine. Despite beliefs to the opposite, you don't have to take an oath of poverty to be a Democrat. John Edwards and the rest of this political season's Democratic field want to give every American a fair chance to share in the country's massive wealth, not the just Bush, Cheney, Blitzer, and Cafferty families."

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Whitney writes: "I don't see an immediate contradiction. I'm not ready to discount Edwards' years of work on the issue of poverty and discredit his explanation just because the two thing seems incompatible on the surface. Edwards' time and energy focused on learning about issues of poverty are a contribution in themselves. But I would like to know if he made charitable donations with the cash he earned working for the hedge fund."

And Ed in Nashville, Tennessee, writes: "To claim one worked for a hedge fund outfit to study the market's effect on poverty is like saying you visited a massage parlor to get a backrub. It's possible, but I don't believe it" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack, for that.

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