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Falwell Dies. Search for Missing U.S. Soldiers in Iraq.

Aired May 15, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, the religious right loses one of its founding fathers. The Reverend Jerry Falwell dead at the age of 73.
This hour, Falwell's legacy of political influence and controversy, the Christian soldiers he brought into the election process and the people he alienated along the way.

Also, an exclusive interview with the rock star and activist Bono.

Would he use his name and fame to help one of the presidential candidates?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


But up first this hour, he was the face of the Christian conservative movement in its early heyday. Jerry Falwell's passing today comes at a time when he and the religious right weren't quite as influential. But they remain forces clearly to be reckoned with.

Our reporters and analysts are standing by with extensive coverage of Falwell's death, his life -- from -- all of that coming up. He died today at age 73.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow first -- Mary, first tell our viewers what happened in the final hours.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Reverend Jerry Falwell was found unconscious without a heartbeat at his office at Liberty University in Virginia around 11:30 this morning. His associates found him. And one of the last people to see him alive was Liberty's executive vice president, Ronald Godwin, who spent over an hour with Falwell earlier this morning.


RON GOODWIN, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, LIBERTY UNIVERSITY: I had breakfast with Dr. Falwell this morning and he seemed to be in good spirits. And he went to his office. I went to mine. And he was found later unconscious working -- where he was working in his office.


SNOW: Now, Falwell was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:40 this afternoon.

Now, when asked, Godwin would not say if Falwell had recently been experiencing health problems, but he did have a history of congestive heart problems -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And is there any successor already in the works?

SNOW: That was talked about. Ronald Godwin says that Falwell's two sons will take over the leadership roles. He says Falwell left instructions for those left to carry on. And in the immediate future, one thing that will carry on is Saturday's graduation ceremonies scheduled for Liberty University. Newt Gingrich is scheduled to deliver the commencement address -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary, thank you very much.

Political allies and even some foes of the Reverend Jerry Falwell are offering prayers for him today. Whether they loved him or hated him, few would dispute that Falwell clearly left an indelible mark on American politics.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is here in Washington.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is in South Carolina, where the Republican presidential candidates will be holding their second debate tonight -- John first to you.

I want you to listen to this sound of John McCain back in 2000 after he lost the South Carolina primary.

This is what he said then about the Reverend Jerry Falwell.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I am a pro-life, pro-family, fiscal conservative and advocate of a strong defense. And yet Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and a few Washington leaders of the pro-life movement call me an unacceptable presidential candidate. They distort my pro-life positions and smear the reputations of my supporters.


BLITZER: Fast forward to 2006.

This is what Senator McCain had to say then about Jerry Falwell.


MCCAIN: I had strong differences with the Reverend Falwell and some in the religious right in the year 2000.

Reverend Falwell came into my office and said, "I want to put aside our differences and knowing that we will still have disagreements, and I want you to speak at my university."


BLITZER: All right.

Let's go to John King first.

What's McCain likely to say tonight about the Reverend Jerry Falwell?

JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, tonight, Wolf, he is likely to echo a statement he has already issued, saying that he joins the students, the faculty at Liberty University, the family and friends of Jerry Falwell, in mourning the passing of this religious and political leader in the United States.

The segment you just played is quite fascinating, part of John McCain's effort to make 2006 and into 2008 campaign much more successful than his campaign and the opposition he faced from Christian conservatives back in the 2000 cycle.

Quite fascinating.

I had an extensive conversation with Reverend Falwell about why he decided to make peace with John McCain. And he essentially summed it up in two words, Wolf. He said Hillary Clinton -- that he was convinced Hillary Clinton was going to be the Democratic nominee. And he was equally convinced that John McCain, at least in that conversation a year ago, at that moment, was the strongest Republican candidate to go up against her.

So quite a detente and even peace.

Reverend Falwell, in that conversation, Wolf, said he was looking forward to traveling throughout the 2008 cycle to help John McCain. That, of course, will not happen with his passing earlier today.

BLITZER: And I want to play Bill Schneider a clip of the Reverend Falwell on Senator Hillary Clinton.

Listen to this.


REVEREND JERRY FALWELL: I certainly hope that Hillary is the candidate. She has $300 million so far. But I hope she's the candidate because nothing will energize my crowd like Hillary Clinton. If Lucifer ran, he wouldn't.


BLITZER: If Lucifer ran, he wouldn't energize the conservative base like that.

What do you think, you know, this whole -- as we look back on the life and times of Jerry Falwell and his involvement in politics?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he certainly had a great deal of influence over the Republican Party. He became a part of the Republican coalition during the Reagan administration.

But he said, you know, he expects Hillary Clinton to keep the Republican Party and the Christian conservatives united. He needs to say that because all of the leading contenders for the Republican nomination are people who have problems with conservatives.

There are three candidates usually at the top of the polls. And they are Rudy Giuliani, who is a pro-choice candidate and supports gay rights; John McCain, who has picked fights with Falwell and other conservatives in the past; and Mitt Romney, who is a Mormon, and, therefore, some of his doctrinal views may be distrusted by some Evangelical Christians, and who has changed his views on some of the social issues.

So none of the candidates who seem right now to be most likely to be nominated by the Republican Party are wholly acceptable to Christian conservatives.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

Bill Schneider, John King, Mary Snow -- you saw her earlier -- they're all part of the best political team on television. And remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our political ticker. Go to

Let's go to another member of the best political team on television.

That would be Jack Cafferty.

He's joining us with The Cafferty File -- killer whale.


Thank you, Wolf.

There is less than three weeks before the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season and some experts are saying it could be an active one.

Almost two years after Hurricane Katrina, an overwhelming majority of us Americans still don't think the federal government is ready to deal with a natural disaster in their local community.

A "USA Today"/Gallup poll shows 60 percent of those surveyed say they and their families are ready for a disaster. Sixty-two percent believe their local hospitals are ready. Sixty-eight percent have confidence in local emergency responders. But only 31 percent think the federal government is ready to help out meaningfully. That's pathetic.

Other findings in the survey include these. People from the South and Midwest more likely to say they are ready for a disaster than those in the Northeast or West. Democrats and Independents are less confident than Republicans in the responsibility of the federal government. And men and whites are more likely than women and minorities to say their families and the federal government are ready to cope with a disaster.

So here's the question -- who do you think is best prepared for a natural disaster -- your family, local emergency agencies or the federal government?

E-mail your thoughts on that to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we'll have more on Jerry Falwell's political clout, for better and for worse. Paul Begala and Terry Jeffrey -- they're standing by in our Strategy Session.

Also coming up, U.S. troops in Iraq going to new lengths in their hunt for those three missing soldiers.

But are they any closer to finding them?

And later, the cycling star, the cancer survivor, Lance Armstrong. He's putting new pressure right now on Congress to try to help others live strong. Our interview with Lance Armstrong.

That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Military officials are confirming that the seven soldiers caught in a weekend ambush in Iraq were from the 10th Mountain Division, based in Fort Drum, New York. Four of those soldiers were killed. The other three still missing. One translator -- an Iraqi translator -- also killed in that ambush.

CNN's Hugh Riminton is in Baghdad.

He has an update now on the search -- Hugh.

HUGH RIMINTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, nightfall once again, after a day of intensified searching through this area around Mahmoudiya, to the south of Baghdad. Still no sign -- certainly nothing that the U.S. military is willing to let on about, despite calling in hundreds of people for questioning. Many of them just people where they just want to ask them anything they might know. But others that they have detained, including some, about four, that they say are so-called high value targets, as they continue with this search.

The U.S. military also confirming that Special Operations Forces are in place to assist in any way as soon as they have any information that might lead them towards the location of the three missing men.

All of this coming despite Web site announcements coming from Islamic State of Iraq, the Al Qaeda-linked group, saying -- warning, if you like, the U.S. military not to continue the search for the safety of the three men that they claim that they are holding.

The U.S. military making no apologies. This search -- this effort will continue until those three are found, one way or the other -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Hugh Riminton reporting for us from Baghdad.

And in our next hour, we're going to go to Fort Drum in Upstate New York and we'll get some reaction from the troops there to the loss of their fellow soldiers and the missing soldiers, as well. A heartbreaking story unfolding at Fort Drum and other U.S. bases around the world.

Meantime, let's check in with Carol Costello.

She's monitoring the wires, keeping an eye on the video feeds coming in -- hi, Carol.


Hello to all of you.

At a ceremony at the annual Peace Officers Memorial in Washington just a short time ago, President Bush honored fallen law enforcement officials, the president calling law enforcement one of the most different and dangerous professions in the world.


GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Police officers are routinely named among America's most respected profession. And that's why strangers mourn for the loss of life and honor of those who serve. That's why so many children choose you as role models.


COSTELLO: The president also said that fallen police officers died for a worthy cause and that the nation owes them a debt of gratitude.

Wal-Mart has just posted record first quarter earnings of $2.8 billion. But the company says the results fall short of its own expectations, and the company is warning that second quarter earnings could come in below expectations. Wal-Mart is the largest retailer.

Home prices dropped for a third straight quarter. The National Association of Realtors reports that the median price for a single family home now stands at $212,000. That's down more than 6 percent from last year's peak. But the report shows that prices are not falling as quickly as they were at the end of last year and some experts say that the market seems to be stabilizing.

A Missouri pet food manufacturer is recalling some of its dog and cat food after finding traces of contamination. The company says the food may be tainted with the same additive that led to the deaths of several pets in a nationwide wave of recalls in March. This latest recall involves more than a dozen varieties of Sensible Choice and Costco dog and cat foods.

That's a look at what's happening right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol.

Thank you.

Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the Republican presidential candidates' Southern strategy. We'll go back live to South Carolina and set the stage for tonight's debate rematch.

John King standing by for that.

And later, U2 star and activist Bono -- an exclusive interview he gave it our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Bono has some strong words about his global fight against AIDS and how the 2008 presidential race might figure in.

All that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: It's only a matter of hours before the bell rings on round two for the Republican presidential candidates. Their second debate likely to provide a taste of their Southern strategies and their appeals to conservatives.

Let's go back to our chief national correspondent, John King.

He's in Columbia, South Carolina -- John what are you going to be looking for tonight?

KING: Well, Wolf, as you noted, it was just 12 days ago the 10 Republican candidates all met for the first time in California.

This will be in South Carolina. They call this primary here the gateway to Dixie. And several of the candidates say in advance of this debate, despite the format, despite that it's hard to break through with 10 candidates on stage, they hope the exchanges highlighting the differences on the issues might be a little sharper.


KING (voice-over): The second major Republican gathering is in a state known for playing a decisive role in GOP nominating battles.

KATON DAWSON, SOUTH CAROLINA GOP CHAIRMAN: It's a must win Republican state. No one since 1980 has gone on to lose the Republican primary here and win the nomination.

KING: South Carolina also has a history of mixing god and politics, and, as such, is a critical testing ground of whether a party whose platform calls for outlawing abortion is open to nominating a former big city mayor who supports abortion rights.



KING: State GOP Chairman Katen Dawson says Rudy Giuliani's views on abortion are not as much of a liability as they would have been at the height of Christian conservative power here in the 1980s and '90s.

DAWSON: One issue won't be a disqualifier in Republican Party politics here. And at certain times, they were disqualifiers.

KING: Kansas Senator Sam Brownback is one of the long shots in the GOP field.


SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: Hey, gentlemen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, how are you doing?


KING: And says he thinks abortion is a critical issue and hopes there is more time to sharpen differences in tonight's give and take.

BROWNBACK: It's a big core issue. It's a big core issue for this party since 1980, when we adopted it in the party platform. It's a -- it's a substantial issue.

KING: Giuliani isn't the only one for whom this event, as early as it is, shapes up as an important test.

Senator John McCain was the big early favorite here and has deep establishment support in the state where his 2000 bid for the nomination was derailed.

But GOP governor Mark Sanford, who is neutral in the presidential race, says McCain's endorsements don't automatically translate into deep grassroots support.

GOV. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Remember, a number of the people in the kernel organization are Bush folks to the last go around -- I mean the very folks that worked to defeat him in the last election cycle. And so he's won, certainly, that level of support. And the question, I think, in this race will be whether or not that extends down to the -- to the ground.


KING: It is still May 2007, as you well know, Wolf.

But it does have the feel already of being in the middle of the 2008 campaign. The 10 candidates will be inside here tonight in about 5 1/2 hours. You see all these signs outside, and there's politicking going on, as well. Anti-abortion activists here say they're encouraged by a new poll that they say convinces them you could have a campaign to overturn "Roe v. Wade" in this country. Flat tax advocates making their ways around, the candidates are doing interviews. So a little bit of great pre-political activity before tonight's big event -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is -- are they bracing for more candidates to jump in the field?

Ten middle-aged, or, in some cases, elderly men, all appearing on the stage tonight.

Any more middle-aged or elderly men out there likely to jump in anytime soon?

KING: Easy what you say about middle-aged there, Wolf.

Are there any men likely?

I'll tell you one thing, there's -- there are advocates here for a woman -- Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state. The Draft Condi Campaign is here in Columbia, South Carolina. They're walking around handing out literature. They have a billboard that they're driving around.

I'll tell you one other intriguing nugget. Governor Mark Sanford, who you just saw in that piece, was up in Washington a couple of weeks ago for one of those dinners we all go to. He says former Senator Fred Thompson pulled him aside and said, "Governor, I hear you're keeping your powder dry, you haven't endorsed anyone yet. Well, you need to stay that way. I might be coming to see you soon."

So, the expectation is that former Senator Thompson will get in. One or two others have said they are getting into the race. Unfortunately for those here for Secretary Rice, she has been quite emphatic she will not get in -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And as I get older, I don't even know what middle-aged is anymore. I don't know what elderly is, but I throw those words around.

John, thanks very much.

We'll be watching.

John King, our on the scene in Columbia, South Carolina.

As the Republican presidential candidates get ready for tonight's debate, their campaigns are also getting ready for the post-debate spin.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner.

How is one campaign taking its spin already right now?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, Senator John McCain's presidential campaign knows how important the blogs are. And they're creating what's essentially a virtual spin room.

They're saying to their supporters, we know that conservative bloggers are going to ask who won, and this would be a good time for you to go to these blogs and promote McCain.

Now, they don't only want people to go to, their own Web site, but they want people to post on other conservative blogs during the debate and then after the debate. They are also linking heavily to their blog roll suggestions of conservative blogs that their supporters should visit.

After the first Republican debate just a couple of weeks ago, there was no frontrunner that really jumped ahead to conservative bloggers. In fact, there really hasn't been an online favorite so far yet at all -- that is, among the candidates who have announced they're running.

There is heavy support online to draft Fred Thompson. We're seeing his name pop up again and again, especially at the top of the unscientific straw polls, saying they would be -- he would be, rather -- their first choice -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that.

Jacki Schechner reporting tonight.

And we're counting down to an important next round of debates in New Hampshire. CNN/WMUR TV/"The New Hampshire Union Leader," we're all cosponsoring back to back presidential debates. The Democrats will debate Sunday night, June 3rd; the Republicans Tuesday night, June 5th. You're going to want to see both of those debates right here on CNN.

And coming up, a startling account of White House pressure on former Attorney General John Ashcroft, even on his sick bed. Hanging in the balance -- the president's domestic spying program. We have the story and the White House reaction. All that coming up next.

And the Reverend Jerry Falwell -- in his own words on the end of days.

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


BLITZER: Happening now, the World Bank chief, Paul Wolfowitz, making a last ditch appeal before the Bank's board of directors.

Can he save his job?

We're watching the story. There are new developments unfolding right now. We'll have a full update. That's coming up.

Also coming up in the next hour, testimony on Capitol Hill on record high gas prices.

Could we see $4 per gallon this summer?

We're going to tell you what the experts are saying right now.

And we'll also show you some dramatic footage from dueling documentaries. The Church of Scientology squaring off with the BBC -- and the debate gets very hot.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The next deputy to former attorney general, John Ashcroft, is going public today with a dramatic account. At the center of it all, the president's domestic spying program and allegations of pressure tactics carried out at Ashcroft's sick bed.

The former deputy attorney general, James Comey, telling all in a witness chair on Capitol Hill today.

Our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel is joining us right now.

What is Comey accusing the White House of actually doing -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it had all the suspense of a John Grisham novel. The former deputy attorney general speaking for the very first time today about a dramatic late night hospital visit.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I told my security detail that I needed to get to George Washington Hospital immediately. They turned on the emergency equipment and drove very quickly to the hospital. I got out of the car and ran up -- literally ran up the stairs.

KOPPEL (voice-over): It was March 2004 and Comey was racing to be at Attorney General John Ashcroft's sickbed before two senior White House officials, Chief of Staff Andrew Card and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, showed up.

COMEY: I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that.

KOPPEL: Although Comey wouldn't publicly confirm it, the disagreement was over the president's controversial warrantless wiretapping program.

COMEY: They came over and stood by the bed, greeted the attorney general very briefly. And then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there, to seek his approval for a matter, and explain what the matter was. KOPPEL: Comey, who, at the time, was serving as the acting attorney general while Ashcroft was in the hospital, was refusing to recertify the surveillance program.

COMEY: I was very upset. I was angry. I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man who did not have the powers of the attorney general, because they had been transferred to me.

KOPPEL: Without missing a beat, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee compared it to one of the lowest points of the Nixon presidency.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: It has some characteristics of the Saturday night massacre, when the other officials stood up, and they had to be fired.


KOPPEL: Now, no one threatened to fire Comey, or, for that matter, the attorney general, Ashcroft.

But, according to Comey, the two men were ready to resign. That was before President Bush stepped in and ordered that the changes be made to the wireless surveillance program that the Department of Justice wanted -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A truly candid, blunt statement from Comey himself, a former U.S. attorney.

Andrea, thanks very much.

Let's get to the White House right now and see what the reaction is over there.

Ed Henry is standing by.

What are they saying, because these are very, very strong words coming from the former acting attorney general of the United States?


And what's so significant about what James Comey testified to is that it undermines a repeated claim by President Bush in recent years that top Justice Department officials were monitoring this terrorist surveillance program closely. So, that's why there were no abuses.

What Comey is saying is that, when he raised concerns and questions, the White House ignored him, tried to override him, as you heard from Andrea. And that undermines what the president was saying. And it's something that Tony Snow did not want to discuss when I pressed him at the White House briefing.


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, number one, you have got a representation of internal White House deliberations. And we simply don't talk about them. I'm not going to.

Number two...


HENRY: ... on Capitol Hill...

SNOW: I understand that. I understand that.



HENRY: You have to tell the truth to the American people. He's testified about this now in public.

SNOW: I understand that. Let me give you a couple of things.

Also, what had always been noted is the terrorist surveillance program was in fact something that was constantly reviewed by the Department of Justice, either 45- or 90-day periods.


HENRY: Now, the White House is obviously very selective about what confidential meetings they will discuss. They won't talk about this one. It's obviously some negative publicity.

But, earlier this month, when they had a private discussion with the Kansas governor about tornado reaction, Tony Snow came right out to the White House podium, revealed that private phone conversation, because it made the White House look good, that they were responding to a tragedy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Andy Card is no longer the chief of staff. But Alberto Gonzales is still the attorney general. Do you suspect this is going to be added pressure on him, given the problems he's had as a result of the firing of the eight U.S. attorneys?

HENRY: No doubt this ratchets the pressure on Alberto Gonzales. But, if we have learned anything in recent weeks, despite all that pressure, this president has dug in. He is not pushing Alberto Gonzales aside -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House.

We will continue to follow this story and the fallout from it.

Let's get back, though, to the top story this hour, the death of the Reverend Jerry Falwell at the age of 73.

I interviewed him back in October of 2005, in the wake of major national disasters, including Hurricane Katrina. At the time, some religious leaders were drawing a link between those disasters and biblical prophecy.


BLITZER: Do you agree with the Reverend Pat Robertson that we may be at the end of days right now, that there may be some biblical explanation for what's going on?

REVEREND JERRY FALWELL, CHANCELLOR, LIBERTY UNIVERSITY: Well, Wolf, most evangelicals that I know have believed for a long time that the coming of the lord is imminent. But it is very wrong to set dates. And, of course, Pat wasn't doing that.

But we don't know. I have no way, nor does anyone else, of knowing that the tsunami, or Katrina, or Rita, or this terrible thing in Pakistan, or the outbreak of terrorism, all these things that have come upon us so quickly, have anything to do with the lord's soon return.

We are to live as though he were coming today, but we're to work and plan with the next generation in mind. And, to me, that is what I am doing. The answer is, I have no idea.

BLITZER: Well, I asked -- I invited you on in part because I went back -- in 1999, this is what you were quoted as saying. This is six years ago, Reverend Falwell.

You told about 1,500 people at a conference that you believe the second coming of Christ probably will be within 10 years. That's what you said in 1999. You also said: "The lord is coming sooner for us than anyone in history. I believe it is in this -- it is this generation that will probably be here when the trumpet sounds."

Do you remember saying that?

FALWELL: Oh, sure. And I think every -- every Christian I know, every pastor I know who believes in the pre-millennial, pre- tribulational coming of Christ for all of his church has said that in every generation.

My friend, the late Dr. M.R. DeHaan, told me as a young pastor -- he wasn't young, but I was, 50 years ago -- that the greatest sign of the lord's soon return is the re-gathering of the Jewish people to Israel, and the budding of the fig tree, and so on. He was right then, and it is not wrong now to say the lord could come today.

It may be 10 years from now. I do expect him in my lifetime. But the question I think you were asking earlier was, do these disasters all tie in, in any significant and intelligent way for anyone to determine when the lord's coming, or is this a sign of his coming? And I think the only right answer to that is, I don't know.


BLITZER: The Reverend Jerry Falwell speaking with me back in 2005.

The Reverend Falwell died today at the age of 73. Our condolences to his family. Coming up, we will have more on Jerry Falwell, his life and times. Once, he claimed he wasn't a Republican or a Democrat. But tell that to Paul Begala and Terry Jeffrey. They are standing by to talk about the Reverend Falwell's political impact and whether it's lasting.

Plus: a make-or-break moment for the immigration wars. We are going to tell you what's happening on Capitol Hill right now.

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


BLITZER: On Capitol Hill right now, it's make-or-break time for immigration reform.

Our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is standing by on the Hill.

What's going on right now, Dana, and why is this so crucial?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as we speak, Wolf, there is a bipartisan meeting in the Capitol that could determine whether one of the president's top priorities, which, of course, is immigration, will actually become law.

They are having this meeting, these negotiations, ahead of a deadline -- that is tomorrow -- that the Senate majority leader has set to bring this to the floor. it is unclear if they can get all of the issues resolved. We are told they have more than a dozen outstanding issues. They could be working late into the night. We understand we will have an idea of whether or not they will have a deal by late tonight or early tomorrow.

BLITZER: All right.

There's another major piece of legislation, Iraq war funding, that's supposed to be considered this week. There are new developments. What are you hearing?

BASH: Well, what we are hearing is, tomorrow, we may see the first Republican -- Republican -- attempt to force the president to explain and defend his Iraq policy.

We have obtained this amendment. This is being shopped around by Republican Senator John Warner. And it likely to come up for a vote tomorrow. What it does is, it sets benchmarks for the Iraqis to meet to show progress. And it also requires the president to explain and tell Congress -- demands, actually, that the president tell Congress whether these benchmarks are being met.

If they are not met, Wolf, what this says is that the president has to explain to Congress how he will revise his strategy in Iraq. It also would cut off about $3 billion for economic aid for Iraqis. Again, it is significant, in this -- in that this is coming from Republicans -- Republicans. And it is likely the first time that we would see these Republicans try to force a change in the president's Iraq policy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash on the Hill watching both of these stories for us -- thanks, Dana.

The Irish rock star and activist Bono says the world's richest nations are simply failing to deliver on promises to Africa. Bono spoke just a short time ago with our own chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay is joining us now from Atlanta.

He had some very strong words on this issue. And it's also figuring into presidential politics. What's he saying, Sanjay?


You know, it's interesting, Wolf, with Bono. First of all, he was in Berlin. And he actually met with Chancellor Merkel. That's where the G8 Summit is going to be. He is already trying to hold people accountable over there.

But, interestingly, he met with just about every presidential candidate right now. He met with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Giuliani, McCain, really trying to educate them and talk to them about AIDS, about Africa.

Here's part of what he had to say.


BONO, MUSICIAN/ACTIVIST: Well, of course, we're never going to endorse a -- any candidate from any party. I gave up that right a long time ago, when I did this work. You can't play politics with these people's lives, the poorest, most vulnerable people on Earth. You just can't play politics.

But I would say, across the spectrum, there is emerging a consensus that the United States, to make itself safe, to make its soldiers safe when they arrive in a foreign land, that the United States needs to be more involved in what's called soft power in some circles, a lot cheaper, by the way, than hard power.

And I had a general, General Jim Jones, four-star general, head of NATO, call me at home on a Sunday afternoon to say, you know, we really are listening on this, that -- he was a Marine, I think. And he was saying, you know, Marines, they don't mind being shot at for the right reasons. They don't like being shot at for the wrong reasons.

I said, well, what's that?

He says, there's this feeling against America at the moment. And he said, my soldiers, they want to help. They want to get involved in this stuff that you are doing. Tell us more about it.

And then he hit me with a great equation. And I am quoting him a lot on this. He says, stability equals security and development.

You have to have security. We understand there's a role for the United States military, kept us safe in the Second World War, et cetera. But, actually, there will be less wars to fight if we invest in preventing the fires, rather than having to put them out afterwards. It's a lot less expensive.

And Africa is 40 percent Muslim, huge oil resources, gas resources. Chinese are everywhere in there. We go, oh, you know, Africa is a real burden. And it's not. It's an opportunity. And the Chinese are there because they see it so. And they aren't asking some of the hard questions of the people they are doing dealings with that we would like. But we hope they will in the future.


GUPTA: Soft power, of course, he's referring to, Wolf, as diplomacy, harder power as military action.

He's making an argument that people have made in the past about health issues being a national security issue as well, yet, they aren't dealt with properly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He makes an excellent point. And General Jones does as well.

Sanjay, thanks very much.

GUPTA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Sanjay is going to have a lot more on his interview with Bono. That's coming up later tonight on "ANDERSON COOPER 360," 10:00 p.m. Eastern. You are going to want to see that.

Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we will have more to the -- more reaction to the passing of the Reverend Jerry Falwell.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: We regret his passing. He has certainly been a prominent figure in American religion and politics for the last 20 years. And I know he will be greatly, greatly missed.


BLITZER: But had the Reverend Falwell's political legacy already dimmed even before his death? And where does the religious right go from here? Paul Begala and Terry Jeffrey, they are standing by.

Also in our "Strategy Session": tonight's Republican presidential showdown in South Carolina. Will it shake up the field?

Stay with us. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Tonight, GOP presidential candidates squaring off for debate in the key early primary state of South Carolina -- what should we all be looking for?

Joining us for our "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and Terry Jeffrey, conservative activist, editor at large at "Human Events."

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Let me just put up the poll of polls, as Bill Schneider likes to call them, a sort of average of the major polls. Among registered Republicans or those leaning Republicans, Giuliani is still atop, McCain second, Fred Thompson, who is not yet running, 11 percent, Newt Gingrich, not yet running, 9 percent, Mitt Romney, 8 percent.

You're a Democrat. You look at those numbers. What are you going to be looking for, as a strategist, going in to tonight's debate?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, this could be historic. People should save this tape, because what we're seeing is the incredible shrinking party.

The Republican Party was once the dominate party in America. George W. Bush took the party of Ronald Reagan, dominant, and drove it into a ditch, kind of like the family car back in the day. Twenty- five percent of Americans, only 25 percent today identify themselves as Republican. And it is shrinking every day.

And what are they doing? They are going to South Carolina on FOX News, which is a propaganda arm of the Republican Party, and they are each going to compete with the other to see how much more extreme they can be. As a Democrat, I love it. It's the march of the mastodons right off a cliff.

BLITZER: All right.

I take it, Terry, you have a different assessment.


TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, "HUMAN EVENTS": To the degree the Republican Party has problems now, it's not because of their conservative views. It's because of the unpopularity of the war.

But, Wolf, in the last Republican debate, it was left to the moderator, Chris Matthews, to draw out the distinction between Rudy Giuliani and the other candidates in the race. I think, in tonight's debate, we need to see some of the Republicans who are polling in single figures -- and that includes Mitt Romney, who did well in the last debate -- to go directly after Giuliani, and try and draw distinctions between themselves and Giuliani, where they think they share common values of voters, not just in South Carolina, but with Republican primary voters...


BLITZER: Doesn't that sort of violate Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment, though?

JEFFREY: Well, no, it's not -- to draw a legitimate distinction between you and the other candidate on the issues, if you don't do that, you can't have a campaign.

And, if they can't -- if they actually don't engage Giuliani, and don't debate with Giuliani, and don't make it clear it's not just abortion where he differs from the rest of the Republicans -- it's gun control; it's same-sex civil unions; to some degree, it's even immigration -- if they don't do that, then they are not going to bring him down and not have a chance to themselves rise up.

BLITZER: If you were advising these Republican candidates to go after the front-runner, in this particular case, Rudy Giuliani, what strategy would you recommend that they undertake?

BEGALA: It's hard to do, because the biggest issue is the war. And that's where Rudy is just as wrong as the rest of them.

Somebody is going to figure out that even Republicans don't like this war. I saw Dana Bash's excellent report here, breaking the news that John Warner, one of the most sober and serious national security experts in the Republican Party, veteran senator from Virginia, is now circulating legislative language to hold the president accountable to benchmarks and to cut some of the funding to the Iraqi government, if Iraq doesn't meet those benchmarks.

That used to be the Democratic position, and it still is the Democratic position. And Warner is moving that way. Someone running for president needs to follow Senator Warner's lead and go after Rudy as a guy who is inexperienced on foreign policy. That's why he's been slavishly following President Bush down the Iraq path.

BLITZER: I want you to respond quickly. But Warner has been -- for some months now, he's been expressing his reservations, his concerns about the way this war is unfolding.

JEFFREY: Well, a number of Republicans in Congress have.

And I think, as things go on, if things don't get better in Iraq, you are going to see Republicans, including those running for president, distancing themselves from the president's policy.

I think Paul has a point to this extent, though. A lot of Rudy's appeal is based on the idea simply that he's tough. But he has yet to display that he really has a sophisticated understanding of foreign policy or that he actually would be a prudent leader of U.S. foreign policy.

And I think that some of these other candidates have a chance to distinguish themselves, in terms of their understanding of the U.S. role in the world, as apart from Rudy.

BLITZER: Let's switch gears and talk about the Reverend Jerry Falwell.

You -- you appeared on television with him on a few occasions from the old days on "CROSSFIRE." You remember that show. What do you think about his legacy, as we begin to think about what he did accomplish and what he didn't accomplish?

BEGALA: You know, obviously, I didn't agree with him on every issue. In fact, I don't know that I ever found an issue I did agree with Reverend Falwell on.

But, you know, he did have an enormous impact. And I admire that he got into the public square. I like anybody who puts themselves into the crossfire or into the -- you know, and I took rough shots at him. He shot right back at me.

But, when the cameras were off, you know, he was an engaging guy, a pleasant guy, a very polite guy, very courtly, good sense of humor. And, so, I want to focus on those things.

And, also, his family and friends and many followers should know that our prayers are with them, that this is -- this is a sudden -- I mean, he was 73, but it's a sudden departure for the reverend. And my heart is with his family.

BLITZER: What do you think, Terry?

JEFFREY: Well, Jerry Falwell had a tremendous, positive impact on the politics of this country over the last 30 years.

If there's any single constituency that was important to Republican success in that time, it was Southern evangelical Christians. He helped organize that community, focus the country on issues that were of concern to that community, and helped deliver it to the Republican Party in key elections, including the one that made Ronald Reagan president of the United States in 1980, which may have been the most important presidential election in modern time.

BLITZER: Terry Jeffrey, Paul Begala, thanks to both of you.

BEGALA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM: Lance Armstrong, he's in Washington today delivering a message to Congress. He will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM to preview what he is up to.

Also, liberal filmmaker Michael Moore trying to pick a fight with a potential presidential candidate. We're going to tell you what that's all about, what the argument is all about as well.

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


BLITZER: The presidential candidates' wallets top our "Political Radar" today. Today was the deadline for the White House hopefuls to file their personal financial disclosure forms with the government. Those forms tell us how much money the candidates have made from their day jobs and where that money is coming from. Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Mitt Romney are all asking for filing extensions.

While some of the candidates have earned millions, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney appears to be the wealthiest of all, thanks to his previous work in the private sector.

We're watching this story, get you those numbers as soon as they are formally filed.

And, if you had any doubt about Joe Lieberman, that he marches to his own drummer, check this out. The independent senator from Connecticut is going to co-host a fund-raiser for Republican Senator from Maine Susan Collins. She's up for reelection next year. Democrats are targeting Collins and hope to oust her.

Lieberman was a longtime Democrat and his party's 2000 vice presidential nominee. But he lost a Democratic primary last summer, before winning reelection to the Senate as an independent. Lieberman caucuses with Democrats right now. And that gives them a 51-49 majority in the U.S. Senate.

Remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can check out our Political Ticker. Simply go to

Jack Cafferty is joining us once again with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I -- I go there all the time.



Three weeks now before the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season, the question is, who do you think is best prepared for a natural disaster, your family, local emergency agencies, or the federal government?

Linda in New York writes: "Family."


CAFFERTY: Pardon me.

"We live five blocks from ground zero, formally our beloved World Trade Center. All I can say is, never again. My family is now coordinated in what to do if a problem occurs. My sons carry an emergency credit card and cash. We have a place to go outside the city and a variety of ways to get there. And my home is stocked with emergency equipment and supplies."

Ean writes: "As someone with homes in both southeast Texas and New Orleans, and still rebuilding both, I can assure you FEMA is clueless. Look at the recent report of $40 million worth of food spoiled. FEMA is a wasted federal agency and should be disbanded. And I'm a white Republican male."

George in Hinesville, Georgia: "I'm an emergency responder with the federal government. I'm not sure what our plan is. Past experience has left me leery. Maybe this year will be different."

Andrew in Miami: "Jack, the Bush administration stretched our resources so thin and focused energy and support on foreign engagements, that it seems nearly impossible for the federal government to appropriately respond to a domestic crisis for natural disaster. Living in South Florida, I am terrified about the upcoming hurricane season and what FEMA and other federal agencies will be able to do in the wake of another major storm, if it comes."

Richard in Tennessee: "Jack, regarding natural disaster aid, you have got it in the right order, family first, local second, federal aid dead last, if not a complete no-show. I would trust George Jones to show up before the federal government."

Janice in Seattle: "Our federal government is prepared for emergencies. They're the ones that are experts at creating them."

And Jon in Washington, who fancies himself a bit of a comedian: "Why, that would be Wolf Blitzer of THE SITUATION ROOM. He deals with your segments every day" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Must be a friend of mine or something.


BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, very much.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: As anguish grips families back home, U.S. troops mount a massive search for fellow soldiers ambushed


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