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THE SITUATION ROOM

Congress's Immigration Deal. The Administration's Response to the Immigration Deal.

Aired May 17, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, the deal is done. Senators of both parties find some common ground on immigration reform.
But will it fly in the face of amnesty opponents in the House of Representatives?

Staunch allies to the end -- Mr. Bush and outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair spend their final bonding session standing firmly against Iraq War critics.

And Al Gore's new book, entitled, "Assault On Reason" -- a P.R. push for that book renewing some speculation, is it time for him to jump into the presidential race?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Senators who brokered a new deal on immigration reform are calling it the best chance possible to bring millions of illegal residents in this country out of the shadows.

Just moments ago President Bush warmly welcomed the agreement, calling it -- and I'm quoting now -- "an important first step."

But getting it to his desk may be a difficult challenge. The measure would grant quick legal status to millions of illegal immigrants already in the United States along with fortifying the borders. So critics of the so-called path to citizenship insist it's actually amnesty.

Our White House correspondent Ed Henry is standing by.

But let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel.

She's on Capitol Hill.

What exactly -- Andrea is in the deal?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they're hoping that it has a little bit of something for everyone.

The deal reached today came after weeks of intensely emotional negotiations behind the scenes on one of the most politically divisive issues in the country.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Politics is the art of the possible and the agreement we just reached is the best possible chance we will have in years to secure our borders, bring millions of people out of the shadows and into the sunshine of America.

KOPPEL (voice-over): Under the terms of the compromise reached, the plan would give an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants a chance to become citizens. But only those who arrived in the U.S. before January of this year could apply for a special visa. They'll also have to pay a fine of $5,000. And heads of households will have to return to their home country within eight years to apply for a green card.

Another key issue -- how to handle guest workers, whose cheap labor is considered essential in the agriculture and service industries. Under the plan, before an estimated 400,000 new workers would be allowed in each year, enforcement would have to be in place, including training an additional 18,000 Border Patrol agents and building 370 miles of fencing along the U.S./Mexico border.

Even though negotiations brought together the most liberal and the most conservative members of the Senate, some of whom voted against last year's immigration bill, both sides acknowledge this deal is a fragile one, which opponents of compromise will try to tear apart.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Please, please, please, don't let the good be -- the perfect be the enemy of the good.

KOPPEL: Already in the House, Republicans strongly opposed to offering illegal immigrants a path to citizenship -- what they call amnesty -- said they'd vote against it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the rea -- the fact that they have to keep saying "this is not amnesty, this is not amnesty" shows they really do know it is.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

KOPPEL: Now, the first real test of this bill is going to happen next week -- in fact, on Monday, Wolf. That is when the Senate is supposed to begin debate on it.

And over in the House, Speaker Pelosi said that she wants to have a bill through there before August -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And it looks like, given the conservatives and the liberals who were on board with the White House on board, it looks like they're going to get the 60 -- the votes in the Senate they need to pass it.

Am I right?

KOPPEL: you know, I have to say, I didn't hear anyone say that they had a filibuster-proof majority on this. But I think that they are confident. But we won't know for sure, Wolf, really until next week, after we've seen Republicans and Democrats have an opportunity to review the bill in its detail.

BLITZER: Andrea, thank you very much.

Let's go to the White House right now.

The president applauded the Senate immigration deal just moments ago.

Our White House correspondent Ed Henry is standing by.

This is comprehensive legislation that the president desperately wants -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

The president spoke on the South Lawn, as you noted. He made it clear he will sign this into law if it reaches his desk. It would be a desperately needed legislative victory for this president, as you know, not just on immigration, but much of his policy agenda is stalled on Capitol Hill right now. And with so much bad news coming in from Iraq, he is eager to trumpet this. That's why he came out to the South Lawn. He sees this as a potential victory.

But at what political cost?

That's the question. You heard in Andrea's piece about amnesty. This president knows he's going to hear that from the right. And that's why when he spoke, he tried to strike a political balance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The agreement reached today is one that will help enforce our borders, but equally importantly it will treat people with respect. This is a bill where people who live here in our country will be treated without amnesty, but without animosity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: now the White House says they can back up the claim that it's not amnesty by pointing out that there are still penalties for illegal immigrants already here -- paying a fine of $5,000, having to pass a background check, also, the English language requirement. The White House trying to claim this is much different than the 1986 law that Ronald Reagan signed that basically granted pardons -- granted full amnesty to those illegal immigrants -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The political upside would be significant for the president during these remaining years, year-and-a-half, or so of his administration -- Ed.

HENRY: That's right.

And it could have a bigger political impact on the broader Republican Party. That's what the president is hoping as an upside. It's what Karl Rove has been talking about for years, trying to get more Latino voters to the Republican Party.

When you look at the CNN exit polls from 2006, 69 percent voted Dem -- of Latino voters -- voted Democrat. Thirty percent of Latino voters voted Republican.

A lot of Republican strategists think that's because the party looked too strident on the immigration issue and they're hoping that a deal like this might look strong on border security but still look more compassionate and reach out to more Latino voters -- Wolf .

BLITZER: And in the next hour, we'll be speak with Carlos Gutierrez, the commerce secretary, and Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, from the White House.

They'll be coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Ed, thanks very much.

Ed Henry, Andrea Koppel, as you know, are part of the best political team on television. And remember, for the latest political news at any time you can check out our political ticker at cnn.com/ticker.

You know, you've always got to be surprised, Jack, when you have Ted Kennedy on one side, the president of the United States on another side, conservatives like John McCain -- they're all coming together to support what they're calling this comprehensive immigration reform.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's an amnesty bill, Wolf, is what it is. It's exactly the same thing we did in 1986. There are -- then there were three million illegal aliens. Now there are between 12 and 20 million illegal aliens in the country.

And the reason that everybody is in agreement is they all want the votes. I mean it's not too tough to figure out.

Last week, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was reportedly bragging to aides that he had weathered the storm, that he was going to survive the crisis surrounding the firing of those federal prosecutors.

Well, he might want to rethink that.

Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein are calling for a no confidence vote on Gonzales. And it's not just Democrats. On the Republican side, Minnesota's Norm Coleman has become the fifth Republican senator to call for Gonzales' resignation, following Chuck Hagel, John Sununu, Tom Coburn and John McCain.

The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, says the investigation of those firings could lead to the resignation of Gonzales. Specter called the Justice Department "dysfunctional" and said it cannot properly protect this nation from terrorism or oversee the president's eavesdropping program with Gonzales in charge.

There's more.

Earlier this week, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey testified that in 2004, Gonzales pressured the then attorney general, John Ashcroft, to certify the legality of the controversial NSA spy program. At the time, Ashcroft was lying in a hospital bed.

Some Democrats now want to know if Gonzales still stands by testimony that he gave last year, when he said there had not been any serious disagreement about the program. Based on what Comey said, Gonzales may have lied.

And after Gonzales and the Justice Department ignored a subpoena from the Senate Judiciary Committee -- ignored a subpoena -- the Department now says it doesn't have the documents demanded in that subpoena. Instead, it claims that Karl Rove's lawyer must have them.

It's unbelievable.

Here's the question -- in light of all of these recent revelations, will Alberto Gonzales be able to hold on to his job as attorney general?

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

Oh, and one other thing. The White House continues to express confidence in Alberto Gonzales as the attorney general.

BLITZER: I mean I've known James Comey for several years. He was a U.S. attorney. He's about as straight a shooter as it comes.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: You remember when he worked in New York.

CAFFERTY: Well, yes, I do, very much so. And he is a straight shooter. And he smelled a rat when he heard back in 2000 and -- whenever it was -- 2004, that -- that these guys were on the way to the hospital to get Ashcroft to sign off on this thing. And apparently Comey raced to get there to try to intervene to keep this from happening because he knew that they were going to try to get Ashcroft to do something that he, Comey, had already indicated he was unwilling to do.

And Comey, at the time, because Ashcroft was incapacitated, was in charge.

BLITZER: He was the acting attorney general.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: I mean, he also that there could have been a mass resignation, not only Ashcroft, but the FBI director, Robert Mueller, and a whole bunch of others, if this would have gone forward.

All right, Jack, thanks very much.

What a story this is. You can't make this kind of stuff up.

Coming up, Republicans behind the new immigration reform deal are likely to get an earful from some of their colleagues. We'll be speaking live with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, ask him if the plan can stand up to the harsh conservative criticism.

Also, coming up, Latino voters -- their number is clearly growing.

Will their political clout increase as much?

And one of the nation's most influential Christian conservatives sending a message to Rudy Giuliani, and I'm quoting now: "The jig is up."

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

COMMERCIAL

BLITZER: And now to Tony Blair's farewell tour.

The outgoing British prime minister is offering no regrets today for his steadfast support of President Bush's policies in Iraq.

After their final White House meeting, Mr. Bush returned the favor, dismissing those who suggest Tony Blair's final days in office won't amount to much.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: You know, it's interesting, I can't -- you know, you're like trying to do a tap dance on his political grave, aren't you?

I mean this -- you don't understand how effective Blair is, I guess, because when we're in a room with world leaders and he speaks, people listen. And they -- they -- they view his opinion as considered and his judgment as sound.

And I find it interesting the first two questions are, you know, is this the right guy?

Well, he happens to be your prime minister. But more importantly, he is a respected man in the international arena.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Prime Minister Blair told reporters that in the end, history will judge the decisions he and President Bush made about Iraq, decisions that cost both of them support at home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: One thing I know is that what we represent coming here today, speaking in the Rose Garden to you people and getting your questions and being under your pressure, that is a finer and better way of life than either a brutal secular dictatorship or religious extremism. It's a better way of life and it's the way of life, actually, people, any time they are given the choice, choose to have. And what we should be about, our two nations, is giving as many people in the world as possible that choice and being proud of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's go straight to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton -- Abbi, what are the newspapers in Britain saying about Tony Blair's final visit to the White House?

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, well they are, as ever, poking a little bit of fun at the "special relationship between Tony and George," as "The Guardian" Web site puts it today. "Memories" is the title of their Bush/Blair photo album they've put on their Web site.

But, really, for the U.K. newspapers today, Blair is on his way out and they're ready for the next guy. As of today, it's finally official -- Gordon Brown, Britain's top finance minister, will be the next prime minister.

But despite being unchallenged from within his party, Brown will not officially become prime minister until the end of June. That's when Mr. Blair tenders his resignation to the queen.

So some are saying -- that's leading to this headline here in the left-leaning "Independent" -- "Why Wait? Why Tony Blair Should Go Now" is what they are saying. Basically, off you go Mr. Blair. Let's get on with it.

Well, Tony Blair answered the British media today in the Rose Garden, standing next to the president there, basically telling them that I'm going to serve out these last few weeks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And he said he's got work to do at the G-8 summit in Germany coming up in June, as well.

Thanks, Abbi, for that.

Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring the wires. She's keeping an eye on of all the video feeds coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from around the world.

Carol Costello has got the day off.

Fred is joining us with a closer look at some other important stories -- hi, Fred.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, Wolf. Well, we want to start with a rather frustrating situation out at Los Angeles International Airport today. A suspicious item, what was called a prohibited item, was found in a checked luggage. And that meant that Terminal One was partially evacuated after authorities were able to locate the owner of the luggage.

It turns out that a pipe was in that luggage. It turns out that the owner of that luggage was a managing partner for a sprinkler system. And, so, hence the pipe belonged to a sprinkler system.

So all the passengers, many of whom had to be forced out curbside, were allowed to finally resume their travels.

Meantime, higher gas prices and a sluggish housing industry are apparently taking a toll on the economy. The Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators dropped .5 percent last month. That's a bigger drop than the .1 percent decline that analysts were expecting. The reading is designed to forecast economic activity over the next three to six months.

Encouraging news from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. He says he does not believe that the growing number of mortgage defaults will seriously harm the economy. At a Fed financial conference in Chicago today, he said the Fed will do everything possible to crack down on abuses that have put homeowners in jeopardy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fred, thanks very much.

Coming up, does the new Senate immigration deal give President Bush a badly needed boost or another potential headache?

Our Strategy Session. That's coming up.

Also, whenever Al Gore speaks, political pundits listen, and they like to speculate.

Is there any new reason to believe he will run for president?

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

COMMERCIAL

BLITZER: Well, we take a quick look at the latest financial disclosure forms to be reminded of a political reality -- running for president is, by and large, a wealthy man or a wealthy woman's game.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, has been crunching the latest numbers that are just coming out.

The current candidates -- Candy, how rich are they?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT:

They are very, very rich. You know, there are numbers and there are more numbers. But any way you add this up, Wolf, the top tier of the presidential class of '08 is a bunch of very rich people.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): There is exceedingly wealthy -- Mitt Romney, a one time investment banker, is worth up to $250 million.

And there is rich. Barack Obama earned a mere $738,000 last year.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: It will say that I am not one of the wealthiest candidates in this race.

CROWLEY: True enough. John Edwards' earned income last year was $1.25 million.

Rudy Giuliani earned $16 million.

None of which includes their homes.

Wow! They are in a stratosphere all their own. But then, most national politicians are.

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: They are an elite class and, in fact, half of the Senate are millionaires. So that gives you a sense of their financial profile, on average, whereas, of course, only about 1 percent of the American population are millionaires.

CROWLEY: Consider for the moment that A, elections are about relating to voters. And, B, the net median net worth of Americans in 2004 was $93,100, including homes. Or, C, the median yearly income in 2005 was just over $46,000.

At Camp Edwards, they are a bit sensitive to this, given that Edwards is running an antipoverty campaign and has already taken flack for a couple of $400 haircuts. But Edwards is a self-made man. He did not come from wealth and the campaign says the point is every American should have the opportunities he did.

It is not always what they earn, but how. Rudy Giuliani made $11 million in speaking fees alone, and $4.1 million from Giuliani & Company, his consulting firm that deals in security issues. All told, it gives more fodder to critics who say the former New York mayor has profited off 9/11.

His campaign begs to differ. "He was a public servant who went into business and was successful," said a spokeswoman. "It is telling that many people around the world from all walks of life want to hear him speak."

(END VIDEO TAPE)

CROWLEY: The question is whether all these figures mean politics is a way to make money or money is a way to get into politics.

The answer, of course, Wolf is, yes. BLITZER: The political fallout from all these wealthy people -- and they make a lot of money, by and large -- all the candidates on the Democratic side, the Republican side -- not all of them, but most of them -- what's likely to be the political fallout in terms of actual votes?

CROWLEY: Probably very little in terms of actual votes.

Look, the reason they put these financial disclosures out there is so that people can look and say oh, I see this person has investments here and investments here.

Did that in any way affect the way they vote or what side they are on in various things?

So it's more about full disclosure. I think it's not going to be a surprise to anybody in the public that these politicians tend to be very wealthy men.

BLITZER: OK.

Candy, thanks very much.

And I just want to remind our viewers, we're gearing up for our own big debates in New Hampshire. CNN, WMUR and "The New Hampshire Union Leader" are sponsoring back to back debates early next month. The Democratic candidates square off on Sunday night, June 3rd. The Republicans to head to head on Tuesday night, June 5th. You're going to want to be there and see it.

We'll bring it to you. That's coming up in June.

Coming up next, Senator Lindsey Graham on the new immigration reform deal and the hurdles ahead.

And is he in or is he out?

The Al Gore question that keeps on being asked again and again. Now he's got a new book that's out. We're tell you what's going on.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

COMMERCIAL

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Senator Lindsey Graham says the new immigration reform deal reflects, and I'm quoting now, "who we are as Americans."

The South Carolina Republican took part in all the negotiations.

He's joining us now from Capitol Hill.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in. SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Thank you.

BLITZER: You've got...

GRAHAM: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: You've got a really diverse group of senators on the -- way on the left, way on the right, some in the middle. The president supports it. Obviously, it's controversial already.

But tell our viewers why you think your favorite candidate, John McCain, your colleague in the U.S. Senate, who strongly supports this legislation, is not going to be hurt among conservative Republicans, who strongly oppose this kind of comprehensive immigration reform.

GRAHAM: Well, I don't believe conservative Republicans oppose fixing and securing our borders. I believe conservative Republicans want to make sure that those people who are living among us are identified, that if you get a job in America you pay taxes, we know who you are, you're here legally. And conservative Republicans are very strong on national security. But we also want to have a practical approach to problems.

And I think Senator McCain, Senator Kennedy -- from the left and the right in the middle -- that the more America knows about this bill, the more America will embrace it from all corners of the political spectrum.

BLITZER: You know, Senator Graham, when they see that picture -- and we're showing it -- we were showing it to our viewers...

GRAHAM: Yes?

BLITZER: ... of Senator Kennedy standing there with Senator McCain right next to him -- right behind him -- you know that's going to cause a lot of angst among some elements of your Republican Party...

GRAHAM: Sure.

BLITZER: ... going into this presidential campaign.

GRAHAM: Well, you know what?

I think we're going to get 75 plus votes. The president is firmly behind this. I think Senators Chambliss and Isaacson from Georgia were there.

I am very proud. Let me put it this way. I'm proud to be an American today. I'm a Republican representing a red state. Senator Kennedy comes from the bluest of blue states. But every American ought to expect their Congress to solve hard problems.

And to those who want to do politics in a fashion where the other side doesn't exist, America can't survive. We can't survive when the Democratic and Republican Party will not do anything about securing our borders. We can't survive by the Democratic and Republican Party ignoring 12 million people here illegally. We can't survive as a nation having an immigration system broken to its core.

So today, the Republican and Democratic elements of the Congress decided to rise to the occasion, and we took a hard problem and I think we've come up with a fair solution.

And I came up here for a reason...

BLITZER: All right...

GRAHAM: To be conservative but, also, to be an American.

BLITZER: I -- I looked up in the Merriam-Webster dictionary the definition of the word amnesty. We are going to be hearing a lot about it, as you know...

GRAHAM: Sure.

BLITZER: ... Senator Graham. And the definition that they have is an act of granting a pardon to a group of individuals.

GRAHAM: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Your colleague from South Carolina, Republican Senator Jim DeMint, he has just issued a statement that, among other things, says this: "This rewards people who broke the law with permanent legal status and puts them ahead of millions of law-abiding immigrants waiting to come to America. I don't care how you try to spin it. This is amnesty."

That's your Republican colleague from your home state.

GRAHAM: Well, in all due respect, he doesn't know how the bill works.

Number one, if you commit a crime in this country that's a misdemeanor, you get punished. Under this bill, if you come here illegally by crossing our border, overstaying a visa, you get a probationary sentence. You get fined. Part of your probation is to learn English. If you have committed a felony offense, you get kicked out of the country.

You are on probation. You get a legal status only after our border is secured. The punishment is proportional to the crime. And, if you want to become an American citizen, after you have completed eight years of probation, you have to go back to the country from which you came and apply there, not here.

Under any definition of -- of pardoning somebody, the people in question don't get pardoned. They get punished. They get a second chance on life. They pay fines. They have to learn English. They have to pay processing fees. And, if they want to become a citizen, they have to leave the country. I think this is a solution to a hard problem that makes sense. And we're not going to put 12 million people in jail. We're not going to deport them all. What we're doing is punishing them in a way that's practical and allowing people to live their lives without fear, not jump ahead of the line. You cannot become a green card holder under this bill until everybody in line ahead of you gets through the system.

So, they are not jumping in line. That is not right.

BLITZER: One technical question -- and we're almost out of time, senator Graham -- once they go back after eight years, the head of the household, to get that green card, or whatever, to come back, how long do they have to stay in Mexico or some other country before they are allowed to come back into the United States?

GRAHAM: If they have done the things required to get a green card, not very long at all. During that eight-year period, they will be on probation. They will have a legal status.

Once the border has been verified to be secure, they go from probationary status to Z-visa status. And, while they are here as a Z-visa holder, they have assimilation requirements. But they can apply here, but, to get the green card, they have got to leave the country.

The hope is that you will do everything during those eight years to get yourself right with the law, including passing the English test, so you will be ready to be an American citizen. So, hopefully, when you leave, you will have everything done, and you won't have to stay long, and you can come right back and participate in the American dream.

But you do have to leave. You have to pay fines.

BLITZER: All right.

GRAHAM: You do have to pass an English test. So, I feel this is a good, good deal for everybody in this country who wants to fix this problem in a sincere way.

BLITZER: And -- and Lindsey Graham is predicting well over the 60 that could set...

GRAHAM: Yes.

BLITZER: ... be a filibuster, 70, 75 votes in the U.S. Senate. We will see what happens there. We will see what happens in the House.

Senator Graham, always good to have you in THE SITUATION ROOM.

GRAHAM: Well, glad to be with you today.

BLITZER: New report out today from the Census Bureau makes a -- marks a milestone for the Latino community here in the United States. It's the largest and fastest growing segment of the minority population, which has hit a new high.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is standing by.

The likely political impact of the growth of the Hispanic population, what is it likely to be, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, different in different parts of the country, Wolf.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The minority population of the United States is now 100 million, according to estimates just released by the Census Bureau, one-third of the country. The largest minority? Hispanics, 44 million. The fastest growing minority? Hispanics, over 25 percent increase since 2000.

The growth in the Hispanic population can mean two different things politically, more Democratic voters, but also a backlash against illegal immigrants. The backlash is already having an impact on the Republican presidential race, where candidates have been feeling pressure to take a tougher line on illegal immigration.

REP. TOM TANCREDO (R-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I get the hint there's conversions happening on this issue.

SCHNEIDER: Which reaction predominates depends on the state. Two groups of states have had higher-than-average Hispanic population growth. One is states in the interior West, like Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado. They already have large Hispanic populations.

Hispanic voting power could help tilt those Bush states into the Democratic column, with less risk of backlash.

WILLIAM FREY, VISITING FELLOW IN METROPOLITAN POLICY, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: People are more accustomed to having immigrants work with them, see them on the streets, see them in the stores. Here, I think, maybe a new immigration compromise will be embraced.

SCHNEIDER: Some Midwestern, Southern and Northeastern states also have seen higher-than-average Hispanic increases, including politically potent states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Despite the increases, those states still have very low Hispanic populations, with higher proportions of illegal immigrants. In those states, Hispanic empowerment is still a long way off. But the risk of backlash is greater.

FREY: In those states, I think the -- the new immigration, the more open immigration, will be a tougher sell for that population. It may not go down very well.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: California experienced the backlash in 1994, when voters passed a proposition that denied illegal immigrants many public services. But California's large Hispanic population started registering and voting Democratic in high numbers. Empowerment overtook backlash -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fascinating. Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

Let's take a closer look at the growth of the Hispanic population in the United States. The number of Latinos in these states grew by more than 50 percent since 2000. They include Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Nevada, and Alabama.

These places had the least growth in the Hispanic population, under 20 percent. They include Washington, D.C., New York, New Mexico, Wyoming, Hawaii, Louisiana, and Massachusetts.

Coming up: An influential Christian conservative gives Rudy Giuliani a tongue-lashing for his support of abortion rights. Will more leaders of the religious right follow his lead? John King standing by.

And will he or won't he? The question many Democrats can't ask enough: Is Al Gore ready to jump into the presidential race?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Focus on the Family founder James Dobson is taking new aim today at presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani.

Dobson is responding to the Republican's recent statements reaffirming his support for abortion rights. In a posting online, Dobson tells Giuliani -- quote -- "The jig is up." And he adds this: "My conclusion from this closer look at the current GOP front-runner comes down to this. Speaking as a private citizen, and not on behalf of any organization or party, I cannot and will not vote for Rudy Giuliani in 2008. It is an irrevocable decision."

Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King.

John, how big of a deal is this?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a big deal, because James Dobson is very influential, Wolf, and not necessarily what you think in traditional political circles.

If you join a group like Concerned Women of America or some of the other Christian coalition, those are known to be religious right political organizations. Focus on the Family is not political by nature. But millions of parents listen to his radio program, buy his "Focus on the Family" magazine, his "Citizen" magazine, which is about public events.

So, it's like the "Good Housekeeping" stamp of -- stamp of approval when he says things in the political realm. So, people who would not say that they were members of the religious right, if you asked them, but are Christian conservative voters who listen to him on values issues, will listen to him on something like this.

BLITZER: Has there been any reaction yet from the Giuliani campaign?

KING: They say they do not want to respond. And that is smart politically, in that they do not want to get into a fight with Dr. Dobson.

BLITZER: It's smart because in the sense that -- you and I covered Bill Clinton's campaign for a long time. Their theory was, if somebody attacks you, silence, in effect, lets that stand, as opposed to reacting firmly and -- going on the offensive.

KING: But the Giuliani campaign is well aware of what's going on right now. It's -- it's an unofficial network of these social conservative leaders, Dr. Dobson from Focus on the Family. You have the known groups. You have had Tony Perkins on the program here, from Concerned Women of America, Phyllis Schlafly's organization.

They are all unofficially working for the same goal. They aren't working together at the moment, for the same goal: block Rudy Giuliani. They are reaching out to former Senator Fred Thompson. Many of these leaders are prepared to rally around him if he gets into the race. And, if he does not get into the race, many of them, despite some past differences, say they will help try to encourage former Speaker Newt Gingrich in.

BLITZER: And the reason they don't like John McCain so much is because McCain/Feingold, the campaign finance reform? Is that what their big concern about him...

KING: It is...

BLITZER: ... about him is?

KING: It is fascinating. They don't like Rudy Giuliani, obviously, because of his positions on the issues.

They don't like Mitt Romney, or they're not warming to Mitt Romney, because they don't trust him, because he was formally pro- rights. They thought he was too liberal on gay rights. And now, even though he is preaching their message, they don't trust him.

And that's the same thing. They do not trust John McCain. Even though his voting record is quite good, they don't like McCain/Feingold, because it made it many of -- made it much harder for many of their organizations to raise and spend money in politics.

But it's even more than that. There is just -- John McCain does not lead with talking about these issues. He doesn't like to talk about the social issues. Even though he votes with them on the issues, they simply do not trust him.

BLITZER: John King, thanks very much.

The former Vice President Al Gore is out with a brand-new book. And that's fuelling now more speculation that he may -- repeat, may -- be planning another presidential run, even though he firmly denies it.

CNN's Kathleen Koch has the latest -- Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Al Gore insists he is dedicating himself to a larger cause than politics. The former vice president says he's doing everything in his power to sound the alarm about the climate crisis. Still, it seems, every few weeks, he is back in the political spotlight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOCH (voice-over): It's a field of eight, but is there room for one more Democratic presidential candidate?

Al Gore has said over...

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am not planning to be a candidate again.

KOCH: ... and over...

GORE: I don't really have plans to run for office again.

KOCH: ... and over.

GORE: Have no plans to run.

Thank you.

KOCH: But the former vice president has never completely ruled out another run for the White House.

And plenty of Democrats hope he will give it another shot.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: I really think that the country -- Al Gore is the type of person the country needs.

KOCH: A new book out next week and a cover story in the new issue of "TIME" magazine are sparking new speculation. The man who won the popular vote in the 2000 presidential election tells "TIME" -- quote -- "I haven't ruled it out."

But Gore does go on to say that he doesn't think it's likely to happen. In his new book, "The Assault on Reason," Gore, among other things, takes aim at President Bush, but says the book is not about politics.

"The reason I wrote the book," he tells "TIME," is that I have tried for years to tell the story of the climate crisis. And it's taken far too long to get through. Speculation of a presidential bid could do just that.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Leaving the door open might be Al Gore's shrewdest political move of his career. It keeps the light shining brightly on him and his issue, global warming.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KOCH: And keeping in the spotlight also keeps Al Gore in the polls. He is in the teens in most national polls, which is not bad for a man who, for now at least, is not even a candidate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kathleen Koch reporting.

If he says to "TIME" magazine, "I'm not ruling it out," I guess he's not firmly denying it either, as I suggested earlier.

Al Gore, by the way, goes after much more than President Bush in his new book. He also takes on the media for what he calls the excess -- excessive coverage of such tabloid events as the Michael Jackson and Robert Blake trials, the Laci Peterson and Chandra Levy tragedies, and the current fascination with such entertainment types as Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton.

Gore writes in the book -- and I'm quoting now -- "While American television watchers were collectively devoting 100 million hours of their lives each week to these and other similar stories, our nation was in the process of more quietly making what future historians will certainly describe as a serious -- a series of catastrophically mistaken decisions on issues of war and peace."

Up next: President Bush scores a much-needed win on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Immigration is a tough issue for a lot of Americans. It's a -- the agreement reached today is one that will help enforce our borders, but, equally importantly, it will treat people with respect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But will immigration reform help or hurt the GOP on the campaign trail? We're watching that.

And what, if anything, does Al Gore's new book tell us about his presidential ambitions? Our "Strategy Session" -- Rich Galen and Bill Press, they're standing by live.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get some more now on Al Gore's new book and today's agreement on immigration reform.

Joining us in our "Strategy Session," Republican strategist Rich Galen and Democratic strategist Bill Press.

Rich, let me start with you.

McCain/Kennedy, that picture, I'm sure, is going to be used. They're getting together. A lot of conservative Republicans are going to be opposed to this immigration reform. He's got a problem, potentially, with them, as does, I suspect, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. I don't know where they are going to come out on this. But I suspect they are going to be more inclined to go along with the -- the mainstream of the Republican Party.

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The -- the -- the big advantage that John McCain has -- two things -- A, he does present himself as a problem-solver. He did it with the -- the judges, remember, last year, the gang of 14.

But the bigger thing for John McCain is that Jon Kyl, who is very conservative...

BLITZER: His co-senator from Arizona.

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: His co-senator -- is -- was at the center of this -- of this negotiation. So, he's got political cover from Jon Kyl.

BLITZER: He's got political cover in Arizona. But what about nationally, as he wants to get the Republican presidential nomination?

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: Well, but, you know, everybody thinks that there are 12 people in the Republican Party. It's a big party. It's the majority party in the United States. And there's a lot of them.

And, with the new -- the new calendar, including Bill's California, where there are a lot more conservative -- moderate Republicans available, I think that he will come out of this probably OK.

BLITZER: This deal could -- could help Republicans in general with the Latino vote out there, Hispanics especially, don't you think?

BILL PRESS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: In the long term.

And I think that's the problem for the Republican Party here. And I think, by the way, Republicans are the ones that are going to have to get together on this issue. Democrats will support it.

In the long term, this is going to help the Republican Party, I believe. In the short term, though, it could hurt, I think, a candidate like John McCain, who is all for this, in the Republican primaries. I don't -- Wolf, it was no accident that, on that stage in South Carolina the other night, you know, nine out of 10 were against this plan.

John McCain stood alone, saying, I'm for it.

BLITZER: But, historically, Mitt Romney...

PRESS: Mitt Romney came out...

BLITZER: But, historically, in the past, though...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... both Giuliani and Romney were in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.

PRESS: Exactly, but very significant that Mitt Romney now says this is amnesty. And he attacked John McCain for it.

And Rudy Giuliani has gone quiet on the issue, to tell the truth. So -- and then Brownback supported this bill last year, and now he's against it. So, I think it's a different dynamic for Republicans this year going into 2008.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Rich.

GALEN: We have got a long way to go. I don't think that, in the House, it's going to have nearly as easy...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You heard Lindsey Graham say 75 votes in the Senate.

GALEN: In the Senate.

But you have got the two edges in the House, on the Republican side, what you are -- what you are describing, very conservative, don't want amnesty.

I think, on the Democratic side, the very liberal wings of the Democratic Party aren't going to think this goes far enough. This has got a long way to go.

PRESS: You know, Wolf, I think what's interesting to me is that President Bush is sort of asking Republicans now to go out on a limb on two really difficult issues, on the war, which is certainly going to hurt them in the general, and on immigration, which will hurt them in the primary.

So, there's a real, I think, conflicted loyalty between the Congress...

GALEN: Well, it's...

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: ... candidates and the White House.

GALEN: That's -- that's why you don't want a -- you don't want a president who is going to -- who is going to govern by the polls. You want one who is going to do the right things.

BLITZER: Let's talk...

PRESS: Oh, like he never read polls.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Let's talk about Al Gore's new book, "The Assault on Reason."

He says, in "TIME" magazine, he's not completely ruling out the possibility that he might be a candidate. What do you think?

PRESS: I think it's a big tease, Wolf.

He also says in "TIME" magazine -- I read the article -- that he's fallen out of love with politics. Look, the way I see it is, this is great to keep Al Gore's name out there. He's got the new book coming out. He's going to sell a lot more books.

I don't think there's any way he would get into this unless one of the front-runners really stumbles badly. And that's not going to happen. But, in the meantime, he keeps his name out there.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: It always makes sense, when you have got a new book, to leave open the possibility you might want to be president.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Can't hurt book sales.

GALEN: Newt is doing the same thing with his new novel. He's -- he's out there, you know, pretending he's going to -- you know, he's thinking about it more closely.

Let me just make one -- one point, though, that, even on the Democratic side, where Mrs. Clinton has been at the -- in the lead right from the start, she is still, even with the poll that was released today, she Cook/R.T. Strategies poll, she is only at the -- in the mid-30s. Sixty-five percent of Democrats are looking at least at options.

And I think, if this continues, and if Al Gore really does get bit by the bug again, I'm not so sure, as you are, that he's not going to get back in.

PRESS: All right. I think the Republican primary is wide open for a Newt Gingrich or...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I think you will agree -- you will agree that there's a greater chance the Republican field expands...

PRESS: Right.

BLITZER: ... as opposed to the Democratic field?

PRESS: Yes. The... GALEN: I don't -- it's not -- I don't think it's that much bigger. But we have to be careful when we talk about big and Al Gore, I think.

BLITZER: Bill Press...

PRESS: I would love to see Al Gore run, by the way.

BLITZER: ... Rich Galen...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You are not alone. A lot of people would love to see him run.

PRESS: Yes, a lot of support.

BLITZER: We will see if he decides to run.

GALEN: I rest my case.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: We will see what they -- what he -- what he decides to do.

Thanks, guys.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Still to come: Can Alberto Gonzales stay on as the attorney general much longer? Jack Cafferty standing by with your e- mail.

Also coming up: two Bush Cabinet members on the new immigration deal that's been struck in the U.S. Senate. I will speak live with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. Are they confidence this deal -- confident this deal will stick? We will ask them some tough questions.

And what would happen if gas prices keep going up and up and up? There are some scary scenarios out there that could hurt all of us -- Frank Sesno, our special correspondent, standing by with that.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, in light of recent revelations -- and the list just keeps getting longer -- the question is: Will Alberto Gonzales be able to hold on to his job as the attorney general? Rudy in Spring Branch, Texas, writes: "As to Alberto Gonzales resigning, I hope they throw him out of the Justice Department. I'm neither a Democrat, nor a Republican. I'm a free-thinking independent voter and a proud Mexican-American. Alberto Gonzales is an embarrassment to the Latin community."

Rod in Eugene, Oregon: "If James Comey's statements are accurate, not only should Gonzales go; Bush should go as well. Bush committed an impeachable offense. You have got to give it to Alberto, though. He's done the impossible. He's made John Ashcroft look like a good attorney general."

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Alex in Glenview, Illinois: "I'm not a lawyer, but I'm not sure what Alberto Gonzales has done is illegal. Definitely, his actions were immoral and underhanded. I think, the more we probe into this affair, the darker it's going to get for Gonzales and the entire Bush administration. Most certainly, Gonzales had orders from the top to do what he did. To answer your question, though, I think he will not lose his job -- this time."

Pat in Pasadena, California: "As you said, Jack, the White House says Gonzales is a good man, and they have confidence in him. I say Gonzales is a confidence man, and they have the goods on him."

And, in Concord, Massachusetts: "There should be no discussion at this point. He should be removed from his position. This administration has so many scandals, Gonzales, Wolfowitz, Halliburton -- Should I go on? -- brewing, that it's a complete and utter joke. The egos are so obviously bloated, they will continue to flagrantly do whatever it is they want, and, unfortunately, up until this point, without consequence."

And Vince in Stamford, Connecticut: "Gonzo is just a symptom of the whole administration. These guys are the dirty-tricks crew on experimental steroids. So much for bringing honor back to the office" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

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

Happening now: Senators reach a deal that promises a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants. That makes the president happy, but there's controversy in this compromise. Can they actually turn it into law?

Did the U.S. Army fail to protect its troops in the so-called Triangle of Death in Iraq? As the hunt goes on for three missing American

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