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THE SITUATION ROOM
Iraq War Funding; Congress on Edge Over Immigration; Bumper Sticker Politics: Presidential Candidates Battle It Out
Aired May 24, 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, President Bush warns of a bloody summer Iraq. As the House nears a pivotal vote on war funding, Mr. Bush is now talking in dire terms.
Also this hour, Congress on edge over immigration, on the brink of passing ethics reform.
Will Democrats, though, live up to their campaign promises or leave voters wanting on this issue?
And presidential candidates do battle over what's being called bumper sticker politics. Republican Rudy Giuliani accusing Democrat John Edwards of being in denial about the war on terror.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in the in the in the in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Right now, the House of Representatives is nearing a vote on Iraq War funding. And some Democrats find their stomachs churning and their hearts pounding without a withdrawal timeline. The bill has become a wrenching litmus test for members of the majority party. It doesn't necessarily help their case that President Bush came out today to say he backs the bill.
Our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is standing by up on Capitol Hill with some of the Democrats' dilemma.
But let's go to the White House first.
Suzanne Malveaux is there -- the president had a news conference, Suzanne, today.
And he was offering some dire warnings, wasn't he?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he was, Wolf.
I mean the pressure -- the pressure under the president, of course, to get those troops home really very significant here. They consider this Iraq funding bill to be a significant victory, but a short-term one. That is because, of course, they are looking at this and there's going to be another fight with the Democrats in a couple of years -- rather, a couple of months -- when it comes to funding.
Also, they're seeing an increase in potential violence. (BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Today, Mr. Bush warned Americans of more bloodshed this summer.
GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to expect heavy fighting in the weeks and months. We can expect more American and Iraqi casualties. Yes, it could be a bloody -- it could be a very difficult August.
MALVEAUX: But Mr. Bush tried to reassure Americans the fierce sectarian fighting is only short-term.
BUSH: Certainly there's been an up tick in violence. It's a snapshot.
MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush used a new tact to illustrate the terrorist threat he believes Americans will face if the U.S. fails in Iraq -- by personalizing it for reporters.
BUSH: They are a threat to your children, David.
And it's a danger to the American people.
It's a danger to your children, Jim.
MALVEAUX: Without naming names, the president accused his war critics of being uninformed. Yesterday, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards dismissed the war on terror as simply a Bush slogan.
BUSH: This notion about how this isn't a war on terror, in my view, is -- is naive.
MALVEAUX: But recognizing that his view is losing public support, the president pointed to his top general in Iraq as the man who will be assessing Iraqi progress by a September deadline. The president has consistently opposed any deadlines because he says it would signal U.S. strategy to the enemy.
BUSH: It's his decision to give the assessment.
MALVEAUX: Even before that assessment, the administration is now planning for what comes after the troop increase. The president was asked, in fact, whether it was a Plan B.
BUSH: actually, I would call that a plan recommended by Baker/Hamilton, so it would be a Plan B-H.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
MALVEAUX: Wolf, he was referring to the Baker/Hamilton plan. That is a strategy that was presented to the president six months ago that he largely rejected.
I should also let you know, Senator John Edwards responding to President Bush's comments, saying that the Bush doctrine is a political sledgehammer -- Wolf.
Stand by for a moment, Suzanne, because there's another important issue the president addressed today, as well.
He made an impassioned appeal for critics of the new immigration reform deal to give it a chance.
Let's listen in to what he said.
BUSH: It's easy to find something to be against in this bill. All it takes is to take one little aspect of it and ignore the comprehensive nature and how good it is. I knew this was going to be an explosive issue. It's easy to hold up, you know, somebody who is here and working hard as a political target.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, Suzanne, tell us whom, specifically, the president was addressing with those remarks.
MALVEAUX: Well, Wolf, amazingly, the president is really talking about members of his own party, conservative Republicans, who look at this piece of legislation and say it is a mess, that it is amnesty. He says clearly that it is not. And he tried to appeal to them in a couple of ways -- really, kind of on a moral ground, saying this was about the spirit and soul of the country; also trying to appeal to their patriotism, as well, saying that it is really not American, this broken system that is already in place.
But it is -- the stakes are extremely high, Wolf, as you can imagine. If he does not get this, it's really considered a loss of a major domestic piece of legislation that he could point to in his second term -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, a lot of people think he's going to have a lot more problems with his own party than with the Democrats on this specific issue of immigration.
Suzanne, thanks very much.
Suzanne is over at the White House.
Let's go up to Capitol Hill right now and that vote that is nearing on Iraq War funding. And it's put a lot of Democrats in an extremely uncomfortable position.
Our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is up on the Hill.
A lot of nervous tension among these Democrats -- Dana.
Tell our viewers what the notion is, what's going on.
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of nervous tension -- angst, anger, frustration. All of those emotions, Wolf, are swirling around the Hill right now. You know, we've watched, over the last couple of months, Democrats flex the muscle of their new majority and vote on bill after bill that has a timeline for troops to come home from Iraq. All along, they knew that was never going to be something the president would sign. Now they're going to send him something he will sign.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
BASH (voice-over): Make no mistake about it, Democrats are not happy about giving in to the president's demand for a war spending bill with no timeline for withdrawal.
REP. JIM MORAN (D), VIRGINIA: The Democratic leadership is allowing this bill to pass because, unlike the president, they will not leave our troops unprotected in battle.
BASH: In fact, opposition to Iraq has grown so intense...
REP JAMES MCGOVERN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Just show me the money. That's all he wants. Mr. Speaker, I simply can't support it.
BASH: ... most House Democrats plan to vote against funding the war with no plan to end it -- even the Democratic chairman who wrote the bill.
REP. DAVID OBEY (D-WI), APPROPRIATIONS CHAIRMAN: I hate this agreement. I'm going to vote against the major portion of this agreement, even though I negotiated it, because I think that the White House is in a cloud somewhere in terms of understanding the realities in Iraq.
BASH: But many Democrats are torn, reluctant to withhold funding for troops in harm's way.
Freshman Tim Walz rode into Washington on a wave of anti-Iraq sentiment. His Minnesota constituents have been pleading with him not to fund the war.
REP. TIM WALZ (D), MINNESOTA: Well, they're saying don't give him the money. They are saying that loud and clear.
BASH: But up until two years ago, Congressman Walz was Command Sergeant Walz, a 24-year veteran of the Army National Guard. So he's defying his constituents, voting to fund the troops, even though there's no plan to bring them home.
WALZ: It's gut-wrenching because I have to take care of these soldiers. I have to make sure they get the money.
BASH: Many Democrats called this spending bill another blank check for the war. But it does have conditions -- a threat to cut off Iraqis' economic aid if they don't show political and military progress. And it forces the president to revise his Iraq strategy.
(END VIDEO TAPE) BASH: So this bill may not have a timetable to bring troops home, but it does, for the first time, challenge the president in terms of his Iraq strategy. And it's something that actually, of course, the president said today he will sign. So it is a significant shift in terms of where the politics of Iraq are because, Wolf, this will pass with a healthy amount of Republican support.
BLITZER: We know that of the sitting Democratic senators who want to be president, Senator Biden says he'll vote reluctantly yes. Senator Dodd will note nay.
But what about Senators Obama and Clinton?
They're still on the fence, I take it?
BASH: They are still absolutely mum. We tried to get that question answered again up until just before we went on the air. And they're not saying.
The stakes are incredibly high for them, as you know, Wolf. Both of them have made promises not to cut off funding for troops in harm's way and have made promises to do everything possible to end the war.
So they basically have to decide which of those promises they'll keep and which one they are going to break. And, of course, there is a lot of pressure from the anti-war left voters, who they really are depending on -- counting on -- to propel them to some kind of victory when it comes to the 2008 race.
BLITZER: So the House votes first, then the Senate?
What's the timeline?
BASH: We don't know. The House is going to vote first, as you said, some time probably early this evening.
The Senate was hoping to get this done tonight. It may slip until tomorrow morning. It's pretty fluid right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Dana, we'll be watching every step of the way.
Dana is up on Capitol Hill.
Dana Bash and Suzanne Malveaux, as you know, are 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 at cnn.com/ticker.
Jack Cafferty also part of that best political team -- you know, it's a tough vote for these Democrats, Jack, whether to support the funding for the troops or block it and try to get the troops to come back home. They're in a dilemma.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good. Maybe they'll, you know, maybe they'll search their souls and consciences and come up with something meaningful in the way of a vote.
In the meantime, we have got to cut back on this shameless promotion that we're doing every afternoon about this political team. It's embarrassing.
When the Democrats took control of Congress this January, they vowed to cut down on the number of personal pet projects, or earmarks, that have slipped into legislation.
Remember the bridge to nowhere?
Well, don't bet on it happening. The number of earmarks exploded in the 10 years from 1996 to last year, from 3,000 to 13,000.
House Appropriations Committee Chair David Obey, a Democrat from Wisconsin, has insisted that he will keep pork -- all of it -- out of spending bills. But he also said that the committee will deal with requests for earmarks at the end of the appropriations process, in closed-door meetings between House and Senate negotiators.
I think we can all figure out what that means.
The "Washington Post" reports today that earlier this year, soon after the House passed pork-free legislation funding the Energy Department, that Congressmen, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, began contacting the Energy Department to request funds for some of their pet causes outside the appropriations process. This practice is called phone marking by insiders.
Whatever you want to call it, it stinks.
Here's the question -- do you think the Democrats duped voters this past November on the issue of pork?
E-mail your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile.
You know, in thinking about the dilemma the Democrats face, Wolf, they sort of created it themselves when they agreed to drop the timelines and the benchmarks for progress in Iraq. They put themselves in a corner when they did that.
BLITZER: and they have to pay the price of that dilemma right now. The votes are going to be happening, as Dana said, tonight or tomorrow. It's going to be a critical vote for all of them, especially those who want to be president of the United States.
Jack Cafferty, part of the best political team on television.
BLITZER: And he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM every single day. Coming up, Republican Rudy Giuliani finds a new opening to play the terror card. And he got it from Democrat John Edwards. It's a heated presidential campaign clash. We'll bring it to you.
And heartburn for Hillary Clinton -- we're going to tell you why the leak of an internal memo isn't sitting well with her campaign.
And when it comes to Iraq, are divided Democrats trying to have it both ways?
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The Senate is now set to hold a no confidence vote on the embattled attorney general, Alberto Gonzales. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer says the non-binding vote will take place after the debate on immigration reform is completed. President Bush defended Gonzales once again today, as Congress investigates the firing of those eight fired federal prosecutors.
But Schumer says the American public has lost faith in the attorney general.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: We hoped that it would never come to this. We would have liked the attorney general to have stepped down on his own. But the rule of law has been trampled. Confidence in the Department of Justice has been shattered. And leadership is virtually nonexistent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: This is grand political theater. I -- if -- Attorney General Gonzales has testified, produced documents, and, you know, I would hope the Senate -- the Congress would move expeditiously to finish their hearings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The Senate no confidence vote on Gonzales is expected to take place in mid-June or so.
Let's get to the presidential race right now. Rudy Giuliani has proven before that when he sees an opportunity to play up his anti- terror credentials, he certainly knows how to make the most of it. The Republican is doing that once again today by seizing on the comments of a Democratic rival. That would be John Edwards.
Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's watching all of this unfold -- Mary, the charge that Edwards made, that this war on terror is little more -- in his words -- than a slogan, has really set some Republicans, including Giuliani, off.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it certainly did, Wolf.
And now Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is also responding.
At issue -- Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards said the global war on terror is a political doctrine advanced by the Bush administration.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
SNOW (voice-over): The clash began with this.
JOHN EDWARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The war on terror is a slogan designed only for politics. It is not a strategy to make America safe. It's a bumper sticker, not a plan.
SNOW: Republican Mitt Romney pounced.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's -- maybe he needs to explain that to the people in London. Explain that to the people of London, to the people in Madrid. Explain that to the people of New York City.
SNOW: Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani also jumped on Edwards saying: "When you go so far as to suggest that the global war on terror is a bumper sticker or slogan, it kind of makes the point I've been making over and over again, that the Democrats -- or at least some of them -- are in denial."
EDWARDS: John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, the other Republicans running for president of the United States are trying to be a bigger, badder George Bush.
Is that really what America wants over the next four years?
SNOW: But other Democrats are questioning the war on terror. At a debate in South Carolina, Senator Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel and Edwards all criticized the global war on terror label.
STUART ROTHENBERG, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Well, for Senator Edwards, in the short-term it could be a plus if he tries to own the anti-war movement, the anti-war crowd. But over the long-term, I think it has some significant risks to him and to his party.
SNOW: That's because Democrats have been fighting the image that Republicans are stronger on national security. It's what sent President Bush back to the White House in 2004. Rudy Giuliani hopes it will be his ticket in 2008.
RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think the Democrats have gotten the full impact of the message the way the Republicans have, because I'm afraid they're going to put us back on defense.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
SNOW: Now, Edwards today also responded to President Bush's statement that the notion there is no war on terror is naive. Edwards said he wants to be clear that the U.S. president has a responsibility to stop terrorists wherever they are with whatever it takes.
But he said President Bush's plan is not working -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The -- didn't some Republicans, Mary, also, have some problems with the term "war on terror?"
SNOW: Yes. Just about two months ago, Wolf, Rudy Giuliani had questioned the term. And he said that he would prefer to call it the terrorist war against us, because he said he didn't want others to get the notion that the U.S. prefers war.
BLITZER: Mary Snow watching all of this in New York for us.
It sounds like a dream come true for a presidential candidate -- a stake in sunken treasure.
Well, it seems John Edwards does, indeed, have a claim on $500 million in gold and silver found at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean last weekend. And here's why. Edwards has a stake in the New York- based Fortress Investments. You may remember he recently defended his past work for that hedge fund firm, saying it doesn't overshadow his anti-poverty efforts.
It turns out Fortress Investments is the biggest shareholder in Odyssey Marine Research, the company that discovered the sunken treasure. Right now, it's not clear what Edwards' share of the booty might actually be.
Still ahead right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the so-called grand bargain on immigration reform.
Is it tearing the Republican Party apart?
Donna Brazile and Terry Jeffrey -- they're standing by for our Strategy Session.
And Congressman and anti-war advocate John Murtha says he's sorry. He'll tell us why.
All that's coming up.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring the wires. She's keeping an eye on all the video feeds coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from around the world.
Let's go to her for a closer look at other important stories -- hi, Carol.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Hello to all of you.
A new study concludes the Food and Drug Administration should regulate tobacco and it should develop a plan to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes. The Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences compiled the report. The Institute is also calling for higher taxes on tobacco, nationwide indoor smoking bans and other steps to reduce smoking.
Home sales are soaring as prices plunge. The latest government figures showed that new home sales in April rose more than 16 percent from March. The median price of a new home sold in April dropped more than 11 percent from March. That's the biggest month to month drop on record. And it was down 10.9 percent from a year earlier, the biggest year to year drop since 1970.
One in six drivers on the road would not pass a written driver's license test if they were given one today. That's the finding of a survey conducted by GMAC Insurance. The survey asked questions from actual state department of motor vehicles tests. Drivers in Idaho did the best, followed by Alaska and Minnesota. New York at the bottom of the list. New Jersey is the next worst. And, Wolf, you aren't off the hook. It's followed by D.C.
President Bush is urging China to strengthen the value of its currency. In Washington today, he met with China's vice premier, Wu Yi. Afterward, the president told reporters the $233 billion trade deficit with China must be addressed and he said strengthening China's currency is one way to deal with the deficit. He also urged China to open up financial markets to U.S. companies.
Back to you -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I'm not surprised about those tests. I'm not sure I would pass those tests right now, either. But I did many, many years ago. When I was 16 years old, I got my driver's license.
COSTELLO: Well, thankfully, we all needed to pass it only once.
BLITZER: Well, that's right. I did it then. It was one of the happiest days of my life.
Up ahead, a first test of Democrats as the push toward a final vote on ethics reform unfolds.
Are campaign promises being kept or broken?
And will the issue that helped Democrats win control of Congress break the party apart? Donna Brazile and Terry Jeffrey draw war battle lines. That's coming up.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Happening now, keeping troops in Iraq safe.
Should they be outfitted with high-tech tracking devices?
We're watching the story.
War games off the coast of Iran -- an American armada now flexing its muscles.
And a 91-year-old carjacking victim who was hit 21 times confronts his alleged attacker in court. The beating was caught on surveillance tape.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in the in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The House of Representatives is counting down right now to its latest critical vote on Iraq War funding. And Democrats are also making choices that could come back to haunt them in the process.
Let's go to our senior political analyst Bill Schneider.
He's joining us.
The risks for Democrats with this vote are pretty significant, aren't they -- Bill.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: They are indeed, Wolf.
Democrats are trying to have it both ways and it'll be interesting to see if they can do that.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Iraq War opponents say it's a sell-out to vote for a bill that continues funding for the war without a timeline for withdrawal.
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: We basically see a cave-in by many members of Congress, Republicans and many Democrats, who know that the message from the American people was to get us out of Iraq.
SCHNEIDER: anti-war groups are threatening retribution.
ELI PARISER, MOVEON.ORG: We already have members writing us in saying, you know, let's run ads against those people. Let's -- let's find primary challengers for those people. SCHNEIDER: But Democrats are also feeling pressure not to cut funding for the troops.
REP. JAMES MORAN (D), VIRGINIA: The Democratic leadership is allowing this bill to pass because, unlike the president, they will not leave our troops unprotected in battle.
SCHNEIDER: How are Democrats defending themselves against the charge they're selling out?
Democrats are adding sweeteners to the bill.
JOHN DICKERSON, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, SLATE.COM: We've got some other things for you. We've got an increase in the minimum wage. We've got help for Katrina victims, some -- some health care for -- for children.
SCHNEIDER: Democrats are saying they got President Bush to accept something he previously resisted -- benchmarks for the Iraqi government.
BUSH: These benchmarks provide both the Iraqi government and the American people with a clear road map on the way forward.
SCHNEIDER: Democrats are saying this is just the first step.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: We will bring this war to a responsible end by every single solitary day, vote after vote, keeping the pressure on the president.
SCHNEIDER: And one more thing: The war funding bill is likely to pass without the support of most Democrats. All it needs is a solid majority of Republicans and a minority of Democrats. Even Speaker Pelosi says she will vote against it.
SCHNEIDER: So, the troops will get funded with no timelines for withdrawal. But most Democrats can say: Don't blame me. I voted against it.
Pretty clever -- maybe too clever, because the Democratic Congress allowed it to happen -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Bill Schneider watching all of this for us.
We will stay on top of these votes tonight and maybe in the Senate tomorrow.
Also happening right now: House Democrats pressing ahead on ethics reform, hoping to fulfill their campaign pledge for a more open Congress.
Let's go to our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel.
Andrea, Democrats made a lot of promises in the aftermath of the Jack Abramoff scandal last year that there was going to be a new set of ethics, with lobbying reform, up on Capitol Hill. Does this current bill meet those expectations?
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You could say yes and no, Wolf.
Last year, as you said, Democrats were pledging over and over again on the campaign trail that, once they controlled Congress, they would break the link between lobbyist and lawmaker.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You cannot advance the people's agenda unless you drain the swamp that is Washington, D.C.
KOPPEL: But, now that they are in power, Democrats have backed off a key campaign promise, to double the amount of time, from one to two years, that ex-lawmakers and senior staff must wait before lobbying Congress.
Freshman Democrat Nick Lampson says it's a pledge that shouldn't be broken.
REP. NICK LAMPSON (D-TX): I didn't come to Washington, D.C., to -- to get rich. I came to do public service.
KOPPEL: The man Lampson beat last year was the former Republican majority leader, Tom DeLay, who resigned, caught up in ethics scandals. Now Lampson worries the Democrats' new lobbying reform legislation falls short.
LAMPSON: There are good measures in -- in this. It...
KOPPEL: But it just doesn't go far enough?
LAMPSON: It doesn't go far enough.
KOPPEL (voice-over): What it would do is require lawmakers to disclose when they are job hunting with a lobbying firm, create a public database of registered lobbyists, who would also have to disclose more of their activities, including what's known as bundling, soliciting small campaign contributions, and then bundling them into a larger donation.
But, while some Democrats grumbled, this legislation wasn't tough enough, others, like Virginia's Jim Moran, complained, Democrats were going too far, in particular with bundling, which Moran explained is a big source of campaign cash.
REP. JIM MORAN (D), VIRGINIA: We will do this. But, then to expect us to raise a million dollars every time we run, that's difficult.
KOPPEL: Now, in the end, the bundling measure did sail through the House, in fact, just a short time ago, by a vote of 382-37, Wolf.
And the rest of the lobbying reform is going to be voted on very shortly. Democrats say it will be the most sweeping reform since Watergate -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What about the independent ethics panel? Wasn't that a promise the Democrats made as well?
KOPPEL: It was.
And, in sort of a half-measure, they are still going to have this independent commission with people outside of Congress who will sort of review cases, whether or not members have taken travel that they shouldn't have accepted from lobbyists, gifts, food, things like that. They're going to have them review the cases, but the judge and jury will still be the members of Congress -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Andrea Koppel up on Capitol Hill, thanks.
Congressman John Murtha, by the way, is apologizing to a Republican colleague who accused him of making threats and crossing the line. Mike Rogers of Michigan claimed Murtha threatened to block any budget items known as earmarks that Rogers might pursue.
But, yesterday, the House rejected a resolution aimed at rebuking Murtha. Murtha is quoted today as saying he told Rogers he is sorry for the outburst. Rogers' office confirms Murtha sent a letter of apology. No details of the letter, though, were disclosed.
Coming up: a memo from Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign raising questions about the importance of Iowa. We are going to take a closer look at her campaign strategy.
And Senator Clinton is searching for a campaign song. We will take a look at her progress on that front.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: As Senator Hillary Clinton tries to promote herself as the Democratic presidential front-runner, the last thing she may want to be seen as is a quitter.
That brings us to the latest buzz about her prospects in the leadoff caucus state of Iowa.
Let's go to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.
Candy, what is this all about?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in fact, Wolf, it's about a memo that was only a suggestion. And, apparently, Hillary Clinton never even read it.
But the memo, obtained by CNN from another presidential campaign, touched on a politically sensitive issue: the importance of Iowa.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Big developing caucus 2008 news for you now: Will Hillary Clinton skip the Iowa caucuses?
CROWLEY (voice-over): Heartburn at camp Hillary, after an internal memo spilled into the public domain.
"My recommendation," wrote Clinton's deputy campaign manager, "is to pull completely out of Iowa, and spend the money and Senator Clinton's time on other states."
Whoa. Skip Iowa? This is heresy in the state which holds the first-in-the-nation contest of the primary season. Iowa likes its presidential candidates early and often.
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have a great gift. And the gift is that you are the first arbiter of who the president should be.
CROWLEY: Iowa, to which they all pledge allegiance.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was here in Mason City once before. And I was privileged, really. And I say this with all sincerity. What a beautiful, beautiful place this is.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is just the first of many visits that I'm going to make to Cedar Rapids. So...
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
CROWLEY: All of them pledge allegiance.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But I just want to pledge to you that I will be here over and over again.
CROWLEY: Bowing out of Iowa would be one way to draw the sting if Clinton loses to John Edwards, who is currently leading state polls. But the memo, obtained by CNN, its authenticity confirmed by the campaign, does not talk about poll numbers.
It says, instead, this is about the calendar, arguing that so many huge states are moving up their own primary contest to get a cut of the action, Iowa's importance to the process is fading.
Long story short, Hillary Clinton is not pulling out of Iowa. She said so in an interview she gave to "The Des Moines Register."
"I am someone who encourages people to raise ideas," she said. "But I make the decisions. And I have made the decision that we are competing in Iowa." And she's got the stats to prove it, including 10 state campaign offices and an upcoming two-day, six-event trip.
CROWLEY: Though the disowned memo came out of the Clinton campaign, it could have easily come from any other. They are all struggling to figure out whether the old strategy of intense campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire will bring success in a primary season where delegate-rich big states are in play far earlier than ever before -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Lots of things to weigh, and that memo lays out a lot of the pros and cons. Very interesting.
CROWLEY: Interesting memo.
CROWLEY: If -- if rejected, still interesting.
BLITZER: Still -- rejected, but still very fascinating.
Thanks, Candy, very much.
And coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, by the way, we're going to let Bay Buchanan and former Clinton aide Lanny Davis have at it over Buchanan's new book, entitled "The Extreme Makeover of Hillary Rodham Clinton." That's coming up later in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Hillary Clinton went online to ask for help with -- with an important decision, choosing an official campaign theme song. Today, Senator Clinton is updating us with the progress of her contest.
Let's go to our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner.
Jacki, did she announce the winner?
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Not exactly, Wolf, although her campaign has uploaded a new video with some of the better submissions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Hillary Clinton is our candidate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I'm bringing sexy back.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): (INAUDIBLE) through the window.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHECHNER: Those weren't them.
Now, Hillary Clinton's campaign started with nine suggestions. And now they have narrowed the field down to 10. See, what happened was is, they took out four of the original picks, and added in five of the user-generated submissions.
And these include songs by everyone from Lenny Kravitz, to Celine Dion, Tina Turner, and the Police, which you hear playing behind me.
The contest has been interesting. It's given Senator Clinton the opportunity to show a side of herself that we don't usually see. Usually, a -- this is a lighter side. You can take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: Oh, anyway, I am so gratified that all of you thought this was such a wonderful idea.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is ridiculous.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's insulting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stupid.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Disappointing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you freaking kidding me?
CLINTON: So, keep voting.
SCHECHNER: She's poking fun at herself. And they say, in the campaign, they expect a final decision, Wolf, in the coming days.
BLITZER: And, Jacki, if you haven't had enough on the music, we are going to have more on the presidential candidates and their favorite C.D.s That's coming up in a little while as well.
The Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson has had some second thoughts about the Senate's immigration reform deal. The New Mexico governor says, after looking at the fine print, he believes the bill is fundamentally flawed.
But listen to what he told me on Monday when I asked him if he would vote for the plan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARDSON: It would be a yea, but, at the same time, Wolf, I do believe it needs to be improved. But I have got to give them credit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Richardson now says, the need for improvement is so great, he can't support the bill. In other words, it would be a nay if he had a vote on the matter.
Among other things, he says the guest-worker program is a dead end for illegal immigrants. Don't forget, by the way, 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 3. The Republicans go head to head on Tuesday night, June 5. You're going to want to see both of those debates.
Up next: President Bush used his Rose Garden news conference today to push for immigration reform.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: And we have an opportunity to put a good law in place now. Right now. And it's going to be hard work. And, sure, politics will get involved. But the question is, will members of Congress rise above politics? I will.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But is the issue doing more to divide than unite the GOP? And the Congress caving to the president's demand for war funding without timetables -- how much of an earful will the base give the Democratic leadership over their Memorial Day break?
All that for Donna Brazile and Terry Jeffrey -- they're standing by for our "Strategy Session."
We will be right back.
BLITZER: The House of Representatives is getting ready to vote on the war spending bill. The Senate will follow. President Bush is urging critics of the immigration bill, in the meantime, to give it a chance.
Joining us now in our "Strategy Session," the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and the editor at large of "Human Events," Terry Jeffrey.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
Here's the bottom line of what the president said today on the Iraq war funding bill. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Failure in Iraq affects the security of this country. And it's -- it's -- it's hard for some Americans to see that. I fully understand it. I see it clearly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, Donna, how much a dilemma do the Democrats in the Senate, specifically Senators Obama and Clinton, have right now whether to vote yea or nay for this compromise funding bill? DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, they are caught between a rock and a hard place, in large measure because they have already voted. And they voted for timetables. And now they are being called upon to vote for benchmarks without any teeth. So, this will cause problems regardless of how they vote.
BLITZER: Because, if they vote nay, they -- they could be accused of not supporting the troops in Iraq.
And, if they vote yea, then they are voting, you know, in support of President Bush's strategy, which is -- what everybody knows is another failed strategy. So, it's a bad position to be in for Democrats.
BLITZER: What do you -- looking at it from the other side of the aisle, what do you think?
TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, "HUMAN EVENTS": I think, if Hillary actually votes against the funding, it means she's very fearful that either John Edwards or Barack Obama is going to beat her in the primaries.
If she votes for the funding, it shows she's confident. She's still looking towards the general election, which -- which was the way she was positioning herself before we started to move into this season.
BLITZER: And, so, even as a lot of Democrats are -- are -- have heartburn right now, wondering...
BLITZER: ... what they should do on this vote, a lot of Republicans are -- especially on the right, are very, very upset about the immigration reform legislation.
But the president had these words on that subject today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: It's the right thing to have a comprehensive bill. And, so, I'm going to continue to reach out to members of Congress from both parties and call upon them to take the lead, and show the political courage necessary to get the bill to my desk as quickly as possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: It looks like this is really splitting the GOP, Terry.
JEFFREY: Well, there's no question about it, Wolf.
I think you have got to give President Bush credit for one thing. He's got two very unpopular policies right now that he's doggedly pursuing. One is the war in Iraq. That's brought his approval ratings down into the mid-30s.
Now he's going to go after immigration reform, where the people have actually stuck by him. The conservative base of the Republican Party are absolutely adamant against what he's going to do. He's going to get in a huge fight with the grassroots of his own party. And I think most of the members of his party in Congress are going to go against him. It's not good for him politically.
BLITZER: It sounds like, the way Terry is painting the picture, as if President Bush is a profile in courage.
BRAZILE: Well, ask John McCain if this is helping him out there on the campaign trail. It's a difficult pill to swallow for both the Republicans and Democrats.
There's no question the Republicans are torn about this, the amnesty provision, the guest-workers provision, whatever you want to call it. I know there's a fight over semantics.
Bottom line is, they should have done something about it last year. But now we're going to come up with a bill that nobody likes.
JEFFREY: But there's an even bigger bottom line that goes directly at President Bush's credibility.
After all, he was arguing today in his press conference, Wolf, that we're over there in Iraq, fighting al Qaeda there, so we don't have to fight it here.
Everybody recognizes -- people in Bush's own administration have told us that we have a vulnerability, potentially, of terrorists coming across our southern border. Yet, in the years since 9/11, President Bush has not moved to secure that border. He's now saying, give me this immigration reform, and I will secure the border.
I think people, especially conservatives, believe, if President Bush was serious about securing the border, he would have done it already, he is not serious, that he actually held up significant measures that would have secured the border because he wants those in a quid pro quo, basically, for an amnesty for illegal immigrants.
BLITZER: Let's switch gears, Donna.
There's a new book Bob Shrum has written. It's called "No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner."
You know Bob Shrum.
BRAZILE: Very well.
BLITZER: He's a Democratic strategist, has been for a long time, worked in the last campaign, did not get John Kerry and John Edwards to the White House, as much as he tried.
Among the things he writes in this book -- and there are some nasty references to John Edwards, specifically.
"I was coming to believe he wasn't ready," Shrum writes. "He was a Clinton who hadn't read the books."
Now, I spoke -- I know you spoke to Bob Shrum today. What do you think about this?
BRAZILE: Well, Bob is a friend.
And I don't know what he's written about me. But, look, it -- it's a family feud. Bob has had a -- one of the best seats, you know, at the table over the last couple of campaign cycles. And, while the Edwards campaign may not agree with him, Bob, it's his perception. It's what he knows to be true. And the Edwards campaign will just have to live with it.
BLITZER: It's pretty nasty stuff, though, when you think about it, because Edwards is trying to become president of the United States. And now he's got Bob Shrum writing some nasty things about him.
JEFFREY: Well, he's lucky that Bob Shrum isn't going to be his campaign manager. Given Shrum's record, I would hope whoever gets the Democratic nomination hires Bob Shrum.
But let me say this. This is a no-class move by Bob Shrum. He was hired as a confidential aide to John Edwards. John Edwards told him something in confidence. He got paid money for that job. Now he's writing a book for money. And he's betraying at confidence. I don't see why any politician would trust this guy again.
BLITZER: Well, he's going to be a guest on some of our shows in the next few weeks. So, we will get him -- get him -- have an opportunity to get him to answer that question.
BRAZILE: And I'm looking forward to reading what he said about me.
BLITZER: Donna is going to go to the index right now...
BLITZER: ... and see what he says about her.
Guys, thanks very much.
BRAZILE: Thank you.
BLITZER: Still to come: Did Democrats make false promises about easing up on political pork? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail, that's coming up. And Hillary Clinton is accused of having an extreme political makeover. Bay Buchanan levels the charge in her new book. Clinton supporter Lanny Davis will here. They will have a debate. That's coming up in the next hour.
Also: a grim new assessment of the National Guard's ability to handle more than one homeland crisis at a time.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: If you think you can tell a lot about a person by the music they like, check out the presidential candidates' playlists.
The Associated Press asked White House hopefuls what music they bought most recently.
Here's a sample of the Democrats' responses.
Let's start off with Senator Barack Obama. He bought the soundtrack to "Ray," the movie about the music legend Ray Charles.
Love Ray Charles.
Chris Dodd also went for a soundtrack from the Broadway musical "Jersey Boys," about the 1960s group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
Great play. I saw it on Broadway.
Hillary Clinton says she recently laid down some cash for a Carly Simon C.D.
And John Edwards opted for the arena rock music of U2.
And, Jack Cafferty, in the next hour, we are going to have the Republican presidential candidates and some of their favorite music. I know you are anxiously awaiting that.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: No, it doesn't matter what they like. There's nothing better than Ray Charles. And the soundtrack from that -- that movie was terrific. But the best album he ever did was something called "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music."
Being from Reno, Nevada, I have a working knowledge of some of that music. And it was just one of the most brilliant things ever. Love Ray Charles.
BLITZER: I agree.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Do you think Democrats duped voters this past November when it comes to the issue of pork?
David in Texas: "It's obvious the Democrats didn't learn anything in their 12 years out of power. They were thrown out in 1994 for pork and graft and corruption. They're back in 2007, and they haven't missed a step. I predict the Democratic control of Congress won't last through the next election."
Denton in Hamilton -- Danton, rather, Hamilton, New Jersey: "I think many voters duped themselves. Self-duping. They..."
CAFFERTY: "They expected a lot more out of the Democratic majority than the Democratic majority is able to deliver. They simply don't have enough votes."
J.P. in Georgia: "Pork will continue until the line-item veto returns."
Mike in Virginia: "The Democrats are doing an incredible job of screwing up their chances in 2008. Pork is only the latest example. If I were a Republican, which I am not, I would just sit back and watch them self-destruct. They clearly need no nudge to fall off the cliff. My dilemma is who I vote for in the next election. There isn't going to be anybody left."
Jim writes: "One man's pork, another man's bacon. Anyone who thought they were getting good, honest people when they voted for the Democrats is a fool. The lesser of two evils is, in this case, still quite evil."
Nicholas in Detroit: "They not only duped us on pork and politics. They have been disingenuous on a number of other issues as well. The most important is Iraq. They signed the supplemental without adding timelines or benchmarks. They also aren't listening to us about illegal immigration either."
And Mike in Macomb, Illinois: "They have been rope-a-doping us for four decades, Jack. Are you getting punchy, too? We need to paint red and white stripes on the Capitol dome, advertise the return of the greatest show on earth, and then specialize in shooting clowns out of a cannon."
Thank you, Jack.
And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: a dire warning. President Bush says, expect more U.S. and Iraqi troops to die in Iraq in the coming weeks and months, as terrorists, he says, try to derail the plan to secure Baghdad.
Meanwhile, two of America's allies in the region are edging closer to their own battle.
Also, as the National Guard fights abroad, Congress says many Americans are now more vulnerable to a crisis here at home. And one Guard officials warns to expect American lives to be lost.
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