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War Funding Bill Passes Again; Sen. Jack Reed Explains Yes Vote; Dems Pork Spending Detailed
Aired May 25, 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 right now -- new Iraq predictions.
Democrats saying the president's war policy is unraveling on this, the day after the big war funding vote.
But is it their party's unity that's coming apart?
Also this hour, the no votes echoing on the presidential campaign trail. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama trying to bolster their anti-war credentials, but leave themselves potentially open for attack.
And rogue fighters, a radical cleric and a deadly mission -- new details on how Iran is training secret cells of kidnappers and killers in Iraq.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in the in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up first this hour, Democrats are scrambling to try to explain their votes on the war funding bill Congress delivered to President Bush yesterday. They actually delivered the bill today.
Mr. Bush remains saddled with an unpopular war and pressured to show progress by this fall. But for now, the war funding vote is shifting some of the focus to the Democrats -- on the defensive and divided.
Our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano, is standing by.
But first, let's go to CNN's Tom Foreman.
Tom Foreman is watching all of this -- Tom, as you take a look at the Democrats specifically, they're trying to put their best face forward right now.
But are they having a whole lot of success?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, the problem is many of them feel like there's no way to come out right on this. You vote for it, you lose part of your support. You vote against it, you lose part of your support. The main thing is none of them wanted to be here.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Tonight is a great victory for the American people.
FOREMAN (voice-over): A radiant Nancy Pelosi celebrating the Democrats' election victory.
PELOSI: And so we say to the president, Mr. President, we need a new direction in Iraq.
FOREMAN: That was then. This is now.
PELOSI: Congress took a new, small step in the direction of accountability that the Americans have demanded in the war in Iraq. I would have hoped for more, but it does represent a change in direction.
FOREMAN: Democrats won back both Houses of Congress last November with a mandate from voters to get U.S. troops out of Iraq. But after months of tough negotiations and the president's veto of an earlier bill that had troop withdrawal deadlines, Congress finally passed an Iraq War funding bill.
It is not, however, a bill most Democrats want. The $120 billion package does not have a timeline to get the troops out. In fact, most Democrats in the House, including Speaker Pelosi, who negotiated the deal with the White House, voted against it.
Liberals are slamming members of their own party.
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: And 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.
FOREMAN: Nine out of 10 Democrats oppose the war. And nearly seven in 10 Independents feel the same way. Anti-war groups are threatening retribution against the Democrats.
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.
FOREMAN: But Democratic leaders say the fight for a withdrawal timetable is not over yet and they hope to win out when funding for Iraq comes up again in September.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Senate Democrats will never give in -- never give in, never, never, never.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
FOREMAN: And the problem, of course, is you look at those numbers and there are some people out there who feel like they already did give in. Those are empty words.
The question is, did the Democrats cave?
Since they ruled out cutting off funds for our troops, which some polls indicate Americans oppose, they were between Iraq and a hard place, in a bad pun.
But as you just heard from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, they are vowing to continue this fight.
The question is over the summer, of course, what will happen in the war and what's going to happen to their support from people who said we gave you a job to do, you promised you'd do it. The first big test, you didn't get it done -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Tom, thanks very much.
Tom Foreman reporting.
Even the top Republican in the Senate says he believes the Iraq War is heading in a new direction now that the funding feud is over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: I think the handwriting is on the wall that we are going in a different direction in the fall and I expect the president to lead it. In other words, I think he himself has certainly indicated he's not happy with where we are and I think we are looking for a new direction in the fall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Bush also spoke out today about the war funding bill and what happens next.
Let's go to our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano.
It seems to be low key, the response at the White House, given all the tumult leading up to these votes in the House and Senate yesterday -- Elaine.
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly right, Wolf.
President Bush, despite the hard-fought victory over Democrats who wanted to include a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals in Iraq, remaining low key, as you said, as he spoke to reporters earlier today outside the National Naval Medical Center in suburban Washington.
The president praised the bipartisan efforts of lawmakers and he made it a point to note that the top two Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, both essentially kept a pledge to get him that war funding bill by the Memorial Day weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This effort shows what can happen when people work together. We set a good bill that didn't have timetables or tell the military how to do its job, but also sent a clear signal to the Iraqis that there's expectations here in America -- expectations that we expect about how to move forward.
I look forward to continuing to work with the prime minister and his government in meeting those expectations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
QUIJANO: Now earlier today, the president met with about two dozen wounded military personnel. He awarded five Purple Hearts and he said it was an honor to be their commander-in-chief -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What about a signing ceremony?
What are you hearing -- Elaine.
QUIJANO: Well, Bush aides say don't expect a public signing ceremony. Expect that to be low key, as well.
Because they fully expect that over the next few months, as it comes time to talk about funding the wars through the next fiscal year, they are going to have another tough fight on their hands. So expect it to be low key. The president is spending the weekend at Camp David. We have not heard yet whether the White House has even received it. But we don't expect anything in public.
BLITZER: Elaine Quijano reporting from the White House.
And Elaine and Tom Foreman -- they're both part of the best political team on television.
And remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our political ticker. You can always go to cnn.com-ticker.
Let's go up to New York.
Jack Cafferty has got The Cafferty File -- hi, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, timelines, benchmarks and war funding stole the headlines this week on Capitol Hill. But a major milestone for the Democrats was practically ignored.
Quietly tucked into the Iraq War funding bill is the first increase in this country's minimum wage in more than a decade. The federal minimum wage had been stuck at $5.15 an hour since 1997. But this new legislation calls now for an increase to $7.25 an hour, phased in over a two-year period.
Although more than half of U.S. states already pass their own minimum wage increases, once this federal increase kicks in, an estimated 5.7 million workers will get a raise. And it's about time. When adjusted for inflation, minimum wage workers are being paid at the worst rate in 50 years.
So here's the question -- is a $7.25 an hour minimum wage enough?
E-mail your thoughts to email@example.com or go to cnn.com- caffertyfile.
BLITZER: And, you know, Jack, when they raise the minimum wage, people making slightly more than the minimum wage, they're automatically going to get a bump, as well. So this is really potentially going to affect a lot more people, even people who are -- let's say if they're making minimum wage right now of $5.15, if they were making $6 or $7 an hour, they're going to go up over the next two years, as well.
CAFFERTY: Well, so that's good. The people at that end of the economic spectrum need a boost, I think.
BLITZER: It's (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
CAFFERTY: You make enough money on the other hand.
CAFFERTY: No raise for you.
BLITZER: ... I totally, totally want them to make more money and I know you do, as well. They work hard and deserve a pay raise, Jack.
CAFFERTY: There you go.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
BLITZER: Coming up, risky business for Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Will their votes against the war funding bill help or hurt their presidential campaigns?
Also, I'll speak with Senate Democrat Jack Reed and I'll ask him why he voted for the bill and whether he and his party are now going to be paying a price for all of this.
And later, Bill Bennett challenges fellow Republicans over immigration reform. He squares off with Democrat Paul Begala in our Strategy Session.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The Senate gave final approval of the controversial war funding bill by a vote of 80-40 last night.
Among those voting yes, Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
Senator Reed is a key member of the Armed Services Committee.
He's joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Thanks very much for coming in.
REED: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: You voted in favor of the funding.
Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, Senator Dodd, they voted no.
Why were you right and they were wrong?
REED: Well, this is an issue where people are trying to express, one, their concern about the president's policy; but, also, their support for the troops in the field. It was a very difficult judgment for all of us.
BLITZER: So walk us through what went through your mind, because I know earlier, when the opportunity for a deadline was included, you voted in favor of a deadline.
REED: Well, I've been opposed to the president's policies since October 2002, when I voted against the initial authorization. I've been a critic of not only the policy, but the way he's carried it out. It's been, frankly, in many cases, incompetent.
I think, like most of the American people, we have to change the mission, change the direction.
The vote, as I saw, it last evening was are we going to provide immediate resources to troops in the field?
And I think that was necessary. I don't think we want to make the troops sort of the pawns in this political struggle -- a very important political struggle. And that was my judgment.
BLITZER: But what would have -- what would happened if you would have done, let's say, what former Senator Edwards said -- keep sending him a bill with a deadline and in the end, he's going to have to sign it because he wants to support the troops?
REED: Well, I think what we would have gotten into a situation of perhaps repetitive vetoes, bills and vetoes. And without Republicans to support us in an override, we would be in that situation, sort of like, you know, in a treadmill.
I think we understood we have got to get the money to the troops then move the debate on.
The debate will move on in terms of the authorization of the armed services bill. Senator Levin and I are talking about an amendment that talks about the mission. And the virtue there is that it will not be complicated by the issue of immediately funding troops in the field.
BLITZER: In other words, there will be other opportunities down the road?
REED: Absolutely. And we're not (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
BLITZER: Here's what Senator Clinton said in explaining her nay vote against this legislation: "I think the president has resisted every effort by not just the political process, but by independent experts like the Iraq Study Group. And, you know, enough is enough. At some point, you have to just draw a line."
That was her conclusion.
And, as I said, Senator Obama, Senator Dodd, they basically said the same thing.
REED: They did. And I think they did so after much thought and much sincere deliberation on the issue. And, in fact, they are right about the president's intransigence. He has resisted not just appeals by myself and my colleagues, but the Iraqi Study Group, the Hamilton and Baker -- bipartisan, Republicans and Democrats who were calling for a new (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
I think that's the mission they will eventually accept in the fall, and I think we should move to it more quickly.
BLITZER: All right, now you served in the U.S. Army.
BLITZER: I remember when we were together in Iraq. And you had a bond, obviously, with fellow soldiers over there. The fact that you served -- you were an Army Ranger.
BLITZER: ... you went to West Point and an Army Ranger.
Do you think that had an impact on you in voting to support this legislation as opposed to some of the others who never served in the military?
REED: I think -- I'll speak personally of myself. I think it does have an impact, not only in this vote, but in everything I tried to do to understand that at the end of the line, there's a lot of young Americans who are risking their lives for this country and we owe them wisdom and policy.
But, you know, I've tried to always think not just about the emotional aspects to this, the troops in the field, but also strategically, what's in the best interests of the United States in the long-run?
How do we create a situation which is more stable there?
How do we provide for the resources of the troops but also have a better policy?
And I -- I would hope that I tried to balance both of those factors.
BLITZER: When you're looking down the road, the president keeps warning -- and many others are warning now, on his side of the aisle -- that if the U.S. were to do what you wanted to do, simply leave, Iran and Al Qaeda would eventually emerge as the big winner in that part of the world.
REED: Well, one can argue through the president's policy today Iran is already a big winner. They have a huge influence within the government in Baghdad. They have increasing influence in the region. They are being defiant with respect to the nuclear program. They have already gained. And I think that's one of the best demonstrations that his strategy is not working and was wrong from the beginning.
But I think the president is the master of the false choice. No one is seriously talking about pulling out -- immediately taking every troop out of Iraq and letting, you know, letting the chips fall where they may. They're talking about changing the mission, focusing on training Iraqi security forces, focusing on going after the terrorists, the Al Qaeda terrorists that are there and, also, protecting our troops there.
So this notion is just a rhetorical point there. It's not a realistic one.
BLITZER: One political fallout question for you. You voted against the authorization to remove Saddam Hussein back in October of 2002, a vote you're very proud of right now.
How much political heat are you feeling right now from some of the really anti-war Democrats out there, whether MoveOn or other groups, because of your vote in favor of the funding yesterday?
BLITZER: Are you -- in other words, are you feeling pressure?
REED: I think we're all feeling pressure and it's not just because of organized interest groups. It's because an overwhelming majority of Americans are heartsick about what's going on over there. They don't want to see our troops in this cauldron. They want to see some progress made. They want to see some flexibility. They want to see some strategy from the president other than just do more of what we've been doing that doesn't seem to be working.
So that is not just of organized groups, that's everybody I see up in Rhode Island in the coffee shops and the gas stations. Tyre concerned. And so am I.
My effort is to try to do what I can as quickly as possible to redirect the strategy, change the missions, provide for the protection of our forces and, also, in the long-term, a much more stable region.
Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, thanks for coming in.
REED: Thank you.
BLITZER: Have a nice Memorial Day weekend.
REED: Thank you.
BLITZER: And still ahead, a radical Shiite cleric in Iraq is seen in public now for the first time in months.
What does it tell us about the state of the insurgency and about Iran's influence in Iraq?
And I'll speak with the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Major General William Caldwell. We'll talk about that and a lot more.
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.
She's joining us from New York with a closer look at some other important stories -- hi, Carol.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
One of its engines went out and there are conflicting reports as to whether an engine actually caught fire. But a United Airlines jet did land safely at Washington's Dulles International Airport. This all happened just a short time ago. Flight 897 was in the air on its way to Beijing when the mechanical problems forced it to return. None of the 330 passengers or 19 crew members were hurt.
Five years after her daughter's mysterious killing made national headlines, the mother of Chandra Levy continues her tireless search for the killer. Susan Levy met with police in Washington, D.C. yesterday. Afterwards, she said she feels better about the investigation. But she was not more specific than that.
Former Congressional intern Chandra Levy's remains were found five years ago this week, but no one has ever been charged with her murder.
Think gas prices are high now?
Experts say you won't believe how high they could go if another devastating hurricane barrels through the Gulf of Mexico this summer. After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the petroleum companies spent lots of money trying to repair damage to equipment and refineries. Now, expects warn that more brutal weather could spike oil prices even higher. And a former hockey star pleads guilty to running a sports gambling ring. Rick Tocchet pled guilty to charges of conspiracy to promote gambling and actually promoting gambling. But Tocchet may not have to go to jail, as those offenses generally do not demand jail time for first offenders.
And Donald Trump is probably smiling right now. One of his arch TV enemies will be off the air starting immediately. Rosie O'Donnell will not be going back to "The View." A statement from Disney/ABC says O'Donnell decided to leave early even though she only had three weeks to go before her planned exit from the show. Of course, this comes just days after the all out argument between O'Donnell and her co- host, Elisabeth Hasselbeck.
We just thought you need to know that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you for that, Carol.
We'll check back with you shortly.
Up ahead, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama just say no.
Will they pay a price, though, for opposing the Iraq War funding bill?
Presidential candidates in the trenches.
Plus, new information about pre-war intelligence that hinted at the crisis to come in Iraq.
What did the president know and when did he know it?
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Happening now, the U.S. eyes China. The Pentagon is out with a new report saying China's military might is growing and that its secret defense spending is tipping the balance of power in the region. Now some senior officials here in the U.S. are worried. We'll have a full report at the top of the hour.
Also, Iran has already seized a few Iranian-Americans. Now that nation has reportedly detained another. We're going to tell you who that person is. We'll go to Tehran, as well.
And he hasn't been seen in public since the U.S. began beefing up troops in Baghdad. Now the radical Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, is back. Today, he delivered a fiery sermon branding the U.S. Britain and Israel -- and I'm quoting now -- "the evil trio."
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in the in THE SITUATION ROOM. And as Muqtada al-Sadr made his fiery return, he also demanded that the U.S. leave Iraq. Meanwhile, there are worries of just who is sponsoring some brutal elements of his military force.
Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.
He's joining us -- Brian, some believe that Iran is playing a very significant role in all of this.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, U.S. military officials say they have evidence that Iran is playing a role. And they say it goes beyond giving money and moral support.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
TODD (voice-over): A calculated, deadly infiltration -- gunmen disguised as Americans penetrate a U.S. compound in Karbala, Iraq, kidnap and kill five Americans. Now U.S. military officials give stunning new detail on who was behind the January attack and the planning.
MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: We know that they had built a mock facility in Iran and, in fact, had helped conduct the training and planning over there before they came back and executed that here in Iraq.
TODD: Part of a broader, chilling pattern, U.S. military officials tell us, of secret, lethal cells within Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army being trained and funded inside Iran.
The Quds force, an elite unit of Iran's intelligence service, which reports over the head of the president, directly to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
CALDWELL: These secret cells have been receiving a considerable amount of money -- I mean literally in the hundreds of thousands of dollars -- on a regular basis to fund their efforts both to work the kidnappings, the assassinations and some mass murders that have gone on here in Iraq.
TODD: U.S. military officials say they don't know whether Ayatollah Khamenei personally authorized the training or not. Although General David Petraeus called these cells Sadr's special ops, U.S. officials cannot say if Sadr was involved.
An Iranian official at the United Nations tells CNN, "U.S. officials are scapegoating us, trying to blame others when they fail to stabilize Iraq."
The charges come just ahead of unprecedented U.S.-Iranian talks scheduled to begin Monday in Baghdad.
MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: These are going to be tough talks. This is going to be more of an argument than a negotiation. And the two sides are going to lay it on the line a bit and perhaps see if they can ultimately work towards some common ground.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
TODD: And ratcheting up the pressure even more at those talks, the trump cards each side now appears to hold. Iran still detaining five Iranian-Americans. And General Caldwell just told us the U.S. military has seven Iranian intelligence agents in their custody -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And it just may not be Shia militias that the Iranians are supporting, is that right?
TODD: General Caldwell said today that U.S. forces have captured Sunni extremists, also funded and trained by that Quds force in Iran.
BLITZER: The Iranians are Shia.
Why would they support Sunni militants?
TODD: Well, expects are telling us that Tehran is playing a very risky game here, supporting groups like the Sunnis that have been traditionally their enemies.
What they say Iran wants here, some instability in Iraq to make the Americans appear to have lost and to pull out, but not a completely failed state on its borders. They say this is a very dangerous gamble at the moment for Iran.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us.
By the way, the newly passed bill the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also include more than $20 billion in domestic spending.
Some examples of where that cash is going: $1.2 billion going to dairy farmers renewing a subsidy for milk producers; $60 million are dedicated to help salmon fishermen and processors in California and Oregon; $425 million going to help rural counties in the Northwest, where revenues are down from timber harvested on federal land.
Senators, meanwhile, Clinton among others, Senator Hillary Clinton, tells CNN that sometimes you just have to draw the line. She says, that's what she did by voting against the Iraq war funding bill. Both Clinton and Senator Barack Obama are now trying to do their best -- put their best face forward on their no votes.
But many of their presidential rivals simply aren't buying it.
Let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's joining us.
Bill, Clinton and Obama, were they helped or were they hurt by their votes? WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, they faced risks no matter which way they voted. But, for the near future, their concern is with Democrats.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The height of irresponsibility, that's what John McCain called Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's vote against the Iraq war funding bill.
Mitt Romney said, "Their votes render them undependable in the eyes of men and women of the United States military and the American people."
Asked whether she was concerned that her vote would hurt her, Clinton told CNN: "I don't see that at all. The American people have been living now with this war for five years. I want to de-authorize it."
For the near future, Obama and Clinton's concern is with Democrats, who are overwhelmingly opposed to the war. Even the Democratic candidate who voted for the funding bill did so with an explanation.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't like the bill we just voted on, the one I voted for. It denies the American people the plan for a responsible way out of Iraq.
SCHNEIDER: Obama and Clinton would have faced a firestorm of criticism from Democrats if they had voted yes. Could the vote hurt them in the general election? That's a long way away. Everything could change.
Right now, the trend in public opinion is strongly against the war. Opposition is over 60 percent, an all-time high, according to a "New York Times"/CBS News poll. More than two-thirds said Congress should allow funding for the war, on the condition that the Iraqi government meets benchmarks for progress.
But more than 60 percent also favor a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2008. The public wants the troops funded, but they also want a deadline for the war to end, which is the bill (AUDIO GAP) last month and President Bush vetoed.
SCHNEIDER: The troops are being funded. That's likely to limit any negative repercussions for those who voted no. Those who voted yes have to deal with the fact that the war goes on -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Bill Schneider reporting for us.
Senators Clinton and Obama, by the way, aren't the only Democratic presidential candidates serving in Congress who voted against the war funding bill. Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, as well as Congressman Ron Paul, also opposed the bill.
These presidential candidates who voted for war funding, Democratic Senator Joe Biden and Republican Senator John McCain. GOP Congressmen Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo also voted for the bill. Republican Senator Sam Brownback did not vote at all.
So, why did Democratic presidential rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both vote against the Iraq spending bill? They went online to explain their decision.
And, for that, let's bring in our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner.
Jacki, what did they have to say? What kind of reaction are we seeing online?
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Generally supportive, at least on the left, Wolf.
They wanted to make sure this message resonated loud and clear through the online community -- Senator Clinton putting up a blog post, saying that she voted no because the bill failed to compel a new course in Iraq -- Senator Barack Obama's campaign also posting a similar thing, saying, he demands a changed course.
While he was actually voting, a message went out, saying he was in D.C., voting no, saying no to a blank check for the president.
Now, obviously, the online community not surprised -- they expected both Obama and Clinton to vote no. But, at the same time, they are giving credit where due, saying that this was significant. There is also support to keep rallying, to keep fighting, to channel the anger of having lost this battle in fighting a larger war to get the Republicans out of Congress and to beef up what's going on, on the Democratic side.
As for conservative reaction online, they are also saying it was not a surprise that Obama and Clinton voted no, but that they were somehow kowtowing to the far left by doing so.
And Senator McCain sent out a strong e-mail this morning, saying that this was embracing a policy of surrender by Clinton and Obama, and, basically, they were waving a white flag to al Qaeda -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jacki, thanks -- Jacki Schechner, Bill Schneider, Brian Todd, they are all part of the best political team on television.
And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our political ticker at CNN.com/ticker.
Coming up: It appears there will be no holiday for many oft presidential candidates. Many of them will be out stumping. Many Americans enjoy a day off. We will tell you who will be where.
And speaking of the candidates, what might they be doing, if they weren't senators, governors, or running for president? We're going to tell you how some of them answered.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: There's no holiday for the presidential candidates this weekend. Most of them are going to be out on the campaign trail.
Hillary Clinton is in Iowa today and tomorrow, this after her campaign shot down a proposal by a senior staffer to forgo Iowa, and concentrate, instead, on New Hampshire and other early states.
Democratic rival John Edwards, also in Iowa, he's calling for more support for U.S. veterans, and says, Washington has failed America. Joe Biden is also campaigning there this weekend. Yesterday, he was the only Democratic presidential hopeful to vote in favor of the Iraq war funding bill.
Republican presidential candidate Sam Brownback is making the rounds in Iowa as well. The senator from Kansas did not vote on the Iraq bill. Barack Obama heads to New Hampshire later this weekend. The senator from Illinois and his family will be touring the mountain villages in the northern part of the state. Chris Dodd is also in the Granite State. The senator from Connecticut is there in person, and on TV, running campaign commercials.
And John McCain gets to wave the flag this weekend. The Arizona senator is the honorary starter at the Coca-Cola 600 race in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Sounds like fun.
Fred Thompson tops our "Political Radar" today. The former Republican senator from Tennessee made a major announcement last night. Thompson, who is considering running for president, spoke at a Republican Party dinner in Connecticut, and he had the crowd on the edge of their seats when he said -- and I'm quoting now -- "Let's get the announcement out of the way."
His announcement? That the long-running television show "Law & Order" will be coming back for an 18th season. Thompson, as you know, is also an actor. He's one of the stars of the show. But he -- he won't be coming back next season.
Maybe he will be running for president. We will see.
Which candidate would you want to team up with this Memorial Day weekend? That's a question in the new Quinnipiac University poll. Thirty-seven percent of those surveyed say they would like to spend a Memorial Day picnic with Rudy Giuliani -- in second place, close behind, Barack Obama.
While I wouldn't make a lot of this new poll, remember, when it comes to choosing a president, likability certainly does matter.
Remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker. We like reminding you of that.
Up next in our "Strategy Session": Despite favorable public reaction to the immigration compromise announced this week, voices on the right are sharpening their criticism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This bill is an absolute atrocity. And I -- I cannot imagine how the White House and these senators could be this out of touch with reality.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, will immigration be a make-or-break moment for the GOP in 2008 and beyond?
Also, the Clinton campaign braces for a surge of a different sort. Two new books are due out about the New York junior senator. Will they portray Senator Clinton in a negative or a positive light? How will she spin it? All that coming up.
Bill Bennett and Paul Begala, they are here for our "Strategy Session" in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Her supporters hope they paint glowing pictures of her. But Hillary Clinton's critics are hungry for red meat. Both sides will likely be poring over two new tell-all books soon to come out.
Joining us now in our "Strategy Session" are CNN political analyst Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist, and CNN contributor Bill Bennett, the Washington fellow of the Claremont Institute.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
Carl Bernstein of Woodward and Bernstein, Watergate fame, he's got a book coming out, maybe as early as next week. Jeff Gerth, Dale (sic) Von Natta of "The New York Times," they have got another book coming out.
What do you think? You saw this story on the front page of "The Washington Post" today that's got -- they have got Some tantalizing little nuggets in there.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, precious few, actually, Wolf.
I was surprised. You know, these are big-name journalists, as you point out. They have had years. I think Bernstein has had something like eight years, 10 years working on this book.
And all I know is what I read in "The Washington Post," which I'm a little suspicious of. But, according to "The Washington Post," the big news is -- get this -- the Clintons are ambitious, and they have had a complicated marriage. Oh, my God. That's shocking.
I mean, look, Rudy Giuliani, he is ambitious, and he's had three complicated marriages. I mean, there's -- the -- the thing with Hillary is this. We know all the bad we're ever going to know about her. She's the most investigated woman in the history of the world.
But we don't know all of the good. And, so, new information that we learn about Hillary is actually more likely to be good than bad. Other candidates, really almost of them, we know a lot of the good and not all of the bad. And that's usually how most politicians start out.
Hillary starts out in the reverse. But it's not a terrible position to be in. I think these books look like kind of a nothing to me.
BLITZER: What do you think, Bill?
BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, as we say in talk radio, dittos, except...
BENNETT: ... I'm a little softer on "The Washington Post" than you are.
BENNETT: Anyway, no, look, there's not much new here, from what I can tell.
It should be said, in fairness, this is not the vast right-wing conspiracy...
BENNETT: ... not with Carl Bernstein and two "New York Times" writers.
But I don't see much new here. I haven't read the books. But, to tell me that Hillary Clinton is ambitious, occasionally brilliant, was hurt by her husband's infidelity, again, it isn't news.
I'm more interested in Hillary Clinton's policies. And, in general, I think this is a better way to debate things. Obviously, you want to know about people's character.
But I think Paul is right. There's very little, I think, about the Clintons' character that we don't know.
BLITZER: What about Rudy Giuliani, Bill? Because, the way I see it, he's got a double problem, in terms of what they call opposition research. He's got a lot of Republicans who are looking to hurt him because they see he's the front-runner right now. So, they are looking for damage -- damaging stuff in his background. But, potentially, he's also got Democrats looking for it, because a lot of them see him as potentially the biggest threat in a general election because of his moderate views on some of the social issues.
How worried should Rudy Giuliani be that Republican opposition research, Democratic opposition research is going to combine to -- to undermine him?
BENNETT: He should be worried some, obviously. He should be ready for a siege. And I think the siege has -- has already begun.
But he's got a couple of advantages. One, he's from New York. He's used to this kind of hardball politics. I mean, there's -- there's no tougher politics than New York politics.
The second thing is, this is not a guy who has presented himself as, you know, part of the Christian right, as a paragon of all things great and exemplary. And he -- he has admitted to being a very flawed figure, a very flawed character.
Now, it depends, of course, on what it is people talk about. But, if you push too far on this stuff, either with Rudy Giuliani or Hillary Clinton, I think the public reacts.
If you can come up with some felony, fine. You are talking serious stuff. But to find out about personality problems, marriage problems, you know, short of major things you don't know about, then, I -- I think it backfires.
BEGALA: Yes, ditto.
BEGALA: ... use that word, but...
BEGALA: Well, here's, I think, the dichotomy.
I think Republicans are going to go after -- if they're smart -- go after his issue positions. They are going to follow Bill's advice, if they are smart. The -- the personal stuff never works. It didn't work against Clinton, for goodness' sakes. It's not going to work against Rudy.
But there are issue positions where Giuliani has been pro-choice on abortion. He's been pro-gay rights, pro-gun control. That will hurt him with Republicans. Democrats, I suspect, will go after Giuliani, Inc., again, not his personal life, his business, where he was in business with some pretty controversial characters, including Bernie Kerik, who is the now infamous man that President Bush...
BLITZER: The former police commissioner.
BEGALA: The former New York police commissioner.
BEGALA: President Bush, for a time, considered him to be the first secretary of homeland security, a pretty controversial figure, and a lot more, I think, in Giuliani, Inc., that -- that's going to bother voters a lot more than any personal attacks on Rudy.
BLITZER: I know you aren't in love with the compromise immigration reform bill that Kennedy, McCain, Bush...
BLITZER: ... all of them are on board.
Let's look at this "New York Times"/CBS News poll on the guest- worker program. Sixty-six percent say they favor it. Thirty percent say they oppose it. And, on the -- on the question of illegals in the U.S. for two-plus years, 33 percent say deport them. Sixty-two percent say allow them to apply for legal status.
So, why do you think -- and I assume you do -- that this is a bad deal for America?
BENNETT: Well, I think it's a bad deal, because, if you look closely at the legislation, which we have now had a chance to do -- I have, other people have -- there are so many loopholes. There are so many problems.
Read "The New York Post" poll very closely this morning, went back and read the original poll. There are a lot of other questions in there. And those positive, kind of rosy answers about this compromise are based on a lot of conditions, if you are satisfied, you know, people have -- have -- have a gainful history of -- a history of gainful employment, never done anything wrong, paid all their back taxes. The American people are still assuming people are going to pay back taxes. That's not in there anymore.
I just have to say to the Republican Party, stop on this. This is a big mistake, for lots of reasons, not because we're not a humane party and we don't want to help people. This way to go is going to bring 15 or 20 million more people in. This is '86 revisited, times three. They have got to stop this thing.
BLITZER: What do you think, Paul, from the Democratic perspective? BEGALA: Yes. The Democrats -- this -- this troubles the Democrats, but less than divides the Republicans.
I mean, the Democrats, I think, are going to sit back and let President Bush take the lead on this. Speaker Pelosi has said so. She has said, if the president wants a vote on his immigration package, he has got to deliver at least 70 members of Congress from his own party.
KING: On the House, in the House.
BEGALA: On the House side.
I think that's impossible. I think, in fact, that the bill is likely to die this weekend, a Memorial Day massacre for President Bush's immigration plan, as these members go home.
If constituents aren't yelling at them about Iraq, they are going to be yelling at them about immigration.
BEGALA: And Bill is right about these polls.
It's a little bit like gun control or some of these other hot- button issues. Yes, the vast majority says, I'm for it. They ain't going to cast their vote based on that. They may say they're for it, but they're going to vote on something else, maybe -- maybe taxes, maybe the economy.
The 30 percent who's against it, they are never going to forget, and they're vote against Republicans for it.
BLITZER: Anybody on the right on radio, on talk radio, support the president on this?
BENNETT: Oh, yes. I mean, I had Saxby Chambliss on today. I had Jon Kyl...
BLITZER: I'm talking about a radio talk show host, like you.
BENNETT: Oh, radio talk -- well, a lot of the people at FOX support this.
"The Wall Street Journal" supports this. Steve Moore supports this. Larry Kudlow supports this. I'm talking television. But a lot of the -- a lot of the -- a lot of that -- that group supports it.
But most of the people who call our show, nine out of 10 -- and Saxby Chambliss was on my show, and -- and the Georgia people called in like crazy. One thing in that poll, one question they didn't highlight, 70 percent of the people said, if you cross the border illegally, you should go to jail before anything else. So, that's obviously counter to what the headlines are. BLITZER: Bill Bennett, Paul Begala, thanks very much. Have a great Memorial Day weekend.
BEGALA: Thanks. You, too, Wolf.
BLITZER: And, don't forget, 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 won't want to miss those two presidential debates.
Still to come: Is $7.25 an hour enough of a minimum wage? Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail on the hike that's finally happening.
Also ahead, I will ask the U.S. military's top spokesman in Baghdad if he has proof Iran is giving direct aid to kidnappers and killers in Iraq.
Plus: Now that Congress has passed a war funding bill, where is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi going? It's sure not Disneyland. We will give you the answer. It could surprise you -- all that coming up.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: For now, they have to keep their day jobs. But, if they had to choose another career, besides, of course, being president, what would the White House hopefuls do?
The Associated Press asked them. Here's a sample of the Democrats' alternative ambitions. Both Senators Joe Biden and Barack Obama say they would like to be architects. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson dreams of playing center field for the New York Yankees.
Not going to happen.
John Edwards was a lawyer, a senator, and a vice presidential nominee, but America's most famous son of a millworker says he would have been a mill supervisor.
Congressman Dennis Kucinich has some loftier goals, I suppose, literally, at least. If he had to do something else, he says he would like to be an astronaut.
You are going to find out which Republican candidates see themselves as a rock star. That's coming up in our next hour.
Jack Cafferty is coming up right now with "The Cafferty File."
Jack, if you hadn't become a journalist, what would you have liked to have been?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I wanted to be a doctor. BLITZER: Really?
CAFFERTY: True story. But I had no money to go to medical school, nor did I probably have the intellect to be accepted into medical school. So, that was out the window. And I wound up doing this.
Kucinich wants to be an astronaut?
CAFFERTY: You can't make that stuff up.
CAFFERTY: The question...
CAFFERTY: The question this hour: Is a $7.25-an-hour minimum wage enough?
I'm just kidding, Dennis. Don't get hot.
Richard in Canfield, Ohio: "No, $7.25 an hour is not enough, given inflation. What Congress should do is try to live on $7.25 an hour for a week, and then they will know how many of their constituents live."
Mike writes from Lake Jackson, Texas: "It's a good start for now, but let's lower welfare, so freeloaders will want to get a job. The way things stand now, some welfare recipients would lose money if they went to work."
Rufus in California writes: "Sure, Jack, $7.25 an hour is enough -- to starve on. Do the math. At that wage, you gross about $1,180 a month. Where I live, the average one-bedroom apartment rents for $850 a month. As a single male, I spend $300 a month just for food. That leaves only $30 for all other expenses."
Charles in Saint Ann, Missouri: "Sure, if you're a single monk, healthy, eat like a bird, like to read discarded newspapers, because you can't afford cable TV, all your family members live close by, so you don't need a telephone. Yes, that would be plenty, Jack."
Chuck in McCaysville, Georgia: "Sure it is. After all, the average minimum-wage earner is a 16-year-old working in a fast-food store. The liberal media paints him as the 40-year-old head of a family of four. If your job skills dictate, after 25 years in the job market, you are still earning minimum wage, whose fault is that?"
Bill in Pennsylvania: "Jack, instead of asking us a question like that, why don't you try it for a month, and then let us know?"
R.Z. in Ohio: "I started out working in a factory for minimum wage, 1984, $2.35 an hour. Today, it's $9.99 for the same position, with 21 years of seniority. All that sparkles is not aluminum."
I don't know what that means.
Jordan writes: "The new minimum wage is too much. Let the market take care of these things. Who says the government should be able to tell me how much to pay my employees? The fact is, in the long run, the minimum wage ends up hurting those it claims to help. It's economics 101."
And Matt in Sherman Oaks, California: "Seven-and-a-quarter clearly enough if you enjoy the taste of cat food" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.
And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: detained in Iran -- a California man not seen from or heard from in weeks, the fifth Iranian-American now being held against his will, as tension between Tehran and Washington clearly ratcheting up right now.
Also, the family of a U.S. soldier missing in Iraq keeping vigil for their son, and now going public with their anguish and a plea for his captors.
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