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Quijano Explains White House Reaction to Comments from Durbin about Cheney. The Latest Attempts by Lawmakers to Make a Deal on Immigration Reform

Aired June 22, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, a stunning claim -- a Senator suggests Dick Cheney is trying to operate above the law. The second highest ranking Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin is saying some secrets the vice president is keeping suggest -- and I'm quoting now -- an arrogance of power on the part of the vice president. We're going to have a full report coming up.
Also, in order to succeed President Bush is it better to agree with him or disagree?

I'll ask Senator and Republican presidential candidate Sam Brownback where he stands on the administration's policies and the war, immigration and other key issues.

And role reversal -- did a top campaign aide to a presidential candidate -- that would be Mitt Romney -- impersonate a cop to harass people, including a reporter covering his boss?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Right now some Democrats say Dick Cheney often doesn't want you to know what his office is up to. This claim partly involves some secrets the vice president's office is keeping, an act Democratic Senator Dick Durbin says -- and I'm quoting now -- he says: "It represent as dereliction of duty to the people of the United States."


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), DEMOCRATIC WHIP: The vice president is arguing that his office is not in the executive branch of government?

Hard to imagine. The tortured logic that Vice President Cheney is using to avoid the requirements of the law and executive orders.


BLITZER: Let's go to our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano.

She is joining us.

What is the White House saying about these very stinging words from Dick Durbin? ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, response to Senator Durbin, an administration official calls it absurd, and says that the vice president never acted as though he is above the law.

Now, secondly, I just got off the phone moments ago with an administration official who is very familiar with discussions on this issue. And this official said that the allegations raised yesterday by Chairman Henry Waxman that someone inside the office of the vice president somehow wanted to abolish that office of the National Archives is false.

Now, this is something different than we had heard yesterday. Yesterday the vice president's office and officials here at the White House would not either confirm or deny this.

But here is how publicly White House Spokesperson Dana Perino sought to clarify the explanations behind this.

This is Dana Perino from earlier.


DANA PERINO, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: All the president's documents and all the vice president's documents are safeguarded. They are held -- they are held in the archives as part of the Presidential Records Act. And all of those rules and regulations are followed. This small section regarding just the reporting requirements to this group that come -- the I.C. That's out of the National Archive -- is different.


QUIJANO: Now, as to this question of why it was not until 2003 that the office of the vice president then said that these requirements, reporting requirements to this unit within the National Archives, didn't apply because, as you'll from our reporting yesterday, in '01 and '02 there was no mention of any objections to this. This administration official I talked to said that, look, it was after '01 and '02 that we took a look at this end and it was determined that, in our view, the requirements simply did not apply, these reporting requirements.

Once we determined that they did not apply, that is when this issue was raised -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The director of the National Archives weighed in today with a letter to the Justice Department.

What did he say and what's been the reaction?

QUIJANO: Yes. It was actually a few months ago, as well.

The Justice Department essentially says look, we've received this letter. We understand the concerns, that what this director wants is some sort of clarification on whether or not the vice president is, in fact, subject to these reporting requirements that go back to this executive order that the president actually amended back in 2003.

The bottom line here is they're looking for clarification. This was something that that director was looking for back in January. The Department of Justice says look, we've got that letter and the matter is under review -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine Quijano at the White House for us.

Thank you, Elaine.

Also at the White House, two countries that were once bitter enemies now talking things over. Today the White House welcomed the president of Vietnam for the first time since the Vietnam War. President Bush hosted the Vietnamese president, Nguyen Minh Triet, and welcomed warmer relations between the U.S. and Vietnam. But while the two leaders had very friendly discussions inside the White House, there were protests outside, chanting "Freedom for Vietnam Now!," activists protested Vietnam's communist-ruled one party government and Vietnam's human rights record.

I talked about that with the Vietnamese president in a one-on-one interview.

He also had this message for the Vietnamese-American community.


PRES. NGUYEN MINH TRIET, VIETNAM (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): My message is that the Vietnamese living abroad in general, and in the United States in particular, is part and parcel of the Vietnamese nation. The blood they have is the blood of the Vietnamese. The flesh they have is the flesh of the Vietnamese. The government of Vietnam want to see them succeed in the United States. And we also would like to see them to serve as a bridge between the United States and Vietnam. As far as give our different -- differences in views and opinion, we should exchange dialogues in order to solve those differences.


BLITZER: He said he was also very happy with his talks with the president.

You can see the entire interview with the Vietnamese president. That will air this Sunday on "LATE EDITION," 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

Apparently it will take some behind the scenes deal making to get immigration reform passed. Some lawmakers are feverishly working to try to keep the issue alive.

Let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

She's watching all of this unfold on Capitol Hill -- Dana, what is the latest, because there are some who fear that all this back room stuff that's going on does not necessarily bode well for immigration reform. DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT:

Well, it's really unclear, I can tell you. There is a lot of back room stuff going on, because what's going on right now is that supporters of the immigration bill are trying to figure out how to clear a 60 vote hurdle that they will need to keep immigration alive in a vote that was -- is going to come Tuesday morning, Wolf.

And supporters are really scrambling to try to make changes -- or at least promise that they're going to make changes once the immigration bill is back on the Senate floor.

And, in fact, today three of the Republican authors of the immigration compromise gave a lengthy proposal to reporter they say they will hope to debate when it comes back to the floor that they say will bolster immigration enforcement.

And it's really interesting because it just sort of shows you how much of an impact the opposition and the lobbying that groups are having on this debate.

Senator John Kyl, Republican of Arizona, he said that one of the ideas in here -- strengthening background checks -- he said that came from a talk radio host who is opposed to this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash on Capitol Hill for us.

Thank you.

Dana will watch the immigration story.

There's another we're watching right now. It appears Al Qaeda is looking for a few good terrorists. And you might not necessarily believe just where they're looking for recruits.

Let's turn to Brian Todd.

He's watching the story for us -- Brian, you've learned some new information.

Tell our viewers what you've come up with.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're told that Al Qaeda is now tapping into places where it had no presence fairly recently. And to do that, the terrorist network is following its pattern of exploiting chaos and misfortune.


TODD (voice-over): Desperate, displaced, aimless -- millions of children and teenagers in the Middle East churn through that experience every day as refugees, escaping violence or unwanted in their home countries but very desirable for others.

BRUCE RIEDEL, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Refugees are the perfect recruitment target for Al Qaeda -- people who are mad or frustrated, who have seen their lives destroyed by forces outside of their control.

TODD: Some refugee camps are more vulnerable than others. A top U.S. counter-terrorism official tells CNN Al Qaeda is now "taking the temperature" of Palestinians in Gaza and refugees in Lebanon, like members of the Fatah-al-Islam group, who have battled Lebanese forces. This official calls them Al Qaeda wannabes.

CNN analyst Peter Bergen explains why they are recruitment targets of the terrorist group.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Al Qaeda and al Qaeda like groups thrive in non-governed spaces. And somewhere like Gaza, it seems like a non-governed space right now, the sort of place that they would seek to utilize as a safe haven.

TODD: CNN is told Al Qaeda has not gone after as many refugees in Syria or Jordan. The U.S. counter-terror official says the intelligence agencies in those countries closely monitor the camps.

Bergen says in camps they do target, Al Qaeda operatives don't so much recruit, but let volunteers come to them.

What are they looking for?

BERGEN: I think these are generally, these are foot soldiers. These are not, you know, senior kind of operatives. But if you look at the suicide attackers in Afghanistan, for instance, many of them are people who are coming out of Pakistan. I think a lot of those kids who are doing this are people who grew up in refugee camps.


TODD: And that's even something of a tradition, according to Peter Bergen, who says the Taliban was largely a creation of refugee camps more than a decade ago, getting many of its foot soldiers from camps in Pakistan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd watching this for us.

Thanks, Brian, very much.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Iraq Study Group take two.

Are you ready?

The House has voted to revive the bipartisan panel chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton. Republican Congressman Chris Shays, who proposed this idea, says that the Congress could benefit from an updated assessment from the group.

The goal is for the panel to make a new report within a month of when General David Petraeus and U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, give their military and political progress reports to Congress, presumably somewhere around September.

Now, based on the reception that the first report got from President Bush, I wouldn't be surprised if Baker and Hamilton said forget about it. Some believe another Iraq Study Group report could give political cover for Republicans who want President Bush to start bringing our troops home. Although the administration initially rejected the group's recommendations, they have adopted some of them more recently.

You see, it turns out the Iraq Study Group was right about a lot of things. For example, last month U.S. and Iranian diplomats held their first public bilateral meetings in almost three decades. The administration says it's pressing the Iraqi government on benchmarks.

Good luck with that.

And, of course, the group recommended withdrawing almost all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by early next year.

Here the question -- Congress wants to revive the Iraq Study Group.

Is that a good idea?

E-mail us at Or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.

Coming up, does he stand with his party's leader or is he against some of the president's policies?

I'll speak live with Republican presidential candidate Sam Brownback. He's standing by.

Also, some say that in a nasty presidential race, Barack Obama is trying to stay above the fray. Now he's out talking ethics and what he'd do on his first day in office.

And a top campaign aide to presidential candidate Mitt Romney is under a cloud.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Welcome back

Let's talk to Senator Brownback of Kansas.

He's a Republican presidential candidate.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: Happy to join you, Wolf.

BLITZER: How worried are you, Senator, that the president's Iraq policies could not only drag down the Republican presidential ticket, but Republicans across the board?

And I ask it in the context of the new poll that's just out by "Newsweek" magazine that has only 23 percent of the American public approving the president's handling of the situation in Iraq, 73 percent disapproving.

BROWNBACK: Well, Wolf, I think that's one of the lower level problems you're talking about, how -- what it does to the Republican Party and what it does to the Republican presidential candidates.

The key issue here is that we're at war. We've got a number of people losing lives every day. We're divided as a nation on it and I think we've got to get policies that will move us back together as a nation and get us to a position we can pull our guys back from the front line.

That's why I've been pushing this policy with Joe Biden on a three state/one country solution in Iraq as a way to pull us back together, get a political situation that I think is attainable on the ground in Iraq...

BLITZER: Do you agree...

BROWNBACK: ... And pull our guys back from the frontlines.

BLITZER: Do you agree with Senator Biden, there should be a withdrawal date -- a date to try to start withdrawing U.S. troops from?

BROWNBACK: I don't, Wolf. And I would love to have our troops out now. But the day you say a date to pull them out is that same day that we declare that day is the day Al Qaeda declares -- declares victory. I don't think we can do that. I don't think it's wise to do that.

BLITZER: But you think the current strategy that President Bush embarked on can work, that there will be a free and democratic, peaceful Iraq at the end -- at the end of the tunnel?

BROWNBACK: I think we have a workable military strategy. I think we have a fantastic military that's executing it.

What I don't think we have in place is a political strategy on the ground in Iraq that can get us to a durable position in timelines that the American people are willing to support. That's where I think we have a real problem and that's where I have a problem with the administration.

BLITZER: Another issue that seems to be dividing the GOP in a major way is immigration reform. Are you with the president right now on the legislation that he supports, Senator McCain supports, Senator Kennedy supports?

If you had to vote right now on what's before the Senate, would you vote in favor of it or would you oppose it?

BROWNBACK: I cannot say that today one way or the other because I haven't seen the latest bill. You know, as you know, this didn't come through the Judiciary Committee. I sit on that committee. It didn't come through there. The first bill didn't pass this. This one is being altered a lot and just now coming out. We've got to look and study that.

I think it has to have good border security, interior enforcement and I do believe it has to be comprehensive. And I'm looking for those three factors in particular on some bill that I could support.

BLITZER: But the...

BROWNBACK: But I can't...

BLITZER: But could you support...

BROWNBACK: I can't say that now on a bill I don't know.

BLITZER: Could you support what the critics call amnesty, what supporters say would be a pathway toward citizenship, making some of those -- if not all of those 12 million illegal immigrants -- legal residents of the United States?

BROWNBACK: I could not support new paths to citizenship. I can and will support, and have in the past supported, Wolf, people being able to get in lines that they currently qualify for. And I can support a guest worker program. I cannot support new paths to citizenship or amnesty.

BLITZER: Because that's one of the key elements of this package that the president supports. You know that.

BROWNBACK: Well, I do know that. But let's see what's in the details of this package because, as you know, in this debate, probably even more than most in the Senate and in the House together, the devil is in the details. And there's a lot of devils in these details on the immigration policies.

BLITZER: How does it make you feel -- let's talk politics a little bit right now -- when you hear conservatives say they -- they really are excited that Fred Thompson, the former senator from Tennessee, is about to jump in this race because they don't really like Rudy Giuliani, they don't like Mitt Romney, they don't like John McCain, they're afraid. They're afraid they're not really true conservatives and they want a true conservative, and that would be Fred Thompson.

How does that make you feel? BROWNBACK: Well, I'm here holding my handle up saying if you want a true conservative, I've got 4,500 votes in the House and the Senate that are true conservatives and I've led on a number of these issues, whether it be some of the life issues or economic issues. I've led on these items.

But I think what you're seeing, Wolf, is that everybody is just shopping around for -- they're kind of at a restaurant and they're looking at somebody else's dish and saying well, this is the one I like. I'm not sure that I like the one I h.

It's all going to sort out. It is a big field on both sides of the aisle. And I'm campaigning heavily in Iowa, doing very well there. And, as you know, it starts in Iowa, it goes to New Hampshire, South Carolina. That's where I'm campaigning. And we're -- everybody is talking a lot. We're doing a lot of campaigning and getting some good support.

BLITZER: Senator Sam Brownback, thanks very much for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

BROWNBACK: Happy to join you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And still ahead, thousands attended a memorial service for those nine firefighters killed in a fire in South Carolina, including some of the presidential candidates. We're going to tell you which campaign suggests it's an opportunistic political act.

And a new round in a bitter battle -- lawmakers who want to end the decades old embargo in Cuba versus those who want it to remain. We'll have the latest.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: 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 now with a closer look at some other incoming stories making news -- hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think incoming is the operative word, Wolf.

Live pictures of the Space Shuttle Atlantis back on Earth. After a two week mission to the International Space Station, the shuttle landed just about a half hour ago at the Edwards Air Force Base in California, and the landing was smooth. NASA decided to use the backup landing site after a second day of rainy and cloudy weather prevented a landing in Florida. And as you can see, it all went perfectly.

Six Flags is taking precautions a day after a girl's feet were severed on a ride at one of its amusement parks. The amusement park chain shut down some other thrill rides at its parks in St. Louis, Illinois and near Washington, D.C. The accident happened on the Superman Tower of Power Ride in Louisville, Kentucky. The 13-year-old girl under went surgery last night.

A fire that gutted a chemical recycling plant near Eau Claire, Wisconsin is expected to burn into the night. Strong winds whipped a boiler explosion into a raging fire that sent dozens of fire balls hundreds of feet into the air. The fire broke out around 6:00 this morning. The area has been evacuated. No one was injured. State officials say monitoring of the air has not picked up anything dangerous.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thank you very much for that.

Flags and flowers, prayers and praise -- today thousands attended a memorial for those nine firefighters killed this week in a horrific fire in Charleston, South Carolina. The city's fire chief urged listeners to "never forget these nine great heroes." And thousands of firefighters from across the nation gathered to mourn. The homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, compared their heroism to that seen on one of the nation's darkest days.


MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: They demonstrated the same bravery our nation witnessed on September 11, when firefighters rushed into burning and collapsing buildings to save complete strangers. This commitment to put one's own life at risk to help others at a moment's notice has been the hallmark of first responders and firefighters for centuries. And it is carried on by everyone who wears the uniform and answers the call to service.


BLITZER: Some of the presidential candidates also attended the services, including John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, among others.

But a campaign aide to Senator Barack Obama blasted their attendance, calling it -- and I'm quoting now -- "a pretty craven political act."

Coming up, a top aide to presidential candidate Mitt Romney takes a leave of absence after some embarrassing incidents.

And why are key Al Gore aides sitting on the sidelines right now?

What are they waiting for?

That's coming up in our Strategy Session.


BLITZER: Happening now, some stories we are working on. A charity group created by presidential candidate John Edwards coming under the microscope right now. It was formed to fight poverty. But some are wondering if it was a platform to keep Edwards politically ready. We're watching this story.

Also, documents revealing some dark dealings by the CIA. The spy agency's skeletons now coming out of the closet. Brian Todd working this story.

And three 9/11 rescue workers who accompanied documentary filmmaker Michael Moore to Cuba could actually be facing jail time.

Was "Sicko" -- that's the name of the film -- worth it?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama, is vowing some sweeping ethics reforms. In a speech at a technical college in New Hampshire, the Senator from Illinois took specific aim at corporate and special interests.

Let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill, the message that Senator Barack Obama was trying to convey today included what?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That he's a real anti-Washington candidate at a time when millions of Americans are fed up with Washington.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Congress has been debating ethics reform. But now Senator Barack Obama has gob one step further.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: On the very first day that I sit in the Oval Office as president, I will launch the most sweeping ethics reform in history to make the White House the people's house and send the Washington lobbyists back to K Street.

SCHNEIDER: What's new here?

CRAIG HOLMAN, CITIZENS WATCH: It's the first time that we actually have a presidential candidate who is taking that entire package and offering it as part of his platform to run for president.

SCHNEIDER: Obama is making bold proposals.

OBAMA: When you walk into my administration, you will not be able to work on regulations or contracts directly related to your former employer for two years. When you leave, you will not be able to lobby the administration throughout the remainder of my term in office.

SCHNEIDER: Can ethics reform carry a candidate into the White House? Obama argues that ethics is not just an issue of personal corruption; it's also about the corruption of policy.

OBAMA: What's most outrageous is not the morally offensive conduct on behalf of these lobbyists and legislators, but the morally offensive laws and decisions that get made as a result.

SCHNEIDER: Obama argues that special-interest influence blocks progress on health care reform and energy independence and drug costs. Polls show a meltdown of public confidence in both the president and Congress. The anti-Washington issue could be powerful this year, as it has been in previous campaigns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These kinds of issues tend to be underestimated in Washington. But they have had real clout in presidential campaigns before, the Ross Perot campaign of 1992, the McCain campaign of 2000.


SCHNEIDER: Senator Obama's relationship with an indicted real estate developer has recently come under increased press scrutiny, although Obama has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

He may have gotten caught up in the fund-raising system, just as another reformer, Senator John McCain, once did.

Now, the sources I interviewed said, the senator from Illinois has real credibility in the reform community. In his speech, Obama called reform -- quote -- "the cause of my career" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Bill Schneider, for that.

With just over a week left until the second-quarter fund-raising deadline, John Edwards is trying now some new, innovative ways to try to reach his fund-raising goals.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's watching this for us.

How much does the campaign say it needs, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, an e-mail sent out over the last couple of days, they are saying they are looking for $9 million. That's setting expectations below the $14 million the campaign brought in, in the first quarter that put Edwards in third place, behind Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

But, from John Edwards in the last 24 hours, a new innovative push for fund-raising dollars, using cell phone text-messaging, text- messaging, we are seeing, an increasing feature of Democratic campaigns, but now John Edwards the first to use this to try and bring in the cash, inviting 13,000-plus cell phone subscribers to his text- messaging service last night to listen to a recorded phone call from John Edwards himself.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm calling to remind you, with just over a week before the end of the quarter, the time to act is now.


TATTON: That's Edwards telling people that called in, the time to act is now. That was the message that was played on to their cell phones in this callback, Edwards inviting listeners to connect to a live operator to donate.

And we have no figure right now from the Edwards campaign of how much that brought in, but they did say today that another text- messaging push is planned next week. That will be right before that deadline -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much -- all the candidates scrambling right now for cash. Abbi, appreciate it.

An embarrassing string of stories just cost Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney the services of one of his top campaign aides.

Was that aide being overzealous? Did he break any laws? Was he involved at all?

Let's turn to our Boston bureau chief, Dan Lothian. He's watching this story for us.

What do we know, Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Wolf, you know, that is the big question that investigators in Massachusetts and in New Hampshire are looking into in a case that, at the very least, could be a distraction for the Romney campaign.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): At his campaign stops, all eyes and cameras are on presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But take a look at the guy several steps behind Romney. That's his campaign's director of operations, Jay Garrity. He's been part advance man and part security detail since Romney's days as Massachusetts governor.

But, as of now, Garrity isn't behind the scenes anymore. He is on leave of absence. A phone call to this Boston-area plumbing company may be one of the reasons why.

According to "The Boston Globe," someone identifying himself as Trooper Garrity with the Massachusetts State Police called Wayne's Drains last month to complain about one of its van drivers. The caller threatened to write the driver a ticket for speeding and erratic driving.

The Boston DA is now investigating because there is no Trooper Garrity. CNN's efforts to reach Jay Garrity's attorney were unsuccessful.

But his attorney told the Associated Press, his client did not make that phone call.

But Garrity figures prominently in another interesting story from New Hampshire. "New York Times" reporter Mark Leibovich identifies Garrity as the man wearing an earpiece who ordered him to veer off because he was following Romney's SUV between campaign stops.

Leibovich says the Romney aide told him -- quote -- "We ran your license plate," and that people aren't allowed to follow Romney's vehicle.

In reality, New Hampshire's law doesn't allow anyone outside of law enforcement to run other people's license plates. Garrity's attorney disputes the reporter's story, but New Hampshire authorities are investigating. A Romney campaign spokesman says, Garrity's leave of absence is to -- quote -- "resolve these complaints."


LOTHIAN: "The Boston Globe" also says Garrity has been in trouble before, that he was fined for equipping his car with flashing lights, a siren, and other police equipment in 2004. That's when Romney was still governor of Massachusetts -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of overzealous campaign aides out there, I suppose.

Thanks very much, Dan Lothian, for that.

Dan and Abbi Tatton and Bill Schneider, they are all part of the best political team on television.

And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at

Coming up: The 40-year-old embargo against Cuba, should it be lifted? Should it be lifted right now? There are some in Congress, Democrats and Republicans, who think so -- Andrea Koppel watching this story for us.

And how low can the president's job approval rating actually go? We have the latest "Newsweek" poll -- that number coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Now to the United States and Cuba -- the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba has been in place for more than 40 years. But, once again, right now, some U.S. lawmakers are pushing very hard to try to do away with it.

Let's turn to our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel. She is watching this story for us -- Andrea. ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, what makes this latest push to ease sanctions, unlike years gone by, is the fact that the 80-year-old dictator Fidel Castro is in failing health.

But lawmakers on both sides of the issue aren't letting that fact issue -- influence, rather, this decades-old debate.


KOPPEL (voice-over): It's become an almost annual tug of war -- on one side, mostly farm state lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, in favor of ending the decades-old trade embargo against communist Cuba.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), MONTANA: For too long, ideologically-driven restrictions have undermined America's export competitiveness in a market 90 miles away.

REP. JO ANN EMERSON (R), MISSOURI: I just think that the backwards American policy on Cuba hurts our U.S. producers a whole lot more than it hurts Fidel Castro.

KOPPEL: On the other side, anti-Castro lawmakers, many of them members of the influential Florida voting bloc, as well as President Bush.



KOPPEL: In 2000, just before Bush became president, Congress voted to allow some sales of food and agricultural products to Cuba. But, in 2005, the Bush administration put up new roadblocks -- the focus of this year's battle, a bill to end travel restrictions, as well as further open up U.S. agricultural experts to the island nation.

Idaho Republican Mike Crapo is a supporter.

SEN. MIKE CRAPO (R), IDAHO: The only ones who are hurt by our efforts to try to isolate Cuba in trade are our producers here in America.

KOPPEL: If the travel embargo alone were lifted, the bill's supporters estimate it could create 20,000 new jobs and bring the travel industry about $1 billion in new revenue.

Other pro-embargo lawmakers, like Democrat Robert Menendez, himself a Cuban-American, say, there's another bottom line that matters more.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: The real issue is here, do we prop up a regime through our dollars, at the end of the day, in a way that only continues the suffering of the Cuban people? (END VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL: But, despite the continued strong opposition to easing the embargo, the bill's supporters believe they will get a much more sympathetic hearing when the measure comes before the Senate Finance Committee later this year.

That said, Wolf, no one is ready to say the bill has enough support to actually pass if it reaches the Senate floor -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will watch this debate unfold.

Andrea, thanks very much.

The U.S. trade embargo against Cuba was established back on July 8, 1963, in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Its core goal is to deprive Cuba's government of U.S. dollars by prohibiting direct imports and exports between the U.S. and Cuba. The sanctions ban U.S. citizens from traveling to or doing business with Cuba, unless the reasons are humanitarian, agricultural, or educational.

Even so, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that, in the first four months of this year alone, more than $115 million worth of U.S. goods and services were exported to Cuba, but only $200,000 worth have come out of Cuba to the United States.

Up next in our "Strategy Session": The Democratically-controlled Senate acts on energy legislation, and the majority leader, Harry Reid, explains why more hasn't happened.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: See, they are in a unique situation, because, for six years, they didn't have Congress to deal with. And this is very frustrating to them, that, suddenly, the Constitution has come in to play.


BLITZER: But a fresh batch of polls shows, voters are less than impressed by either the president or the Congress.

And are key Gore supporters sitting on the sidelines right now, waiting for an offer they can't refuse? That's coming up in our "Strategy Session." Donna Brazile, John Feehery, they are standing by live.

We will be right back.


BLITZER: It's a rough spell for President Bush -- the latest "Newsweek" poll just out today showing the president's approval rating has hit a new low. Only 26 percent approve of the job he is doing. How will that impact his effectiveness in the last year-and-a-half of his presidency? Joining us in our "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist John Feehery.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

The president's job approval numbers only at 26 percent; 65 percent disapprove in this new "Newsweek" poll, consistent with other polls -- but Congress' numbers even worse. Only 25 percent approve of the job Congress is doing; 63 percent disapprove.

It looks like people out there don't like Washington at all right now, Donna.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's going to be a long, hot summer for both the president and Congress to try to get some legislative victories.

But, look, Democrats are fighting against a united Republican Party that refused to go along to help Democrats pass important legislation. Despite the fact that Democrats have passed a budget bill, raised the minimum wage, and also got through a very, very important energy bill, the American people are still dissatisfied because of one issue: Iraq.

BLITZER: Is -- do you agree with that?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I would say that the Democrats are turning against their base -- their party because of Iraq. And I think the Republicans are turning against the president because of immigration.

And, so, it's -- everyone dislikes Iraq. But I think that's the reason you have seen the polls really kind of sink.

BLITZER: Because the Republican base really hates what the president is trying to do with Senator McCain and Senator Kennedy, get some sort of compromise comprehensive immigration reform legislation passed.


FEEHERY: The talk radio hosts are going wild on this immigration debate. They love this stuff, because it gets viewership up. But it's really hitting the Republicans very hard.

BLITZER: But how worried are you that this anti-Washington, anti-Congress, anti-Bush feeling out there is going to turn out to be, throw the bums out in 2008, and let's look for a third party, a Michael Bloomberg or perhaps someone else?

BRAZILE: In the New Democracy poll that came out this week, in the top Democratic-leaning districts, Democrats have a slight advantage, 56-36. So, they like their member. They hate Washington. You have heard that before.

But, in the top Republican districts, Democrats also have an edge, 45-43. So, I think Democrats will do well when they go back home. But, while they're in Washington, D.C., they're not liked.

BLITZER: Is it smart for these Republican candidates to run with the president or run against the president?

FEEHERY: Oh, let's run against the president as much -- as quickly as possible.

BLITZER: So, how do they -- on the immigration issue...

FEEHERY: They are all doing it on the immigration bill,. but you will see them starting...


BLITZER: But not necessarily on Iraq.

FEEHERY: They are going to slowly walk their way away from Iraq. If they are smart, I think they will.

I mean, they will want a...


BLITZER: Pull a full Chuck Hagel, you mean, or something else?

FEEHERY: Not a full Chuck Hagel, but they want to reformulate policy, kind of restructure what's going on in Iraq. And you will see them go more towards the Iraq Study Group.

BLITZER: There was a story in the "Hill" newspaper, saying a lot of the Al Gore brains out there, including you, Donna, who worked closely with Al Gore -- you were his campaign manager back in 2000 -- are sort of sitting on the sidelines right now, waiting, and trying to figure out whether he, himself, will eventually decide to run.

You read that article.

BRAZILE: I read the article. And I chuckled the entire time when I talked to the reporter.

Look, we enjoy what we are doing. I'm enjoying my time with you. I enjoy my time with a lot of other people. But Al Gore really is doing a fantastic job out there.

As you know, on 7/07/07, two billion people will come together to watch this very important concert on climate change. So, we are all rooting for Al Gore on the sidelines.

BLITZER: Go ahead.


FEEHERY: My prediction two months ago was that Al Gore would be the nominee, because Hillary is the top runner right now. Her negatives are so high. They're going to want Al Gore to the best candidate forward. BLITZER: Her negatives are higher than Al Gore's negatives; is that what you're saying?

FEEHERY: I think that's right, yes.

BLITZER: Is that what you're saying?

BRAZILE: Well, her negatives are up there. But, if you look on the Republican side, their negatives are high.

Right now, I think the American people are still on a shopping spree. Who knows? They made may end up with Hillary. They made may end up, look, with Al Gore.


BLITZER: I ask you this question all the time, because I know you are about as well plugged in as anyone, Donna. What do you think? Do you think Al Gore will eventually decide to throw his hat in the ring?

BRAZILE: You know, I keep a door ajar for Al Gore, because I really think he is the most qualified person out there. But he has told me at every occasion, he's not interested.

BLITZER: How worried should Republicans be if he were the nominee?

FEEHERY: Well, I think that they would be better off running against Hillary Clinton, because her negatives are so high. And Al Gore's negatives are not that high, because of his -- his movie. "An Inconvenient Truth" is such a big, big hit out there. You know, I think Donna is right to keep the door open.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Donna.

BRAZILE: And "The Assault on Reason" is a number-one bestseller.

I just want to plug the 7/7/07 concert once again.

And, John, we both live on Capitol Hill. You can come over and have my popcorn.


BLITZER: Was the premise of the article, though, accurate, that Al Gore's top aides from 2000 and earlier aren't really getting all that much involved, whether in Hillary Clinton's campaign, Barack Obama's campaign, some of the other campaigns?


BRAZILE: It's an accurate story. I mean, if you look around and you look at all of the top people who worked on the Gore campaign, with few exceptions, most of us are undecided or flirting. I'm in the category -- I'm flirting. I'm not dating. I have no intentions of falling in love in case -- if Al Gore runs, I will fall in love again.

BLITZER: Are you flirting, too, John?

FEEHERY: I'm not flirting. But I would say, two months ago, I said Al Gore is going to be the nominee, and I stick to it.

BLITZER: You still stick to it?


FEEHERY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: The -- and who do you think on the Republican side?

FEEHERY: I think it's going to be Rudy Giuliani.

BLITZER: You do?


BLITZER: You don't think that his moderate stance, some would say liberal stance, on abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, that's going to hurt?


FEEHERY: He is strong on fiscal issues. He is strong on crime. He is strong on the war. He is a strong leader. He's got good Q ratings. I think he's the best nominee.

BRAZILE: And Al Gore has a wonderful campaign,


BRAZILE: Sign up. Watch the concert and join a wonderful campaign.

BLITZER: Sounds like you are ready to work for him if he decides to run.


BLITZER: Climate change, presidential, it doesn't matter. I will help him.

BLITZER: All right. Donna, thanks very much.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

BLITZER: John, thanks to you, as well.

Still to come: the debate over the fate of the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay holding terror suspects. How easy or difficult would it be to actually shut it down?

And many say, the more presidential candidates to choose from, the better. But a large field presents major problems for those who have to protect them. You are going to see some of those challenges in our Secret Service report, John King watching this -- this special series continuing right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Today, on our "Political Radar," residents of the Equality State, as it's called, have a new senator. The Wyoming governor appointed state Senator John Barrasso to fill the U.S. Senate seat of the late Craig Thomas. Thomas died of leukemia back on June 4.

Barrasso is an orthopedic surgeon from Casper. He's a Republican, so, the Senate's balance of power won't change. He will hold the seat until the beginning of 2009. In a November 2008 special election, the state will determine who will finish Thomas' term through 2012.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is reading the tea leaves for his upcoming reelection. The "Hill" newspaper here in something reports that, although he's yet to draw a major opponent, McConnell is apparently feeling the heat.

In a recent letter to supporters, he predicts this would be -- and I'm quoting now -- "the most difficult reelection campaign." McConnell warns his supporters that he will be in a battle against what he calls radical national liberal organizations. McConnell is currently serving his fourth term. He won reelection with 65 percent of the vote back in 2002.

A new Norwegian study supports the notion that first born and only children generally have higher I.Q.s. So, it made us wonder whether -- where -- where do the presidential candidates stand, in terms of their respective family's pecking orders?

Here are the candidates who are the oldest children in their families, Biden, Clinton, Edwards, Kucinich, and Richardson. The onlys are Gilmore and Giuliani. The rest don't fit the study's higher I.Q. mold. They are eight middle children. That would be Dodd, Gravel, Obama, Brownback, Hunter, McCain, Paul, and Tommy Thompson. Three are the so-called babies in their families. They are Huckabee, Romney, and Tancredo.

The next presidential debate, by the way, will be featured on CNN here on July 23. We are teaming up with YouTube. It will be the first debate where all of you can submit your questions to the candidates online. We hope you will do that.

Let's back go to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The Congress, Wolf, wants to revive the Iraq Study Group. You remember them. They worked for all those months, came up with this report about what we ought to do in Iraq. And then the Bush White House said, no, no, thanks anyway.

Anyway, they want to do it again now. And we wanted to know if you thought that's a good idea.

Jeff in New York writes: "Why bother? What will it produce that it didn't come up with before? The Iraq Study Group took over nine months to compile its report, only to have every recommendation ignored by President Bush. The new Democrat majority in Congress had a chance to change the course of this disastrous war. They could have insisted, no timelines for troop withdrawal, no further funding. They had the support of two-thirds of the American public, and, yet, they still caved in."

Michael in Iowa writes: "Apparently, our Congress will do whatever it takes to postpone facing the potential consequences of any decision. Republican or Democrat, they would much rather pass the buck to some committee somewhere, and then hold hearings to criticize whatever the committee has to say. Delaying action beyond September is a bad idea, but watch them. They will find a way to tread water and delay."

Barbee in Utah: "It sounds like a good idea, Jack, but what's to gain? Bush won't change his strategy, nor will he listen to options. I think it's just another dog and pony show to perhaps fool the public into thinking that Congress is doing something about Iraq."

Fran in California: "Do we really need for our paid politicians to pay lip service to this study group and its report for a second time? They don't even read the legislation they enact. Do you think they would even bother to read the report?"

Ken in New Hampshire: "Great idea, Jack. They should kill -- that should kill some time. And then the Congress can sit around on their hands until the bungler in chief says he is going to stay the course again."

Peggy in Missouri: "Forget the study. Forget the study," she writes. "I want to see action from this do-nothing Congress."

Dr Blitzer, are you the oldest or youngest in your family, by the way?

BLITZER: Not -- I have an older sister.

What about you? What about you?


CAFFERTY: Is she smarter than you are?

BLITZER: Yes, she's much smarter than I am.


CAFFERTY: I'm the oldest, but my baby brother is much brighter than I am. (LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right. He must be a genius.



BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack, for that.


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