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Dodging Questions: Unclear Answers to Issues on Iraq; Major Test on Iraq Fails; Revisiting Iraq Study Group Report
Aired July 11, 2007 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, an important test vote on Iraq fails. One Republican saying it would be a "constitutional mistake" for the ages. But the top Democrat in the Senate says the way he sees it, some Republicans are more interested in protecting the president than they are in the troops.
Also, Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico says some sound advice on Iraq is sitting right under everyone's noses. Now looking for solutions in the pages of a report that's actually been out for months.
Senator Domenici will join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And the odd couple. Two people with major political differences teaming up. What could be so important to bring Newt Gingrich and Hillary Clinton together again?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Some are questioning if the White House is in denial over Iraq. Those questioning were at the White House press secretary, Tony Snow, today over at the briefing with reporters.
Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's watching all of this unfold.
More fireworks right behind you, Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Republicans are now saying they're expecting as early as tomorrow the president will make some remarks and also release this preliminary report on Iraqi benchmarks.
The report, officials say, will be a mixed bag. Some progress on the military side in Iraq, but little, if any, progress on the political side. More trouble for a White House that is already on the defensive.
HENRY (voice over): At his first on-camera session in the new White House briefing room, Tony Snow repeatedly dodged when asked if Republican support for the war is slipping.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think public -- I think what you have is -- I don't know. I really don't. HENRY: But just a few feet outside the briefing room, Senator (AUDIO GAP).
QUESTION: ... the erosion of republican support?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes.
HENRY: And after meeting with President Bush about his recent trip to Iraq, McCain said he knows why Republicans are defecting.
MCCAIN: I think they are concerned about the upcoming election.
HENRY: The type of candor that's not coming from a White House still trying to redefine what victory in Iraq will be.
SNOW: You don't define victory as keeping troops there. Victory is defeating al Qaeda.
HENRY: When asked if al Qaeda in Iraq and the al Qaeda run by Osama bin Laden are the same, Snow wasn't sure.
SNOW: That's a good -- that I'm not competent to tell you.
HENRY: But on Tuesday, the president sounded much more confident.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The same people that attacked us on September 11th is the crowd that is now bombing people, killing innocent men, women and children.
HENRY: Snow is also trying to by time by claiming the so-called surge has only been in place for two weeks, even though the president has been sending more troops to Iraq since February.
(on camera): Why do you keep saying that the surge of troops has only been in place for two weeks?
SNOW: I said fully operational. I said fully operational.
HENRY: Now, senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who were here because they were telling the president about their recent trip to Iraq, they did back Tony Snow on the point that they feel that some lawmakers are trying to pull the plug on the president's new strategy before it has been fully implemented.
McCain lashed out at Democratic leader Harry Reid in particular for bringing up vote after vote on the war. But when I asked McCain about the fact that more Republicans are now joining the Democrats on those votes, McCain admitted the Democratic strategy may be working -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Let's see what happens on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue. And let's go there right now.
Ed, thank you.
It's seen as a major test of whether or not Democrats have convinced enough Republicans to force changes in the Iraq war policy. Today, that test was defeated. A Democratic-sponsored amendment would have restricted U.S. troop rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan to ensure troops have more time here at home.
Meanwhile, the White House urging many Republican senators to hold their support for the administration's Iraq policy and not let go of it. Some senators, though, are telling the White House their patience is running out.
Our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is up on Capitol Hill. She's watching all of this unfold.
What are you hearing right now about the latest friction between Republicans, Dana, and the White House?
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's interesting is, as the debate is heating up here in the Senate, Wolf, the administration is engaging in really heavy lobbying of Republican senators here. In fact, one of the president's top aides when is comes to national security actually came and made his case, his lobbying case in person today. And he heard, though, from Republicans who really think it's time to change course in Iraq. He heard that loud and clear behind closed doors.
BASH (voice over): The president's national security advisor came to Capitol Hill to plead with fellow Republicans for patience on Iraq, to wait until September before trying to change the war strategy. But in what one senator described as a "vigorous behind closed doors discussions," several GOP senators, including Lamar Alexander, Robert Bennett and Pete Domenici, all told Stephen Hadley, no, the time to change the mission is now.
They're pushing bipartisan legislation to adopt recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which would start bringing U.S. troops home by next string.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The motion is not agreed to.
BASH: But minutes after that meeting on the Senate floor, the first evidence of how hard it still is for Democrats to turn GOP dissatisfaction into votes against the war. Republicans successfully blocked a Democratic measure to require U.S. troops to get more time at home between deployments.
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: It is an unprecedented wartime attempt to limit the authority of the president and the military leaders by declaring substantial numbers of troops and units unavailable.
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), MAJORITY WHIP: If this president sends these soldiers over and over and over again without rest, without retraining, without the equipment they need into battle, that is unacceptable.
BASH: Democrats know if they cannot pass a measure meant to ease the war's burden on troops, it's going to be near impossible to pass more controversial legislation to change the war itself and bring troops home.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: And already we're seeing some Republicans speak out against the president's policy, his Iraq policy. We hope that they and other Republicans will put their words into action by not just saying the right things but voting the right way.
BASH: Now, Democrats did get one new Republican vote today. Officially, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine said that she is going to sign on to the Democrats' plan, their deadline for troops to come home by May 1st. That, Wolf, makes three Republicans who will vote on that key Democratic measure. We expect that vote to be late this week or early next week, but it's not enough to pass.
So what we're still seeing behind the scenes is many Republicans who are not happy with the president's strategy trying to come up with other ideas about how to make that into legislation, but legislation short of a deadline for troop withdrawals.
BLITZER: Thank you, Dana, for that. Not easy to get that legislation passed, because they usually need 60 votes, not just a majority, 60 votes to break any potential filibuster.
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, we're following another story. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee once again blasting the White House over the firings of those United States attorneys.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: This administration has instituted an abusive policy of secrecy aimed at protecting themselves from embarrassment and accountability. Apparently, the president and the vice president feel they and their staff are above the law. Well, in America, no one, no one is above the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That coming during that hearing on the matter today. A former White House staffer testifying. That would be Sara Taylor. She was President Bush's political director.
Today she answered some questions before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but said she could not answer others.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEAHY: Did you attend any meeting with the president since the 2004 election in which a removal and replacement of U.S. attorneys was discussed?
SARA TAYLOR, FMR. WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I did not attend any meetings with the president where that matter was discussed.
LEAHY: Are you aware of any presidential decision, documents since the 2004 election, in which President Bush decided to proceed with a replacement plan for U.S. attorneys?
TAYLOR: I am not aware of a presidential decision document.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Taylor also refused to answer some questions, frequently referring to a letter from the White House counsel, Fred Fielding. That letter directs her not to answer any questions about White House discussions on the issue.
The controversy will continue.
Let's go up to New York and Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File".
It was a lively hearing, even though she refused to answer a whole bunch of questions.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed.
Here's hoping, Wolf, the Department of Homeland Security is working on something a little more official than its gut feelings. Here's why.
In an interview with the "Chicago Tribune's" editorial board, Secretary Michael Chertoff said this: "I believe we are entering a period this summer of increased risk. Summertime seems to be appealing to them," meaning al Qaeda. He added, "We do worry that they are rebuilding their activities."
But Chertoff said there are not enough indications of an imminent plot to raise the threat levels. Instead, his remarks were based on a gut feeling formed by earlier patterns of terror attacks, recent al Qaeda statements, and intelligence that he wouldn't disclose.
The White House said today there's no specific credible terror threat against the U.S. and denied a report about an emergency meeting to discuss a potential al Qaeda threat. Meanwhile, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Representative Bennie Thompson, has written a letter to Michael Chertoff asking him to explain his gut feeling.
Thompson wants to know what color code is associated with the secretary's gut feeling and which cities ought to be beefing up their security?
Here's the question. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has a gut feeling that the U.S. is at a higher risk for a terror attack. How much should that matter?
E-mail email@example.com, or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile.
Don't these people think about the implications of what they're saying before they open their mouths?
BLITZER: "Gut feeling" could make a lot of people nervous. We're going to have a full report on this later in THE SITUATION ROOM. Our Kelli Arena has been speaking to Michael Chertoff about that gut feeling. I'm anxious to hear what he has to say on this day afterwards.
Thanks, Jack, very much.
Coming up, might it have solutions to keep problems in Iraq? It's the report from the Iraq Study Group that the president initially didn't like. Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico, though, he's a Republican. He thinks there's a lot of good stuff in there. He's going to be joining us to explain.
Also, "Hustler" magazine claiming credit for exposing David Vitter's connection to a woman accused of running a prostitution ring. So where is the Republican senator now? What is he saying?
And a year-long project finished. We're going to take you behind the scenes over at the new White House press briefing room.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: As lawmakers debate the best way forward in Iraq, one Republican senator is looking to a report regarding Iraq.
Just a little while ago I with spoke with Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico. I asked if he will now back legislation to implement the Iraq Study Group recommendations, even though the Bush White House rejected most of them.
SEN. PETE DOMENICI (R), NEW MEXICO: I would very much so, and now that I know more about them, I acknowledge that. You know, they were out some time ago. But we just look at them, or look at a few pages, get some advice. But now because somebody has told me that they really have a chance of working, that it says if they were drawn for the problem we've got, I have gotten serious, and Lamar Alexander is joined by -- is joining a Democrat, Senator Salazar from Colorado, and we now have 13 senators, seven Democrats and six Republicans.
BLITZER: One of the most contentious parts of that Iraq Study Group recommendation was that by next March or so, the U.S. should really start thinking about pulling out of Iraq.
BLITZER: And the president has rejected that, as you know.
Why do you think it should go forward?
DOMENICI: Well, you know, that's a good point that you raise. That -- that report never recommends a specific date.
BLITZER: It does say by March, but it says within the context of security.
DOMENICI: No -- yes. But it -- in a sense, it is saying, that looks like a good time, but it is not firmly fixed. It is a good suggested time.
I wouldn't join it if we had a fixed time, because it's too early to fix a time. And the perfection of this bill is that it's going to allow both Democrats and Republicans to join. And when it passes -- and I don't know when it would be offered, I'm not predicting it will be offered now because, you know, you might want to wait until the next time we get a chance to vote, or the Democratic leader might not want to vote on it now, but it will get voted on.
BLITZER: All right.
DOMENICI: When we choose the time, it will have a chance of getting the requisite votes to become law.
BLITZER: Here's what the commanding general of the U.S. forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, said today. He said, "We do have the sense that the surge is working. There is progress on the ground."
How concerned are you that all the political infighting here in Washington, especially on the Senate floor this week and next week, could undermine what General Petraeus is trying to achieve?
DOMENICI: I don't think it will undermine it at all. Petraeus knows all of us. He knows what we're doing. He and his people, if they ask, they get -- they get answers from us as to what we're doing.
There's been plenty of other things that have interfered with the general, this general and other generals' ability to fight that war. A lot of newsmen have interfered in ways that have not been helpful. And I don't think that what we're planning and what we're working on will in any way impede him.
Look, the ideal would be to have something from Petraeus and then offer this resolution right after it. That's a winner.
BLITZER: Here's what you said the other day. Let me read it to you and make sure it's an accurate quote.
"There's nothing to wait for. Almost everybody that has any knowledge of the reports would indicate that they're not going to show any degree of a big change that we needed."
DOMENICI: That's correct.
BLITZER: "And so we're just wasting time."
What do you mean we're just wasting time?
DOMENICI: Well, this was put to me in light of, "Why are you making this announcement today?" when I made it. "Why can't you wait a while to make it?"
And I said, there's no -- nothing to be gained by -- from me, Senator Pete Domenici, announcing my frustration and my willingness to change directions in this war. I'm not going to vote for any of the Democratic proposals that say we're getting out tomorrow or we're getting out next week. I'm waiting, but I am ready. And essentially that's what I said to person asking that question.
BLITZER: Senator McCain on the floor yesterday said this...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: And I maintain that we, as elected leaders, with a duty to our people and the security of their nation, cannot let fatigue dictate our pollicies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is he referring to you?
DOMENICI: No. I don't know why he would be.
BLITZER: Are you tired of this war?
DOMENICI: Look, fatigue may very well mean that you're tired, but I have never said I'm tired of this war. When I said I'm tired of it, I'm tired of the fact that we don't seem to have any solutions. That instead of solutions, we seem to be getting worse and worse, and the fraction -- fractionalization in the country is getting worse and worse, not better.
So he might have been referring to me, but I doubt it. At lunch we were together and he mentioned me in passing, saying there are some of us like Pete Domenici who are looking for new approaches. And he didn't say it derogatorily like he has years ago when he spoke of me in front of the senators. He spoke of it in a very sensible way.
BLITZER: Senator Domenici, thanks very much for coming in.
DOMENICI: You're welcome. Thank you very much.
BLITZER: And still ahead, new answers in a mysterious and bizarre bank robbery. We have those details on that pizza deliveryman who had a bomb locked around his neck and claimed he was forced to commit robbery.
And the odd couple. Why are two people who are so politically at odds actually teaming up? We're going to tell you what's happening with Newt Gingrich and Hillary Clinton.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Still to come, he used to frequently attack her husband. She previously used him as some sort of political boogie man. So what's got Newt Gingrich and Hillary Clinton teaming up again?
You're going to want to see this.
And at least one mission complete for the White House. The spiders, other unwelcome creatures, hopefully gone after a room gets a new lease on life.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Happening now, the secretary of Homeland Security saying he has a gut feeling about a terrorist act maybe this summer. What is he saying exactly? What is he doing about it?
Our Kelli Arena sat down with him. Her report coming up.
Also coming up, the Bush administration preparing to release a report on the situation in Iraq. Will any of the major benchmarks set by Congress actually be met?
Our Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, standing by to take an in-depth look.
And a former surgeon general of the United States saying the Bush administration is playing politics with our health. You're going to want to hear specifically what he has to say. His charges very, very serious.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Newt Gingrich is sharing the spotlight with some possible presidential rivals.
Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's watching this story for us.
Mary, a lot of interest, because one of those presidential rivals is the junior senator from New York State.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And you know, they're the odd couple of the political world, and today they got back together.
SNOW (voice over): Newt Gingrich and Hillary Clinton, together again. This time to promote Alzheimer's research. But if Gingrich enters the race for the White House, there's a chance he could face off against Clinton in next year's election. They've appeared together before in support of health care reform.
Then last night in Georgia, Gingrich shared the stage at a concert with a patriotic theme with a possible primary rival, Fred Thompson.
FRED THOMPSON, FMR. U.S. SENATOR: Thank you.
SNOW: The former senator from Tennessee could soon formally jump into the race for the White House. But Gingrich says it's still way too early for him to make a similar decision.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER: We don't need a year-and- a-half-long campaign. It is insane to think that we need a year and a half of this kind of politics.
SNOW: The former Republican House speaker says he won't decide on running until autumn.
GINGRICH: We're going to have an American Solutions workshop on September 27th and September 29th. It's going to be nationwide, on the Internet, available to everybody. After that, we'll make a decision. But until then, I don't pay attention to what's going on.
SNOW: Gingrich was at 8 percent in our most recent poll of Republicans. Pretty much where he's been in national surveys the past three months.
Thompson's rising in the polls. And if he officially jumps into the race, political analyst Stu Rothenberg says he could hurt Gingrich.
STU ROTHENBERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think if Thompson enters the race, he would appeal to Republicans who might otherwise consider Newt Gingrich.
SNOW: But Gingrich says he's not worried.
GINGRICH: Fred Thompson is a good friend, is having a good run. Romney is having a good run. Giuliani is having a good run. We'll see how people look in October.
SNOW: Now, the big question, is Gingrich really serious about running for the White House, or is he using the spotlight to further his policy gains? That remains the million-dollar question -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Fascinating to see Newt Gingrich and Hillary Clinton on the same podium together. It's not the first time, as you point out, and it probably won't be the last, as well.
Mary, thank you very much.
BLITZER: When it comes to most pursuits, experience is helpful, but, when it comes to running for president, not clear that that's necessarily the case.
Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's been checking into the veterans in this race.
Does it help a candidate if he's run or she's run for president before?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it doesn't seem to be helping either John McCain or John Edwards this year.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Sequels can be big at the box office. Look at "Harry Potter," but, in presidential races, not so much.
This year, two candidates are running for the second time.
AMY WALTER, "THE HOTLINE": In the beginning of this campaign, it was John Edwards, right? He was leading in Iowa. It was John McCain what was leading in the polling.
SCHNEIDER: Both candidates highlight their experience.
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You learn from going through a national election, the intensity of the spotlight is extraordinary.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not need any on-the-job training. I do not need any preparation.
SCHNEIDER: But both candidates are lagging in fund-raising and in the polls; 2008 looks like a change election, when the voters are looking for someone new and different, someone like this.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The important thing is not experience, per se. Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney had the best resumes in Washington, and initiated a fiasco in Iraq.
SCHNEIDER: Or maybe this.
FRED THOMPSON, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: And I think that there is a disconnect right now between the people of this country and Washington, like I have never seen before.
SCHNEIDER: Democrats are facing a tough choice.
STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Obama is a fresh face, but is he experienced? Senator Clinton seems to be experienced and thoughtful and measured, but is she a fresh enough face?
SCHNEIDER: And Edwards? Not quite as fresh and new as Obama, and way behind the former first lady on experience. And McCain? Rudy Giuliani is a strong competitor on experience. And, as an outsider, Fred Thompson has a whole career outside of politics. What do voters want?
WALTER: Nowadays, what people are looking for is actually an experienced person, but one who's also an outsider. And that is a very difficult combination to come up with.
SCHNEIDER: But maybe not impossible. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Al Gore, Bob Dole, and the first George Bush all ran two or three times before they got their party's nomination -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Bill, thanks very much -- Bill Schneider reporting.
Still to come: shocking allegations this week about a senator who has championed himself as an advocate of family values. Now there are predictions, revelations about other lawmakers are about to come forward. We are going to have details what's going on.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: It's certainly the kind of situation that would drive a lot of people into hiding, "Hustler" magazine claiming credit for exposing you and being tied to a woman accused of running a prostitution ring.
That's what Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana is going through right now.
Let's turn to CNN's Brianna Keilar. She's following this story for us.
Brianna, any sign of the senator today?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, all eyes were watching Capitol Hill today, waiting to see if Senator Vitter would show up for an important Iraq war vote. Well, he didn't. In fact, the man who won his seat in the U.S. Senate by campaigning on family values is nowhere to be found.
KEILAR (voice-over): Just last year, Senator David Vitter, a father of four, told his local newspaper, "The New Orleans Times Picayune," that infidelity, divorce and deadbeat dads are a threat to traditional families.
He's made a name for himself as a staunch conservative, supporting the teaching of abstinence in sex education, fighting the funding of overseas AIDS programs that don't oppose prostitution, and backing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
His voting record paints one picture, but the phone records of alleged D.C. madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey tell a different story. On February 27, 2001, while Vitter was a member of the House of Representatives, a call was placed from his cell phone to Palfrey's business, an escort service that government prosecutors allege was actually a prostitution ring.
CNN confirmed the number was Vitter's using a public records database. The number is now out of service. Vitter says, several years ago, he asked God and his wife for forgiveness.
Perhaps the most ironic twist of this whole scandal may be the circumstances that brought Vitter to Washington in the first place. In a special election, he won the seat of Robert Livingston, the House speaker-elect who resigned after conceding he had several extramarital affairs. Like Vitter, Livingston's admission also followed an investigation by publisher and pornographer Larry Flynt.
But will Vitter step down? Back in 1998, as Republicans led the charge to impeach President Bill Clinton after he lied about his involvement with Monica Lewinsky, Vitter wrote an op-ed in "The Times Picayune," arguing that, if Congress didn't take action against Clinton, his leadership would -- quote -- "only further drain any sense of values left to our political culture."
KEILAR: And we will have to wait and see if Vitter feels the same way about his own actions -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brianna, thanks very much.
People online, meanwhile, are scouring through more than a decade's worth of phone records to see who else may have called Deborah Jeane Palfrey's escort service.
Let's bring in Abbi Tatton.
How are people using these records, based on what we know, Abbi?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, Palfrey has said that deciphering all this material that's now online will take a small army.
Well, Web users are already deploying the troops. Already, there's a Web site that's scanning in all the numbers. What that means is, you can throw in a phone number and see if it shows up in Palfrey's phone logs, and how many times, from D.C. area numbers that are showing up just a couple of times to those that already are appearing way more frequently -- this site set up by three Boston area friends who wish to remain anonymous. They are saying they are doing this as an interesting journalistic exercise.
And then, though, there are people who are trying to track down each and every number. This group, a liberal activist Web site that calls themselves Citizens for Legitimate Government, has been doing just that -- three people all hard at work, digging through the records and posting the results of their Web searches and their phone calls online.
I spoke to one member of that group who says they're pretty busy operating on about three hours of sleep right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What a situation. Thanks for that, Abbi, very much.
Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM: topic one, the debate over funding the war in Iraq raging on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This would be the greatest politicization of military action in the history of the country. This would be a constitutional mistake for the ages.
SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D), MARYLAND: I say to our people, if they think the temperature is hot in Baghdad, the temperature is rising here on the United States Senate floor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But can the Democrats get the votes to end the war?
Topic two: Senator David Vitter. You just heard Brianna examine some of the record, but how will the budding scandal play with his voters back in Louisiana? Our own "Ragin' Cajun" -- that would be James Carville -- he's standing by. Also, Dick Armey, he's here as well.
They're coming up in our "Strategy Session" -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: In the Senate today, an attempt to limit the amount of time U.S. military personnel can serve in combat was shot down.
What does the vote say, though, about the direction of the debate that's raging here in Washington right now over the president's war strategy?
Joining us now for our "Strategy Session," Democratic Strategist James Carville, former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey.
So, what does it say, the fact that Jim Webb, for example...
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
BLITZER: ... he could not get enough votes to get this legislation through today, which would have required allowing U.S. troops to spend as much time at home as they would in Iraq or Afghanistan?
CARVILLE: Well, I think the Democratic strategy is, they're going to keep pushing votes and pushing votes, and, every day, that the Republicans are weakening and weakening and weakening. And I think that this is going to continue. So, there will be another amendment, and there will be another vote later on this week.
And then you have got Senator Olympia Snowe and then Senator Domenici. So, there's -- I think that they're pushing the discontent in the Republican Senate Caucus...
BLITZER: Clearly, the Democratic strategy is try to wean away Republican after Republican in the Senate, at least, one at a time.
DICK ARMEY, FORMER REPUBLICAN HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Yes. And they will probably end up achieving their objectives...
BLITZER: By getting 60 votes?
ARMEY: Probably so.
And I have watched the Republicans for a long time. Of course, all politicians fascinate me, but Republicans more than most. When they leave the field of value -- battle, they generally do so while disavowing their generals.
So, what you will see...
BLITZER: Explain -- explain -- explain what that means.
ARMEY: Well, when it gets too hot for some -- and it often does for politicians, because politicians, you must understand, are inconvenienced minimizers. So, anything can get too hot very quickly for them.
But -- so, when the pressure gets on, or what they perceive to be pressure, which an ordinary working man would hardly notice, they run. And they run and say, boy, he got me into this trouble. I wouldn't have been there.
BLITZER: Especially those Republicans who are up for reelection next year...
ARMEY: Yes. Right.
BLITZER: ... in states like New Hampshire or Minnesota or Washington state.
BLITZER: Or -- these states, you know, a lot of the people there are really opposed to this war.
CARVILLE: A lot of people all over the country are really opposed to the war.
BLITZER: But especially in some of these states.
CARVILLE: In some of these states, yes.
And you're seeing it in Senator Sununu -- Senator Sununu,Senator Coleman, Senator Gordon Smith. There are obviously people that are out there. And even Senator McConnell is getting very, very nervous in a state like Kentucky. I mean, believe me, they -- they're going to -- there's going to be a political solution to this thing before the 1st of the year.
ARMEY: Let me just say -- and I think Jim is right about that.
But there is a danger in that, too, because the fact of the matter is there is, in fact, a substantive world stability issue that must be somehow addressed. It can't be just a matter of playing out the domestic American politics with the issue.
Somehow or another, we have got to find a way to get America out of there and leave some semblance of stability behind us. And my view is, that means addressing the continuous incursions of Iran into Iraq with men and materials of destruction, most of which is currently aimed directly at American people on the ground.
So, if -- if you're in Congress today and you're saying, my first priority is protecting our people on the ground, then you better find a way to have an intercession against this Iranian threat of death to our guys on the ground.
BLITZER: All right. Do you want to respond quickly to that?
CARVILLE: I mean, Iran is a threat over there, but public support is gone for this war. And, when public support is gone, people up for reelection are going to go with the public support -- the public support.
CARVILLE: That's the raw politics, and that is what happening.
BLITZER: And -- and another serious problem the president has, credibility, because the credibility on the WMD was shot early on. A lot of people are skeptical about the new fears from Iran. But that's just...
BLITZER: ... a fact of life that the administration has to live with.
BLITZER: Let's talk about your fellow Louisianian David Vitter. How much of a problem does he have in Louisiana right now?
CARVILLE: First, Louisiana is profoundly depressed. We have had this thing with Jefferson.
BLITZER: Economically, you're...
CARVILLE: Well, no, just about what's happened in our state. We had Katrina. And Jefferson had the $90,000 in the (INAUDIBLE) and Vitter with the prostitute. Usually, it's the Democrat with the prostitute and the Republican with the money.
In Louisiana, we kind of got it backwards. But I think, in Louisiana, peoples's attitude is, this is exactly what the state doesn't need. We feel like our image has been sort of tarnished. This is another blow to the state. And I think people in the state are -- are -- are pretty peeved at -- at politicians in general right now.
BLITZER: What do you think?
ARMEY: Well, you know, Armey's axiom is, you can't stand on principle with feet of clay.
And David Vitter has made it a matter of his principle in seeking the office, and while in office: I'm a righteous man, for the family.
I think this is a difficult time for him. I would be hard- pressed to expect him to survive politically. David Vitter cannot use a "So what?" defense, as Bill Clinton could, because, in fact, he pretended to be something quite different than Bill Clinton did.
And Armey's axiom is, the greater the pretension, the greater the hypocrisy. The next step is, the greater the hypocrisy, the greater the political...
BLITZER: But what does he say? That he asked his wife for forgiveness. They have gone to marriage counseling.
BLITZER: He's now moved beyond that. He admits he -- he sinned.
CARVILLE: Look, to me, I forgive -- I mean, I completely forgive him, but he's -- it's the people of Louisiana he's got to go to. And people in Louisiana are going to say, that's great. I'm just saying, but -- but we don't need to be embarrassed anymore. We don't need to have $90,000 in the freezer. We don't need somebody like getting a prostitute to wear -- getting him to wear a diaper or whatever the story is.
And they feel like that their state -- or our state, I should say, my state -- that we have been tarnished by a lot of this. And people want to move on from that. But he did -- but he -- it's not -- the voters. He's got to ask the forgiveness of the voters at some point. It's not just his wife, or God (INAUDIBLE) forgives everybody.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Fred Thompson, Candy Crowley, our senior political correspondent, now hearing he's going to delay at least until August any formal announcement. It was supposed to be early July, then mid-July.
What do you think, a smart strategy?
ARMEY: I think it's smart. The fact is, the longer he stays out, the more intriguing he seems to an electorate that daily becomes increasingly more disillusioned by the candidates that are on the field.
CARVILLE: You have got McCain imploding. You have Giuliani that has got a guy who worked for his company that had -- or was a priest that had some kind of problem with some of these guys. You have got the dope pusher in South Carolina. You have got the prostitute -- you have got Vitter was a Giuliani guy. You have got pedophiles, pushers, and prostitutes over there.
You have got everybody else kind of imploding. I think Thompson is doing a very smart thing. I think they're just letting everybody, the whole field, deteriorate underneath him. That's smart. If I was him, I would stay out until after Labor Day.
BLITZER: All right. Maybe he's listening right now.
Guys, thanks very much, James Carville, Dick Armey. Always good to have both of you in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Still to come: Jack Cafferty with your e-mail.
Also, it's state of the art and has larger workspaces as well. The president himself unveiled the new White House briefing room today. We are going to take you behind the scenes.
And one former U.S. surgeon general speaking out, saying he was muzzled -- muzzled -- by the Bush White House.
And more on "Hustler" magazine claiming credit for exposing a Republican senator's ties to the so-called D.C. madam -- the magazine's publisher says more names about to come forward.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour: Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says he has a gut feeling the U.S. is at a higher risk for a terror attack this summer. We asked, how much that should matter?
Some of you are not taking Mr. Chertoff seriously.
Marc in North Wales, Pennsylvania: "We needn't worry about Chertoff's gut feeling. This administration always gets gut feelings when the poll numbers take a dive. The fear of another impending attack is usually worth two to three points in the polls, but it doesn't last very long."
Fran in Washington: "Jack, be afraid. Be very afraid. Franklin Roosevelt encouraged Americans to fear nothing but fear itself. The Bush administration encourages Americans to fear chatter and gut feelings. Their plan seems to be: Keep Americans afraid, and we can get away with anything."
Larry writes: "What? None of you has ever had a gut feeling? In my line of work, law enforcement, gut feelings are a constant source of input into my decisions on all facets of the job. Most gut feelings are formed from previous experience and knowledge learned from years of work and observation. Chertoff is closer to the source. He's lived and breathed the difficult air of terrorism intel. And, if he hasn't developed gut feelings by now, he needs to retire."
Don in Pennsylvania: "Tell the director of homeland security, take some Tums and shut up."
CAFFERTY: "Aren't there enough Bush hacks trying to divert attention from the boss' miserable job performance? And I thought Brownie was useless."
Roy in Texas: "Heck, if he had any guts, he would have quit months ago and admitted his incompetence. I have notice that, whenever Bush's poll numbers drop, the alert level rises. Some might call this manipulation."
And Jim in Maryland writes: "Chertoff's gut feeling about a terrorist attack being close sounds pretty much how Bush and his people operate. Maybe a sore corn is what got us into Iraq. That makes more sense than any of the reasons I have heard. Guess where this administration gives me a pain?" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, hold on for one moment.
I want to follow up on something. I want to show our viewers some tape from last night. The filmmaker Michael Moore went head-to- head with CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. It was a follow-up to Moore's appearance here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Monday.
Moore was upset with Dr. Gupta's report that some -- that took issue with some facts portrayed in Moore's film "Sicko."
They continued to disagree last night. But Moore did have second some thoughts about it, one part of my interview with him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")
MICHAEL MOORE, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: You know, Larry, you asked me if there's anything I regret about yesterday with Wolf. And I -- I do feel bad about it asking him to apologize on behalf of all the media to the American people about the war.
I mean, I have been wondering for, you know, three or four years when somebody from the media was just going to say, hey, we're sorry we didn't ask those questions. And I didn't mean to put that on Wolf, to be the lone representative of all that I think is wrong with our mainstream media right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I thought, Jack, that was very decent of him to do that, a nice gentleman -- gentlemanly thing to say.
CAFFERTY: Well, and -- and he owed you that one. And my gut feeling is, we have -- we have gone above and beyond promoting Michael Moore's movie now. Time to move on.
BLITZER: I get a lot of e-mail along those lines as well...
BLITZER: ... including from my own mother.
BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, very much.
Better, more comfortable, wider, a little bit, at least, spaces are now in. Spiders and other creatures, by the way, we all hope are out. Today, President Bush came out for a major unveiling over at the White House.
Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is standing by.
I take it, Suzanne, you and your colleagues must be happier today.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We are, Wolf. As a matter of fact, we have been working across the street for about a year or so. And it was really the first time in more than 100 years that the White House press corps was not at this place in this building. Well, today, we returned.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): (AUDIO GAP) corps covering the president is back in the White House.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We missed you.
MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, it's been about 11 -- it had been about 11 months or so, a major renovation project that had been under way.
Got to tell you -- let's -- let's take a listen here at the piece.
BUSH: Conditions were, you know, a fellow like me would feel comfortable coming in here and answer a few questions without losing 20 pounds.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): It's a big improvement, a sleek new podium, larger workspaces, seats with Internet, phone, and power connections, robotic cameras, and 570 miles of cable in what was once the presidential swimming pool below.
It may not look like much, but this is what it was like before: broken, tattered shares, chipping paint, asbestos, cluttered work quarters no bigger than closets, and an infestation of other living things.
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And remember the spiders dangling...
MALVEAUX (on camera): That used to come down.
QUIJANO: ... from the ceiling as you would be typing, and little friends coming down to visit once in a while?
MALVEAUX: And then the mice that used to, like, kind of scamper a bit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a rat hole, no doubt about it.
MALVEAUX: So, will this sleeker set make it any easier for the White House to spin?
(on camera): So, Helen, do you think that they will tell us the truth any more, now that they have got a new stage?
HELEN THOMAS, HEARST NEWSPAPERS COLUMNIST: No.
THOMAS: But I'm glad they kept their promise that it would be -- we would come back to the White House.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Since the renovation, the White House has played musical chairs. CNN has been moved to the front row, where the most prominent networks are assigned.
(on camera): It's my Fox colleague, second row.
So, Bret, how are nosebleed seats here?
BRET BAIER, FOX CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Man, you have to do this to me?
MALVEAUX: Well, is this a fair and balanced view here from the second row?
BAIER: Very fair and balanced, right behind Helen Thomas. We think we're central focus, left and right.
BAIER: It's all good.
THOMAS: I like being front row center. I can stare them down and so forth and ask the questions. And I can be heard. And I hope the answers will be a little better than we have had.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): More likely than not, the answers won't come at all. President Bush playfully reenacted a familiar routine.
BUSH: Here we go. Ready? I'm going to cut the ribbon.
BUSH: Then, would you -- then you yell.
BUSH: I cogitate...
BUSH: ... and then smile and wave.
MALVEAUX: Perhaps, with the new digs, we will see more of Mr. Bush. We will certainly keep asking. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You all come back.
MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, there were some who were worried that they wouldn't let us back in the White House. But we are back.
The total price tag for this project is unknown, but it started off at $20 million -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Well worth the money, I must say, having spent eight years, almost eight years, seven-and-a-half years, of my life there.
Thanks very much, Suzanne.
The briefing room is laden with history. It was built over a pool built for President Franklin Roosevelt. President Nixon arranged for the construction of the briefing room above the pool to accommodate a growing demand for TV news.
And, as I said, I spent a lot of time there. I didn't only see some spiders. I saw some actual rats -- and I'm not talking about politicians -- crawling through that space there -- good news for the press corps at the White House.
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