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Chief Justice John Roberts Rushed to Hospital After Fall; Arlen Specter Probes Anti-Terror Programs; John Edwards: Alberto Gonzales Must Go

Aired July 30, 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, they can stand together, but they are on the same page when it comes to Iraq? President Bush and the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, they discuss all they have in common, but do they have a common view about staying in Iraq?
We're watching the story.

Also, a Democrat in one corner, a Republican in another, and me as the referee. This hour, two presidential candidates debate. Bill Richardson, Mike Huckabee, they're standing by live to spar over Iraq, health care and more.

And Hillary Rodham Clinton. Before she became the senator from New York State, the Democratic senator was once a determined, get this, Republican back in college, as seen in some of her college letters. They show a person very different than the one many of us know right now.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We'll get to all of that, but first, the chief justice, John Roberts, has been rushed to a hospital. The Supreme Court spokesperson saying it's a precaution after Roberts fell at his home in Maine just a short while ago.

Let's go to Jeanne Meserve. She's watching this story for us.

What do we know about what happened, Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, a Supreme Court spokeswoman said the chief justice took a fall at his summer home. It's on Hupper Island off Port Clyde in midcoast Maine. He was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.

The court spokesman describes this as precautionary, says that he was conscious. But they are not providing any other information about his condition or the circumstances of the fall.

I should tell you that friends of the chief justice told CNN two years ago, they told CNN justice Supreme Court producer, Bill Mears (ph), that in 1993, John Roberts had suffered what was described as an unexplained seizure at the time he was nominated to the appeals court. The symptoms cleared up. Friends attributed this to the stress of his nomination, but his health wasn't even brought up during his confirmation hearings to the U.S. Supreme Court. Whether this fall today has anything to do with that 1993 event or something else, we just don't know yet, Wolf. We'll bring you the latest when we have it.

BLITZER: And normally -- correct me if I'm wrong, Jeanne -- we don't get the kind of health reports from the chief justice of the Supreme Court that we do get from the president of the United States whenever he goes to the Bethesda Naval Hospital or whatever for a checkup. We get all the details, the blood pressure, et cetera, but that's not necessarily the case in terms of releasing public information about a chief justice, is it?

MESERVE: That's correct. And we certainly have not gotten any of that information yet. We're waiting and hoping -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

We wish him a speedy recovery, the chief justice, John Roberts. And we'll have more on the story as it becomes available.

President Bush and the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, standing shoulder to shoulder, stressing there is little daylight between them and tackling world problems. But it's the war in Iraq and how long Britain will remain that's a big question.

Joining us now, our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.

Suzanne, both men spoke about that. They were both pressed by reporters to discuss it as well.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And Wolf, both of these men did not actually give any kind of definitive answer in terms of when those British troops are going to withdraw. Brown was very careful about that, saying it would depend on the condition on the ground, the military security conditions.

Now, as you know, both of these men have had experience early on in their terms in dealing with terrorism. President Bush, September 11th attacks. Brown, just less than a month ago, the first day that he was in office with those terrorists bomb plots. There's been a lot of speculation about whether or not this relationship will be cooler than the predecessor, with Blair, and it is obvious today that both these leaders need each other.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice over): President Bush explained he's found the partner he's looking for, in Britain's new prime minister, Gordon Brown.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's a glass- half-full man, not a glass-half-empty guy, you know.

MALVEAUX: The glass-half-empty guys would be those who have been critical of the president's Iraq policy. Both leaders took pains, however, to present a united front in the war on terror.

BUSH: I appreciate very much the British commitment in Afghanistan and Iraq.

GORDON BROWN, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It's a partnership founded and driven forward by our shared values.

MALVEAUX: The relationship is bound by their fight against extremists. But Brown described the battle much like Mr. Bush's presidential opponent, John Kerry, in 2004. As a law enforcement issue.

BROWN: Terrorism is not a cause. It is a crime. And it is a crime against humanity.

MALVEAUX: Confronted with Brown's statement, both leaders insisted there was no daylight between them.

BUSH: People who kill innocent men, women and children to achieve political objectives are evil.

BROWN: We are at one in fighting the battle against terrorism.

MALVEAUX: But Mr. Brown also refused to echo Mr. Bush's mantra that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror.

BROWN: Afghanistan is the front line against terrorism.

MALVEAUX: Later he tried to clarify his nuanced position.

BROWN: And I think I described Afghanistan as the first line in the battle against the Taliban. There is no doubt, therefore, that al Qaeda is operating in Iraq.

MALVEAUX: Their two-day Camp David retreat was aimed at jump- starting a friendship.

BUSH: He's a Scotsman, you know, kind of -- not the dour Scotsman that you described him, or the awkward Scotsman. He's actually the humorous Scotsman.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And Wolf, Brown also described -- he said he was very grateful, that it was a very good meeting. And, of course, he's quite sensitive to not being portrayed as too close to President Bush.

As you know, his predecessor, Tony Blair, was described as President Bush's poodle. And that is something that they are trying to avoid. So there's a little bit of distance between them as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The fact that they met at Camp David, that in and of itself, given the history of this president and leaders he brings to Camp David, a retreat up in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland, didn't that in and of itself say something? MALVEAUX: Oh, absolutely, Wolf. I mean, it's really a special occasion. It is really something that he saves for heads of state and leaders that he feels he has a very important and special relationship.

Both of those leaders talking about that relationship. With a little joke as well, they asked, well, what's the difference between Blair and Brown's visit? And he said, "I suppose it's the toothpaste," because you have that joke that both Blair and Bush, their first meeting there, they said they shared the same brand of toothpaste, Colgate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne. Thank you.

While the issues on their plates concern the U.S. and Britain, the actual lunch was classic American. Today President Bush served the prime minister cheeseburgers and fries. Last night, by the way, they dined privately on a meal of roast tenderloin, mashed potatoes and green beans.

Mmm, sounds delicious.

He wants answers. And in another story we're following, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee meets with Justice Department officials. It concerns the controversy still continuing, de-escalating over the administration's domestic surveillance program.

Senator Arlen Specter wants to know if Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' comments about who -- about it are really wholly accurate.

Our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, has been following this story up on Capitol Hill. She's still following it for us.

Arlen Specter's involvement now, at this state, tell our viewers what all of this is suggesting.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is really important, Wolf, because Arlen Specter, as you said, is getting a top- secret briefing this afternoon about the controversial warrantless wiretapping, or surveillance program. And it's important because Senator Arlen Specter has made it clear that he asked for this briefing to determine whether or not the attorney general committed perjury in lying to Congress about this program. That's what Democrats, of course, have charged.

Now, Senator Specter has been one of the most vocal critics of the attorney general on the Republican side here. Made clear he does not want him to stay in his job. But he has also, Wolf, been very careful to say that he is not ready to say that the attorney general has committed a crime. In fact, he's actually chastised Democrats for politicizing this issue.

But here's something important to keep in mind about this, Wolf, and that is, this is not only very complicated, this whole warrantless wiretapping program, I should say, it is also highly classified. In fact, very few lawmakers have actually been briefed about it in order to help determine whether or not the attorney general is tell the truth. That is why Arlen Specter, for the first time, is getting briefed about it, he said, to figure out whether or not the attorney general is lying, as Democrats have accused him of doing.

BLITZER: And briefly, Dana, there's a deadline for the attorney general to respond.

BASH: That's right. The deadline, according to the Democratic judiciary chairman, Patrick Leahy, is this coming Friday.

What Patrick Leahy did is he sent the attorney general all of the transcripts from his testimony before his Judiciary Committee and said, OK, I'm not calling for an investigation into perjury yet, but that is because you, the attorney general, must come back to me and clarify any misstatements you may or may have made to me. And then Senator Leahy says then he will determine whether or not it's time to go investigate whether the attorney general actually committed perjury before his committee.

BLITZER: All right, Dana. Thank you very much.

The Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards is coming out swinging today, demanding that Alberto Gonzales resign now.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what is the Edwards campaign saying?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, not mincing any words. An e-mail blast (ph) sent out by Joe Trippi, senior adviser to the campaign, to supporters earlier today literally spelling out what Edwards thinks that Gonzales should do, and using this issue to try and mobilize supporters, saying that they will deliver any petitions gathered through this exercise online to Gonzales' door, along with a giant copy of the Constitution.

This isn't the first online push on this issue that we've seen from a Democratic presidential hopeful. In March of this year, when the issue at hand then was the Department of Justice's handling of the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys, Hillary Clinton, her Web site and in e-mails garnering support of an online petition that got 50,000 signatures in just the first week. At that time, also sent to Barack Obama, also renewing his call that Gonzales be replaced -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi. Thank you.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, there is ethics reform and then there is ethics reform. And when you're dealing with Congress, that's an important distinction.

Congress is scheduled to adjourn at the end of this week. That's probably a good thing. Like the Iraqi parliament, they plan to take the next month off. And like the Iraqi parliament, they have managed to accomplish just about as much.

So, to try and create the impression for all of us underlings that they're actually doing something besides appearing to be mostly worthless, they're scrambling around this week trying to pass a bunch of stuff before they adjourn. And one of the things they're crowing loudest about is ethics reform, their version.

They promise new rules governing transparency of earmarks, gift- giving by lobbyists, restriction on corporate flights, blah, blah, blah, blah. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid trumpeted this as "the most sweeping ethics and lobbying reform in a generation."

Nonsense. The reason I suggest it's nonsense is this: last year the full Senate rejected a proposal to establish an independent ethics office. They wanted no part of some outside agency looking over their shoulder.

So, you have ethics reform one, which would have amounted to real reform, and ethics reform two, which is just more hypocrisy. And they do this stuff with a perfectly straight face. They think we don't remember a year ago, when they voted down independent ethics reform.

So, the question's this: What would you include in a congressional ethics reform bill?

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

BLITZER: Good question, Jack. Thank you.

Jack will be back with your e-mail shortly.

Coming up, the U.S. announces a new arms deal with Saudi Arabia and some of its neighbors in the Middle East. We're going to tell you what it involves and why some people are very worried about it.

Also, Hillary Clinton like you probably have never seen her before. Some of her college letters show her as confused about the direction of her life and also show her as a very ambitious Republican.

And two presidential candidates standing by to debate live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Democrat Bill Richardson and Republican Mike Huckabee, they'll spar over Iraq, health care and more. I'll referee.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Many more billions of dollars worth of weapons could be headed to Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors. That's if Congress approves a new U.S. arms sale which the White House says will boost the fight against al Qaeda.

Let's go to our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee.

Zain, is this arms deal going to be the next Dubai ports deal? In other words, is the Bush administration trying to sell something that may not eventually be approved by Congress?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPT. CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there is some outrage and a healthy dose of skepticism by Congress about these proposed deals. Some politicians are saying, look, they are going to introduce legislation to try and block this.

One Democratic congressman, Wolf, said this, "Saudi Arabia should not get an ounce of military support from the U.S. until they unequivocally denounce terrorism and take tangible steps to stop it."

Others say, you know, this deal could completely backfire. I mean, the region is awash in weapons and this is only going to destabilize the situation.

But that having been said, Wolf, this is really not the same thing as Dubai Ports World. There is not the same kind of strong congressional opposition on the one hand. And on the other hand, the U.S. has also been giving military aid to those countries like Egypt, like Israel, like Saudi Arabia for decades. And lastly, the U.S. needs these countries to help in Iraq and help counter Iran -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there a special way the Bush administration's aim is going to try to sell the Saudi arms package?

VERJEE: Well, the administration has had preliminary informal conversations with Congress in the last 10 days. Under Secretary of State Nick Burns is going to go to the region and try and nail down specifics on the proposed deal. And he's going to try to get to it Congress by September -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much.

Tomorrow, the secretary of state and the secretary of defense will be in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, meeting with the Saudis to discuss this and other sensitive issues as well.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Still ahead, they're very vocal on the issues. Now they'll debate them right here. Two presidential candidates standing by, Democrat Bill Richardson, Republican Mike Huckabee. They'll spar over Iraq, other important issues. That's about to unfold in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And it's the woman many people never knew. Hillary Rodham Clinton as an ambitious Republican. We're going to tell you about some revealing letters she wrote before she became a Clinton.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We all know her as the former first lady, the U.S. senator from New York, now a presidential front-runner. But some old letters Hillary Clinton wrote as a college student are now making some new news.

Let's go to Tom Foreman. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

These letters are fascinating. I read them in "The New York Times" over the weekend. But tell our viewers a little bit what's going on.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a crazy college time. You know, Republicans become Democrats, Democrats become Republicans. Independents get passed around like Fritos.

These letters, however, appear to give us a direct look into what Hillary Clinton, then known as Hillary Rodham, was thinking and feeling during her college years.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice over): She was an overachieving young Republican from suburban Chicago, off to school at Wellesley College in Massachusetts in 1965. There, Hillary Rodham exchanged letters with a pen pal, John Peavoy, a Princeton student and a fellow graduate from her high school class.

Excerpts were reported Sunday by "The New York Times".

It was a time of upheaval in the world, and with the future first lady and senator as well. "Since Xmas vacation, I've gone through three and a half metamorphoses, and I'm beginning to feel as though there's a smorgasbord of personalities spread before me," she writes in April 1967.

The letters also show her political transformation. As a freshman, Rodham called Wellesley's young Republicans "ineffective," but wrote, "I figure that I may be able to work things my own way by the time I'm a junior, so I'm going to stick to it."

But as a junior, she began referring to Republicans as "they" rather than "we," adding, "That's no Freudian slip..."

A few months later, Rodham volunteered to work for Democratic senator Eugene McCarthy's anti-Vietnam War presidential campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: The funny part in all of this, back then Rodham thought that John Peavoy, the guy she was writing to, was the more likely one to become famous. Instead, he became an English professor at Scripps College, a small women's school in southern California.

Peavoy and Rodham lost touch after college, and they saw each other only one more time, at the 30th high school reunion in 1995, which was held at the White House. And, of course, we reached out to the Clinton campaign to see if they have any reaction to all of this. No answer so far.

BLITZER: I'm sure they'll be responding soon enough.

Thanks very much, Tom, for that.

Coming up, the dressing-down over Hillary Clinton's attire. A low-cut top on the Senate floor has sparked a lot of talk, but is it all just about sexism?

And rival presidential candidates Bill Richardson and Mike Huckabee, they're here in THE SITUATION ROOM. What they're saying about withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, the skyrocketing costs of health care. A debate involving these two presidential candidates, that's coming up, live, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, the White House readies a 10-year, $20 billion weapons sales package for Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors. It included satellite-guided bombs, air-to-air missile. The secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, who is heading to the Middle East, says the deal will bolster efforts against al Qaeda.

An alarming new report suggests a link between autism and pesticide. California health officials say a new study found women who lived near fields sprayed with a certain type of pesticide when they were pregnant were more likely to give birth to children with autism. But they emphasize that the findings are preliminary.

And electronic voting machines in California may need an overhaul before next year's presidential primary. State officials say testers were able to bypass security systems and forge voter cards.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

They're rivals to succeed President Bush, and when it comes to Iraq, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson don't agree. Richardson supports withdrawing all troops within the next six months. Huckabee says that would be a mistake.

They're now here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, joining us from Santa Fe. The former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee, joining us from Little Rock.

Thanks, Governors, very much for joining us.

Governor Huckabee, Governor Richardson said get all the U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of this year. That's what the American people want.

Why would that be a mistake, do you think?

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, first of all, even if we made the decision today, I don't think there's a plan in place. We couldn't get them out that soon.

BLITZER: Well, assuming they...

HUCKABEE: It would take some time.

BLITZER: ... could -- let's assume they get them all out over the next six months safely. Would that be wise?

HUCKABEE: It would if we have seen stability come to Iraq.

It would be if the Saudis, the Jordanians, the Turks, and others were willing to step in and do a lot more to bring some level of control to that situation. But, if we pull out, and it ends up erupting in nothing but just sheer disaster, then we have got a bigger problem on our hands than just the one we're facing in Iraq.

It spills over, becomes not just an Iraqi problem, but a Middle East problem. I have got a lot of respect for my friend Governor Richardson, but, on this issue, I think we do have a different point of view. And that's one of the reasons this presidential race is going to be a good one.

BLITZER: Have any military officers, top generals, Governor Richardson, told you that it's feasible to withdraw 160,000 U.S. troops within the next six months in the current environment of Iraq? Because a lot of the experts have told us that's really not that very practical.

RICHARDSON: Well, Wolf, a lot of the experts have got us into this mess, and I don't believe that that is a viable statement.

Here's what I'm saying. And, by the way, I want to return the compliment to Governor Huckabee. We're governors, and we kind of stick together as much as we can.

But on this one, Wolf, here's the problem. Our troops have become targets. And we can't start the reconciliation of the three groups in Iraq, an all-Muslim peacekeeping force, a way to rebuild Iraq, without getting our troops out.

And what I believe needs to happen is a six-month withdrawal. If it takes another month, it's important that we make that happen, because, otherwise, our troops have become targets. Sixty-one percent of the Iraqi people in a Gallup poll are saying that it's OK to shoot at an American soldier.

Seventy-two percent of the Sunni and Shia population are also saying that they want our troops out within a year. So, we cannot start the rebuilding. We have lost focus in fighting al Qaeda...

BLITZER: All right.

RICHARDSON: ... international terrorism, and the way to fight them effectively, build international coalitions against them, is to shift our resources to that effort and away from an Iraqi war that has cost us $450 billion. BLITZER: All right.

Governor Huckabee, you want to respond?

HUCKABEE: Well, I don't think we can get out that soon.

But, before we do, we need to make sure that what happens there is some level of stability. And that's not going to happen if we prematurely disappear from Iraq. Look, I would love to be out of there. I want every Arkansan who is in the National Guard and Reserve units to get home to their families and their communities.

But I don't want us to end up having to do over what we didn't do right, and that's why we have got to stay until the job is done. General Petraeus was given until September. It is incredibly to me inappropriate for to us be talking about withdrawing before he's even had a chance to put the surge into place.

BLITZER: All right, Governor Richardson, why not give General Petraeus what he's asking for, at least an opportunity to see if this military strategy can work?

RICHARDSON: Well, Wolf, every month that goes by is over 100 of Americans soldiers die; 25,000 are wounded. This is not working. This surge is not working.

You can see it every day with violence increasing, but also instability in the region. Here's my point. We have a major war against al Qaeda. We have to fight it. But diverting our resources in Iraq, in a war that is not working, takes us away from the real focus of our national security interests, fighting international terrorism, nuclear terrorism, nuclear proliferation, a world that is very dangerous and unstable.

And perpetuating our policy in Iraq is part of the national security problem...

BLITZER: All right.

RICHARDSON: ... that we're in today.

BLITZER: Governor Huckabee, a lot of experts have suggested that, militarily, the U.S. can win a lot of the battles. The overwhelming firepower of the U.S. military is awesome, as all of us know. But, politically, for stability to emerge in Iraq, the Shiites, the Kurds, the Sunnis really have to get their act together, and they see no evidence that that political will exists within Iraq right now.

And it could be a year, could be two years, but, when all is said and done, they're going to continue their sectarian civil war, if that's what you want to call it, no matter how many military battles the U.S. wins.

HUCKABEE: Well, this war's been going on with the Sunnis and the Shia for 1,400 years. We're not going to solve it in 14 months. Nobody's being unrealistic in saying that. I would take issue with the idea that nothing is improving. Many of the reports coming back from the military indicate that there are some improvements. I would also disagree that we got to take the war to al Qaeda, so let's get out of Iraq. That's where al Qaeda is. They are in Iraq. And I think that we cannot disappear from there, let them establish a beachhead, let Iran come in with greater force.

You know, we have got to remember that a lot of people in the Middle East, particularly the Saudis and others, they're not as interested in moderates winning as they're interested in the Sunnis over the Shia.

BLITZER: All right.

HUCKABEE: And those are issues that we can't walk away from.

BLITZER: Governor Richardson, you do acknowledge that al Qaeda exists in Iraq right now, may not have been there under Saddam Hussein's regime, but it clearly is there in some form affiliated with the al Qaeda of Osama bin Laden, at least a surrogate or a supporter of that body.

RICHARDSON: Well, yes, al Qaeda is in Iraq because of our invasion, because of our policy, because we gave them an opportunity.

BLITZER: So, what do you do about the al Qaeda in Iraq now?

RICHARDSON: Well, what you do is, you change your policy, so that the Iraqi people that don't like al Qaeda can start in a conflict with them.

What we are simply doing today, Wolf, is, we are feeding the beast more ammunition to go after our soldiers, to destabilize the region. What I believe the countries in the region want more than anything, the Saudis, Iran, Syria, is stability. They don't want millions of refugees exploding from Iraq. They don't want a sectarian conflict or a civil war. They want stability.

And I believe that, by us withdrawing with a diplomatic plan to bring the three groups together -- by the way, which the Maliki government was supposed to do -- by also dividing up oil revenues, by also having an all-Muslim peacekeeping force, stability is what will bring everybody together in the region. But that can't start...

BLITZER: All right.

RICHARDSON: ... until we start withdrawing.

(CROSSTALK)

HUCKABEE: But, Bill, if we pull out prematurely, the one thing we won't have is stability. And I think that's why many of us believe that, as painful as it is to stay, it's more painful to disappear, lose any chance of stability.

And then you do have exactly what you have described -- on that, we agree -- refugees pouring out by the millions into countries all over the Middle East, further destabilizing those countries.

BLITZER: All right. I want to turn to another before our time is up, health care.

I think both of you strongly disagree on the notion of universal health care for all Americans. And I'm sure you disagree on whether the federal government should be providing health care to illegal immigrants in the United States. But let me just be precise. Governor Richardson, you support universal health care for all Americans, and you support health care for illegal immigrants as well.

RICHARDSON: Yes, I would like to see the universal health care plan cover every American. I want to see less of a role for insurance companies, HMOs.

I agree with Mike Huckabee. He's done great work on emphasizing prevention, dealing with diabetes, a healthier lifestyle for our people. But I think the key is going to be providing universal health care, no matter who you are, you're a ditch-digger, you're a senator, you're a farm worker. I believe in that concept.

And, in my view, by expanding Medicare -- and my plan is from 65 to 55 -- by having everybody be part of the congressional plan -- every American should be eligible to the Cadillac plan. That's how I would approach it.

BLITZER: All right.

Governor Huckabee?

HUCKABEE: You know, it's not that I'm against universal coverage. I'm just against the government picking my doctor. I'm against the government running all of it.

I do think there's a role for the private sector. Our real problem is, it's not that we have a health care crisis. We really have a health crisis. Most of our expenses are spent on the chronic diseases that we could have prevented. And, if we continue to focus on how to keep paying in the intervention-type model, instead of the prevention model, we will never be able to afford it. It will bankrupt the country, make us non-competitive.

And I would agree that the -- the goal of having everyone being able to access -- access affordable health care is a great thing. But the question...

BLITZER: What about -- what about the 12 million illegal immigrants?

HUCKABEE: Well, I don't think you can provide unlimited health care for people who have not come through legally.

If it's prenatal care, if it's emergency care, we really don't have a choice, from a humanitarian basis, but just to provide all the care in the world -- of course, it goes back to the fact that it's harder for me to get on an airplane in my own hometown than it is for a person to cross the border. And that's what Americans are upset about, not people coming to this country for opportunity, but our own government sitting on its hands for 20 years, doing absolutely nothing to provide a reasonable and rational way for people to come here in a legal way.

BLITZER: Mike Huckabee and Bill Richardson, two...

RICHARDSON: That's where...

BLITZER: I'm going to have to leave it, unfortunately, Governor Richardson, because we're all out of time, but a good, serious debate.

And I hope both of you will come back, because I want to continue these conversations on these issues and other issues as well. And we are going to get some of the other Republican and Democratic presidential candidates to come on as well, and focus in a bit little more in-depth on specific issues.

Appreciate it very much.

And coming up: A sexual harassment lawsuit could come back to haunt the New York city mayor, Michael Bloomberg. They involve shocking claims against the man who might still be running for president.

And it's being called a major fund-raiser, but the man of honor is not yet running for president -- a bit of good news along a somewhat bumpy road for Fred Thompson.

Stay with us. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Fred Thompson holds what is being billed as a big fund- raiser tonight here in Washington. And it appears that campaign cash is just what the former senator from Tennessee, an unofficial presidential candidate, needs.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's following this story.

We have been hearing good news, bad news, good news, bad news.

What's going on involving the campaign, Bill, of Fred Thompson?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Good news, bad news? The answer is, yes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Fred Thompson's virtual campaign has been hitting some real bumps. He keeps delaying his official announcement, now expected in September. Some staff members have quit. "The Politico" is reporting that Thompson raised a little over $3 million in June, a figure that will disappoint his supporters.

Could Thompson be losing momentum before he even gets into the race? Maybe it's not him. Maybe it's us.

DAVID WINSTON, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: We're paying so much more attention to these campaigns so much earlier, to some degree, we may -- just never really followed this in prior years.

SCHNEIDER: Thompson is not the only candidate who has hit some bumps. So has John McCain. But McCain has been falling in the polls, while Thompson is rising.

Where is Thompson's support coming from? Well, he is a celebrity with high name recognition, but he also fills a need. A lot of Republicans are looking for a conservative who is also a winner. Thompson's supporters are heavily Southern and male and conservative. Many Republicans see the virtual candidate as a winner, but, sooner or later, he's going to have to become a real candidate.

WINSTON: That depends on his announcement speech. The one thing that I think he has done, by the way he's deciding to enter and putting it off until September, is that he's putting a lot of pressure in terms of that announcement speech. What's the content? What's going to be in it?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Now, Wolf, as you reported, Thompson is holding his first Washington fund-raiser tonight, where he has to raise real dollars, not virtual dollars -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, thank you -- Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst.

Bill is, as you know, part of the best political team on television.

Remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can also check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.

Up next more: words over just what Hillary Clinton is wearing. We're going to talk about that, and more, in our "Strategy Session."

And fatal disasters in the race to get the news. After two TV station helicopters crashed chasing a story, some people are wondering if it's time to change the rules.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You just saw them go head to head here in THE SITUATION ROOM, presidential candidates Bill Richardson and Mike Huckabee. They squared off over Iraq and health care.

Joining us now in our "Strategy Session" to take a closer look at that and more, Democratic strategist Stephanie Cutter and Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez. You know, a lot of speculation that both of these guys -- they're sort of in the second tier right now. Can either one of them -- let's start with Bill Richardson -- do you think it's feasible he could break out and become a top tier, in other words, challenge Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards? Is that, do you think, realistic?

STEPHANIE CUTTER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, is it feasible? Yes, anything is feasible at this point in the race. Voters don't start making their decisions on who they're going to vote for, particularly in Iowa, which are very late-deciders, until the fall. So, we have got a couple of months to go. And anything could happen in this race.

But the reality -- the reality is that Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and, to some extent, John Edwards, are taking up so much oxygen in this race, it's difficult for anybody else to break through.

BLITZER: And the same thing on the Republican side?

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I would definitely agree.

I have to say something about Richardson. I don't think he did himself any favors in the YouTube debate. I think he was the poorest performing candidate. He looked like he didn't have his answers well thought out. He looked sophomoric in some of those, as if diplomacy was going to be the only answer to Iraq. And I think you just saw that with the questions you presented to him.

BLITZER: Well, what about on the Republican side? Will -- Mike Huckabee, is there a way he could break out and challenge Giuliani or Romney or McCain?

SANCHEZ: Well, to get to the top tier, I don't think so. There's such a strong top-tier group of candidates.

But I would say there's a lot of favorables with Governor Huckabee. You do hear him talked about a lot maybe as a possible V.P. He has a very strong potential.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: They are both very attractive guys, in the sense that they -- they bring a lot to the table.

CUTTER: Yes.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

CUTTER: One point on the Republican side is that, remember, the leading candidate right now for the Republicans is unknown. There's great dissatisfaction with the candidates on the Republican side. So, anybody is feasible at this point.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And Fred Thompson is still waiting in the wings as well.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And we all expect he's going to jump on.

You want to make a point?

SANCHEZ: I would say Republican voters are open-minded. They are still testing all the candidates. They are trying to see who is out there.

And, so, I wouldn't say that they are not happy with them. I say they want to see what the field really is going to be like.

BLITZER: Robin Givhan, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for "The Washington Post," on July 20, she wrote a piece entitled "Hillary Clinton's Tentative Dip Into New Neckline Territory."

And it has generated, as both of you know and a lot of our viewers know, a lot of commotion. Among other things, she wrote this. She said: "Showing cleavage is a request to be engaged in a particular way. It means that a woman is content being perceived as a sexual person, in addition to being seen as someone who is intelligent, authoritative, witty and whatever else might define her personality."

We are going to show you. If you want to turn around, you can see that was the outfit that she was wearing on the Senate floor, delivering that speech, which caused that. And, as you know, it sparked a lot of discussion.

And, Stephanie, I want you to get into, you know, what you make of this whole ordeal.

CUTTER: I think it's ridiculous.

I don't think that she's going to be winning a Pulitzer Prize on this story. I mean, I think what Hillary Clinton is guilty of is wearing a V-neck shirt. I don't see similar stories on men's anatomy when they're speaking on the Senate floor. And I don't see anybody covering her debate on higher education that she was talking about. I think it's ridiculous.

BLITZER: What do you think?

SANCHEZ: I think that article is a bunch of liberal mumbo jumbo.

But I would say this. You could put Hillary Clinton in a Playboy bunny costume, and there's a lot of Americans who would not change their mind how they view her. The reason is, I think it's a bait and switch. You have got the campaign talking about it. You have got us talking about it.

What they are not talking about is what a Clinton administration would look like. It would mean higher taxes. It would mean increased government spending...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right.

Well, let me -- the Clinton campaign, Ann Lewis, who is well known to our viewers -- she's a senior adviser -- they put out a fund- raising letter in the aftermath, after a lot of other articles and commentary came out.

"Would you believe that 'The Washington Post' wrote a 746-word article on Hillary's cleavage? Frankly, focusing on women's bodies, instead of their ideas, is insulting."

Was it appropriate, as a strategist, for the Clinton campaign, then, to use that article and to try to get some fund-raising out of it?

CUTTER: Well, the best way to stop a news story from being covered again is to use it as a fund-raising tool. I think they were trying to turn a negative into a positive, what was supposed a negative into a positive. And I think it was the right thing to do.

BLITZER: But -- but you're a strategist and a public relations expert. Don't you acknowledge that, when Ann Lewis writes a letter like this and puts it out on the Hillary Clinton Web site, that's going to generate even more discussion of cleavage?

CUTTER: Is it a secret that she's a woman? Is it a secret that, you know, she -- she's running for president? These -- this is not a legitimate issue in -- in the American people's mind.

I think what it does reflect is that there was significant outrage amongst female voters across the country, whether they're liberal or conservative, because I don't think this story was liberal or conservative. I think it was just stupid.

And I think they were reacting to the energy they were seeing out there against these types of stories.

BLITZER: All right.

Leslie?

SANCHEZ: You know, I think it's politically motivated. This is a very sharp, astute campaign. These folks know what they're doing. Ann Lewis has been around the track several times in terms of understanding campaign politics.

This is the bait and switch. They would rather focus on this issue, make her the victim, than talk about how disastrous her administration would be to the public American.

CUTTER: I guarantee you that they would rather talk about her policy ideas and her vision for this country than her body part. And that's, in fact, what...

(CROSSTALK) SANCHEZ: I would love to hear her policy ideas.

CUTTER: ... she was talking about on the Senate floor that day, her Policies to reduce the cost of college admission for -- for American schoolchildren.

SANCHEZ: You know...

(CROSSTALK)

CUTTER: And that's not a liberal or conservative idea. That's just a good idea.

BLITZER: It -- I think...

SANCHEZ: No, that's a good idea. But that's political spin. That's not...

BLITZER: But I think it is -- it is basically unfair that, whenever a woman politician wears something, people are going to notice and write about it. All the men, they basically all wear the same thing, a dark suit and a white , a red tie or whatever. And nobody cares about that.

There is this double standard. I think both of you will agree with that.

CUTTER: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

CUTTER: Yes, absolutely.

SANCHEZ: Very much so. You see it with...

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: ... and their hair.

CUTTER: And it feeds into the things that, as a country, we have been fighting for hundreds of years. It's been less than 100 years since women had the right to vote.

BLITZER: All right, guys.

SANCHEZ: Don't take the focus off the solutions she doesn't offer.

BLITZER: Leslie Sanchez, Stephanie Cutter, good discussion. Thanks, guys...

SANCHEZ: Thank you.

BLITZER: ... for coming in.

Is the tide turning in Iraq? Two analysts just back from Baghdad say the U.S. could just win the war after all.

And what you're telling our Jack Cafferty how you would reform Congress -- your e-mail and Jack Cafferty straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow.

In Beijing, Chinese soldiers show off martial arts in their new uniforms during a demonstration at their army base.

In Iraq, a man is comforted by a relative after being injured when a minibus exploded in Baghdad, killing at least six people.

In India, a horse and its riders are a blur, running in a race coinciding with the first Monday of a Hindu month.

And, in Switzerland, a newborn gorilla baby clings to its mother and shows its tongue to the camera -- some of this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth 1,000 words.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York with "The Cafferty File."

I love those "Hot Shots." Don't you?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I do, too.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: I like that little baby gorilla. It's pretty cute, huh?

BLITZER: Adorable.

CAFFERTY: The question: What would you include in a congressional ethics reform bill?

They are stumbling around down in Washington, claiming that they're going to pass some kind of ethics reform. Of course it won't have any outside oversight, so it really doesn't make any difference.

But D.K. writes: "Government in the sunshine, no lobbyist gifts, none. A weekly release of whom the congressman/woman met with and the topics discussed. No cheating, no loopholes, no self-regulation. An outside office with a neutral composition. Two members of the group would be average Joes chosen by lottery to serve a term on the committee."

Bill in Dallas: "The one simple thing I would love to see enacted and enforced would be that only registered voters can contribute or donate funds to politicians. Politicians would then finally have to report to the voters. Lobbyists would become a thing of the past."

Carl in Connecticut: "There's one surefire way to get ethics reform started. Have every election, from dogcatcher to president, completely publicly financed, and not allow any individual or corporate contributions. This will remove the main source of corruption right at the root."

Roger in New York: "You have got to rephrase the question. 'Congressional ethics,' oxymoron."

Jim: "All congresspersons" -- Jim writes: ""All congresspersons and executive branch stooges would have to appear in public wearing race car driver type uniforms featuring the logos of all of the companies or groups who have bought and paid for them."

And H.L., Mesa, Arizona: "The ethics standard I taught my children was this: Don't do anything you can't explain to your grandmother. Perhaps the Senate version should be: Don't do anything you can't explain to Jack Cafferty" -- or any taxpaying American who knows the difference between right and wrong.

It's pretty simple stuff, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good advice from H.L. in Mesa, Arizona. Thanks very much.

To our viewers, You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: selling arms to Saudi Arabia, $20 billion worth. The Bush administration says that could help keep Iran and al Qaeda at bay -- critics, though, wondering which side the Saudis are on.

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