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Cindy Sheehan Targets Democrats; Trying to Reach Miners

Aired August 9, 2007 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you Kyra, happening now, rescue crews may be just hours away from reaching six trapped miners and we may finally learn if they survived Monday's cave in.
Also this hour, new evidence that President Bush is getting some Republicans back on his side but is he at odds with the Iraqi president? We'll tell you why Mr. Bush put up his dukes.

And a protester turns to politics and aims high. I'll ask anti- war activist Cindy Sheehan why she's running for congress against the house speaker Nancy Pelosi. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Miles O'Brien and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Breaking news for you, the closing bell on Wall Street. The stock market is in a freefall today. Ali Velshi is standing by with more on the plunge. We begin though in Utah, where a drill is spinning at this hour clearing a narrow shaft that may prove to be a crucial life line for those trapped coal miners or it may simply offer a clue if they did not survive the collapse that trapped them on Monday. The answers could come soon but it is an excruciating wait for the families of the six men. CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Huntington, Utah. Ed, how close are they do they think to reaching those miners?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, as of early this morning they were about 400 feet away. The latest update came just a few hours ago, so that drill continues spinning. There's a great deal of hope and anxiety and urgency resting on that small drill hole that is making its way through the top part of the mountain. Bob Murray, the co-owner of the mine told us just a short while ago that by 6:00 mountain time, 8:00 eastern perhaps, if all things go well that hole will have reached the area where those miners are and they can establish communication to determine whether or not they are alive or dead.

O'BRIEN: Ed, I understand you've had a chance to talk to some of the family members. How are they holding up?

LAVANDERA: We spent a good portion of the day yesterday with Manuel Sanchez's family. They live about 10 miles away from here where the mine is located. They are obviously just standing around waiting for any kind of news they can get. They were frustrated with the kind of information they've been getting and the mixed information they say they have been getting from the officials here with the mine, especially some of the families that don't speak English. They said that they were very confused by what's going on. His brother, Cesar Sanchez, spoke with us yesterday who is also a miner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CESAR SANCHEZ, MINER'S BROTHER: I have one string of hope, you know. That's why I'm hanging in there, I'm hoping, but it's tough. It's a tough deal.

LAVANDERA: What about the rest of your family?

SANCHEZ: They have a lot of hope, they're strong. They're giving me a lot of hope. It's rubbing off onto me.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

LAVANDERA: Miles, to help with the communication between the families, the company has now taken one of Manuel Sanchez's brother and the son of another miner up to the mountain and they have been watching the progress that is being made and reporting back to the families. Miles?

O'BRIEN: Ed Lavandera, tracking things for us there in Huntington, Utah, thank you. Mine boss Bob Murray has become the public face of the rescue effort and a sometimes angry defender of the mine's operations. Our Carol Costello spoke with Murray just a short time ago. He is an irascible character, isn't he?

CAROL COSTELLO: Oh, he's a character all right. I did talk to Bob Murray just a few hours ago. He has become the face of this disaster and frankly some people like him and others are cynical about his motives. I've interviewed Murray before this disaster. He's very much a man who likes to be in control. He's passionate and he can be volatile. He told me today he will not sleep until those miners are found.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: So I guess my first question to you again is how are you holding up?

BOB MURRAY, CEO, MURRAY ENERGY CORP.: I'm holding up all right, Carol, considering that I've had just a few hours sleep in the last four days. This matter that I'm in charge of the recovery of these miners and making sure that their families are administered to is an overwhelming task and you sort of getting a little extra energy and you keep going because of the criticality of the situation. And you see that you're the one responsible. If those miners are dead, that was in the Lord's hands, Carol, and they're dead now, but if they're alive, it's my job to get to them quickly.

COSTELLO: Why is it so important to you to be front and center and to be so visible?

MURRAY: I'm the chief executive officer, president of the company. I've always had a policy that I wouldn't ask any of my managers to do anything I wouldn't do. I'm doing it also to shield my management people who are directly under me and who are doing the rescue operations underground and the drilling operations on the surface shielding them away from all outside influence. It will be my flesh. It will be my bruising. But this is my job. These are my people. Not in a paternalistic way Carol, but I have responsibility for them and I have responsibility for their families and you know me, Carol, and that is exactly the way it is, and that's why I am out front. I am going to make sure that every possible effort has been made to get them out quickly and every effort has been made to see that the trauma that the families are going through is minimized.

COSTELLO: Tomorrow night once the drill breaks through the cavity and it's the right cavity, what do you want to hear, what sound do you want to hear?

MURRAY: Church bells ringing and people driving by blowing their horns and maybe I'll go stop somewhere now and get a hot cup of coffee because I'm tired of cold thing. But we got a long way to go yet. I'll be so happy for these families. I'll be the one to go to them and tell them one way or the other what the outcome is. So we'll wait and see Carol. It will be extreme rejoicement or it will be the climax of a tragedy. Either way, it's my responsibility.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: You know, he's still very hopeful those miners will be found alive. He firmly believes an earthquake caused this disaster although he refused to discuss that today. At one point leaving a news conference after a reporter asked him about it. In the next hour I'll tell you why Murray is so sure those miners are still alive.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. Now, he insists it's an earthquake. I've seen a lot of scientific data which would suggest it was actually the collapse that caused the tremor. We don't know yet, do we?

COSTELLO: Well most seismologists says it wasn't an earthquake, but he is still very insistent that it was. We won't know until after this is all over and the rescue or recovery effort is complete and then of course the federal government will send in accident investigation teams and they will determine what exactly it was.

O'BRIEN: Thank you Carol, we'll see you a little later.

Time now for "The Cafferty File." Jack Cafferty joining us from New York. Hello, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY: Miles, in Tucson, Arizona, high school students could soon be making money for staying in school. The first job project will pay 175 students in Tucson who live in poverty stricken areas up to $25 a week for going to class. The idea is to keep poor kids from dropping out of school. A local nonprofit outfit called Youth Education Security, Inc. is picking up the entire tab for this and it's expected to exceed a million dollars. The had of the Tucson Teachers Union says the project seems to have broad support although some may complain that students should not be paid for doing what students are supposed to be doing any way, i.e. going to class. But considering that about 30 percent of Arizona high school students didn't graduate last year, there is certainly room for improvement. In addition to the $25 a week for attending class, students get $100 bonus for each semester they maintain a 3.0 grade average and have perfect attendance. They get less money if they have unexcused absences, suspensions or if they fail a class. The best students under this program could end up with as much as $1,200 a year. So here is the question, is it a good idea to pay poor high school students as an incentive to stay in school? E-mail caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. Miles?

O'BRIEN: I guess one of the things to consider here, Jack, is what is the cost to society of everybody dropping out? That does incur a cost.

CAFFERTY: Absolutely, that's a factor, no question about it. We'll see what the viewers have to say.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. All right, thank you very much, Jack.

Anti war activist Cindy Sheehan has a new target but this time she isn't protesting, she's politicking and she has her eyes on the seat held by the Speaker of the House. Can she really beat Nancy Pelosi? We'll ask Cindy Sheehan ahead.

Plus, a good cop bad cop routine aimed at Iran or so it seems. We'll tell you about the mixed message the president delivered today.

And next, South Carolina throws another curve into the primary season calendar. Could the first presidential contest of 2008 be held in 2007? That, plus the market nosedive when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: The markets took a free-fall today. A major beating on Wall Street. All of it because of all of those concerns about the shaky credit situation. Ali Velshi has been covering the bloodletting for us. Ali, what happened?

ALI VELSHI: Miles, this is interesting. This is a little bit different. We have seen a lot of volatility in this market in the last few months. You know that we've covered this many times, but this one is a little different for two reasons. Look at that number, 387 points lower right now, makes it the second biggest loss of this year. The biggest loss was that day in February, February 27th where we saw 416 points. That was a bit of a freak accident that day. So this is a bit serious. The other thing is, since the bell rang, we saw this thing close lowers, which means at the end of the day, professional investors were getting out of this market. That means it could continue. That's going to spook Asian markets. This is the same thing, it's about this credit quality problem that we've got. A bank in Paris closed up some funds. What it means is that when people can't pay their mortgages and lose their houses, someone gets caught holding the bag and it's the financial companies that have gotten caught and that's why you're seeing this. The average investor should keep a very close eye on their investments over the next few days. Miles?

O'BRIEN: Well, you say that, keep a close eye on your investments, but should you be really looking at your 401(k) balance at this point? VELSHI: Yeah.

O'BRIEN: What are you going to do about it, you don't want to sell now, do you?

VELSHI: No, you don't lock in a loss, you make sure you are diversified, you make sure that you are not concentrated in one area. That's what you need to do.

O'BRIEN: All right, Ali Velshi watching it all for us. Thank you very much.

More now on that devastating bridge collapse in Minneapolis. Recovery teams today finding the body of a sixth victim and now the Associated Press reports a seventh body has been found. The stunning failure of the bridge is prompting a national debate about the safety of our infrastructure. Some are suggesting it's time to raise gasoline taxes to foot the bill for repairing crumbling bridges. But President Bush flatly rejected the idea at a news conference earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Before we raise taxes which could affect economic growth, I would strongly urge the congress to examine how they set priorities and if bridges are a priority, let's make sure we set that priority first and foremost before we raise taxes.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So how do Americans feel about all this? Our opinion research corporation poll asked if you were afraid a similar collapse could happen in your community, 52 percent of you say yes, 47 percent say no. Most Americans also oppose new taxes to fix bridges. Only one in three favor a federal gas tax increase, the rest oppose the idea. President Bush with some harsh words for Iranians meddling in the war in Iraq today. The tough talk comes the day after Iraq's president traveled to Iran to meet with Iran's President Ahmadenijad. The two men showing outward displays of affection. Our White House correspondent Ed Henry covered the president's news conference today. Ed, are Mr. Bush and Nuri al Maliki sort of doing a good cop bad cop routine here?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Miles, at best that's what this is, but at worst, it's a mixed message. Mr. Bush ratcheting up the rhetoric against Iran as his buddy in Baghdad is literally holding the hand of the Iranian dictator.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): President Bush issued new threats against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad.

BUSH: There will be consequences for people transporting, delivering EFPs, highly sophisticated IEDs that kill Americans in Iraq. HENRY: And he insisted Iraqi prime minister Nuri al Maliki has made gains toward political reconciliation.

BUSH: My own perspective is that they have made some progress but not enough.

HENRY: But Maliki, a Shiite leader, is in Tehran right now making nice with Ahmadenijad and others in the overwhelmingly Shiite Iran, making it harder for Sunnis in Iraq to find common ground with the prime minister. Mr. Bush tried to make light of the controversy insisting world leaders usually come out of meetings smiling for appearances sake.

BUSH: You don't want the picture to be kind of duking it out, ok. Put up your dukes. It's an old boxing expression.

HENRY: The president declared he's on the same page with Maliki, who also visited Iran last fall.

BUSH: If the signal is that Iran is constructive, I will have to have a heart to heart with my friend the prime minister because I don't believe they are --

HENRY: After some August downtime in Kennebunkport and Crawford, the president is facing a showdown with Democrats over whether to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. A press conference before heading out the door enabled Mr. Bush to lay out what he believes is at stake in September.

BUSH: The fundamental question facing America is, is it worth it? Does it matter whether or not we stay long enough for an ally in this war against radicals and extremists to emerge. My answer is it does matter.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: This is the second time this week alone that Mr. Bush has had to warn a key ally against being hoodwinked by Iran. Three days ago it was Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, now it's Maliki. This shows that from Iraq to Afghanistan, Iran is trying to expand its influence big-time. Miles?

O'BRIEN: Ed Henry at the White House. Thank you very much. Is Barack Obama ready for the White House? One of his presidential rivals says no. J.C. Watts and Donna Brazile will take on that question and others, as well as brand new campaign poll numbers for you. That's our strategy session coming up.

Plus, Democratic candidates face the gay community tonight. Will the forum matter much at a time when America's views on gay rights are changing?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Another change in the political calendar and the scramble to be first to weigh in on the race for president. Well, it's turning toward outright chaos. South Carolina Republicans this time in the news. They made it official today, they're moving up their contest to January 19th and you can bet the dominos will fall after this. It could mean we'll be casting votes next week. Who knows. Tom Foreman is here to get it all straight for us. Certainly possibly in 2007 their votes could be cast.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Possibly at Christmas time. It's a mess right now. The simple message is this, no state, no matter how big or small in a country of 300 million people wants to vote late because they feel like then they'll be overshadowed in picking the new president. It seems like a big game of dominos. Today's decision by South Carolina will most likely spark a bunch of other states to also move their dates up as well. So grab your pen and try to keep up with this as we go forward. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KATON DAWSON, SOUTH CAROLINA GOP CHAIRMAN: The date of our first in the south Republican Party presidential primary will be held on Saturday, January the 19th, 2008.

FOREMAN (voice-over): South Carolina's Republican Party chairman moving up the date of his state's GOP primary. He made the announcement in the granite state standing alongside New Hampshire officials. A symbolic move by two states trying to preserve their early roles in the primary process.

DAWSON: We're here to stand shoulder to shoulder with our friends in New Hampshire to reaffirm the importance of preserving the prominent role both of our states play in presidential politics.

FOREMAN: South Carolina Republicans traditionally hold the first southern primary. But Florida decided to hold its primary on January 29, moving it up. That forced South Carolina Republicans to move to the 19th. Palmetto state Democrats could join them.

DAWSON: If they would come up it certainly would save the taxpayers some money and would be welcome.

FOREMAN: Still with us, here is where it gets complicated. Nevada is currently scheduled to hold its caucuses on the 19th and they may now move up and New Hampshire, which by state law must hold its primary seven days before any other contest will then have to move up from its current date of January 22.

BILL GARDNER, NEW HAMPSHIRE SECY. OF STATE: If we have to, we will go the year before. That's -- it's not off the table.

FOREMAN: And then there's Iowa. Its caucus's kickoff the primary season. If New Hampshire moves up as expected, Iowa will be forced to change its date as well.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: There's a lot of unresolved issues and I don't think we'll see those answered for the next couple months.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: This is playing havoc with the campaigns, because think about this. You have everybody jumping forward. They don't even know where to go right now to get the early voters. And we're clearly moving toward what really is impractical since it's like a national primary because once we get through January, we're going to have what's called tsunami Tuesday. Almost 20 states including big ones, California, New York, Illinois, are holding their contests on February 5. So it's just a mess right now. Bad for the campaigns. Bad for a lot of things. Everybody wants to be first.

O'BRIEN: There's no rule that says something is too early. In other words, you could schedule a primary next week if you wanted to?

FOREMAN: Doesn't seem like there's anything that limits that. You know I'll look at that a little bit further later on but I just think that all of the states out there are in a panic, because everybody is saying, look, if you wait until you're not in that top 20 or top 25, if you're number 30, the bottom line is all the campaigns are going to say who cares.

O'BRIEN: Well in the end no one state has much influence if it clusters this way.

FOREMAN: Yeah, and then the campaigns will be -- all that money they're fighting for, they'll have none left.

O'BRIEN: Yeah, interesting. Tom Foreman, chaos on the campaign trail.

After taking on President Bush, what does Cindy Sheehan do for an encore? The controversial anti-war activist wants Nancy Pelosi's seat in congress. Does she really have a chance at defeating the house speaker? Cindy Sheehan is standing by to talk about her just announced campaign and why she's stepping back into the spotlight. We'll hear from her shortly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Happening now, after speaking with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier today, Pakistan's president is backing away from the threat to declare a state of emergency in his country. But is America's relationship with Pakistan on the rocks? We'll have an in-depth report on that strained alliance.

Made in China, those three words are increasingly terrifying American consumers. We'll tell you about the latest Chinese made product to be recalled for safety reasons.

A three-mile journey in utter darkness. CNN's Gary Tuchman goes deep inside the Crandall Canyon Mine where those miners are trapped. We'll show you what it looks like there. Wolf Blitzer is off today, I'm Miles O'Brien and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The woman who gave a face to the anti-Iraq war movement has a new mission today, defeating the first woman speaker of the House. Cindy Sheehan announced today she is running as an independent for Nancy Pelosi's congressional seat in California.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CINDY SHEEHAN, (I) CALIFORNIA CONG. CANDIDATE: I'm dedicating my candidacy to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, that have been tragically harmed by the Bush regime with the complicity of congress.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Let's bring in our congressional correspondent Jessica Yellin. Some people thought Cindy Sheehan was getting out of the political limelight. She made a statement to that effect last spring and now she's back in a different fashion. Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Miles, she is. She is back. Just a few months ago Cindy Sheehan announced her retirement as the face of the anti-war movement, but clearly she's changed her mind, now taking on Nancy Pelosi.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): She's been arrested in New York, Washington and Texas. She's protested for peace with actress activist Susan Sarandon, and badgered the president at his homes in Crawford and Washington. But now Cindy Sheehan is taking on a new opponent, the Democrats.

CINDY SHEEHAN (I), CALIFORNIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: The Democrats will not hold this administration accountable, so we have to hold the Democrats accountable.

YELLIN: The protest provocateur is challenging Nancy Pelosi because she says the Democrats are too weak and they haven't fought hard enough to bring the troops home. If elected, Sheehan promises to push for impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

Sheehan came on the scene in 2004 after her son Casey was killed in Iraq. She led a sit-in demanding a meeting with President Bush and became the face of the anti-war movement.

Since then, critics have raised questions about her choices, like this meeting with Venezuela's leftist leader Hugo Chavez.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Now, Miles, Nancy Pelosi's office has released a statement saying: "The Democrats are focused on changing course in Iraq and holding the administration accountable." But Pelosi is not commenting directly on Sheehan's challenge.

O'BRIEN: Jessica Yellin on Capitol Hill for us. Thank you very much. Joining us now, California congressional candidate, Cindy Sheehan.

Ms. Sheehan, good to have you with us.

SHEEHAN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: I've got to say, I've never seen an announcement speech where somebody cried. I have seen a lot of concession speeches. This is obviously very emotional for you. Why are you doing it?

SHEEHAN: Well, I think that, you know, Nancy Pelosi's statement is wrong. They're not making the administration change course in Iraq. They give him more money -- you know, George Bush more money to wage the war. They're not holding him accountable. In fact, before they left for their recess they gave him more powers to spy on Americans. And I think that we have to challenge this two-party system.

And you know, I'm also dedicating this campaign to my son who always stood up for what he believed in. He died saving his buddy's lives, you know, so we could have this right to do this. And I think that we have to challenge the system that puts our children in these, you know, situations that they shouldn't be in.

And I wanted Nancy Pelosi to hold George Bush accountable. That's the quest I went on, and she didn't. So I'm going hold her accountable.

O'BRIEN: Well, let me ask you this, though. You want to hold George Bush accountable. You would like get impeachment proceedings go. You would come into office on January 3rd and the president would be leaving office on January 20th. So you have got about 17 days to do this. Realistically that's not going happen. So what's your real goal here?

(CROSSTALK)

SHEEHAN: Right. And I know that. I know that by the time I take the oath of office, that I will take very seriously, that, you know, he'll be gone. But I'm hoping that this will spur the Democrats to action, that they will realize their oath of office. A like I said, if she won't hold them accountable then I have to hold her accountable.

And I'm hoping that other people around the country will hold the other enablers of the Bush regime accountable, whether they are Democrats or Republicans. And I think that accountability is a very, very strong constitutional remedy we have for a situations like this. And we have to get back to honoring our Constitution and honoring our men and women who fight these wars for the corporate elite.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you this, though. A lot of people, when last we heard from you back in May, you issued a statement that was kind of, I guess, sort of a Checkers speech, if you will. Let me share with our viewers some of it. You said: "This is my resignation letter as the face of the American anti-war movement. I'm finished working in or outside of the system. This system forcefully resists being helped and eats up the people who try to help it. I'm getting out before it totally consumes me or anymore people that I love and the rest of my resources. Good-bye America."

Are those the kinds of words that would you like to run away from or run with?

SHEEHAN: Well, I think running with is a very good way to put it. I had always planned on coming back in a humanitarian effort. I'm going to Syria and Jordan tomorrow to meet with Iraqi refugees, to meet with Iraqi parliamentarians. And so our focus was going to be humanitarian.

The thing that brought me back in to this faster than I wanted to was when George Bush commuted Scooter Libby's sentence, which I think is treason, and the Democrats didn't do anything about it. And I realize that I love my country. And I want my country to be better. And I want -- I think if America is better, the world will be better because we're such a leader in the world.

And it was -- I'm not coming back as the face of the anti-war movement anymore. I'm coming back in another direction.

O'BRIEN: I'm sorry, I've got -- before you get away, you use the T-word, treason. That's a big word. That's a very loaded word.

SHEEHAN: Well, George Bush...

O'BRIEN: How does commuting that sentence amount to treason?

SHEEHAN: Because Scooter Libby was convicted of obstructing justice in something that the Bush regime was culpable in, in outing Valerie Plame. That went up to the very highest levels of this government. And there has been evidence that that was a treasonous act.

O'BRIEN: All right. Nancy Pelosi, she has been in office 20- plus years. She wins by -- with 80 percent numbers, huge numbers in her district. I gather you don't really expect to win. That you're making a statement here.

SHEEHAN: Oh, actually, I really expect to win. I haven't done any polling, but I've been in San Francisco. I have lived only an hour away for the last 15 years. I've worked really hard and already campaigned for two years here since my son died. And there's a lot of energy all across the country about my campaign. And I'm going run really hard and I think I have a really good chance.

O'BRIEN: Cindy Sheehan, thank you for your time.

SHEEHAN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: The leading Democratic contenders for president gather tonight for a forum on gay rights. Will any of the frontrunners endorse gay marriage?

Plus, the war in Iraq dragged President Bush's approval ratings into the low 30s last month. Now some new numbers are out and they can't be any lower, right? Bill Schneider has the answer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: A milestone moment in Los Angeles tonight as the Democrats who want to be president gather for a forum sponsored by a gay rights group. It is the first time presidential candidates will appear in a televised forum specifically on gay issues. Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is there.

Candy, what's at stake tonight?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, this is a key constituency within the Democratic Party. So far it seems fairly divided about who they would like there. In some ways they have a lot to choose from. They're excited about this night within the community because they think, first of all, they have found a sympathetic group in the '08 Democratic presidential contenders, and they also note that times have changed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): An increasing number of Americans say they know someone who is gay, while solid majorities support gay adoption and allowing gays to serve openly in the military. All of which makes Joe Solmonese a happy man, because where the country goes, so go the politicians.

JOE SOLMONESE, PRES., HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: We're seeing it reflected in, I think, the comfort level that candidates are taking in talking about our issues and the proactive stance that they have taken on a number of issues important to our community, such as overturning the ban on gays and lesbians in the military.

CROWLEY: Solmonese heads the Human Rights Campaign, the country's leading organization advocating for equal rights in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. Tonight, HRC hosts a presidential forum to address issues of importance to the community, a conversation that takes place amid changing public attitudes.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: Acceptance has grown quite a bit over time. In the 1970s, we only had about one in five, for example, saying that the gay lifestyle was an acceptable lifestyle for others. Now we get a majority saying that.

CROWLEY: It is a change perhaps due in part to familiarity, which has bred acceptance. In the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, 45 percent of Americans said they have a family member or friend who is gay or lesbian, up 13 points since 1994. Just 3 percent of voters in 2006 identified themselves as gay or lesbian.

But the community is active politically, giving it power greater than its numbers.

SOLMONESE: There is so much at stake in the 2008 elections for our community and who ends up leading this country that I think you're going to see a record number of members of our community out there working, out there giving, because they do understand what is at stake. CROWLEY: Which is six of the eight Democratic presidential contenders including the entire top tier of Clinton, Obama and Edwards, are showing up tonight for a forum on gay issues.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: And those that aren't coming were busy putting out press releases noting that they had scheduling conflicts. Didn't want anyone to believe that they somehow didn't want to show up for this. So, Miles, a pretty popular place to be.

O'BRIEN: All right. Candy, let's shift gears here a little bit. I want to bring in another subject for you. I want to talk about a new report on Hillary Clinton. As you know, she scolded rival Barack Obama for ruling out the use of nuclear weapons on the war on terror. Well, now it turns out Senator Clinton said the same thing about a year ago in talking about Iran.

The Associated Press cites an interview Clinton gave in April, 2006, in which she said she would and we quote now "certainly take nuclear weapons off the table to prevent Iran from escalating its nuclear program." So that's interesting that the words have some parallels there. What's the significance of this, Candy?

CROWLEY: Well, this is an ongoing battle, as you know, between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It began really at the YouTube/CNN debate where afterwards she said that he was naive about foreign policy in A, taking nuclear weapons off the table and then B, talking about going into Pakistan if in fact Musharraf wouldn't go after terrorists in the mountains there.

So the significance is that each time one or the other gets another quiver, they can go back at it. Now the Clinton campaign, as you know, has said, listen, this was a very different circumstance. It wasn't a hypothetical. She was asked about the Bush administration leaving open the idea of nuclear weapons against Iran.

So nonetheless, in Obama's struggle to be seen as someone who has, if you will, the gravitas to go ahead and conduct foreign policy, this gives him something else to add to his arsenal.

O'BRIEN: And to say the least, some icy relations between the two camps.

CROWLEY: To say the least, absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Candy Crowley, thank you very much.

Now to President Bush's political problems. The Iraq War has been a huge drag on his poll numbers for quite some time. That's not news. We have a brand new survey though on the president's job approval rating. We'll bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider with that -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: What's happening to President Bush's numbers? We're seeing an uptick. And there's an interesting reason for it, Miles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Like the song says, "Been down so long, it looks like up to me." In the latest polls, President Bush is up, a little. In June, Mr. Bush's job approval dipped to the freezing mark. Now 36 percent approve the president's job. Not a big change, but other polls are finding the same thing.

But Mr. Bush is not up among everybody. Among the president's fellow Republicans, yes, 16 points. Among independents, no change at all. And among Democrats, don't ask. Well, we did. No improvement. Eight percent approval in June; 8 percent now. The president's gains have come entirely from Republicans.

President Bush's defining issue is Iraq. Are we seeing the same thing there? Yes. Public support for the war in Iraq dropped to 30 percent in June. Now it's 33. Why? Same reason. Republicans. Support for the war jumped 14 points among Republicans. Very little change among independents and Democrats.

Why is this happening? There's a campaign on. Democratic candidates are attacking President Bush's failures.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our enemies in the region will continue to exploit our failures. Our occupation will continue to serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists.

SCHNEIDER: Republican candidates are rising to the president's defense.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am convinced that if we fail and we have to withdraw, they will follow us home.

SCHNEIDER: In the campaign, partisan juices flow, and shape perceptions.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For those of us who believe it's worth it, we'll see progress. For those who believe it's not worth it, there is no progress.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Partisanship is rising. That's the campaign effect, and it's happening 15 months before the election -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Bill Schneider. Bill Schneider and Candy Crowley are both part of the best political team on television. And remember, for the latest political news anytime you want it, check out the "Political Ticker," you'll find it at cnn.com/ticker.

Republicans in South Carolina and New Hampshire move to solidify their place in the presidential nominating process.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KATON DAWSON, SOUTH CAROLINA GOP CHAIRMAN: The announcement will also help preserve the presidential primary proudness of both states this elective cycle and for years to come.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: But which candidate will today's new calendar help?

And Biden versus Obama. One says the other isn't qualified for the Oval Office. We'll tell you who said what coming up in the "Strategy Session" with Donna Brazile and J.C. Watts. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: New story just coming into us. Carol Costello in the "NEWSROOM" with more.

Hello, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Miles. This is from DeKalb, Illinois, Miles. Apparently a monster truck during a demonstration crashed into a crowd of spectators. WDKB in DeKalb is reporting the truck was doing a jump during the demonstration. Lost control. Hitting the crowd and eventually landing on a set of railroad tracks. We're expecting to get pictures in a short time. An ambulance was on the scene at the time. Several people were transported to the hospital. Not sure of any specific numbers though. We'll have more in a bit -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. We'll be tracking that one very closely. Carol Costello, thank you very much.

Republicans in South Carolina -- you might want to take this down by the way. Get a pen out, because this is hard to follow. Republicans in South Carolina say they are moving their presidential primary to January 19th. Now that puts it ahead of Florida, which had moved up its primary in order to leapfrog South Carolina earlier this year. Joining me now with more on all this in today's "Strategy Session," a discussion of all things political, and the jockeying for all this, this is incredible, how this keeps going, Donna Brazile, J.C. Watts.

Good to have you both here. J.C., South Carolina Republicans made the move today. Just who does this benefit? Who gets hurt?

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the American people are losers because I think you shorten the discussion. You shorten the debate. And I'm going to make a prediction. I think the first primary is going to be about the middle of November.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: I was thinking maybe next week. Who knows? What do you think? They keep going, right? What is to stop it?

WATTS: Well, and that is the thing. You all talked about that a little earlier. I'm not so sure you can stop it. Everybody is trying to jockey for position. I do think the smaller states -- we've had this discussion before. I think the smaller states like in Oklahoma and somebody that has five to seven electoral votes, I think they lose in the process because candidates at the end of the day, they say, we don't have to go to Oklahoma, we don't have to go to Louisiana because, hey, we've got this thing locked up.

O'BRIEN: What do you think, Donna?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, this whole shuffle began when Florida decided to move its state up. The rules are the rules. And the parties should enforce the rules. The Democratic Party will enforce our rules. I think the Republicans should enforce their rules and force Florida to change its date back to February 5th or February 12th so that we can have an orderly process.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: See, the national parties don't have a lot of -- they're toothless tigers when it comes to this, aren't they?

BRAZILE: Well, we have rules. And we can enforce our rules. We can sanction the candidates. We can sanction the state parties. But the bottom line is that we set up rules. And the Florida Republican Party decided to leapfrog and that's why now the South Carolina Republican Party has done the same thing.

O'BRIEN: But let me ask you both this though. The system, as it was before, with Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina playing such pivotal roles, was that a good system? Should it -- was that a system that wasn't broken and shouldn't have been fixed?

WATTS: Well, it's a system that probably wasn't broken but at the same time you have got states that will say, do you think Iowa and New Hampshire should have that type of clout in a national election? That someone...

O'BRIEN: Well, somebody has got to have the clout, right?

WATTS: Well, but I think that's why you see the states kind of jockeying for position. But as I said, at the end of the day, I think the original process with the rules, play by the rules. But Republicans are a little more, you know, outside of the box, say, don't try to force us to think like the group. Thus South Carolina saying, we're going to continue to be the first in the South.

BRAZILE: The Democrats added two states to provide not only regional diversity but geographic diversity to allow westerners and southerners, more importantly Hispanics and other minorities to have greater role in who becomes our nominee.

O'BRIEN: In the end, nobody has any influence though if they clump it up this way. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. Let's talk about some poll numbers we have for you.

This is from the University of Iowa. It's a poll of Iowa potential Democratic Caucus goers. You follow that? This is a specific group of people here. Their choice for the nominee. And look at the bottom of your screen there. You have got to check this out. Edwards, and he is -- Iowa is an important state to him, I think he has traveled to every county or will or has, down 12 percent. What's going on with Edwards in Iowa, Donna?

BRAZILE: You know, John Edwards spent several weeks talking about issues not important to the voters in that state instead. I think he is...

O'BRIEN: Like what issues?

BRAZILE: Well, he had to defend his haircut. He had to talk about whether or not he accepted money from a hedge fund. And of course, he had to talk about how big his house is. I think John Edwards is back on his game. He is talking about two Americas. And I believe he will resonate with the voters out in Iowa.

O'BRIEN: J.C., what do you think?

WATTS: I think this is a Hillary Clinton election. I think that it's continuing to trend in her favor. I think the latest numbers that we saw just 20 minutes ago shows that she's not shrinking her lead. She's increasing her lead. And, Miles, I thought it was interesting for the first time since we've been looking at numbers, she's over 40 percent. I mean, there has been 6 out of 10 Democrats that said she's not our choice. But she's at about the mid 40s.

O'BRIEN: Is she the opponent Republicans want?

WATTS: Well, you can't pick your opponent. You just have to play them. And so I think on our side, however, I think it's so crazy right now, it's trending to her on the Democratic side. We don't have a trend on the Republican side.

BRAZILE: Well, the good news on our side is that Mrs. Clinton is now improving among Republican voters and independents. And her name recognition, while it is broad, her positive ratings are also going up.

So, J.C., keep talking her up.

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS: Now she will improve among independents, not amongst Republicans. Republicans will come home.

BRAZILE: Oh, she is gaining, just like the folks in New York.

O'BRIEN: All right. That's all the time we have. Donna Brazile, J.C. Watts, thank you for that excellent "Strategy Session."

Are cash incentives the way to keep poor students in school? Jack Cafferty is standing by with your e-mails.

Plus, our Suzanne Malveaux catches up with Hillary Clinton talking about gay marriage, running as a woman, and cleavage. This is a family show. Don't worry.

And yet another recall of a product made in China. Unsafe tires under scrutiny now. That's in our next hour, stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Jack is in New York with the "Cafferty File."

Hello, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Miles, the question this hour, is it a good idea to pay high school students as an incentive to stay in school?

Sean in St. Louis writes: "If paying the kids to go to school results in those kids getting an education, becoming productive members of society, then it's worth it and they should be paid. It sounds like an investment and we need to try something."

Bob in Massachusetts: "If you're not smart enough to stay in school without being paid, you deserve to get the jobs no one else wants to do. Get a part-time job after school if it is money you need."

G. in Ontario, California: "I don't think that there is anything wrong with paying low-income kids to stay in school. The $1,200 incentive to keep kids in school is far less of a burden to society than the cost of unemployment or incarceration farther down the line. I believe a good education keeps kids out of trouble. Wealthy kids get incentives all the time, $50 for an A, $25 for a B, a new car at graduation, what's the difference?"

D. in Florida writes: "Students need to learn to earn money, not receive easy money just for showing up in class. A better idea for those who drop out, make it compulsory for all high school students who leave school to go into the armed services for two years.

Loretta in California: "Poor students suffer when they don't have the money for clothes, school supplies, and necessities that other students take for granted. It is embarrassing to see their classmates while wearing raggedy clothes. That's a big cause of absenteeism. The extra money cannot only alleviate this, it can also provide hope for the future that it will be better for these kids. Without hope, why would they bother."

And J.J. has this outlook in California: "It's a great way to help poor kids get their cigarette and beer money for the weekend" -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you very much, Jack.

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