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Utah Miner Rescue Operations; Immigration Reform; Iowa Straw Poll

Aired August 10, 2007 - 16:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, at the Utah coal mine, the sound of silence doesn't auger well for those trapped miners. Will another drill hole bring families the news they're hoping for? We're in the midst of a frantic subterranean search.
Also this hour, the Bush administration goes it alone on immigration reform. The White House says tougher enforcement of existing laws will help, but critics say it won't go far enough.

Plus, in Iowa, a big test for some of the Republicans who want to be president. Mitt Romney has spent big money hoping to win the straw poll, but some heavyweights have bowed out. We'll ask candidates Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee if they see an opening. Wolf Blitzer is off today, I'm Miles O'Brien and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin today in Utah, and a silent microphone, some thin air. They have dashed hopes those trapped coal miners would be found by now. Now, four long days since that cave-in in Utah, and overnight, the first drill bit made its way into a pocket more than 150 stories below the surface, but no sign or sounds of the miners. Rescuers say it is too early to give up hope, and so the drilling and the searching go on along with the heartbreaking anxiety. CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Huntington, Utah. Ed, give us the latest.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, in a weird kind of way, it's almost good news that they did not find or there's no signs so far that the miners are in that first cavity that that smaller drill hole had gone into because the oxygen levels in there, based on tests they have done overnight, is not strong enough to sustain life. So now all the attention focuses onto that second hole that's being dug. It's an eight-inch hole, the last count we heard is that it was less than 600 feet away from where they suspect the miners are. So now families are now waiting to get the latest on how quickly that can reach where the miners might be. Yesterday Bob Murray had said it would be by late tonight, but this morning mine officials say they're not going to put a time frame on it just yet.

O'BRIEN: Since how many possible places those miners could be, this could be the wrong pocket, but do they know, are there only so many places they could actually be?

LAVANDERA: Well, they seem fairly confident that the general area where they're at, you know, it's also very hard to say because as everything collapsed, you know it's hard, I don't get the sense that they have a good indication of just how everything fell into place there. But this second hole that's being drilled, they have better control over where it's going, and they can navigate that to the area they want it to go to. And at this time they'll also be able to drop a camera into this hole as before the previous one they could only drop a microphone into. So this one they'll drop a camera in and perhaps give them a much better indicate and much stronger information that they can pass along to these families.

O'BRIEN: Ed Lavandera, keeping us posted there in Huntington, Utah, thank you very much.

In Indiana this hour, another mine tragedy and another investigation under way. Three construction workers are dead at a coal mine in Princeton, that's near Evansville. Details are sketchy, but we do know they were working on an air shaft at the face of the mine when the accident happened. There are reports they were in a basket used to travel up and down the shaft but unclear if they fell. Apparently no cave-in or explosion there. We'll be watching that one for you as well.

Here in Washington, the White House is writing a new chapter in the long debate over immigration reform. Frustrated by congressional inaction, the White House is planning its own illegal immigration crackdown within existing laws. Let's go to our White House correspondent Elaine Quijano joining us from Kennebunkport, Maine. Tell us Elaine, how much of a difference will this crackdown make if it's within existing laws?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that really depends on the eye of the beholder, Miles. President bush, as you'll recall, recently lost the battle on comprehensive immigration legislation largely to conservatives within his own party. Well, now the president is trying to restore credibility really, on the issue and show that the federal government is serious about enforcing existing immigration laws. So today we saw the Homeland Security chief, Michael Chertoff, as well as the commerce secretary, Carlos Gutierrez, announcing some proposals based on laws already on the books essentially cracking down on illegal immigration. They include a proposal to require employers to fire workers who can't straighten out ID problems after a certain period of time, also a plan to raise fines by 25 percent on employers who knowingly hire illegal workers. Administration officials say even though President Bush was not successful in pushing through comprehensive immigration reform, they still have an obligation to address the problem.


CARLOS GUTIERREZ, COMMERCE SECRETARY: We're going to do everything we can that is allowed by the law on an administrative basis, by the executive branch. And that includes security, but it also includes making these temporary worker programs workable.


QUIJANO: Now, a question that some critics are already asking is, why didn't the Bush administration enact these changes sooner? Well, White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perrino today said that the president held off, really, on administrative action as the congress was looking at possibly this comprehensive immigration reform. Now, of course, with that legislation defeated, Perrino says that the administration is basically going as far as it possibly can without congress acting. Miles?

O'BRIEN: Elaine Quijano in Kennebunkport. Let's get right to Capitol Hill. Jessica Yellin watching things for us there. Congress may not be in session, Jessica, but the criticism is filtering back while they're on break. Tell us what people are saying.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Miles, Republicans are applauding the White House's get tough plan. They say these enforcement measures, they're long overdue, but the Democrats insist enforcement alone won't get the job done.


YELLIN (voice-over): Republican border security advocates say the crackdown is better late than never.

REP. TOM TANCREDO, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president of the United States is actually going to enforce the laws regarding illegal immigration. I mean, hey, who could say anything was wrong with that beside it's about time.

YELLIN: Tom Tancredo and other congressional Republicans insist the new plan alone won't fix the immigration problem. They promise to push for measures that will control the borders. The man in charge of border security says this is the best he can do without new legislation.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: But until congress chooses to act, we're going to be taking some energetic steps of our own.

YELLIN: Democrats insist there's nothing new in the president's plan. It's simply enforcing existing law and playing to the president's base. Ted Kennedy, the leading senate Democrat on immigration reform, warns the stepped-up enforcement plan will make our immigration crisis worse, will do little to enhance our security, and will hurt millions of immigrant families. One analyst says the plan will also turn up the heat on the Democrats.

STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: This is an acknowledgment that his comprehensive plan has failed. And it is -- it does try to send a message to congress and specifically to democrats who control congress that the president's going to act on this. And if he does something, they're going to look as though they're doing nothing.


YELLIN: After the senate rejected comprehensive immigration reform this past June, democratic leaders made it clear the issue is essentially dead, and it's highly unlikely it will come back anytime this year. Miles?

O'BRIEN: Jessica, what exactly has Democrats so upset about this?

YELLIN: Well, the plan essentially requires business owners to fire any workers whose legal status cannot be verified. And some Democrats say that will turn businesses upside down. It will leave gaping holes, they say, in the workforce with no one willing to do those jobs. Miles?

O'BRIEN: Jessica Yellin here on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

It's a day at the state fair for Iowa Republicans. We'll look at all the presidential straw poll hoopla and why Mitt Romney may have bought himself a victory. The real question is, who will be number two?

And I'll ask rivals Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback if they are going to get the red ribbon.

Plus, a show stopper at the Democratic presidential forum on gay rights. Singer Melissa Etheridge gives Hillary Clinton a piece of her mind.


O'BRIEN: In Iowa, what was once billed as the first big bellwether, for the Republican presidential contest has turned into a tail of Gulliver and the (INAUDIBLE). Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is in Ames, Iowa, always wearing a good hat. That's a good one. Bring me back one of those, will you, Bill, and tell us what's going on there.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Lots of corn dogs, lots of politicians. Question, which one is better for you?


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): It may look like a circus, but it's really a big-time political event. Look at all the Republicans at the Iowa state fair. Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo, Tommy Thompson. Hey, there's Newt Gingrich. What about the national front- runners? Rudy Giuliani is leading the Republican field in our new national poll followed by undeclared candidate Fred Thompson and then John McCain. None of those three nationally top-ranked Republicans is participating in Saturday's straw poll. Which leaves Mitt Romney, the number four national contender, as the favorite. In fact, Romney is leading in polls of Iowa Republican caucus goers. He's expected to win the straw poll. The question is, how big?

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's why we're here, to see if we can get some more support. Could be a real challenge. We've got a lot of folks running and we all hope to do well, and I'm one of those who hopes to do well.

SCHNEIDER: Will it be a big enough win to give Romney a big story and a boost in the national polls?


SCHNEIDER: Or will he stumble? There's a hot contest for second place in the straw poll. The top contenders -- Tommy Thompson, Sam Brownback, and Mike Huckabee.

MIKE HUCKABEE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hope we'll see you tomorrow in Ames. Because we could use your help.

SCHNEIDER: A poor showing in the straw poll could leave one or two of them to reconsider their campaign.

DENNIS GOLDFORD, DRAKE UNIVERSITY: The question is how much will the straw poll thin the herd? In 1999, it knocked out Lamar Alexander, Dan Quayle and Elizabeth Dole because they didn't do well enough to keep their campaign donations flowing.

SCHNEIDER: Then there's the possibility of a surprise. Ron Paul has a fervent following on the internet. Tom Tancredo has a hot issue, immigration. It's estimated that close to 40 percent of Iowa Republicans are social conservatives.

GOLDFORD: This is where Pat Robertson made his breakout and showed up on the radar screen a long time ago.


SCHNEIDER: Some conservative evangelicals have not been entirely comfortable with Romney because he changed positions on some social issues and because of his Mormon faith. A strong finish here in Iowa might help resolve some of those concerns. Miles?

O'BRIEN: Well, historically, why has this fair been such an important stop, and do the top-tie candidates, do they run a real risk in missing it?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the fair is important because a lot of Iowans show up here, it's right in the middle of the state just 30 miles up the road is Ames where tomorrow there's going to be a straw poll, so we are seeing everybody here, even Newt Gingrich is here signing books today. And you know what? This is a very hot competition. Look at this, you want to know how hot it is? It's 100 degrees here! It doesn't bother me because I've got a Mitt Romney fan.

O'BRIEN: Ok. Which is not to say you're a fan of Mitt Romney, let's make that very clear. All right, Bill Schneider, a man with a good hat and a big thermometer in his pocket, thank you very much. Enjoy the fair.

You know, it is a straw poll, and as quaint as that sounds, there is, of course, an online component to the contest, our internet reporter Abbi Tatton is here. And Abbi, Mitt Romney is all over this straw poll and he's all over in our mind as well, isn't he?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: He is Miles, absolutely. His site has pretty much transformed to focus on the straw poll tomorrow. When you go to it you're greeted by this mini-Mitt Romney here who greets you, tells you, call this number, get on our bus tomorrow, come and join us. Basically, you usually see this mini-Mitt coming out before an important fundraising deadline, but clearly this is important to the campaign as well. But Mitt Romney not just appearing on his own Iowa page. Look at some of his opponents, the site of Sam Brownback, he's all over that as well, especially on the official Brownbacker blog that has a Mitt Romney flip-flop page and also there's a recording of an automated phone call that's been going out in Iowa from the campaign, accusing Romney of being anything but pro-life. Of course, the Republican straw poll tomorrow does not involve the Democrats. But still, the Democratic National Committee not missing an opportunity to go off to the Republican field, launching today this new website called None of The Above, highlighting a recent poll that found 23 percent of Republicans said that they have no GOP favorite in this field. Miles?

O'BRIEN: Wow, interesting. It will be interesting to see how much momentum that gets. All right, thank you very much, Abbi Tatton.

The Iowa straw poll doesn't work like an election or even quite like the state caucuses. Only Iowa residents can vote between 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. tomorrow. But first they have to have a $35 straw poll ticket. Many people get their tickets free from presidential campaigns, however. The Iowa Republican Party hopes to keep security tight by making sure voters have valid state IDs. Those IDs and voters' tickets will be scanned. And the Iowa GOP is borrowing a page from the Iraqi elections. Voters' thumbs will be dipped in indelible ink to make sure they only cast one ballot. Joining us now, one of the contenders of the Iowa straw poll, Republican presidential candidate Senator Sam Brownback. Senator, good to have you with us.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Pleasure to be with you. And it's a hot day here in Iowa. Hopefully it will be a good day tomorrow.

O'BRIEN: Yeah, we saw the thermometer, nearly 100 degrees there. Let's talk about this race, Mitt Romney has spent a million bucks on this one. By all accounts he's got it pretty well wrapped up for the top tier. Is this a race for number two, and are you the red ribbon winner?

BROWNBACK: I don't concede that it's a race even against number one. I think that's still a possibility. You don't know what's going to happen in a straw poll. Yes, we've been outspent enormously, but this is a grass-roots effort and you've got to bring people from all over the state into Ames and I think we've got a good ground game. Plus, for us, this is a building exercise. This is step one of building a grass-roots organization, and then step two is doing well and performing well and even winning the Iowa caucuses. That's what we're studying up on the straw poll is to build to the caucuses.

O'BRIEN: Let's say you're below second place. Are you out?

BROWNBACK: What's that? No. Huh-uh. And I'm not even looking, say, at second place. I think we've got a good shot of doing very well at this thing tomorrow, but it's a building event. I think really who gets penalized in this are the people that don't participate in the straw poll because now in less than four months you're going to turn around and have the actual caucus vote. Many of us have been out here in the field gathering and building a grass- roots organization. I think that's going to kick in for the caucuses.

O'BRIEN: A lot of talk this past week about Mitt Romney's pro- life stance and the stance which you and others have claimed that he came to most recently. The accusation is that he has flip-flopped on this issue. Are you saying that at this point when he says he's pro- life, you don't believe him?

BROWNBACK: Well, he's saying he's still for researching on the youngest of human beings. And he's changed position on taxes and on second amendment issues as well. I just think it's tough to lead on an issue if you've come to it late or have changed on it or are not fully committed to it. And right now I think what we need is leadership on the life issue. This is the biggest moral issue facing our country. Do we believe that the child in the womb is a person or a piece of property? I think that's something we ought to fight for and I think it's hard to lead the country if you've been moving back and forth on that topic.

O'BRIEN: Mitt Romney had some things to say about this, let's listen for a second.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've changed my position when I was governor and when I faced an issue of life or death, when the first time a bill came to my desk that related to the life of an unborn child, I came down on the side of life. And I put that in "The Boston Globe" and explained why. I get tired of people that are holier than thou because they've been pro-life longer than I have.


O'BRIEN: Holier than thou. Do you accept that criticism?

BROWNBACK: I don't. I don't accept it at all. And you know it's pretty easy to call people names, but facts are much more stubborn things. Just look at what the record is. Where he's been pro-choice, where he has supported taxpayer funding of abortion, where he even continues to forum and to support human embryonic stem cell research on the youngest of human beings. And it's not just on abortion that we're talking about, it's also on taxes. It's also on second amendment rights. That's why I think you have to have consistency, and just run who you are. That's what I'm doing is running who I am, and I think that's what Iowans will see and I think that's why we can perform well tomorrow at the straw poll and do very well in the caucuses.

O'BRIEN: Sam Brownback, thanks for your time, enjoy the state fair and good luck tomorrow.

BROWNBACK: I will, thank you. O'BRIEN: Billy Graham has ministered to many presidents and their families, so what does he have to say about how former first lady Hillary Clinton handled revelations about her husband's infidelity? We'll have that for you. It's a surprise.

But first, key new information about that bridge collapse in Minnesota. An aerial photo from just before it fell. It may be an important clue for investigators. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


O'BRIEN: Carol Costello monitoring the wires, keeping an eye on video feeds from around the world. She joins us from the newsroom with a look at some of the stories we're watching. Hello Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO: Hello Miles. Let's start in Minneapolis. There are major new developments at the site of that bridge collapse. Divers have recovered more human remains today. It's unclear if they represent one body or more. There is now word that one of the bodies found yesterday is that of a 2-year-old girl. In the meantime, investigators looking into what caused the collapse have important new information. It turns out an aerial image was taken of the bridge showing the placement of construction equipment on it right before it fell. There's some question about the weight of that construction equipment.

The U.N. has decided to play a bigger part in national reconciliation in Iraq. Today the Security Council unanimously approved a resolution expanding the U.N.'s role in Iraq in an effort to tackle the humanitarian crisis there. The resolution will allow the U.N. to promote political talks among Iraq's ethnic and religious groups.

Encouraging news about the remaining 21 South Korean hostages held by Taliban members. Taliban and South Korean officials held their first face-to-face talks today on the fate of those hostages. The meeting took place today in Central Afghanistan not far from where the South Koreans were kidnapped last month. Two of the 23 hostages originally kidnapped have already been killed.

The Federal Reserve is working to calm the turmoil on Wall Street. The Fed announcing today it will pump as much money as needed into the U.S. financial system to help overcome the ill effects of a spreading credit crunch. The Fed pushed $38 billion in temporary reserves into the system today on top of a similar move the day before. CNN's Susan Lisovicz will have more in just a few minutes. That's a look at the headlines right now. Miles?

O'BRIEN: Thank you Carol, see you in just a little bit.

Republican presidential candidates are working the crowds at the Iowa state fair as we speak. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is standing by to talk with us, he is vying for second place in an important straw poll. What if he doesn't make it?

And it was a far cry from a typical presidential face-off. Some frank moments as the Democrats debated gay issues and a singing star let one candidate have it.


O'BRIEN: Happening now in Pakistan, a key U.S. ally may be losing his hold on power, but if Pervez Musharraf is pushed aside, what would happen to his country's nukes? It's a question U.S. military planners are thinking about. Barbara Starr has details on their latest assessment.

Iraq's Air Force all but destroyed during the U.S. invasion in 2003. Now they're rebuilding. We'll take you inside the cockpit on a reconnaissance patrol near Baghdad.

And a grim prediction. A top seismologist says southern California is long overdue for a massive earthquake. We'll show you what it might look like if it hits. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Miles O'Brien, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's get right back to Iowa where Republican presidential candidates are feeling the summer heat as they prepare for a straw poll vote among party activists tomorrow. Joining us now, former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Governor Huckabee, good to have you back with us on the program. I asked Senator Brownback just a little while ago if he was running for second place since Mitt Romney has spent so much money on this affair. I think $1 million. Are you in a race for second place as well?

MIKE HUCKABEE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think we'd all like to be in first place. Of course, Governor Romney has pretty well spiked the ball in the end zone already a few weeks ago and declared himself the winner. I think the pressure is on him to be in that position tomorrow. So there's less pressure on us to win. There's certainly pressure on us to do well. There's nine candidates. I don't think all nine will come out of this thing tomorrow. But we plan to.

O'BRIEN: All right. So set the bar for us. If you don't make it to second place, are you out?

HUCKABEE: Oh, no. We've got strong organizations in New Hampshire, in South Carolina, and a lot of it depends on where the separation is. I mean, if there's only a few votes that separate positions one, two, three, four and even five, and it's pretty tight in there, then I think those candidates all have a real justification to keep going.

But if you are really way out and just didn't even get close to the pack, then I think you've got to really honestly assess whether you're in this thing. That's not going to be our problem tomorrow, Miles. We've seen dramatic momentum going on this week. And we're pretty confident going in that it's going to be a great and historic day for us.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you this. Three people sort of at the top of the polling right now, Giuliani, McCain and Thompson. Of course, Thompson hasn't tossed his hat in the ring, but they're not there. Is that an opportunity for the likes of you to get a little mileage?

HUCKABEE: I think it's not only an opportunity for us, but it's a big mistake on their part. Because what they've essentially done is forfeited the game. And when you forfeit, you have a loss, whether you like it or not, and that's what they've done. And I think it's because they knew their messages weren't connecting here very well and they just didn't want to risk an embarrassing loss, so they forfeited. But, you know, in the win/loss record, it's going to come out the same.

O'BRIEN: As far as Mitt Romney goes, there has been a lot of talk in Iowa about his stance -- his pro-life stance, and what appears to be a reversal. He would admit a reversal on pro-life. And his response to people who are critical of him is that they're being holier-than-thou. How do you respond to that?

HUCKABEE: Well, I'm going to take Mitt at his word. If he says he's pro-life now, I think that's fine. And I agree with him. He's a good, decent guy, he has got a great family, I have great respect for him and the family that he has been the father and husband of. So I'm not going to be out here criticizing him.

You know, anytime you change your position on something as fundamental as that, is it going to come up as an issue? Of course, it is. And whether I bring it up or the Democrats bring it up or even just voters bring it up, that's just something he's going to have to confront.

And the real question, can he overcome it? And we'll find out in the course of the next few months.

O'BRIEN: Is it your sense this is a real conversion?

HUCKABEE: I'm going to take him at his word. You know, I believe that if he looks me in the eye and says, look, I'm pro-life now, that's fine. He has made many changes in positions on a number of issues. And I'm glad he's where we are now. But I that think the reason that I ought to be president is because I didn't have to change my position. And it's not just that I say I believe it, I've actually done something about implementing pro-life laws and constitutional amendments in a state.

And so it's great for people to believe something. It's even better when they do act on according to what they believe. And I think that's what voters will eventually determine who to vote for.

O'BRIEN: Mike Huckabee, thanks for your time. I know there are some excellent eats out there at the state fair. A little pork chop on a stick as you were talking about just a few moments ago. Go enjoy.

HUCKABEE: I will, Miles. Thank you very much. Have a cool day wherever you are.

O'BRIEN: All right. Take care. Some of the Democratic presidential candidates will still be recovering -- or are still recovering from their latest face-off. A forum on gay issues in Los Angeles last night had its share of combustible moments despite the candidates' efforts to please the crowd. Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, has more -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Miles, it was the first ever televised forum of presidential candidates focused on gay issues. Six of the eight Democratic wannabes were there, courting what has become a key constituency in the party base.


CROWLEY (voice-over): The forum was a testament to changing times and the political clout of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, a small but active voting block. This was not your grandfather's debate.

MARGARET CARLSON, MODERATOR: You got to get married and I got to be married, but Joe doesn't get to be married.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we have a situation in which civil unions are fully enforced, are widely recognized, people have civil rights under the law, then my sense is that's enormous progress.

CROWLEY: Mostly they were in sync with the audience, all the candidates support full civil rights for gays and repeal of the don't ask-don't tell policy in the military. Two, Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich, support gay marriage.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The state should be there on behalf of people to make sure that that love has a chance to be facilitated.

CROWLEY: But while they were pressed, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, and Hillary Clinton remain opposed to gay marriage.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I prefer to think of it as being very positive about civil unions.

CROWLEY: There were a number of apologies for past votes or statements and there were illuminating moments. John Edwards said the public school system should explain same-sex families to children.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, sure, it should. I mean, the kids who go to public schools need to understand why same- sex couples are the parents of some of the children.

CROWLEY: There were rough moments. Clinton got hit with a full- on assault over her husband's record on gay issues.

MELISSA ETHERIDGE, SINGER/ACTIVIST: Our hearts were broken. We were thrown under the bus. We were pushed aside, all those great promises that were made to us were broken.

CLINTON: Well, you know, obviously, Melissa, I don't see it quite the way that you describe, but I respect your feeling about it.

CROWLEY: Still, as rough moments go, this won the night.

ETHERIDGE: Do you think homosexuality is a choice or is it biological?


ETHERIDGE: I don't know if you understand the question. Do you think a homosexual is born that way, or do you think that around seventh grade we go, ooh, I want to be gay?

RICHARDSON: You know, I'm not a scientist.

CROWLEY: Wrong group for that, and science has long held that homosexuality is biological. Richardson's staff later rushed out a statement saying he actually does not believe homosexuality is a choice.


CROWLEY: The candidates revealed little that was new about their policies or added toward gay issues. Perhaps most notable was that the event took place at all with all the major players attending -- Miles.

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

The Federal Reserve tried to put a tourniquet on the bloodletting on Wall Street today. Did it work? We'll have a market report for you.

Also, is Barack Obama too inexperienced to be president? That's what one of his rivals says. We'll bat that one around in our "Strategy Session." You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.


O'BRIEN: Another down day on Wall Street. All those shaky mortgages once again giving traders fits, but the government did try to staunch the bleeding. Susan Lisovicz, following today's trading, Susan, the Fed stepped in and offered some liquidity. I would love it if they offered me a little liquidity, but what did it do for the market?

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It helped, it helped. Although it was still a down day, Miles. It's really a very unusual move. The Federal Reserve injected billions of dollars into the nation's banking system four times between yesterday and today. The Fed said it wanted to, quote, "facilitate the orderly functioning of financial markets," end quote. Translation, the Fed is just as rattled as we are about these big losses on Wall Street. In fact, central banks from Japan to Europe to Canada injected hundreds of billions of dollars of liquidity into their banks as well in a bid to avert a crisis of confidence.

We haven't seen the banks act in tandem like that since the 9/11 terror attacks. Those moves probably prevented another nauseating selloff on Wall Street. The Dow and Nasdaq pared almost all of their losses at the close.

But, Miles, the problem is that we don't know when the bad news will end. Today, two big mortgage lenders, Countrywide Financial and Washington Mutual said the fallout from those risky loans gone bad will further affect their profits -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: So we don't know where the bottom is yet, do we?

LISOVICZ: No. We do not know. It didn't happen overnight, and it's not going to end overnight, but one thing that has really changed this week, just earlier this week, Tuesday, the Fed left interest rates unchanged as it has for a year, saying that inflation remains its predominant concern.

Today the Fed stepping in. The betting on Wall Street now is that the Fed will actually cut rates by next month and possibly by half a point. The Fed is concerned about what it's seeing.

O'BRIEN: All right. Well, maybe that will turn things around. Susan Lisovicz, watching things on Wall Street for us today. Thank you very much.

Carol Costello is in the NEWSROOM. She is watching things for us there. Other stories we're interested in.

Hello, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Miles. It has taken some orbital acrobatics, but the Space Shuttle Endeavour has finally docked with International Space Station. The shuttle performed a backflip as it approached so the space craft's underside could be photographed. NASA wants to learn whether three pieces of foam insulation shaken loose during liftoff has caused any damage. At this point mission managers don't believe the pieces were big enough to cause any major problems.

An update now on the probe into the Virginia Tech shootings. Police say two days before the rampage, witnesses saw a suspicious man in a hooded sweatshirt in the building where Seug-Hui Cho killed 30 people. The buildings' doors were chained shut that day, just as they were during the shootings. But state police say they don't know for sure if the suspicious man was indeed Cho.

The 28-year-old man suspect of killing three college students in Newark, New Jersey, is now being held on $1 million bond. Jose Carranza pleaded not guilty today. His attorney confirms that Carranza is an illegal immigrant from Peru. Another suspect, a 15- year-old, was arraigned yesterday. The county prosecutor says she wants him tried as an adult. Police say they're searching for three more suspects.

Authorities still looking for a man who skipped going through security at an airport in Charlotte, North Carolina. They're not sure if he did it on purpose or if he was just confused. They believe he got onto his flight before they could catch him. Crews checked 15 planes, but they didn't find him. Officials say 12 flights departed before the search, and the man was probably on one of them. That's a look of the headlines right now -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Carol.

Some fascinating numbers out today in the changing face of America. Minorities now outnumber Caucasians in nearly one in 10 American counties. This comes from the Census Bureau. Los Angeles County leads the way with more than 7 million minority residents or more than 70 percent of the population there. Well over half the minorities there are Hispanic, followed by African-Americans and Asians. But the most Hispanic county in the nation, where is it? Starr County, Texas. About 97 percent of residents there are of Hispanic origin. As for the most African-American county, you see the graphic there, that is Claiborne County in Mississippi where about 85 percent of the population is African-American.

Coming up in the "Strategy Session," Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, one is leading in the national polls, one is focused on Iowa.


RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have a record of delivering on promises.

What the three big candidates in the Democratic Party share in common is they have never held an executive office.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'd like to do as well as I can do. I think everybody wants to win. I want to win, too. But a lot of folks working hard and we'll see who comes out.


O'BRIEN: The question is, who is the true front-runner in the Republicans' race for the White House?

And the Reverend Billy Graham has words of praise for Senator Clinton. Is her nomination becoming a coronation? We'll explore that with Leslie Sanchez and Bill Press here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Rudy Giuliani is still sitting at the top of a new CNN poll, but it is a different story in Iowa where he has opted out of tomorrow's straw poll. Should he be concerned about this? Joining us for today's "Strategy Session," conservative commentator Leslie Sanchez, and liberal commentator Bill Press.

Good to have you both here.



O'BRIEN: Let's run through the numbers very quickly here. First of all, our CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, this is the brand- new stuff, this is national, among registered Republicans. Giuliani on top with 29 percent. Down ever so slightly from June, Fred Thompson, not even in, doing well, McCain, and down it goes. Interesting.

Now let's go to University of Iowa poll, this is a recent one as well. And look at the situation there. Romney at 27 percent. Giuliani at 11 percent. So here's the question, Leslie. Is Giuliani missing an opportunity, making a tactical, strategic mistake?

SANCHEZ: I don't think so. I think Giuliani's doing what he knows is best. I mean, Romney has spent a significant amount of time, effort, money investing in the voters of Iowa. And I think he's going to see a very strong return at the straw poll. But Giuliani has the strongest favorability of all the Republican candidates. And as voters get to know them, you know, they're making strategic decisions...

O'BRIEN: But you have to do well in Iowa, don't you? Now who would you say then, given all this, is the real front-runner?

SANCHEZ: Well, I'd say you'd have to do well in Iowa -- in the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire primary. Those are the two most strategic.

O'BRIEN: Well, people in Iowa are going to remember this if he's not around, right, I mean, don't you think?

SANCHEZ: Historically they do but they don't always pick the Republican nominee. I mean, they have got a kind of mixed record in terms of selecting the best candidate. It's really what's strategic with all of these primaries being pushed up. These candidates have to make really strong decisions about whether they stay in front-runner status.

O'BRIEN: What do you think?

PRESS: Well, I have to say, and I've been to the straw poll several times, and we all know, it's just a beauty contest. And they bus people in, and they buy people tickets.


PRESS: So in sense it's meaningless. At the same time, I think McCain and Giuliani are making a mistake in not competing with Romney because it just looks like, A, they don't care about the people of Iowa, the Republicans; and two, I wouldn't say they're afraid of Romney, but they're not taking him head on. So I think they come off looking bad.

I have to say on the national poll, however, for Fred Thompson to be up at 22 percent, I think, shows that the Republican Party is still yearning for somebody different. They're unsatisfied with the current field, and I think the danger is the expectations for Fred Thompson are so high that the Freddie sizzle could be followed by the Freddie fizzle.

O'BRIEN: Well, he may peak the day he announces. What do you think, Leslie?

SANCHEZ: I think there's definitely a demand for somebody with charisma, strong communication skills. The difference with somebody like Romney is a lot of people don't know him. It takes people longer amount of time. You see Fred Thompson. You've had some experience with him. Giuliani is so charismatic and so broad in his leadership ability, you know, post-9/11, that people have a good sense of who he is.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's talk about this Billy Graham book that is just out. This is "The preacher & the Presidents" about Billy Graham written by a couple of TIME correspondents, Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. Quote from him in this book referring to Hillary Clinton. "She is different from the Hillary you see in the media. There is a warm side to her, a spiritual one." Virtually an endorsement. Isn't that interesting?

PRESS: Well, it's not an endorsement, but first of all, it can't help but help Hillary Clinton. It certainly, I think, would make it a little more difficult for the religious right to paint her as jezebel. At the same time, you know, I remember Billy Graham had kind words about Richard Nixon too. So I think you take it with a grain of salt, what Billy Graham says about presidents and their wives.

O'BRIEN: Is it a coronation?

SANCHEZ: It's not a coronation. But I think we have to start with the positives. Let's say -- I think that is probably what gets lost in the debate. Let's assume that these are people of faith. Let's assume, for example, we all support our troops. That's not the discussion. The discussion is, where do your policies lie?

She is somebody that is for partial-birth abortion, for abortion on-demand. I mean, her policies aren't in-line with what the faith community would think was important. And that's probably more of the challenge.

PRESS: And yet Billy Graham says she's OK.


SANCHEZ: You can be OK as a person, but when you are a legislator, what policies do you support to protect Americans (INAUDIBLE).

O'BRIEN: Let's move on. Joe Biden with his comments -- I've been meaning to ask some people about this. Joe Biden in his comments, he was on Newsweek online the other day. And he had this. He is talking about Barack Obama. "I think he can be ready," he says, "but right now I don't believe he is. It's awful hard with only a little experience, it's not something that lends itself to on-the-job training."

PRESS: Joe Biden says he's inexperienced. By the way, Joe Biden also said he's articulate and clean, if you remember that earlier remark. I think Joe Biden had better -- I'd caution him about that.

O'BRIEN: Well, let's remember his first run in '88 and that little plagiarism issue. So he had...


PRESS: I have to say, I do remember that. I think Barack Obama is ready to get in the White House. I think he's ready to assume leadership. And if you're an experienced politician like Joe Biden and a rookie is beating your butt in the polls...

O'BRIEN: You're not happy.

PRESS: You're not happy.

SANCHEZ: There's two points to that. One, he wants the -- Joe Biden wants the determinant factor to be foreign policy. It's his strength. He's trying to move the discussion there to show, look at the gravitas I have on this issue. The second part of that is, there's no doubt Barack Obama has charisma, is a great orator. The question is if it is proven he's inexperienced. Hillary Clinton has made a point of showing that repeatedly, and she's somebody who says she has 35 years of public experience...

O'BRIEN: Well, all right, but as a Republican, isn't Hillary Clinton the candidate you want? Isn't Barack Obama the worst possible candidate from a Republican point of view?

SANCHEZ: Not at all. I think we would -- I think Republicans would be excited about either of those candidates, but Hillary Clinton...

O'BRIEN: Really?

SANCHEZ: ... is the one that...

O'BRIEN: Why either?

SANCHEZ: Well, either one, I think, that there's a great policy debate to be had about the distinctions between the two. You've got two candidates, one with no experience, and the other who says she has 35 years. I don't know if she counts her time on Wal-Mart -- on the Wal-Mart board, as part of Hillary Clinton's public experience. But let's be clear. You don't know what you get with Hillary Clinton. I think she has a lot of negatives. She doesn't poll very well with white voters, and with married women.


PRESS: Let me just say, Democrats are equally enthusiastic about either Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani or Fred Thompson, bring them on.

O'BRIEN: But as a Democrat, do you have a preference, I mean, coming out of this? Are you willing to say at this point?

PRESS: Which of the Republicans I'd rather run against?

O'BRIEN: No, no, no, between Hillary Clinton and...\

PRESS: No, I've decided to...

O'BRIEN: You're not going to go there, are you?

PRESS: As a radio talk show host, I've decided not to endorse in the primary. I'll take any one of them except Mike Gravel. OK, how's that?


PRESS: I'm putting myself way out there, I know.

O'BRIEN: But let me ask you this. This point, though, about Fred Thompson. Are Republicans feeling like there is a lackluster feel?

SANCHEZ: I don't think so. I think Republicans are taking their time to find out who's going to really stand the chance to be strong on -- in terms of leadership. Who has the experience? And they are contrasting -- it is funny, Republican voters look at what the Democratic field is looking like. I think that's why you see Rudy Giuliani doing so well.

You have economic conservatives who are saying, I think Rudy Giuliani could do very well against a Hillary Clinton. It doesn't count where social conservatives are, but a lot of people are starting to line that up and that's why I think you see such strong favorabilities. You know who he is.

O'BRIEN: All right. Leslie Sanchez, Bill Press, good Friday "Strategy Session." Appreciate it. Thanks for coming by.

Collapsed bridges, burning buildings, thousands dead and many more homeless. Experts say that could all become a reality if a worst-case scenario earthquake hits. We'll tell you how likely it is and where in the United States it is forecast to happen. There's a clue for you right there on the screen.

Plus, Pakistan's president could be losing his grip on power. And the U.S. military is already planning for what might happen if that country's nukes fall into the wrong hands. Barbara Starr will join us from the Pentagon. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: A quick look at some of the day's most striking video for you. We start in Chicago where police officers disguise themselves as maintenance workers as part of an effort to bust speeders. That doesn't seem fair to me.

To Europe now where this aerial footage shows the Rhine River overflowing its banks along the border between France and Germany. Heavy rains and flooding have disrupted river traffic, shut down roads and killed at least two people there.

And in Rome, flames leaping more than 100 feet into the air as fire tears through part of a famous film studio known as Hollywood-on- the-Tiber. The sprawling set for the HBO series "Rome" was partly destroyed.

On our "Political Radar" this Friday, Iowa's governor is vowing to hold the nation's first presidential contest in January. Democrat Chet Culver rejects suggestions that the rush to move up primaries should push the Iowa Caucuses to December 2007. This comes a day after South Carolina Republicans announced they're moving up their primary to January 19th, a move likely to push the New Hampshire Primary date into early January. Did you get all that? Got to write that down.

Democrat John Edwards is taking on the front-runner again, this time not Hillary Clinton, but the GOP leader Rudy Giuliani. The Edwards camp issued statement today calling Giuliani's latest comments about 9/11 "a break from reality." In Ohio yesterday, the former New York mayor likened himself to the rescuers on the scene just after the World Trade Center was attacked.


GIULIANI: The workers who have any issues about September 11th, I was one of those workers. This is not a mayor or a governor or a president who is sitting in an ivory tower. I was at Ground Zero as often if not more than most of the workers. I was there working with them. I was there guiding things. I was there bringing people there. But I was expose to exactly the same things they were exposed to. So in that sense, I'm one of them.


O'BRIEN: The Giuliani camp says, we quote them now: "For John Edwards to lecture Rudy Giuliani about the 9/11 attack is laughable at best."

And how far might the presidential hopefuls go to win over Hispanic voters? Well, listen to Senator Barack Obama, breaking into song during an interview with a Latino radio host.




OBAMA: Thank you. Huh?


O'BRIEN: Not quitting his day job we think. Remember, for the latest political news at any time, we invite you to check out our "Political Ticker,"