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O.J. Simpson Questioned by Las Vegas Police; Iraq Passing on 9 Benchmarks, Fails 7; Giuliani Takes on Clinton

Aired September 14, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, four grades on Iraq. Fresh grades show just where that passing and failing, and they come from none other than the White House.
Many Democrats in Congress don't like President Bush's next steps for the war and they hope more Republicans don't like them either. Some Democrats are trying to woo Republicans against the president's plan.

And political bull's eye as Democrats try to put a firmer grip on the Senate. One popular Democrat will take on a Republican senator who's vulnerable because of Iraq.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with breaking news out of Las Vegas.

O.J. Simpson has just been questioned in an alleged armed robbery. It involves an alleged confrontation at a casino hotel room and involves sports memorabilia. Police say they have questioned the former football star, and this is how the captain of the Las Vegas Police Department explained it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAPT. JAMES DILLON, LAS VEGAS METRO POLICE DEPT.: Thursday, September 13th, just before 8:00 p.m., Las Vegas Metro responded to a call of a person as a victim of an armed robbery at the Palace Station Hotel and Casino at 2411 West Sahara. The victim stated that one of the suspects involved in the robbery was O.J. Simpson. The items that were taken were various sports-related products.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And Simpson tells The Associated Press he was conducting a sting operation to get back items that belonged to him.

Now, Simpson told the AP that an auction house owner called him weeks ago to say that collectors had some of Simpson's items and they were selling it. So Simpson goes on to tell the AP, "Everybody knows this is stolen stuff," Simpson said. "Not only wasn't there a break- in, but the auction owner came to the lobby and escorted us up into the room. And in any event, it's stolen stuff that's mine. Nobody was roughed up." Our CNN's Ted Rowlands joining me from Las Vegas from the police department.

Ted, what is the latest? What do we know about this so far?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, O.J. may think that that is his stuff, but the Las Vegas police want to know exactly how he tried to get it back. And the other thing we should keep in mind is that pretty much anything that's worth -- has worth could be Fred Goldman's stuff. So that's another thing at play here.

But basically what the police here are saying is that O.J. Simpson and four others allegedly, according to this alleged victim, went up to a hotel room with two guns in tow, brandished the weapon, and took memorabilia out of the room.

They have talked to Simpson. They are talking to him apparently right now, still. They're still conducting that interview, and they're hoping to get more concrete answers as to exactly what happened there.

They say they have not recovered any weapons, but they have recovered some memorabilia which would make one assume that O.J., indeed, did have the memorabilia. As you mentioned, he's told The Associated Press that, yes, he was up in that hotel room, they didn't break in, and he took what was his.

The big question is, what is his and how did he take that stuff? And they're still talking to Mr. Simpson.

They say he is free to travel at this point, but a source within the Las Vegas Police Department said things do look like something did happen there and it makes sense that there could have been an armed robbery here. It's serious stuff if O.J. Simpson indeed did what this alleged suspect said he did. He could be in some trouble.

MALVEAUX: And Ted, is there any sense of why he believes that these are his items that were in this particular room, in this casino?

ROWLANDS: Well, police are not going into detail at this point. They -- this is really the infancy of this investigation.

In fact, you know, they held a press conference because it was O.J. Simpson. Typically, they would be hard at work trying to gather facts. And that's exactly what they're still doing.

The fact that they're still talking to Simpson proves that. I mean, they're -- they're trying to identify these other suspects as well, talking to the alleged victim.

This is very early on. I'm sure we'll get more as the day progresses and the investigation progresses, but at this point they just don't want to tell us anything in terms of what O.J. said or didn't say, but they did tell us they have not recovered any weapons, and that they did -- they do have memorabilia.

MALVEAUX: OK. Ted, if you could just hang on with us.

We want to bring in our own CNN legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, who also has extensive coverage of this.

You wrote a book about this as well, the case of O.J. Simpson.

What do we know here so far in terms of where he stands legally? I understand that he's being held but he hasn't been arrested but he's considered a suspect.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Right, and he's under investigation, and that's not really a legal status at the moment. He's free to go, apparently.

What's peculiar about what the Las Vegas police said is that he is willing to be interviewed, but they have not interviewed him yet. The longer they delay, the longer -- the more likely it is that he hires a lawyer who would certainly tell him to keep his mouth shut. So it would seem very much in the Las Vegas police interest to interview him as extensively as much as possible, as soon as possible, but it's not clear if that's happening.

MALVEAUX: Jeff, I want to hang on here because we have got new sound from Alfred Beardsley. This is the man who claims that he was robbed by O.J. Simpson. He has spoken exclusively to TMZ. We have that sound bite.

Let's just take a quick listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALFRED BEARDSLEY, CLAIMS HE WAS ROBBED BY SIMPSON: I was directed at gunpoint to pack the items up in the condition they were brought in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now, Jeff, could he be charged with anything here if O.J. Simpson really believed that these were his things, his property, even if he had a weapon and he was coming in, even perhaps escorted into the room to get these things?

TOOBIN: No, even if it turns out that a matter -- an item turns out to be your property, you're not allowed to pull a gun and force someone to turn it over. That's not how the legal system works. You're supposed to go through more customary procedures.

But, you know, it's important to know that we've only heard one side of the story here, and Simpson has undoubtedly some sort of explanation, which everyone, including the police, has to hear. But what does elevate this matter beyond just a perhaps misunderstanding about some memorabilia is the use or possible use of a weapon.

If a weapon is involved, the police have to take it seriously. And that's what raises this matter to something that could get O.J. in a great deal of trouble if, in fact, it's proved that he wielded a weapon, he owned a weapon, he used a weapon, or even owned a weapon without prior -- without the proper procedures.

MALVEAUX: Well, Jeff, we'll get back to you as soon as we have got some more answers in terms of just what it looks like, what he is facing. Perhaps it's a misunderstanding, perhaps it's a lot more serious.

But of course we'll bring you back in as we get more information.

Thank you.

Jeffrey Toobin.

And it's a report that many people have been waiting for. Now the White House puts out its assessment on just where the Iraqi government is passing and failing.

Our White House Correspondent Ed Henry now joining me.

And Ed, as we expected, it's a mixed report, but also it looks like a failing grade in some ways as well.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Suzanne. And the White House is getting awfully creative in how it's grading the Iraqi government's success or failure.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, put some broccoli on there. Yes. A family tradition.

HENRY (voice over): After serving up another new slogan for the Iraq war...

BUSH: Return on success.

HENRY: ... now the president is trying to sell it. Lunch with marines at Quantico.

BUSH: The plan I announced was that we're making enough -- based upon the fact we're making enough success in Iraq, that we can begin bringing some toops home.

HENRY: That sunny forecast stands in stark contrast to the grim assessment by the White House in a new report to Congress. The Iraq government has shown satisfactory progress on only nine of 18 benchmarks, unsatisfactory on seven, while the final two were inconclusive.

But the White House gave a positive rating on any benchmark where "... present trend data demonstrates a positive trajectory which is tracking towards satisfactory accomplishment." In other words, thumbs up for a benchmark that might be met eventually.

BUSH: We expect the Iraqi government to enhance national reconciliation through the passage of law.

HENRY: This lax score keeping doesn't seem to mesh with the president's normally tough standards for, say, America's schools.

BUSH: Schools just shuffled kids from grade to grade as if the child couldn't learn to read and write and add and subtract. They never measured, they never had any idea how a child was doing until it was too late. And that is unsatisfactory for the United States.

HENRY: With the president having trouble getting the Iraqis to eat their vegetables, White House spokesman Tony Snow has tried to downplay benchmarks.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, benchmarks were something the Congress wanted to use as a metric.

HENRY: Except back in May the president endorsed them.

BUSH: One message I have heard from people from both parties is that the idea of benchmarks makes sense, and I agree.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Now, in July, when the preliminary White House report on benchmarks came out and had bad grades for the Iraqi government, the White House said wait until September. Now September's here, the report card's not good again. The White House is now saying wait until March, when there'll be yet another report card.

Where have we heard that, Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: We've heard it again and again.

Thanks so much, Ed.

And President Bush says he will withdraw some 21,500 troops from Iraq. That would bring troop levels back to what they were before the so-called surge.

Now, many Republicans say that it's the right thing to do, but some Democrats simply are calling it a sales job and they're trying to turn Republican discontent into some votes for a Democratic pullout plan.

Our own CNN congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is on Capitol Hill.

And Dana, what are the Democrats now faced with? What do they do now?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, next week, Suzanne, there will be another debate in the Senate on Iraq. And Democratic leaders, for them the name of the game is finding 60 votes to pass something, pass anything to finally give them a victory.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH: In the life of all free nations... BASH (voice over): Now that they've blasted the president's troop reduction plan as unacceptable, Democrats are frantically searching for one that is.

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: And we're talking to our colleagues across the aisle. We recognize that we do need bipartisan support. We do need Republicans to come and join us.

BASH: Democratic leadership sources say any Iraq legislation must narrow the mission to focus on counterterrorism and training the Iraqi army. But Democrats now admit what they pushed for months, a hard deadline for withdrawal, will not pass. And Senate Democratic sources say leaders are weighing two options -- a timeline that sets a goal rather than a deadline for most troops to come home, or a more flexible withdrawal timeline that has no final date at all.

REED: Part of the discussion is to what extent we can attract more support, hopefully 60 or more votes, by changing timing and changing some of the emphasis.

BASH: Democrats concede their steep challenge is finding the right proposal to draw consensus. A timeline flexible enough to appeal to GOP senators weary of undercutting military commanders but with enough teeth to keep staunchly anti-war Democrats on board.

Democrats are targeting some 10 GOP senators like Minnesota's Norm Coleman. He called the president's proposal to bring extra surge troops home by next summer a positive development but said, "Americans need to know there is light at the end of the tunnel well beyond that time frame."

Republican Susan Collins isn't satisfied either.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I don't think it's a significant enough drawdown of our forces. What I've advocated is that we change the mission of our troops in Iraq away from combat roles and toward counterterrorism operations, training of Iraqi forces, and border security.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, there will be several Iraq votes next week, but all sides agree that the one that probably has the best shot of passing is one that would mandate more time for troops home between their deployments. Senators who support more troops to come home and faster, they say that that is a back door way of forcing Republicans to vote for troop withdrawal -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Dana, thank you so much. We'll see how this all plays out next week.

And Jack Cafferty is off today.

Coming up, she is a vocal critic of the president's Iraq plan. Senator Barbara Boxer of California, I'll speak with her about how Democrats hope to persuade more Republicans to back a pullout plan. And we haven't yet reached the presidential primaries, but two candidates are going after each other as if it's the general election. And they're lobbing some very harsh words in their brutal political battle.

And why might Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama be shy about campaigning in Florida? You may be surprised when you find out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani has a full-page ad in today's "New York Times". In it he criticizes Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and he defends the top U.S. military commander for Iraq, David Petraeus.

In the ad, Giuliani tries to link Clinton to another ad from liberal group MoveOn.org that questioned Petraeus' integrity. CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider joining me now.

And Bill, has this campaign already gotten kind of beyond the primaries here?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Forget the primaries, Suzanne. One Republican has already started the general election campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice over): Rudy Giuliani may feel Fred Thompson breathing down his neck. Our Poll of Polls shows Giuliani's support among Republicans averaging 29 percent and newcomer Thompson 23 percent. In the Democratic race, Hillary Clinton leads Barack Obama by 20 points on the average.

This week Clinton had this response to General David Petraeus' testimony about the war in Iraq.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The reports that you provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief.

SCHNEIDER: That set off Giuliani.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have a right to expect of our presidential candidates more statesmanship than accusing American generals of the "willing suspension of disbelief."

SCHNEIDER: Like many of his fellow Republicans, Giuliani was angry about the ad MoveOn.org ran in Monday's "New York Times" criticizing General Petraeus, which he linked to Clinton.

GIULIANI: I was really disappointed in Hillary Clinton's attack on the general's integrity. Kind of joining in that, her failure to condemn MoveOn.org.

SCHNEIDER: So Giuliani ran his own ad accusing Clinton of being part of an orchestrated attack on General Petraeus involving MoveOn, the Democrats, and "The New York Times". Sort of a vast left wing conspiracy.

Why is Giuliani going after Clinton and not Thompson, his Republican rival? Has the general election campaign started already? Consider this: among Republicans nationwide, 66 percent believe President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq is succeeding, 71 percent favor the war in Iraq, and 77 percent approve of the job President Bush is doing.

But a whopping 80 percent have an unfavorable opinion of Hillary Clinton. Republicans dislike Clinton more than they support the war or President Bush.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Giuliani has to be acceptable to conservatives, and what better way to do it than to show he's ready to lead the fight against Hillary Clinton? Among conservative Republicans, 85 percent have a negative opinion of the New York senator -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Bill Schneider, thank you so much.

And still ahead, O.J. Simpson, more problems with the law. The former NFL star being questioned this hour in connection with a purported armed robbery. More on that developing story coming up.

Also ahead, two big names in New Hampshire -- Sununu and Shaheen. A showdown looms for Sununu's seat in the Senate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Florida offers presidential candidates a bounty of electoral votes, which is why so many of them are campaigning there. One of them is Republican Fred Thompson, and he is stumping in the Sunshine State today, but some of his rivals on the Democratic side might shy away from Florida.

Our CNN's John Zarrella is in Miami.

A beautiful backdrop, John.

This involves controversy, however, over the efforts over Florida.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It sure does, Suzanne. Of course, it is Florida, so when it comes to elections, that means there have to be issues.

This time it's not hanging chads, it's not breakdowns of voting machines, it's not even one party versus the other. What it is this time is Democrats versus Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA (voice over): The issue is so touchy the candidates seem to get a rash just as soon as the name "Florida" comes up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, we're with CNN. Can I ask you a quick question about Florida.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, let me talk to these folks right now.

Go ahead.

Because I'm in San Francisco right now.

ZARRELLA: And on a recent Florida stop, Hillary Clinton just kept on walking when questioned.

The candidates are caught in the middle in a fight between Florida Democrats and the national party. If the state Democrats stick to a binding January 29th primary, the Democratic National Committee is threatening to strip Florida of all its delegates.

STEVE GELLER, FLORIDA STATE SENATE: We're lining up in a circle, maybe we're aiming low and shooting ourselves in the feet instead, but this makes no sense to me.

ZARRELLA: While Democrats at the state and national level wait to see who cries uncle first, the candidates are now pledging to stop campaigning in the state. Perhaps by the end of the month or until there's a resolution.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it's going to affect my campaign and all the other candidates. We've all signed a pledge saying that we will campaign in the first four states as prescribed by the rules.

ZARRELLA: But Democrats in the largest swing state may lose their primary voice. The Florida legislature moved the state primary up to January 29th in violation of both national parties' rules. Florida Republicans will face consequences but not as severe as losing all their nominating convention delegates.

JIM ROOSEVELT, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: The rules are clear in both parties that you lose delegates to the convention if you push this process toward earlier and earlier and essentially create chaos.

ZARRELLA: National party officials insist they are not trying to punish Florida, just preserve order.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA: Now, state Democratic Party officials say if the candidates stop coming and Florida's Democratic Party is stripped of all of its delegates to the convention, that's going to infuriate voters and further run the risk that Florida may once again lose to the Republicans.

MALVEAUX: John, thank you so much. Always hot in Florida. A hot debate as well.

Up next, did the president change any senators' minds last night? We'll have a debate between Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer and Republican John Ensign coming up.

And John Boehner, the Republicans' leader in the House, under fire from Democrats and a member of his own party. At issue, something Boehner said here, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Abbi Tatton, our I-Team reporter, has the story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Happening now, much discussion today about the U.S. commitment to Iraq. In his speech last night, President Bush announced plans for a modest drawdown of troops, but he signaled he will hand off crucial decisions to his successor. The U.S. Senate will debate the course of the war next week.

And fallout today from a startling military mishap. Air Force crews to review security procedures after a combat bomber flew hundreds of miles across the U.S. with nuclear warheads attached to its wings.

Another problem with the law for O.J. Simpson. At last report, Simpson was being questioned by authorities in Las Vegas in connection with a purported armed robbery. He's been named as a suspect in the incident at a casino involving stolen sports memorabilia.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

More now on the U.S. course in Iraq. President Bush's speech last night is being panned by congressional Democrats, even some Republicans, as failing to signal an end to the U.S. commitment. But as CNN Chief National Correspondent John King reports, Mr. Bush may have shifted things more than it seems -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, it's interesting.

If you listen to those Democrats, they say more of the same, no change from the president, but others who aren't so locked into the partisan position say they listened to the president and they see the potential -- potential for a turning point.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice over): Lunch with Marines, then a message from the commander in chief.

BUSH: And I call upon the United states Congress, listen very carefully to what General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker reported, and support the troop levels that these two men think are necessary to achieve our objective.

KING: Translation: Congress should forget about even deeper troop cuts. But, by agreeing to some reductions, even though his own Iraq report card shows modest progress, at best, some believe Mr. Bush has opened the door to a new Iraq debate.

LEE HAMILTON, CO-CHAIRMAN, IRAQ STUDY GROUP: From now on, the debate is going to be, how quick do you get these troops out? How many do you pull out? And that's a very different debate.

JON ALTERMAN, MIDDLE EAST PROGRAM DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Politically, the president has moved toward the center. The president hasn't been talking about victory anymore. Clearly, what he's telegraphed is, we are moving toward a reduced American presence.

KING: The debate over how much of a reduction will determine how many troops will still be in Iraq 16 months from now, when Mr. Bush yields to the next commander in chief.

ALTERMAN: The best thing the president can do is go to 100,000 or a little less by the end of his term and allow the next president to take those four years to bring out 100,000 troops, instead of take four years to bring out 130,000 troops.

KING: General Petraeus is already drafting contingencies for additional cuts late next year, but the president says some long-term presence will be in required, and, in any event, that Congress should not interfere in decisions he will make down the road.

But there are efforts in Congress to force the president's hand, and some believe there is now a chance for a bipartisan consensus.

HAMILTON: Two huge adjustments have been made. One, the Democrats have said, we're going to give up on the rigid timeline to get out. They can't get that. They don't have the votes for it. But the president has said, OK, I'm going to begin to redeploy troops. The whole frame of the debate now shifts.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: The president, of course, still has the veto pen and other executive powers if the Congress tries to force something on him he doesn't like.

But, Suzanne, many say, the biggest obstacle in this short term to compromise may well be the Democrats running for president. They still say get most of, if not all, of the troops out by the end of 2008. And because they're trying to appease the left of the party, they're reluctant to embrace any compromise that would say leave 100,000 troops there.

MALVEAUX: So -- so, the Democrats widely panning this. But what about the Republicans here? Obviously, President Bush really wanted to win over some of the moderates. Was he successful?

KING: It strengthens the president's hand right now that all of the leading Republican candidates for president are saying, General Petraeus did a good job and implicitly that the president did a good job last night. They prefer to talk about the general, not the president, which is telling.

But, privately, if you talk to the other leading Republican campaigns, they would very much like to not have this be the defining debate of 2008. They would like the trend line on troops going down, not static, because, if it flat at 130,000, guess what the big issue will be? What to do in Iraq. Republicans don't think that is the best territory. So, their private hope is that the president some time next summer agrees to at least further incremental troop cuts.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you so much, John.

KING: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: And joining us now to talk about Iraq, about President Bush's speech last night, and the White House report to Congress, Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California. She has long favored setting a deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. Also with us, Republican Senator John Ensign from Nevada. He has warned in the past against cutting and running from Iraq.

Thank you very much, both of you, for joining us here.

I want to start off by essentially giving a sense of how the White House is responding to this. Obviously, the president was making the case here that you should not cut and run, that the troops, a small number can go, but -- but not right away.

Dana Perino said, and she's saying specifically to the Democrats: "Unfortunately, many Democrats seem to have invested their political future in our defeat. It seems that, for some of them, failure is the only option, and the good news is bad news. The president wants bipartisanship, but not if it causes us to lose the war."

Is there a compromise that is in the offing here, Senator Boxer?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, we have 54 votes to get the troops out by a date certain. It's only because we got just a few Republicans to join with us -- we only have 51 Democrats -- that we didn't send that to the president.

So, we're very close to getting this war turned around. And I was listening to the president. I guess he spoke about 20 minutes. And he was really running in place and hiding behind generals and ambassadors. The bottom line is, he is the commander in chief.

And, at the end of the day, what he handed the American people is this: If things go well, we will be back in another year to pre- surge levels. So, Iraq continues. It's an open checkbook.

Yesterday, Suzanne, I wrote a letter to a family that has now lost their second son in Iraq. This is the deadliest summer we have ever had. Seventy percent of the Iraqis want us gone.

So, the president is really running in place, and there's a lot of chat about how he's changed. I hope he has. I did not see it. MALVEAUX: Senator Ensign, what do you -- what do you make of what the president did last night? Did he convince you that they're on the right course?

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R), NEVADA: Well, it's not a question of what the president did. It's a question of what our troops are doing over in Iraq.

Everybody has agreed that you must have political stability in the long run for success in Iraq, but you can't have political stability until you have security stability, the military stability. And that was the purpose of the surge.

According to General Petraeus and his troops over there, that -- the surge has had a good effect. It is not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a lot better than it was, say, six months ago.

There's no question, by all measures, that violence is down, civilian violence is down, our military deaths are down. And, so, we are headed in the right direction. But we have a lot more work to do.

And I think, really, it's time that we quit, you know, worrying about politics driving the decisions that we're making over there. We should really start being Americans, not Republicans, not Democrats, but Americans, and coming together, so that we can look at the long- term war against these Islamic terrorists, because it's not just in Iraq. It's Afghanistan and other parts of the world that we're going to have to confront these Islamic terrorists.

MALVEAUX: Senator, how do you explain, when you talk about the success, the progress, the president's Iraq progress report that was released today, which really shows that the Iraqi government has not been meeting those kind of benchmarks? Only half of them satisfactory, one from the last time in June that seemed to have improved here. How do you come away with such a rosy picture?

ENSIGN: Well, it's not a rosy picture.

I said that there's a lot of political progress that needs to be made. For long-term stability of the country, the government, they have to have reconciliation. They have to have the oil law in place. And, frankly, the Iraqis have to start learning to live together. And they also have to have a military and a police force that is able to defend their country from forces within and from without.

MALVEAUX: Senator Boxer...

ENSIGN: We are not there. We're not close to there yet.

MALVEAUX: Senator Boxer, how do you force the Iraqi government to actually make those kinds of steps?

BOXER: Look, if the Iraqis don't want to govern themselves, you're not going to do it. You're not going to make them do it. That's the issue. And I think what the American people are saying -- and I agree with John -- this isn't partisan. It cuts across lines here. Most of Americans want us out of there. It is time to say to the Iraqis, we have died for you. We have bled for you. We have wounded that are never going to recover and never get back to normal, now 27,000 plus. We're headed toward a trillion dollars for you.

You either govern yourselves or we're really sorry. We have done everything. No one is saying cut and run. There isn't one Democrat I know in the United States Senate or any of our presidential candidates who have said that.

What we have said is, let us do a responsible redeployment. John is right about something else. He talked about the war on terror. But what he doesn't say is, there wasn't one terror cell inside Iraq until we went in there. And Lee Hamilton and Tom Kean just wrote a very important op-ed piece that said, our presence is fuelling al Qaeda and being used as a recruitment tool.

MALVEAUX: Senator Boxer...

(CROSSTALK)

BOXER: So, staying there is making us less safe.

MALVEAUX: If I could interrupt for just a moment...

BOXER: Sorry.

MALVEAUX: ... let's -- let's hear from Vice President Cheney, because he's talking about the Maliki government here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are those who wonder why free Iraq hasn't yet produced a single unifying figure, like Hamid Karzai or a Nelson Mandela.

The problem, as President Bush pointed out recently, is that the Nelson Mandelas of Iraq are scarce, because Saddam Hussein made sure that, if they didn't escape the country, they were dead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Senator Ensign, obviously, the president is dealing not with a Nelson Mandela. He is dealing with al-Maliki here. And, clearly, there's not a lot of faith in al-Maliki bringing the two sects together.

ENSIGN: Well, there's no question we have been disappointed with the leadership in Iraq, but we also have to look at this thing in a larger context.

If we just say we can't have success in Iraq, we have to redeploy, it doesn't matter, let's get our troops out of there, it doesn't matter, the consequences, we have to look at what would happen. Not only would there be a humanitarian crisis of biblical type proportions, but we would also leave Iran with the ability to step in.

And, as Iran is trying to get a nuclear weapon, the fact that they could have a weakened Iraq to be able to take over, have more oil money, the complete destabilization of the region, it would make America a lot less safe. And, so, that's why I think that we need to be Americans together.

MALVEAUX: Senator...

ENSIGN: And we need to fight this thing and make sure that we do have success in Iraq to make us safer here at home.

MALVEAUX: Senator, sorry to interrupt. I know we have run out of time. We have got to go.

But, thank you so much, Senator Ensign, and thank you so much, Senator Boxer, as well, for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ENSIGN: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: And coming up: more on that tiff between Rudy Giuliani and Senator Hillary Clinton, two potential nominees doing battle, still months before the first primary.

And heavyweights in New Hampshire get set to do battle. A solid challenge emerges to the Senate seat held by Republican John Sununu.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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MALVEAUX: Another seat Democrats are eying now belongs to a Republican from New Hampshire, Senator John Sununu. A popular New Hampshire Democrat wants Sununu's seat.

Jeanne Shaheen is a former governor of that state. And, today, she announced she will be a candidate for the Senate. A New Hampshire race will very much center on the issue the entire country is focused on. That is Iraq.

CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash on Capitol Hill following all of this.

Democrats hope to really target Sununu in this war.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Suzanne.

And John Sununu was already a prime target for Senate Democrats. Now that their top-tier candidate, a challenger that they had courted heavily, is in the race, it is all the more important for Senator Sununu to listen to the anxiety back home.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BASH (voice-over): His question to General David Petraeus was telling.

SEN. JOHN SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: What specific factors are you going to look at in assessing whether or not there are further troop reductions?

BASH: It was a question John Sununu knows will define a tough campaign ahead, shaped by his summer back home in New Hampshire. Senator Sununu is one of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents, and the unpopular war is a big reason why.

He plays down the political pressure, whether to join those fellow Republicans urging troop withdrawal.

SUNUNU: I think that the pressure has got to be to get the policy right.

BASH: But New Hampshire Republicans, like State Senator Joe Kenney are openly concerned, especially in the face of a tough rematch against Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.

JOE KENNEY (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE STATE SENATOR: It's going to be very tough. He's going to be running potentially against a governor, Shaheen, who has really got an unblemished record on Iraq. And, so, he's going to have to be straight and honest with the New Hampshire voters on his position.

BASH: Independents are the decisive voting bloc here, people like Ken Southard. He voted for Sununu last time. Now he's not sure.

KEN SOUTHARD, INDEPENDENT VOTER: I want him to take a position that forms a firm exit strategy from Iraq.

DANTE SCALA, UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE: What's striking is that independents in New Hampshire have increasingly looked just like Democrats in their stance toward the war. They want Senator Sununu to get the troops out.

BASH (on camera): New Hampshire used to be a reliably Republican state, but not anymore. In fact, anger over Iraq fueled huge Democratic gains here in the last election, and Democrats think continued frustration with the war will help them capture Senator Sununu's seat.

(voice-over): There's already a stop-Sununu campaign, roadside protests, attack ads for voting no to troop withdrawal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR: Call Sununu. Tell him it's time do the right thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Sununu says he's taking his cues more from the military commander in Iraq than the commander in chief in Washington. SUNUNU: The president's obviously not popular, doesn't have high popularity ratings in New Hampshire right now. And that's a fact. And, in a campaign, you have got to get out there, work yourself town to town and person to person.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next up, please welcome Senator John Sununu.

BASH: Not exactly a strike, but a chance to play with the boys of summer before critical Iraq votes that shape his next season.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, in 2002, John Sununu defeated Jeanne Shaheen after a very rough race. New Hampshire Democrats point out that was the first election after 9/11, where Republicans were winning on the issue of security. This will be a rematch after an election, Suzanne, where Republicans are losing because of Iraq -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Dana, thanks so much, covering multiple stories on the Hill for us. Thank you so much, Dana Bash.

And up next in the "Strategy Session": President Bush wants Congress to listen up on Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Now we have got security in the right direction, and we are bringing our troops home. Now, I call upon the United States Congress, listen very carefully to what General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker reported.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: But on the heels of his address to the nation, did President Bush change anyone's mind?

And, as Rudy Giuliani pursues a front-runner strategy against Senator Clinton, MoveOn.org is out with a new anti-war ad. We will have the latest on the Giuliani-Clinton-MoveOn.org trifecta with James Carville and Terry Jeffrey -- up next here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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MALVEAUX: One day later, President Bush's speech on Iraq is being digested around the world, especially here in Washington and throughout the Middle East.

Here to take the measure of the president's message, Democratic strategist James Carville, a CNN political contributor, and Terry Jeffrey, editor at large of the magazine "Human Events."

Thanks so much for being here.

Want to start off, obviously, the president's target audience here was really to try to reach those moderate Republicans, not to lose their support. I want to read something here. This is Senator Susan Collins, one of those moderate Republicans, from Maine. She says about the speech: "I just don't think that waiting another six months to reassess the situation is going to move forward. The whole premise of the surge, as the president advocated it in January, was to buy time for political reforms. And that didn't happen."

Did the president do what he needed to do here, because he has not convinced her?

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, "HUMAN EVENTS": Well, Susan Collins is right. The political reforms haven't happened. They certainly haven't happened.

Yet, there is no doubt that the president got what needed politically, at least right for now. I think the momentum that we saw this summer towards a real withdrawal from Iraq has been turned around. Now, probably until President Bush leaves office, he's going to be able to carry out his military strategy in Iraq.

General Petraeus is going to be able to move forward his military strategy. The wild card, though, is exactly what Susan Collins said. Will the political establishment in Baghdad, such as it is, actually come through with the political reforms necessary for reconciliation?

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MALVEAUX: James, why should the American people buy the president's six more months of time?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they haven't.

Terry, in fact, the Republican Party has said there's not going to be any changes in Iraq. We're going to have 160,000 people there, and we're going to turn it over to the next president. That's exactly right.

That's -- basically, the president has said and the Republican Congress has said, we're going to stay just what we're doing now. We're going to keep the 150,000 people in Iraq, and we're going to turn it over to the next president.

JEFFREY: Well...

CARVILLE: That's their strategy. The American people, I don't think, are behind that strategy.

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY: First of all, they're going to -- they're saying they're going to take 30,000 out and get back to the pre-surge force by next summer.

CARVILLE: It's -- it's 20,000.

(CROSSTALK) JEFFREY: However, look, look, look, the alternative the Democrats are really offering is a rapid withdrawal, which, as Ambassador Crocker said, would lead to a catastrophe in Iraq.

What the president was able to establish, with General Petraeus, I believe, as actually a conservative who was skeptical about the surge this week is, number one, there really has been progress on the security front. Even the contrarian GAO report concedes that there's been progress on the security front.

Secondly, although there hasn't been substantial progress on the political front, there's at least a glimmer of it being possible. So, there's a chance of success against a certainty of disaster...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Let me correct. And he's right. There's going to be 140,000 people there when the new president takes office. That's the entire strategy, is to change nothing and always tell you things are working fine over there.

They're not working...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Again, Terry, I'm agreeing with you. Why are you arguing with me? I'm completely agreeing with you.

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY: But, James, you're not saying there has not been progress on the security front in Iraq? Do you concede that...

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: Has there been progress?

CARVILLE: They have segregated the neighborhoods in Baghdad. There have been four million refugees from the country.

JEFFREY: Wait a minute, James.

CARVILLE: At a point, if everybody leaves the country, then they're not going to be killing each other.

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY: You can't answer a simple question. Yes or no. Has there been progress on the security front in Iraq, yes or no?

CARVILLE: There has been in some neighborhoods in Baghdad.

JEFFREY: There has been progress on the security...

CARVILLE: Again...

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY: No. Not only that. In Anbar, the Sunni population has turned against al Qaeda. Anbar is much more peaceful than it was a year ago. You would have not have predicted that.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Terry and I agree, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Terry, let's talk about -- let's talk about Anbar, because Anbar is a really unique situation. Anbar is Sunni vs. Sunni. It's the Sunni tribal sheiks vs. Sunni al Qaeda.

It's not like the rest of Iraq, where you have Sunni, Shia fighting each other in this semblance of a civil war. And what we see here is the progress report today. Of the 18 benchmarks, nine satisfactory here.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: How does the president convince you that the purpose of the surge was successful, because the purpose was, was to make progress on the political front?

JEFFREY: Well, that's -- there's no question.

But, look, I agree. There's two halves of it. One is political. Our military there is trying to establish greater security, so what we get in return from the Iraqis is political reconciliation. The government in Baghdad is dominated by Shiite Islamists. They do not want to make peace with the Sunnis. That's our problem.

I think that General Petraeus laid that out very candidly and very clearly...

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: How much time do you give -- how much time do you give them? And how do the Democrats...

CARVILLE: We're going to have -- the strategy, the -- Jeffrey- Republican-Bush strategy, as we all agree on, is leave 140,000 people there and let the next president deal with what is the greatest foreign policy disaster in the history of the United States.

JEFFREY: Right. Right.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Terry, please. I didn't interrupt you.

We all agree on that. What they did in Anbar Province is, they completely circumvented the Iraqi government, made a deal with the American military, which, of course, they say, we can't leave because the tribal chiefs won't deal with the government in Baghdad. So, we have to stay. We're going to be there, thanks to the Jeffrey-Republican-Bush strategy, 140,000 strong in January, six years into this war. That is unacceptable.

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY: And here is the probable scenario if James Carville and Hillary Clinton are able to ride into power in January 2009 on this war.

They will remove our troops. There will be genocide in Iraq, with Shiites killing Sunnis. There will be a huge flow of refugees bigger than now into Jordan. And there's the potential for a Shiite- Sunni regional war, polarizing Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait and countries that are historically friendly to us against Iran and the...

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: I am so happy that we're going to have you guys back in the next hour, because we're going to wrap it up on that note. And we will get back to this debate in the next hour.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: We agree.

MALVEAUX: And still to come: controversy swirling around the House Republican leader about something he said right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, the follow-up to that startling story of a nuclear-armed bomber flying over U.S. territory.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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MALVEAUX: A comment that House Minority Leader John Boehner made right here in THE SITUATION ROOM from Baghdad Wednesday has liberal bloggers and politicians up in arms.

The Republican responded to a question from Wolf Blitzer about the cost and the loss of blood in Iraq. Boehner said it will be a small price if we're able to stop al Qaeda.

Internet reporter Abbi Tatton has been following this story.

And, Abbi, what did he say?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Suzanne, it was Congressman Boehner's response to this question from Wolf that has people talking.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: How much longer will U.S. taxpayers have to shell out $2 billion a week or $3 billion a week as some now are suggesting the cost is going to endure, the loss in blood the Americans who are killed every month -- how much longer do you think this commitment, this military commitment, is going to be -- is going to require?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I think General Petraeus outlined it pretty clearly. We're making success, but we need to firm up those successes.

We need to continue our effort here because, Wolf, long term, the investment that we're making today will be a small price if we're able to stop al Qaeda here, if we're able to stabilize the Middle East.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: That video now reposted on liberal blogs, "a small price," the words they're zeroing in on. Democrats are demanding Congressman Boehner apologize.

Senator John Kerry writes online, "That comment was stunningly cavalier."

Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, called it deplorable.

And now Republican Senator John McCain has weighed in, saying Boehner ought to retract it.

Congressman Boehner's spokesman said in a statement, the Congressman was referring to the amount of money spent in Iraq, adding, "There isn't a member of Congress who appreciates the sacrifices of our troops more than Mr. Boehner" -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Abbi, thank you so much.

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