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Dems Defeated Again: What's Next in Iraq Debate?; Giuliani Under Fire Over Guns; Third Party Shutout

Aired September 21, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Democrats defeated again over Iraq. Senate Republicans block a new bid to set a date for withdrawal. What do both sides do now?
Also this hour, Rudy Giuliani under fire over guns. He's trying to reassure the National Rifle Association about his views, but his Republicans rivals are not making that easy.

And a charge that hits right in the gut. Some say Congress is making Americans fat.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta investigates.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Carol Costello.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And this hour, Senate Democrats clearly are frustrated after failing again to force a withdrawal from Iraq. An amendment to bring most U.S. troops home in nine months was shot down today. The measure fell 13 votes short of the 60 needed to move it forward.

Our congressional correspondent Jessica Yellin is here.

Jessica, this has been a losing week for the Democrats.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly has, Carol. And it's back to the drawing board for Democrats, who are going to try to powwow this weekend and see if they can't solve what has become an enduring mystery on Capitol Hill, whether they can fashion a measure that will both change the course of the war in Iraq and also win enough Republican votes to get a win here in the Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The yeas are 47, the nays are 47. The amendment is withdrawn.

YELLIN (voice over): For Democrats, it's 0 for 3. Three Iraq votes, three losses in a week.

Today's defeat, an amendment that would have required most U.S. troops leave Iraq in nine months. The co-sponsors of today's failed measure admit...

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES CHAIRMAN: Obviously, the vote is not what we had hoped it to be. We had hoped that we would have actually picked up a little ground.

YELLIN: ... but insist they're not going to give up.

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: And we will renew this fight and we'll continue to push on.

YELLIN: Their not so new plan? Attract more Republican votes with softer language, setting a goal date for withdrawal rather than a hard deadline. But that kind of compromise was considered and rejected by Democratic leaders earlier this week. Across the aisle, moderate Republicans who would like to see an Iraq proposal they can get behind are lashing out at the Democrats.

SEN. GORDON SMITH (R), OREGON: I frankly am disappointed in the management of the 110th Congress. It seems to be all politics all the time.

YELLIN: And Republican Lamar Alexander today said, "Harry Reid has called up the same amendments for the same votes and gotten the same results, more gridlock on Iraq."

At least one Republican who supports the current strategy is gloating. At an event today, Senator McCain told anti-war hecklers...

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, my friends, we beat you yesterday, we beat you the day before, we'll beat you today and we'll beat you tomorrow. We won't choose to lose -- we won't choose to lose this conflict.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Now, several moderate Republicans are pushing Iraq measures of their own which they believe would change the course of the war, but it's unclear whether leaders of either party will let those measures come to a vote -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Well, that's the thing, Jessica. What if all these measures don't get through?

YELLIN: Then they'll continue with the current course in Iraq and Democrats will continue to try to find that winning formula, a measure that would allow them to get these votes. But it will be an ongoing struggle for Democrats until they get there.

COSTELLO: Jessica Yellin on the Hill.

Thanks so much.

Now to the presidential race and Republican efforts to win over gun rights advocates. Rudy Giuliani tried today to convince members of the National Rifle Association that he could be their candidate, but his primary rivals were quick to hold Giuliani's past calls for tough gun control against him.

Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is here.

Bill, did the NRA demonstrate its political clout today?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they got seven presidential candidates to speak to them, four in person.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice over): The National Rifle Association is a tough crowd for the former mayor of New York, but Rudy Giuliani showed up anyway.

RUDY GIULIANI (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are probably a few things we disagree about, but there are many more things that we have in common.

SCHNEIDER: There were flyers available detailing things the NRA and Giuliani might disagree about. Giuliani's Republican rivals got their digs in without naming names.

MCCAIN: A number of big-city mayors decided it was more important to blame the manufacturers of a legal product than it was to control crime in their own cities.

FRED THOMPSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My philosophy does not depend on my geography, and I thought it was time I laid down that marker early on.

SCHNEIDER: Giuliani challenged the NRA audience to look at the whole list of commitments he is making in his campaign.

GIULIANI: If you agree with these and you agree with most of these, then I would ask you to support me. If you disagree with most of these, I would ask you to vote against me, because I'm actually going to do them.

SCHNEIDER: The audience seemed willing to listen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe he's on the right street. He may need do a little polishing though.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said all the right things. I'm tickled to death with it.

SCHNEIDER: This week, the co-chairman of the Hillary Clinton campaign threatened to go after Giuliani's family life. Could this be Giuliani's answer?

GIULIANI: This is my wife calling, I think.

Hello, dear. I'm talking -- I'm talking to the members of the NRA right now. Would you like to say hello?

I love you, and I'll give you a call as soon as I'm finished. OK?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Well, it's no crime to carry a concealed cell phone, especially if you're talking to the NRA -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, but you're trying to get their support and right in the middle -- he was talking about the Second Amendment, his cell phone goes off. How was that received?

SCHNEIDER: Puzzlement. And according to our researchers, he's done this before at other events. People were wondering, was this a joke? There was no punch line to it.

He just -- his cell phone went off in the middle of the speech. He took the call, it was his wife. He said, "Hello, I love you, have a good trip," and that was it. And I think the audience was kind of puzzled by it.

COSTELLO: I mean, the applause started very slowly. I did notice that.

SCHNEIDER: Yes.

COSTELLO: Yes. Thank you, Bill Schneider.

Just ahead, the executive vice president of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, will join us to weigh in on the presidential race and his group's influence in 2008, and maybe he'll answer that question about the cell phone, too.

More than a year before the 2008 election, both Republican and Democratic candidates have challenges to overcome and weak spots being poked by their opponents. So you might think the time would be right for a third party candidate to jump into the mix. But the adds are stacked against it.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, explains why.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAT BUCHANAN, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Friends, it is time to pick up the pitchforks and go down and clean out the pigpen.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Third party candidates have brought flavor and substance to the campaign trail, though not always both. The last time one got elected was exactly never.

MIKE MCCURRY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It is a very steep hill unless you've got all of the ingredients -- inspiration, money, and a fundamental change in the political landscape that argues for new politics.

CROWLEY: Bay Buchanan managed her brother's campaign. Steep hill doesn't cut it for her. Rigged is more like it.

BAY BUCHANAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The reason that a third party will not be successful is the other two parties, they have come together to make absolutely certain that there's no opportunity for a third party to become viable in this country. CROWLEY: Certainly the system is stacked. Let us count the ways.

One, a box to check. Third party candidates usually have to petition to get on the ballot, collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures, different numbers, different rules in 50 states. Nightmare.

Two, location, location, location.

RICHARD WINGER, BALLOT ACCESS NEWS: I think everybody who is into marketing understands that product placement is very important.

CROWLEY: Richard Winger is kind of a ballot geek, an expert on how and where candidates get put on a ballot.

Consider this one from 1992 in New Jersey.

WINGER: There's a column headed "Republican Nominees". There's a column headed "Democratic Nominees". And then there's a column that says "Nomination by Petition." And in tiny print you've got maybe six, seven, eight candidates listed in that column, and so Perot was stuck off in that column with a whole bunch of other people.

CROWLEY: Three, an even playing field. General election debates give all candidates the biggest audiences they will ever have. Ross Perot is the only third party candidate ever invited to share the stage with the Republican and Democratic nominees.

Four, dinero. Unless you are your own cash cow, forget about it. Minimum these days, $100 million. A new party candidate can get federal money after the election.

REP. JOHN ANDERSON (I), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I now believe that an Independent can win, and today I am formally announcing my candidacy.

CROWLEY: Independent candidate John Anderson took out a bank loan to fund his campaign.

There are intangibles and unpredictables as well. A third party candidate needs charisma, credibility, a burning issue, and unhappy voters. It takes more than money to change the system. It takes a country.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Candy Crowley, Bill Schneider, and Jessica Yellin, part of the best political team on television.

And remember, for the latest political news any time, check out the political ticker at CNN.com/ticker.

They appear to be presidential pals, but now former Mexican leader Vicente Fox is calling George W. Bush the "cockiest guy" he's ever met in his life.

We'll have more head-turning observations from Fox's new book.

Also ahead, ousted CBS anchor Dan Rather is speaking out about the report on George W. Bush that eventually got him fired.

And blame it on Congress. Is there a connection between America's obesity problem and farm legislation passed right here in Washington?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: People blame the U.S. Congress for a lot of things, but now some critics say lawmakers are helping to pack unwanted pounds on Americans.

CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta investigates America's killer diet -- Sanjay.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Carol, thanks.

And you know we've been investigating this for a few months now. We learned that the Senate is nearing a vote on the farm bill.

It's a massive piece of legislation that covers everything from food stamps to land conservation to farm subsidies. By far, the biggest subsidies as we know it go to corn and soybean growers. And a lot of people believe that's a health issue.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA (voice over): In Iowa, corn is a culture. It's a way of life.

Mmm, corn on the cob. But critics point out much of the corn ends up as fast food, sweeteners like corn syrup used in soda and animal feed for future hamburgers. Most soybeans, meanwhile, become soybean oil, including trans fats used for frying and baked goods.

Iowa senator Tom Harkin is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a chief architect of the farm bill.

(on camera): Is there a correlation between the existing farm bill and the obesity problem?

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: I believe there is a correlation between farm bills that we've been passing for the last 20 years and the incidents of obesity in this country. That's why I keep saying we've got to start promoting alternative crops and fruits and vegetables.

GUPTA (voice over): Just look around the Capitol. Agricultural symbols are everywhere.

The farm bill reflects the fierce competition for federal dollars. And for decades, the powerful lobbies for corn and soybean growers have been winning.

Apples and most other fruits and vegetables are considered specialty crops and as a result have not been eligible for major funding. Until this year.

With Harkin's urging, Congress is expected to approve $365 million or more for fruit and vegetable growers. By comparison, corn and soybean growers can expect about $2.7 billion.

(on camera): If we actually followed the food pyramid in this country and had five servings of fruits and vegetables, every American, every day, they actually don't have enough fruits and vegetables to provide for us?

HARKIN: That is absolutely true.

GUPTA: That's shocking.

HARKIN: It's very shocking. And, well, again, we're going to try to change that.

GUPTA (voice over): No one can guarantee that more federal money will lead people to eat more fruits and vegetables and reduce obesity, but it is food for thought.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: And what we're learning right now is the House has already passed a version of the bill. The Senate had planned to consider it this week, but now that's pushed back to next month.

We'll give you details as they come forward.

Carol, back to you.

COSTELLO: We'll wait to hear them.

Thank you, Sanjay.

For better or for worse, though, most Americans say they don't want the government to decide what they can eat. A recent CNN-Opinion Research Corporation poll found 16 percent of those surveyed favor government restrictions on unhealthy foods for adults, but 84 percent say grownups should be able to eat whatever they want.

Stay with CNN this weekend for much more on the obesity problem in America and the scary science behind it. Don't miss Dr. Sanjay Gupta's special report, "Fed Up: America's Killer Diet". That's on this Saturday and Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Dan Rather says people should be worried about the way Americans get their news. He talked with CNN's Larry King about the $70 million lawsuit against his former employer, CBS. The veteran newsman says it's an attempt to strike a blow against political and corporate influence that he believes threatens the independence of American journalists. And regarding the story that got him forced out of the anchor chair about President Bush's National Guard service, Rather stands by it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Do you think the report was correct?

DAN RATHER, FMR. CBS ANCHOR: Yes. And I think most people know by now that it was correct.

Keep in mind that Colonel Killian -- (INAUDIBLE) commander of George Bush -- his secretary took a look at the document and said everything in here is true. Yes, that's what he thought. Everything outlined in here -- and by the way, I think there was a lot more in the president's military record we don't know about.

I want to make it very clear, nobody to this day has shown that these documents were fraudulent. Nobody has proved that they were fraudulent, much less a forgery, which they are often described that way.

But the facts of the story, the truth of the story, stands up to this day. And what is journalism? Journalism is trying to get at the truth, trying to separate bull shine from brass tacks, and the brass tacks are in that story. The story was true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Well, today the White House press secretary, Dana Perino, was asked about these comments from Dan Rather and about claims President Bush received favors during his National Guard service.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look to the motivations about where this is coming from. This is a person who has filed a $70 million lawsuit. And I'm just not going to comment any further on it.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So you are saying though that there were no -- he never asked for any favors nor did he receive them in fulfilling...

(CROSSTALK)

PERINO: I'm going to refer you to all the previous statements on this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Perino was also asked if Dan Rather's attorneys reached out to the White House. Perino answered, not that she's aware of.

Rudy Giuliani says he respects the gun crowd, but has the former New York mayor shot himself in the foot with the NRA? I'll ask the group's executive president, Wayne LaPierre. He is standing by.

And an old and embarrassing question that Hillary Clinton is now answering. J.C. Watts and Stephanie Cutter are standing by for our "Strategy Session".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

COSTELLO: Rudy Giuliani's rivals are taking aim today at his history of backing tough gun control. I'll ask the NRA executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, if Giuliani has any shot at getting the group's report.

And he's calling President Bush a windshield cowboy and worse. Former Mexican president Vicente Fox has a new book out and new potshots at the commander in chief.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Happening now, it appears to be the last thing a senator embroiled in a bribery scandal wants to talk about. A source says Alaska's Ted Stevens is on a tape talking to a man who has pleaded guilty to bribery, but what were they talking about?

Critics say don't give a Holocaust-denying Israeli antagonizer the chance to spew hate to the American audience, but Iran's president is going to a top university. We'll tell you why the Ivy League school won't take back the invitation.

And the U.S. dollar doesn't buy what it used to. You'll pay more for imported goods and get less in some countries as the dollar loses value against world currencies. But why might that be a good thing?

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Carol Costello.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It is a surprising way to talk about someone you once called your amigo. Right now Mexico's former president is saying what he really thinks about President Bush, and the comments are not kind.

CNN's Harris Whitbeck is in Mexico City -- Harris.

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, former President Fox's book won't be out for a few more days, but it is already causing murmurs in social and political circles from Washington, D.C., to Mexico City, because it apparently brings out Fox's true feelings about U.S. president George Bush, who many thought was one of his closest friends.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WHITBECK (voice over): It was his first trip outside of the United States as president. In February of 2001, George W. Bush visited Mexican president Vicente Fox on his ranch in the state of (INAUDIBLE).

They stopped to admire horses at the ranch, but Vicente Fox wasn't convinced that President Bush was a true horse lover. In "Revolution of Hope," the former Mexican president's memoirs, Fox calls Bush a "windshield cowboy," one who prefers to drive than ride. "A horse lover can always tell when others don't share our passion," Fox writes.

Fox also critiques Bush's language skills, saying his Spanish is that of grade school level. And he says Bush is "Quite simply the cockiest guy I ever met in my life."

Strong words from one of Bush's closest amigos. That's how both of them described their relationship. But that relationship did not live up to the expectations raised by that first meeting down on the ranch. No immigration reform that would have legalized millions of Mexicans living in the U.S., no support from Mexico for Bush as he took on Saddam Hussein.

But while they might have disagreed on those policies, Bush and Fox made a point of meeting each other publicly on several occasions. On the last visit Bush made to Mexico while Fox was still in office, Bush referred to him like this...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I want to thank the president for his strong leadership and his, you know, recognition that democracy is a very important legacy.

WHITBECK: In his book, Fox says he can't believe Bush actually made it to the White House in the first place.

(on camera): Fox is now in Rome on a speaking tour. No word on whether he's been in touch lately with his former partner.

Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Mexico City.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: We asked the White House for a comment. It had none.

In the race for the White House, any candidate will tell you every vote counts. That's why many of them are crisscrossing the country, even going outside the country looking for those votes.

From London, here's CNN's chief national correspondent, John King -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Carol, London is famous as the home of the queen, and of course for its double-decker buses. Not the first place to come to mind as a competitive battleground in American politics.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice over): A civics lesson at a place known more for its contributions to the global economy. Americans far away from home looking to shape the race for president. Democrats in this case, loaded with election calendars and voter registration information and memories still of the one that got away.

MARGO MILLER, FORMER CHAIR, DEMOCRATS ABROAD U.K.: I think 2000 was one of the real mobilizing factors for getting up the overseas votes, because, suddenly, everybody realized that the vote from abroad makes a difference, and we can be the critical votes.

KING: Margo Miller worked in the Clinton Justice Department, but now lives in London and just stepped down as head of Democrats Abroad. It's hardly a one-sided affair.

MILLER: There are a quarter-of-a-million Americans here in the U.K. There are millions of Americans around the world, and we are every -- every year that we do voter registration, we're finding more people who have been overseas for years and haven't registered to vote, didn't realize they could register to vote.

KING: Republican Rudy Giuliani's London visit this week included a fund-raising luncheon. American citizens who live overseas can still contribute to campaigns back home.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is an audience we want to reach, both for the purpose of fund-raising. And, then, you know, one of these elections, you never know if it isn't the absentee ballots, or the out-of-town ballots, or the -- the Americans living overseas that will make the difference.

KING: Barack Obama's campaign was active at a Democrats Abroad meeting in London this week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know about the fund-raiser on the 15th?

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm already signed up.

KING: Michelle Obama is due here for a fund-raiser next month, as is another high-powered spouse.

All the activity can make one forget this is the United Kingdom, not the United States.

MILLER: And people have been working for candidates for months already. After each debate screening, we show them two days after they're -- they're shown in the States. We divide up to see who is supporting which candidate. And we're already seeing movement as well from one candidate to another. So, it feels like we're much farther along in the process.

KING: Some of the work, like this voter registration drive, is done the old-fashioned way.

(on camera): And this is yet another example of how the Internet is revolutionizing politics, making it much easier to navigate what was once a different maze of state bureaucracies that discouraged many Americans living overseas from registering and voting -- Carol.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: John King, from London, thank you.

A U.S. senator in a public corruption sting -- sources say Ted Stevens' phone calls were taped, putting new focus on the case. How will the Alaskan Republican weather this storm?

And Rudy Giuliani has some explaining to do to the NRA today. Did gun-rights advocates buy what he had to say. NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre is standing by.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Rudy Giuliani told the National Rifle Association today, you could never get a candidate you agree with 100 percent. But can gun-rights advocates back up a former mayor who touted strict gun control?

Joining us now, the executive vice president of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre.

Thanks for coming in.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: Thanks, Carol. Good to be with you.

COSTELLO: So, Rudy Giuliani stood up there and he said: I know you're not going to agree with some of what I have to say, but you can believe this, that I will put into place the plan that I have.

How did that go over with the NRA?

LAPIERRE: Well, a lot of what he said, I mean, I liked. He said that he was in favor of overturning the D.C. gun law which prohibits people from owning a firearm in their home for protection. He thought the Second Amendment was an individual right. He thought we didn't need more gun laws. He thought they just ought to enforce what was on the books.

But this whole forum today was the first step in a process of our involvement in the presidential race. I mean, we're going to send this out to our members. We're going to listen to what they have to say about all the candidates. And then, eventually, we are going to do what's right to defend the Second Amendment.

COSTELLO: Do you think with his words, though, he changed minds?

LAPIERRE: Well, I -- I -- if you look at history, I mean, there are legions of people in this country in political office that have attempted to square themselves away with the Second Amendment, after listening to the majority of the American public on this issue, that want their freedom to own a firearm defended. So, I mean, I don't think there's that much unique about someone that looks at the public opinion in this country, the majority of the Americans, where they are on the issue, and, you know, changes -- evolves to that point.

COSTELLO: But how can you marry what -- how can you marry what Rudy Giuliani said today and what he has said in the past? I'm going to read you something that he said in 1995 to Charlie Rose.

He said: "The NRA is, in essence, defense of assault weapons and their willingness to deal with some of the realities here that we face in our cities is a terrible, terrible mistake."

And, by that, he's talking about gun control. And he, says the NRA is making a mistake by not -- not touting gun control for big cities with crime problems.

LAPIERRE: Well, I don't have to. I mean, he has to sell that to the American public and justify it.

I mean, I remember when Bill Clinton came out of the '94 elections and when he said, hey, I listened to the public and I have changed. It -- if you look at the '90s, I mean, the whole Democratic Party was following Clinton and Gore, basically trying to ride destruction of the Second Amendment to victory. It backfired on them.

And, since then, most of the center of the Democratic Party has been much more, we support the Second Amendment and we favor individual rights on firearms.

COSTELLO: So, do you see the NRA supporting Rudy Giuliani's candidacy over other GOP candidates?

LAPIERRE: You know, we're not even to that point. This was a first step in a long process. We are going to defend the freedom of Americans to own firearms, like we always have, and do what is right to achieve that.

COSTELLO: Is there anyone you like best right now, though?

LAPIERRE: Yes. We're really not at that point. This was about listening to the candidates. This is about opening up a process. It was about listening to what these candidates have to say, so these type of judgments you're talking about can be made down the road.

But -- but any candidate that wants to come before us and say, hey, look, I have seen the light on the Second Amendment, we're going to hear what they have to...

COSTELLO: Like Bill Richardson, who believes in -- in gun rights, and he is a Democrat?

LAPIERRE: Bill Richardson was very strong. Hey, I mean, he helped pass right to carry out in New Mexico. He's been a strong defender of the Second Amendment. And he, by video today, had a very strong Second Amendment rights message. COSTELLO: So, would you like Bill Richardson, a Democrat, over, let's say, Rudy Giuliani, a Republican?

LAPIERRE: I think Bill Richardson is great. I mean, he's been a strong defender of freedom. We aren't even to that point yet, but I'm happy that Bill Richardson supports the freedom.

I'm happy that any American out there, whether in political office or not, supports the Constitution and supports the right of Americans to own firearms, supports the right of self-defense, and is on our side.

COSTELLO: OK.

I have to ask you about the cell phone, because, right in the middle of Rudy Giuliani's speech to the NRA, his cell phone goes off. So, I'm going to play that for our audience right now, so they can see it.

LAPIERRE: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: This is my wife calling, I think.

(LAUGHTER)

(CELL PHONE RINGING)

GIULIANI: Hello, dear. I'm talking -- I'm talking to the members of the NRA right now. Would you like to say hello?

(LAUGHTER)

GIULIANI: I love you. And I will give you a call as soon as I'm finished, OK?

OK. Have a safe trip. Bye-bye.

Talk to you later, dear. I love you.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

COSTELLO: What did you make of that?

LAPIERRE: I figured his wife called him. I don't know. That -- that was my take on it.

COSTELLO: How did it go over with the audience?

LAPIERRE: I think it was a lighthearted moment, and they were amused by it. And... COSTELLO: Would you take a phone call from your wife in the middle of an important speech?

LAPIERRE: Hey, I -- I think we -- I think we have all taken a lot of phone calls from our wives.

COSTELLO: So, you would keep it in your pocket, on...

LAPIERRE: Well...

COSTELLO: ... during an important speech...

(CROSSTALK)

LAPIERRE: ... I don't know that I would have a cell phone in my pocket on during a speech.

(LAUGHTER)

LAPIERRE: I -- I -- I agree with you on that.

(LAUGHTER)

COSTELLO: All right.

Wayne LaPierre, thanks so much for joining us today.

LAPIERRE: Thanks, Carol. Thanks for having me.

COSTELLO: Appreciate it.

Democrats keep trying and failing to force an end to the Iraq war. Can they find a way to convince more Republicans to break ranks with the White House, or are they fighting a losing battle? J.C. Watts and Stephanie Cutter are standing by for our "Strategy Session."

And the dollar ain't what it used to be. Its value is plunging. We will tell you why that may not be as bad as it sounds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Randi Kaye is monitoring stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Randi, what do you have?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you, Carol.

A sixth defendant in the O.J. Simpson case today turned himself into authorities in Las Vegas. Charles Ehrlich traveled from Florida to answer charges after his name was added to a criminal complaint. Simpson and four others have already been charged in connection with last week's alleged armed robbery of sports memorabilia at a Las Vegas hotel and casino.

Toy giant Mattel has issued an apology to China over the recall of Chinese-made toys. The company has taken the blame for design flaws and also says it recalled more lead-painted toys than necessary. The gesture came in a meeting with China's product safety chief.

And crib safety is in question today. About one million Graco and Simplicity cribs are being recalled. Officials with the Consumer Product Safety Commission say three children became entrapped in their cribs and died of suffocation. Officials say the drop rail can detach from the crib, which creates a dangerous gap.

Carol, those are the stories that we're watching at this hour.

COSTELLO: Thanks so much, Randi.

More now on our top story: Senate Democrats fail again to force a withdrawal from Iraq, an amendment to bring most U.S. troops home in nine months defeated.

Joining me now for today's "Strategy Session" are Democratic strategist Stephanie Cutter and CNN political analyst J.C. Watts, also a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma.

Welcome to you both.

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Thank you.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Hi there.

COSTELLO: So, are the Democrats simply impotent to pass any kind...

(LAUGHTER)

COSTELLO: ... any kind of measure to withdraw troops from Iraq.

CUTTER: Well, Carol, that's a leading question.

COSTELLO: It's loaded question, but a fair one.

CUTTER: Yes.

I think that the better question is, why are Republicans standing by a policy that's not working and is making us less and less safe every day? Sixty-three percent of the American people want our troops to get out of Iraq. A majority of the Senate have voted to get our troops out of Iraq, and, yet, Republicans are standing behind this president every step of the way. That's what the storyline is.

It's not Democratic failure. It's Democrats doing what -- the will of the American people and the will of many of our...

(CROSSTALK)

COSTELLO: So, you're saying it's Republican failure.

Republican failure, J.C.? WATTS: Well, I think it's -- I think it's, Carol, saying that we want a policy or we see a policy that is getting some results, just as General Petraeus has said -- and they're not wanting to pull the rug out from under the -- the feet of the troops.

And I think the shenanigans that -- that we see being played out, Republicans, Democrats, both, they do it. I just think it's unfortunate that, in time of war, that it's being done.

COSTELLO: OK. Shenanigans.

So, let's -- Congressman John Murtha had a theory, and he said that the Democrats are just throwing stuff out, but, come November, it's going to be a whole different ball game.

Let's listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: We have a plan which we think we could sell in the House. The speaker deals continually with the Senate about this. So, here is what I foresee, purely political. As soon as the primaries are over, you are going to see Republicans jumping ship.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: OK.

So, the Democrats are probably throwing out these test measures, knowing that, in the end, the Republicans will bend and see it their way, because they are going to want to get reelected.

WATTS: Well, and I think Republicans will have to consider the political cost.

We heard all last week, after General Petraeus came and testified, that, you know, that bought the Republicans more time. I think Republicans are wanting this thing to work. I think the American people want to see Iraq work.

(CROSSTALK)

COSTELLO: Well, why doesn't someone do something?

WATTS: Well...

(CROSSTALK)

CUTTER: Exactly.

WATTS: And I think the -- the interesting thing, Carol, is, is that it's Republican vs. Democrats. And -- and that's where the battle is being fought. Why can't they come together and try to find a strategy that says America wins with this strategy, not Republicans win or Democrats win? And that's the sad...

COSTELLO: I don't even -- I don't think we can find...

(CROSSTALK)

CUTTER: ... throughout the summer -- and Harry Reid, throughout the summer and the several weeks, reached out to every Republican in the Senate to see if they would come to the table and try to find a compromise. And the answer every single time was no.

So, we do want to come together and find a solution for America to win in Iraq, but the current one is not working.

COSTELLO: OK.

WATTS: But -- but his solution was...

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS: ... let's have a timeline to pull out the troops. And Republicans were saying, that's a timeline for failure. Don't give the enemies, you know, that leverage.

(CROSSTALK)

COSTELLO: OK. Let's go on to the next topic, because is really strange.

"The Advocate," a gay publication...

CUTTER: Yes.

COSTELLO: ... asked Hillary Clinton, a person who is running for president of the United States, "How do you respond to the occasional rumor that you're a lesbian?"

Senator Clinton's reply: "It is not true, but it is something that I have no control over. People will say what they want to say."

Is that a fair thing to ask someone?

WATTS: Carol, I would not be surprised at any question that a candidate might get in 2007 politics. But I think a candidate should reserve the right to say -- to answer that one of two ways.

One, say, none of your business. And, two, I'm not going to answer that.

George Bush in 2000, they had this drug thing going, and a lot of these questions are gotcha questions, so that they can plaster it all over the headlines, "Senator Admits" or "Senator Denies."

I do think it's fair, but that doesn't mean people aren't going to ask those questions. But I think candidates need to reserve the right to say, none of your business or I'm not going to dignify that. COSTELLO: But she obviously answered this.

So, was it a good strategy? Because, you know, much of the gay population don't like her husband's policies on gay issues, like, you know, the military just-say-no issue and the marriage...

CUTTER: But I think that the -- if you read that article, the gay and lesbian Americans actually overwhelmingly support her.

And that's not the issue here. The issue is that, you know, the rumors about whether or not Hillary is a lesbian were promoted 15 years ago by the right wing. So, what we're doing is just furthering a right-wing rumor. And that's not fair. And it's not what the American people want.

I mean, look at this past week. The two biggest issues this week that we dealt with were health care, when Hillary unveiled her plan, and the Iraq debate. Those are the top two issues the American people care about.

Yet, here we are talking about rumors...

WATTS: Well...

(CROSSTALK)

CUTTER: ... that have nothing to do with where this election is going to go.

WATTS: But -- but, if it's someone -- if it's someone that supports her, why would they ask the question? I mean, they know where -- they know where she stands. Why ask the question?

(CROSSTALK)

COSTELLO: Maybe this is where it's coming from. All of this -- all of these descriptions of Hillary Clinton acting like a man, doesn't that really come from there? Isn't it one and the same thing, all of this rhetoric flying around about her being manly? And "The Advocate" is just...

(CROSSTALK)

CUTTER: You mean the double -- the double standard...

COSTELLO: The double standard.

CUTTER: ... that women face.

COSTELLO: That's right. If you're powerful...

CUTTER: If you're strong, and you're smart, and you're leading this country, and you have the vision of where you want to take it...

COSTELLO: ... you're manly or you're a lesbian.

CUTTER: There is a double standard. I don't think there's any doubt about that.

WATTS: Well, it's -- it's -- I can't psychoanalyze why they asked the question.

(LAUGHTER)

WATTS: But, again, she's going to get asked some more questions that we might think is unfair. Republicans are going to get asked some questions that we might think are unfair.

(CROSSTALK)

COSTELLO: Do you think one of the male candidates for president...

(CROSSTALK)

CUTTER: ... that there are lots of American leaders that are male who there have been questions about their sexuality. Yet, they don't sit down for interviews and get asked about it. It -- that just -- it doesn't happen.

WATTS: Well, but who -- who do we know today that's running for president that's a man that there's been rumors about them being gay?

COSTELLO: I don't even want to get into that.

CUTTER: Well...

COSTELLO: I don't want to get into that. I think we should end it here. I think this is a good time just to end it.

(LAUGHTER)

COSTELLO: Stephanie, J.C., thanks a lot.

Caught on tape: a U.S. senator's phone calls secretly recorded in a bribery case. Does the FBI have anything on Republican Ted Stevens? New details about the probe ahead.

And next, find out why Barack Obama is talking about his mom and taking a veiled shot at Hillary Clinton in the same breath.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Another Democratic Iraq amendment goes down in flames. The latest attempt by Senate Democrats to force a withdrawal from Iraq fails, after Republicans successfully block it, yet another sign the Bush administration has been able to hold on to enough congressional support.

CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president, who loves sports, is approaching his final days like a race.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The whole team is going to be here to help support him sprint to the finish.

HENRY: But this may be more like the last two minutes of a football game, with Mr. Bush running out the clock, punting problems like Iraq.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: I suppose they think they can just push this another 16, 18 months, and then the next administration will have to deal with the disaster.

HENRY: After a poor report card on Iraqi benchmarks in July, the president said, wait until September. September came, benchmarks still unmet.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have also directed them to deliver another report to Congress in march.

HENRY: The clock is running on other big issues, immigration, health care, Social Security.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: The president is not so much a running back at this point, than he is a defensive linemen trying to stop the offense of the Congress from moving forward and running over him.

HENRY: Democrats are playing rough with subpoenas, demanding documents for multiple investigations, like the firing of U.S. attorneys. The administration notes, reams of Justice Department documents have been turned over, but they have refused to release White House documents.

(on camera): Are you doing a strategy to run out the clock and not...

(CROSSTALK)

PERINO: No, the White House documents were offered in addition to -- at the same time. And the response to our accommodation has been subpoenas.

HENRY (voice-over): Here, the clock may be in the president's favor. With Congress' poll ratings sinking, the investigations may backfire on Democrats. And the wrangling is not likely to be resolved before Mr. Bush leaves office.

Ed Henry, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: On our "Political Radar" this Friday: Senator Barack Obama is trying to personalize his health care plan. In a new ad running in Iowa today, the Democratic presidential contender talks about his mother's losing battle with cancer, and says he hears stories like hers every day. You just hear him say that. In the ad, Obama also blasts lobbyists' influence over the health care system. It's seen as a veiled shot at rival Hillary Clinton, who expects campaign contributions from lobbyists. Obama does not.

Democrat John Edwards is rolling out a new plan to reform primary education across the country. At an Iowa middle school today, the presidential hopeful proposed paying teachers up to $15,000 more to teach in the poorest areas. And he pushed for universal preschool and a longer school year.

A new source of tension between Republicans Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson. A top Romney adviser today is criticizing Thompson for being -- quote -- "an adamant supporter of campaign finance reform" when he was a senator.

The Thompson camp is firing back, saying Romney had a long history of backing campaign finance reform before he started running for president. The sparring underscores a growing battle between Romney and Thompson for the votes of conservatives.

And a Republicans recently accused by a watchdog group of being one of the most corrupt members of Congress is stepping down. Illinois Congressman Jerry Weller announced today he will not seek reelection to an eighth term. Weller says he's given half his life to public service and it's time to focus on his family.

His spokesman says Weller's announcement has nothing to do with the recent questions about whether the congressman properly reported Nicaraguan land in ethics statements.

And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out the Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.

The dollar is down, way down, in some cases plunging to its lowest levels in decades. Bad news? Not necessarily.

CNN's Ali Velshi shows us why -- Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, the situation is downright loonie. That's what the Canadian dollar is called because of the loon on its face. But the idea that a low U.S. dollar is bad news is what's really loony.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI (voice-over): For the first time since 1976, an American dollar buys you exactly one Canadian dollar. Your next trip to Canada, if it's priced in Canadian dollars, just got more expensive. And Europe is no bargain either. A euro will set you back about $1.40.

But the low dollar makes the U.S. a bargain for visitors from other countries. They're filling up hotel rooms in cities like Chicago. Expect places like Seattle to steal tourist dollars from Vancouver. Detroit, just across the bridge from Windsor, Ontario, could also start attracting visitors who otherwise might have stayed on the Canadian side of the river.

And that ski trip, well, U.S. Rocky Mountain resorts are hoping to attract skiers who would have instead considered Canadian slopes. American retailers along the Canadian border stand to gain big. As the Canadian dollar strengthens against the U.S. dollar, expect more Canadian shoppers to cross into the U.S. to buy things, and more Americans to make their purchases at home.

One example, an 8 gigabyte Apple nano, $200 in U.S. $220 in Canada, or a Ford Mustang made in Michigan, $19,000 in Detroit, nicely equipped, $25,000 for the same car across the river in Windsor.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI: Now, don't bother buying a Mustang in Detroit and driving it across the border and selling it to a Canadian. That's not allowed.

But the fact that American-made goods are becoming a relative deal vs. imported goods, that's good news for America's factory workers, too -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Thank you, Ali.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate allegedly bugged by the FBI. Find out who Alaska's Ted Stevens was talking to and why the feds are so very interested.

Also, a critical hearing in Jena, Louisiana -- we will have details of what happened in the case that brought tens of thousands of protesters to that small town.

And Rudy Giuliani taking a cell phone call right in the middle of a speech. Apparently, it's not the first time he's done that. Find out what on earth was so important.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Carol Costello.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The Senate's senior Republican bugged by the FBI -- a source telling CNN, agents taped conversations between Alaska's Ted Stevens and an oil company executive who has pleaded guilty to bribery.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.

Brian, what did you find out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, we know that Senator Stevens

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