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Iranian President Speaks at Columbia University; Are Republicans Counting on Hillary Clinton to Help Them Keep the White House?

Aired September 24, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much guys. Happening now, Iran's anti-American leader is greeted in the U.S. with anger and insults. The president of Columbia University blasts Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a quote, "Petty and cruel dictator." Was it the kind of confrontation President Bush would support?
Plus, new predictions about Hillary Clinton's future from the current commander-in-chief. Are Republicans counting on Senator Clinton to help them keep the White House? And Donald Trump picks some new fights in our one on one interview Trump lays into political and media figures first and foremost, President Bush --


DONALD TRUMP: I think President Bush has to go into a corner and hide if Republicans are going to get elected. There is no way he's an asset, he's a huge liability.


BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Here in New York today a diplomatic smack down of the Iranian president delivered not by a member of the Bush administration, but by the president of Columbia University. Lee Bollinger set the stage for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's widely protested remarks on the campus. The university chief made it clear that the Iranian leader was not being welcomed with open arms. Listen to this introduction and Ahmadinejad's response.


LEE BOLLINGER, PRES., COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator, and so I ask you (APPLAUSE) -- and so I ask you why have women, members of the Baha'i faith, homosexuals and so many of our academic colleagues become targets of persecution in your country?

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT: I think the text read by the dear gentleman here more than addressing me was an insult to information and the knowledge of the audience here, present here. In a university environment, we must allow people to speak their mind, to allow everyone to talk so that the truth is eventually revealed by all.


BLITZER: We're going to go out to the campus at Columbia University shortly. Our Mary Snow is standing by with a full report on what happened out there today. What did he say, the Iranian leader, about the holocaust, about Israel, about killing U.S. troops, killing U.S. troops in Iraq. Much more coming up.

But President Bush is here in New York today also for the annual meeting of the United Nations' general assembly. Let's go to our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, she's watching all of this unfold. All right Suzanne, how did the president do? What did he do today?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (ON THE PHONE): Well, Wolf, the White House is really trying to marginalize and minimalize the impact of Ahmadinejad. At the same time they're really trying to capitalize off the fact there's a lot of attention, they want to call attention to Iran's bad behavior. I spoke with the White House press secretary Dana Perino, here is what she said. She said, "The president is aware that the president of Iran is here and we're not going to comment and respond to everything the Iran president says. President Bush thinks that the fact President Ahmadinejad is here speaking publicly shows how confident we are in our own democracy and values. What Iran's president needs to do is act on Iran's obligations to the United Nations Security Council to stop its enrichment and reprocessing program so that a discussion can begin on a civil power program."

Wolf, what you're seeing here is a great deal of frustration really on the United States' part because what they're trying to do here is not pass the first or the second, but the third U.N. Security Council resolution against Iran to try to punish it for its bad behavior. What they say in trying to develop a nuclear weapon and it is far from certain Wolf, whether or not they're going to be successful. Wolf?

BLITZER: What else Suzanne is on the president's agenda here in New York this week?

MALVEAUX: Well sure, the Middle East is going to be one of his topics of discussion. Specifically for today he's meeting with the Palestinian leadership. He's also meeting with the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is now the Middle East envoy. What this is all about Wolf is essentially really trying to hit back here, those who called President Bush, accused him of being a warmonger, to say, look, he's also a peacemaker. This is part of legacy. Wolf?

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux traveling with the president here in New York. One senate Republican is calling the Iranian president a megalomaniac and complaining about him getting a platform to speak. Congressional reaction to Ahmadinejad's remarks, that's coming up. And once again we're going to go out to Columbia University. Mary Snow is out there for a full report on what he said today. Let's take a closer look at the United Nations' general assembly bringing world leaders to New York this week. It's been around since 1945 and is considered the U.N.'s chief policy making body. All 192 U.N. member nations have a seat on the general assembly. They meet each fall. The assembly studies and reports on a variety of international issues from disarmament to peacekeeping to the environment. Each year the general assembly elects the five nonpermanent members of the United Nations secretary-general. They elect five each year. There are 10 nonpermanent members of the U.N. Security Council every -- among the 15, five permanent, 10 nonpermanent. Five new ones are elected every year just to be precise. Let's get to another person now watching President Bush very closely and very anxiously. That would be Senator Hillary Clinton. Mr. Bush is making some new predictions about the Democrat's run for his job, and he may have an ulterior motive in the process. Let's go to our chief national correspondent John King, he's joining us. John, why is the president out there talking about Senator Clinton right now?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, some say the president is just looking at the race to succeed him and stating the obvious. Others though see an effort by the current president of the United States to influence both the Democratic and the Republican campaigns for their nomination battles.


KING (voice-over): The president is adding his voice to the growing debate about the Hillary factor. She's got a national presence and this is becoming a national primary, Mr. Bush tells journalist and author Bill Salmon in predicting Senator Clinton will most likely be the Democratic nominee next year. Mr. Bush went on to say, "I think our candidate can beat her, but it's going to be a tough race." Betting on Senator Clinton is hardly a risk. She is the overwhelming favorite at the moment. But by speaking out Mr. Bush stokes an increasingly volatile debate within the Republican Party. New Hampshire GOP Chairman Fergus Cullen sees the Hillary factor as a major force in the GOP nomination battle. More and more he says, electability comes up as much as a candidate's position on abortion or immigration.

FERGUS CULLEN, N. HAMPSHIRE GOP CHAIRMAN: The more that Senator Clinton looks likely to be the Democratic nominee, the more the Republican contest becomes which candidate among us is best positioned to defeat Senator Clinton in the general election.

KING: And looking ahead to that general election, pollster Neil Newhouse believes Senator Clinton would guarantee high GOP turnout even if many Republicans were less than thrilled with their nominee.

NEIL NEWHOUSE, GOP POLLSTER: There is a shared dislike for Hillary Clinton and that motivates our base more so right now than any of our individual candidates does.

KING: There are numbers to support such talk. About half of Republicans have an unfavorable view of Senator Barack Obama. 80 percent view Senator Clinton negatively.

CULLEN: Nothing unifies Republicans more than the idea of President Hillary Clinton.

KING: Senator Clinton also has higher negative ratings among independence. Four in 10 independents view her unfavorably, 13 percentage points higher than Senator Obama's negative ranking. That could matter in swing states like New Hampshire, which went Republican in 2000, but Democratic in 2004. Democrats picked up two congressional seats in the state last year because Republican turnout was way down and independents broke for Democrats.

CULLEN: The largest political party in New Hampshire is not Republicans or Democrats, it is independents. They make up 40 percent of the registered voters here, so it's huge.


KING: Now, team Clinton dismisses all of this talk from Republicans that nominating Hillary Clinton would actually help the Republicans. The Clinton camp says that is wishful thinking and meddling from Republicans. But Wolf, if you ask the Clinton campaign privately what are her biggest priorities right now and they do say they want Senator Clinton to appear less overtly partisan, less polarizing and to try to improve her standings among the independents who they acknowledge could make the difference come next November. Still a long way off. Wolf?

BLITZER: Still a long way off. John, there is new rumblings now, new murmurings from Newt Gingrich himself about possibly throwing his hat into the presidential ring. What's going on?

KING: The former House Speaker said just yesterday on one of the Sunday news programs that he is taking another hard look at possibly joining the race for the Republican nomination, and I spoke to a few people today who are close to the former House Speaker, one of whom has actually spoken to Speaker Gingrich in the past several days who said that he believes that Senator Fred Thompson, former Senator Thompson had a golden opportunity to jump in and coalesce the conservative base of the Republican Party. And according to this source, Newt Gingrich says Senator Thompson has quote, "Screwed that opportunity up." And that because of that he is now taking another look at this. Wolf, most people around the former speaker say he would suffer hugely financially if he joined the race. They believe in the end he will not, but they also say he is taking a hard look at it with a rough deadline, a soft deadline of about a month from now to make a final decision.

BLITZER: And he says he would only run if he got a commitment of $30 million from his supporters, which would be the bare bones he would need if he were going to be a viable candidate presumably. All right John. Thanks very much. Let's go to Jack Cafferty, he's here with me in New York for "The Cafferty File."

JACK CAFFERTY: Together again.

BLITZER: Good to see you again.

CAFFERTY: Nice to see you. BLITZER: The best-selling author.

CAFFERTY: Yeah, for a minute or two. That's gratifying.

BLITZER: We can announce to our viewers that your new book "It's Getting Ugly Out There" will debut on "The New York Times" best seller list.

CAFFERTY: Number 14.

BLITZER: That's good.

CAFFERTY: It was in the paper yesterday, isn't that nice?

BLITZER: Fourteen is good, number one is better.

CAFFERTY: I was going to say, we have 13 notches to climb.

BLITZER: And you can do it.

CAFFERTY: If I understood correctly the guy in New Hampshire was suggesting vies a vie all of this talk about Hillary that they are going to try and energize the Republican base to come out and vote against Hillary Clinton as opposed to get them to come out and vote for a Republican.

BLITZER: She's the unifying factor for the Republicans.

CAFFERTY: This is all very strange to me. It's not like it used to be. Nobody writes newspaper headlines like the tabloids in New York. For example, the evil has landed. Madman Iran pres and guest of dishonor. That's how the New York tabloids summed up Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's arrival here in the big apple today. The Iranian president in town to address the U.N. General Assembly tomorrow was invited to speak at Columbia University this afternoon. A really dumb thing for that school to do in my humble opinion. Amid much criticism, Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, said it was a question of free speech and academic freedom, promising ahead of the event to grill Ahmadinejad on topics like human rights, the holocaust and Iran's nuclear program. But not everybody sees it that way and I want to read you a quote, a terrific piece of writing from Michael Vivlin (ph) in "The New York Daily News." Here is what he had to say.

"Opening the door to every global psychopath is not principle. It's pure provocation. It is not defending freedom of speech, its embracing moral equivalency, a lazy leftist dogma that says all ideas are equally deserving of being taken seriously. That Columbia has fallen into the valueless trap shows that an expensive education doesn't buy common sense." Unquote. That's just terrific stuff. Ahmadinejad, who has referred to the holocaust as a myth, he's repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel. Speaking of the holocaust, over the weekend one of Columbia's deans, another rocket scientist, sparked some additional anger by suggesting that the university would have welcomed Adolph Hitler to engage in a debate and discussion. These people are beyond amazing. Here is the question. Should Columbia University have invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak? E-mail your thoughts to or go to The evil has landed.

BLITZER: Lee Bollinger, the president of the university, criticized Ahmadinejad for persecuting homosexuals in Iran. There are 60 million people in Iran and you know what Ahmadinejad said?


BLITZER: He said there are no homosexuals in Iran so how could they be persecuted?

CAFFERTY: They're running out of suicide bombers and they have no homosexuals. Times are tough in Iran.

BLITZER: All right Jack, stand by. We'll be getting back to you.

Donald Trump says the United States has become a laughingstock. You're going to find out why my one on one interview with the mogul and the media personality. That's coming up. He isn't mincing any words about the presidential race or the man now serving in the White House. You're going to want to see this. Also coming up, a political brawl in the making, over money. Are Republicans and Democrats paving the way for a new government shutdown?

And Florida heat, the sunshine state snubs its nose at the Democratic Party. Who will pay a price once the presidential primary season begins? Stick around, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: On Capitol Hill right now the Iranian president's no apologies remarks in New York today aren't sitting very well. Let's go to our congressional correspondent Dana Bash, she's watching all of this. Dana, President Bush says Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia University speaks volumes about the greatness of America, but the reaction you're hearing on the hill is quite different. What are you hearing?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Quite different, Wolf, especially from the president's fellow Republicans, even as Ahmadinejad began to speak in New York, the senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell went to the senate floor and he blasted Columbia University for giving the Iranian leader what he called a platform to spread his hateful ideology.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) MINORITY LEADER: I strongly support free speech. Free speech is a hallmark of democracy, a right not afforded by Ahmadinejad to his own people. There's a world of difference between not preventing Ahmadinejad from speaking and handing a megalomaniac a megaphone and a stage to use it.


BASH: Now, even as the Iranian leader continued to speak two other senators, Senator Joe Lieberman and Jon Kyl, formally introduced legislation on the senate floor that would designate Iran's elite military branch, the revolutionary guard as a terrorist organization. The senators argue that among other things the revolutionary guard is responsible for killing, for terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq. Now, designating this national military branch, any national military branch a terrorist organization is highly, highly unusual, Wolf, as you know, but it's already something that the administration is reportedly considering. This is sort of an attempt by congress to push the administration along on this, and the practical effect would be to try to seize or at least to clamp down on the vast overseas network of the revolutionary guard. Wolf?

BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much. Dana Bash on the hill. Let's check back in with Carol Costello, she's taking a look at some other incoming stories making news. Hi Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi Wolf., hello to all of you. John Edwards today unveiled a plan to tackle the HIV AIDS epidemic. The former senator from North Carolina and Democratic Presidential hopeful wants to expand Medicaid coverage for AIDS patients. Edwards also advocates age appropriate sex education and wants to provide high-risk AIDS patients with clean needles.

For Americans concerned about their safety, it's a worrisome reality, the number of murders, robberies, and other violent crime increased last year. That's according to an FBI crime report. It also says the volume of violent crime went up for the second consecutive year after declining for many years. One promising statistic in the report? The number of forcible rapes and property crimes dropped last year. The report does not attempt to explain the reasons behind these crime trends.

Pushed off a cliff right into a bitter standoff. That's how the head of the United Autoworkers Union characterizes failed negotiations between the union and General Motors. Tens of thousands of workers have walked off their job and are striking against the nation's largest automaker. Hours of bargaining failed to produce a deal on issues like job security and health care expenses for retirees and their family members. That's a look at the headlines right now. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thanks Carol very much. Donald Trump doesn't hesitate to say you're fired, and he isn't shying away from firing away at top political figures, including the president of the United States. My one on one no holds barred interview with Donald Trump, that's coming up.

The president and the congress are digging in their heels and federal spending right now at stake. Will the brewing budget battle lead to a government shutdown? Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: President Bush suggests Democrats are being sneaky, and he says he won't cave in to what he suggests would be their political tricks. It involves an issue that affects all Americans. That would be government spending. Here is our congressional correspondent Jessica Yellin on Capitol Hill.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Republicans are ready for a rumble. From Capitol Hill --

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) MINORITY LEADER: We believe that it's time to say no, but we've taken enough out of the wallets of the American people.

YELLIN: To the White House.

BUSH: They think that by waiting until just before they leave for the year to send me a bill that is way over budget and thicker than a phone book, they think that's going to force me to sign it, it's not.

YELLIN: Republicans see an opportunity to restore their tarnished images as fiscal conservatives. So Mr. Bush is vowing to veto Democratic spending measures, which are $22 billion more than he requested. But Democrats see an opportunity as well, a chance to highlight their own priorities.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: That difference is about border security, the education of our children, and the health care and benefits for our veterans.

YELLIN: They refused to back down saying their budget extras are a drop in the bucket.

SEN. HARRY REID, (D) MAJORITY LEADER: The difference is so small, why are we doing all these veto threats?

YELLIN: Even fiscal hawks acknowledge the president is doing an about-face. Under Bush and the Republican-led congress, spending grew 7 percent a year, about double the rate as under Clinton.

DANIEL MITCHELL, CATO INSTITUTE: He's increased spending even domestic spending much faster than Bill Clinton ever dreamed of. So yes, maybe it's a little bit hypocritical that he's now threatening to veto a bill because it spends too much, but I'll take it.


YELLIN: Now Republicans are pushing the idea that we could be facing a government shutdown like the one that forced a standoff between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich back in the 90's. But Democrats say it's not going to happen, they know the government runs out of money this Sunday and they have already started developing a temporary extension of their spending measures until they can work out a full deal in the coming weeks. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Jessica thanks. Jessica Yellin on Capitol Hill. Let's talk a little bit more about this brewing battle between the president and members of congress. One that threatens potentially at least to shut down the federal government. Joining us now the former defense secretary William Cohen, he's the chairman and CEO of The Cohen Group. He's also a former United States senator and member of the House. You have lived through these budget battles for a long time. Somebody is going to have to blink right now. What's going on?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well I think ultimately the congress will blink. The history has been that the president still has the biggest megaphone, and there isn't anyone that's going to be able to challenge him and the ability to reach out and speak with one voice. It seems it's almost not quite on the road to Damascus conversion on the part of the president, but you may recall that all of the spending measures during a Republican-controlled congress were signed. Now that you have a Democratic majority then suddenly we're getting fiscal responsibility.

BLITZER: All of a sudden he is going to start vetoing these bills.

COHEN: But it's a good strategy for him because he will then for the next 16 months say there they go again, and they're big spenders, wasteful spending, it's going to put them on the defense, even though they are going to try to point out that their priorities are quite different and much more mainstream and much more appealing to the great -- the American people.

BLITZER: Because the Democrats will point out, as they already have, that the U.S. is spending $2, $3 billion a week in Iraq. If you take $100 billion or $150 billion over a year, some are suggesting it could be another $200 billion next year. All of a sudden a lot of those fiscal problems go away if you just take that money away from Iraq.

COHEN: Well that's the argument they're going to run with, but the real issue becomes, well, what's going to happen by next year? What happens on January of 2009? You're likely to have a president faced with a 100,000-plus troops in the field. They are going to have to then make a decision Republican or Democrat, what to do, how much money to spend. So this is not going to be solved by this particular budget battle. This is something that's going to go on in 2009 for sure.

BLITZER: And all of a sudden the issue of saving social security is coming up. This is an issue that you and I have discussed on many occasions over these past decades.

COHEN: I frankly don't understand why the president would want to bring this issue up now. I would think Republicans would not want to face this issue going into the elections next year saying now you're going to have a Republican president offering to increase taxes and cut spending, cutting benefits and social security. That will play right into the Democrats' hands going into the election. So I think on the one hand he can be tough on the budget, you're spending too much, you're wasteful, but then when he takes the issue of social security, which every knows has to be done, but no one is quite willing to measure up. Then it's going to play into the Democratic handbook I think.

BLITZER: We'll watch it with you, Secretary Cohen, thanks for coming in.

Would Donald Trump stake his considerable wealth on a Hillary Clinton presidency? The real estate mogul has plenty to say about the presidential race and about the current commander in chief that he calls a horrible president. Plus, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama duking it out for endorsements. We're going to tell you who is taking sides right now, stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Happening now: blistering criticism of "The New York Times" over its approval of a controversial ad by the group Now "The Times" is apologizing for what it charged to print the ad blasting General Petraeus.

If you think the talk at the United Nations is dry and boring, think again. We are going to share with you some of the more colorful moments from world leaders throughout the years.

And more than 1,000 Buddhist monks lead a crowd of 100,000 through the streets of Myanmar. More on the unique protests and the warnings that prevail.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Running a close second to money endorsements are treasured by political candidates, but will some candidates blast another candidate trying to get a victory?

Let's go to our CNN political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's joining us to explain the politics of endorsements in the 2008 presidential race.

It's not an easy subject we have given you, but an important one, Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's interesting, Wolf.

You know, sometimes, when we think of endorsements, we think of the SEIU or we think of the AFL/CIO. And they can provide a real boost to a campaign. They can, for instance, put out the memos. They can help knock on doors. They can, you know, lick the envelopes, that sort of thing.

But there are other sort of lesser endorsements that also do have some meaning. Coming today, we had Hillary Clinton being endorsed by Senator Evan Bayh. He is the moderate Democrat from Indiana. And the whole point of that endorsement and in fact the conversation during that endorsement with both senators was that she is a moderate senator who can, in fact, reach out to Republicans and to Democrats and to independents, the idea here being: Listen, I can play in the Midwest. I am electable in the Midwest. So, there was that.

We also had a really interesting endorsement for Barack Obama up in New York, where he, in fact, got the endorsement of the corrections officers right in the heart of Hillary Clinton country. So, always a little symbolism to these endorsements, Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley watching this unfold -- thank you, Candy.

Florida Democrats, meanwhile, are in a high-stakes game of chicken with the national Democratic Party. They're refusing to back down from holding their presidential primary on January 29, even though it's against DNC rules.

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

Bill, why are the Florida Democrats doing this?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they say that they're always important in a general election, but now they want to be important in a primary as well.

BLITZER: Bill, you know, it's one thing to be important in a primary. The Floridians want to do that. A lot of people want to do that. But if their votes aren't really going to matter, if the DNC lives up to the threat that they're not going to be able to have delegates voting for the nominee, that's going to negate a lot of what they're trying to achieve, isn't it?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it would, except that the Florida Democrats are convinced the Democratic Party is never going to do that.

Look, the convention is controlled by the party nominee. The nominee is determined to win. Florida is the nation's largest swing state. Is the nominee really going to allow the convention to unseat the delegates from Florida, which would put the nominee at a competitive disadvantage in trying to win Florida's electoral votes? Florida Democrats tell me they don't think so.

BLITZER: And this puts the candidates, the Democratic candidates, in a very uncomfortable position, because they're being told you can't do down there to Florida and actually campaign. Is that right?

SCHNEIDER: That is right, but as someone might have said once, it depends on what the meaning of campaign is. They can still to go to Florida and raise money and make appearances there. They can still go to Florida to make official announcements, if they're officeholders, about, say, policy to Cuba or about catastrophic aid in case of a natural disaster. They can find reasons to go to Florida that aren't campaigning.

What they can't do is hold a campaign rally. What they can't do is spend money on advertising. And that worries a lot of Democrats because they say the Republicans are already doing it. We're going to be at a disadvantage. They have a head-start.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very

Bill Schneider and Candy Crowley are both part of the best political team on television.

And remember, also, for the latest political news at any time, you can check out our Political Ticker at

Donald Trump certainly a TV personality, so, is he rooting for the actor running for president?


DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN & CEO, TRUMP HOTELS & CASINO RESORTS: I like "Law & Order" very much, but I think you need somebody with a lot more experience in that sense than Fred Thompson. No, I don't get Fred Thompson.


BLITZER: Coming up, my interview with Donald Trump and his blunt take on the race for the White House.

And the Democratic presidential race, according to President Bush. Is he trying to scare Republicans? James Carville and Terry Jeffrey, they are standing by for our "Strategy Session."

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: He's known for firing off. And, right now, Donald Trump is making it clear just how he earned that reputation -- reputation. He says America's reputation is in tatters, and President Bush should go into a corner and hide, if his party has any chance of holding onto the White House.

And you may be surprised to hear what else Donald Trump is saying about Democrats and other issues.


BLITZER: And joining us now here at Trump Towers is Donald Trump.

Donald, thanks very much for coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.

TRUMP: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about politics 2008. The president is quoted in this new book as saying, referring to Hillary Clinton: "She's got a national presence. And this is becoming a national primary. And, therefore, the person with the national presence who has got the ability to raise enough money to sustain an effort in a multiplicity of sites has got a good chance to be nominated."

He thinks Hillary Clinton is going to be the Democratic nominee.

What do you think?

TRUMP: I think she will be. I know her she very well. She's very talented. And she has a husband that I also like very much. I think she's going to get the nomination rather easily.

BLITZER: And then the president goes on to say this.

He says: "I think our candidate can beat her, but it's going to be a tough race. I will work to see to it that a Republican wins, and, therefore, don't accept the premise that a Democrat will win. I truly think the Republicans will hold the White House."

Do you agree with him on that?

TRUMP: Well, I mean, the whole thing is about him. He's been so bad, that I think, probably, a Democrat has a huge advantage.

Now, crazy things happen in life, but a Democratic candidate, whoever wins, is going to have a huge advantage because of Bush. People don't like him. People think he's been a horrible president, possibly the worst in the history of this country

BLITZER: You believe that?

TRUMP: Oh, he's been a terrible president.

BLITZER: You think he's the worst in the history of the United States?

TRUMP: I don't think you can get much worse. Why? I mean, who is worse? Give me a couple of names. Who could be worse?

BLITZER: Well, because, in the last interview we did in March, you said he was the worst.

TRUMP: Well, at least I'm consistent.

BLITZER: But -- and the reason you think he's the worst is?

TRUMP: Well, just look at this country.

We have gone from this tremendous power that was respected all over the world to somewhat of a laughingstock. And, all of a sudden, people are talking about China and India and other places, even from an economic standpoint.

America has come down a long way, a long way. The United States has come down a long way. And it's very, very sad. We're not respected. The war in Iraq has been a total catastrophe. And the day we leave, it is going to be the ultimate revolution, and that's going to be it, nothing we are going to do about it. It's a shame. We have -- hundreds of billions of dollars and, much more importantly, the soldiers, these brave men and women that went over there, and they come back with no arms, no legs, no face.

BLITZER: Or they don't come back.

TRUMP: And the Iraqis that are -- you know, a million people, probably, if you really think about it.

You know, they say -- they drop bombs on a city, and they say, oh, nobody was hurt. Oh, really? You know, nobody was hurt? No, the whole thing has been a big lie -- from reading 60 books a year. Do you think you read 60 books a year? I don't think so.

BLITZER: A lot depends on who the Republican nominee will be, as far as Hillary Clinton becoming the next president of the United States. A lot of people see Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, as the front-runner right now.

First of all, do you think he is the front-runner? Do you think he will get the Republican nomination?

TRUMP: Yes, I think he's a front-runner. I think he's a very good man. I know him very well, and I believe that he will get the Republican nomination.

It's going to be very interesting. You have two very talented people running against each other. But we have two New Yorkers running for -- you know, for this position.

BLITZER: And, if it is Hillary Clinton vs. Rudy Giuliani for president of the United States...

TRUMP: Well, we won't get into that now.

BLITZER: ... where does Donald Trump stand?

TRUMP: We won't get into that now, but I do have my opinions. And we will worry about that later. But I think they're both terrific.

BLITZER: Are you leaning one way or the other?

TRUMP: I can tell you this. They're both terrific people, and I hope they both get the nomination. And then it's going to be a very interesting race. And I always go with one person. I will make a decision.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what the former governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack, who is a big Hillary Clinton supporter, someone that has been mooted as a possible running mate for Hillary Clinton, if she got a nomination -- listen to what he said the other day about Rudy Giuliani.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TOM VILSACK (D), FORMER GOVERNOR OF IOWA: There's a lot that the rest of the country is going to get to know about Mayor Giuliani that the folks in New York City know, but -- but the rest of the nation doesn't know.


VILSACK: Well, I can't even get into the number of marriages and the fact that his children -- the relationship he has with his children, and what kind of the circumstance New York was in before September the 11th, and whether or not he could have even been reelected as mayor prior to September the 11th.


BLITZER: "There's a lot that the rest of the country is going to get to know about Mayor Giuliani that the folks in New York City know. I can't even get into the number of marriages and the fact that his children, the relationship he has with his children. There are lots of issues involving Mayor Giuliani. And I'm sure, if he becomes the nominee, we will be able to see those."

Those are tough -- those are tough words coming from Governor Vilsack.

TRUMP: They're very tough words.

But I know him on a very personal level. And I can tell you -- and I also know his son, Andrew, very much, very well. I play golf with Andrew. And Andrew is a very, very good golfer, by the way. And he loves his father.

BLITZER: He's the one who goes to Princeton?

TRUMP: He goes to -- well, I don't know where he goes now -- to Duke, I think. But he loves his father. And he has a good relationship with his father, and he loves his father. So, I don't know what...

BLITZER: And all those stories about an estranged relationship between Andrew and Giuliani?

TRUMP: I don't think it's estranged at all. I mean, I speak to Andrew. He is -- he totally loves his father and respects his father.

BLITZER: All right.


TRUMP: And he loves his mother.

BLITZER: That's good to know. That's very important.

The president says he would be a political asset to the Republicans next year, as opposed to being a political liability.

Do you think President Bush next year will be an asset or a liability to the Republican presidential nominee, whoever that is?

TRUMP: I think President Bush has to go into a corner and hide, if a Republican is going to get elected. There is no way he's an asset. He's a huge liability. And he's going to have to do a big, big hiding act if a Republican is going to win.

BLITZER: Because a lot of pundits out there say, if the Democrats can't win the White House this time around, they might as well just hang up their cleats or whatever and go back into the dugout.

TRUMP: Well, they said that last time, and John Kerry didn't do it. And, amazingly, he didn't do it. I couldn't understand how that could have happened, but he didn't do it.

No, I think President Bush is a huge liability, and he should just go into a corner and just say: OK. That's been -- that's it. I'm finished. It's over.

Or, in my opinion, if he comes out for somebody, it's a huge liability.

BLITZER: If he comes out for Rudy Giuliani, for example?

TRUMP: Hey, look, I don't think that President Bush is, in any way, shape, or form, an asset for the person that's running for president. He's been a disaster.

BLITZER: So, you would advise your friend Rudy Giuliani to run away from him, if he -- if he gets the Republican nomination?

TRUMP: If you get the endorsement, it's wonderful, and that will be the end of that.


BLITZER: Much more of the interview coming up, the world according to Donald Trump. If you think he has some tough things to say about the presidential candidates, wait until you hear what he has to say about some international leaders who don't like the United States.

Part two of the interview, that is coming up in the next hour.

And Iran's president under fire in New York City. Were his remarks at Columbia University about free speech? Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail.

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


BLITZER: Check back with Jack Cafferty. He has got "The Cafferty File" here in New York.

Hi, Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: New York City all on its ear over the visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He was invited to Columbia University to make a speech. He went. He spoke. A lot of people didn't like it. We asked whether or not you thought he should be invited to do that.

Anna writes from Florida: "Yes, the university should have invited him to speak. Freedom of speech has two sides, the right to be heard and the right to hear. We have the right to hear opposing opinions, whether or not the government or some churches agree. The surest path to peace is not ignoring others or refusing to listen. It's engaging in dialogue until an agreement can be reached."

Bill in Vancouver: "Of course he should speak. Isn't it time we hear what he says directly, rather than through the State Department editing? Iran has greater justification to complain about the U.S. than the U.S. has to complain about Iran."

Gary in Wisconsin: "Everybody should consider whether they would buy a used car from the Iranian president. As for Columbia, well, they proved that Mao Tse-tung may have been right to eliminate the eggheads during China's cultural revolution."

Mary in Florida writes: "Yes, so this idiot gets what democracy is all about, that we the people are free to say what they want and protest when we want. If we stopped him, we would be doing what he does to his own people."

Brian in Virginia writes: "Absolutely. Ahmadinejad had our major news networks broadcast his message, which would have otherwise been ignored if it wasn't for Columbia. It was an opportunity to see he isn't the fanatic he's made out to be"

Oh, please.

"Also, it was refreshing to see the president of a nation speak his mind without catchphrases or fumbling over his own words. CNN should make the Bush/Ahmadinejad debate happen."

And Joe in Delaware writes: "Columbia has been heading downhill. This one is easy publicity" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

And coming up in the next hour, you are going to hear what Donald Trump has to say about all this as well.

TRUMP: I can guess.

BLITZER: Thank you.

In our "Strategy Session": Can Newt Gingrich meet his mark?


NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Unless there's enough money to at least build a boat, you can't -- I don't think you can play.


BLITZER: But is there a market left for his style of conservatism?

And pundit in chief President Bush says the Democratic nomination -- nomination is Hillary Clinton's to lose. But is she the best chance Republicans have at winning the White House?

Political strategist James Carville and Terry Jeffrey, they're standing by live -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: President Bush is playing 2008 political pundit with two predictions. He's forecasting the Republicans to win the 2008 presidential race -- no surprise there -- but he also thinks Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic presidential nomination, somewhat of a surprise for the president to air his opinion.

Let's see what our strategists are saying about that and more.

Joining us, CNN political analyst James Carville. He's a Democrat and conservative commentator. Terry Jeffrey, who is editor in chief now of the service.

Guys, thanks very much for joining us.

First of all, what do you think about the president's assessment on Hillary Clinton, James, getting the Democratic nomination?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, he's a politician. I guess he's watching the race, just like the rest of us are, and venturing an opinion.

And, you know, based on what you see so far and her performance yesterday, she's playing a different game than the rest of these candidates are playing, either in the Republican or Democratic Party. I mean, she's like -- she's to politics what Tiger Woods is to golf. She's playing at a different level here.

And, probably, President Bush recognizes that, as a lot of people are starting to recognize it. And this is the most competent presidential campaign I have seen maybe for -- in forever. I just had -- it's really been remarkable, the level of her performance.

BLITZER: And James speaks as someone who is very close to Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, someone who admires and supports both of them.

CARVILLE: That's correct.

BLITZER: Here is what the president said to Bill Sammon. He said: "I think our candidate can beat her, but it's going to be a tough race. I will work to see to it that a Republican wins. And, therefore, I don't accept the premise that a Democrat will win. I truly think the Republicans will hold the White House."

You just heard Donald Trump say the president should go hide in the corner and not step out and support, get involved with any of these candidates, because he can only hurt them. What do you think?

TERRY JEFFREY, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that Trump is right on that.

You know, a few days ago, Newt Gingrich said that he thought Republicans should look at the campaign that Nicolas Sarkozy ran for presidency of France. Sarkozy was the same party as Jacques Chirac, but he said that the conservatives there needed a clean break from Chirac.

He ran a completely different type of campaign. Whoever wins the Republican nomination is going to have to do that with George Bush. But it will be a blessing to them, Wolf, if Hillary Clinton is, in fact, the Democratic nominee, because she will excite the conservative base to go out and support the Republican.

Plus, I think she's going to alienate a lot of swing voters in key states in the Midwest that Democrats need to pick up if they're going to win the presidency.

BLITZER: Arguably, one of the most smartest, perhaps one of the most articulate Republicans out there not yet running, James, but thinking about running -- that would be Newt Gingrich, the former speaker -- he threw out this notion yesterday. I want you to listen to this.


GINGRICH: His job in the next three weeks is to see if there are $30 million in pledges that would justify a race.


BLITZER: He's saying that, if he can get a commitment of $30 million, he might run. In fact, he probably would run. He would owe it to his supporters.

What would that do to shake up this Republican contest?

CARVILLE: Well, it's a race that -- it's a contest that needs shaking up. I mean, no one is emerging. No one looks very confident out there.

I'm sure the former speaker is sitting on the sidelines, saying, heck, I know I could do better than these guys are doing. And he's got enough, you know, ego and enough name recognition to take a shot at this thing. And I think, if he can raise some money, he would jump in late. And who knows what would happen?

And I know for us in the -- commenting on it, it would be great news. I couldn't think of anything that would make me happier. BLITZER: He's got some strongly-held views, Terry. What do you think it would do if in fact Newt Gingrich decided to -- to jump into this contest?

JEFFREY: Well, I don't think it's going to happen. I don't think he's going to raise that $30 million. I think Newt Gingrich set the bar that high on purpose. I don't think he really wants to run.

Two weeks ago, Wolf, Newt told "The National Journal" he thought the odds were 80/20 that the Democrats would win the White House next year.

I don't know if those are the exactly odds, but, clearly, the Democrats have the inside track in November of 2008. I think Newt is getting two things right now. He's getting a lot of attention for where he stands on the issues. He's defining himself, as you say, a very articulate conservative. Secondly, I think he has his eyes on 2012, where he believes, if Hillary Clinton is in fact elected president of the United States, the country will be as disenchanted with her after four years of office as they're now disenchanted with George Bush after seven.

BLITZER: As you know, James, a lot of Republicans say nothing -- nothing -- would unify the Republican Party, the conservative base, as much as Hillary Clinton getting the Democratic nomination. They would galvanize. They would work...


BLITZER: ... whoever the Republican nominee turned out to be. What do you think about that?

CARVILLE: Well, I think it shows the pathetic state of American conservatism that they can't be rallied around one of their own. So, they say, well, gee, if the Democrats did this, maybe this could rally us.

I think, based on her performance thus far, that the chances are that the country will rally to her more than she will rally their base. I mean, she's showing a level of competence that -- that really is -- that is remarkable and refreshing and, I might add, surprising to a lot of people. I mean, she's done a lot better than I thought she would do.

But I do think that that's their hope, is, there's nobody -- we don't have anything to go with. We don't like any of our people, so maybe we can be saved by -- by Senator Clinton.

But I don't think things work like that, generally.

BLITZER: She was willing yesterday, Terry, as you know, to go on all five major Sunday talk shows and take questions for a long time from all the Sunday talk show hosts.

And I thought she did pretty well, given the circumstances. That's an extraordinary development, for a presidential candidate to be willing to subject themselves to something like that.

JEFFREY: Well, right.

And, look, I will concede, Wolf, I think that Hillary Clinton has been progressing and developing as a candidate. I think she's a more confident communicator than she was before she began this campaign.

However, I think there's three things the Republicans need that can make them win the election next November. I think Bush is right. They have a chance. One is a candidate that can unite the Republican Party itself.

Two is having Hillary as the foil, because, no matter how good she gets as a candidate, people remember what her record is. They know where she stands. She clearly is on the left end of the spectrum in our politics.

Third thing is for the situation to get better in Iraq. The biggest obstacle to a Republican victory next year is not Hillary Clinton. It's not the Republican Party itself. It's not George Bush. It's what happens in Iraq in the next 12 months.

BLITZER: We have got to leave it there, guys.

James Carville, Terry Jeffrey, a good "Strategy Session." Thanks to both of you for joining us.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.