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End War After Bush Presidency: New GOP Plan Panned by Dems; President Bush on Climate Change; Money Machines: Fund-raising Deadline Nears

Aired September 28, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a new Republican plan to try to end the war in Iraq, but not -- repeat not -- until after President Bush leaves office.
Does it show a willingness to compromise or as some Democrats are charging, a lack of courage?

Also, he can go toe to toe with Hillary Clinton in stirring outrage from the opposing party, but Republican Newt Gingrich may be trying to tone it down a little bit as he edges closer to a possible run for the White House.

And one on one with Barack Obama. We ask him why he's not yet ahead among black Americans and what his plan is to catch up with the frontrunner, Hillary Clinton.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up first this hour, some Republicans who want to see an end to the war in Iraq are as desperate as Democrats are to try to find a way out of the current stalemate. A handful of GOP senators, most of them up for re-election next year, coming forward today with a potential compromise, but there's one huge catch -- one that's too big for most Democrats to swallow. The timeline for U.S. troops to come home would not kick in until after President Bush was on his way out of the White House.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's watching this story for us.

Dana, update our viewers on this latest development.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, most Republicans, Wolf, say that they cannot and will not support the measure that Democrats have vote after vote on the Senate floor, and that is a hard and fast deadline for troop withdrawal. But many Republicans also look at polls back home and talk to -- talk to constituents and know that they do want more of a roadmap than what the president has laid out.


BASH (voice over): The new Republican effort to force a change in Iraq strategy requires the president to change the mission from combat to support operations with the goal of completing that transition in 15 months, after next year's election. The proposal was crafted by Ohio Republican George Voinovich and has the backing of three GOP senators who face war-weary voters at the polls next year. It comes after months of soul searching by increasingly frustrated Republicans like Elizabeth Dole looking to satisfy demands back home for a withdrawal plan.

SEN. ELIZABETH DOLE (R), NORTH CAROLINA: We must seek common ground based on a set of shared principles. A growing number of our fellow Americans oppose a long-term U.S. military commitment.

BASH: Senator Voinovich met numerous times with Democrat Carl Levin hoping to finally find an Iraq compromise that could pass the Senate. But Democratic leaders dismissed out of hand the idea of waiting 15 months.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I don't -- I don't support it at all.

BASH (on camera): How come?

REID: Well, it doesn't do anything. It has the -- it has the goal after -- it has the goal after the election. That's very courageous.

BASH (voice over): Some in Harry Reid's own party warn that kind of scorn for a GOP compromise idea will only hurt Democrats, in power for nine months, without changing Iraq policy.

REP. NEIL ABERCROMBIE (D), HAWAII: We have the majority now. People expect results. In order to get results, we have to reach out to the other side. That's the only way it's going to happen. People will give us credit for that.

BASH: Democrat Neil Abercrombie say Democratic leaders dug in on Iraq should learn from their strategy on children's health. By compromising with Republicans, Democrats won overwhelming bipartisan votes in the Senate and House, and put the president on the defensive.


BASH: Now, we asked the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, if he learned any lesson from the success that he did have in negotiating with Republicans on children's health. Without missing a beat, he responded, "Get a new president." And he ended it there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, there's a vote coming up next week in the House of Representatives on Iraq that potentially could get some bipartisan report. What's that all about?

BASH: It could. It's sponsored by the Democrat you just saw in that piece, Neil Abercrombie, a progressive Democrat, and some conservative Democrats. And this is something that would require the president, Wolf, to come to Congress, and he would come to Congress with a plan for troop withdrawal.

You know, many Republicans and Democrats say they actually could vote for this. This could be, next week, a milestone in this long Republican -- long debate, I should say, on Iraq here in Congress. It could be the first time we do see a big bipartisan vote on some kind of Iraq legislation.

BLITZER: Thank you, Dana, for that.

Dana is on the Hill watching all of this unfold.

As President Bush moves closer to the end of his term, he's trying now to show more interest in an issue he's never fully embraced. That would be global warming. In a speech today, he vowed the U.S. will do its part to reduce greenhouse gas emission emissions.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's watching this story for us.

Did we hear something really new from the president today, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not really, Wolf. The president is still talking about voluntary, not mandatory, caps on carbon emissions. A familiar refrain from this White House.


HENRY (voice over): President Bush gave a speech on global warming with a slogan recycled from the Iraq debate -- a new way forward.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As a result, our nations have an opportunity to leave the debates of the past behind and reach a consensus on the way forward.

HENRY: But this new way was light on specific actions that are actually new.

BUSH: We will set a long-term goal for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. By setting this goal, we acknowledge there is a problem. And by setting this goal, we commit ourselves to doing something about it.

HENRY: Goals, objectives, a strategy the president has been pursuing for years.

In 2001...

BUSH: My administration will establish the U.S. climate change research initiative to study areas of uncertainty and identify priority areas where investments can make a difference.

HENRY: When he did get to specifics Friday, Mr. Bush proposed creating an international fund to pay for research into green technologies.

BUSH: We must do it in a way that does not undermine economic growth or prevent nations from delivering greater prosperity for their people. HENRY: That sounds familiar.

In 2002...

BUSH: My approach recognizes that economic growth is the solution, not the problem. Because a nation that grows its economy is a nation that can afford investments and new technologies.

HENRY: A top environmental adviser notes the president has spent $37 billion on science and technology.

STEVE JOHNSON, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: That's more than any nation in the world. So we have been investing as a nation and certainly under the president's leadership since the beginning.


HENRY: But environmentalists here in the U.S. and our allies in Europe are pushing for mandatory caps on those carbon emissions. The president does not support that, but you heard him talk about goals, setting goals for emission cuts by next summer. Of course, that's just a few months before he leaves office -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House.


While government leaders may not necessarily see eye to eye, the Environmental Protection Agency here in Washington says there are things all of us can do to try to help the environment. They include, among other things, replacing conventional light bulbs in your five most frequently used fixtures with new energy-saving bulbs. The EPA urges all of us to buy more energy efficient appliances, light fixtures, electronics, and heating and cooling devices as well.

We can change air filters regularly to save energy. Recycle waste and byproducts from recycled material. And use water -- water more efficiently. All important steps.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Remember that program "Watch Mr. Wizard"?


CAFFERTY: You're old enough to remember that.

BLITZER: Of course.

CAFFERTY: That's kind of like -- that's what reminded me of it there, "Watch Mr. Wizard". You're giving us all these tips. That's good stuff.

BLITZER: Good stuff. CAFFERTY: So here we go. This is called a flip-flop.

Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards has now changed his tune on campaign financing and decided that he'll accept public money for his campaign. You'll recall earlier this year Edwards said he would not do this because his fellow contenders would likely raise large amounts of private money, and he would have to do the same in order to stay competitive. Now he has flip-flopped on that.

Edwards says he changed his mind because of the influence special interests have in political races. Baloney.

He's challenging both Clinton and Obama to do the same, and they won't. And here's why.

They have raised more than double the amount of money that Edwards has raised in the first six months of this year, and wouldn't you know, Edwards is trailing both Obama and Clinton in the polls. It is probably not a coincidence that the two candidates that have raised by far the most money are by far the frontrunners in almost all of the polls. That's Obama and Clinton.

So the question we're asking this hour is: What's wrong with our campaign finance laws? The answer is quite a lot, but I'm interested in some of the specific ideas you have to fix it.

And send your answers to or go to

You know, these campaigns are becoming more expensive every time we have one, Wolf. And until something is done, nothing is going to change this. And it just means that the influence of the big money crowd continues to grow in Washington, D.C., and the influence of folks like you and me, well, that's bubkas.

BLITZER: Money talks. Remember that commercial...

CAFFERTY: Yes, I do. And that's enough. You can't say any more than that. It does. It talks a lot.

BLITZER: Money talks -- you were off yesterday, Jack, promoting your excellent new best-selling book, which is important, but Edwards made that announcement aboard our own CNN Election Express yesterday in an interview with Candy Crowley. So just want to remind our viewers what we were doing while you were selling "It's Getting Ugly Out There".

How's that book doing?


BLITZER: Good. There it is, "It's Getting Ugly Out There".

Thanks, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Yes. BLITZER: We're just a couple of days away from another deadline for the presidential candidates' money machines. We're getting new information about who's likely to do well, who's likely to fall flat in this fund-raising quarter.

Also coming up, a new documentary on Jimmy Carter may renew a firestorm over his views on the plight of the Palestinians, a controversy that played out right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And we have a brand new interview coming into CNN with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as he battles with Hillary Clinton for the African-American vote.

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


BLITZER: We're only two days away from another campaign fund- raising quarter. The president candidates are scrambling to pack more into their war chest before the deadline. The quarterly reports offering a window into how the campaigns are doing.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is here.

John, first of all, what are we learning about what the announcement, the state of the campaigns -- the financial state of the campaigns, what we expect to hear in the next few days?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Most of the campaigns, Wolf, reluctant to give those numbers, in part because the candidates (INAUDIBLE). On the Democratic side, everyone will be watching the very competitive fund-raising race between Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama. And...

BLITZER: Hold on. I'm going to give you a microphone because we're -- start again from the beginning, John, because we're -- we've got a little -- this is a live show. That's what happens on live television.

All right. This microphone we hope will be working.

We were talking about how much money these campaigns are going to be announcing they have raised in this new quarter.

KING: And the big challenge on the Democratic side everyone will be watching is Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. They have been very competitive in raising money. She, of course, is way ahead in the polls.

Most of the campaigns very reluctant, Wolf, to give up that money -- give up those totals, in part because they're out raising money in the final days before the deadline. But CNN has learned this afternoon that Senator Clinton will report raising between $17 million and $20 million in the third quarter. Senator Obama will report raising between $18 million and $19 million. So roughly the same amount. You can bet the campaigns will be counting it down to the last decimal to show their competitiveness. So, both Clinton and Obama still very competitive in terms of fund-raising.

One thing to look at when we get the reports will be cash on hand. Senator Clinton raised less than Obama in the last quarter, but went into the quarter with more money. She had been spending at a slower rate.

But Senator Obama is keeping up the pace. And that was a question many were asking because he was falling behind in the polls, would people continue to give him money. And the answer, according to these numbers, we have learned just today, again, $18 million to $19 million is the resounding yes. That will be the big story on the Democratic side.

BLITZER: On the Republican side everybody is looking at John McCain, first of all. What are you hearing? How much money is he going to raise in this quarter?

KING: We are told -- and again, CNN has learned -- it's a very modest amount, a little more than $5 million. But the McCain campaign is saying that for them, that is an improvement, that he had fallen precipitously in the polls, he's beginning to come up now.

They say he will report raising slightly more than $5 million. They just bought some ad time in New Hampshire to try to prove they are still viable, that they do have money coming in. And they say they have a very aggressive fund-raising schedule in October because they say there is more interest now that we have seen his standing in both the national and especially the New Hampshire polls tick up a little bit in recent days.

BLITZER: And the other Republican candidates, the frontrunners?

KING: They are being very hush-hush. No surprise there. From the Giuliani campaign, all we can get is that they expect to once again lead the Republican pack in terms of fund-raising. They won't give us their numbers.

A huge question for Governor Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. He has already, Wolf, written himself checks from his personal fortune of nearly $9 million. And all of the other campaigns are wondering now that he has dipped a little bit in the polls, how deep will he reach into his own personal fortune?

So we will watch that for the Romney report. Is he giving himself more money in addition to raising money?

And the biggest question in the Republican Party is, how much money has Fred Thompson raised now that he has jumped into the race late, by many accounts? Can he raise enough money to prove that he is viable?

His poll standings have been pretty flat, as you know. And many Republicans are saying can former senator Fred Thompson prove that there's enough money coming in from the Republicans to make him viable in this very, very expensive front-loaded primary calendar?

BLITZER: All right, John. Thanks very much.

And we'll learn this weekend, maybe Monday, the official numbers, the public numbers that they will release.

Thanks very much.

Give and you may get something back. That's what several presidential candidates are saying to supporters in an effort for last-minute cash.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's watching all of this.

What are the candidates doing for that last-minute cash?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, these small donations online can really, really add up. And you see the candidates really trying to get creative to keep that money coming in.

In the last couple of days we have seen Hillary Clinton send out an e-mail to people saying contribute and you can get the chance to watch a debate with Bill Clinton if you make that contribution by Sunday.

From the Republicans, from Mitt Romney, saying give $100 and you could join me out on the campaign trail.

Something similar from John McCain -- make a contribution in the next couple days and you could join him on his campaign bus.

In terms of online fund-raising, Barack Obama is in the lead on this. And his latest offer is to give a contribution and saying that someone else, one of his other donors, will watch it.

And there's another e-mail about matching that we just got in the last few hours. This one from the campaign of John Edwards. Hot on the heels of that announcement that he's going to accept public financing.

He's using it as an incentive for these small donors online, reminding them with this e-mail that if you give up to $250, that money can be matched by public funds.

Whatever they're doing, Wolf, in the last couple of days, these e-mails coming thick and fast, and these contribute buttons are right front and center of all these Web sites.

BLITZER: Thank you, Abbi, for that.

We'll watch the money together with you.

Meanwhile, the second-tier presidential candidates are laying into their top rivals. That's because the frontrunners, they were no- shows at a debate on minority issues last night. Did Republicans shoot themselves in the foot with African- American voters?

Donna Brazile and Amy Holmes, they're standing by for our "Strategy Session".

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



BLITZER: The former House speaker Newt Gingrich is sounding more likely than ever to dive into the Republican presidential race. He's now telling supporters if they pledge at least $30 million to his campaign over a three-week period starting Monday, he'll compete for the presidential nomination.

Let's get right to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, who is watching this story.

It looks like the former speaker is getting very, very serious about a run for the White House.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, apparently he is, but it's not the old Newt. It's the new Newt.


SCHNEIDER (voice over): He's back. Newt Gingrich says he'll run for president if his campaign aide can raise the cash.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER: His job in the next three weeks is to see if there are $30 million in pledges that would justify a race.

SCHNEIDER: With nine Republicans already running, is there room for Gingrich? Maybe.

No one is sweeping the Republicans off their feet, not even the long-awaited Fred Thompson. But Gingrich comes with a lot of political baggage -- the government shutdown, impeachment, a negative public image. That's the old Newt.

Are we beginning to see a new Newt?

GINGRICH: I have done nothing of any kind except focus on ideas in a bipartisan way.

SCHNEIDER: Gingrich the uniter?

GINGRICH: The American people are tired of red versus blue. The American people do want red, White, and blue, and that means bringing us together.

SCHNEIDER: Gingrich says Republicans have to be the party of change, just like in 1994. Is he saying Republicans should favor change from their own president's record? Yes.

GINGRICH: If you want to have a corps of engineers that doesn't allow levees to fall and a highway department that doesn't allow bridges to fall, if you want to have a system where you actually know who is in the U.S. and you know whether or not they're here legally, that's real change.

SCHNEIDER: The new Newt is trying to start something.

GINGRICH: Tonight and Saturday are the beginning of a movement.

SCHNEIDER: What kind of movement? A populist movement. Not left versus right. The people versus the establishment.

GINGRICH: Eight times the American people have risen up and said to the establishment, change or we'll defeat you.


SCHNEIDER: Still harsh, still divisive, but in a post-partisan way. The people united versus the establishment. And who is the establishment? Well, start with this -- for the last 27 years now, the president or vice president has been someone named Bush or Clinton -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And speaking of Clinton, one of the points he keeps making over and over again, as you know, Bill, is that it looks like Hillary Clinton could get the Democratic nomination. And who would be best to go up in a debate against Hillary Clinton? Who would be better than Newt Gingrich?

He says no one. He would be able to do that, represent the Republicans more effectively one on one against Senator Clinton than any of the other Republican candidates.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. He says repeatedly he'd like to go up against her in a debate. That would present voters with a real choice between Newt Gingrich and Hillary Clinton, but both of them have very divisive reputations.

BLITZER: He praises her as being smart and savvy, but so is he. And that's why the Republicans might need him.

All right. Thanks very much. We'll see if he can get $30 million in campaign pledges.

That's not real cash, just promises. We'll see what he does on that front.

It was a he said/she said uproar and a Supreme Court nomination was on the line. Now Justice Clarence Thomas is speaking out about the fierce battle over his nomination, what he thinks of the accuser in that case, Anita Hill.

Fascinating new insights into Justice Thomas and the high court as a whole. Our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin, is standing by to talk about his new best-selling book, "The Nine". You're going to want to see this.

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


BLITZER: Happening now, new revelations about that Blackwater shooting incident. A source describing the scene in Baghdad as mayhem, but a company official denying published reports that a Blackwater guard drew a weapon on his colleague and yelled at them to stop shooting.

We're also learning more about a major blunder that permitted a B-52 to fly across the United States carrying live nuclear weapons. CNN has confirmed the incident happened partly because of a decision to store real and dummy warheads in the same bunker.

The new film "Kite Runner" is being swept up in controversy even before it flies into movie theaters. One of the actors, a 12-year-old Afghan boy, was in a rape scene. That's viewed as dishonorable in Afghanistan even if it's just acting.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton appealing today to the Congressional Black Caucus -- it's another example of their intense competition for African-American support, support that is not coming as easily as you might think for Barack Obama.

Our contributor Roland Martin spoke with Senator Obama just a short while ago here in Washington, and asked him about the black vote and why Hillary Clinton appears -- appears -- to have the edge.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The African- American community across the country doesn't know me the way the African-American community in Illinois knows me. And, so, there I have got 90 percent support.

But I don't assume that that's going to exist across the country, until they get to know who I am. And there's no doubt that an impact also has to do with the fact that Senator Clinton is in the race, and there's enormous affection for Bill Clinton in particular. And that carries over.

But I have always said that my goal is to get known, so that people know my track record on dealing with racial profiling, on reforming a death penalty system, on expanding health care for kids who needed it, dealing with ex-offender issues.

If people know the work I have done as a community organizer, civil rights attorney, state legislator, U.S. senator, then I will feel confident that I will get a large share of the African-American vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: We're going to have much more of that interview with Senator Barack Obama. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

More than two decades after he left the White House, Jimmy Carter is on a new stage, a movie theater coming to a location near you. The former president is the subject of a new documentary centered on his controversial book about the Middle East.

Let's bring in -- back Carol Costello. She's here.

This film is likely to give the uproar over Carter's book some, I guess, new life.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, it certainly will. It will revive the controversy, but that seems to be what Mr. Carter wants. He wants very much to be understood and to be remembered as a peacemaker.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After leaving office, many ex-presidents choose to sit back and rest on their laurels.


COSTELLO: "Jimmy Carter Man From Plains" is big-budget documentary directed by a big-time Hollywood player, Jonathan Demme, you know, the guy who won the Oscar for "Silence of the Lambs."

Hannibal Lecter to Jimmy Carter? It seems strange, but Demme's for Carter is clear. "We live in a country," he says, "where our president is obsessed with war and how to destroy the enemy. Jimmy Carter is obsessed with peace."


JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bringing peace, permanent peace, to Israel would be at the top of my list.

COSTELLO: But the film documents a contentious chapter in Carter's quest for peace, following him across the country as he promotes his controversial book, "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid," including an appearance in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Former President Jimmy Carter is responding to the controversy...


COSTELLO: The book what was a media sensation. Its use of the word apartheid in the title so inflamed some Jewish leaders, they charged Carter was clearly pro-Palestinian and even anti-Semitic. CARTER: This is the first time that I have ever been called a liar and a bigot and an anti-Semite.

COSTELLO: Douglas Brinkley, a Carter biographer, say that hurt and the desire to protect his legacy are why Carter agreed to allow Demme access to his life.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: And I think allowing a filmmaker who he trusts, like Jonathan Demme, following him around in a cinema verite way is a way for Jimmy Carter to say, I don't want to be held hostage to the sound bites. I don't want to be misinterpreted.


COSTELLO: Brinkley says Carter yearns to be the man who brokers peace between Israelis and Arabs. But his support for the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and his harsh tone towards Israel in his book may have made that impossible.

BRINKLEY: He's no longer a broker in the Middle East. He's somebody who is explaining the plight of the Palestinian. President Carter sees them as underdogs.

COSTELLO: Brinkley says this new documentary is powerful. It shows Carter both bashed and praised for his work toward Middle East peace. If it changes minds, that's a gamble, Brinkley says, Carter is willing to take.


COSTELLO: And, as I said, Mr. Brinkley has seen bits and pieces of this documentary. He says it is very powerful. It's already won several awards at the Toronto Film Festival. And it will open in the United States some time next month.

BLITZER: And we're hoping that he will be joining us, Jimmy Carter, here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next few weeks as well. We will discuss this and a lot more.

Carol, thanks very much.

Whatever the current response to his book and this film, Jimmy Carter's legacy as a peacemaker surely is secure. In September 1978, he brokered the landmark Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt. After 12 days of tough and secret negotiations, the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, and the Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin, signed the accords at the White House.

Six months later, Israel and Egypt signed a formal peace treaty at the White House, ending 31 years of war. Sadat and Begin were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize back in 1978. Jimmy Carter received his own Nobel Prize in 2002. The Camp David accords were widely rejected in the Arab world. President Sadat was assassinated in October 1981 by Muslim fundamentalists opposed in part to the peace treaty he signed with Israel. Race, sex, and the law of the land -- Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas speaking out on his embattled nomination hearings. Here what he is now saying about Anita Hill.

Plus, Rudy Giuliani quotes the Bible to fend off scrutiny over his personal life -- that and a lot more coming up in our "Strategy Session."

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


BLITZER: The clash is intensifying between President Bush and Congress over the proposed expansion of a very popular children's health care program.

Plus, four Republicans who skipped the presidential forum on minority issues are facing serious criticism. And Rudy Giuliani is comparing the scrutiny of his family to a New Testament story.

Joining us in our "Strategy Session," CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, along with Republican strategist, CNN contributor Amy Holmes.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

This is a tough one, Amy, for the Republicans, for the president, and those Republicans who are supporting him, to explain, why their -- the president is going to veto this bipartisan legislation that's passed the House, passed the Senate, to expand health insurance for poor children.

AMY HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It is a tough one, and it was a smart fight for Democrats to pick. Where conservatives can be right on the principle, it's bad on the policy.

I mean, you can just imagine the ads that come out next fall making Republicans look as if they're stealing food and insurance from the mouths of babes. But they have done a good job of explaining that the Democratic expansion of this program would bring in millions and millions of children who are already insured by private insurance, and that this is just one more step towards universal care that Republicans want to be able to debate next fall.

BLITZER: The political fallout, though, for the Democrats is presumably going to be strong on this one. The president is going to veto the legislation. The Senate has the votes to override the veto, but presumably not in the House.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I agree that the Republicans will have a hard time explaining this next year.

Look, this president campaigned on No Child Left Behind. Now we have nine million children that may be left behind that is caught in this gap. And the Democrats are saying, we can fund the program. We have the money. It's pay as you go, $35 billion. So, I think the Republicans will be hard-pressed to defend the president on this one when the Democrats have the vote on the Senate side to override his veto.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the Republican debate, the no-shows last night. Tavis Smiley hosted a debate. The second-tier Republican presidential candidates were there, including Senator Sam Brownback.

I want you to Listen to what was said.


SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R-KS), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I apologize for the candidates that aren't here. I think this is a disgrace that they're not here.


BROWNBACK: I think it's a disgrace for our country, I think it's bad for our party, and I don't think it's good for our future.


BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit about that. Was it a big mistake for the front-runners, the Republican presidential front-runners, to skip that debate last night, Amy?

HOLMES: No, it wasn't. And, when you consider that they're here at crunch time, these are very valuable, precious resources and minutes, and to go before a largely Democratic audience, and to be risking some verbal pitfalls -- remember, when Ross Perot addressed the NAACP, and he said, "you people," and that got tons of press for being insensitive on racial issues. And that's not even counting policy issues.

So, for the front-runners, for them to really focus on Republican primary voters -- I read that Mike Huckabee did a great job last night, which might be enhancing and boosting his chance to be V.P. on the presidential ticket.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BRAZILE: Well, either you're running for the presidency of the United States, or you're running to just be the Republican base president.

Look, I thought Mike Huckabee did a great job, Sam Brownback. They talked about the poor. They talked about AIDS in Africa. This was an opportunity for the Republicans to be heard in the black community.

One thing Republicans should know is that more and more African- Americans are registering as independents.

HOLMES: That's true.

BRAZILE: This was an opportunity to appeal to them. But they didn't show up. So, if you don't show up during the Tavis Smiley debate, don't expect us to show up on Election Day.

HOLMES: I agree that it was an opportunity, but I know -- we both know that Republicans have a lot of spadework to go, and they should start small, as the president and Ken Mehlman have been doing with faith-based initiatives, getting together with pastors like T.D. Jakes, and really addressing issues in the local community, instead of going onto a national stage, where this could be press for weeks, if they said the wrong thing.

BRAZILE: You have African-Americans who are running statewide on the Republican Party ticket.

HOLMES: Certainly. Certainly.

BRAZILE: They need Republican candidates who will show up, so that they compete for black votes, for independent votes, and for all other votes.


HOLMES: I think that you will see, once you get past the primary, when the Republicans -- I think they should even be given credit that they didn't try a reverse Sister Souljah and go in front of a largely Democratic audience and try to create favor with conservatives. They could have...


BLITZER: Go ahead.

I just want to get quickly this sound bite from Rudy Giuliani on the Christian Broadcasting Network. He was asked about some of his own marital issues, his personal history. And he said this.


RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I love my family very, very much. I think that there are some people that are very judgmental.

I was just on a radio show, and it wasn't the particular interviewer who was asking me the question. And I said, I'm -- I'm guided very, very often, you know, don't judge others, lest you be judged.


BLITZER: He's invoking, obviously, the Bible to explain some of the problems he's facing. This was before the Christian Broadcasting Network.

What do you think of that strategy?

BRAZILE: Well, look, I like John 8. I think it's one of the most important passages in the Bible. But before he starts quoting Scripture, he might want to start quoting his children and pay attention to them. Look, he's in a very difficult circumstance, with an ex-wife who has a story, with children who may not be speaking to him.

But I'm not going to judge him on that. I'm going to judge him on his record, and his record, as far as I'm concerned, is one that leads me to believe that he will flip-flop, based on the election...


HOLMES: Well, and let's face it that the Democratic front-runner on the presidential side -- the Democratic side, she has her own problems that she -- that, you know, Republicans could go after. This is very dangerous territory to get into, politically.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, guys. We will continue this conversation on many occasions.


HOLMES: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

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

Justice Clarence Thomas is no stranger to being in the hot seat. He's now talking about his role in one of the most bitter confirmation battles in U.S. political history. But is he telling it like it was?

Our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin, is standing by with a fact-check.

Also, we will talk about his new bestselling book, "The Nine" -- all that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: After more than a decade as a Supreme Court justice, Clarence Thomas still is seen by many as a controversial figure. His nomination by the first President Bush triggered a huge Senate brawl and a national dialogue about sexual harassment.

Now Justice Thomas is retelling his -- his side of the story on the accusations leveled against him by Anita Hill.

Let's bring back Carol Costello. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

He says the fight over his nomination was simply misunderstood.

COSTELLO: Yes, this is really fascinating, Wolf. He says his nasty confirmation hearings had nothing to do with sexual harassment charges, and everything to do with his position on abortion. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... do solemnly swear.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Justice Clarence Thomas has been on the bench for 16 years, and, yet, the essence of who he is, what makes him tick, remains a mystery to many.

Now his new memoir, "My Grandfather's Son," may change that, allowing us to see the man behind the robe. It's what Wendy Long, a former clerk for Thomas, is hoping for.

WENDY LONG, FORMER THOMAS LAW CLERK: He's a brilliant person, a very hardworking person, which is why I think this book is going to be just great.

COSTELLO: Thomas' legacy, though, will perhaps be forever tainted by his Senate confirmation hearing. It remains the most contentious in Washington. It had it all: sex, politics, race, and the surrounding media frenzy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Professor, do you swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?



COSTELLO: It got ugly when law professor Anita Hill accused her former boss, Clarence Thomas, of sexual harassment after she refused to date him. Her accusations were at times lurid and embarrassing.


HILL: One of the oddest episodes I remember was an occasion in which Thomas was drinking a Coke in his office. He got up from the table at which we were working, went over to his desk to get the Coke, looked at the can and asked, who has put pubic hair on my Coke?


COSTELLO: It was the line that burst a million jokes.

In his memoir and on CBS' "60 Minutes," Thomas talks frankly about that hearing, telling Steve Kroft: "The process harmed her. It harmed me. What are we going to look like years from now, if we can't get people confirmed because everybody gets to attack them?"

And Thomas, an abortion opponent, says the hearing had little to do with sexual harassment and everything to do with abortion. "That was the elephant in the room" he says. "That was the issue."

Of Anita Hill, he says: "She was not the demure, religious, conservative person that they had portrayed. She could defend herself, let's put it that way."

Friends of Thomas hope his frank talk will help Americans understand the 59-year-old justice, a man they greatly admire.

LONG: I hope he will be a model and an inspiration to many people, that the kind of classical, old-fashioned virtues of hard work and discipline and courage and faithfulness will -- will serve anyone well.


COSTELLO: And Long says Thomas does not harbor any bitter feelings toward Anita Hill, even though he has always denied her allegations. She says Thomas faced Hill's charges with courage and with dignity.

I did reach out to Anita Hill today, and, Wolf, I did not hear back.

BLITZER: All right. If you do get something from her, let us know. We will get her reaction to this latest development here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Carol Costello, thanks very much.

Clearly, this is a story that is by no means going away.

Let's continue some analysis now. And we will bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin. He's also the author of a new bestseller. It's entitled "The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court," number three on the "New York Times" bestsellers list -- we -- or number five.


BLITZER: Number three on Amazon.

TOOBIN: Three next week, we hope.


BLITZER: Number three on Amazon.con -- .com.


TOOBIN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: An excellent book, an amazing insight you found on these nine justices.

Let's talk about Clarence Thomas. What do you think, first of all, what he's saying now to "60 Minutes"? TOOBIN: Well, you know, I think it's so interesting, because, in the earlier part of Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearing, he refused to say what he thought about abortion. He -- he said he had never even discussed abortion in Roe v. Wade.

Then, yet, than a year later, in the Casey case, he called for Roe v. Wade to be overturned. So, he's clearly right that abortion was a big deal. But, you know, the fact is, he didn't let on what his views were in the course of his confirmation hearings.

BLITZER: There's so much in this book that readers will learn about these justices on Clarence Thomas.

I'm going to read from page 103: "Unlike any of his colleagues, Thomas learned the names of all the new clerks every year, including those of his ideological adversaries. And he frequently invited the young lawyers into his chambers to chat, conversations that often stretched to two and three hours. One year, Thomas became friendly with a Stevens clerk, a lesbian whose partner was a professional snowboarder. Thomas liked the two of them so much that, for a while, he kept a photograph of the snowboarder on his desk."

It's a fascinating little nugget there.

TOOBIN: And that's the thing about Thomas is that, as bitter and alienated as he was by hearings, is as kind, as endearing as he is on the bench.

You know, most people know that he doesn't ask any questions in oral argument. What you don't know is that he spends a lot of the time passing notes with Stephen Breyer, laughing, telling jokes. He's not a polarizing and an isolated figure on the court.

BLITZER: On the -- the very important case Bush vs. Gore that decided who was going to be the president of the United States back in 2000, you write this about justice Souter: "He came from a tradition where the independence of the judiciary was the foundation of the rule of law, and Souter believed Bush vs. Gore mocked that tradition. His colleagues' actions were so transparent, so crudely partisan, that Souter thought he might not be able to serve with them anymore. Souter seriously considered resigning."

Tell us something else about David Souter that perhaps we don't know.

TOOBIN: So different from the other justices, lives this 19th century lifestyle, no computer, no fax, no answering machine. He moves his chair around his office to catch the natural sunlight, because he doesn't like electric light to read by.

He -- he -- when he arrived at the court, he hadn't heard of Diet Coke. He hadn't heard of the singing group called the Supremes. You know, he -- he has this very idealistic notion of what the court is like. And that's why he took Bush v. Gore so hard.

BLITZER: And amazing insight you got into Justice Antonin Scalia.

On page 319, you write: "To be sure, there was something endearing about Scalia's unique mix of elan and erudition. He was a justly popular public speaker, but, over two decades, Scalia failed to charm his most important audience, his colleagues. And his moxie never translated into influence."

TOOBIN: Scalia has been on the court since 1986. Yet, if you ask him or ask most Supreme Court experts, what's his most important opinion, they will almost always cite his dissenting opinions, because he has not written many opinions that, you know, translate into real influence in the law.

Another fact about Scalia that is sort of fun, remember his famous duck hunting trip with Dick Cheney? Well, I actually went to look to see what happened on that trip. And -- and, you know, I'm a city boy. I don't know much about duck hunting or any kind of hunting.

And it turned out it was so rainy on that trip, that it was too rainy even for ducks, and there were almost no ducks to be shot, and it was not a successful trip.

BLITZER: Let me summarize with this quote from page 324: "George W. Bush's second term had been marked by a series of political calamities for the president and his party. But one major and enduring project went according to plan, the transformation of the U.S. Supreme Court. The court in 2006 and 2007 became a dramatically more conservative institution."

And some are suggesting this will be his legacy. He changed the United States Supreme Court.

TOOBIN: You bet he did. I mean, he said in his campaign he was going to appoint justices in the mold of Scalia and Thomas, and that's precisely what he did.

If you look at President Bush's second term, there are only two accomplishments. There's the continuation of the -- of the war in Iraq, and there are the Supreme Court appointments. And those young men -- they are in their early 50s, both of them -- they are going to be there a long time, and they are both very conservative. And the 2008 election will be just as significant, because there are going to be some vacancies there soon.

BLITZER: The book is entitled "The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court," number five on the "New York Times" bestsellers list, but moving up rapidly.


BLITZER: Want to congratulation our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin, for writing a very, very excellent book.

TOOBIN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Campaign finance laws, are they worth the paper they're printed on? Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail.

Plus, Senator Barack Obama on his surprisingly challenging quest to win African-American support. More of our interview with Barack Obama, that is coming up.

And there's new information about a nightmare scenario that's coming in, a scenario that could be a very real threat, a cyber-attack on the nation's power grid. We're going to follow this story, get you the new information, information you need to know, right after this.


BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question is: What's wrong with our campaign finance laws?

Mary writes: "Come on. Are you getting lazy? This is too easy. Money buys votes. It only should be funded by the government and there should be a set limit."

Jim in Savannah, Georgia: "Nothing wrong with our laws. They are the best money can buy, just like the justice system is the best money can buy. I trust this comes as no surprise to you."

Jabriel, Washington, D.C.: "Funny. We can raise hundreds of millions of dollars for the presidential elections, and can't provide health care, defeat poverty, beat homelessness, or solve any other social ills that are plaguing us. The solution is public financing of elections. Maybe it starts with the candidates accepting public funding and turning over all their private funding to community-based organizations."

Jack in Saint Augustine, Florida: "I suggest you and your cohorts look in the mirror for the answer. The television industry stands to lose big bucks if we find a way to curtail spending by those hoping to be elected."

Miriam in San Francisco: "The U.S. should institute the same kind of policy France has, where every candidate gets the same amount of money, and campaigning is limited to just a few weeks."

And Susan writes: "I know how it looks, but we may have a chicken-and-egg situation here. Which comes first? Are the front- runners winning in the polls because they have raised more money and can afford lots of ads? Or are the front-runners getting all the donations to their campaigns because more people like them and want to donate? In other words, are they first because they're flush or are they flush because they're first?" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.