Return to Transcripts main page


Explosion Kills Dozens in Pakistan; Democrats Fail to Override SCHIP Veto

Aired October 18, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, guys.
Happening now, breaking news we're following. Explosions rocking the return to Pakistan of the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Witnesses say dozens of people are dead and injured. We're going to be on top of this story.

Also this hour, House Democrats lose another one to the president. Does their failure to override a veto on children's health care prove Mr. Bush still very much on his game?

Plus one Republican's exit may be another's opportunity, now that Sam Brownback is expected to drop out of the presidential race, does Mike Huckabee have a better shot at the conservative vote? Huckabee opens up aboard the CNN Election Express.

And Hillary Clinton flashes back to the 1960s and the Hippie generation. The Democrat is pushing for a possible tribute to the legendary concert at Woodstock, and the republicans see it as a groovy opening to attack. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Well, we begin with the breaking news we're following. A triumphant moment for the former prime minister of Pakistan, but unfortunately that moment has been turned to tragedy. We begin with the breaking news we're following out of Karachi, Pakistan, news that has major ramifications for the United States, the hunt for Bin Laden, the war on terror.

Twin blasts near the motorcade of Benazir Bhutto only hours after her return to her homeland after eight years of self-imposed exile. Police sources say Benazir Bhutto was not injured, but there are reports of at least 30 people killed, another 100 seriously injured. We have a correspondent on the scene in Karachi, Dan Rivers, we're going to go there in a moment, but our terrorism analyst Peter Bergen is joining us on the phone right now.

Peter, let's talk a little bit about this but I want to walk through you and our viewers this dramatic video, that only moments ago occurred on the streets of Karachi, a huge city. You're going to see that one explosion going on, but there were more than just one. People starting to run. A million people according to wire service accounts, a million people gathered on the streets of Karachi to receive Benazir Bhutto. She's come back. There's another explosion right there. They're beginning to count, they're beginning to count how many dead, how many injured. We're told, though, Peter that she is OK, but we're watching this story very closely. Explain to our viewers what is going on, why her return has caused what is clearly these dramatic explosions, this outburst?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST (on phone): Well, you know Benazir Bhutto several weeks ago announced she would be traveling back to Pakistan on this day, so anybody who had -- regards her as an enemy, had quite a lot of time to plan this. This was quite a predictable event, her arrival.

The cast of characters that might want to do her in unfortunately is quite long. Al Qaeda itself -- this is a simultaneous explosion, at least two bombs. That's an al Qaeda hallmark. Bin Laden in the past has been involved in politicking against Benazir Bhutto. Ramzi Youssef who trained in an al Qaeda training camp and bombed the World Trade Center in '93 also tried to assassinate Benazir Bhutto.

So on the al Qaeda side of things, she certainly is somebody - obviously, she's a woman, she's regarded as a liberal, they don't like her. But then of course there's a whole range of other enemies she has in Pakistan.

There is a very contested election is coming up, Karachi is an extremely violent city where a lot of terrorism has happened in the past. The American consulate there has been attacked three times since 9/11. Danny Pearl, the American journalist, was kidnapped and murdered there. This is a place of a lot of jihadist activity, and unfortunately it is going to be hard to work out who exactly was behind this. There are other jihadi terrorist groups other than al Qaeda in Karachi that might also want to be involved and there's a number of political parties in Pakistan have effectively paramilitary wings, and they may be also tempted to attack. After all Benazir Bhutto is the most popular politician in Pakistan, she scores a 63 percent favorability rating.

General Musharraf, by contrast is down somewhere like 30 percent, so her return really is enormously sensitive event for the political life of Pakistan, Wolf.

BLITZER: Now, they have serious political differences, Benazir Bhutto the former prime minister who has now returned to Karachi from exile and the President Pervez Musharraf, but one thing they do agree on, they're basically seen as allies of the U.S. in the war on terror and war against Osama bin Laden. Pakistan is an Islamic country, an Islamic country that already has a nuclear arsenal with a lot of Islamic fundamentalists there, so the stakes for the U.S., Peter, are really enormous is how the dust settles in that strategically important country.

BERGEN: Well, I think that's right. As you know Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf have been doing some kind of deal where he would basically take off his uniform, would remain the president, she would run for the third time as a prime minister. That requires a constitutional amendment in Pakistan, but that can fairly easily be fixed. So there is a deal in the works. I think that's good for Pakistan, I think that's good for the United States, because, as you said, wolf, both Musharraf and Bhutto have numerous times, you know, expressed their disapproval of the jihadist terrorists, so if these guys can do a deal and the deal sticks, that's a good thing.

On the other hand, things change in Pakistan so quickly, you know, the event today I think demonstrates how fragile the situation. Musharraf himself has been the subject of serious assassination attempts as well.

BLITZER: All right. Peter, hold on. Dan Rivers is on the scene for us in Karachi right now. Our correspondent. Dan, set the scene for us. You're on the phone. Tell us what has happened and what you're seeing.

DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on phone): Wolf, there are absolutely horrendous scenes in Karachi. We've counted at least 10 bodies, I will say the death toll will be much higher. Bodies strewn across the roads, blood running in rivers across the road, body parts strewn across the road right around the convoy of Benazir Bhutto. I'm standing beside this sort of open-top truck that she was progressing through the streets an hour or so ago. She is nowhere to be seen now, it's just a seen it's a sea of total carnage. One vehicle is completely burnt out.

And her campaign bus is fairly badly damaged as will. I have no word on whether she was hurt herself, but it appears that the nightmare scenario that everyone had been fearing in that terrorists were threatening to attack her, seems to have happened here, wolf.

BLITZER: Did you -- When was the last time you actually saw her? Because the reports we're getting from the Associated Press, from the wire services are suggesting that she was not hurt in these explosions in Karachi, but those are the reports from the AP. When did you see her last and what are you seeing right now? AP reporting at least 30 people dead, more than 100 injured in these blasts.

RIVERS: Yeah, I mean, I saw her about an hour ago, which must have been fairly -- just a short time before these blasts happened. She was riding through the streets, as you've seen from the pictures before, with thousands of well-wishers crowding around her vehicle. She was actually very high up on that vehicle, and it looks like the top of the vehicle wasn't that heavily damaged.

The windscreen has been smashed by the force of the blast, but one car that it looks like it was following her vehicle was completely burned out. And more bodies than I can count, so it may well be 30- plus killed here. Certainly awful, awful scene and they are still clearing away the debris of this blast now.

I haven't gotten any confirmation whether she was injured or not. We arrived, I guess, probably 16, 20 minutes after this blast happened. And there was still quite a lot of confusion, as you can imagine, with dozens of ambulances and police cars racing to the scene.

We're getting word from one police officer we've spoken to here. We think they have found, recovered the body of what they say is a suicide bomber. We have got no way of confirming that, but it certainly bears all the hallmarks of some sort of terrorist attack, possibly a suicide bombing. Wolf?

BLITZER: You know, one interesting point, I'm wondering, Dan, you're on the scene in Karachi for us. Those of us who have been to Pakistan and covered Pakistan and this whole crisis over the years, recognize Karachi, probably one of the more extreme cities as far as fundamentalists are concerned, anti-West, anti-American elements certainly Benazir Bhutto is seen as someone close to the united states. She studied here, she's been aligned with the united states in the war on terror. What was the decision-making? Why did she decide to go first to Karachi, a hotbed of these kinds of activities as opposed to, let's say Islamabad where there certainly would be much more control over the situation?

RIVERS: You're absolutely right. Benazir is seen as a very pro- western politician here. She's deeply divisive character, though she had this amazing welcome home street party today, there are lots of people who are very bitterly opposed to the deal she struck with General Musharraf, a power-sharing deal which could see her return as prime minister.

And this was always a threat. And to be honest, when we were here earlier on, we all remarked how lacks the security seemed around her convoy. I mean, we were able to pass right up close, you know, within touching her vehicle without anyone checking who we were at all. It was total chaos, frankly.

There was no security around her vehicle stopping people getting close to it. It really was quite surprising how easy it was just to walk straight up to the bus amid all the crowds. And we were saying, then, you know, that frankly if there are suicide bombers in the crowd, they're not going to find it very difficult to cause of the mayhem and destruction, and it appears that's exactly what happened.

BLITZER: Dan Rivers in Karachi, stand by. A couple weeks ago, Benazir Bhutto was here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I spoke with her, and we had this chilling exchange. I want you to listen to what she said.


BLITZER: You're a relatively young woman. How scared are you, though, because as you know, Osama bin Laden and other terrorists, they've attacked you in the past and they clearly would like to go after you now.

BENAZIR BHUTTO, FORMER PAKISTAN PRIME MINISTER: Yes, of course they would like to go against me. There's a lot of threats, because under military dictatorship, an anarchic situation has developed which the terrorists and Osama bin Laden have exploited. They don't want democracy, they don't want me back.

BLITZER: And they don't want a woman to be the prime minister of Pakistan, either.

BHUTTO: And they don't believe in women governing nations, so they will try to plot against me, but these are risks that must be taken. I'm prepared to take them.


BLITZER: Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister speaking with me here in THE SITUATION ROOM just the other day acknowledging she was scared, but she wanted to take those risks and go back to her homeland after these years in exile.

Let's get some reaction now from the Pakistani ambassador to the United States. Mahmoud Ali Durrani. He's joining us on the phone. What's going on, Mr. Ambassador? This is about the worst scenario that could have been foreseen. It seems to be unfolding on the streets of Karachi.

MAHMOUD ALI DURRANI, PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S (on phone).: Wolf, I'm very, very sore and we are extremely sorry this has been happened. I think it was a very joyous occasion for the PPP workers and it was going on very well, and there was rejoicing in the streets, but such an attack was a possibility. I think a threat had been made.

We are extremely sorry and sad about the loss of life, and the carnage that's follow in its wake. But the good news is that Benazir is in safe. She is in Balaval (ph) house now and she was on the lower deck of the bus, to the best of my information when this happened, so she's safe and sound, but of course the carnage is there, it's very sad, and we condemn it.

BLITZER: Those numbers might go up, Mr. Ambassador. At least 30 dead, according to the Associated Press, 100 injured, but you have information in terms of your contacts with the government in Pakistan that she is OK, she's in a safe house right now?

DURRANI: Yes, she is safe in her own house, which is called Balaval house. She is already there, and she is absolutely safe.

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, we're going to stay in touch with you, and I know you're going to be getting updated information over the next hours as well. Thank you very much for that.

And we're going to stay on top of this story, a story that has major ramifications for the United States, given the strategic important on Pakistan in the war on terror and the hunt for Osama bin Laden. The fact this is an Islamic country, a huge Islamic country that already has a nuclear arsenal. We'll watch the story unfold.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty in New York. He's got "The Cafferty File." It was very predictable, Jack, that she was going to go back, her supporters would line the streets, but there are people in that country who hate her, A, because she's a woman and B, because she is aligned with the United States. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: And there's reason to believe, too, when she was in power, she wasn't the most honest leader of all of the Middle Eastern countries. There was some corruption associated with her time in power as well. It's not good and not something the United States needs right at this moment over there.

This is not perhaps that earth-shattering, but it's worth noting. A critic of birth control is President Bush's latest choice to head up family planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services. Let me just read that against. A critic of birth control is President Bush's latest choice to head up family planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Susan Orr will oversee $283 million in annual grants to provide low-income family and others with things like contraceptive services, counseling and preventive screenings. In 2001 when President Bush proposed dropping a requirement that all health insurance plans for government employees cover a wide range of birth control, here's what Orr had to say. This is quoting now from 2001.

"We're quite pleased because fertility is not a disease. It's not a medical necessity that you have it." Unquote.

Orr was an official with the Family Research Council at the time. Critics say it's just another appointment that truly politicizes family planning. Many were also opposed to the president's last appointee. This was a doctor who worked at a Christian pregnancy counseling group that was opposed to contraception.

The Department of Health and Human Services says Orr's experience, quote, "makes her highly qualified to serve as acting director," unquote.

Pay close attention to the word "acting." just this week there was a report on a growing number of agencies which the president has left to be run mostly by acting or interim appointees. In other words these are officials who don't have to be confirmed by the Senate.

So here's the question -- How much does it matter if the Bush administration's appointee to head family plans programs has been critical of birth control? You can't make this stuff up. E-mail or go to


BLITZER: Jack, thank you. Jack will be back soon.

We're following the breaking news out of Pakistan, the deadly explosions, the blast near the convoy carrying the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. We're going to update you on what's going on and the carnage and how this violence could even bring more political turmoil and danger to Pakistan.

Also coming up, Democrats lose a school-yard brawl over children's health care, but who will the winner eventually be when all the dust settles? We're going to have reports from Capitol Hill and the White House.

And House Democratic and Republican leaders, they are standing by live here. They're going to square off in THE SITUATION on this issue and more.

Plus republicans try to portray Hillary Clinton as a hippy-era liberal. Is she giving them fresh ammunition by supporting a Woodstock Museum. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There was high drama on Capitol Hill today over children's health care. The dialogue was red-hot, everyone knew, though, what the ending would be. Democrats fell 13 votes short of overriding the president's veto of a bill expanding a popular program known as SCHIP. The White House is saying loud and clear the president won. Democrats are suggesting in this round winning isn't everything.

Our White House correspondent Ed Henry is standing by, but let's go to Capitol Hill right now where congressional correspondent Jessica Yellin is there. It looks like a clear defeat to the Democrats, at least in this part of the battle.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Democrats, Wolf, would say it's not. They say they are on the right size of this issue and they say they will continue to fight for this bill. Their mood right now is no retreat, no surrender.


YELLIN (voice-over): Democrats insist today's loss will not keep them down.

REP. STENY HOYER, (D) HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: We will not rest. We will not stop our efforts.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: We think we made tremendous progress today. We held the Republicans, increased our number there. There are only 10 Republican members of Congress standing in the way now of 10 million children getting health care in America.

YELLIN: Democrats never expected they would get enough votes to override the president's veto of this children's health insurance bill. Still they pulled out all the stops, posing with children all week long. Rushing to swear in a new member this morning, and then wheeling a sick congressman to the floor just in time to vote. Republicans accuse Democrats of using the debate over expanding this popular program to score political points instead of compromising to make good policy.

REP. JOE BARTON, (R) TX: Madame Speaker, what we have today is a classic case of a Washington, DC non-intersecting conversation.

REP. KENNY HULSHOF, (R) MO: After this veto is sustained, do you want the politics or do you want the policy? I hope the latter, because I guarantee you, we can have a meeting of the minds.


YELLIN (on camera): As President Bush has indicated, he is ready to try for a meeting of the minds. He says he would like to dispatch some top aides to Capitol Hill to try to strike a deal with the Democrats, but the Democrats are making it clear they're not open to very much negotiation on this, and both Reid and Pelosi are saying they want to meet with the president on this issue, not with his aides. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Thank you, Jessica. You'll watch this story for us.

The White House is seizing on today's vote as proof that the president's claim he is engaged as commander in chief, is working and he is no lame duck. Let's bring in our White House correspondent Ed Henry, he is watching this story for us. I guess it's the old question, how relevant is the president right now. At least on this day he is showing to be still very relevant.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. You heard the president yesterday in his press conference say, I am relevant. Just like Bill Clinton before him, he may prove his critics, his nay-sayers wrong.


HENRY (voice-over): President Bush is trying to puncture the notion that with just 15 months to go, he's merely fading into lame- duck oblivion.

ED GILLESPIE, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: I think people realize the president of the United States is always going to have sway and have influence and have power.

HENRY: With Democrats still struggling to get their sea legs, a veto-wielding pen president still has juice on everything from children's health to the war in Iraq.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: I tell you, I'm going to sprint to the finish and finish this job strong. That's one way to insure that I am relevant. That is one way to ensure that I am in the process. And I intend to use the veto.

HENRY: "I'm still relevant." Where have we heard that before? President Clinton in 1995, shortly after the Republican revolution.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: The Constitution gives me relevance, the power of our ideas gives me relevance, the president is relevant here, especially an activist president.

HENRY: Clinton quickly proved himself right using the bully pulpit to clean to Republicans' clock over the government shutdown.

Likewise, Mr. Bush has used his megaphone to buy more time for his Iraq strategy. And now to sustain his veto of the Democrats' vast expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program.


HENRY: Just as Clinton was strengthened by missteps from Republican speaker Newt Gingrich, Mr. Bush has been helped by Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid failing to find consensus on Iraq, and Pelosi over-reaching on a resolution dealing with Armenia.

GILLESPIE: There are some other things the House of Representatives should be focused on.

HENRY: But with the war in Iraq still raging, the White House has to be careful about victory dances.

ROBERT DALLEK, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: It is without question a burden not just on the bush presidency, but on the whole Republican Party.


HENRY (on camera): And likewise, Democrats note that while the White House may have gotten a short-term victory on health insurance, it will come back to haunt congressional Republicans on the ballot next November. You know the Democrats already have the attack ads written saying the GOP is hurting kids, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House, thanks very much.

We're standing by to bring you the latest on the breaking news we're following right now, those deadly bombings in Pakistan. We'll go back there as we get more information.

Also coming up, our brand-new poll asked the question, is the economy in recession? The surprising results in the election year fallout. That's coming up as well.

And what's next in the political war over children's health care? Two key members of the House of Representatives, they're here in THE SITUATION ROOM and we're going to debate those hot button issues. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Happening now, deadly explosions in Karachi, Pakistan, just as Benazir Bhutto returns after years of exile. We're following this breaking news. We'll go back to Karachi shortly.

Also coming up, could religious conservatives support a pro- abortion rights, pro-gay rights candidate like Rudy Giuliani? I'll asking one of most influential evangelical leaders in the country.

That's coming up as well.

Critics call it Hillary Clinton's gift to hippies. A controversial proposal to preserve Woodstock memories. Republicans say hippies will be cheering and gathering their, quote, "groovy beads" for a trip down memory lane.

And a humble worker takes on a billionaire. You're going to find out why one man is standing smack in the middle of Donald Trump's dream and says he's not moving. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

You can almost feel the steam rising from the Capitol dome today, the debate over children's health care got downright testy. Democrats failed to get enough votes to override the president's veto of a bill expanding the so-called SCHIP program, but they went down kicking and blasting the president's Iraq strategy along the way. Listen to this rhetorical grenade thrown by a House Democrat, and a Republican's angry response.


REP. PETE STARK, (D) CA: They sure don't care about finding $200 billion to fight the illegal war in Iraq. Where are you going to get that money? Are you going to tell us lies like you're telling us today? Is that how you're going to fund the war? You don't have the money to fund the war or children, but you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president's amusement.

REP. KEVIN BRADY (R), TEXAS: It is despicable to have a member of this Congress accuse the president, any president, of willfully blowing the heads -- quote -- "blowing the heads" off our young men and women over in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Having a brother who is an Army medic and served in Iraq, having spent this weekend with a family who lost their son in Iraq, it is beneath contempt.


BLITZER: And joining us now, two influential members of the House of Representatives, the House majority whip, James Clyburn of South Carolina, and the House Republican Conference chairman, Adam Putnam of Florida.

Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in.

So, what do you do now? You want to fund these children. You want to make sure they get the insurance. You couldn't override the president's veto. So, what's next?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, we're going to send the bill back to him. We will -- within 10 days. I think...


BLITZER: With no changes?

CLYBURN: Well, there will be some changes, no question about that.


BLITZER: Are you ready to compromise with the president?

CLYBURN: Well, we have already compromised with the president.


BLITZER: But are you ready to compromise some more?

CLYBURN: Well, we're ready to talk with the president.

The speaker has made it very clear that we are willing to sit down and talk with the president. We talk with him about everything else. We will talk with him about this.

BLITZER: The president is in a tough position. Even though he won this battle, there's a lot of people out there who say this is a fight that Republicans in the House really don't want. They don't want to seek reelection on this notion that they're vetoing, they're opposing children's health care.

REP. ADAM PUTNAM (R), FLORIDA: Well, I'm glad to hear my friend Mr. Clyburn say that they're open to compromise with the president. We all are.

This is an issue of children's health that was created on a bipartisan basis by Republicans and Democrats. And -- and, frankly, you know, this is not the most divisive issue in America. We can find common ground and move forward by putting the kids first.

The kind of discussion that we are going to have here today is nothing like what we heard on the House floor and the distasteful, obnoxious comments that were just in the clip that you played.

BLITZER: Are you ready to compromise on the number? The president is ready to expand the program by some $5 billion. You want it to be expanded over the next five years by $35 billion. Normally, in this kind of a situation, you sort of split the difference. Are you ready to do that?

CLYBURN: No. We want to cover 10 million children.

BLITZER: Right now, about six million children are covered.

CLYBURN: About six million are covered.

BLITZER: You want to expand that to 10 million children.

CLYBURN: We want the coverage expanded to 10 million children.

SANCHEZ: So, is that 10 million, you know, do or die, you are not going to go below the 10 million?

CLYBURN: I think so. BLITZER: That's a done deal?

CLYBURN: That's exactly where we are.

BLITZER: All right.

What's wrong with letting 10 million children who either are in a category just above Medicaid, who can't get the insurance, or their families simply don't make enough money to buy private health insurance, what's wrong with getting them the vaccines, the kind of medical treatment that they need to grow up?

PUTNAM: Not a thing in this world, which is why the Republicans were there at the beginning of this program.

The issue is covering those low-income children first. States have used this program as a way of shifting their costs of Medicare -- excuse me -- of Medicaid to the tune that, in Minnesota, 87 percent of the people who are covered aren't children at all.

In Wisconsin, two-thirds of the people covered aren't children at all. We believe that we ought to cover kids first. We believe that we ought to eliminate the waste and fraudulent provisions that allow $6.5 billion to go to illegals.

And we believe that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan study, we should not pass a bill that forces..

BLITZER: All right.

PUTNAM: ... two million kids who are on private coverage out of that and into a government-run program.

BLITZER: Congressman Clyburn?

CLYBURN: That's kind of interesting. Those children who are covered are covered because the law provides for that coverage. Those adults who are on are on because this administration granted them waivers to bring them on.

Minnesota could not do this without the Bush administration. They did it. And Wisconsin did it.


PUTNAM: And this Bush rolls the administration on those waivers and allows...


BLITZER: Here's the argument. Here's the argument, Congressman.


PUTNAM: ... in New York.

CLYBURN: You're exactly right.

BLITZER: Congressman, the argument is, for six years, the president didn't cast any vetoes.

CLYBURN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: The Republican majority in the House and Senate, they were spending money like crazy, no vetoes. The deficit was going up. The national debt was doubling over the first six years. All of a sudden, the Democrats are in the majority, and you decided that you want to save some money.

PUTNAM: Well, we decided that we want a children's health insurance program to focus on children. We have decided that we don't want to spend $6.5 billion on illegals, when there are millions of children, as my friend Mr. Clyburn has pointed out, who are eligible for SCHIP, but are not enrolled.

We don't want this to be used as a tool by governors and state legislatures to solve their own state budget woes.

BLITZER: All right.

PUTNAM: And so, this is a fundamental issue that we can all come together on. That's the bottom line.


BLITZER: Go ahead. You wanted to respond?

CLYBURN: Well, all I have said is that you cannot bring adults into this program unless you get a waiver. This administration granted those waivers.

In this legislation, we are trying to cover an additional four million children. We are not trying to expand the program for adults. In fact, we make it very clear in this administration that adults over the next two years who are the program must be phased out. It's in this bill.


PUTNAM: That really is the single biggest point of contention.


PUTNAM: So, wouldn't you agree that we ought to cover all the eligible kids first, before moving on to other things?

CLYBURN: Well, that is exactly what we do.


PUTNAM: Well, we're not.

(CROSSTALK) CLYBURN: We cover all the poor kids with Medicaid. And we are covering...

PUTNAM: We're not. Only 13 percent of the kids...


BLITZER: What I hear both of you saying -- and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have said they're willing to sit down with the president, try to work out a deal.

CLYBURN: Absolutely.


BLITZER: All right. We will see what happens.

We're out of time, but, quick, I want you to react. You're the number-three leader in the House of Representatives.


BLITZER: The majority leader.

Pete Stark, you heard his comments.

CLYBURN: Majority whip.

BLITZER: You're the whip.

You heard Pete Stark, Democrat of California...


BLITZER: ... those fiery comments he made earlier. I wonder if you think he should apologize.

CLYBURN: Well, I don't know. He has to deal with his own actions. I'm responsible for my actions. He's responsible for his actions. I would not use those words, but Pete Stark is Pete Stark.

BLITZER: Pete Stark, I mean, the suggestion that the president wants to see kids' heads blown off or whatever.

CLYBURN: I would talk to him about that, if I were you.

BLITZER: Pete Stark?



CLYBURN: I'm not responsible for Pete Stark's comments.

BLITZER: All right. CLYBURN: And I'm not going to apologize for them, nor will I talk about any kind of taking down of his words. I think we are all responsible for our actions. And, so, I think that that's what...


BLITZER: We will follow up with Congressman Stark.

PUTNAM: Fairly or unfairly, party leadership ends up being responsible for the actions of their members. They should hold themselves responsible.

But, ultimately, it paints the party with a broad brush. And what he said, that the president wants service men and women's heads blown up for his own amusement, has no place in civil discourse. And it should be condemned. And he should apologize.

CLYBURN: And I'm responsible for Pete Stark's comments?

PUTNAM: I think that you should demand that he apologize.

CLYBURN: I don't think you're responsible for some of the comments I have heard some of your members...


PUTNAM: I think that he should apologize.

CLYBURN: Well, he may. But, if you think he should, if I were you, I would advise him to do that.


PUTNAM: Well, I just advised Wolf and millions of -- millions of viewers. And I would hope that you would share that same concern.


BLITZER: We will try to get in touch with him and see if he wants to clarify or amend or adjust or apologize for those comments.


BLITZER: Congressman Clyburn, thanks very much for coming in.

CLYBURN: Well, thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Congressman Putnam, thanks to you as well.

PUTNAM: Thank you.

BLITZER: Witnesses described seeing dead bodies everywhere. We're following the breaking news out of Pakistan, explosions near the motorcade carrying the former prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto. She's OK. We will have the latest on the chaos and the carnage. And we will have to deal with hot-button issues in the Middle East as well. He will -- we're talking about presidential candidates, if they become president, specifically Mike Huckabee. He talks to CNN in a one-on-one interview aboard our Election Express.

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


BLITZER: As we feared, the death toll in Karachi, Pakistan, going up. The Associated Press now reporting at least 51 people are dead, 50 wounded, explosions occurring near the truck carrying Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistani prime minister, as she returns.

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the streets of Karachi to receive her, but these explosions occurred. You're looking at the video from what happened. And the death toll continues to mount. We are going to go back to Karachi shortly and update you on what's going on, significant ramifications, potentially, for the United States, the war on terror, the hunt for bin Laden, what happens in Pakistan right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Closer to home, in the presidential race, sources tell CNN Republican Senator Sam Brownback will soon leave the race. Could the door closing on him, though, open the door for another candidate? That could be Mike Huckabee.

Today, he got up close to our CNN Election Express.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is joining us from New Hampshire. He spent part of the day with Governor Huckabee.

John, how did it go?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, an interesting interview. Some would look at Sam Brownback exiting the race tomorrow, as we are told, and say, why not Mike Huckabee?

After all, both are in the second tier of Republican candidates. Both also raised just almost a million dollars in the last quarter. But Governor Huckabee told us, there are two big differences. He says he's inching up in the polls, and the money keeps trickling in.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, but the good news for us is that, yesterday, polls came out in Iowa showing that we are tied for second place. So, it's not about the money. It's about the message.

And our message is resonating. And, the more the message resonates, the more the money comes in. We're in a position where we have only seen one direction. And that is, we have continued to go up. And I'm confident that that's what's going to continue to happen, particularly as we approach the Iowa caucuses, which is a perfect environment for a candidate like me, because the Iowa caucuses, it's all about grassroots, all about the organization.

And the recent poll by "The Des Moines Register" showed that, not only was I in a very strong second-place position in Iowa, but that among those who had really made up their minds and were totally committed, I was in first place. And that was, I think, most significant for us.

KING: That's one of the things they have talked about, that, if somebody who does not agree with them on the sanctity of life, if, say, a Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican nomination, a candidate who is pro-choice on abortion, has been, in their view, pro-gay rights, if he were the nominee, they talk about splintering off and sponsoring or supporting a third-party candidacy.

Good idea?

HUCKABEE: Not a good idea.

I think what that does is similar to what happened in 1992, when Ross Perot came in. It would ensure the election of yet another Clinton. We potentially have 28 years of only two families in the White House. I don't think that's a good idea either.

I got a better idea. Just coalesce around Mike Huckabee, and you have got the candidate that meets the criteria and a candidate that can clearly win Democrat votes and win the election. That's what we have to have in order to be competitive in 2008.

KING: And if push, though, comes to shove on that issue, and say Mayor Giuliani did win the nomination, and there were some saying maybe we should splinter off, obviously, people would be looking for cues from other leaders. And you're a pastor.


KING: Come out of the Southern Baptist ministry. Would you speak up and say, no, we have an obligation to support our Republican nominee, even if it were Mayor Giuliani?

HUCKABEE: Well, I think we have, I think, a reality to face that a third-party candidate is not going to win. And I'm not sure why we would put the effort, when the effort ultimately results in the election of somebody that we want even less than we may want Rudy Giuliani.

KING: Do you have any unique insights into Hillary Clinton that you think Republican voters should know about, as they think about their candidate?

HUCKABEE: You know, I tell people I know her better than anybody else running for president.

And here's what I know about her. She's very intelligent. She's extremely disciplined, very focused. And people will underestimate her as a political candidate at their own peril. When I hear Republicans say, oh, I hope Hillary is the nominee, she's going to be -- oh, she's the one we want, I'm saying, you may want what you get. I'm not sure you're going to get what you want.

KING: You spent a dozen years as a minister...


KING: ... leading a congregation.

In reading through all the clips, there are some who have been in your congregation who use terms like, God has called him to do this, or he believes God wants him to do this.

Help me understand the role of God, not just in this campaign, but in your daily life.

HUCKABEE: It gives me a peace and a freedom and a liberty that a lot of people don't have. They're so worried about, what does the cartoon say about you? What do the editorials say about you? What do the latest polls say?

I put my head on the pillow, and I just want to make sure that -- you know, that the father above is pleased. And, if he is, then, you know, I can't please everybody else. I know I never will be able to. And I don't have to. So, in essence, I can say I have got one client I have to please.

KING: Did you feel a calling to run? Or is that an exaggeration when people say things like that?

HUCKABEE: I think it's an extension of my whole life, my ministry, my work.

You know what? I'm not going to go around saying, God wants me to be president, because, last time I checked, God is not registered to vote in any of the primary states.


HUCKABEE: Now, if he shows up to vote, I am going to certainly solicit his support.

I don't think that's how it works. I don't think we try to somehow invoke God into our plans. We try to make sure that we're in on his. You know, sometimes, people pray so that they can change God's mind. I think that's nonsense. You pray so that you can know his mind.

KING: But, once people start voting...


KING: ... the money will only keep coming in if Governor Huckabee is doing pretty well.

Lay that out for me. How does it have to go in Iowa and New Hampshire and beyond?

HUCKABEE: It's often said that there are three tickets out of Iowa, first class, business, and coach. We have got to be on that plane coming out of there. I think that's pretty evident. We will be.

I think, also, in New Hampshire, we're seeing our strength and organization and grassroots growth. This is a perfect state for me, because the politics of New Hampshire are very similar to the politics of Arkansas.


KING: A very upbeat former Governor Huckabee, Wolf, in our conversation today. He says he hopes to add to his grassroots support with a strong performance at that Values Voter Summit this weekend in Washington, D.C. But he also knows, if he can't get one of those three tickets, as he called it, out of Iowa, the money and the momentum will dry up quite quickly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John, thanks very much -- John King reporting for us from New Hampshire.

The CNN Election Express, by the way, is headed to key battleground states over the next several weeks and months, immediately ahead, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida. We're going to go out to the people, hear what they have to say with our reporters and our analysts aboard the CNN Election Express.

Also this programming note: On November 15, I will be out in Las Vegas, Nevada, to moderate a debate in that key Western state among the Democratic presidential candidates. You're going to want to mark your calendars, November 15 in Vegas.

All of us old enough to remember Woodstock know it was much more than an outdoor rock concert. It was an event that help define the so-called hippy generation. Now Republicans are using it to try to define Senator Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign -- at issue, whether creating a Woodstock museum is any way to spend Americans' money.

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

All right, Dana, what's going on here?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was just a vote. And Republicans had a big victory, because the Senate just voted to eliminate what Republicans call Hillary Clinton's taxpayer- funded Woodstock flashback.



BASH (voice-over): Woodstock, an event and images that define a generation. New York Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer want to spend one million taxpayer dollars to preserve these memories and others from the '60s in a museum. It's a million-dollar earmark tucked into a health spending bill. And Republicans are crying foul.

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: I'm part of the hippy generation, but the question is, is, should this be a priority for this body, over the priority of women and children?

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: Gather your groovy beads, and we will see you on the lawn for a trip down memory lane.

Well, a trip down memory lane be -- may be just fine for folks. I suggest, if they want to participate in that, they can pay the admission price.

BASH: Republicans privately admit they're making an issue of the Woodstock earmark to go after presidential contender Hillary Clinton, to hit her for misplaced priorities and link her to a liberal mecca.

Clinton was in Washington, but did not take the floor to defend her earmark, saying only through a spokesman, "Senators Schumer and Clinton have worked hard to promote economic development and tourism in Upstate New York."

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: It's the right type of earmark.

BASH: Clinton left the battle to her colleague from New York. Schumer adamantly defended the project, calling it a job generator for his state.

SCHUMER: I'm proud to do it. I spend some time doing it. I'm going to continue to do it. I think it's part of my job.

BASH: The museum is also getting state and private dollars. Backers insist it's not just a monument to hippies, but a place to learn about a tumultuous decade.


BASH: Now, again, the Senate did just vote to eliminate this program.

It is highly unusual for senators to kill each other's pet projects, but, at the end of the day, opponents said it was just too hard for senators to defend back home having a Woodstock museum for Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer in the state of New York -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much -- Dana Bash on the Hill.

Here in our "Strategy Session": Fred Thompson says he's the real conservative in the race. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FRED THOMPSON, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was a conservative then. I am a conservative today. And I will be a conservative tomorrow. I was conservative, I was walking the walk when others weren't even talking the talk yet.


BLITZER: But does he have the record to back it up?

And the Democrats fail to override President Bush's veto of the so-called SCHIP program, begging this question: Is he really a lame duck?

Paul Begala and Terry Jeffrey, they are standing by right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: This Thursday, Republican aides say the former House Speaker Dennis Hastert is planning to resign before his term ends 15 months from now. Hastert already had announced he would not run for reelection next year.

The Associated Press quotes GOP sources, who say Hastert has told colleagues he intends to leave office late this year or early next year, after more than two decades.

Despite some recent economic news that has been relatively positive, many of you believe the economy is in a recession already. That's one item for today's "Strategy Session."

Joining us now, our CNN political and Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and conservative commentator Terry Jeffrey. He's editor in chief of Cybercast News Service.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

I want to get to all of that, the recession, the polls, all those numbers in a moment.

But let's talk about this. The children's health care plan, the Democrats did not have enough votes to override the president's veto. It certainly underscores that the president is very much relevant, still.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He is, and I think much to the chagrin of his party, right? He is sinking the Republicans. He has just enough power to cripple his party for certainly the next election and maybe for the next 30 or 40 years.

You saw Congressman Putnam, when you were interviewing him with Congressman Clyburn. He was saying, oh, well, we want to -- we want to cover children. We want to extend health care.

He wasn't saying hard-line right-wing like Bush. This is a situation where the president and his party are blocking the federal government from actually helping middle-class families, not the poor, not the rich. And it's politically disastrous

BLITZER: So, the point he's making is that the Republicans may have won this battle, but they are going to lose the war, namely, the elections, next year, in part because of this children's health care plan.



I think, ironically, Bush is using the power of the executive branch better now that there's a Democratic Congress than he did when there was a Republican Congress.

Not only is this a good move for him to veto SCHIP, but there's one thing the Democrats aren't paying attention to yet. They don't want to. Things are getting better in Iraq. According to the reports from the Defense Department, as well as the Associated Press, there were only 13 U.S. servicemen who were killed in combat-related casualties in the first half of October.

That continues a tremendous downward trend in U.S. casualties in Iraq since September, which is what they all criticized General Petraeus for testifying about last week. If the Democrats lose the war issue in this election, the whole thing is going to turn on domestic issues. And the limited-government, free-market vision of the Republicans beats the Democrats every time.

BEGALA: There's nothing anybody wants better than to see the casualties go down in Iraq. The way for the casualties to go down is to bring the guys home.


BEGALA: And if the Republican parties believes that they can go into this election, as they are going, with the Bush position on the war, the Bush position against children's health insurance, to quote our president, bring it on.


BEGALA: I mean, he's going to lose the whole House. He's already lost the House and the Senate. He's going to lose huge numbers of seats, and he's going to lose the White House.

JEFFREY: But it is an objective fact that the casualties are going down, is it not?

BEGALA: Oh, I haven't seen it, but God bless it if that's true.

JEFFREY: It's an objective fact.


JEFFREY: It's good news. (CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: That's wonderful news.

Do you think -- do you think that the president is doing the right thing in Iraq?

JEFFREY: I think he's doing what he thinks is the right thing.


BEGALA: Not what he thinks.


BEGALA: Is it right?


BEGALA: Then you're part of one out of four Americans. Three out of four Americans think we're not on the right track.


BLITZER: Go ahead, Terry.

JEFFREY: Look, as a conservative and Republican who's been skeptical of the surge in the past, I have to admit two things.

Number one, on a military, security basis, it's clearly working. It's been working since General Petraeus came here. Casualties for the U.S. is going down there. There is political progress outside the Iraqi parliament. You see it not only with the Sunni tribesmen whose side has come over to our side.

BLITZER: All right.

JEFFREY: You even have Muqtada al-Sadr calling off the Mahdi army.

Yes, there is progress in Iraq, because of President Bush's policy.

BLITZER: Very quickly.


JEFFREY: I want to see the Democrats answer that at some point.

BEGALA: I'm sorry. That's ridiculous. You can take that case to the American people.

The progress has been military, because we have more soldiers there. That shouldn't surprise anybody. The point of the surge, though, wasn't supposed to be military. It was supposed to be political. We put more troops in, they make peace in their country. They haven't done so.


BEGALA: It's a disaster for our country. Bring our soldiers home.

BLITZER: In our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, we asked this question of the American people: Is the economy in a recession? Forty-six percent say yes; 51 percent say no.

But, if you take a look at the -- among African-Americans right now, 69 percent say, yes, the country already is in a recession. Twenty-eight percent, is not.

Technically, two quarters of no growth, that's a recession, but people feel it, even if the economy is in relatively decent shape.

BEGALA: And this is why the debate on October 9 on economic issues that the Republicans had was a gold mine for whoever the Democratic nominee is. It's likely to be Hillary Clinton. Believe me, they were running the VCR, whatever the new digital version of that is, because Republican after Republican stood up and said, everything is coming up roses and that the Bush economic policies are right.

Again, the Democrats will argue that it's time for a change, to break with Bush.

BLITZER: All right.

BEGALA: The Republicans are on tape endorsing Bush's economic...


BLITZER: Very quickly.

JEFFREY: Wolf, that poll is like asking people if two plus two equals four, and 44 percent of the people say, no, it equals six.

The truth is, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we have 4 percent -- 4.7 percent unemployment. That is an historically low level. The economy grew at 3.8 percent in real terms in the second quarter. That is a booming level of economic growth.

BLITZER: All right.

JEFFREY: Objectively, we are in a growth economy.

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

Paul Begala, Terry Jeffrey, thanks very much.

Let's head up to New York and Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Those guys were just a step or two short of getting downright argumentative with one another.

The question this hour is: How much does it matter if the Bush administration's appointee to head family planning programs has been critical of birth control? This stuff is right out of "The Twilight Zone."

Sharon writes from New Jersey: "Putting an anti-birth control person in charge of family planning is perfect Bush logic. No birth control means more babies. More babies means more children to deny health benefits to, therefore leaving more money to pay Halliburton and Blackwater. It all makes perfect sense."

Donald writes: "Explain to me how one can be against contraceptive, pro-life, preach abstinence (put all the 17-year-old boys on one coast, all the 17-year-old girls on the other), veto SCHIP, and watch oil go to over $80 a barrel without doing a thing. Bush may be engaged, but it's not in any part of America that I recognize."

Bob in Tyrone, Georgia: "Unfortunately, it does matter a lot now. It's getting difficult to tell the difference between a Muslim- controlled government and our own -- yet another religious zealot trying to tell everyone else that her personal beliefs should control the behavior of all citizens."

John in Kentucky: "Jack, it couldn't have come at a better time. This president has failed us in his conservative base on many, many issues. But the one thing he has consistently stood up for is the right to life and the opposition to birth control. This choice shows us he is at least still steadfast on something that conservatives believe in."

Vikki writes: "Who needs condoms and the pill anyway? Good Christian Republicans already have birth control. They use call girls, male prostitutes, and anonymous sex in men's bathrooms, which is only a sin when you get caught. Family planning, by virtue of its openness, is always a sin. Madam Orr, the appointee for this job, is just putting sex back into the deep, dank closet, where good every American really wants it to be. Put on your flag pin and get with the program, Jack."

And, finally, T. writes: "It's interesting when you think of the longevity of the Bush marriage. Laura only had one pregnancy, producing two children. Could it be that some family planning was involved?" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.