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Fight for Christian Conservatives; Iraq Syndrome & Iran; Fight for Religious Right: Powerful Bloc Wary of GOP Field

Aired October 19, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Republican presidential candidates appealing to Christian conservatives, and they're taking swipes at the elephant not in the room today. That would be Rudy Giuliani.
We'll go there live.

Also this hour, a surprising source of Hillary Clinton's mountain of campaign cash. She's squeezing dollars out of some of New York's poorest neighborhoods.

We'll update you on that.

And the radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh is selling a piece of his latest controversy for charity. Would you pay over $2 million for a letter slamming his remark about "phony soldiers"?

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

Less than three months before the first presidential contest, many Christian conservatives still aren't thrilled with their choices. So today, Republican candidates are trying to prove to the so-called "values voters," as they call themselves, that they're at least better than the other guys. And they all claim to be head and shoulders above GOP front-runner Rudy Giuliani.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is watching all of this. He's joining us now live.

So how are the candidates, the Republican candidates who are coming to this conference, how are they pitching themselves?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Still more to come, Wolf. So far, they're all pitching themselves as conservatives, they're being received politely, in some cases enthusiastically. But you walk around the hall inside and you get more evidence of the split within the GOP, the lack of enthusiasm, some would say, for the field of candidates so far, and more and more evidence of why this race has no overwhelming front-runner.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice over): Outside the hall, a mix of God and politics, and a reminder of the one point on which just about everyone here agrees. Inside, a competition for the so-called values vote, Christian conservatives with a big say in the wide open Republican race.

JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have been pro- life my entire public career. I believe I am the only major candidate in either party who can make that claim.

KING: Senator John McCain's relationship with the Christian right is lukewarm at best, in part because he opposes a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

MCCAIN: I'm going to tell you what I believe and let the chips fall where they may.

KING: Like McCain, former senator Fred Thompson believes states should decide the gay marriage issue, and like McCain, Thompson emphasized opposition to abortion.

FRED THOMPSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As president of the United States, no legislation will pass my desk that funds or supports this procedure without my veto.

KING: Thompson aides waved placards and played hardball, distributing flyers noting Rudy Giuliani favors abortion rights, and past Mitt Romney statements promising to protect both abortion and gay rights. Fresh evidence of the intense competition for conservative support.

WHIT AYRES, GOP POLLSTER: There's no monolithic group that can be told what to do. Social conservatives are split in their preferences right now

KING: Several GOP long shots also had crowd-pleasing lines. One, Congressman Tom Tancredo mocked Senator Thompson's slogan.

REP. TOM TANCREDO (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The latest nonsense, common sense conservatives.

KING: Amid all the buttons, the only public show of support for Giuliani was for sale in the hotel gift shop. He speaks Saturday, just before the activists wrap up a weekend Straw Poll that asks them to pick a favorite and least favorite choice for president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: The former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is on tap tonight. He will emphasize in his speech that unlike senators McCain and Thompson, he supports that constitutional amendment, banning same- sex marriage. He will also trumpet some recent endorsements from prominent evangelicals. He will do that, Wolf, to try to make the case that evangelical Christians can and should feel comfortable supporting a Mormon for president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And that Straw vote is going to be Saturday? Is that right, John?

KING: Released at 3:00 p.m. Saturday. The voting is all day today and throughout the day tomorrow, as the other speakers, including Mayor Giuliani and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee come through tomorrow. The results will be released at 3:00 p.m.

BLITZER: All right, John. Thanks very much.

John King reporting.

Just ahead, I'll speak with the president of the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins. We'll speak about today's forum and whether Christian conservatives will be holding their noses at the ballot box.

That interview coming up.

Here's the big picture on the religious right vote back in 2004 -- 126 million Americans voted in November of that year, a record high for a presidential election. Of those voters, nearly a quarter, 23 percent, were white, born-again, or evangelical Christians.

Among those evangelicals, President Bush won by a landslide, getting 78 percent of their vote in 2004 to only 21 percent for John Kerry. Among all the voters, the 2004 contest was much closer, with President Bush getting 51 percent of the vote, John Kerry getting 48 percent of the vote.

This important programming note. On November 15th, I'll be in Las Vegas, Nevada, to moderate a debate in that key western state among the Democratic presidential candidates. Mark your calendar, November 15th, in Vegas with the Democratic candidates.

Let's turn to Iraq right now.

New evidence that Americans are in a slightly better frame of mind when it comes to the war. Our brand-new poll shows the number of Americans who say things are getting worse in Iraq has dropped 15 points since June, but two-thirds of those questioned for our CNN- Opinion Research Corporation poll continue to oppose the war.

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

Bill, heading into this election, is there any evidence of a so- called Iraq syndrome?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, we look for it in the place where it's most likely to show up, Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice over): This week, President Bush issued an ominous warning about Iran.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.

SCHNEIDER: World War III? The public certainly sees Iran as a threat. Seventy-seven percent believe Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons, despite the Iranian government's denials. Eighty-two percent believe Iran is providing weapons to insurgents fighting U.S. troops in Iraq. Republican candidates are spelling out the implications of President Bush's warning.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If America is clear that we will exercise military option if we have to, the chances of having to do that decline.

SCHNEIDER: And trying to put Democrats on the defensive.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's time for Democrats to break their silence and answer this question: Will you act to stop a nuclear Iran?

SCHNEIDER: Hillary Clinton acknowledged the threat by voting for a resolution urging the Bush administration to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, but she argued she was not voting for a pretext for war.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Pressure applied to Iran is better than going to war with Iran. There was nothing in that resolution that gave President Bush or anyone any authority to go to war.

SCHNEIDER: Other Democrats have their doubts.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because as we've learned with the authorization of the Iraq war, when you give this president a blank check, you can't be surprised when he decides to cash it.

SCHNEIDER: Does the public support military action against Iran? The answer is no by better than two to one. Even those who believe that Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons and those who believe Iran is providing weapons to insurgents fighting U.S. troops in Iraq, oppose any use of force by two to one.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: That suggests an Iraq syndrome may be sitting in, a skittishness about U.S. military intervention, even where people see a threat -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider reporting for us.

Thank you, Bill.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, most Americans think the United States should be doing something more about the crisis in Darfur. A new CNN-Opinion Research Corporation poll shows 61 percent of those surveyed say the U.S. should send ground troops to Darfur as part of an international peacekeeping force. Thirty-two percent oppose the use of American troops for such a mission in the Sudan.

Just this week, the Senate Banking Committee approved legislation that would allow some state and local governments to use investments to pressure Sudan. And for his part, President Bush has called the violence there genocide. But the State Department recently asked Congress to defer any action, saying it would send the wrong message to the Sudanese government "at a time when it's actually being helpful with peace talks."

They say the sanctions in place are working. Mr. Bush imposed new sanctions on the Sudanese government in the spring, yet the violence continues in Darfur between the ethnic African rebels and the militia supported by the Arab-dominated central government. In the last four years, 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes.

So here's the question: Should the United States make Darfur more of a priority?

E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@cnn.com, or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile.

We have something approaching a real genocide going on right now, Wolf, in the world.

BLITZER: It's a horrible, horrible situation, Jack. Thanks very much.

And Jack, check this out. I'm sure a lot of our viewers are noticing it as well.

They may have noticed something a little bit different at the bottom of our screen. The CNN logo in the lower left corner has turned green. Look at it.

That's because CNN's going green over the next week. We're digging deeper on environmental issues, covering stories that affect all of us from the air we breathe to the fuel we use. And it all coincides with the premier of "Planet in Peril," a special report from Anderson Cooper with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and Animal Planet's Jeff Corwin. That airs next Tuesday and Wednesday, 9:00 p.m., right here on CNN.

Senator Barack Obama wants someone fired. The Democratic presidential candidate says the government's voting rights chief said something way out of line about minorities.

Speaking of red-hot remarks, a Democratic congressman still won't apologize for remarks a lot of people say were simply despicable. We'll have the latest on Pete Stark's outburst about the president and the war.

And are any Republicans making new headway in the fight to win over social conservatives? I'll ask Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council about that, whether evangelicals can and will vote for a Mormon. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Mitt Romney is expected to tell social and religious conservatives tonight that Republicans are not going to beat Hillary Clinton by "acting like Hillary Clinton." Romney will join the parade of GOP presidential candidates at what's being called the Values Voters Summit here in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now from the Washington Hilton Hotel here in the nation's capital is Tony Perkins. He's the president of the Family Research Council.

You've got a big meeting going on, Tony. Do you think it's conceivable if Rudy Giuliani is the Republican nominee you could vote for him?

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: No, Wolf, I don't think I could. I do not believe that myself and other evangelicals would be supportive of a pro-abortion rights candidate. I just don't think that's going to happen.

BLITZER: Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, the founder and chairman, he said this the other day -- he said, "If neither of the two major political parties nominates an individual who pledges himself or herself to the sanctity of human life, we will join others in voting for a minor party candidate."

Are you with Dr. Dobson on that point?

PERKINS: Well, I think that's one of the options. I think if the two choices from both parties, major parties, are pro-abortion rights candidates, that you'll have two, really two things that could happen. If there's a minor candidate on the ballot that's pro-life, they could get the support, or you end up having the third party of this engagement.

You just have a number of pro-life evangelicals that simply are not enthused and are not voting and not participating in the process. Although I do think that most of them will vote. They may vote on other issues, but there are other people on the ballot. They probably will pass on the presidential election.

BLITZER: In your particular case, would you just stay home and not vote for a president?

PERKINS: Oh, no, no, no, I would never stay home on Election Day. And I never encourage Christians not to go to the polls and vote. I would -- there are a number of minor candidates generally on the ticket...

BLITZER: But you wouldn't vote for a presidential candidate.

PERKINS: I would not vote for a pro-abortion candidate, even if it's the only choice I have as a Republican voter.

BLITZER: If a lot of evangelicals just don't vote for a presidential candidate, given how important they've been to Republican candidates over these past several decades, wouldn't that effectively ensure the Democratic nominee? Maybe Hillary Clinton would be the next president of the United States?

PERKINS: Well, Wolf, I think that's something that people need to consider now. That's why we're raising this issue in October 2007, and not August of 2008.

And what we have simply said, Wolf, is that, look, there are three key elements of the conservative movement. You've got fiscal conservatives, you have foreign policy conservatives and you have social conservatives.

We have been very diligent going through this process. We have not embraced a candidate who's simply right on our issues. We've waited. We're hoping to find a candidate, and I think it's going to happen throughout this week, and at least we'll see movement where we can coalesce around a candidate that brings together all three elements of the conservative movement.

We wouldn't disrespect or allies in the conservative movement by advancing a pro-tax candidate, and so we're simply asking them to respect our views and not advance a pro-abortion rights candidate, which is something that is so critical and fundamental to our positions on life.

BLITZER: So when Rudy Giuliani says personally he opposes abortion, although he believes women do have a right to go have an abortion, but he also promises in almost in the same breath, as you will hear at this event over the next 24, 48 hours, as he promises that he'll appoint strict constructionists to the U.S. Supreme Court, that's not good enough, I take it?

PERKINS: Well, it doesn't all add up. It doesn't add up to pro- life.

I mean, I certainly respect Rudy Giuliani for his stances that he has taken on defense issues. Clearly, he has the admiration of a lot of social conservatives for his leadership in the wake of 9/11. But when we prioritize issues -- and those issues are important -- the defense issues, radical Islam, those are important issues -- but when we prioritize them, life is fundamental.

And I'm glad he's coming. I appreciate him coming and speaking and trying to find common ground. But the bottom line is I believe there is a line which many evangelicals will not cross, and that is giving support to a pro-abortion rights candidate.

BLITZER: Do you believe a lot of evangelicals will have a problem voting for a Mormon?

PERKINS: Not necessarily. I mean, I think it is an issue that people are grappling with. I think first what has kind of been surrounding Governor Romney has been that people see what he's saying today, they've heard about what his record was in the past, and they're trying to find out, is this conversion genuine, how did it come about? And I think as people hear him and he is consistently talking about these issues, I think people are believing, as I do, that these positions are genuine, that he's committed to them, and he will not go back on them. I don't think he can and maintain credibility.

I think then people move beyond that and deal with the issue of, can I support someone of a different faith such as the Mormon faith? I do not think it is a deal breaker like the issue of being pro- abortion rights. I do not think that people will mark off Governor Romney. I think he remains a very viable candidate in the eyes of many social conservatives.

BLITZER: One final question, Tony, before I let you go.

In our latest CNN-Opinion Research Corporation poll, we asked the American public about the Mormon Church, whether or not they believe it's Christian or not, or they're not sure. Fifty percent thought that Mormon church was Christian, 41 percent said not Christian, 10 percent unsure.

If we had asked you that question, what would you say?

PERKINS: Well, I mean clearly it's different than the Christian faith. It is not a brand of evangelicalism, it is not a brand of the Christian faith. It is a different faith altogether.

And you look at where he stands on the issues, and I am with him on the issues. And I think it will come down to people making the decision in his case, but there are a number of options out there people are continuing to consider.

You know, I think the positions are clear, and I believe social conservatives are attracted to his positions. And I believe some will be comfortable going forward with him. Some may not.

We'll see how that turns out. And of course we have the Straw Poll that will be conducted here this weekend. And I think through that you'll see two, maybe three candidates begin to emerge with solid social conservative support.

BLITZER: Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.

Thanks very much for coming in.

PERKINS: Thanks, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: If you have a young child or grandchild, you're going to want to hear the new warnings about children's cough and cold medicines. That's coming up. And even the number two Democrat in the House is now calling Congressman's Pete Stark's comments -- and I'm quoting now -- "totally inappropriate." You're going to hear the outburst about the war and the president for yourself, what the congressman said. And then James Carville and J.C. Watts, they'll be here. We'll assess what this all means for the Democrats, for the Republicans.

Lots more coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: One congressman says he won't apologize for words critics are calling -- and I'm quoting now -- "stupid and even worse than that." It involves Democratic Congressman Pete Stark of California and an outburst he made in a heated debate involving American children.

And Barack Obama is very angry. A top government official talked about the way African-Americans die verse whites. You're going to hear just what he said and just what Barack Obama now wants to see happen.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, Pakistani police trying to find out who targeted the convoy with the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in that motorcade. They're examining remains of a possible bomber. The State Department suggesting Pakistan believes al Qaeda is tied to the attacks.

We'll watch this story.

A global manhunt under way for an accused child predator is now over with. Police say they nabbed a Canadian man who allegedly had sexually abused young boys in various countries, but you might not believe what police say he was doing when they caught him.

That story coming up as well.

And police say David Copperfield faces what they're calling a serious allegation. Police say it involves a raid and an alleged incident in the Bahamas, and a so-called female victim making an accusation against the magician.

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

One congressman is defending some words his critics are calling "stupid". It involves an outburst from Democrat Pete Stark made in the heat of a debate over health care for many of the nation's children.

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

They want him to resign -- excuse me -- to apologize for his comments. They're condemning his comments.

Tell our viewers, Dana, what's going on.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what is going on, Wolf, is, we have for the first time a comment from the member of the Democratic leadership on this, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who is calling Stark's remarks unfortunate and totally inappropriate.

Hoyer also is saying that he's hopeful that Stark will express his regrets, because he says that these comments have been a distraction.

And CNN is told that several Democratic lawmakers have called Stark today and made it clear that what Stark said on the House floor yesterday was hurting their cause.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Democrats worked for months to hone their message on children's health. But, when it came to the climactic debate, the most memorable Democratic moment was decidedly off- message.

REP. PETE STARK (D), CALIFORNIA: You don't have 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.

BASH: Republicans jumped on the tirade, issuing statement after statement, calling on Congressman Pete Stark to apologize.

But the California Democrat refuses. In an interview with KGO Radio in San Francisco, Stark would only say:

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

STARK: Do I wish that I could have kept the focus more on health care? Absolutely.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BASH: Repeated answers like that prompted this from the host.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't be Clintonesque. I mean, it's just stupid, and it just gives the other side too much ammunition.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BASH: But Stark's Northern California district is one of the most Democratic in the nation. He says his constituents do not want him to apologize. Stark even logged on to the liberal blog Daily Kos, where his remarks are a hit.

Stark wrote, "Wanted to drop by, say hello, and thank you for your kind words of support."

STARK: Bush just likes to blow things up in Iraq.

BASH: This outburst is not Stark's first, not even close.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: I would not use those words, but Pete Stark is Pete Stark.

BASH: The 34-year House veteran is known for having perhaps the most explosive mouth in Congress. During a committee hearing two years ago, Stark called Republican Scott McInnis a "little wimp" and a "fruitcake."

And Stark has also accused Connecticut Republican Nancy Johnson of being a "whore for the insurance agency."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, Democratic sources tell CNN there has been talk all day long behind the scenes about just how much they do believe in Democratic leadership circles that this is hurting them, but also we're told that, earlier this morning, there was some hope perhaps Pete Stark would actually come out and apologize in a more forceful and direct way than he has.

But it also became clear, just in listening to Pete Stark there on the radio in San Francisco, also in private conversations we're told about, that is not going to happen any time soon, Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash on the Hill, thank you.

Right now, the only African-American Democratic presidential candidate is outraged over a comment about blacks he deems to be offensive and dangerous. It concerns Senator Barack Obama and something a top Justice Department official said about blacks dying.

Tom Foreman is here in THE SITUATION ROOM, while watching this story.

It has sparked somewhat of a controversy, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it has, Wolf, but this is a controversy that is steeped in this murky muddle of words.

Obama is furious at John Tanner, the man who heads up voting rights issues at the Department of Justice. Two weeks ago, Tanner was talking about elderly voters and he said laws that require photo I.D.s to vote affect them most, because older folks often don't have such I.D.s.

But, he said, that rule of thumb doesn't apply so much to minority voters. He said it at a panel decision in Los Angeles about minority voters. It's now on YouTube.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN TANNER, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT VOTING RIGHTS OFFICE: Our society is such that minorities don't become elderly the way white people do. They die first.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: A little hard to hear there, but what he said was: "Our society is such that minorities don't become elderly the way that white people do. They die first."

Obama is outraged over this, says Tanner should be fired -- quote -- "Such comments are patently erroneous, offensive and dangerous. And they're especially troubling coming from the federal official charged with protecting voting rights in this country."

The Justice Department says Tanner is a lifelong dedicated defender of civil rights, and his comments are being taken wildly out of context.

We should note, when he said this, Tanner mentioned disparities in health care between the races as a possible cause. And he was talking about statistics here, about the facts that, on the whole, life expectancy for white Americans is longer than for black Americans, about five years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Nonetheless, Obama is not relenting, saying that Tanner must go. There seems to be an undercurrent here, Wolf, of a long, longstanding fight, as you know, over the question of photo I.D.s and whether or not that disenfranchises minority voters. It seems like the real current here is anything that seems to eat at that is a concern for someone like Barack Obama, certainly.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But the Justice Department insisting they have confidence in Tanner...

FOREMAN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... and saying he will stay.

FOREMAN: Absolutely. They -- they, I think, see this as a bunch of mincing words that, I think, frankly, they think this is unfair to this man who they say has worked his whole life to defend the rights of many people to vote.

BLITZER: We will watch this story and see the fallout. Tom, thanks very much.

Tom Foreman and Dana Bash, as you know, are part of the Emmy Award-winning best political team on television.

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

She's raised the most -- she's raised the most money in the presidential context, but, reportedly, some of the poorest people have helped her. We're looking into some of Hillary Clinton's donations from disadvantaged groups. What's going on here?

And Rush Limbaugh turns to eBay for bids on something he suggests was an attempt to smear him. The eBay auction, it's all for charity. We are going to tell you what it is, how much it's going for, what's going on.

And funnyman Stephen Colbert says he's running for president, but it appears he could see some legal troubles in the process. We will tell you what's going on, on that front as well.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh is selling a piece of his latest controversy to the highest bidder. Limbaugh calls it the original Harry Reid smear letter.

Democrats would call it perhaps something else, but you're going to probably by surprised when you hear the final price tag, all of this going for a very good charity.

Let's bring in Susan Candiotti. She's watching this story from Miami.

Susan, first of all, is the eBay auction over with already?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is over with.

And, Wolf, this is a copy of the letter. And, imagine, someone thinks it's worth more than $2 million. This is a letter that was written by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat. And, in this letter, first of all, to say the letter is signed, not only by Reid, by 40 other senators as well, including presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and many, many others.

The dust-up started after Democrats publicly criticized Rush Limbaugh after he used the term "phony soldiers" on his radio show. They claim that Limbaugh was criticizing soldiers who are publicly opposed to the war.

And Reid and others called it an outrage -- an outrage, and demanded an apology. Well, Limbaugh denied that he was doing any such thing, and instead said that he was criticizing just one individual, someone who was actually convicted for pretending to be a soldier who had bashed the war.

Well, today, after this letter was auctioned on eBay, and got a price of more than $2 million from a philanthropist by the name of Betty Casey, Limbaugh himself kicked in another $2 million. So, this money, more than $4 million, is now going to be donated to the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation that provides scholarship money, among other charities, to law -- to rather, members of the military.

And, today, on the Senate floor, Senator Reid called the auction and the donation a good cause, and credited Limbaugh with doing something he called constructive.

So, I'm sure now, Wolf, that everything is going to be just fine between Rush Limbaugh and Senator Harry Reid from now on.

BLITZER: Well, it's interesting, though, that the majority leader did go out on the floor and praise Rush Limbaugh for making this very generous contribution to this excellent organization.

I assume Harry Reid wants this story to be over with, at least as of now.

CANDIOTTI: Oh, I'm sure he would like to put it well behind him. So, in fact, he did credit Limbaugh for doing a very good thing.

I'm not so sure that Mr. Limbaugh will be forgetting about this, though, in the near future.

BLITZER: We will see what -- what the next fallout is.

In fairness, though, to Rush Limbaugh, the "phony soldiers" comment followed a report by Charlie Gibson on ABC News in which they did an extensive report on this one person who pretended to be a soldier, really wasn't. And Rush Limbaugh makes that point, which is a fair point. He was reacting to what Charlie Gibson and ABC News had done that whole report on.

All right. We will see what happens with you -- at least $4 million, though, going to a good cause as a result of all of this uproar.

Susan Candiotti in Miami.

Christian conservatives are getting an earful today from Republican presidential hopefuls. But, in the end, might they choose none of the above?

J.C. Watts and James Carville, they are standing by for our "Strategy Session."

And I will ask them to wade into the uproar over a congressman's tirade about kids' heads being blown off in Iraq. Should Pete Stark apologize?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There are new questions about donors to Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton -- at issue, whether some of her donors from New York's Chinatown neighborhood can actually afford to make serious political contributions.

CNN's Jim Acosta is joining us from New York. He's watching this story right now.

Eyebrows are being raised, Jim, because a lot of these contributions come from very, very poor people.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

The Clinton campaign is conceding it may have mistakenly accepted contributions from the unregistered and perhaps the undocumented. The law is clear. Political donors who want to share some of their green must have a green card.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): New York's Chinatown neighborhood may be more than a good place to find dim sum. For Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, it's also a hot spot for political contributors worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"The Los Angeles Times" examined 150 Clinton donors from New York's Chinese community, some at events attended by the candidate. The paper discovered roughly one-third of those contributors could not be found. Some had wrong addresses. Others may not be registered to vote. And there were more found working in low-paying jobs with questionable immigration status.

We looked up one of those wrong addresses in Chinatown. Not only did we not find the mystery donor; the building says one resident could use some updating.

(on camera): Do you think people here generally have enough money to donate to a political campaign?

SHUI LEUNG, RESIDENT OF CHINATOWN, NEW YORK: Small amount, maybe, but not large amount.

ACOSTA: Small amounts possibly, but not large amounts?

LEUNG: Right. Right, because, you see, this is not a really deluxe building, right?

(LAUGHTER)

ACOSTA: This is not a deluxe building, is what you're saying.

LEUNG: Yes. Right. Right. So, not many rich people live in here.

(LAUGHTER)

ACOSTA: Not too many rich people here?

LEUNG: Right. Right.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Over the years, the Clintons have raised big bucks, thanks to their close ties to the Asian-American community, but it's a connection that's also brought about the couple's worst campaign cash scandals, whether it's convicted fund-raiser John Huang during Bill Clinton's presidency, or one-time fugitive fund-raiser Norman Hsu during Hillary Clinton's campaign.

MASSIE RITSCH, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: This story would appear to be about Chinese immigrants who are making contributions to Hillary Clinton's campaign, some legitimately, some perhaps not legitimately. And that sounds a lot like what happened to Bill Clinton during his campaign, when there were illegal donations coming from foreign nationals. So, when it sounds very similar, that's the political problem, because voters will say, oh, here we go again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And, as for Clinton's Chinatown connection, her campaign officials told us they actually flagged some of these questionable donors, and, in seven cases where the contributors' identities could not be identified, donations were returned.

But the campaign insists, this is a small problem. And, Wolf, remember, the campaign returned a substantial amount of money raised by Norman Hsu.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Jim Acosta, in New York.

An angry congressman makes an impassioned appeal regarding health care for many of the nation's children, but some critics take offense at his words, calling those words stupid and worse.

That's where we begin today's "Strategy Session."

Joining us are two CNN political analysts. James Carville is a Democratic strategist, and J.C. Watts is a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma.

All right, I'm going to play the sound bite from Pete Stark, Democrat of California, when he said -- reacting to the failure to override the president's veto on children's health insurance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STARK: You don't have 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, James, what should he do?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, obviously, Steny Hoyer of the Democrats said that that was a stupid comment.

BLITZER: Steny Hoyer, he's the majority leader in the House.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: He just should have said that that president is incompetent and they had a terrible war plan, and went to war for the wrong reasons, and is a simple, and he would have been fine. But...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Should he apologize...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Well, yes. I think he shouldn't have said it in the first place. So, if there's something you shouldn't have said in the first place, you probably should have said, I shouldn't have said it in the first place.

But I -- that's my view. But I don't have any power. Neither does Steny Hoyer or anybody else, to get -- and this is what happens and what is happening in American politics, because this is what we cover.

We -- everybody goes out. We find something that somebody says. And then ever side, no matter who it is, if it's Ann Coulter or Pete Stark, we all rush in and say, you have got to apologize for this. And the real story here, and the unfortunate thing is, the real story is the veto of this SCHIP thing, which is really a good thing and a necessary thing, and you had all these Republicans for it.

So, he probably ought to apologize for saying it and apologize to the Democrats for stepping on what was a good story and a good bill.

BLITZER: What do you think?

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's unfortunate, Wolf, that we're having to talk about it, because he did say it.

Kudos to Steny Hoyer, who I know, who is just a top-notch guy. And he disagrees with you, but he will be passionate about it. But he said, hey, it was crazy for him to say it.

You know, any Republican or Democrat that will say something like that, that a Republican or a Democrat president would use innocent kids, send them somewhere to have their heads blown off for amusement, in my opinion, is a pretty small person with a withered soul.

BLITZER: Here is what he said in -- when the uproar developed after those remarks he made. He said: "I have nothing but respect for our brave men and women in uniform and wish them the very best. But I respect neither the commander in chief, who keeps them in harm's way, nor the chicken hawks in Congress, who vote to deny children health care."

But he flatly stopped short of any apology.

CARVILLE: Right.

If that -- he doesn't have to apologize for saying that. But that's -- might be -- some people might view it as partisan, but that's clearly within the political -- within his prerogative. That's a little bit different than what he said, but it is a -- and he didn't say anything disparaging the troops, by the way. He disparaged Bush, and disparaged him in a way that was probably counterproductive.

BLITZER: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS: But, again, to say that, again, a Republican or Democrat -- it happened to be a Democrat here -- that would say that a president would send innocent kids to Iraq to get their heads blown off for amusement, that -- that's

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Well, we agree...

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS: That cheapens the sacrifice that those soldiers are making over there.

CARVILLE: He didn't criticize the troops...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But he really blasted the president.

CARVILLE: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: He just should have called him an incompetent simpleton, and he would have been fine.

BLITZER: I think a lot of people agree with you.

Let's talk about this meeting that is going on. These religious conservatives are meeting here. All the Republican candidates basically are going. They're making their case.

Fred Thompson, I will play a little clip of what he said earlier today when he went before these so-called value voters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRED THOMPSON, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As president of the United States, no legislation will pass my desk that funds or supports this procedure without my veto.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's talking about abortion rights for women.

We spoke to Tony Perkins earlier, the president of the Family Research Council. And he made it clear hi couldn't vote for Rudy Giuliani. No matter how much he admires him on national security issues, the war on terrorism, because he supports abortion rights, that, in and of itself, makes him unacceptable to him, and I suppose a lot of fellow evangelicals.

WATTS: Well, all of those the candidates that are going before these groups, these groups, as I have said time and time again, they're kicking the tires, trying to figure out who it is that we're going to support to be the next Republican nominee.

I tell you, Wolf, what disappoints me about all this is that I am a pro-life voter. That's an important issue to me. But, also, after that child comes into the world, I think we should be concerned about them as well. You know, the groups won't talk about dealing with poverty.

I mean, I think that's a social issue. I think health care is a social issue. When you do this to the least of these, when it's happening to the least of these, you should be concerned about it. So, I think they need to broaden their scope and have these candidates talk about more issues than just life and marriage.

CARVILLE: I can't think of one thing that J.C. said that I disagree with.

BLITZER: I know you...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But let me ask you this question. Should Democrats hope that Rudy Giuliani is the Republican presidential nominee, because then a lot of evangelicals, like Tony Perkins and others, will simply not vote for a presidential candidate, or they will come up with a third-party candidate that will merely drain votes from the Republican nominee?

CARVILLE: Well, you know, I said something at a CNN conference that I thought Jeb Bush would be the nominee. And the reason I said that is that they're divided over everybody else, and these people are completely demoralized. They're completely depressed, which, as a Democrat, I have to tell you, there's a little -- What's the word? -- schadenfreude. I'm kind of, like, glad to see that they are.

But there's nobody that really -- other than maybe Huckabee, that walks the walk with these guys. And they feel like they have been an important part of the Republican coalition, and that they are completely being dissed, left out, or taken for granted. And they don't much like it.

And I think they're going -- they're going to extract some pain here before this thing goes away.

BLITZER: All right, we have got to leave it there.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We have got to leave it there, because we're totally out of time, but you know what? Next week is next week, and we will continue this.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You're going to tell on our viewers also about Jeb Bush, why you think he could eventually...

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS: I was going to make big news with my next comment.

BLITZER: Go ahead, then.

WATTS: Well, I'm not going to say it now.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Say it. Say it.

WATTS: No, I just...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Next week, you will make big news.

J.C. Watts, James Carville, thanks very much.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Someone targets a convoy carrying the Pakistani -- former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. And Pakistani police now trying to find out who did it. You may be surprised at one item they're examining right now. It involves remains of the possible suicide bomber.

And police nab their man, a Canadian who allegedly sexually abused various boys in several countries. But you might not believe what police say he was doing when they caught him.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, should the United States make Darfur more of a priority?

Chris in New York writes: "I feel bad for the people of Darfur, but I believe we need to worry about poverty in the U.S. first. When no child in the U.S. goes to bed hungry, we can give taxpayer dollars to others. This sounds harsh, but it's about time we take care of our citizens first. Our children are our future. It's ridiculous to see hungry people in America, and, yet, all the media covers are people 5,000 miles away."

Dan in New Jersey writes: "Two hundred thousand dead in Darfur? I wonder how many Iraqis have died in the last seven years. I think we should clean up our own genocide before we start some new military project."

Carole in Brooklyn: "Darfur should have been made a high priority long ago. All other countries have done is turn their backs on these poor people and act like it isn't happening at all, exactly like they did to my family and all 12 million who died in the Holocaust."

Connor in Pennsylvania: "Yes, we should make the Darfur crisis a priority. But, as we have seen with how our government reacted to the Armenian genocide that happened in World War I, we will have to wait almost 100 years until after the Darfur crisis is over until our government actually does something."

Tony in Florida writes: "We have no business in Darfur. Let the rest of the U.N. deal with that. If the international community wants our help, they can help us in Iraq."

And Joe writes from Alabama: "Are we nuts? Americans want to get involved in yet another civil war? Vietnam and Iraq ought to be enough to last us for a century or two" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. We will see you in a few moments.

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