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Democratic Presidential Debate; Iran's Nuclear Weapon; Highest- Ranking Military Officer to Face Court-Martial Since Vietnam War
Aired November 16, 2007 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We'll talk a little bit more during your program about it as well. Thanks very much. Remember, "Lou Dobbs Tonight" comes up in an hour, 7:00 p.m. eastern. He'll be reporting from Florida tonight. Thank you, Lou.
And happening right now, fight night in Vegas. The Democratic Presidential Debate. It was a crucial moment in the road to the White House or was it? Hillary Clinton certainly survived. We're going to take a closer look at the fallout nearly 24 hours later.
And it's not just about the big three. Some believe an underdog came out on top. An in-depth look at how everyone performed during the biggest night yet in the Democratic presidential contest.
And the focus on the Republicans, who is really on top? The usual results of a brand-new CNN poll. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Today many observers suggest our presidential debate looked more like a fight night in Vegas. Our political strategist reportedly at least one of them put it this way. Hillary Clinton was quote, "supposed to get whacked." They didn't lay a glove on her. Clinton's rivals though, stuck to their playbooks after going directly after Senator Clinton. But she didn't stick to hers, necessarily, instead she was much more aggressive than in the past. She was accusing her rivals of throwing mud. Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is in Las Vegas. Candy, give us the sense of what this debate means for Senator Clinton.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's pretty easy, Wolf, for Senator Clinton. This means that she has her feet back on Terra Firma.
CROWLEY: Stand down, we are where we were. She is the front- runner. An hour after a rough and tumble debate, Hillary Clinton returned to her perch above the fray. Over the heads of her democratic rivals.
HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think we're going to draw a stark distinction with the Republicans. The Republicans who are running for president seem to think that eight more years of George W. Bush is just fine. Well, we know better than that.
CROWLEY: Everybody else is still not the front-runner. They continue to pursue her.
BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Poll testing our positions because we're afraid of what Mitt or Rudy might say about us just won't do. Not this time. Not now.
CROWLEY: Game back on. For Barack Obama and John Edwards it was not a comfortable debate night, it's never good to get booed.
JOHN EDWARDS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, wait a minute.
CROWLEY: But the Edwards people believe there is fodder in Clinton's flip response to whether Ross Perot was right from the start. The free trade agreement she supported would cost U.S. jobs.
CLINTON: All I can remember from that is a bunch of charts. That sort of is a vague memory.
CROWLEY: Camp Edwards responds with what they call the chart that matters. Jobs lost because of NAFTA. A bit of a hard argument since Edwards, too, once supported the trade deal. The truth is, after the worst two weeks of her campaign, Clinton may have emerged from this debate stronger than ever. Within the span of two hours she proved herself tough enough to push the boys.
CLINTON: But when somebody starts throwing mud, at least we can hope that it's both accurate and not right out of the Republican playbook.
CROWLEY: Smart enough to reword her incomprehensible position on drivers' licenses for illegals.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Clinton...
CROWLEY: Game enough to ponder girlie things?
QUESTION: Do you prefer diamonds or pearls?
CLINTON: I know I'm sometimes accused of not being able to make a choice, I want both.
CROWLEY: She's back on her feet, but there are 48 reasons for caution. 48 days until the first contest of the presidential season.
Every one knows Iowa is a very competitive environment. I think any one of the top three at this point could win in Iowa. If Senator Clinton loses in Iowa, we have a different race.
CROWLEY: The game is not over, but advantage Clinton.
CROWLEY: Where from here? It's kind of a rhetorical question, Wolf. Because as we know, on every candidate's agenda now is another trip to Iowa. BLITZER: Candy, thanks very much. But don't leave because you're going to be part of our round table later this hour. Candy Crowley still in Las Vegas.
With most of the attention paid to Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, some are wondering what a so called second-tier candidate is supposed to do to try to get noticed. Apparently, launch some portable zingers or maybe even speak in Spanish or just plain sound very, very smart. Mary Snow is watching all of this in the New York for us. Some of these candidates so-called second-tier candidates, they're getting lots of praise today, Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are, Wolf. And of these underdogs, the one getting the most praise at last night's debate is Senator Joe Biden.
SNOW: Call them the Democratic underdogs. They are the presidential hopefuls with little hope of breaking out from the bottom of the polls. Senator Joe Biden even poked fun of his status at Thursday night's debate as the front-runners took the spotlight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want you to weigh in.
JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No. Don't make me speak.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want you to, go ahead.
SNOW: Biden's candor earned him high marks with political observers.
LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Biden was by far, the most natural and direct. I think he connected better with the audience than any other candidate.
SNOW: The veteran senator's experience also came through, as with this response to a question about Pakistan.
BIDEN: I have made it clear to Musharraf, personally, when he called me, and I have spoken personally to Bhutto, before I might add the president spoke to either one of them.
SNOW: Bill Richardson gained notice for being direct say some observers.
BLITZER: What you're saying, governor, is that human rights, at times, are more important than American national security?
BILL RICHARDSON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes. Because I believe we, we need to find ways to say to the world that you know, it's not just about what Halliburton wants in Iraq.
SNOW: Overall for the New Mexico governor?
DOUG HATTAWAY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Bill Richardson stands out for working his resume into virtually every response and interestingly, for not going after Hillary Clinton. It's like he's running for vice president on his resume.
SNOW: Senator Christopher Dodd's answer in Spanish gained him some attention. Some strategists say the moment showed more about Dodd as a person but won't help him much in the polls. Congressman Dennis Kucinich say political observers knows he'll never win but gets headlines and applause with his blunt suggestions like this one on how to deal with the president and vice president.
DENNIS KUCINICH, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's called impeachment and you don't wait, you do it now. You don't wait.
SNOW: While these candidates may have succeeded in getting our attention during the debate, it's not likely to elevate them from their underdog status.
BLITZER: Mary, thank you. Mary Snow watching this part of the story. While some Democrats campaign in Vegas, they're continuing to campaign there right now. They do not necessarily have the entire city all to themselves. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also campaigned there, attending an economic round table. With the first presidential voting contest only weeks away, every appearance for the candidates is now considered critical. Here's our senior political analyst Bill Schneider.
BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Republicans are kind of all over the place.
SCHNEIDER: Democratic show is over. Come to the next act. Bring on the elephants. Republicans take your places. OK, what are the Republicans' places? Here in Nevada, Rudy Giuliani is out in front.
Rudy Giuliani, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We want to make sure that we give ourselves every chance to win Nevada.
SCHNEIDER: With Mitt Romney close behind him.
MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A trip to Nevada. Happy to be with you again.
SCHNEIDER: But, wait, Iowa Republicans vote first. Their first choice is Romney with Mike Huckabee breathing down his neck.
MIKE HUCKABEE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're serious, we're here to stay and we're here to play.
SCHNEIDER: And Giuliani, he comes in third in Iowa. What about New Hampshire Republicans? They're kind of important. Romney has a bigger lead there. He was governor of neighboring Massachusetts. And among Republicans nationally? It's Giuliani with all the other contenders bunched together behind him. But with only 28 percent support, Giuliani is not exactly a formidable front-runner less than two months before the primaries. One thing Giuliani does have going for him, electability.
GIULIANI: Thank you very much. Thanks a lot.
SCHNEIDER: In Nevada, Giuliani is way ahead of his rivals when Republicans are asked, who has the best chance of winning? In Iowa, where Giuliani's running third, he's still considered the most electable Republican. Same story in New Hampshire. Romney leads, but Giuliani is seen as most electable.
SCHNEIDER: Before Republicans agree on who they want, they have to figure out what they want. The most electable candidate or someone they may agree with more.
BLITZER: Bill Schneider in Las Vegas for us with the Republican part of the story.
Japan's prime minister says unless North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons program, they will not survive. Yasuo Fukuda, Fukuda is in the United States. He had talks with President Bush at the White House earlier today and I spoke with the new Japanese leader a little bit after that. He told me that if North Korea wants to continue to exist as an independent country, it must abandon its nuclear ambitions and return Japanese citizens kidnapped decades ago. You can see the entire exclusive interview with the Japanese prime minister, Sunday morning 11:00 a.m. eastern on "Late Edition." "Late Edition" is the last word in Sunday talk.
Jack Cafferty is joining us now from New York with "The Cafferty File."
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, anybody who thinks the Iran problem is going away, better think again. In fact, it's getting worse. The International Atomic Energy Agency which is an arm of the U.N. has confirmed that Iran, in fact, does have three 3,000 centrifuges enriching uranium. That's 10 times as many as just one year ago and it means if everything goes according to plan, Iran could produce a nuclear weapon in a year.
The report also states that Iran is providing diminishing information about its nuclear program to the outside world. In response to this report, the Bush administration is expected to push for tougher sanctions at the U.N. against Iran. Meanwhile, the Iran insists that the uranium enrichment is for peaceful purposes only. Nuclear energy they say. And they say they have every right to keep details of their nuclear programs to themselves. Along with the U.S., it looks like France and Britain will also push for those tougher sanctions but China and Russia argue that harsher sanctions against Iran will derail what the U.N. has called Iran's substantial progress on answering questions about its nuclear past.
They did recently tell the U.N. more about a program they were developing in 2002. How relevant that is to today's perceived threat is unknown. Here's the question, though. Iran could be one year away from a nuclear weapon. What should the U.S. do about it? E-mail your thoughts to email@example.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile.
BLITZER: Great question. No simple answers to that one. We'll hear what our viewers have to say. And Jack, stand by. We got the "Round Table" coming up with you later this hour.
"Lou Dobbs Tonight." That program now starts at 7:00 p.m. eastern at the top of the hour. Its new time. Just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM. The back and forth of the debate. Why don't the candidates themselves think they performed? Coming up, you're going to hear from members of the Clinton, Obama and Edwards' campaigns as they back up their bosses.
Plus, Joe Biden is thanking the other candidates for what they said about him during the debate last night. He's got a video on YouTube. You're going to see it. You're going to want to see it, as well.
Plus, its vacation time for Congress. They're already gone, but what have they accomplished? Today's developments on Capitol Hill and more, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: With last night's Democratic debate behind them, let's find out how the insiders with the three top tier Democratic presidential candidates think it went. Joining us now is Howard Wolfson, the Communication Director for the Clinton Campaign. He is here in our Washington Bureau. David Axlerod is the Chief Media Strategist for the Obama Campaign. He's in Chicago. And the Edwards' Campaign Communication Director Chris Kofinis. He is joining us from Raleigh, North Carolina.
Gentlemen, thanks to all of you for coming in. Let me start with David Axlerod. And David, I'll play you a little clip of one exchange I had with Senator Obama on this whole issue of drivers' licenses and illegal immigrants. Listen to this exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you support or oppose drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants?
OBAMA: I am not proposing that that's what we do. What I am saying is that we can't be -- no, no, no, look. I have already said, I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety and that drivers' licenses at the state level could make that happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, I'm sure you prepared for that question, but he started to give an answer that some would say sounded almost like Hillary Clinton's answer, the first time she was asked about that. You weren't exactly clear where he stood. It took a little prodding by me to get his answer out. Was that a sort of a mistake on his part?
DAVID AXLEROD, CHIEF MEDIA STRATEGIST FOR OBAMA'S CAMPAIGN: No, I don't think he was unclear, Wolf. He was clear two weeks ago when he was asked in another debate and he was clear last night. In fact, I think he and Chris Dodd maybe the only two candidates on that stage who gave the same answer as they did two weeks ago. I'm not sure. And you know, Senator Obama voted on this in 2003. He believes that we ought to require anybody who's on the road to be trained, licensed, to have insurance so that you can protect innocent motorists on the road. He's very clear on that. But what he tried to say, I understand you wanted for your format push it to a yes/no.
That this is really what we really need is Comprehensive Immigration Reform and this question is really moot. Since Senator Clinton has taken so many different positions on this and created a great controversy, the Spitzer proposal has been withdrawn. It's unlikely that any governor is really going to pursue this down. But the real news was, in fact, that Senator Clinton who straddled it in the last debate, the day after said she supported it and yesterday gave a no. I mean, she has been veering across several lanes and took a U-turn and you didn't really ticket her on that yesterday, did you, Wolf?
BLITZER: Well, let's ask Howard Wolfson, why did it take her so long to come up with a yes or no on a sensitive issue like that? Because she sort of has been all over the place.
HOWARD WOLFSON, COMMUNICATION DIRECTOR FOR CLINTON'S CAMPAIGN: Well, Wolf, last night when you asked her, she made clear that she was opposed to giving drivers' licenses to undocumented persons. She and Senator Obama, obviously, have a disagreement on that. Senator Obama supports giving illegal immigrant's drivers' licenses. That's his position, I'm sure it's heart felt. It took him a while to get it out yesterday. But, he did manage in the end to say that he supported it. So, there's a difference of opinion on that issue.
BLITZER: Let's bring in the Edwards' campaign, Chris, because there was another exchange that he had with Dennis Kucinich, your candidate. I'm going to play the clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KUCINICH: People have to take responsibility for their positions.
BLITZER: Let's ask Senator Edwards to respond. Was that vote a mistake?
EDWARDS: I'm not sure what being a trial lawyer has to do with it. My response is, America's -- cute, cute Dennis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. You know, this was the first time I think at any of these debates, Chris, that the candidates, correct me if I'm wrong, were actually booed by some of the people who are out there. Was that an awkward moment for Senator Edwards when Congressman Kucinich decided to go after him?
CHRIS KOFINIS, CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATION DIRECTOR, EDWARD'S CAMPAIGN: No, I mean, I think it started actually with Senator Clinton going after Senator Edwards. I mean, he made it very clear. I think, you know, the Clinton campaign has been doing this pretty regularly now, you know, for the last week or so in terms of slinging their own mud against Senator Edwards and the reason is pretty clear. They see Senator Edwards as a very clear threat. He is very strong in Iowa, we're in great position to win this nomination. They understand that.
And I think, what you've seen increasingly slow and it's going to become even clear as we get closer is that his positions, I think are the positions that the American people want. Whether it's trade, social security, ending the war in Iraq, dealing with NAFTA. I mean, this is, I think, is a fundamental election. You know, we talk about it a lot, but this is really a turning point, a crossroads for this nation to which path we go. We have two paths. We can go ahead believe in Senator Edwards' path which is bold and visionary. He's going to lead good change for this country and help working families or you can go down the path of Senator Clinton.
BLITZER: Three Democratic strategists working for three different campaigns with strongly-held views.
Coming up, a call for justice. Thousands of people marching right here in the nation's capital. This time the government actually responds to their demands. That's story coming up.
Plus, the highest-ranking military officer to face court-martial since Vietnam War. You're going to find out what he's accused of doing in Iraq. Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories coming in THE SITUATION ROOM. Right now, what's going on, Carol?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A couple of things, Wolf. Thousands of civil rights activists are demanding that the government do more to enforce hate crime laws. Bus loads of protesters rallied in the nation's capital today and marched around the Justice Department and demanded federal intervention in the Jena Six case. Reverend Al Sharpton organized this march.
And Attorney General Michael Mukasey issued a statement about this, late this afternoon that said in part quote, "The Justice Department shares with those who demonstrate today their objective of bringing to justice those who commit criminal acts of hate." At the same time, the department must follow the law and the principles of federal prosecution in every case it investigates and prosecutes.
He is the highest-ranking servicemen to face a combat-related court-martial since the Vietnam War. Today, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Chessani was arraigned on charges of failing to investigate the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha. Chessani reserved the right to enter a plea at a later date but his attorney said he planned to plead not guilty. Look at the headlines right now, Wolf.
BLITZER: Carol, thank you for that. So, what do the fellow Democratic presidential candidates actually think of Senator Joe Biden? The Biden campaign has its spin on last night's debate and it's already out online. Let's go to our internet reporter Abbi Tatton. What is the Biden campaign saying?
ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is from a senator not known for his own brevity, but in this new campaign video Joe Biden is letting his opponents do the talking.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly what Joe Biden talked about here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I want to add on to something that Joe Biden said.
CLINTON: To do exactly what Joe is saying.
OBAMA: Joe is exactly right.
EDWARDS: Senator Biden just spoke about.
CLINTON: But I just want to say Senator Biden really deserves a lot of applause because he knows this issue forwards and backwards and.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TATTON: And that's not all. In this video that's entitled "Joe is Right," features a dozen more clips many of them from previous debates and many of them from Senator Hillary Clinton. All sent to Randy Newman's "You've Got a Friend in Me." A campaign release. The company said we appreciate it when Senator Biden's opponents pile on his experience and record.
BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much. Very cute video from Joe Biden.
Democrats have failed to do something many of you want them to do. It involves Iraq and a major defeat yet again today. But that's not stopping Congress from, guess what, taking a vacation. Federal agents raid one group's headquarters and it involves Ron Paul, a Republican presidential candidate is not the target, but his campaign is happy to respond.
And Rudy Giuliani may support abortion rights and gay rights, but that's not stopping him from thwarting conservatives. Guess where he took his message today? We'll tell you. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, crucial legislation stalled, including funding for the Iraq war while lawmakers now go on vacation. We're going to show you the new incarnation of what some are calling to do nothing Congress. Also, cheers and cheers in Las Vegas as the Democratic presidential candidates face off. We're going to show you who walked away as winners in Las Vegas and who got booed.
Plus, Rudy Giuliani trying to shore up support from conservatives. You're going to find out which key group he's courting right now and how he's doing it. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
A year after Americans swept them into office, Democrats and Congress are still unable to end the war in Iraq and they've suffered yet another major defeat today. New concerns Gridlock on Iraq and a series of other major issues, as well, but that's not stopping Congress for leaving for a Thanksgiving break. Let's go to our congressional correspondent Jessica Yellin. She's up on Capitol Hill watching this. First of all, there's a $50 billion war funding bill that was at stake. What's the latest?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, today Democrats tried again and failed again to force the president to begin withdrawing some troops from Iraq. It was attached to that $50 billion war spending bill you just mentioned and Republicans blocked that bill from ever going to a vote. So, now Congress is stalled on this issue with Democrats saying they won't allow any new funding for what they call the president's failed war in Iraq this year and Republicans say, if Democrats don't fund the troops, they will suffer politically.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: There are serious consequences to not having this money for the troops. It's the same broken Congress and we will enter the last two or three weeks of the session going up to Christmas Eve unsure of how we're going it proceed.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: If they want to follow the president over the cliff, then they're welcome to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: Now, Wolf, as you mentioned, this Iraq funding is just one of a number of issues on which Congress is currently stalled. Today senators left for their Thanksgiving recess without passing a middle class tax reform bill that they had planned to pass by now, without passing a farm bill. They also haven't passed their energy bill. And neither house of Congress has successfully gotten a children's health insurance bill to the president that the president would sign. Now, both sides are accusing the others of making all sorts of problems. One side says the other is obstructionist; the other accuses Democrats of being incompetent. The bottom line is there's a lot of action around here, but not a lot of major legislation being passed. Now, both parties have gone home for their Thanksgiving recess and they've promised to pick up this fight when they come back in two weeks.
BLITZER: Jessica Yellin watching all of this unfold up on the Hill.
Jessica, thank you very, very much.
As we now know, members of Congress are about to take a two week Thanksgiving recess despite failure to pass any of their major bills still on their desks, including some temporary funding for the war in Iraq.
Let's go to our roundtable.
Joining us tonight, our CNN senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's still out in Las Vegas.
Also, CNN's Jack Cafferty. He's in New York. His book -- remember, it's entitled "It's Getting Ugly Out There" it's a "New York Times" best-seller.
Also, another best-seller, "The Nine". That's the book that our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin, has written. Both excellent books.
Guys, thanks very much.
Jack, I know you have strong views on this Congress -- what they call a do nothing Congress. But you just heard Jessica Yellin's report.
What goes through your mind as you hear this?
CAFFERTY: Well, one of the things that occurs to me is that their dismal approval rating is richly deserved. One national poll had them rated as low as 11 percent job approval rating. The other thing that occurs to me is if they had gotten on their hind legs on this war funding issue when they started this session back the early part of the year, we might have troops on the way home by now.
This is what the Democratic Congress was elected to do. They're finally beginning to show some early indications now that they might be willing to get a little tough. But it's all a political calculation with the big election next year.
The rest of these bills are all loaded up with amendments for this and that and pork and all kinds of giveaway stuff. And the proof in the pudding will be next year at the polls how many incumbents get re-elected. We continue to send the same morons back to do the same thing to us year after year after year. One of these days we've got to wake up and get smart.
BLITZER: You know, some would argue, Jeff, that the framers of the constitution liked the idea of these -- what we call checks and balances, what others simply suggest is gridlock.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think the framers intended to have a filibuster rule. And that's what this whole debate is about. There are 51 Democrats in the Senate, including Joe Lieberman -- who doesn't vote with them on Iraq. And you need 60 votes to accomplish anything in the Senate, because of filibusters. The Democrats simply don't have the votes to stop the war in Iraq. They've tried repeatedly. They've failed because they don't have the votes.
And I think, you know, the public is smart enough to understand that. It's not complicated and I don't think that means they're incompetent or they're morons. There are just good faith differences of opinion about what they should do about the war.
CAFFERTY: By not passing any kind of a war funding bill, they'll stop the war. All they've got to do is refuse to send any sort of bill up at all for a vote. It will eventually grind to a halt because the money will run out.
BLITZER: Candy, you covered Congress for a long time. You know how things work up there. And you know they're always getting hammered when they go on vacation, their two or three day workweeks. It seems the more things change, the more things remain the same.
Weigh in on this.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And here's the other factor that's playing into this.
Let's face it, it's a presidential election season. It's also election season for every one of those House members and a third of the Senate. So here's what's happening here. The two sides, frankly, are setting up their talking points for that election. You will hear the Democrats say, if you give us more Democrats, we can stop this war. We can get our energy bill. We can do something about health care.
You will hear Republicans say these guys are incompetent. You didn't get what you wanted, so you need to elect more Republicans.
So it can't be taken out of the political context, at this point.
But you're absolutely right in terms of, you know, this very much looks like many, many Congresses that I covered because it really is the to and fro of legislation. And is it awful to watch. It's that whole sausage making thing.
But they, time and again, do tend to come up with stuff. The problem the public has, I think, is what Jack touched on -- which is they think Congress isn't doing anything that actually affects them. And these are people going, well, you know what happened to energy bill and global warming?
When are we going to have jobs?
You know, that sort of thing. They don't see Congress doing anything about health care. So that's why the approval rating is so low, because they look at Congress and think they have nothing to do with my life.
CAFFERTY: You know, this alternative minimum tax that they're talking about threatens to ensnare hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of additional American families again next year. Everybody agrees that it's got to be addressed. Both sides agree on this. They won't do it. They can't do it because they can't figure out how to agree on something that is all beneficial -- across the board -- for middle class Americans, as doing something with the alternative minimum tax. It'll sit there and come next April 15th, nothing will have happened.
BLITZER: But, you know, Jeff, the poisonous atmosphere here in Washington really -- especially during a political season, as we're in right now -- that really hampers any positive things that the Congress, that those on the left, those on the right, might try to do to work together for the people's welfare.
TOOBIN: You know, I think, in a curious way, part of this illustrates why Barack Obama had a problem last night. Because he's talking about bringing people together and the politics of today do not seem to be able to be brought together. I mean the fact is, as Candy said, they are fighting about taxes, about health care, about serious things. And they really do disagree. I mean I can't remember a time when Democrats and Republicans are as different on these issues as they've been in the past. And this is not the 1950s, when everybody sort of agreed with each other. This is a time when there are huge differences between the Democrats and Republicans. And there doesn't appear to be any way to bridge them, except one side getting over 60 votes in the Senate.
BLITZER: All right.
Hold on, guys, because we have more to talk about. You're not going anywhere.
The Democratic presidential candidates are off and running again.
Did they leave voters with anything new from the debate last night in Las Vegas?
Our roundtable is standing by to weigh in.
And later, Republican Rudy Giuliani takes his presidential pitch to the influential conservative Federalist Society. We're going to take a closer look at the White House hopeful's reception.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: All eyes were on Hillary Clinton at last night's Democratic presidential debate last night in Las Vegas. She went into it with some scars from her previous debate performance.
So how did she walk away?
Jack Cafferty, what do you think?
How did the senator from New York do?
CAFFERTY: I think barring something unforeseen, the convention will resemble a coronation. She mopped up the floor with those boys last night pretty good.
CAFFERTY: I think Barack Obama and John Edwards did some real damage to themselves. But they're in an impossible situation.
How do you go after the frontrunner?
You've got to attack. Well, when they attacked last night they got booed. It wouldn't have been such a big deal if it was just in Las Vegas. But that booing was carried on this network to four million or five million people in every state in the union. And that doesn't make them -- Edwards and Obama, look good. But they've got no other choice. If they don't go after her, she's going to put them in the rear view mirror and they'll disappear from sight.
TOOBIN: I think Jack's right. And there's also -- I mean, remember, her big problem came in the last debate and it was self- inflicted. When she couldn't answer the question about drivers' licenses, it wasn't because she was attacked. She simply bumbled and didn't answer in a coherent way. Every time she's been attacked, she's wound up looking better than her attackers. So I think that does put Edwards and Obama and all the rest of the candidates in a real pickle.
BLITZER: Candy, she came in with her homework done. She had a good line ready to go. I'll play that little clip for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not playing -- as some people say -- the gender card here in Las Vegas. I'm just trying to play the winning card.
CLINTON: And I understand very well that people are not attacking me because I'm a woman, they're attacking me because I'm ahead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was a successful line, Candy.
CROWLEY: Yes, let's hear it for debate prep.
Absolutely. It was a good line. She had a lot of them. I must say, on the Barack Obama issue, I agree. And it's not a good thing when you're getting booed by the crowds. And, overall, this was not a good night for either Edwards or Obama.
But I did think, for the first time, we saw Obama in a way when he seemed comfortable on the stage. He seemed to sort of command it when he was there. But when the crowd booed him down, I mean there is no good way to react to that. If you are seen sort of trying to sort of quiet down the crowd, it just isn't going to work.
So she had some help, frankly, from the crowd. It was like another candidate, really, on the floor. And she got a lot of bolstering from them and that really helped. She walks away from this exactly where she was two weeks ago -- which is the frontrunner -- and the frontrunner by a lot. But we mustn't forget Iowa, where the polls are tied.
TOOBIN: But remember...
CAFFERTY: There was one moment when Obama didn't look so good last night. And he stumbled over the same question that Hillary stumbled over two weeks ago.
CAFFERTY: and you had asked him specifically for a yes or no answer. And he went right into a Ralph Kramden. Everybody else is doing yes or no. Hillary said no. And he starts this homina, homina, homina. And your funniest line of the night, as far as I was concerned, was, "Senator, this is a question that lends itself to a yes or no answer."
But he didn't look very good there.
BLITZER: It wasn't that complicated. And, you know, I was in that room. There were about 2,000 people there. They were invited by Democrats -- local, national Democrats, the university. CNN had some guests there. A lot of students were there.
And what I sensed was that the booing was not necessarily directed at Edwards because he was Edwards. It was because he was criticizing a fellow Democrat. And they see their enemy as the Republicans and they just want these Democrats to be nice to each other so they can get together.
Candy, you were there.
What did you think?
CROWLEY: Well, I mean I did get the sense that there were more Clinton supporters there than others. I mean I think there were times when, clearly, they didn't like her piling on -- but -- like them piling on her.
But I do think you're right. I do think, in general, the Democrats watch their candidates beating up on each other and all they can see are the ads that the Republicans are going to run when this is over. Well, you know, John Edwards said this about her and Barack Obama said this about her -- or the other way around.
So that's what really worries Democrats, because, let's face it, they've been out of the White House for eight years. They really want that White House back. And they know the only way to do that is not with a circling firing squad.
TOOBIN: But I think one reason, you know, we talk about the crowd as if it's, you know, there's some mystery why they were supporting Clinton. The last CNN poll shows her at 51 percent in Nevada. The crowd was with her because the people of Nevada right now are behind her.
BLITZER: All right, Jeff...
TOOBIN: I mean that's...
BLITZER: Jeff, I've got to stop you...
TOOBIN: ...that's a...
BLITZER: ...because Jack is going to tell you to -- Nevada.
TOOBIN: Nevada. I'm sorry.
CAFFERTY: That's correct.
TOOBIN: we've got our Reno -- we've got our Reno native up there. I don't want to mess with him.
BLITZER: All right, guys...
CAFFERTY: I don't know much, but I know that.
BLITZER: Candy, you did a great job, as usual, this week for us.
Thanks very much.
Jeff Toobin, great to have you in our roundtable.
Jack, don't leave. You're not going away yet. You've more work in The Cafferty File.
Let's check in with Lou Dobbs.
He's down in Florida, getting ready for his show. That begins in a few minutes at the top of the hour -- hi, Lou.
LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Hi, Wolf.
Coming up, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern here live tonight from Palm Beach, Florida we're reporting a new outrage over the case of two former Border Patrol agents in prison for shooting an illegal alien drug smuggler who was given immunity by the Justice Department to testify against the Border Patrol agents. It turns out the Justice Department has a little problem -- there's now new evidence that that drug smuggler and illegal alien repeatedly ran drugs across the U.S. border while under immunity by the Justice Department from prosecution. Supporters of the former agents say those agents should be released from prison -- and immediately. We'll have complete coverage.
Also, startling new figures on the huge scale of mortgage fraud in this country -- as much as $2 trillion a year. We'll have that special report.
We'll assess, as well, the performance of the Democratic presidential candidates in last night's debate.
Did those candidates offer any solutions to the problems facing middle class Americans?
I'll be joined by three of the country's best political analysts and strategists. And they're here, all the day's news and much more.
Please join us at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Thank you very much, Lou.
See you in a few moments.
Meanwhile, some conservatives are viewing Rudy Giuliani with suspicion for his liberal positions on the important social issues. So his campaign is mounting an all out effort to try to ease their concerns.
Let's bring in our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.
She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And he went to a -- I guess some would argue -- an unusual place today.
Explain what happened.
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, if you go inside any influential -- at least most influential Republican organizations -- and ask them to choose two words to describe Rudy Giuliani and abortion, they would probably be pro-choice. So his mission today was to make those two words strict constructionism.
BASH (voice-over): Rudy Giuliani believes if he's got any shot at winning over social conservatives opposed to his positions on abortions, gays and guns, this the way to do it.
RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're seeking to find judges who understand the very, very important concept that judges exist to interpret the law, not to invent the law.
BASH: He's speaking the language of those he's courting here -- conservative lawyers in the influential Federalist Society, who play a prominent role in pushing like-minded judges.
GIULIANI: Justice Scalia, Justice Thomas, Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts -- that would be my model.
BASH: The Federalist Society was born of outrage over decisions like "Roe v. Wade," which made abortion legal and many GOP primary voters want overturned. Some conservatives say this April CNN interview makes them skeptical about Giuliani's stance.
GIULIANI: A strict constructionist judge can come to either conclusion about "Roe against Wade". They can look at it and say wrongly decided 30 years ago, we're going to -- we'll overturn it. They can look at it and say, it's been the law for this period of time, therefore we're going to respect the precedent.
BASH: Giuliani did not mention "Roe v. Wade" here -- leaving some leery.
ED WHELAN, ETHICS AND PUBLIC POLICY CENTER: I haven't been satisfied by his comments yet on abortion specifically, or more broadly on questions of judicial activism and judicial restraint. I think that we need more than code words.
BASH: But Giuliani is relying on supporters like former Bush Solicitor General Ted Olson, a friend from Ronald Reagan's Justice Department, to vouch for him.
TED OLSON, FORMER SOLICITOR GENERAL: Well, he was involved in helping to select federal judges -- federal district judges and federal appeals judges. And there his record is unquestionably strong.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BASH: Giuliani's rivals say his more recent record as mayor of New York tells a different story -- that when he had the chance to appoint 100 plus judges there, many were liberal. Now, his presidential campaign, Wolf, they insist there's a big difference between appointing municipal judges and filling the federal bench.
BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much.
Let's get a little bit more information now on this powerful and very influential voice for conservatives. The Federalist Society was organized in 1982 at Yale Law School. It now has 40,000 members. They're lawyers, students, judges. Supreme Court justices, including Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, have been linked to the group. And among its principals -- the state exists to preserve freedom, separation of governmental powers is central to the constitution and it's the job of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what the law should be.
We've all seen former presidents on bills and currency.
But have you ever seen a candidate on a coin?
Why Ron Paul's face is now causing such a problem.
And another presidential candidate, another $400 hair cut. But Tom Tancredo wants you to know about this one.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is worried that President Bush might make controversial recess appointments for government agencies while Congress is on Thanksgiving break. So this is happening -- Reid is taking preventative steps to try to block the president from doing that by technically -- technically keeping the Senate in session next week. There will be pro forma sessions over that time period, but no legislative action will be taken.
On our Political Ticker this Friday, Republican presidential candidate John McCain wants New Hampshire's attorney general to investigate so-called push polls targeting fellow candidate Mitt Romney. McCain says the calls are outrageous, a disgrace. Push polls are phone calls that sound like opinion polls, but set out to plant negative ideas about a candidate. Calls reported in New Hampshire and Iowa now raising questions about Mitt Romney's Mormon faith and his Vietnam War era military deferments.
Federal agents have confiscated a cache of coins featuring the image of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. The gold, silver and copper coins were seized in a raid at the Indiana headquarters of a group critical of the Federal Reserve. The organization produces the so-called liberty dollar and other coins, and puts them in circulation. The Feds say the practice is illegal. Ron Paul's campaign says it was aware of the coin's existence, but it did not -- repeat -- not authorize that.
Another presidential candidate is in the spotlight, as well -- for getting a $400 hair cut. Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo got one today in Concord, New Hampshire. It was partly to poke fun at the $400 hair cut that showed up on Democrat John Edwards' campaign expense reports last year. But it was also out there to raise money for the Autism Society of America. The owner of the salon has an autistic son and he came up with the idea. Remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our political ticker, at CNN.com/ticker.
Some say Iran could be one year away from a nuclear weapon.
Jack Cafferty wants to know what should the U.S. do about that?
Your e-mail and Jack, when we come back.
BLITZER: It's been a long week.
But let's check back with Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: There's no such thing as too much SITUATION ROOM, Wolf. Not for me.
The question this hour is Iran could be a year away from a nuclear weapon.
What should the United States do about it?
Peter in California: "The U.S. should do nothing about it. We can't afford the current war debacle we've gotten ourselves into. We should leave the problems of the Middle East to the Middle East for a while."
Rob in Florida: "The U.S. should do nothing about Iran. They have a right to pursue nuclear fuel. Are we getting our information from the same people who brought us the Iraq War? We should start doing something about countries like Pakistan, India and Israel. We know for a fact their nuclear programs are not for peaceful purposes." Jonathan writes: "The Bush administration should sit at the diplomatic table with the Iranian regime. Bush and Cheney need to tone down the aggressive, incendiary rhetoric and talk with leaders in the Middle East. War is not the correct solution to the Iranian threat."
Phillip in Denver: "America needs to prepare itself for another war in the Middle East. Iran must not and will not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons."
Willie in Alabama: "We need to spend more time and money on problems at home. I'm tired of U.S. leaders trying to solve the problems of the world. Let's get our own house in order first. As for Iran, what will they do with a nuclear weapon when they get it? Blow up the world? I think not. Let some other country step up and handle this."
And Tim in California: "I certainly think we need to start talking with Iran. Alienating them at this juncture makes no sense to any reasonable person. It's also a pretty ambitious claim by the same people that said Iraq was going to be duck soup and the war would be paid for by oil. Oil is now almost $100 a barrel and this soup certainly isn't duck." If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. We post more of them online, along with video clips of The Cafferty File -- Wolf, a nice job in my home state last night.
BLITZER: It was a lot of fun. A great debate. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute.
Jack, thanks very much.
Have a great, great weekend.
CAFFERTY: You, too.
BLITZER: I hope you can relax a little bit.
We're working hard here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
That's it for us today.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.
Lou is in Florida -- Lou.
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