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THE SITUATION ROOM
Obama Admits to Youthful Experiments With Drugs, Alcohol; Giuliani's Record on Abortion Rights Examined
Aired November 26, 2007 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the commander-in-chief as role-model-in-chief -- some presidential candidates are applauding the candor of Barack Obama, who's owned up to some youthful experiments with drugs and alcohol. Others say it's better to keep quiet about past indiscretions.
He was a mayor who proudly proclaimed himself to be in support of abortion rights, but now presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani sounding a little different when it comes to the whole issue of abortion. We're going to check out his record closely.
And they were bitter rivals for the presidency. Now Al Gore has finally made it to the White House -- the Bush White House.
Did they manage to bury the hatchet?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's begin this hour, though, with the breaking news we're following over at the White House. The vice president, Dick Cheney, about to undergo a heart procedure. You can see he appears all right at this morning's meetings of Palestinian and Israeli leaders over at the White House. But after these pictures were taken, the vice president went to see his doctor about a lingering cough. That's when he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat -- a cause for concern because the vice president has had four heart attacks.
The procedure he's having today is an outpatient procedure. He's expected to return home to the White House tonight. We wish him a speedy recovery from that procedure. We're going to have a lot more coming up on that story later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It's a dramatic roll of the dice -- the Bush administration' final push for Middle East peace. At the heart of it all, a high stakes conference right now bringing together dozens of country that will take place in Maryland only a few hours from now. President Bush calling it a chance to see whether peace is really possible. He met separately today over at the White House with the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert and the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Want the people in the Palestinian Territories to have hope. And we thank you for your willingness to sit down with Israel to negotiate a settlement. The United States cannot impose our vision, but we can help facilitate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Not invited to the peace conference, the militant Islamic group Hamas, which this year split with the Palestinian Authority and now controls Gaza. And Iran -- a powerful player in the region.
Could it play the role of spoiler?
Our Middle East correspondent Aneesh Raman is in Tehran -- Aneesh.
ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in a challenge to President Bush, Iran -- uninvited to Annapolis -- is planning a Palestinian conference of its own.
RAMAN (voice-over): It's as old as Iran's revolutionary regime -- the proclaimed brotherhood with the Palestinians. Here's Yasser Arafat in Tehran in the early '80s. In Tehran today, there's a Palestine Square -- a monument to Palestinian resistance -- and plenty of slogans, which means Iran should be the Palestinians' best friend. But Iran and Hamas -- its surrogate in the battle with Israel -- won't be coming to Annapolis.
(on camera): In Iran, the Palestinian cause has always been linked with an antagonism toward Israel. And you see it virtually everywhere. Right now, we're just off the main highway that runs through Tehran. And across it is a mural with a portrait of Hamas' spiritual founder, Sheikh Yassin. But just above it, a familiar slogan -- "Down with the USA and Israel!".
(voice-over): When Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel, won big in Palestinian legislative elections, Iran went beyond slogans, sending money to Iran's stronghold in Gaza, putting Israel on edge. And as George Bush heads to Annapolis getting even Syria, an Iranian ally, to sit at the table, Hamas and Iran are not invited and for them, opportunity knocks.
"Which of these participants in Annapolis is the real representative of the Palestinian people?," President Ahmadinejad recently asked.
"What right do they have to go there?"
So instead of there, Ahmadinejad is bringing them here. He is planning a conference soon with the head of Hamas, Khaled Meshal, and Palestinians who favor the group. For Iran, the Annapolis summit isn't just about the Palestinians.
MAJID MARANDI, TEHRAN UNIVERSITY: Yes, I think it's more about Bush in the eyes of most Iranians and most politicians in the country.
RAMAN: Many Iranians say the Palestinian cause must be helped as fellow Muslims. But amid a lagging economy, more and more question the money leaving home.
"The help should be given inside Iran," says this woman, "not to the Palestinian people. We need help. There's poverty and unemployment."
Still, for Iran's president, Annapolis is another welcome challenge -- to see if President Bush can influence a conference of neighbors where one of its key residents, Iran, is absent.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
RAMAN: Which is why they'll be watching Annapolis very closely here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Aneesh, thank you very much.
Aneesh Raman reporting from Tehran.
The United States, by the way, has sponsored a series of Middle East summits over the years with mixed results. Six months after he brought Egyptian President Sadat and Israel's prime minister, Menachem Begin, to Camp David, President Jimmy Carter brought them to the White House in March 1979 to sign a landmark Israeli/Egyptian peace treaty.
In 1993, after secret Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, President Clinton brought both sides to the White House to sign The Oslo Accords -- the framework for a future peace deal.
In 2000, President Clinton tried the Camp David approach with Israel's Ehud Barack and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Mr. Clinton couldn't close the deal -- a final peace deal. Certainly, he got close, but there was no deal. And, instead, bloody violence followed.
Stay tuned for a message from Osama bin Laden. That's the word we're getting. Today from Al Qaeda's media unit. An item posted on a radical Islamist Web site says a new message from "the lion sheikh," Osama bin Laden, would appear soon. It notes only that the message would be aimed at Europeans. The last message from Osama bin Laden was an audio tape broadcast last month on Al Jazeera. It called on militants in Iraq to unite. We'll stand by for this latest message.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, NATO feels like it's losing the propaganda fight against the Taliban. The next battleground in the war on terror may be online.
Our international security correspondent, Paula Newton, has this exclusive report from Afghanistan -- Paula?
PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, NATO says it has to get into the 21st century, as it says, and start using Web tools -- even YouTube -- to try to beat the Taliban at its own game.
NEWTON (voice-over): They have the bullets, the bombs and the high tech weapons of war. But NATO now admits what's missing is the YouTube factor -- a consistent, coordinated assault on the Internet, so it can give as good as it gets from the Taliban. Because the weapon of choice these days in Afghanistan is video.
Canadian soldier Norm Tremblay describes what he saw a couple of weeks ago under attack from the Taliban.
W.O. NORM TREMBLAY, CANADIAN ARMY: I told you, we set up an ambush where we counted at least four of them and the fifth one holding a camera.
NEWTON: A camera wielded like a weapon -- inflicting its own kind of collateral damage.
JAMES APPATHURAI, NATO SPOKESMAN: The Taliban, who are actual literal cave dwellers, are doing better than we are on a key battleground -- and that's video. They deploy with videographers, we don't. They have DVDs out in an hour. We don't.
NEWTON (on camera): NATO concedes it's already lost the upper hand when it comes to the information war. The Taliban has spent years carefully cultivating its extremist video and using it as a recruitment tool.
(voice-over): NATO says all of this slowly erodes the world's perception on how the Afghanistan mission is going. And more than that, Web security experts warn these videos are the lifeblood of recruiting campaigns.
GLEN JENVEY, CYBER-TERROR EXPERT: At one point, somebody has actually brainwashed these people to become terrorists. And this is where they recruit insurgents who actually take hold. And that's -- the online part is an important part of it.
NEWTON: So NATO now says if you can't beat them, join them. This is video just declassified by NATO and made available to CNN. Shot from a helicopter, NATO says this is an armed Taliban fighter. Watch now as he disguises himself in a burka -- head to toe, weapon concealed. NATO says burka-clad fighters take refuge with women and children, like they have in this video.
And there's more. NATO claims a high level Taliban meeting was going on at this house. Their helicopters take aim and then NATO says a small boy is callously posted at the front door -- the perfect human shield. NATO was forced to hold its fire.
APPATHURAI: There are hundreds of videos like this and we should show them to the public. We are, in a sense, winning the tactical battles, but we're not focusing enough on the strategic battle, which is public opinion.
NEWTON: And more and more, that battle -- fought on the thorny terrain of the Internet -- will be the decisive one in Afghanistan.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
NEWTON: Wolf, a lot of the armies that are involved in this mission shoot their own combat footage. Some of it is extraordinary. The problem is, a lot of it remains classified -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Paula Newton on the scene for us in Afghanistan.
Thank you very much.
A good report.
Let's go back to Jack.
He's got The Cafferty File in New York -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Thanks, Wolf.
"America is coming apart at the seams and may not survive." Those are the words of conservative commentator Pat Buchanan an in his new book, "Day of Reckoning." He talks about the threat of the U.S. breaking up along the lines of race, ethnicity, class and culture, and he refers to it as an existential crisis. Buchanan lays out some dire predictions for where this country is headed. He shows how President Bush's post-9/11 shift to an ideology of democratism has led it us to the mess that we find ourselves in now -- both overseas and here at home.
He calls the worship of free trade "a cult madness" that is destroying the dollar, deindustrializing America and ending our economic independence. When it comes to Iraq, Buchanan believes the use of U.S. troops to police the planet is "imperial folly" -- his words -- "that will eventually ruin us."
And as for immigration, he says it's absurd to think the United States can import endless millions of aliens -- legal and illegal -- from around the world. Buchanan says to save America, the ideologues from both parties must be removed from power. And he also lays out a plan to secure America's borders, temporarily halt all immigration for a time, close most of our bases around the world, bring our troops home and review our cold war commitments.
So here's the question -- where are we headed if a conservative like Pat Buchanan an says America is coming apart at the seams and we may not recover?
E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile.
It sounds suspiciously like a book I'm familiar with -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It sounds pretty depressing, too. CAFFERTY: That, too.
BLITZER: Pat Buchanan, our old friend.
All right, we're going to be talking to him here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the coming days.
Jack, thanks very much.
BLITZER: Presidential drug use -- should the candidates be candid?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There were times where I, you know, got into drinking, experimented with drugs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Barack Obama catching some heat for being honest about past drug use.
Is it better to say he didn't inhale?
Plus, Rudy Giuliani's changing positions on abortions.
Is he flip-flopping to win over conservatives or is his position simply evolving over time?
And Al Gore over at the White House today. President Bush got the job Al Gore really wanted. But we'll take a closer look at how the two let bygones be bygones when they were in the Oval Office earlier.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: A dilemma some parents face is now confronting the presidential candidates -- what do you tell your own kids about your own past drug use?
CNN's Carol Costello is here.
She's watching this story for us.
What brought all this up on the campaign -- Carol?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it was Barack Obama and his frank admission that he did inhale.
Isn't that refreshing -- he did inhale.
His candor, though, has started a testy debate -- does a good role model admit to using drugs in front of a group of kids?
COSTELLO (voice-over): If you're a kid, who wouldn't want it be in charge, just like the president of the United States?
He's the role model of all role models. And that very thing is now the subject of a testy debate among some of 2008's presidential candidates. It started when Democrat Barack Obama told a high school audience in New Hampshire something he first revealed over a decade ago -- he'd used drugs.
OBAMA: But there were times where I, you know, got into drinking, experimented with drugs and, you know, there was a whole stretch of time when I didn't really apply myself.
COSTELLO: Obama's rival, Republican Rudy Giuliani, was impressed by Obama's candor.
RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we haven't made mistakes, don't vote for us -- because we've got some big ones that are going to happen in the future and we won't know how to handle them.
COSTELLO: But fellow Republican Mitt Romney did not agree.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I think that in order to leave the best possible example for our kids, we're probably wisest not to talk about our own indiscretions in great detail.
COSTELLO: And Romney isn't alone in his belief. Back in 1999, then Governor Bush declined to answer questions about his own history with alcohol.
GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is irrelevant what I did 20 to 30 years ago. What's relevant is that I have learned from any mistakes I made.
COSTELLO: He went on to say he didn't want to send the message that what he did back then was cool to try.
Who is right?
We asked the Partnership for A Drug-Free America, who told us kids aren't naive.
STEVE PASIERB, PARTNERSHIP FOR THE DRUG-FREE AMERICA: They know these things go on in society, with presidents, with captains of industry, with average people. So the key thing is to be honest and to put it in that context of saying, look, I did this and it was a dumb choice.
COSTELLO: Possibly the worst thing for a role model to do?
Pasierb says tell kids a story they're not likely to believe. BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two and didn't like it and didn't inhale and never tried it again.
PASIERB: Most kids are going to see right through that and know then how can you know that you didn't like it if you didn't inhale?
COSTELLO: In short, honesty is always the best policy.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
COSTELLO: Yes, if you're a dad, because, you know, as a dad, Obama took exactly the right path. As a politician, he's sort of rolling the dice. Answering questions openly about past drug use is tricky. According to a February 2007 Pew Research poll, 45 percent of Americans would be less likely to support a candidate for president who used drugs in the past. Forty-seven percent say it wouldn't matter. And as a candidate, you just hope the voters will cut you a break.
BLITZER: Well, we'll see what happens.
BLITZER: All right, Carol.
Thanks very much.
Abortion is a major issue among the Republican candidates, with some facing questions about their views and how they've changed over the years, including the former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani. Helping us keep all of the politicians honest is our chief national correspondent, John King.
He's joining us now live from St. Petersburg in Florida -- John, how big of an issue is abortion for the Giuliani campaign?
JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you would have it live in a cave to not know that Rudy Giuliani is the only of the leading Republican candidates who says he supports a woman's constitutional right to have an abortion. But the issue, of course, is much more complicated than that.
What about taxpayer funding?
What about parental notification for minors who want to get abortions?
What about so-called late term or partial birth abortions?
So we went back over Giuliani's record the past 20 years and, clearly, there is a bit of an evolution.
KING (voice-over): From a mayoral candidate in 1989, who promised to uphold the constitutional right to an abortion despite his Catholic upbringing...
GIULIANI: I have religious views and personal views that are contrary to -- to some of these in these areas.
KING: ...to a mayor who offered no such reservations.
GIULIANI: I am pro-choice, I am pro-gay rights.
KING: ...to a presidential candidate who now embraces abortion restrictions he had opposed as mayor.
WHIT AYERS, GOP POLLSTER: I think that Rudy Giuliani's current position makes his pro-choice stance more acceptable to a lot of Republicans -- not all, certainly, but a lot of Republicans.
KING: As mayor, Giuliani supported taxpayer financed abortions for poor women. He reiterated that support in this 1997 candidate questionnaire and again in this CNN interview seven months ago.
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: do you support taxpayer money or public funding for abortion in some cases?
GIULIANI: If it would deprive someone of a constitutional right, yes. And if that is the status of the law, then I would, yes.
KING: But a day later, amid a conservative uproar, he rushed to clarify his stance on taxpayer funding.
GIULIANI: I would want to see it decided on a state by state basis.
KING: In that 1997 questionnaire, he also opposed restrictions on minors receiving abortions. Now, he says he backs parental notification as long as a judge can waive the requirement in some circumstances. He also has evolved on whether to ban late-term abortion. During the Clinton administration, when Congress tried to outlaw the procedure, Giuliani opposed the legislation.
GIULIANI: No, I have not supported that and I don't see my position on that changing.
KING: But it did. This is Giuliani after an April Supreme Court ruling upholding a ban.
GIULIANI: And I must say Justice Kennedy 's opinion convinced me even more that my support for the ban is a correct one.
KING: So if he says now that he has a different position on that legislation, you would think?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he owes the American public an explanation of why he's flip-flopped so dramatically.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
KING: Now, Giuliani aides reject and dismiss that flip-flop label. They also say, Wolf, that critics tend to exaggerate what they would call a natural evolution on the issue. They say to the degree and on the specific issues where his emphasis has changed, they say, in part, that is based on his life experience, his moral and religious beliefs. And they also say it is very different being or running for mayor of New York City or dealing with abortion and the questions about abortion that a president -- a ruler of the entire country -- would have to confront -- Wolf.
BLITZER: But the bottom line, John, is he supports abortion rights for women, is that right?
KING: He does. In this campaign, he says that he supports the constitutional right for a woman to choose an abortion, although he has said in this campaign -- and it's something, again, the critics say he never said as mayor, that he personally hates or detests or despises abortion, but he does believe there is that constitutional right, yes.
BLITZER: John King for us.
Thanks, John, very much.
Mitt Romney is taking a verbal beating from some of his Republican rivals for the White House -- but he's not taking it sitting down.
He's joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM and he's ready to fire back.
Also, all of the makings of an awkward meeting -- Al Gore and President Bush side by side over at the White House. We're going to show you what happened today.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what do you have?
COSTELLO: Well, there was a dismal benchmark, Wolf, on Wall Street today. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 240 points, or nearly 2 percent. The market is now down more than 10 percent from its high, reached back in early October. Officially, that means all three major American stock indexes are now in so-called corrections. For you and me, it means that nearly all the gains for the year have been wiped out.
NFL star Sean Taylor of the Washington Redskins is in critical condition at this hour, after being shot during a suspected robbery at his home near Miami. According to a family friend, Taylor underwent several hours of emergency surgery after being airlifted to a local hospital earlier today with a gunshot wound to the leg. The bullet reportedly damaged his femoral artery. Teammate Clinton Portis told reporters a short time ago that Taylor has lost a lot of blood and is "fighting for his life."
Talk about a breakout performance -- a beauty pageant contestant in Puerto Rico broke out in hives after her makeup and evening gowns were laced with pepper spray. But she still managed to win the crown. Ingrid Maria Rivera will represent Puerto Rico at next year's Miss. Universe pageant. Organizers say they're investigating the attempted sabotage.
And for Michael Jackson and his brothers, it's been 23 years and more than a few controversies since they were last on stage together. But now, according to Jermaine Jackson, The Jackson Five are on the verge of a reunion. He tells the BBC that a tour could take place next year. And he says, yes, Michael will be involved.
We'll see -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The Jackson Five -- a lot of us remember that group.
Let's see if it happens. I suspect a lot of people would want to go see that concert.
COSTELLO: With Michael Jackson, I don't know.
BLITZER: Yes, well, you never know. But I suspect their music is still good.
All right, guys -- Carol, thanks very much.
Mitt Romney mincing no words when it comes to the detention of terror suspects.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: I don't think Guantanamo is a symbol of American weakness, I think it's a symbol of American resolve.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I'll speak with the presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. More of our interview coming up. This chunk that you're about to see involving the war on terror and more.
Also, Al Gore finally makes it to the Oval Office -- but as a guest of the man he battled back in 2000.
Did they let bygones be bygones?
And Democratic candidates are backing the striking TV and movie writers.
But are the candidates biting the Hollywood hand that feeds them?
Lots more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, number two Senate Republican Trent Lott says he's stepping down before January. That is when a new law would restrict him from lobbing for two years instead of one. He says that didn't play a big role in it. Instead, he says it's time to do something else.
Also, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf now says he'll step down as the army chief on Thursday and take the oath of office for his presidential third term the same day.
And President Bush signs a deal with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki paving the way, potentially, for a long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq with details to be negotiated by next July.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We want to update you right now on the breaking news we've been following; the Vice President Dick Cheney about to undergo a heart procedure. He's now arrived over at the George Washington University Hospital here in the nation's capital. He'll be treated shortly for an irregular heartbeat; troublesome because the vice president has had four heart attacks. The problem was diagnosed this morning when Mr. Cheney went to see his doctor about a lingering cough. It's an outpatient procedure. He's expected to be home later tonight. We wish him a speedy recovery from this.
The republican presidential candidates are tuning up for Wednesday's CNN You Tube debate and Mitt Romney is already making news sticking to his tough stance on the U.S. detention of terror suspects. I spoke with him just a short while ago.
BLITZER: I want to talk about some of the other issues out there right now, including a controversial comment you made at one of the republican debates about Guantanamo Bay. But before we talk about that, let me read to you what John McCain, another republican presidential candidate, has said about Guantanamo Bay. "I would close Guantanamo Bay," he says. "Guantanamo Bay has become an image throughout the world which has hurt our reputation. Whether we deserve it or not, the reality is Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib have harmed our reputation in the world, thereby harming our ability to win the psychological part of the war against radical Islamic extremism." You've said at that debate that you would double Guantanamo Bay. Why is he wrong?
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I don't think Guantanamo is a symbol of American weakness. I think it's a symbol of American resolve, resolve against these terrorists who would attack us and attack our friends throughout the world. We frankly don't want to bring terrorists on the United States soil and have them in our prison system and have them insisting on lawyers. That's not the right course for these people that are engaged in fighting against us and launching attacks against us. That's why we have places outside our country for those persons to be held.
Look, when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the so-called mastermind of 9/11, was captured he said I'll see you in New York with my lawyers. And that's not what happened. He saw instead CIA interrogators and GIs in Guantanamo and that's the way it ought to be.
BLITZER: He's going to also be responding to some serious criticism from Rudy Giuliani. That part of the interview coming up in our 6:00 p.m. eastern hour but Romney also voicing some doubts about the president's push for Middle East peace.
Listen to this.
BLITZER: You've suggested that the Israeli/Palestinian meeting that's taking place this week in Annapolis might not necessarily be that great of an idea, given the expectations that could be raised. Is it a bad idea for the president and the secretary of state to be bringing all these Middle Eastern leaders together in Annapolis, Maryland, this week?
ROMNEY: Well you know, early on there was a description of the way forward that I thought was quite compelling, the road map to peace in the Middle East and it included a number of steps. The first was that there would be security institutions put in place among the Palestinian areas and, in addition, there would be governmental institutions in place and that was phase one. Then phase two we went on to establish a Palestinian state and phase three was negotiate through some of the tough issues.
We haven't reached phase one yet. There are not security arrangements in place among the Palestinian areas of Israel today and there's not the government institutions you'd expect, as well. You have Hamas and Fatah going at each other, controlling different parts of the Palestinian territories. You don't have the first phase of a road map in place. You don't have the ground work in place and, as a result, I think the expectations from this, this conference, have to be relatively modest.
I hope it's not a bad idea. I just don't think it's likely to be a major, major break through. But you know, time will tell and, generally, there's no harm that comes with people talking with one another and hopefully at least the talking will produce a greater degree of understanding.
BLITZER: Do you think Israel should give up the west bank?
ROMNEY: I think Israel should do what's in the best interest of the security of Israel. And I do not believe in speaking of one-sided give ups. Israel has been giving up and giving up and giving up and getting virtually nothing in return. I think if we see peace in the Middle East, there has to be a party on each side of the table that can make commitments that can be fulfilled.
BLITZER: One last effort by the Bush administration to bring peace to the Middle East. It's sponsoring, as we said, this high- stakes, high-profile conference in Annapolis, Maryland, tomorrow. Dozens of representatives will be there, but Iran and Hamas won't be there.
Let's go to our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee and our CNN contributor Fareed Zakaria.
Zain, first to you, this is really an enormous effort that Condoleezza Rice has undertaken and her legacy, at least at large measure, is on the line right now.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it really is. I think it would be fair to say that she has her eye on her legacy and doesn't want to leave office, only leaving the cloud of Iraq behind. The Secretary Rice has really worked hard to get to this point. To her credit, she wants to deal with a very difficult and a very tough issue. She's been to the region something like eight times this year and she says she's pretty determined about using this to launch it as a process of negotiation between Israeli and Palestinians. She says she wants a Palestinian state by the end of the time she leaves office. It's true, though, this is desperately late and she's aware that the clock is ticking and seems, though, determined, Wolf, to deliver as much as she can.
BLITZER: Fareed, the last time this was tried by the United States at the tail end of Bill Clinton's administration, they got close, but they didn't have the deal and, as a result, a lot of violence erupted between the Israelis and the Palestinians. There's potentially a downside, a dangerous side if this current effort collapses.
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Less of a downside, Wolf, because the wall has effectively secured Israel against a series of very large-scale terror attacks. The down side is really that you'll discredit the peace process. You discredit Abbas in the eyes of the Palestinian people and Hamas will be emboldened. You discredit the peacemakers, you know, in the Israeli political system. Remember, you're trying to make peace here with three leaders, Bush, Abbas and Olmert, all of whom have approval ratings under 30 percent. I don't think that's ever happened before. It's a very, very hard slog.
BLITZER: But could that be a source of strength, ironically? They're also weak domestically within their own communities that they need to make those kinds of tough decisions to elevate themselves.
ZAKARIA: Certainly in terms of looking at history, but, Wolf, you know this area as well as anyone. For Olmert, any major concessions made on Jerusalem would mean the collapse of his coalition because of the religious right in Israel. For Abbas, any major concessions would invite an attack from Hamas. Ironically, Bush is the one guy who can push and we've seen that movie before in 2000 when Bill Clinton tried to be the one guy who pushed and pushed and pushed. It doesn't work. It's rather bizarre that seven years after saying this kind of peace process was not going to work, the administration decided it will at a time than at any point in the proceeding seven years.
BLITZER: When you speak to the State Department officials, Zain, and you ask them why Hamas, that was democratically elected by the Palestinians, wasn't invited to this conference, what do they say to you?
VERJEE: Well they say that Hamas is designated a terrorist group by the United States and therefore, it's not invited to sit at the table. It doesn't recognize Israel and it refuses to put down its weapons and come to the table then and talk.
Really, Hamas is potentially the wildcard here because if there's really any momentum to be gained after Annapolis, it could ruin it, whether there are suicide bombings or whether there are more rocket attacks into Israel. It really has that potential.
One of the strategies from the State Department's point of view is really to try and isolate Hamas and to create a situation, to create a process that gives Abbas some trophies, some rewards where he can go back to the Palestinian people and say, look, I got this. You have more freedom of movement. There's more money coming in and create a more enticing prospect for peace and show that he can reap rewards and confrontation doesn't work.
BLITZER: Fareed, you got this odd couple, a lot of odd friendships emerging, not because they like each other but because they're so worried about Iran, specifically the Saudis coming to this conference. How much of a factor is the Iranian growing influence in the region playing and will that propel all of these parties to actually get a deal?
ZAKARIA: Well, to a certain extent, I think Condoleezza Rice's efforts are as much about an attempt to create a kind of anti-Iranian Arab coalition as they are about solving the Palestinian Israel peace process. And at that sense, this is a perfectly reasonable and understandable strategy.
Many of the Arab states are concerned, but they're trying to balance another reality, which is that in their countries, the people support Ahmadinejad and support his defined attitude towards the United States because he's seen as the defender of Palestinian. So, ironically, for all of them to be able to be anti-Iranian, they need the Palestinian issues solved and resolved. Otherwise Ahmadinejad becomes the guy who's looking out for Palestinian interests, not the king of Saudi Arabia and not Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. So all the roads, in a sense, lead back to Jerusalem. Whether you can deliver at this late date is the real question. BLITZER: We'll have complete coverage of this Annapolis conference tomorrow. Fareed Zakaria, Zain Verjee, thanks to both of you. Hopefully you'll be with us again tomorrow.
Al Gore finally makes it back to the White House, but it's been the Bush White House ever since that disputed election back in 2000. Can they bury hatchet?
And Oprah goes all out for Obama. She could put a book at the top of the best-seller list, but can she do the same thing for her favorite candidate?
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Along with his meetings with the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian authorities today, the president also met with his former and often current political nemesis, the former vice president Al Gore. Tom Foreman is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. How did it go, Tom?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It went as well as you could expect, I guess. It all the makings of a very charged moment given how fiercely these two fought each other in the campaign and the recount seven years ago. Remember those days? But today was their first private meeting since then and put on their game faces to show no sign of any hard feelings.
FOREMAN: In 2000, they fought a bitter, no-holds barred election, but today there were no outward signs of animosity. Al Gore and President George W. Bush met privately at the White House before a reception for all the American Nobel prize winners.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there still bad blood here?
DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't believe so. I know that this president does not harbor any resentments. He never has. He's, he was the one who picked up the phone to call Vice President Gore to make sure that he could make it.
FOREMAN: Gore won the peace prize for his campaign to sound an alarm on global warming, an issue where he and the president have different view points on how America should respond. When the Supreme Court certified George W. Bush's controversial victory in the Electoral College, Gore said he accepted the decision.
AL GORE: May god bless his stewardship to this country.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES: We agreed to do our best to heal our country after this hard-fought contest.
FOREMAN: But two years later, Gore began sharply criticizing President Bush for invading Iraq. GORE: He is arrogantly out of touch with reality; he refuses to ever admit mistakes, which means that so long as he is our president, we are doomed to repeat his mistakes.
FOREMAN: The White House would not comment today on whether the former rivals are still debating issues, like Iraq and climate change.
PERINO: And I believe it was a presidential gentlemanly and a friendly thing to do to invite Al Gore to the White House. They have a private meeting and I'm not going to intrude on that. Obviously, Vice President Gore will bring up anything that he wants to bring up.
FOREMAN: And this is the difference between winning the White House and almost winning the White House. When it was over, the president went back to being surrounded by all the White House machinery. Gore and Tipper went for a walk. They didn't have a car waiting for them and they were dogged for blocks by the media saying, come on, tell us what went on, tell us about the meeting. He very politely said over and over again, I'm not going to talk about it. It was a private meeting. They did talk about global warming some. They're both being very, very fair about it. But a very awkward and funny moment in a way as they kept walking and walking and the media kept chasing them and saying, talk to us, talk to us. He kept saying I can't, I won't. I'm not going to do it.
BLITZER: A nice gesture though on the part of the president to invite Al Gore to the White House. He is the Nobel peace prize winner.
FOREMAN: Sure. And it's got to be difficult, no matter how you look at it, to stand there side by side at that moment and one of you saying I could have sat down behind the desk.
BLITZER: He must wake up every morning thinking about it. That's life. All right, Tom, thanks very much.
The writers' strike and the race for the White House, some democrats courting the union and management, too. Could they have it both ways?
Plus, he is under attack by his GOP White House rivals. Mitt Romney joining us to respond to the latest criticisms.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The Hollywood writer strike is playing a surprising and growing role in the race for the White House, at least among democrats, but are some of the candidates trying to have it both ways by cozying up to management while backing labor? CNN Kareen Wynter is in Los Angeles. Kareen?
KAREEN WYNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the pickets are back up but talks are under way today between striking Hollywood writers and representatives for the studios and networks. Now in its fourth week, the strike is drawing the attention of the leading democratic presidential candidates.
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm proud to be with you in this fight.
WYNTER: John Edwards on the front lines of the Hollywood writers' strike; he and his fellow democratic presidential contenders have become increasingly vocal about the labor dispute.
EDWARDS: This is part of the continuing effort to make sure that people who work hard for a living are treated fairly.
WYNTER: Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Governor Bill Richardson have issued statements supporting writers in their battle with the TV networks and studios, but only Edwards has showed up at a picket line in person.
JAMES DUFF, STRIKING WRITER: It's really nice when Senator Clinton and Senator Obama send a note expressing support. They've talked the talk. But John Edwards is coming to walk the walk.
WYNTER: Lest anyone doubt Clinton's support for the cause, she's vowed to boycott a CBS News sponsored debate next month if news writers for that network join the strike.
Obama quickly followed suit and his wife, Michelle, turned down an invitation to co-host ABC's "The View" because their writers are on strike.
Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, earlier canceled an appearance on the show. The writers' guild applauded that.
JACK KENNY, STRIKING WRITER: I think that people who believe in labor unions shouldn't cross picket lines.
WYNTER: There's no mystery why the democratic candidates would support the strike. Labor unions are a critical source of fund- raising and organization for democratic presidential campaign.
EDWARDS: Thanks, guys, great to see you.
WYNTER: They're speaking out for writers, but the democratic front-runners have previously accepted donations from senior executives at some of the very companies the writers are striking against. Clinton, for example, took $4,600 in June from Peter Churnen, president of the parent company of the FOX Network and Film Studio. That doesn't mean writers will refuse her support.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm happy to have the endorsements of Senator Clinton and Senator Obama and anybody else who would like to say something.
WYNTER: Not saying anything are the republican presidential candidates neither of whom have taken a public stand on the strike, for instance, former actor Fred Thompson who, as a star of the show "Law & Order," used to read lines written by members of the Writers' Guild. In fact, his Hollywood labor ties include membership with the two largest acting unions. Wolf?
All right, Kareen, thanks very much; Kareen Wynter in L.A.
The homeland security department says it will suspend efforts to enforce laws against employing illegal immigrants. You can bet Lou Dobbs has something to say about that. Lou is standing by to join us.
Also, Oprah Winfrey will hit the campaign trail for Barack Obama. Can her star power help put the campaign over the top?
And Mitt Romney calls attacks by one of his republican rivals desperate. We're going to show you who he's talking about. That and a lot more right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack for the Cafferty file. Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, got some good mail on this. The question this hour is where are we headed if a conservative like Pat Buchanan says "America is coming apart at the seams and we may not recover?"
James writes from California, "Pat Buchanan may very well be right. 15 years ago he tried to warn us about illegal immigration and he was scorned. Now, he has been vindicated. I, too, feel that America is not the nation it once was. It's just a collection of tribes and special interests. We've gone from being the greatest nation in history to a business zone."
Donna in California, "Well, I knew it was cold outside but hell must have frozen over. I couldn't agree with Mr. Buchanan more. Do you know how scary that feels?"
Melvin writes, "Most of the time I consider Pat a nut job but this time he is mostly right. This country can't stand another eight years of Bush-type leadership with a dash of Reid and old what's her name in the house for seasoning. A dead horse can only be ridden for so long and trust me, this horse is dead."
Ann in Houston, "When a liberal like myself and a conservative like Pat Buchanan see things the same way, I'd say we might be headed towards a meeting of sane minds. I always thought Pat was intelligent just not sympathetic to my thinking. Now he's saying what I've been saying for years and I'd call that reason to celebrate."
Terry in North Carolina, "Pat makes a lot more sense when he's not running for office. If I already have his book, is there any point in buying yours?" You bet. John writes, "You have to be kidding me. Buchanan? He wants to replace zealots from both parties with himself. That which he cannot win through an election, he intends to usurp. Buchanan is not a conservative, he is a nut."
And Bill in Wisconsin, "A very wise man said recently it's getting ugly out there." Lou? Lou, Wolf?
BLITZER: Lou is coming up right now but you're that wise man, Jack. Stand by; you're going to be joining us for our roundtable. That's coming up, as well.
Let's check in with Lou Dobbs to see what he has on tap an hour from now, his new time 7:00 p.m.
Lou, what is going on with this department of homeland security report that they're not, repeat, not going to enforce some laws prohibiting the hire of illegal immigrants. What is happening on that? I know you're working on that story for 7:00.
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: That sounds like a news flash, doesn't it, over the past six years. The reality is this administration is a joke in so many ways, but in terms of homeland security and protecting our borders, I don't understand how they can keep the title homeland security because everything they're doing is designed to keep our borders wide open, our ports insecure. Only 95 percent of the cargo is going through without being inspected, just 95 percent. And the idea that they're not going to go after illegal employers, if you will, a nod to the socio ethnocentric activist groups that have sprung up to attack the plan to do a match on those social security numbers and to relay that information for enforcement of U.S. immigration laws. It's a joke. The administration is a joke. The Department of Homeland Security should just pack up the $36 billion and donate it to charity and get out of the way.
BLITZER: All right, Lou, thanks very much. I know you are going to have a lot more coming up on your show in one hour.
DOBBS: You better believe it.
BLITZER: Thank you, Lou, for that.
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