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Mitt Romney Delivers Speech on Faith; Washington Confronts Mortgage Crisis

Aired December 6, 2007 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And happening right now; Mitt Romney explains his faith, but barely mentions it by name. Are Americans are still confused about what it means to be a Mormon?
Plus, did the White House sit on a new intelligence report about Iran's nuclear weapons program? This hour, what did the president know? When did he know it?

And Washington finally confronts the mortgage crisis. Will that bail out politicians accused of dragging their feet? Stand by for the best political team on television.

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

This hour, Republican Mitt Romney may still have some explaining to do. The White House hopeful's big speech today about his Mormon faith impressed a lot of people, but it left others wanting.

CNN's Dana Bash is covering Romney's remarks down in Texas. She's been there all day.

He tried to cover a lot of bases in this speech, but there are doubts that persist. Update our viewers on what's going on, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's no question there are doubts that persist, Wolf. And Romney aides privately admits that this kind of major speech does have risks, like not pleasing everybody, but they also will tell you, privately, that this was as much about tactics as it was about substance, because the Iowa caucuses are fast approaching. Their candidate is not doing as well as he once was. So, this is a chance, they say, for GOP voters to get a fresh look at Mitt Romney.


BASH (voice over): For evangelicals skeptical a Mormon is really a Christian, he offered this...

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind.

BASH: For those concerned a Mormon president would be beholden to a church they don't understand or trust, this...

ROMNEY: No authorities of my church, or of any other church, for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions.

BASH: And this is the only time he mentioned his religion by name...

ROMNEY: I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it.

BASH: ... aimed at those who wish he would disavow its most controversial teachings.

ROMNEY: My faith is the faith of my fathers. I will be true to them and to my beliefs. Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they're right, so be it.

BASH: A defining moment for a number of reasons, including the greatest threat to Romney's candidacy right now, a former Southern Baptist preacher, Mike Huckabee, making major inroads among Iowa Evangelicals like John Stilley.

JOHN STILLEY, IOWA VOTER: I'm turned off because of his religion. Nothing against his religion, but what I know about it, I just don't like that religion.

BASH: But anyone looking for Romney to better explain Mormonism will be disappointed.

ROMNEY: No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith, for if he becomes president, he will need the prayers of people of all faiths.


BASH: One influential Southern Baptist leader Romney invited says the candidate passed his test.

RICHARD LAND, PRESIDENT, SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION ETHICS AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY COMMISSION: Judge me on my policy positions, judge me on my vision for the country. Don't judge me on my religious faith. Now, I think that will resonate, at least with Baptists, because we do believe in the separation of church and state.


BASH: But many Christian conservatives also strongly believe that faith firmly has a place in the public square. And that's why, over and over, Romney tried to reach out to those voters. He tried to speak their language, Wolf. He talked about the fact that the founding fathers spoke of God. And he also made clear that he thinks that pushing for secularism is wrong.

BLITZER: And tell our viewers, Dana, why he decided to deliver this speech where you are right now, in College Station, Texas.

BASH: Well, this is the home of the George H.W. Bush Library, the 41st president. And this is a place where he's given a speech in the past. He gave a foreign policy speech here back in April. And it also a place where the former president really wants to welcome speeches like this. Other Republican candidate, like Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, have been here. It's important to note that the former president made a point of saying that he was not endorsing Mitt Romney by having him come here.

But this is also an interesting place, Wolf, because we are in the state of Texas. We're about 90 miles from Houston. And that's where John F. Kennedy gave his major speech about his faith, his Catholicism. And that, of course, was a big issue in his race back in 1960.

BLITZER: Dana, thank you -- Dana Bash reporting for us.

About six million Americans are members of the Mormon Church. Some tenets that are unique to Mormons: They believe Jesus visited ancient America, that God has a physical body, and that there is no original sin. They also believe in holding proxy baptisms for the dead. The church teaches that the Garden of Eden was not in the Middle East, but was in Missouri.

So, what did he know and when did he know it? Right now, that's what some people are asking about President Bush. It's been three days since the world learned about a U.S. report that says Iran actually stopped its nuclear weapons program back in 2003. And now there are questions over when President Bush actually first became aware of even that possibility.

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

A lot of people are looking at how the administration is answering that question.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, a very sensitive issue. And the fact is this is a rare instance when one of the president's comments was contradicted by his own press secretary, prompting a clarification today at the White House.


HENRY (voice-over): White House Press Secretary Dana Perino admitted President Bush could have been more accurate about when he learned that Iran's nuclear weapons program may have been halted.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can see where you could see that the president could have been more precise in that language. But the president was being truthful.

HENRY: The president's candor is at issue because, at his Tuesday news conference, dominated by questions about the new national intelligence estimate on Iran, he said this:

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was John -- Mike McConnell came in and said, "We have some new information." He didn't tell me what the information was.

HENRY: But it turns out, at that meeting, the president did get at least some information about Iran halting its program, according to Perino's new account of that August briefing by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell.

PERINO: McConnell told the president if the new information turns out to be true, what we thought we knew for sure is right: Iran does, in fact, have a covert nuclear weapons program, but it may be suspended.

HENRY: Perino also now says McConnell specifically told the president in August that this information might cause the intelligence community to change its assessment of Iran.

PERINO: He didn't get any of the details of what -- what the information was, in terms of what the actual raw intelligence was.

HENRY: Perino said McConnell stressed it would take a long time to check out the new intelligence carefully. But the key question is, given that private uncertainty in August, why did the president continue to publicly suggest Iran was an imminent threat?

PERINO: He's told there's new information that -- confirming what we thought to be the case: that they were pursuing a nuclear weapon. And they had actually a nuclear weapons program previously undisclosed.


HENRY: So, you can see, the White House is trying to emphasize the one part of that NIE that shows that Iran once had a nuclear weapons program over the other part of the report which shows that they suspended it four years ago. That in part is because it suits their political interests, but also because the president believes that Tehran is still a threat -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He did get some support, though, from two key NATO allies, Germany and France today, at least in trying to keep the pressure on Iran.

HENRY: Absolutely. And the White House is trying to highlight the fact that he does have some key European allies who are still saying and saying exactly what the president is, which is that Tehran is still a threat, and there needs to still be tough sanctions in place.

The problem, though, as you know, is that Russia and China, which were already skeptical of sanctions, even more skeptical now because of this new intelligence -- Wolf.

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

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely mind-boggling.

A very large number of Americans want to deny social services to illegal aliens. A lot of us do. A new "Los Angeles Times"/Bloomberg poll asks, which social services if any illegal immigrants should be allowed to legally use? Thirty-three percent -- that's one third of all the people -- say none. Fewer than half of those surveyed, 46 percent, say they should get emergency medical care.

An even smaller percentage, 40 percent, said they should be able to attend public schools. Only 22 percent say they favor limited driver's licenses for illegal aliens; 18 percent say they should be eligible for food stamps. And only 12 percent think they should get in-state college tuition rates.

But Americans aren't heartless when it comes to illegal aliens. A strong bipartisan majority of 60 percent of us say those who haven't committed crimes should be able to become citizens if -- if they pay fines, learn English, and meet other requirements. The poll suggests that, although illegal immigration is not the most important issue on people's mind, it's a key concern; 81 percent of those surveyed in this poll say they consider it important, including 27 percent who say it's one of the country's most pressing problems.

So, the question this hour is this. Are you in of denying illegal aliens social services, like public schools and emergency medical care? E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thanks very much.

Jack's part of the best political team on television. We are going to have some analysis of what's going on. That's coming up later this hour.

As Mitt Romney explains his faith, another well-known Mormon offers curious advice on learning about their church. Listen to this.


GLENN BECK, HOST, "GLENN BECK": Go ask a Mormon if you really want to know. You will never get them to shut up about the faith.


BLITZER: Glenn Beck, part of own CNN family, always outspoken on a lot of issues. You are going to find out why people who have an anti-Mormon bias, in his words, they're pinheads.

Republican candidate Mike Huckabee is also talking about religion, and he's doing it with a TV and movie martial arts star.

Videotapes of terror detainees interrogated by the CIA, why would the CIA actually destroy those videotapes? New information coming in right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Mitt Romney's big speech on his Mormon faith today is putting the spotlight on that religion. One prominent Mormon is Glenn Beck. He's the author of a new bestseller, "An Inconvenient Book." That's the title. He's the host of his own show on Headline News.


BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the speech.

You were there. You went down to College Station to listen to Mitt Romney. What did you think?

BECK: Yes. I thought it was a home run. I didn't know what to expect. You know, I didn't know what he was going to do, if he was going to get into doctrine or whatever.

And I was hoping that he would -- I mean, if I was giving the speech -- and this is why I will never be president -- I would have said, you know, if I am a Mormon and I vote for another Mormon because he's a Mormon, I would be a pinhead. If I see a Mormon running for president and I won't vote for him because he's a Mormon, I'm also a pinhead. There's more to the story.

He said that in a much nicer way. You know, but he's running for president.

BLITZER: But the question is, I assume he delivered this speech because he and his political strategists were nervous that some Christian Evangelicals don't like the Mormon faith, and he wanted to try to reach out to them.

Do you believe he converted any of those who see the Mormon faith as a cult? Did he win over some political supporters?

BECK: Oh, you know, Wolf, I don't know, because, I mean, normal people might have questions about the faith and say, well, I don't know about this. I don't know about that. But believe me, go ask a Mormon if you really want to know. You will never get them to shut up about the faith.

They will be over with the bikes and the white shirts and ties before -- before you know it. So I don't know.

If you really want to know, I wonder how many people can be converted who hold that position. I spoke to Jerry Falwell right before he passed away. I talked to him off the air and on the air about this very topic.

And he said two things to me. On the air, he said, it's not an issue. We're not electing pastor and chief.

The thing he told me off the air was, he said, while I disagree with the Mormon theology, he said every Mormon that I ever met has been a decent human being. Well, that's not, of course, universally true. There are bad people in all faiths.

That's the way we should be looking at this. I'm not going to -- as a Christian, I'm not going to not vote for Joe Lieberman because he's a Jew and doesn't look at the messiah the same way. I voted for Joe Lieberman.

I'm not going to vote for somebody because they are a Presbyterian or a Catholic. That doesn't make sense to me. That doesn't sound like America.

BLITZER: On that point, I'm sure millions and millions of people totally agree.

Now, you have an incredible story yourself and you tell some of it in your new bestseller "An Inconvenient Book." But tell our viewers a little bit what attracted you to the Mormon faith because you weren't born a Mormon. You converted.

BECK: No. Yes, honestly, to tell you the truth, my wife wouldn't marry me unless we had a faith. And so we went on a church tour and...

BLITZER: Because she wasn't a Mormon either.

BECK: No, she wasn't. And it was the last thing I wanted to be because, you know, I -- look, back in the 1800s, when Mormons first started running for the Senate, the papers actually said that Mormons had horns on their head. And I don't know if mine are showing right now, but, you know, I heard all of this stuff about Mormons and I did my own investigation on several churches. What attracted me to this, honestly, was the people and the families. I got to the point to where I saw the families and I saw the difference that it made in people's lives, and I wanted it. And if they had Kool-Aid in the basement, I got to the point to where, OK, I will drink the Kool-Aid.

Unfortunately, they don't, which would be nice if they did, because then I could wash down all of the cookies that we seem to eat. But I just wanted my life to be changed.

I honestly wanted that moment of redemption. Because I was -- Wolf, in 1999, I was a guy that was struggling to pay a rent of $695 a month. I'm not that guy anymore. My life has totally changed, and it's not just about money. It is about a wealth of friends and a wealth of peace, of peace of mind and peace of conscience.

BLITZER: Here's a question that -- sorry to interrupt -- that is intriguing. Let me get your thought.

His father, Mitt Romney's father, George Romney, was governor of Michigan. He ran for president back in 1968, and at that time virtually no one cared that he was a Mormon. It really wasn't an issue. It wasn't a problem at all.

Why is it a problem right now? What happened in America?

BECK: It's not. Wolf... BLITZER: What has happened in this country that all of a sudden Mitt Romney is finding that he's got to address this issue?

BECK: I don't think it is a problem. I think it is a problem for the media. I think it is a problem for those who have an agenda in their own conservative party.

I mean, I really, really like Mike Huckabee. He is a fine, good man. I know him. I have met him. But for him to come out and say, well, I don't know if I would vote for a Mormon or not is really, honestly, reprehensible.

That's just not the way we do things in America. There is no Church of England here. You don't have to subscribe to a certain faith.

As Mitt Romney said in his speech today, it's not about our faith. It's about our values, it's about our principles.

I just want to know a man believes in something, that it makes him a better person, makes a better family, which makes better neighborhoods, and makes a better country in the end. And will actually stand up for what he believes in.

That's the way you vote for a president.


BLITZER: And this note: You can catch Glenn Beck seven nights a week at 7:00 and 9:00 p.m. Eastern on our sister network, Headline News.

On the same day as Mitt Romney's major speech on faith, another Republican presidential candidate is going online to tackle the same issue.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is standing by watching this story.

Abbi, who else is talking about faith?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's Republican rival Mike Huckabee, perhaps not surprising, former Baptist preacher, but he's discussing his faith in this online video with martial arts star Chuck Norris.

It's one of a series of Webisodes the two men taped a couple of weeks ago. In this one, Mike tells Chuck how his faith guides him. Chuck Norris is becoming a staple on this Web site ever since this endorsement ad was really a hit last month.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My plan is secure to border, two words: Chuck Norris.


TATTON: It's one of the reasons that Huckabee's Web site is enjoying increased Web traffic, something that the campaign is now trying to capitalize on, pushing an online mobilization drive today, trying to get their supporters to reach out and spread the word online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you for that.

President Bush makes an overture to a man he's previously said is part of an axis of evil, writing a personal letter -- yes, a personal letter -- to North Korea's Kim Jong Il. We have details.

Also, videotapes of terror detainees being interrogated by the CIA, they could have shown whether or not the CIA crossed the line. So, why would agency destroy them?

Details coming in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Carol, what's going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a profile is emerging of the young man who went on a deadly shooting spree at an Omaha, Nebraska, shopping mall. State officials say 19-year-old Robert Hawkins was a ward of the state for several years. They say he moved through mental treatment facilities during much of his teenage years.

As you know, yesterday, Hawkins walked into a department store. He opened fire, killing eight people, wounding five others, and then killing himself.

In just the past hour, CNN has learned that the Central Intelligence Agency destroyed videotapes of terrorism detainees being interrogated by its agents. In a letter obtained by CNN, CIA Director Michael Hayden writes that the tapes were destroyed in 2005 to protect the agents' identities. It mentions -- quote -- "other means used to gain information from detainees." It also said the tapes were destroyed to protect agents and their families from retaliation by al Qaeda sympathizers.

An Austrian teenager who was held prisoner for eight years in a basement is now getting her own television talk show. The 19-year-old media adviser confirms that she will host a show on Austrian TV. She was 10 when she was abducted in 1998 on her way to school. She escaped from her basement bunker in a Vienna suburb 16 months ago. Her captor killed himself hours later.

And now, Wolf, she's going to be a local TV star in Austria.

BLITZER: What a story that is. Carol, thanks very much for that.

It was the speech Mitt Romney wasn't always convinced he had to give, but some Christian conservatives nudged him along the way.


LAND: I said, well, Governor, I think that your Mormon faith is not an absolute deal-breaker with evangelicals, but you have got to close the deal.


BLITZER: So, now that the speech is over, did Mitt Romney close the deal? I will ask Jack Cafferty, Gloria Borger, John King, part of the best political team on television. And they will also take a crack at this one. Should Republicans just simply give up on the Latino vote? The Latino vote apparently flocking back to Democrats.

And Hillary Clinton says thanks, but no thanks to one of the world's biggest singing stars. Could that be politically correct?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: He said what he wanted to say, but was it what some people wanted to hear? Right now, many are wondering if the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney eased the concerns of those uneasy about his Mormon faith.

Also, even with a Spanish-speaking president, the Republican Party appears to be losing the support of Hispanics. You may be surprised to find out why.

And President Bush wants to help many homeowners struggling with their mortgages, but, to others, he essentially says, you're on your own. Will that keep the nation's economy out of the danger zone? All that, plus the best political team on television.

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

Even Mitt Romney couldn't ignore the obvious comparisons between John F. Kennedy's famous speech on his Catholic faith and the Massachusetts Republican's remarks today.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is standing by. He's watching this story for us.

Bill, the comparisons are clearly there. So, how similar was the speech we heard today from Mitt Romney to the speech in 1960 from JFK?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, some similarities, but more differences. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): 1960, John F. Kennedy speaks in Texas about religion and politics.


JOHN F. KENNEDY, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic.



SCHNEIDER: 2007, Mitt Romney speaks in Texas about religion and politics.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion.

SCHNEIDER: Theodore Sorensen was a Kennedy aide who helped JFK write his 1960s speech. Could Kennedy have delivered Romney's speech?

TED SORENSEN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL FOR JOHN F. KENNEDY: No. Mr. Romney's position on many of the issues is very different from JFK's.

SCHNEIDER: Kennedy said:


KENNEDY: I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.


SCHNEIDER: Romney said:

ROMNEY: In recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meeting.

SORENSON: Romney emphasized the role of religion in public life more strongly than JFK did or would have.

SCHNEIDER: Kennedy said...


KENNEDY: I believe in a president whose views on religion are his own private affair.


SCHNEIDER: Romney scoffed at the views that "religion is seen as merely a private affair, with no place in public life."

ROMNEY: I'll offer on how perspectives on how my own faith would inform my presidency if I were elected.

SCHNEIDER: In this book, "The Making of the President 1960," Theodore White quotes Sorenson as telling a friend, "We can win or lose the election right there in Houston on Monday night."

SORENSON: That speech, which was fashlly broadcast and frequently re-broadcast, certainly took a lot of the poison out of the anti- Catholic issue and reassured all reasonable people.


SCHNEIDER: Romney's speech aimed to heal a narrower divide between Mormons and Evangelical Christians. At the same time, it opened a divide between Americans who believe faith should play a central role in public life and those like JFK, who believe it shouldn't -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

Good history there.

For more now on Romney's speech, we're joined by part of the best political team on television.

CNN's senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's here in Washington.

CNN's Jack Cafferty is in New York. His best-seller is called "It's Getting Ugly Out There".

And CNN chief national correspondent, John King. He's in Boston. That's his hometown.

What did you think -- Jack.

Do you think he hit a home run or did he strike out?

What do you think?

CAFFERTY: Well, I think that -- I think we're a little off topic. This whole issue is not about religion, it's about politics. And the political reality is that Mitt Romney's got a problem. In a recent CNN/Opinion Research poll, 19 percent of the people we questioned said they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon for president.

Where do most of those people reside?

Within the Evangelical churchgoing community.

And where are a lot of those?

In the state of Iowa -- where Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher, has recently surged, and Mitt Romney, the Mormon candidate, has dropped rather dramatically in the polls. It's not a new phenomenon. Forty years ago, Gallup did a poll on this very same subject and the very same numbers came out. Seventy-five percent of the people 40 years ago said it wouldn't make any difference. The rest of the people 40 years ago said it would.

So not mentioning the essence of what is the political reality in this speech today, it's hard to see where he's done himself a whole lot of good.

BLITZER: Gloria, what do you think?

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, on the one -- I'm sort of conflicted about it, to be honest, Wolf. I mean, you know, on the one hand, I think it was a terrific political speech in that he made us feel good about ourselves as Americans and what we believe about diversity in faith. And it was well delivered. And he looked -- he looked quite presidential. On the other hand, I agree with Jack. I don't think he quite handled his Evangelical Christian problem, because he didn't specifically address the differences between Mormonism and Christianity, although he did say that Jesus Christ is the savior of mankind. He didn't say Jesus Christ was his own personal savior -- but he did say the savior of mankind.

BLITZER: He addressed...

BORGER: Now, it might make them happy.

BLITZER: He addressed that issue, John.

I want you to listen, because this was a rather eloquent moment and this was a really well crafted speech that he delivered.

Listen to this little clip.


ROMNEY: I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers. I'll be true to them and to my beliefs. Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they're right, so be it. But I think they underestimate the American people. Americans do not respect -- respecters -- excuse me -- believers of convenience. Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs even to gain the world.


BLITZER: All right, what do you think?

I believe that was the only time, John, he specifically mentioned the word Mormon.

KING: It was, Wolf, and that was a critical line in the speech. Two audiences today -- number one, Evangelicals, yes -- some of who don't think Mormons are Christians. Mitt Romney was trying to say I'm just like you. But there's a bigger issue at play in this speech and that was the defining line when it came to that bigger issue. This is a candidate who has changed his position on abortion, who is more strident on immigration and gay rights now than he was in his early days as governor of Massachusetts.

Many out there in the Republican Party are asking is this man a man of conviction?

What makes him tick?

This is Mitt Romney's chance to show his character -- not just his faith, but his character, as well, at a time when many Republicans, especially because of the attacks by his opponents, are questioning, again, just who is he?

BORGER: I totally -- I totally with agree with John. That line was so key, because he was telling people I do believe in something. For those of you who think I don't believe in anything and I change my views every other year, I believe in faith.

CAFFERTY: But I don't know that that that was -- I don't think anybody doubted that he believed in something. It's well known that he's a member in good standing of the Mormon Church. Obviously, he has strong religious beliefs.

He didn't address the unease -- for want of a better word -- and that's an awkward one -- with which a certain segment of prospective voters view his candidacy because they're not sure about voting for a Mormon. And that didn't get addressed.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by for a moment.

We're going to take a quick break.

We have a lot more to talk about with some of the best political team on television -- including Hispanic voters and the GOP.

Is their relationship turning sour just as Republican presidential candidates are about to reach out to Spanish speakers this weekend?

Plus, the politics of the president's plan to stop the mortgage meltdown. We'll talk about it with the best political team on television right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: A new poll shows Hispanics veering away from the Republican Party, even as GOP presidential candidates prepare to debate on Spanish Language television, Univision, this Sunday.

Will they tone down their war work cry on illegal immigration for an Hispanic audience?

We're back with our best political team on television, Gloria, Jack and John.

What do you think -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Well, I think it's going to be interesting. I don't care about watching debates, but I might watch this one. After Romney and Giuliani came close to scratching their eyes out on the subject of illegal aliens in that last debate down in Florida, it will be fun to see what happens.

I had a story earlier on THE SITUATION ROOM. There is little tolerance in this country for the illegal alien population. Less than half of the people in a poll that was done very recently want illegal aliens to get any of the social benefits. They don't want them to get food stamps. They don't want them to get emergency medical care. They don't want their kids to go to public schools. They don't want them to have in-state tuition breaks. One third of all of the people surveyed said they shouldn't get any social benefits.

So it's going to be interesting to watch the candidates for president try to reconcile that movement in the American populace with the obvious need to attract Hispanic voters if they want to be elected.

BORGER: But where the public has really always been divided on this is should you give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship and, if so, how do you do that?

Because the majority of Americans do believe that there should be some way to get to citizenship. And what's interesting about this poll, Wolf, is that the Bush administration, which actually tried to find a way to do it, didn't get any credit for trying to do it.

BLITZER: Because this poll, John, shows -- this Pew Hispanic Center number -- do you identify or lean with a certain party?

Back in July of 2006, 49 percent of Hispanics said Democrat. That's gone up now to 57 percent. On the Republican side, it's gone from 28 percent down to 23 percent. And this is a very fast growing block out there.

KING: Wolf, take the numbers you just noted, the lean toward the Democrats -- the heavy lean toward the Democrats -- and add in this one. This survey also projects there will be one million more Hispanic or Latino voters in 2008 than in 2004.

And where are they?

In potential swing states like New Mexico, like Arizona, like Nevada, like Florida. This is a critical constituency in the 2008 election and Gloria is dead right. There's a tightrope the candidates are walking on because they have to appeal to those Independent and conservative voters who think illegal immigration is the number one issue in the country and yet you have this growing population that is alienated by the tough rhetoric.

So this is the quicksand for the politicians this year. BLITZER: And, Jack, as we go into this Spanish language debate on Sunday -- it's a forum. This other question was asked, who does a better job dealing with illegal immigration?

Forty-one percent said Democrats. Fourteen percent said Republicans. Twenty-six percent said neither. Twelve percent don't know. But that's a clear, clear decisive plurality for Democrats.

CAFFERTY: Well, you said -- I think it was Gloria who said President Bush didn't get any credit for trying to do something about creating a path to citizenship. The reason that immigration reform plan failed is the American public wants the borders of this country secured before they talk about any path to anywhere. And they didn't believe that under that immigration reform plan the government would close the borders.

They haven't done it for how many years?

And that's why that amnesty plan -- which is what it was -- failed. And until that security issue is addressed, the public is not going to buy any of this stuff.

BORGER: And John McCain understands that better than anyone else. I mean I was with him in New Hampshire and he said to me, that's what I misunderstood. I didn't understand that people didn't trust us in the government to secure the borders before we started talking about a path to citizenship for anyone.

BLITZER: John, let me quickly change the subject to the president's plan to help some homeowners who could face foreclosure because their adjustable rate mortgages are going to go up and they're not going to be able to afford it. He's going to freeze that mortgage for a certain number of them -- maybe hundreds of thousands of homeowners.

What's the political fallout from this?

KING: Well, a couple of quick points, Wolf.

Number one, it shows the president is trying to stay in the game and trying to address an issue that is one of the sources of the economic anxiety across the country right now. Some of the Democrats don't like it. It is a limited plan. But it does show the president trying to step in to one of the big crises of the moment.

The bigger issue is that anxiety, which, even as President Bush fades from the scene, he's trying to help here. The plan will be debated and criticized in Washington.

But this economic anxiety, whether it is the mortgage issue, whether it is health care, whether it is illegal immigration and its impact on the job climate is more and more eclipsing Iraq as the defining issue of the 2008 election.

So, as we watch the political debate over the sub-prime mortgage crisis unfold, remember, this will dominate next year -- perhaps in many states, if not most states, eclipsing Iraq as the number one issue.

CAFFERTY: It's going to give the Republicans something to run on, too, and they're a little short of those things. I mean this is a good, middle class program. It's a win for the lenders, as well. Foreclosures are like divorces -- nobody wins. If the banks take your house, then they have to sell it. And the real estate prices have come down. So they're going to sell it as at a loss. You lose your home, they're stuck with a house that isn't worth what it was when they sold it to you. Nobody wins.

It's a voluntary program, but there's an incentive for the banks and the lenders to go along with this.

BORGER: But, you know, Jack, the Republican presidential candidates have been pretty tentative about this, because they don't want to appear to be endorsing anything that looks like a government bailout of anyone.

BLITZER: All right...

BORGER: and so, you know, this -- this gives them a little bit of a political problem here, too.

BLITZER: Gloria, thanks very much.

John, thanks to you.

Jack, don't go anywhere.

We've got The Cafferty File coming up.

CAFFERTY: You say thanks to them and then you say don't go anywhere to me.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.


BLITZER: I always say thank you. I'm a very polite guy.


BLITZER: President Bush is engaging in some very, very personal diplomacy by writing a letter to the leader of North Korea -- a country he once called part of an axis of evil.

Our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee shows us what it's all about -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the letter from the president was hand carried and delivered to the North Koreans. The timing is important.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) VERJEE (voice-over): Commander-in-chief and now, more and more, diplomat-in-chief. President Bush sends a rare personal letter to a member of what he called the axis of evil -- North Korea's Kim Jong Il.

TOM CASEY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: This was deemed to be an appropriate moment for there to be a clear communication of the U.S. policy, again, from the highest levels of the government.

VERJEE: The goal -- hold Korea to a New Year's Eve deadline to tell all its nuclear secrets.

JOE CIRINCIONE, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: The North Koreans have a lot of mistrust about U.S. intentions. They need to be reassured. And they also have issues of respect. They want to be shown respect by the United States. So the personal letter is a particularly important gesture.

VERJEE: The letter was addressed, "Dear Mr. Chairman," and signed "sincerely" -- by hand -- by President Bush. The president wrote similar letters to Russia, China, Japan and South Korea -- its negotiating partners.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has pushed President Bush to the center of the diplomatic stage. After seven years of being hands off, in Annapolis last week, the president was hands-on in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. He'll fly to the Middle East in January to give peace a personal boost.

The letter to North Korea the latest sign the administration hawks, like Vice President Cheney, are being outmaneuvered.

CIRINCIONE: Regime change and use of the military as the major instrument has failed, and that by going toward the pragmatic diplomacy that many in the administration have been urging, including the secretary of state, you can actually accomplish the president's goals more quickly, more efficiently and certainly more cheaply.


VERJEE: There have been signs of progress with North Korea. Its nuclear reactor is being disabled now. And in the president's letter he wrote that, "The situation is now at a critical juncture."

Many administration officials say they hope that the president's involvement means that the momentum for the process can keep going -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much.

We'll see if Kim Jong Il writes a reply to the president.

It's something Congress hasn't done in more than 30 years. And if you have a car, it will almost certainly impact you. We're going to have the details of a new energy bill.

And are you in favor of denying illegal immigrants social services?

Jack with your e-mail.

And a lot more coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Checking our Political Ticker, Lamar Alexander has been tapped to round out the GOP leadership in the Senate. The former Tennessee governor and presidential candidate was elected Republican Conference chairman. That's the third ranking leadership post in the Senate. He beat out North Carolina Senator Richard Burr. Lamar Alexander replaces Arizona's John Kyl, who has been moved up to the number two job of Republican whip now that Trent Lott is retiring.

The House has given its stamp of approval to the first major increase in vehicle fuel-efficiency requirements in three decades. The new standards are part of an energy bill that repeals billions in oil company tax breaks and encourages the use of renewable fuels. The bill passed by a vote of 235-181. It faces a likely filibuster in the Senate and a veto threat from the White House that's coming in already.

Remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our political ticker, at

Let's go back to Jack.

He's got The Cafferty File in New York -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: It's mind-boggling, isn't it?

They finally get around in the House to passing an energy bill. It's not going to get through the Senate. If it does, it'll be vetoed by the president.

BLITZER: That's right.

CAFFERTY: And they talk about oh, we've got to be energy independent. We've got to be -- nonsense.

The question this hour -- are you in favor of denying illegal aliens social services like public schools and emergency personal medical care?

Chris in Thousand Oaks, California: "I'm not for letting anybody die in the parking lot of a hospital just because they're here illegally, but our emergency rooms have become the destinations for any illegal with a cold, fever or flu because they know they won't be turn turned away -- and that's wrong. I do, however, believe that all public education should be denied to anyone here illegally. Let's get our classroom sizes back to where they need to be."

Nancy in Westerville, Ohio writes: "I say no one who is illegal in this country should get any social services. They simply need to come into the U.S. via legal ways. It's as simple as that." Stuart in Florida writes: "To punish children in public schools for their parents' wrongdoing is not the American way. They should have the same opportunity as children whose parents have committed crimes."

They should have the same -- yes.

Thaddeus, Sterling Heights, Michigan: "My parents immigrated to the U.S. 50 years ago. They waited their turn, paid their dues and earned the right to live here. Rewarding those who come here illegally is a slap in the face to those like my parents, who came here legally, and relegates those still waiting to come here legally to sucker status."

And, finally, Matt in Florida writes: "Clearly, as human beings, we can't just leave someone for dead out on the street. But there is absolutely no sense in giving illegal immigrants discounted tuition or driver's licenses. People seem to forget that the key word here is illegal -- not immigrant."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to We post more of them online, along with video clips of The Cafferty File -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good work, Jack.

Many, many thanks.


CAFFERTY: Well, you're welcome.

BLITZER: See you here tomorrow.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty with The Cafferty File.

Has Hillary Clinton changed the station on her own campaign's theme song?

Jeanne Moos has a Moost Unusual look at the politics of political campaign music. You're going to want to hear and see this.



BLITZER: Like many of us in the news media, Jeanne Moos has been keeping a close eye on the presidential campaign of Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton. But instead of campaign themes, she's reporting on some theme songs.

Here's her Moost Unusual report from the campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What's wrong with this picture?

What's wrong with the picture is the sound.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've waited so long for this day to come.

MOOS: Waited for the day when Hillary Clinton ditches, dumps, drops -- Celine Dion?


CELINE DION: High above the mountaintop...


MOOS: It was the Hillary campaign's theme song -- picked by the people in a contest on Hillary's Web site. It beat out songs like...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a believer.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not what you want to do, is it?


MOOS: Folks even sent in their own campaign song suggestions.


MOOS: And the winner was announced in a critically acclaimed diner spoof of the "Sopranos" ending.



CLINTON: We have some great choices.

MOOS: Bill and Hillary flipped through the jukebox, finally settling on the winner.


MOOS: They went to black -- the same way the "Sopranos" ended. You had have to go to Hillary's Web site to hear the winner.


DION: You and I...


MOOS: But is anyone who follows the campaign hearing it these days?


MOOS: Chris Welsh a CNN producer in Iowa, where a waitress brought him cocoa on a snowy day.

WELSH (SINGING): High above the mountains.

Does that ring a bell?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It rings a bell, but I don't really listen to a lot of her. I just know of the song.

MOOS: These days, as ABC News first reported on their blog, Hillary's new song seems to be by a band called Big Head Todd and the Monsters.


BIG HEAD TODD AND THE MONSTERS: Yes you can change the world.


WELSH: I feel like a loser for not having heard that before.

MOOS: Neither did we. It's called "Blue Skies," written at the request of astronauts as a tribute when the shuttle program relaunched after the Columbia disaster.

You still hear Celine Dion now and then at Hillary events.


DION: I can see your love...


MOOS (on camera): But if Hillary hasn't completely dumped Celine, she's at least cheating on her.

(voice-over): Which led to this posted comment: "I hope this doesn't mean we have to listen to Streisand now."


WELSH: I haven't heard any Barbra Streisand, no.

MOOS: Streisand did just endorse Hillary.

The campaign didn't return our call asking for a comment on Celine Dion's diminishing role diminishing even if those who follow the campaign can't get Cline out of their head.


MOOS: It was originally an Air Canada jingle. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DION: ...were meant to fly.


MOOS: Grounded.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Thanks, Jeanne.

And now you can take the best political team with you anytime, anywhere. Download to the best political pod cast for the biggest political stories and the best campaign coverage --

That's it for us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.


Christine Romans sitting in for Lou -- Christine.