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Interview With House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer; Can Ron Paul Turn Money Into Votes?

Aired December 18, 2007 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, the Senate is moving toward final passage of a spending bill, but not before new skirmishes over Iraq war funding. Heading into an election year, both parties see the clock ticking and feel pressure to make progress in Iraq.
Against that backdrop, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Baghdad.

Here's our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee.

Zain, what is Secretary Rice hoping to accomplish?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: John, it's her third trip to Iraq this year. Secretary Rice is basically pushing for Iraqi leaders to deal with new problems and old.


VERJEE (voice-over): A surprise mission -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is back in Iraq, as Turkish troops and jets enter the stable north and pound rebel targets, while Iraqi leaders are still squabbling over power. Rice, standing out in bright red with a crystal clear message, don't dither. Time is almost up. Act now.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The surge that the president ordered, as well as the efforts of Iraqi security forces, have given a kind of window in which political reconciliation needs to take place.

VERJEE: The Iraqis were eager to underline security gains in Baghdad outside the fortified Green Zone.

HOSHYAR ZEBARI, IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER: Today was one of the rare moments where Secretary Rice had lunch in the Red Zone in Baghdad.

VERJEE: Rice stopped first in northern Iraq in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, not far away, the smoldering remnants of Turkish military attacks. Turkey crossed the border into northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebels considered terrorists by Turkey and the United States.

For Rice, a tough balancing act to prevent open warfare flaring in northern Iraq and keeping U.S. allies Iraq and Turkey on board.

RICE: No one should do anything that threatens to destabilize the north. VERJEE: Rice's critics say she has not conducted enough hands-on diplomacy herself in Iraq to accompany the military successes. She knows, too, that the clock is ticking on her time in office.


VERJEE: President Bush's goal of a stable and democratic Iraq depends in large part, John, on Secretary Rice's own diplomatic successes.

KING: But, Zain, just more talk of political reconciliation or any real prospects this time?

VERJEE: Well, it's really hard. Rice is in a difficult situation. Her critics say that she hasn't done enough. The Iraqi government itself is deeply divided. It has been paralyzed for months. There are different ethnic and religion factions as well, and they just don't trust each other. They don't want to do business with each other.

The government has not made any progress really in passing laws towards reconciliation that the U.S. government wants them to do, for example, how to share the big oil money -- John.

KING: Sounds like the same frustrations. Zain Verjee -- thanks so much, Zain.

It has taken nearly seven years, but President Bush next month will make his first visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories. It comes during a Middle East trip beginning January 8. He will begin in Israel on the West Bank. The president then heads to Kuwait, after that Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. Next, he will fly to Saudi Arabia, wrapping up his tour in Egypt.

Now new questions about Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign. His signature issue, the war on terror, is not resonating with voters the way it once did. And that may help explain his troubles in the early-voting states, states where Giuliani has not been as frequent a visitor as his rivals.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is here.

Bill, if he's not in Iowa or New Hampshire, where is Rudy?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Where is Rudy? Well, he has been spending a lot of time in Florida, his first must- win state. Now, where would you rather be this time of year, Iowa or Florida?


SCHNEIDER (voice over): What's the big news in the Republican race? Huckabee versus Romney, McCain's endorsements, Ron Paul's money.

Question. Where's Rudy? He is still the national front-runner, according to a new Gallup poll, which four other candidates -- Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney -- essentially tied for second. But the action is in the early voting states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

Giuliani is not leading in any of them. His pollster say he's not worried.

ED GOEAS, GIULIANI CAMPAIGN POLLSTER: We decided to go after a national strategy. That's what we have been running since the beginning. I think that's what you will continue to see.


SCHNEIDER: The polls show Giuliani's standing has eroded a bit since the summer. That could have something to do with what's happening in the Democratic race. Hillary Clinton does not look quite so inevitable.

SCOTT HUFFMON, PROFESSOR, WINTHROP UNIVERSITY: I think a lot of the support in South Carolina behind Giuliani, behind Romney, was the concept of, this is the person who can knock off Hillary.

SCHNEIDER: If Clinton is less of a threat, some Republicans may be going with the candidate they agree with more. Giuliani's signature issue has always been terrorism. But terrorism is no longer the voters' top concern. Among all voters, terrorism ranks fifth out of five issues. Among Republicans, it is in third place, behind the economy and illegal immigration, and declining in importance.

The agenda is shifting to domestic issues. Is Giuliani worried? Not according to his pollster.

GOEAS: I think what you have seen is not just the terrorism fading as an important issue, as much as there has been a layer added on to Rudy Giuliani, which is an understanding of the job he did as mayor, what he did to bring down welfare, what he did to bring down crime, what he did to cut taxes 23 times.


SCHNEIDER: Giuliani is a big-state man, Florida, New York, California. But those big states vote late. Giuliani would be happy to see the early-voting states split, say, Huckabee win Iowa, then McCain win New Hampshire, then Thompson win South Carolina, because happiness in politics is a divided opposition -- John.

KING: Thank you very much, Bill. We will keep track of the strategy.

And we know where Rudy is tomorrow. Our Wolf Blitzer interviews the former mayor in a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM live from Columbia, Missouri, Wolf and Rudy.

All eyes are on Iowa just 15 days before the first presidential contest. And five of the presidential candidates are campaigning there today. Two candidates are in New Hampshire, laying groundwork for the leadoff primary there on January 8.

White House hopefuls, though, are all over the map today, including South Carolina, Georgia, Illinois, and Texas. Rudy Giuliani is sticking close to home in New York.

The presidential contenders are racking up all these miles in the final days before the voting begins, Iowa and New Hampshire, of course, high on the must-visit list.

Jack Cafferty joins us now from New York.

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I will bet the people of Iowa are getting sick of these candidates right about now, don't you imagine?

KING: Unless they run a restaurant.

CAFFERTY: Well, that's true. Yes.


CAFFERTY: Members of Congress want to delay a new security rule that will require Americans to show passports at all U.S. border crossings next year.

The reason, they're hoping to avoid a repeat of what happened last summer when there was a massive backlog of passport applications. You will recall that maybe. Lawmakers say under part of the major spending bill that will be voted on later this week, the border passport rule would be moved back even further to June 1 of 2009.

The Bush administration says it opposes the measure. They want the Department of Homeland Security to go ahead with implementing the planned passport rule this coming summer.

But some Congress members, especially the ones in border states where tourism could be affected, insist the government should have more time to implement the law and do it in a way that won't cause the passport headaches we saw this year.

God forbid we have any headaches following 9/11 in an effort to secure this country.

Of course, that still leaves us with plenty of other headaches regarding the nation's open borders and the need to secure them and the lack of ability, it seems, to do that in -- What is it now? -- 9/11 -- it's almost six years, more than six years.

The question is this: Should the U.S. further delay a new border security rule in order to give people more time to meet stricter passport requirements?

E-mail your thoughts to or go to, where you can click on post a comment and write a thing on my blog, if you're so inclined -- John. KING: We will give it a peek. Thanks, Jack.

Bill Clinton reveals a surprise about one of his wife's top intentions, if she becomes president.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The first thing she intends to do is to send me and former President Bush and a number of other people around the world.


KING: But around the world for what? And what does the former President Bush think of this idea of helping a woman who fiercely criticizes his son?

Also, what would cause Mike Huckabee to say that, if you play one of his TV commercials backwards, you will get a secret message? You will find out.

And a U.S. ally's major milestone -- Japan successfully tests a missile interceptor. Could it stop potential threats posed by North Korea or Iran?


KING: Democratic leaders are wrapping up their first year in control of Congress. And President Bush says they don't have much to show for it. So, have Democrats failed to live up to their campaign promises on Iraq and other issues heading now into another election year?

Joining us now, the number two Democrat in the House, the majority leader, Steny Hoyer.

Mr. Leader, thanks for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I want to start with the fundamental promise Democrats made when they took power back in January, 11 months ago. They said they would end the war in Iraq. Now, I know there are a number of reasons that you could that has not happened, but let's set the reasons aside for a minute.

On that fundamental question, if I'm a Democrat or an Independent or even a Republican who decided in 2006 to vote for the Democrats because I was fed up with the war and I wanted it over, am I right to say as Congress prepares to go home for its Christmas break that Democrats in their first year failed on that fundamental question, the test of ending the war in Iraq?

REP. STENY HOYER (D), MAJORITY LEADER: No, I don't think so, John. You can be frustrated with the fact that the war in Iraq has not ended, but I think you would be wrong to say that we failed because, in fact, we passed through the House of Representatives on three occasions legislation which would have done just that, changed our policy in Iraq.

The Senate was able to pass only one of those which we sent to the president. He vetoed it. We couldn't override his veto because we don't have the votes. But certainly in terms of our effort, we tried at the beginning, we tried in the middle, and we have been trying it to this date to change policy in Iraq.

The American people want a changed policy. The 9/11 Commission recommended changing policy. The Baker-Hamilton Commission recommended changing policy. But this president has chosen to stay the course, and he was supported by a minority of the House of Representatives, but, nevertheless, a large enough minority to stop us from overriding his veto.

So, we have been fighting hard, we have been working hard. we have had oversight hearings. We have, in fact, changed some policies. But we haven't brought the war to a close. But not because of lack of trying, simply because that election was not an election for president. Frankly, this election is going to be an election for president, and that's how we are going to stop this policy and change our policy in Iraq.

KING: Let me ask you quickly...

HOYER: Sure.

KING: ... your party's vice presidential nominee just seven years ago, Joe Lieberman, Democrat, now Independent Democrat from Connecticut, endorsed a Republican in the race for president. He did so because he thinks your party has abandoned its tough positions, its necessary tough positions on national security.

I want you to listen to something Senator Lieberman said yesterday.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: In November, they would have a hard time convincing the American people who know we are at war against a brutal enemy that attacked us on 9/11 that they were prepared to do what is necessary to defend America.


KING: How much does that sting, a former vice presidential nominee of the Democratic Party saying his party is not ready to go into this presidential election year with a message on national security and the war on terrorism that you can sell to the American people?

HOYER: Well, I disagree with that entirely. The fact of the matter is that the Democratic Party has consistently been the party, with few exceptions, over a century of policy and national security issues that has been the party that has led us in defeating the terrorists of those times. Whether it was the Nazis, the communists, it was Democratic presidents who led to confrontation and defeat, ultimately, of those entities.

Let me say that I'm sorry that Joe felt called upon to do what he did, but our Democratic candidate, as we have done in the Congress -- the first bill that we passed through this House of Representatives was the 9/11 Commission recommendation bill to keep our country safe. Last night we passed $31 billion in additional funding so that we could confront terrorism and defeat the Taliban which was, after all, the site from which this country was attacked and which, frankly, we have distracted our attention from.

And as far as Iraq goes, we need to defeat terrorists. When we have said we ought to redeploy, we have made the caveat that we ought to make sure that we continue to confront and defeat terrorism.

So I think Senator Lieberman, who I -- is a good friend of mine, I respect him, but I think in this instance he is wrong. And our Democratic candidate is going to make sure that the American public knows that we are going to be committed to the safety of this country, to the safety of our people, and to the defeat of terrorists.

KING: Have to leave it there for today, but we will have you back when we may have a little bit more information from Iowa and New Hampshire on who that Democratic candidate might be.

The House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, sir, thank you for your time today.

HOYER: Thank you, John.

They are calling him the $6 million man. But just why are people giving so many donations to Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul?

And many people want to keep steroids and other banned substances out of the hands of baseball players, especially young ones. Now some members of Congress outline how they think that can happen.



KING: Now, with the holidays coming, what do you give the man who might not have it all, but at least has millions of dollars? Some think maybe staffers, extra time on TV. That's what the campaign for Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul hopes to get him.

So, what is fueling what some call Paul's money bombs?

Our Mary Snow is in Concord, New Hampshire.

Mary, you are looking into this. What are you finding?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the one big question is, can Ron Paul cash in on that popularity and turn it into votes? His campaign here says it's gaining momentum, but is it enough to make a difference? (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a volunteer working here in New Hampshire for the Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ron Paul.

SNOW: Here in New Hampshire, this is the test to see if Ron Paul's money talks. On the heels of raising a record $6 million online in a single day, his campaign here in this early primary state is on a mission.

JARED CHICOINE, RON PAUL NEW HAMPSHIRE CAMPAIGN: To turn out our people on Election Day. And with three weeks to go, that's -- that's the focus.

SNOW (on camera): And, really, it is turning people out now?

CHICOINE: It is turning people out now.

SNOW: Translating that Internet support to votes?

CHICOINE: Into votes, absolutely.

SNOW (voice-over): Paul has been in single digits in the polls here. And the campaign first has to get out his message.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, he is going to let the military know that the Americans -- you know, Americans as a whole want to pull out of Iraq.

SNOW: Paul is the only Republican presidential candidate advocating quick withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and he calls for less U.S. intervention overseas. Those are positions that haven't made him popular with Republicans in this state, say pollsters.

And watch how a group of 21 undecided Republicans in Iowa reacted to what he had to say during last week's Republican debate.

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's no need for us to threaten the Iranians. We could immediately turn the Navy around and bring them home.

SNOW: Paul says these are a small number of Republicans and is targeting other voters.

PAUL: Because we appeal to a lot of independent voters and disgruntled Republicans, Republicans who have dropped out, who might not have voted in the last go-around. So, they are not being polled. We also attract a lot of young people who have not voted before.

SNOW: Paul's libertarian positions are a big draw. And his campaign consistently emphasizes constitutional rights.

ANDY SMITH, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE: They are in favor of smaller governments, less taxes, certainly a much, much smaller federal government. But then you have got a lot of other things that attract libertarian voters, like legalization of marijuana.

SNOW: University of New Hampshire political science professor Andy Smith says, while Republicans in this state seem to agree with libertarians on fiscal policy, they are not in synch on social issues. And, to them, Paul is a hard sell.


SNOW: And Ron Paul is going to make that sell here in New Hampshire starting tomorrow. He will be campaigning here for a few days. And his campaign plans to roll out a new ad as early as Thursday -- John.

KING: Mary Snow in Concord, New Hampshire -- Mary, thank you.

And, so, where does each candidate stand on health care, Iraq, illegal immigration, and other issues?

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is looking at the candidates in their own words discussing these issues, many of them hot-button, issues online.

Abbi, tell us what you are finding.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: John, this is new for voters in this election, all of this, online video, many of the candidates speaking about the issues that are important to them.

And there are Web sites going through all this and compiling information, so voters can size them up side by side. From YouTube, first of all, in their YouTube section, they went to -- in YouChoose -- they went to these candidates and said, send us a video that best represents you on each of these issues.

But because all the material is out there, there are other people at it as well. This Web site is It's is a huge video wall of material, candidates, some of them long shots you may not have heard of, and where they stand on a whole range of issues., as well, one we should definitely mention, that has a breakdown of all the candidates and where they stand -- John.

BLITZER: I check it every day.

Abbi Tatton, thanks so much.

Mike Huckabee is firing back at conspiracy theorists who are seeing things in his new ad.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you play the spot backwards, it says: Paul is dead. Paul is dead. Paul is dead.

(LAUGHTER) HUCKABEE: So, the next thing you will know, somebody will be playing it backwards to find out the subliminal messages that are really there.


BLITZER: We will look beyond the Beatles tribute and read between the lines of this Christmas campaign controversy -- Jack Cafferty, Gloria Borger, and Jeff Toobin standing by. The best political team on television also takes on Bill and Hillary Clinton and their attempt to reach out to the president's father.

And a judge gets involved in the flap over destroyed CIA tapes. Is the Bush White House trying to pass on -- pass off this political hot potato?



Happening now: Many people want answers about the destruction of those CIA interrogation tapes. So, why is the White House referring questions elsewhere?

Also, Bill Clinton talks about doing some work with former President George Bush that would help Hillary Clinton. It's a surprise to many people, including George H.W. Bush.

And just when you thought the presidential campaign couldn't get more strange, there is now talk of subliminal messages, playing commercials backwards, and a reference to the Beatles.

I will have this, plus the best political team on television.

Wolf Blitzer's off today. I'm John King. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A federal judge is calling the Bush administration on the carpet today -- at issue, those destroyed CIA videos of terror suspects being interrogated. In question, did the administration defy court orders to preserve those tapes? A court hearing set now for Friday.

Here is our White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

Ed, what is the administration's reaction to this ruling?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are not saying much, John. But, on Friday, there will be a showdown in federal court here in Washington. The administration will finally have to answer some tough questions about whether or not they violated that 2005 court order to preserve what could be evidence of torture.


HENRY (voice over): It's a White House version of political hot potato. DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that's a question that is best put to the Justice Department.

HENRY: Ask spokeswoman Dana Perino about a federal judge ordering the Bush administration to answer questions about the destruction of interrogation videos...

PERINO: I'm referring you to the Justice Department.

HENRY: Is the White House making sure the CIA does not destroy any other tapes or potential evidence in terror cases?

PERINO: I'm going to refer you to the Justice Department.

HENRY: But, in fact, the Justice Department is not commenting on the judge's order either and is not being cooperative with congressional investigations to see if any laws were broken in the destruction of the CIA tapes.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey is refusing to provide any information to the House and Senate intelligence panels, charging that would interfere with his own preliminary inquiry.

REP. PETE HOEKSTRA (R), MICHIGAN: We in Congress, we have a job to do, and we are going to do it. You and the executive branch, you have got a job to do. You go do your job, we're going to do our job.

HENRY: The top Republican on the House intelligence panel says it's not good enough for the executive branch to investigate itself. And he may support congressional subpoenas to force answers.

HOEKSTRA: There were misleading statements that came to the Intelligence Committee from the community regarding these tape. You know, we have a constitutional responsibility to do our job and to hold the community accountable for the work that it has done or the work that it has not done.

HENRY: Will the White House comply with those subpoenas?

PERINO: I'm going to refer you to the Justice Department.


HENRY: Now, in a letter to Senate leaders last week, Attorney General Mukasey said he is just concerned that, if Congress moves forward with investigations, they could immunize witnesses, and that could get in the way of the Justice Department's own preliminary investigation.

But obviously any resistance to Congressional oversight could spark even more questions about whether the White House or the administration in general is hiding something -- John.

KING: Dead right about the more questions.

Ed Henry at the White House. Ed, thanks so much.

HENRY: Thank you.

KING: A judge calls the government into court to explain the destruction of the CIA interrogation tapes.

So, do we think they'll get to the bottom of this scandal?

The best political team on television is here to get to the bottom of that.

Joining me is CNN's senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. He's the author of the book "The Nine".

CNN's Jack Cafferty -- his new book is called "It's Getting Ugly Out There."

Also with us, CNN senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

So, Jack, a judge will clear this all up by Friday and we'll will have a nice weekend, right?

CAFFERTY: I don't know if he'll clear it all up. But my sense is a federal judge will probably have a better shot at getting to something resembling the truth in all of this than that entire collection of miscreants we call the United States Congress. They all stand up and talk about we have a moral obligation to do blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah -- that the NSA spy scandal...


CAFFERTY: ...they do nothing. The Valerie Plame thing, they do nothing. The White House's own lawyer, Harriet Miers, told the CIA don't erase the tapes. Congress makes noise. At the end of the day, Congress does nothing. The Bush administration has been thumbing its nose at Congressional oversight for seven years.

What makes you think they're going to stop now?

KING: I can't wait to see how the transcript service deals with that one.

Jeff Toobin, you've been a clerk for a federal judge. You've worked in the Justice Department. You know the agencies very well who are now involved in this.

Should one person go first or should they all be looking at this?

And maybe the better question is will we get answers?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this investigation is likely to be an a slow boat to nowhere if it's left to the Justice Department. I mean you can see why Congress thinks that, you know, that the executive -- one part of the executive branch can't investigate the other. And, you know, time matters in a situation like this. And the argument that, well, Congress will immunize witnesses and that will jeopardize a criminal case, that's easy to deal with it. Congress just won't immunize anybody. But they can still ask for documents. They can still ask for voluntary corporation. Not everyone will take the Fifth Amendment.

So I think Mukasey's argument is likely to fall on deaf ears in Congress, especially as it appear the leading Republican is lining up with the Democrats.

KING: And, Gloria, the everyday American watching this at home thinks what?

BORGER: I think the everyday American sort of questions what was being covered up here -- if anything was being covered up. The big question you have to think about is was there some kind of obstruction of justice here?

Why did the CIA destroy interrogation videos?

Is it because there is something on those videos, like perhaps torture or something akin to torture?


BORGER: You're laughing, Jack. You probably think there is.

CAFFERTY: Well, yes. I mean exactly. Exactly. That's a cover-up. If it's not a cover-up...

BORGER: But we don't know.

CAFFERTY: ...then you don't have this woman standing there going, you'll have to talk to the Justice Department. You'll have to talk to the Justice Department.


BORGER: But we don't know and that's...

CAFFERTY: I mean come on.


BORGER: We don't know and that's what the judge wants to get to the bottom of.

TOOBIN: All right...

KING: Quickly, Jeff, because then we want to move on to some fun, actually.

TOOBIN: Well, no, I just think that the -- you don't mess with a federal judge.

KING: Right. TOOBIN: And the federal judges are not accountable to anybody. And Judge Kennedy is going to want some answers. And, you know, you can say to our Ed Henry, go talk to the Justice Department. But a federal judge is not going to accept that as an answer in court on Friday.

CAFFERTY: Here come the judge.

KING: A serious legal issue here and very serious questions for the Bush administration.

Let's move to something that's more fun out on the presidential campaign trail.

Former president, and, apparently, future secretary of state, Bill Clinton, talking about what would happen if Hillary Clinton is elected president and how she might take steps to repair what they believe is the damage to the U.S. image on the world stage.

Let's listen.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, the first thing she intends to do -- because you can do this without passing a bill -- the first thing she intends to do is to send me and former President Bush a number of other people around the world to tell them that America is open for business and cooperation again.


KING: As if often the case, when Bill Clinton speaks, there's that comes in after. And that would be a statement, in this case, from the office of George H.W. Bush, who says he knows of no such things.

He says this: "Former President Bush whole-heartedly supports the president of the United States, including his foreign policy. He has never discussed an around the world mission with either former President Bill Clinton or Senator Clinton, nor does he think such a mission is warranted."

Much ado about nothing, Jack, or?

CAFFERTY: Well, does anybody think that George H.W. Bush is going to go on tour with Bill Clinton and trash the administration of his son?

I mean what is President Clinton thinking about there?


CAFFERTY: And here's the other thing...


CAFFERTY: We're in the middle of... TOOBIN: That's not really (INAUDIBLE)...

CAFFERTY: We're in the middle of a very serious presidential campaign. For the second night in a row on this program, on this particular segment, what are we looking at?

Sound bites from Bill Clinton.

BORGER: Well, that's the problem. That's exactly the problem. The Clinton campaign the Hillary Clinton campaign doesn't like it either. But there seems to be kind of a separate Bill Clinton campaign going on here.

I mean I've listened to that and I think is this about what Bill Clinton would do or is this what Hillary Clinton would do?

He's gotten in the way a lot these days.

TOOBIN: Well, can -- can you put me down for much ado about nothing on this?

CAFFERTY: There you go.

TOOBIN: I mean come on. Hillary -- Hillary Clinton has said she's going to send Bill Clinton. She said she's going to send Colin Powell. I'm sure she'd send President -- the former President Bush if he'd want to go.

But the point is, a Democratic administration says we're going to start cooperating around the world again. And that's an important message. And I think that's the only message that's going out here. And I don't really think there's any controversy to speak of.

KING: Let's call a brief time out here.

Much more to come, though, including lots of questions being asked about Mike Huckabee's Christmas ad.

Were there subtle symbols in the background?

The candidate answers back.

And Fred Thompson makes a new push to get his message out.

But is it too little too late?


KING: Back now to the best political team on television -- CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin; CNN's Jack Cafferty; and CNN's senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Let's move on to another campaign controversy of sorts. This one, I suspect, will pass quickly. But it's interesting today.

And let's begin by showing a snippet of the new Mike Huckabee campaign commercial that we showed first last night.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Are you about worn out of all the television commercials you've been seeing -- mostly about politics? I don't blame you. At this time of year, sometimes it's nice to pull aside from all of that and just remember that what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ.


KING: Now, many took that white cross behind him -- which is a book shelf -- many took that as some way an effort by Governor Huckabee to send a signal. He's already talking about Christmas -- but to send an additional signal to the Evangelical base he's so counting on in Iowa. So Governor Huckabee was asked about that today -- are you trying to send a secret message?

He says this.



B. CLINTON: Well, the first thing she intends to do...


KING: OK, I guess we can't find the Governor Huckabee reax (ph). But here's what he said. I'll paraphrase it for you. He was indignatious (ph). I've got a bookshelf behind me -- a bookshelf. Now I have these people saying it's a subtle message. He went on to say -- and he's a very funny man -- if you play the ad backwards, it says Paul is dead, Paul is dead, Paul is dead.


KING: What he's saying here is he's just trying to say Merry Christmas to people -- a simple message. He says he did it off the cuff and -- yes, he was not trying to -- that's not a cross on purpose, by any means.


CAFFERTY: Well, I've -- you know, I've seen the insides of a lot of churches and none of the crosses I ever saw had Christmas balls in the corner and -- like the -- like the bookshelves behind Mr. Huckabee.

Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. Christ-mas is the elongated version of Christmas. Mike Huckabee is a minister in the Baptist Church and he's wishing everybody a Merry Christmas.

What's the big deal?

TOOBIN: Yes, but -- well, I think the big deal -- I certainly believe him, that there was no secret message there.

But, you know, when I was in Iowa last week, you hear the Huckabee ads on the radio and the first thing you hear is, "Mike Huckabee, Christian leader." Then you see an ad like this. You know, it has been since Pat Robertson in 1988 -- who, also, by the way, won the Iowa caucuses -- that we've had as explicitly a religious campaign as Mike Huckabee is running.

And I think that ad and the radio ads are all part of something unusual and extraordinary in American political life.

BORGER: But -- but Mike -- Mike Huckabee is not the only one running who's running a religious campaign. I mean they all are, on the Republican side, to -- to a certain degree, because they are competing for those Evangelical voters. And today was sort of funny to me, that Mitt Romney came out and kind of slyly tried to criticize this Christmas Huckabee ad by saying, you know, I hope that he's sensitive to the diversity of faiths in this country.


BORGER: Suddenly you've got Mitt Romney talking about that.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Don't forget (INAUDIBLE).


TOOBIN: I mean, actually, Gloria, I don't think they all running that kind of ad. I mean, certainly, Rudy Giuliani is not talking about much the Ten Commandments since, you know, we know an itemized list of those he's violated.

BORGER: Well, but they knew we wouldn't believe him.

TOOBIN: And John McCain doesn't talk that way.


BORGER: Well...

TOOBIN: So, no, I mean I think it's a very different kind of campaigning.

CAFFERTY: There's another way to look at this...

BORGER: Well, but McCain...

CAFFERTY: ...and the way to look at it is that the Evangelicals in Iowa are more organized and politically active than the rest of the voting population. And that's probably true in a lot of places in this country. So maybe the reason we're seeing these kinds of ads isn't the fault so much of the candidate as it is of the apathy of the general public.

You've got one segment of the population who's up in arms and ready to go, and that's the Evangelicals. And so, you know, the candidate who can capture that vote probably will win Iowa.

BORGER: And...

CAFFERTY: That's just the lay of the land there.

BORGER: And, Jeff, you're right about McCain, and that's why he's not really running in Iowa, you know?

TOOBIN: Is it...



BORGER: Even though he got the endorsement of a newspaper...

TOOBIN: So it's -- so you either run as a religious candidate or don't run in Iowa?

I mean that's...

BORGER: Well, you...

TOOBIN: ...that's quite a commentary right there.


CAFFERTY: You can run (INAUDIBLE)...

BORGER: Well, you have to understand where your chances -- where your chances are the best. And Rudy Giuliani doesn't have a chance in Iowa, either.

KING: Is it such a bad thing, though?

If you're going to run on your faith, Mike Huckabee doesn't hide it. Some people use issues or send signals and do try to do it in a subtle way. He is right out and open about who he is.

Anything wrong with that?


TOOBIN: I mean I think it's a risk, frankly...


TOOBIN: I mean because the rest of the country, you know, is watching this campaign, too. And our tradition in this country -- certainly Ronald Reagan didn't talk about his faith as openly. George Herbert Walker Bush didn't. The current president did, to a certain extent.

But I think tying your campaign so directly to a religious appeal, when, of course, his occupation -- his profession is as a minister -- I think that risks alienating the part of the country that says, you know -- you know, that's fine for you...

KING: I need...

TOOBIN: ...but we're looking for a president.

KING: I need to end it here today for time, but it's a fascinating subject.

We will be back to it.

Jeff Toobin, Jack Cafferty, Gloria Borger, thank you all very much.

And critics say Fred Thompson's presidential campaign has been going at a slow trot. In Iowa today, the Republican is trying to get things moving, telling voters "saddle me up."

Our Dana Bash is in the campaign trail -- on the campaign trail out in Iowa -- Dana, too little too late?


You know, Fred Thompson started a bus tour that's going to keep him here basically until the January 3rd caucuses. And it is something that is -- it is sort of an aggressive approach to campaigning that many of his supporters thought that he should have done from the beginning when he jumped in.

So I asked him on his bus today whether or not it was a mistake to wait until now for this.


FRED THOMPSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I've been working hard for several months now, you know?

I think sometimes the media had a notion, you know, that because I had been in the movie business and I'd be well scripted that I'd be slick, that I'd be perfect. And it was a standard nobody else was held to it. But I think I was held to it.

And so they concentrated on the negative. And I've been doing basically the same thing the entire time. I even started out with a bus. So now we're back on the bus and having a good time doing it. And, you know, people are entitled to their opinions, but I haven't lost an election yet.


BASH: So you hear there Senator Thompson is downplaying the idea that he's doing anything different on the campaign trail with his barnstorm of the State of Iowa.

But I was with him today and I can tell you, it is different.


BASH (voice-over): Behold a candidate suddenly trying to go from great GOP disappointment to surprise contender in record time.

THOMPSON: Well, it's a little bit late in the process for me to be coy. I want you to know that I think I'm that man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go get them, Fred.

THOMPSON: OK, buddy.

BASH: A 15-day bus tour to 50-plus Iowa cities -- Fred Thompson is trying to shake the rap that he has no fire in his belly.

How's this for fire, on values?

THOMPSON: They're under assault from a left-wing, big government, high taxing, weak on national security, Democratic Party that's just licking its chops to take over the reins of the government.

BASH: His red meat is redder, his arguments for why he should be president sharper.

THOMPSON: All the experts know that. That's the kind of world we live in. It is not the time for on the job training.

BASH: He even makes a point of lingering with voters instead of escaping out a back door -- a common Thompson criticism.

But catching fire now will not be easy. Many frustrated conservatives Thompson was supposed to attract have flocked to Mike Huckabee or stuck with Mitt Romney. Thompson is banking on still undecided and unsatisfied Iowa voters, like Mike Demaroy (ph), giving him a second chance.

(on camera): So why are you back?

MIKE DEMAROY: Just to see if he has anything new to say.

BASH (voice-over): Thompson is playing up detailed policy plans that haven't gotten much attention, like Social Security.

THOMPSON: We're going to be in the red in a very few years. We will have eaten through that so-called Social Security surplus. And we'll will be using our kids' money and our grandkids' money.

BASH: And a crowd favorite in Iowa -- his immigration plan.

THOMPSON: If you continue to violate the law and provide these sanctuary cities to lure illegals into this country, we're going to cut off federal funds. It's just that simple.


BASH: I asked Senator Thompson today whether he thinks he's found his mojo finally. He laughed and said maybe part of his problem is that he thought -- he never thought that he lost his mojo.

But, known, it was very clear in talking to Senator Thompson that he has been studying the history of the Iowa caucuses and that despite the fact that we are very, very close -- less than -- or about two weeks away from the Iowa caucuses -- anything can change. And that is why he is spending all of his time in the state, to try to make sure that it changes at least in his benefit -- John.

KING: Dana Bash in Decorah, Iowa.

We'll see if the senator is right.

Dana, thanks very much.

A new security rule would require you to show your passport at all U.S. border crossings. Some lawmakers want to delay it.

Are they right?

Your e-mail to Jack Cafferty coming up.

And the bombshell baseball steroid report hits hard in Congress -- what some lawmakers want to do to keep performance-enhancing drugs out of your kids' hands.


KING: On our Political Ticker, Congress is responding to the bombshell report linking some baseball players to illegal steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. Senator Chuck Schumer and Charles Grassley are proposing new legislation. Schumer wants to make possession of human growth hormones illegal without a valid prescription. Grassley would make it illegal to sell the substance DHDA to anyone under 18.

Many electronic voting machines in Colorado are unreliable. That's according to the Colorado secretary of state, who's decertified three of four companies that make the machines in that state. Many fear the move could cause disarray in Colorado this presidential election.

And remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out the Political Ticker at

Jack Cafferty joins us again now from New York -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is should the U.S. further delay a new border security rule to give people more time to meet stricter passport requirements?

Stephen writes: "Delaying the requirement for passports at the land's borders won't eliminate the passport delays like we experienced last summer. It'll just postpone them for a year. People will forget all about the requirement until a few months before the deadline approaches and then everybody will overload the passport offices with their applications, just like last year -- out of sight, out of mind." Kathy in Omaha, Nebraska: "Of course we should once again delay the passports. We should also give everybody crossing our borders a welcome basket, a map, personal guide and a hotel room. This do nothing government and all agencies, in my opinion, are overpaid, under worked, ignorant excuses. As for states along the border, what's more important -- securing the United States or additional income? The entire situation makes me sick."

Jason in Louisiana: "No, they shouldn't give people more time. This is past the point of being ridiculous. We've had six years to get this fixed. Nobody seems to want to get it done. Congress is too busy posturing, funding pet projects. The president's masquerading as a conservative, acting like a liberal. Both Congress and the White House are so unbelievably out of touch with the wants and needs of the American people it is almost unfathomable."

Robert in Tacoma, Washington: "I think it's about time that passports were required for crossing our borders. I spent 24 years active military, with all but four of those overseas. I needed a passport wherever I went."

Waymon in Peoria, Arizona: "My wife and I recently applied for a passport and received them within three weeks. I don't understand the problem. Why should the deadline be extended to accommodate those waiting until the last minute to apply?"

And Mike writes: "Screw the passports, finish the fence." -- John.

KING: Mike makes a point.

CAFFERTY: He does.

KING: Jack Cafferty.

Jack, thanks so much.

Ed Muskie seemed to tear up. Mitt Romney got misty, too.

But what would happen if Hillary Clinton ever teared up on the campaign trail?

Jeanne Moos tries to stay dry-eyed, next.


KING: She's campaigning -- giving speeches and wooing voters with NBA legend "Magic" Johnson. But there just might be one thing Hillary Clinton cannot afford to do on the campaign trail.

Our Jeanne Moos has this Moost Unusual look.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Presidential candidates wouldn't get caught dead sobbing. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just leave me alone (ph).


MOOS: Politicians try to keep their emotions in check. But twice lately, Mitt Romney has gotten misty, as the papers put it. For instance, describing when he heard that his Mormon church would finally accept African-Americans.


ROMNEY: Even to this day, it's emotional.


MOOS: Which prompted this question to Hillary Clinton.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you ever tear up?

When was the last time?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you know, when I had to get up at 4:00 in the morning in Des Moines I teared up.



MOOS: She laughed off that question and she'd probably laugh off this one.

(on camera): Can Hillary afford to cry, politically?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's running against men. She can't afford to cry. She has to play the man's game. It's a men's game now.

MOOS (voice-over): Sure, men cry. Bill Clinton cried at memorial services. Even when there was no tragedy, we've seen him moved to tears merely by music. Notice who isn't crying beside him.

(on camera): Do you cry yourself much?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I -- I -- I don't think I'd like it, no. I want someone that's strong.

MOOS (voice-over): It would be the kiss of death for Hillary Clinton to pull an Ellen DeGeneres. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW," COURTESY WARNER BROTHERS TELEPICTURES)

ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST: Oh, God. I'm so sorry. I'm just not able to pretend.


MOOS: Politicians must pretend or risk ridicule. Back in 1987, then Congresswoman Pat Schroeder was criticized for crying as she announced she would not run for president.




MOOS: She ended the speech taking refuge in her husband's arms.

Actually, we saw Hillary do that once. Remember the "60 Minutes" interview when a light fell over?


H. CLINTON: You know, an average person -- Jesus, Mary and Joseph.


MOOS: Hillary ended up in Bill's arms being comforted.

A female politician's career can survive low intensity tears after a disaster like Katrina.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Their lives are in shatters.


MOOS: Maybe the role model for optimum tear output for a female politician was Britain's "Iron Lady."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With tears in her eyes, Margaret Thatcher said farewell.

MARGARET THATCHER: Ladies and gentlemen...


MOOS: As for the presidential race...

(on camera): I picture that grueling campaign would make you want to cry, you know, every other day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or they should all have like one big group cry.

MOOS: Call it the Iowa caucuses cry.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


KING: And don't hold your breath for that group cry.

Our Wolf Blitzer interviews Rudy Giuliani tomorrow. A special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM live from Columbia, Missouri.

Now you can take the best political team on television with you anytime, anywhere. Download the best political pod cast at

Thanks for joining us.



Kitty Pilgrim iss sitting in for Lou -- Kitty