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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Presidential Candidate John Edwards; Tom Tancredo Leaves Presidential Race

Aired December 20, 2007 - 18:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush is trying hard not to seem like a lame duck. And he apparently would like to influence the campaign for his job, as well as the legislative agenda in his final year in office.
Mr. Bush gave a little more than usual to reporters eager to pin him down on the 2008 presidential race.

Our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is here.

Ed, what did you take away from the president's news conference? He says, off the record, he makes comments, but now he seems to be moving a little bit on the record as well.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, he clearly has some opinions about this race. He kept saying he doesn't want to comment on the 2008 campaign. But then he did.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice over): At his final press conference this year, President Bush kept insisting he didn't want to be dragged into next year's battle to replace him.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a good attempt to get me in the race.

HENRY: But he could not resist sticking a toe into the water when asked what qualities his successor needs.

BUSH: If I were asking questions to people running for office, I would say, what are the principles that you will stand on in good times and bad times? What will be the underpinning of your decisions?

HENRY: And then another toe.

BUSH: How do you intend to get advice from the people you surround yourself with? Who are you going to surround yourself? And what process will you have in place to ensure that you get the, you know, unvarnished opinion of advisers?

HENRY: He would not quite bite when pressed on Republican Mike Huckabee's charge his foreign policy has been arrogant.

BUSH: I suspect my name may come up a lot. And what the American people need to do is sort through the rhetoric and reality. HENRY: Mr. Bush scoffed at Bill Clinton's suggestion that as president his wife would send the 41st and 42nd presidents on a global tour to restore America's image.

BUSH: Well, 41 didn't think it was necessary. So that sounds like it's going to be a one-man trip.

(LAUGHTER)

HENRY: The president declared he plans to help unify his party after the primaries, and gave a hint of how he wants the general election framed.

BUSH: I believe we will keep the White House. I believe ours is the party that understands the nature of the world in which we live and that the government's primary responsibility is to protect the American citizens from harm.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: But selling the public on national security may not be so easy. The president acknowledged that, while there have been security gains in Iraq this year, there still needs to be more political reconciliation.

And, on Afghanistan, he confirmed his administration is conducting a top-to-bottom review about why that war effort has hit such a rough patch -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Ed, regarding the race, obviously, he has these kind of off-the-record sessions where he gives us a little bit more of his opinion about who he is supporting. Why do you suppose that he is moving just an inch ahead here? It seems like he is just itching to get into this race?

HENRY: Well, I think, clearly, the president has opinions about the race. He is a political animal, just like everybody else around town.

He ran and won twice before. And he knows a lot of these candidates on both sides. He has had some positive things in general to say about some of them. In one book, he even had some fairly positive things to say about Hillary Clinton.

But I think the bottom line is, he does watch it like a lot of other people. And when you have reporters begging you practically to comment on this, it's almost irresistible, I guess -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Irresistible. OK. Thanks. Thanks again, Ed.

HENRY: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: The very people who want to replace the president are scrapping to get to the Oval Office.

Right now, on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is mired in a tight three-way race for Iowa. Now, just look at our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll of likely Democratic caucus-goers. Clinton is at 30 percent. Barack Obama gets 28 percent, and John Edwards just two points behind that.

Now, trying to break out of this tight pack, Clinton is taking a new tack.

Our CNN's Jessica Yellin is in Des Moines, Iowa.

Jessica Yellin, this involves two issues that Americans say they deeply care about.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It does, Suzanne -- those two issues, security and poverty.

Senator Clinton began this week telling voters here in Iowa why they should like her. But now she's on the offensive in a gentle way.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): Iraq is back on the campaign trail. In a new push, Senator Clinton is using the Bush administration's mistakes there to make her case here.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is tempting, any time things seem quieter for a minute on the international front, to think that we don't need a president who's up to speed on foreign affairs and military matters. Well, that's the kind of logic that got us George Bush in the first place.

YELLIN: It's a new line clearly designed to draw a contrast with her chief competitor, Barack Obama. The Clinton campaign says he does not have as many years of foreign policy experience as she does. She delivered it literally backed up by a high-powered group of her husband's foreign policy and military advisers.

Senator Clinton is walking a fine line, trying to break away from the pack without getting branded as negative, a label many of her aides believe is unfairly attached to her.

In another effort to set Clinton apart from her closest competitors, the campaign is making it know Clinton has more union support than John Edwards, though he has positioned himself as the working man's candidate. Unions backing her include six million members. His include membership of just over three million.

And then there's this line.

CLINTON: I believe that the economic policies of the Clinton administration in the '90s were not only very important in helping to create more than 22 million new jobs, but we lifted more people out of poverty in the '90s than at any other time in our history. So, I have not just given speeches about this. I have worked on this for 35 years.

YELLIN: A broadside John Edwards pushed back on quickly. JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She said something about people talking about poverty, but what are we going to do about it? Let me just be clear. Ending poverty in this country is the cause of my life.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Now, Senator Edwards wasn't the only one to push back. Barack Obama's campaign pushed back, responding quickly to Senator Clinton's comments today, pointing out that Barack Obama was the only one who opposed the Iraq war from the beginning and saying that he will do more to -- quote -- "turn the page on Bush/Cheney foreign policy" -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Jessica, very interesting that campaigns are paying attention not only to style, but also substance, those issues that really matter to the voters.

Jessica, thanks again.

John Edwards is not done saying what he thinks about Hillary Clinton talking about poverty. Regarding the suggestion that Clinton is invading his political turf, Edwards will be right here to say what he thinks.

And, in Iowa, it's turning into a knockdown, drag-out fight between Republicans Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. Our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows that Huckabee holding on to this new front-runner status. He leads Romney 33 percent to 25 percent. Rudy Giuliani is a distant third with 11 percent.

Our CNN's Dana Bash is covering the Huckabee campaign in Iowa.

And, Dana, obviously, Huckabee seems to be tired of all the attacks and is firing back?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he is.

His strategy to keep his surprising lead here is quite interesting, Suzanne. What he's trying to convince Iowa voters, who love an underdog, is that that's exactly what he still is. He tells them -- quote -- he's "someone who Washington and Wall Street do not want to succeed."

But he's walking a fine line. He's a candidate who relishes and benefits from his nice guy image. But he's also making it pretty clear he's not afraid to fight back.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice over): For Mike Huckabee in Iowa, being a front- runner means the crowds are suddenly bigger and attacks from opponents stronger. So he as changed his stump speech, now pleading with Iowa voters not to believe his rivals.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This nonsense -- what I'm asking you to realize is that when people get desperate, they say desperate things and sometimes dishonest things.

BASH: But in defending his own record, Huckabee is now questioning Mitt Romney's.

ROMNEY: Nice to see you today.

BASH: Romney's new ad hits him for issuing over 1,000 clemencies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: The difference, Romney got tough on drugs like meth. He never pardoned a single criminal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Huckabee tells a crowd about a case before Romney in Massachusetts. An Iraq war vet with a juvenile crime record asking for clemency to be a police officer.

HUCKABEE: Out of curiosity, let me see your hands. How many of you, if that were on your desk, how many of you would have granted that pardon for that young man? Let me just see.

OK. How many of you would have not granted that pardon for that young man? OK. One.

BASH: Then he goes in for the kid. My opponent said no.

Now, let me ask you, do you believe he acted in the best interest of that young man and his state? Or did he act in the best interest of his own future political career?

That's judgment, folks. you have just decided whose judgment you believed was better.

BASH: The clear message -- Romney made crass decisions for political gain. Huckabee believes in fairness and redemption.

That plays well with Christian conservatives that dominate his crowds and drive his popularity.

Brenda Carnahan (ph) home-schools her children. She's never voted in a caucus, but will for Huckabee.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just feel that he represents what our values are the closest of any of the candidates.

BASH: The former preacher still pounds away on those values -- opposition to abortion, gay marriage. He's even trying to turn questions about a subliminal cross in this ad to his benefit.

HUCKABEE: What's wrong with our culture when we can't mention that Christmas is the birth of Christ without having a bunch of people go completely berserk about it?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, he got a lot of amens from the crowd for that line and for a few others, Suzanne.

But he also got a very pointed question from one voter, who wanted to know what Huckabee plans to do about what he called the 12 to 14 percent of voters who simply are not religious. Huckabee was very quick with his response. He said, you don't have to be religious to be an American -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Dana Bash -- thank you so much, Dana.

Jack Cafferty now joining us from New York with the very latest.

Jack, what are you looking at?

British drivers who get caught talking on their cell phones or sending text messages while driving can now be sent to jail. That's a wonderful idea.

A new law means people can now be charged with dangerous driving. It carries a two-year prison sentence, maximum, and an unlimited fine. The old law in Britain -- motorists faced a lesser charge of careless driving -- carried a $120 fine and three points on their license.

The new law came about because of growing public concern over drivers using handheld phones, which were banned while driving in 2003. But, because of a lack of aggressive enforcement and relatively mild penalties, vast numbers of drivers ignored the law and continued to endanger themselves and everyone else on the road by yakking on their cell phones, just like they do in this country.

The British government says drivers are four times more likely to crash if they're holding a cell phone or sending a text message while driving.

And it's not just cell phones the Brits are going after. The new measure also punishes other aspects of dangerous driving, things like smoking, racing, reading a map, reading a newspaper, or making sudden lane changes. They should also add applying makeup.

So, here's the question: Is it too harsh a punishment to jail people for using cell phones while driving?

You can go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post your comment on my blog there -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Jack. I won't tell you whether I apply makeup while driving. But I know a lot of people who use cell phones, so...

The governor of California gives the Bush administration a piece of his mind.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: It's another example of the administration's failure to treat global warming with the seriousness that it actually demands.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Arnold Schwarzenegger is hot over a global warming issue and he promises to sue the Bush administration. Find out why.

Also, many of you want to know how Rudy Giuliani is doing after a health scare. We have an update now that he's out of the hospital.

And John Edwards is here. I will ask if one Democratic-turned- independent-senator's endorsement of a Republican is an embarrassment to the Democratic Party.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: John Edwards has a message for Hillary Clinton. Right now, some people suggest that she's invading the political turf of his signature issue. Now Edwards wants Clinton to know what he thinks about that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Senator Edwards, thank you so much for joining us in the SITUATION ROOM.

I know we had a chance to talk on the campaign trail in Iowa. I want to start off -- of course, you have made the central point in your campaign taking on the oil companies, the drug companies and anti-poverty campaign.

But listen to what your opponent Senator Clinton said.

She said just yesterday, "People talk about poverty in this campaign, well, we lifted more people out of poverty during the 1990s than any time in our history."

It certainly sounds like what she is saying is that you don't have a corner on the market on this issue.

JOHN EDWARDS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I'd say first of all, welcome to Senator Clinton to the discussion of poverty. I think it's a great thing. I don't think it's a bad thing. I'm glad that she's now talking about it.

I have made it one of the central causes of my life. It's why I ran a poverty center at the University of North Carolina. It's why I have done all the work I've done around the country.

But I would add, I hope Senator Clinton would join me in calling -- if we really want to do something about poverty -- calling for raising the minimum wage to at least $9.5 an hour, and, second, come out with a comprehensive agenda for ending poverty in this country which I have and I would welcome her to that. It would be a great thing.

MALVEAUX: Well, let's talk a little bit about the specifics. Obviously, just two weeks away from the Iowa caucuses, you say you're going to take on these big companies. What is the first industry that you would essentially take to task? Is it oil? Is it health care?

EDWARDS: It's both. You just named them. It's the oil companies and power companies for attacking global warming and, second, doing something about insurance companies and drug companies, so we can have universal health care.

MALVEAUX: Give us specifics. What oil companies?

EDWARDS: Well, all the big oil companies, ExxonMobil. I mean, the list goes on and on. They're having record profits at the same time that gas prices at the pump are through the roof.

So, we have got corporate power, corporate profits standing in the way of the change that America needs. And America can't keep paying these gas prices, and we can't keep destroying the planet, which is what we're doing.

MALVEAUX: President Bush today was asked about what the next president needs to do and what kind of qualifications.

Let's take a quick listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I were asking questions to people running for office, I would say, what are the principles that you will stand on in good times and bad times? What will be the underpinning of your decisions? What will it be?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: What's your answer to the president's question?

EDWARDS: That the reason I am running for president is so that everybody in this country gets the same chances that I have had, so it would be equality of opportunity. It would be morality, doing the right thing, what's fair and right for everybody, making sure that, when America engages the rest of the world, we do it in a strong and positive and constructive way.

I mean, those would be some of the basic principles.

MALVEAUX: Let's take a quick look at some of the poll numbers coming out of Iowa, the most recent poll numbers here. Obviously, you're in a dead heat with your opponents, Senator Clinton, as well as Barack Obama, but the Democrats say the most important issue now is Iraq, 30 percent. Then comes health care and the economy. On that issue, you come in third at 21 percent.

If you were elected, if you were president, when would you bring the troops home?

EDWARDS: I would have all combat troops out of Iraq in the first year of my presidency, and I would end combat missions there, and I would have no permanent military bases.

I mean, if we're really going to end the war, we have to end the occupation. And I would do that as president.

MALVEAUX: How many of those troops would you bring home immediately?

EDWARDS: Forty to fifty thousand immediately.

MALVEAUX: The -- Senator Joe Lieberman, independent, as well as Democrat, has -- as you know, has endorsed Republican Senator John McCain.

I want you to take a quick listen to what he said about the Democrats in the party.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I actually think that, unless the Democratic candidate for president can convince the American people that he or she will protect them in time of war, that they're going to have a hard time getting elected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: It sounds like a sweeping indictment of the Democratic Party platform on Iraq. Is this embarrassing for Lieberman to come forward and essentially support a Republican?

EDWARDS: No.

I think you also heard Joe Lieberman say no Democratic presidential candidate asked for his endorsement or support. I mean, I have enormous substantive differences with Joe. He is a good guy, but I completely disagree with him about a number of issues, including Iran and what's happening in Iraq.

I think that what a Democratic presidential candidate needs to do and what the next president of the United States needs to do is bring this war in Iraq to an end and to find a way to resolve what's happening in Iran using our economic and diplomatic leverage and our friends in Europe.

That's what we should be doing.

MALVEAUX: Senator John Edwards, thanks for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm sure I will see you on the trail sometime next week.

EDWARDS: Thank you. Great to be with you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And is John McCain on a roll? He's just picked up another coveted endorsement. We will tell you what it is and what it could mean for his campaign. And in the city devastated by Hurricane Katrina, it's the people against the police. Protesters try to storm City Hall and police use chemical spray and stun guns. We will tell you what the clash was all about.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Mike Huckabee is holding on to his Iowa lead, but he's not betting the farm just yet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE: Considering the resources that we're up against, it really would be a miracle to win here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Just ahead, the state of the Iowa race on the ground and in our new poll. Do Huckabee's rivals have a shot at bringing hmm down? The best political team on television is counting down to the caucuses.

Plus, a new exit from the race for the White House. We will tell you who is gone and who is getting his vote.

And a new home for the music instrument that helped ushered in the Clinton era at the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: what you care about most. The race for the first major presidential contest could turn on the issues. So, which candidate might that help and hurt?

John McCain scores again. He just picked up another top endorsement. Could this and other recent successes be the lift that his campaign needs? I will talk about all of this with the best political team on television.

And the governor of California is angry with the Bush administration over global warming. Arnold Schwarzenegger suggests it has failed to lead. And, hoping to force some action, Schwarzenegger promises he will sue the administration.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We want to take you beyond the horse race and behind those poll numbers. We know the Republican presidential contest in Iowa now appears to be a two-man matchup, but why?

Let's go to our chief national correspondent, John King, in Iowa. And, John, what are voters saying about the candidates and the issues that they care about the most?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, it is a volatile race.

Remember the summer. Rudy Giuliani was the big national front- runner. Mitt Romney was well ahead here in Iowa. Now it's a dead heat nationally. Mike Huckabee is on top here in Iowa. And it's not just who when the voters are taking a second look at this race. They're also taking a look at the issues that matter most.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): The new look of the Republican race was born here, in places like Martinsdale (ph), Iowa, because restive Christian conservatives, people like Richard and Doris (ph) Nation, finally found a home.

RICHARD NATION, IOWA REPUBLICAN: He comes from a biblical perspective regarding marriage and abortion, the things that are important to us.

KING: He is Mike Huckabee. And his growing support among conservatives is changing the race in Iowa and across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to stop killing our babies.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, sir, we do.

KING: Huckabee is an evangelical favorite and, at the moment, the beneficiary of a giant gender gap -- favored by a 2-1 margin over Romney among Iowa women who intend to vote in the Republican caucuses. Still, abortion ranks third when Iowa Republicans are asked to rank the issues.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Any income on savings should be taxed at a new rate -- and the new rate should be zero.

KING: The economy ranks first among Republicans in both Iowa and New Hampshire. And so more and more, Governor Romney stresses his successful business experience.

ROMNEY: I know how the economy works. I know why jobs come. I know why they go away.

KING: The pocketbook issues are responsible for Romney's double digit lead in New Hampshire, where Huckabee runs a distant fourth.

ANDREW SMITH, UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE: So trying to run as a social conservative in a state with very few social conservatives is a difficult thing to do. This is largely a pro-choice Republican state -- a moderate to liberal Republican state.

KING: But pollster Andrew Smith says a Romney loss in Iowa would cause a major ripple in New Hampshire. SMITH: He'll probably lose 10 to 15 points in New Hampshire right away.

KING: So Romney is looking to close the gender gap and narrow Huckabee's lead in Iowa by highlighting other issues with proven power among women. Education --

ROMNEY: Our state is now ranked number one of all 50 states in education.

KING: And crime.

ROMNEY: He thinks 1,033 pardons shows a heart?

He thinks giving 12 murderers pardons show a heart?

He thinks giving a repeat drunk driver a pardon to get him out of the jail shows heart?

I -- I think it shows a softness that's -- that's just not appropriate in this kind of a setting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: But Governor Huckabee had an aggressive counterpunch today, saying that the reason Mitt Romney granted no pardons or no commutations was because of a political calculation -- that he was worried those would hurt him down the road, if and when he ran for president.

Governor Romney says that's not true, Suzanne, it's a fight about crime and punishment. But it is as much about the gender gap than it is about crime and punishment and the feistiness of the exchange proves to you that both gentlemen quite well understand the stakes -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, John.

And two weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses. For many of the candidates, it's is make or break time. But our polls show many voters still can't make up their minds.

So let's see what the best political team on television makes of all of this.

Joining me, CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. His book is titled "The Nine".

Also from New York, Jack Cafferty. His book is called "It's Getting Ugly Out There".

And from the campaign trail in Iowa, CNN's Jessica Yellin.

Now, all of you, you know, we heard a lot about John talking about some of the issues that resonate with voters. I want to bring up this poll here because the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll in Iowa says among these Republicans here, there are still about 40 percent of people who are trying to decide who they're going to pick. Among the Democrats, there are still about 34 percent, or a third, that are trying to decide -- so, Jack, what is the issue that is going to be -- that's going to punch out here and make a difference to make these guys decide, hey, this is the one I want?

CAFFERTY: Well, Iowa is a very tough situation to predict. But the poll numbers that you put up will explain, I think, why Huckabee is leading there. About 40 percent of the people in Iowa have decided who they're going support. There are more Evangelical Christians in Iowa, certainly than there are in New Hampshire, and they tend to be better organized and more informed early on the issues that matter to them.

You heard the gentleman in John's piece talking about Huckabee's biblical references and approach to things like marriage. So the people who have decided who they're going to vote for -- the most well organized voting bloc in Iowa is probably the Evangelical Christians. And they've said Huckabee is our guy.

The other 50 or 60 percent are still trying to make up their mind.

The other thing about Iowa is it's only a hundred thousand people in a state of three million that go to these caucuses. That's total -- Republicans and Democrats. And if the weather is bad, the number gets even smaller. So it's a tough one to figure out.

MALVEAUX: Well, Jessica, how is it that this one issue that Huckabee seems to dominate -- and that is abortion -- how is it that can dominate the decision here?

It's like there's so many other things that Iowans are talking about now.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I mean because, as Jack said, it's a very small minority of people, highly motivated, who care deeply about abortion. But if you look at the issues on which the Republicans are running in Iowa -- whether it's abortion, immigration, Iraq, the economy -- those are all issues that, come November, are going favor the Democrats. And that's why I think the Republican Party, as a group, is in trouble, because they don't have any issues where the public seems to trust them more than the Democrats.

So, you know, I certainly have no idea who's going to win the Republican caucuses in Iowa. But I think these trends certainly auger well for the Democrats in November.

MALVEAUX: And, Jessica, talking about the Democrats here, it's interesting, this poll actually shows that now Iraq, once again, emerged at the top of the list. But then it's -- it's very close, with health care, immigration, some of the other social, domestic issues.

Senator Clinton came out on top on almost all of those issues, with the exception of the environment. Why isn't she doing better, because she's -- she's in a dead heat with Edwards and Obama?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's a great question, Suzanne.

And the reason, I think, is because so many of the Democrats -- Senator Clinton, Obama and Edwards, the leading three -- share essentially the same policy goals on those issues that are most important to Iowa's Democratic voters -- on Iraq, on universal health care, on the economy. They all have similar goals, just different objectives or differences on how to get there.

What they really are fighting over when they go out and talk to folks in these small towns around here is whose leadership style is going sell best, whose leadership style is going to get the agenda done. So they're not asking voters to choose which issues they want fought. All three are offering to fight on the same issues. They're asking voters to decide whose style do you think will really get it done the best?

And so it's almost a personality contest from the perspective of how they would lead from the White House.

MALVEAUX: OK.

Thanks.

We'll join you all at the other end of the break.

President Bush has a question for his eventual successor. It has to do with plans for the Oval Office. The best political team on television on television will be back with that one, as well.

And supporters of the various candidates are coming up with their own versions of Christmas carols. Jeanne Moos takes a look -- well, and a listen, too.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: President Bush has some advice for his successor in the Oval Office. He poses it in the form of a question. Back to take a look at that, members of the best political team on television -- CHARLES GIBSON: Senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin; CNN's Jack Cafferty; and CNN's Jessica Yellin.

All of you. I want to go ahead and play this bit from the press conference from President Bush. He's offering some advice -- a candid suggestion to some of the candidates.

Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And whoever sits in that Oval Office is going to find this is a complex world with a lot of issues coming into the Oval Office -- a lot. And a great expectation in the world that the United States take the lead. And so my question would be how do you intend to set up your Oval Office so that people will come in and give you their -- give you their advice?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Jack, I notice you started laughing a little bit when he said it's a complex world.

Which of the candidates do you think are going to listen to the president now and take his advice?

CAFFERTY: Well, there's no way to answer that because I don't know. But you can get a clue. And the clue is if you listen to the campaign -- the primary campaign among the Republicans -- and listen for how many times they invoke President Bush's name as an example of the way they want to do things when they're president. He was, you know, talking to the press corps today. But I wonder how many candidates for the White House will seek out his counsel in a serious way about how they should set up the Oval Office. You don't hear any of them talking about President Bush. They're trying to get elected and they want to stay, I think, away from a guy who has a 30 percent approval rating.

YELLIN: Well...

TOOBIN: But, you know, I think the president is exactly right, that the issue -- one of the big issues in any presidency is how you organize it.

And one thing is what is the role of the vice president?

We've had one of the most powerful vice presidents in history over the past seven years.

What is -- is another elder statesman going to be the nominee, you know, the vice president nominee?

Is a Senator Clinton or a Senator Obama going to pick someone traditional, who would sort of bring along a state, or maybe pick someone like Joe Biden, who would be kind of an elder statesman, like Cheney was supposed to be?

I think that's an interesting question. And I think Bush raised it in a very correct way.

MALVEAUX: Jessica, it's interesting today, because we learned from -- from Obama that he's considering some Republicans.

Do you think that work in his favor somehow?

YELLIN: Well, sure. It shows -- it works to Obama's larger message, which is that he's reaching beyond party differences.

What I found surprising about Bush's comments is that everybody knows this is a change election. The electorate wants a change. From what?

From George Bush's presidency, from the last almost eight years. So I don't know how much the voters are going to be listening to what Bush is recommending. I also -- we both covered the president.

How many times has he refused to ask this question?

I guess he just couldn't resist finally being the pundit-in- chief.

MALVEAUX: Oh, he can't resist it.

And we go -- I want to turn here to the latest news that we got -- breaking news. It's that Senator John McCain is getting another coveted endorsement, this from "The Boston Herald". This follows -- if we -- if we go ahead and go down the list, "Des Moines Register," "Boston Globe," New Hampshire's "Union Leader".

Does it make any difference, Jack, that he's racking these up?

CAFFERTY: I don't think so. I think there was a time in our history that big metropolitan newspaper endorsements were political gold. I think those days disappeared a long time ago. And I think it's naive to think people voting for president are going to depend on a newspaper to -- to make them decide how they're going to cast their vote. There are too many other ways, including the one we're all sitting on -- television. We've got 24 hour cable networks, the Internet. There is just too much information and easy access to have to depend on the opinion of an editorial board of a newspaper in Boston, Massachusetts. I don't...

TOOBIN: I actually...

CAFFERTY: I don't think it...

TOOBIN: I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt.

CAFFERTY: Tsar.

TOOBIN: But I actually disagree somewhat. I mean I certainly think newspapers aren't as important as they used to be. But, you know, this is a campaign that was totally left for dead over the summer, with all its financial problems where he had to practically lay off his whole staff. And, you know, with all these endorsements, it's a reminder that he's still a very serious person, a very serious candidate. Perhaps his moment has passed. He hasn't come all the way back in the polls, but he is coming back somewhat.

He's traditionally done very well in New Hampshire. I don't think he's out of -- he's out of the running yet, especially with Romney and Giuliani and Huckabee, all with their own problems.

MALVEAUX: And Jessica, just finally here, this is the first time that they're endorsing a Republican and not a Republican and a Democrat in the history of this newspaper here. They take what seems to be a swipe at the Clinton camp saying too many candidates driven by polls and focus groups.

Do you think that they're really taking a good look at the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats and saying perhaps he is the one who's more straightforward?

YELLIN: Well, you know what?

I have to tell you, from the perspective of Iowa, it doesn't really seem to matter that much what these papers are saying. I have to agree with Jack. The bottom line here seems to be the endorsement that matters most is one of your friend or maybe your neighbor, the person who brings you to the caucus.

I met people today who said they went to see a candidate because their friend said come with me and that what changed their mind.

I really do think in the end, that's what matters, more than what the big papers tell you.

MALVEAUX: Good point.

Got to go. Got to leave it there.

Thank you so much.

New tensions today between the White House and the California governor's mansion. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to get tougher on greenhouse gases -- tougher than the feds. The Bush administration is saying no.

Our CNN's Brian Todd joining us now -- and, Brian, how bad is the fallout?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, a source close to Arnold Schwarzenegger tells me this is a definite low point in what's described as an up and down relationship between California's popular governor and his fellow Republican, the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A senior aide to Arnold Schwarzenegger tells CNN the governor let out a sigh of disappointment after a "terse phone call" Wednesday with President Bush's environmental chief, Stephen Johnson. Schwarzenegger is frustrated that the administration slapped down California's request for a waiver that would have allowed the state to cut greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles quicker than a new federal plan the president just signed.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: It's another example of the administration -- the administration's failure to treat global warming with the seriousness that it actually demands.

TODD: Sixteen other states want to follow Schwarzenegger's lead and be more aggressive on emissions. EPA head Johnson calls that a confusing patchwork of state rules and has the backing of his boss. GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The director, in assessing this law and assessing what would be more com -- you know, more effective for the country -- says we now have a national plan.

TODD: Still, the administration has to brace for a lawsuit promised by Schwarzenegger to overturn the decision. In the ebb and flow relationship between Schwarzenegger and Mr. Bush, the tide now seems far offshore.

JOEL FOX, FORMER SCHWARZENEGGER ADVISER: It's never been a warm, throw your arms around the shoulders kind of relationship. Even during the re-election campaign for the president, when he would come to California, the governor wouldn't always be there to greet him.

TODD: They've also clashed on stem cell research and health care, but stood together on immigration. Schwarzenegger campaigned for Bush in Ohio in 2004 but is said to be much closer personally and politically to the president's father. Analysts say he's walked the ideological tightrope very smoothly.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Schwarzenegger's brand of politics -- Independent, iconoclastic, forges his own path, independent of President Bush -- that's the kind of politics Californians like.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: In fact, Schwarzenegger has got a 56 percent approval rating in one recent California poll. That's far above the president's national numbers. And our own Bill Schneider says there's talk of a Schwarzenegger run for the Senate.

Now, if that happens and he gets in, he start to really influence the GOP here in Washington, turn the party in a different direction -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Brian, you've spoken of -- to several people in the governor's office, as well as the White House.

Just how bad is this?

How ugly is it behind the scenes?

TODD: It got fairly ugly behind-the-scenes. A source close to the governor tells me that he was especially frustrated after a February meeting with the EPA and that he's been frustrated every step of the way.

For their part, the EPA says, look, we've gone the extra mile to hear the governor out. We've taken the added step, the unusual step of holding a second hearing on emissions in California. They say they're sorry that he's upset, but they believe this national standard is really the best way to go.

MALVEAUX: OK.

Brian Todd, thank you.

Rudy Giuliani's health scare -- he walked out of the hospital just a short time ago. We'll tell you how he is doing now.

Also, it is too harsh a punishment to jail people for using cell phones while driving?

Jack is standing by with your e-mail in The Cafferty File.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: On our Political Ticker, check out Mitt Romney's new supporter -- Republican Tom Tancredo, a champion against illegal immigration, dropped out of the Republican presidential race a few hours ago.

Rudy Giuliani is out of a St. Louis hospital. He was admitted for flu-like symptoms. Giuliani's spokeswoman says doctors gave him a clean bill of health.

A piece of political history is heading to the American Jazz Museum in Missouri. Bill Clinton is donating the saxophone he played at his inauguration.

Jack Cafferty joining us now, again from New York -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, is it too harsh a punishment to put people in jail for using their cell phones while driving a car.

Andrea writes from Twin Lake, Michigan: "As a grief counselor, I was once called in to work with the mother of a 17-year-old girl who was killed in a car accident. The child was talking to her mother on a cell phone at the time. Thus, her mother helplessly heard the crash and heard her daughter take her last breath. I would I would gladly put my daughter in jail for a time if it would save her life."

Brian in California: "Yes, it's absolutely unfair. These are all steps to the government becoming more of a nanny state. You can't protect people with ridiculous laws all the time. With liberty comes certain dangers. These choices are what make a nation free."

Frank in Talmadge, Ohio: "It's a great idea. I'm a firefighter paramedic. I can't tell you how many injuries I've seen from these idiots talking on their phones while attempting to drive. The worst are the ones driving past an accident scene we are working on and the passersby are gawking at us and talking on their phones -- nearly hitting us."

Steve writes: "Jail time as a first offense too much a punishment for using a cell phone. If police actually caught every single person driving using a cell phone, the whole country would be in jail."

Keith writes: "Yes, throw the book at them. I've been cut off in traffic so many times by idiots who feel their phone conversation is more important than my life. I carry a sign in my car which I hold up at stoplights -- "get off the phone and let me live." Jonathan writes: "Times like this, I'm glad we won our independence from England. Yes, driving while distracted is a problem. However, it's not a felony. Now, excuse me. I think my exit is coming up." -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you Jack.

Jack Cafferty.

The presidential campaign is inspiring a most unusual twist on a holiday tradition. Jeanne Moos explains next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Jeanne Moos has a Moost Unusual look at some of those Christmas carols.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Forget "Oh, Christmas Tree."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: Oh, Hillary, oh, Hillary...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: And there's a new little drummer boy in town.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): They say that you're too green, Barack Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Supporters aren't just singing their candidates' praises -- they're caroling them. Even groups like the National Republican Senatorial Committee are getting into the holiday spirit -- bashing liberals in song.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (SINGING): On the first day of Christmas the liberals gave to me a tax hike for every family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Ron Paul supporters had the same idea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS (SINGING): On the fifth day of Christmas, Ron Paul gave to me peace in Iraq, no IRS, no foreign wars, no more income tax... (END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Those Ron Paul supporters tend to think out of the box. Make that boxers.

(VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): Hey, vote Ron Paul, vote Ron Paul, Ron Paul all the way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS (on camera): Listen to enough of these songs and you'll be on your knees praying for a silent night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): New from Crapital Records (ph), it's the Clinton Classic Christmas Treasury Collection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): Don't you just adore me?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): We're scared of Hillary, Barack Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: At least his name works well here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): Barack Obama, rock your mama, Barack Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: You know how everyone keeps mixes up Obama's name with you know who's?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Osama -- an unfortunate name. Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Not unfortunate for this guy. Meet Barack Ollama at the Posado Safe Haven Animal Shelter. Thanks to his catchy name, Barack Ollama has attracted 25,000 gift sponsorships this holiday season -- more than any animal they've ever had.

But enough about Ollama. Back to Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): It's beginning to look a lot like Obama will win in Iowa. And Bill and Hillary had their chance a long time ago. It's beginning to look a lot like Obama...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Did they say Obama or Ollama?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): Is more than just a man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MALVEAUX: I'm Suzanne Malveaux in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, Kitty Pilgrim and "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT".

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