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Condoleezza Rice: Huckabee Criticism of Bush Administration Foreign Policy "Ludicrous"; Epidemic of Undecided Voters; Democrats Three-way Dogfight

Aired December 21, 2007 - 16:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a look at who's attacking Mike Huckabee now. And wait until you hear what the secretary of state is saying about him.
This hour, a tough new look at the Republican's world view and his criticism of President Bush.

Also ahead, less than two weeks before the first presidential contest, why are so many early voters still undecided? It's a wildcard in an already wild primary season.

Plus, a blunt admission by Democrat Chris Dodd. And we take you inside the campaign hoopla in Iowa and meet the faces in the crowds.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.


As America's top diplomat, Condoleezza Rice usually tries to stay out of the political fray, but she apparently could not let this one slide. The secretary of state was asked today about Republican Mike Huckabee's charge that the Bush administration has an arrogant bunker mentality when it comes to foreign policy. Well, she let loose with this...


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: The idea that somehow this is a go-it-alone policy is just simply ludicrous, and one would only have to be not observing the facts, let me say that, to say that this is now a go-it-alone foreign policy.


MALVEAUX: Huckabee may be feeling a little bit more like a pin cushion every day since he surged into the ranks of the presidential frontrunners.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, interviewed Huckabee in Iowa.

John, what do you think he has to say about the stab from Condoleezza Rice?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a remarkable dustup, Suzanne. I read those words from Secretary Rice to Governor Huckabee on his bus. He says he's very fond of her, he thinks she's brilliant. He also said for the most part, he agrees with the president, but he says it's important to make clear where he disagrees, and he stood by his use of the terms "arrogant" and "bunker mentality."


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think people want to know, are there places not only where we're similar, but places where we're different? And what I'm specifically referencing is when you engage the military, you need to be very careful that when you put those battlefield commanders on the ground, you listen to them. And if they say you need 300,000 troops, you don't say, I'm sorry, but you're going to get 180,000 troops and that's all you're going to get.

KING: But you say -- you use words like "bunker mentality" and "arrogant." She responds with "ludicrous."

Do you regret those specific words, not the big points you were trying to make, but those specific words that...

HUCKABEE: They're strong words.

KING: And they have wrangled people inside the White House at the highest levels, and they have become an attempt by your opponents to say this guy's not ready.

HUCKABEE: They're strong words, but this is a strong issue. And we need to talk about the fact that you have many members of Congress, you have members within the military community and the intelligence community, all who have said that there has not been a wider circle of involvement in terms of helping determine exactly what our goals would look like and where we would go, and making sure that we had a clear definition of what it would take in terms of military resources to accomplish our goals there.


KING: Now, as for Governor Romney's criticism on the trail, Suzanne, that he's been a disloyal Republican, Governor Huckabee says that's not true and he believes the voters will back with him.

Senator Fred Thompson has said he read the article and believes that Governor Huckabee is naive about the threat Iran faces. Governor Huckabee again says, not true. He says he understands the Iranian leadership is hostile to the United States, but he also says it's important that a president choose his words carefully so that those Iranians inside the country who might help the United States down the road don't take offense -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: So, John, he says he stands by his words, but is he worried at all that this could hurt him among those Republican who are still loyal to President Bush?

KING: It's remarkable. He says no, Suzanne. Yes, there is that risk, but it was interesting. Just at an event a short time ago, foreign policy came up again. Governor Huckabee was asked about the Israeli/Palestinian dispute. He said as president he would do everything to fix it. And then he was talking about the Palestinian elections.

He said they were a good thing in the sense that they started to bring democracy, but a bad thing that they happened too soon and look what happened. Hamas came to power. You remember well the Israelis and the Palestinians both said delay those elections. President Bush was the one who said go forward.

So criticizing the administration again right there.

MALVEAUX: OK. John King, thank you so much.

And coming up, we'll take a closer look at Huckabee's world view and his international experience. Our CNN's Dana Bash is standing by in Iowa with that story.

And Republican Mitt Romney delivered a new slap at Huckabee in the form of, well, a compliment. Romney suggests to Iowa voters that Huckabee is not ready to be commander in chief. He said the former Arkansas governor is -- quoting now -- "a wonderful person and he would make a great vice president."

Now the reality check on the presidential race with the first contest just around the corner. The candidates are scrambling across the early voting states knowing there is a big cloud of uncertainty hanging over them.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is here.

And Bill, can the campaigns take off for the holidays or are we all working here?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Not when there are so many voters in Iowa and New Hampshire who are still undecided.


SCHNEIDER (voice over): The Iowa and New Hampshire campaigns have been going on for nearly a year, and look how many voters are still undecided. In Iowa, 34 percent of likely Democratic caucus- goers and 40 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers say they're still trying to make up their minds. The numbers are even higher in New Hampshire -- 38 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of Republicans still haven't decided who they're going to vote for.

And talk about procrastinators, consider this. As of last weekend, according to an online survey, two-thirds of Americans had not finished their Christmas shopping.

Retailers say over the past few years, people have been waiting longer and longer to do their Christmas shopping. Some stores are staying open all weekend to capture those last-minute shoppers. Campaigns can't shut down for the holidays either. They need a big sales pitch to capture those late deciders.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just want to emphasize, we are two, three weeks away from being able to trigger change in this country that we haven't seen in a long time. And we've got to take advantage of it.

SCHNEIDER: Who are those late decideers? They're more likely to be strong partisans than Independents. Partisans know what they're looking for. Independent voters, not so much. They don't do much shopping.

Similarly, voters who are strongly concerned about an issue say Iraq or abortion are more likely to have made up their minds, they know what they're looking for. Voters are taking longer to make up their minds for the same reason shoppers are waiting until the last minute. Not because they're lazy, because even with all those candidates to pick from, nobody has been able to close the sale.


SCHNEIDER: More and more Christmas shoppers are now buying gift cards, which is a way of saying, I can't be bothered to make up my mind, let somebody else decide. Can voters do that? Well, they can just stay home and let others decide for them -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK. Bill Schneider.

Thank you so much, Bill.

And Bill Schneider, John King are both part of the Emmy Award- winning best political team on television. And remember, for the latest political news any time, check out the Political Ticker at

Time now for "The Cafferty File." Jack Cafferty joining us from New York.

Jack, what are you looking at?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: One of the busiest travel weekends of the year is just getting started. In time for the holiday travels, a new report finds that airline glitches top weather and congestion as the leading cause of flight delays.

"USA Today" reports that crew shortages, excessive refueling, mechanical breakdowns are to blame for 23.8 million minutes of delays this year, and that number only goes through October. Airway congestion, on the other hand, accounted for a mere 23.3 million minutes. That's a lot of minutes.

The airlines aren't disputing the numbers either. The "USA Today" analysis sorted through data from the Bureau of Transportation statistics, but the airlines do claim that some of the delays attributed to them were due to bad weather occurring earlier in the day of the flights in question. But layoffs, strikes and other labor problems that have plagued the industry for years probably have something to do with all the delays as well.

So the question this hour is this: Should the airlines be punished for flight delays? And if so, how?

You can go to and post a comment on my blog. We'll read some of them in about 40 minutes -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK, Jack. Thank you so much. Great question.

It's a three-way contest in Iowa, and we have top Clinton, Obama and Edwards supporters standing by to face off on the issues and campaign strategy.

Plus, who are they? And, well, why are they there? We'll meet some of those Iowans turning out to see the Democratic candidates.

And President Bush is threatening to cut fat from the budget approved by Congress. Well, but one person's pork is another's meat and potatoes.



MALVEAUX: Well, it's 13 days until the Iowa caucuses, and three Democrats remain locked in a dogfight there.

We are joined now by some of their high-profile supporters. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is backing Barack Obama. Congressman Anthony Weiner is representing the Hillary Clinton camp. And former congressman David Bonior is a John Edwards supporter.

Thank you, all of you, for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Obviously things are getting very competitive, perhaps even a little bit nasty at this point. I want to start off by something that Senator Obama said referring to, we believe, Senator Hillary Clinton.


OBAMA: I mean the notion that, you know, that a viability or an electability argument is being made by somebody who starts off with almost half the country not being willing to vote for the them doesn't make much sense.


MALVEAUX: Congressman Weiner, what do you make of what he's referring to there?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), HILLARY CLINTON SUPPORTER: Well, I think it's pretty clear that all three of the major Democratic candidates, all the ones that we represent, in all the recent polls all defeat the Republican. You know, all of us, although there are differences -- and I strongly believe that what Hillary believes for the future of the country is right, and I'm going to be supporting her -- it is very clear that just about any of the Democrats on their worst day is better than the Republicans on their best day.

I think electability is a legitimate thing to be looking at. I think Hillary Clinton has been tried and tested. She's someone that has the scars to show for the battles that she's fought. And one of the things she's trying to argue to the country is that she has the intuitiveness and the fighting spirit in order to win, and she can win across the country, and all the polls show it.

MALVEAUX: But Congressman Weiner, though, this is actually what he's referring to in this poll here. It's an NBC-"Wall Street Journal" poll, and it's all about likeability here. When it comes to Clinton's positive ratings, it's 44 percent. It's absolutely equal to the negative ratings of 44 percent.

So, Congressman Jackson, do you think that Barack Obama is playing fair here, or is it a cheap shot?

REP. JESSE JACKSON JR. (D), BARACK OBAMA SUPPORTER: Well, what we have here is a potential Democratic nominee who is near a negative position in national polling between favorability and unfavorability. And given the overwhelming resistance by 50 percent of the national electorate, it does raise the question of viability, and I think that Senator Barack Obama is well within bounds.

This is not a personal attack. This is a statement of fact about the future of our country and whether or not we can get there with Senator Clinton.

The reality is the Barack Obama campaign is a campaign of hope. It is bringing new people into the process. Young people participating at unprecedented levels, new people on the ground in Iowa, and we expect great returns on January 3rd.

MALVEAUX: Congressman Bonior, do -- you obviously must disagree. We see the numbers that Edwards is right where Obama is.

DAVID BONIOR, FMR. CONGRESSMAN: We're just very pleased buy by your own poll, Suzanne. CNN last week, of course, did a poll and showed that John Edwards beats the major Republican candidates in a one-on-one match by greater margins than both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. And there's great excitement building in that because of that in the state of Iowa.

We're drawing huge crowds. We've had the governor's wife, Mari Culver, endorse us, Bruce Brailey (ph), a colleague of ours in the Congress endorsed John Edwards. Sensible priorities, an organization that wants to move money from defense to education and health, 10,000 strong endorsed us.

There's just a lot of excitement in this state, and our numbers are starting to move in terms of the phone calling we're doing. They're starting to move towards John. And we think we're going do really well here. MALVEAUX: All right. Well, let's see if we can drum up some more excitement amongst you guys here and throw a little red meat out here.

This is what Senator Hillary Clinton earlier when she was talking about experience, as well one of the important campaign issues, poverty. She said, "People talk about poverty in this campaign. Well, we lifted more people out of poverty during the 1990s than anytime in our history."

Well, I had a chance to talk to Senator Edwards about this to see whether or not he thought it was a direct attack on him and the fact that he is making this a central issue in his campaign. Let's take a listen.


JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I welcome 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.


MALVEAUX: Welcome to the discussion here on poverty.

Congressman Bonior, clearly a dig...

BONIOR: Oh, we're very excited that she's engaged. And, you know, we challenged senators Clinton and Obama and others to raise the minimum wage, the pledge to do that to $9.50 an hour by the year 2012. And, you know, just over the past couple of weeks -- and Senator Clinton, I believe yesterday, agreed to do that. In fact, even by -- I think it was 2011. So we're welcoming this.

John Edwards, this has been a passion of his life. He ran the Center for Poverty at the University of North Carolina. He campaigned across the country to get the minimum wage raised in six states.

He campaigned to get people organized into unions, which is the greatest way to fight poverty so people have a decent wage and better healthcare and better pension benefits. And, you know, this is something he's done. He's written books about it.

MALVEAUX: Well, Congressman Weiner, is Hillary Clinton -- is she following in Edwards' lead here? Is she essentially -- you know, he issues a challenge on minimum wage, she follows.

What is she doing?

WARREN: Well, let me say, I agree with David that Senator Edwards should be honored for the amount that he's talked about poverty and need in this country. It has really brought something to the campaign and to the debate.

And the minimum wage has been raised, but it was raised by Senator Clinton and Obama and those of us in Congress who stayed and fought. John Edwards has done a lot to talk about this issue, but Hillary Clinton, through here years in the White House and now in the United States Senate, has done a great deal to lift people off of poverty and has been fighting for it, expanding the earned income tax credit and creating more jobs during her husband's administration than frankly any administration in history. But there's no doubt about it, John Edwards has done a remarkable service to our country by how much he's talked about poverty and need in this campaign.

MALVEAUX: Does she have a market on poverty here?

I mean, Congressman Jackson, you want to weigh in here?

JACKSON: Well, I certainly do. Make no mistake about it, John Edwards has brought a lot to this campaign by focusing on poverty, by beginning his campaign in the Ninth Ward of Louisiana in the middle of a hurricane, Hurricane Katrina, a devastated area. But be clear now, this has not been Senator Clinton's primary focus throughout her campaign.

She has a campaign that in some ways in search of an issue. Now she's looking in an area where John Edwards has focused his campaign. She's now talking about the potential of her campaign focusing on hope and bringing new people in the process like Senator Obama has been talking about since the very inception of his campaign -- one America, bringing people together.

And so what we have here is a campaign that is floundering on the one hand, but in search of messages clearly demonstrated and tested by other campaigns. And that's why we feel that as new people come into the process, Independent voters hear the Obama mess and hear this message, they come running and they come in great numbers.

MALVEAUX: Well, not only that issue when we come to dealing with poverty and fighting poverty, but there's another one, and that is of course foreign policy. This is actually from Senator Clinton, directed towards Senator Obama.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is tempting anytime 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. Experience in foreign affairs is critical.


MALVEAUX: So, Senator (sic) Jackson, how is it that Obama would be any different than Senator Clinton when most of his advisers, his foreign policy advisers, are former Clinton officials, (INAUDIBLE)?

JACKSON: Suzanne, the central issue here is judgment. Senator Obama's record is very clear. He did not vote for the war with Iraq. Senator Clinton did. That was a judgment call. And ultimately, the Iowa voters and people in New Hampshire and South Carolina are going to make a judgment about Senator Clinton based upon her judgment.

Senator Clinton voted for saber rattling with Iran. That was a judgment call. The American people are looking for a president who exercises the right kinds of judgment on the question of foreign policy.

And from the very inception of this campaign, Senator Barack has made it very, very clear that he is the only candidate in this race who stood against the war in Iraq from the outset.


JACKSON: That's the kind of judgment, Suzanne, that the American people want.

MALVEAUX: Let's give Congressman Weiner the last word here.

Obviously on the saber rattling I assume you want to respond.

WARREN: Well, obviously Congressman Jackson, my good friend, doesn't dispute the fundamentals of your question. Hillary Clinton, far and away, has more experience in this race of any Democrat or any Republican.

Experience does matter. These are very complicated times. We need someone who is not only going to talk about change, but someone who has the experience dealing with international affairs and military affairs. You know, got to tell you something, Hillary Clinton has forgotten more about those things than Barack Obama may ever learn.

MALVEAUX: I'll have to leave it at that.

Congressmen Bonior, Weiner, as well as Jackson, thank you so much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BONIOR: Nice to be here.

JACKSON: Thank you, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Well, some might call it a holiday miracle. John McCain's presidential campaign is experiencing new life, but does he have a real shot at victory? His comeback is coming up in our "Strategy Session."

And next, braving the weather and crowds. We'll check out the obstacles to your holiday travel plans.



MALVEAUX: And voters are asking Mike Huckabee, what do you know about foreign policy? But the presidential candidate is telling them he knows more than a thing or two about the world. You'll hear just what Huckabee has to say.

And one Democratic presidential candidate's surprising admission. You'll want to find out just what Chris Dodd is thinking about.



Happening now, you pay high prices for oil and gas, but Venezuela's president is making sure many people don't have to. Hugo Chavez let 16 nations buy oil at a fraction of the price, but the U.S. is not part of his plan

They fiercely defend against terrorists by night, but do schoolwork by day. In Iraq, it's not easy for teenagers trying to drive out al Qaeda while also trying to have a childhood.

And truly man's best friend, a dog that stuck by his marine handler when he was killed in Iraq. Today he gets a new leash on life.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. And I'm Suzanne Malveaux.


Right now in the Democratic presidential race, one candidate makes a surprise confession, that he is open to being considered for, well, the number-two spot on the ticket.

CNN's Jessica Yellin in Des Moines, Iowa.

And, Jessica, you have more on this and how the Democrats are making their votes count as well. You had a chance to catch up with them, and you bring this all to us. What have you learned?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, I sat down this morning with Senator Chris Dodd, who is running so hard for the presidency here in Iowa, that he has moved his whole family here.

He is adamant that we should not pay attention to the polls here in Iowa, because, he says, the caucuses are so unpredictable, we just can't know the outcome. He even points to Huckabee's surge as evidence.

And he did surprise me, as you say. I asked him the standard question: If you don't get the nomination, would you consider an offer to become vice president? He did not say no.


SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You can't rule those things out. I always get annoyed at people in politics who say, oh, I would never, ever do that. Obviously, what I want to be is the president and be the presidential nominee. And I think we have got a darn good shot at this thing.


YELLIN: Now, usually, candidates say, oh, I'm not going to consider that. He -- he surprised us with that answer, but he also said it would not be an easy consideration for him.

Senator Dodd, you know, is not wrong when he says these caucuses are unpredictable. I will tell you, voters in this state, they are still candidate-shopping.


YELLIN (voice-over): In Iowa, Democratic voters' top concerns are clear: economy, health care and Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard that there was more money allocated. I'm not sure how much. I was just wondering how you voted on this issue and why.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a reason the Democrats were put in charge of the Congress in November of 2006. And that reason was to stand up to Bush on this war in Iraq.

YELLIN: They call it retail politics. The candidates understand, in Iowa, they have to let the caucus-goers get to know them.

PAMELA FANGMAN, UNDECIDED IOWA VOTER: I want to find out more information on which candidate is going to work best for me and for my needs, you know, not just for our country, but what's going to help us out individually.

YELLIN: At Obama events, you often see college-age voters, who like message of hope. At Clinton gatherings, you will get a lot of older women, who like her tough pragmatism. Edwards tends to draws union members, who find his populist pitch appealing.

Still, those are generalizations, and every event is different, as are the reactions.

DEBRA DEGENHARDT, HILLARY CLINTON SUPPORTER: It was very personal. It was like she was talking to me, you know, not just something on TV that you watch. And I was glad I came.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love him. I think he's terrific. I haven't felt this way about a candidate since probably Jimmy Carter.

DENNIS GOLDFORD, PROFESSOR OF POLITICS AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, DRAKE UNIVERSITY: They do get good crowds at this stage of the campaign. And their job is to whip those crowds into excitement to turn out, because it doesn't matter what your opinions are. If you don't show up caucus night, it doesn't matter.

(END VIDEOTAPE) YELLIN: And, Suzanne, the latest CNN poll shows that as many as half of the Democrats in this state still could change the person they're supporting. So, really, anything could happen between now and caucus night -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Well, that's amazing. Jessica, great to see you. Thanks, Jessica.

Now to Republican Mike Huckabee's global view. As we told you, he is standing by his verbal assault on President Bush's foreign policy, even after the secretary of state called it "ludicrous."

But Huckabee still is facing questions about how he would represent the U.S. on the world stage.

CNN's Dana Bash is on the campaign trail in Iowa.

And, Dana, is this an area where we think Huckabee is going to be vulnerable?


As you know, Suzanne, every governor running for president faces this question. Now, he is somebody who says that he wants peace through strength. And he also insists that disagreeing with the president of his own party is not heresy.


BASH (voice-over): At an Iowa town hall, a Mike Huckabee supporter asks what to tell friends concerned he's not ready to be commander in chief.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The question is foreign policy experience. As a governor for two-and-a-half years, I made numerous trade trips. I also was involved in a number of meetings where we not only brought businesses from the international community to our state.

BASH: With GOP voters, Huckabee avoids his controversial arrogant bunker mentality phrase to describe the president's foreign policy, but pointedly calls for a more open-minded post-Bush era.

HUCKABEE: Never, ever yielding one ounce of U.S. sovereignty to anybody, but also being a nation that recognizes and respects that there are other people in the neighborhood.

BASH: He says this about Iraq.

HUCKABEE: We made major mistakes in the way we executed the war.

BASH: His approach to war?

HUCKABEE: I subscribe to the Powell-Schwarzkopf philosophy that says, first, that you have the kind of military that is so incredibly strong, that nobody on this planet even thinks about wanting to engage it in a battle.

BASH: On the stump, this Republican takes controversial positions that have not gotten much attention. He preaches a populist message, wary of free trade, and calls for cutting ties with Saudi Arabia.

HUCKABEE: Tell the Saudis, keep your oil; we don't need it, any more than we need your sand, and we're not going to allow to you manipulate our world, our economy, and force to us pay both sides in the war on terror, our tax dollars paying for the military, and our oil dollars paying for the side of the terrorists and the funding of them.

BASH: Tough talk some call out of the mainstream.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW IN FOREIGN POLICY STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: The idea that we can get into a name game of insulting the Saudis doesn't really fit with any tradition in modern -- modern Republican or Democratic politics.


BASH: Now, Huckabee's rivals have been pounding away at him, suggesting his world view is simply naive.

But, Suzanne, he actually plays up that criticism. He tells Iowa voters, the Republicans that he speaks to daily here, that this is actually something that is proof that the Washington establishment doesn't like him. And he says that he has their interests at heart for him at home and abroad -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you so much, Dana Bash.

Following the footsteps of the successful Ron Paul money bombs, Mike Huckabee supporters are planning their own online fund-raising drive for the presidential candidate.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, how much are they trying to raise?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Suzanne, it's a lot less than this guy raise.

This effort is from Huckabee's online grassroots supporters, or Huck's Army, as they call themselves. Their goal for next week, for December the 27th, is $1 million. Even that might be ambitious. Other attempts to emulate the Ron Paul money bomb successes, like this one from Fred Thompson supporters online last month, fell flat.

But the Huckabee push came at a time when Mike Huckabee is enjoying rising success online, rising success in Web hits and in online fund-raising, $4.6 million raised online this quarter, says the Mike Huckabee campaign on their Web site. So, trying to capitalize on this are these two brothers out in Oregon who are organizing next week's Web push. Brett Harris says: "It's never been our goal to compete with Ron Paul," but he does say that he has had other successes, sending out a couple of hundred e-mails earlier this year touting the candidacy of Mike Huckabee. And one of those e-mails reached this guy, Chuck Norris, who credits that grassroots e-mail as turning him onto the Mike Huckabee campaign -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: We will see if it works.

OK, Abbi Tatton, thank you so much.

and it's your money, billions that Congress wants to spend. They say it's for critical projects, but others simply call it pork. What can critics do about funding for olive fruit fly research and other pet projects?

John McCain has reason to smile. He's being embraced by polls, newspapers, even a senator who was a years-long Democrat. Well, is this the momentum that McCain needs?

And Hillary Clinton brandishes her other not-so-secret weapons, Dorothy Rodham and Chelsea Clinton. We will tell you where the mother-daughter-granddaughter act is going next, and why.


MALVEAUX: President Bush has given his budget director a challenge: review pet projects in the budget sent to him by Congress and find creative ways to cut the waste. Well, that may be easier said than done.

Our own Brian Todd joining us now.

And, Brian, obviously, there's a big debate over just how much is in this budget and how much is not or is necessary.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, a big debate. It started a couple of days ago. We're going to take a look at a couple of these projects, Suzanne.

You have got nearly 10,000 of these projects total in the last spending bill. And one reason the president is sounding alarms is that, days after he got this bill on his desk, we're just now getting the chance to take a look at some of these projects, some of which seem to border on the absurd.


TODD (voice-over): At it again, members of Congress using their positions to target billions of your dollars for their pet projects back home. They're called earmarks. And nearly 10,000 of them are in a $555 billion catchall spending bill for next year called an omnibus that was just rammed through Congress without much review.

It's on the president's desk. Presidents usually sign them, but this one may try to weed out some of the waste. GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm instructing Budget Director Jim Nussle to review options for dealing with the wasteful spending in the omnibus bill.

TODD: What's wasteful? CNN asked the group Taxpayers For Common Sense.

STEVE ELLIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF PROGRAMS, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE: Two hundred and thirteen thousand dollars for olive fruit fly research in Montpellier, France.

TODD: That was requested by Democratic Congressman Mike Thompson of California. One of the aides says the research is being done by a U.S. government facility in France, looking for ways to kill off fruit flies, which he says are a tremendous threat to California's growing olive industry, a big employer.

The first lady's library in Canton, Ohio, employs people, too, including the daughter of Republican Congressman Ralph Regula, who, according to Taxpayers For Common Sense, wants $126,000 of your money to help the library buy Abigail Fillmore 19th century catalog of White House books.

Regula's chief of staff didn't call us back, but his wife, who founded the library, told CNN, the place was built with private donations, and this was the only earmark for it.

MARY REGULA, LIBRARY FOUNDER: It is the National First Ladies Museum and Library, and it is under the National Park Service. And, if that money looks bad, then I don't think people think that's bad.

TODD: But, if the president wants to kill funding for it, experts say, he can.

BRIAN RIEDL, LEAD BUDGET ANALYST, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: The president can sign an executive order telling agencies to ignore the earmarks that are listed in the conference reports that accompany these bills and that are not part of the bills, and, therefore, not binding.


TODD: But Brian Riedl says that would touch off a -- quote -- "nuclear war" between the president and Congress, since the vast majority of members from both parties have pork projects in this bill.

Other options, expert say he can challenge some of the more vague projects, or he could ban a practice called phone-marking, when an agency calls an agency directly and tells them what they want funded -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Yes. But, Brian, I mean, isn't the president also being accused of playing politics here a little bit as well?

TODD: We're shocked at that, aren't we?


TODD: We're shocked that he is.

Yes, one Democratic aide called it -- quote -- "sheer hypocrisy" that the president wants to do this when the Democrats control Congress. Now, he did criticize earmarks when the Republicans were in control. He did not threaten to outright ban them.

And the irony, of course, is, now earmarks are down 25 percent from where they were when the Republicans controlled Congress. So...


OK, thank you, Brian.

TODD: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: In the "Strategy Session": John McCain was down and out, but what is behind his resurgence? Do voters trust him on the most important issues?

And Bill Clinton says his wife is a world-class genius when it comes to helping the lives of others. We will see what our strategists have to say about all that. Jamal Simmons and Terry Jeffrey are standing by, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: Right now, John McCain has reason to smile. He is pushing ahead with a campaign some had written off. He is surging in some presidential polls and he is winning sought-after endorsements.

Today, New Hampshire's "Keene Sentinel" praised him. Add to that the coveted embraces, the endorsements, from "The Boston Herald," "The Boston Globe," and the senator who was the Democratic nominee for vice president seven years ago, Connecticut's Joe Lieberman.

Well, here today for the "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons and conservative commentator Terry Jeffrey, editor in chief of the Cybercast News Service.

Thanks so much for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: Obviously, this is really kind of an amazing thing that we're seeing with McCain, numerous endorsements from the newspapers, establishment.

This latest poll -- I want you to see this -- this is "USA Today"/Gallup poll in New Hampshire for likely Republican voters, Romney at 34 percent, McCain at 27 percent.

Do we think that this is really a real phenomenon, or is this very temporary? Is this a flash?

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE: No, I think it's a very real phenomenon.

Here's an irony. John McCain now has a better chance of getting the Republican nomination than Rudy Giuliani, who has been the front- runner in national polls for most of the year. But, like Rudy, John McCain is dependent on someone else. John McCain needs Huckabee to hold on and win in Iowa, because, if Romney wins in Iowa, there's no way he's going to be beaten in New Hampshire. And, if Romney wins those two, he will be the nominee.

So, both Rudy and John McCain have an interest in Huckabee winning Iowa.

MALVEAUX: And, Jamal, isn't this a competition really over the independents in New Hampshire? And that involves Barack Obama...

SIMMONS: Absolutely.

MALVEAUX: ... because he really seems to be making inroads.

SIMMONS: Absolutely. He's not only dependent upon Huckabee. He's dependent upon Obama, because, if Obama does really well in Iowa and can convince independents in New Hampshire to stick with him, McCain may find it a little tough going to get those independents who have been voting against Republicans in the last couple of election cycles to stick with him in this presidential contest.

MALVEAUX: And one of the things that I noticed these newspapers are talking about, it's all -- it's all about foreign policy here. But, obviously, there are so many other issues that voters are looking at in all of the different states. It's not just about Iraq and foreign policy. That seems to be what they're leaning towards.

JEFFREY: Well, there's -- there's no doubt about it.

I mean, as things have gone better in Iraq, it's been good for John McCain, because he advocated the surge. People know that. But it's also taken national security down a notch as an issue in the campaign.

So -- but I will tell you something. Having the endorsement of "The Manchester Union Leader" in New Hampshire is going to help McCain a lot. They're going to push him and promote him. And they are a formidable force in that state with Republican and conservative voters.

SIMMONS: And the other thing about McCain is, McCain also is -- he's pro-life. He's anti-gay-rights. He's for -- he's for gun rights.

So, all those issues, he's exactly where the Republican Party is, unlike Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, who have got some explaining to do about where they are on some of these hot-button...


JEFFREY: Well, some Republican voters may have forgotten where McCain stands on some of these issues. He's not as solid as some people may think.

And, in fact, I think he lost the 2000 nomination because he was weak on pro-life. He went down to South Carolina. When George W. Bush endorsed the pro-life platform -- on CNN, by the way, in a Larry king debate -- John McCain attacked the Republican pro-life platform.

So, if people start going back and looking at the reasons they don't like McCain, he could start down again, I think.

MALVEAUX: Let's turn our attention to Senator Chris Dodd. Jessica -- our own Jessica Yellin, out there in Iowa, interviewed him today, and a surprising admission.

Let's take a listen.


DODD: You can't rule those things out. I always get annoyed at people in politics who say, oh, I would never, ever do that. Obviously, what I want to be is the president and be the presidential nominee. And I think we have got a darn good shot at this thing.


MALVEAUX: Well, he's talking about the possibility of being selected as the running mate, the vice president here. Is that a strategic mistake, Jamal, to admit something like that?

SIMMONS: Well, you know, Chris Dodd is not exactly at the head of the pack when it comes to polling. So, I'm not sure how much he's risking by doing that.

But I think, when you talk to people in his campaign, they say they're fighting to win. They want to be president. But Chris Dodd has clearly also said, if he doesn't make it to the presidential slot, put me on the list.

MALVEAUX: Terry, what does it say about his candidate -- his campaign's viability here, because, as Jamal mentioned, he's at 1 percent in Iowa?

JEFFREY: Well, I really don't think there's -- there's no realistic chance that Chris Dodd is going to be the Democratic nominee.

However, if he picks the right horse early on here, he potentially could move out of the Senate into a senior position in a Democratic Cabinet. Who knows. Maybe he could be the Democratic nominee, which may be his only path to the White House.

MALVEAUX: And is there anybody you -- you suspect would pick him as a running mate?

SIMMONS: Well, you know, if it's John Edwards or Barack Obama, they certainly have to worry about this experience question that is hovering over their head. And you could see one of the two of them going to someone like a Joe Biden or a Chris Dodd, and say, come on over with me. I need somebody who can run with me and make people feel secure on some of these foreign policy questions.


Last issue here -- this is from former President Clinton. He said his wife is a world-class genius when it comes to improving the lives of others. This was 15 a minutes into a speech where he added afterwards, "Everything I'm saying is my wife's position, not just mine."

I had a chance to catch up with President Clinton earlier in the week in Iowa. There was a big flap over some sharp criticism he made about Obama's -- his experience, his credentials to be president. In the background, his wife, Hillary Clinton, was saying, you know: Come on, Bill. The kids are waiting. The kids are waiting.

There seems to be some concern here that he's overshadowing his wife's campaign. Do you see that?

JEFFREY: Well, I think it's very funny, the way she was harping on him.

But Bill Clinton is a double-edged sword for Hillary right now. She's in a very tight race in Iowa and New Hampshire. The only way she can lose the nomination is if she loses those two states. He's bringing out people. He's identifying voters. He's going to motivate her voters. He's going to help get them out in those two state.

Then again, Hillary can't afford to make a big mistake in the next two weeks. He could make one for her.

MALVEAUX: OK. I have got to leave it there. Thank you so much, Jamal Simmons, Terry Jeffrey. Appreciate it, in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Hillary Clinton may want to take a trip to California. We have new poll numbers of her support there. And it's not as encouraging as her campaign.

Also, it's no child's play. In Iraq, some teenagers are taking on terrorists. How hard is it to fight against al Qaeda and try to have a childhood?

And some call it hit-and-run politics, campaigns attacking their rivals, but running away from full responsibility. Is it happening even more so close to the first major presidential contest?


MALVEAUX: Checking our Political Ticker this Friday: Hillary Clinton still has a significant lead in California, but it's not as big as it was a couple of months ago.

A new Field poll of likely voters in the February 5 Democratic primary shows Clinton now is 14 points ahead of Barack Obama. Well, she was 30 points ahead of him in October. In the Republican race, Californians appear to be jumping on the Mike Huckabee bandwagon. The Field poll shows his support has surged from 4 percent in October to 17 percent now. That puts him in second place, eight points behind Rudy Giuliani.

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

Jack is in New York with "The Cafferty File."

Jack, and what are you looking at?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Should the airlines be punished for flight delays, and, if so, how?

It turns out, according to the study, it's the airlines themselves that are responsible for most of the delays, not the weather, not congested skies -- the airlines.

John writes: "The airline industry could screw up a one-car funeral. They haven't had a decent business model since the Wright Brothers ran down the sand at Kitty Hawk. If the federal government didn't prop them up with post 9/11 handouts and lawsuit immunities, half of them would be bankrupt now and the other half would be on life support."

Albert in Las Cruces, New Mexico: "Good grief, Jack. Why on earth should airlines be punished for flight delays? When was the last time you got to see your doctor or dentist at the exact time your appointment was scheduled for? Waiting is a wonderful chance for our spoiled society to moan and groan about how badly life is treating them."

Dom writes in Florida: "For me, give me an airline with a 100 percent safety record and an on-time percentage of, say, 50 percent, rather than an airline with a 100 percent on-time record, and only a 99 percent safety record."

Ed writes: "They should operate as a free-market enterprise. They should lose government subsidies and not expect government bailouts, such as after 9/11. If air travel is impractical and inefficient without government aid, prices will reflect that and air travelers will be fewer. And fewer travelers means less delays."

Mike in Hot Springs, Arkansas: "The free market provides sufficient punishment for flight delays. Just don't take that airline again if the service is not satisfactory. The feds can't be expected to take care of everything."

Christoph in Minnesota: "It doesn't make sense. How can you guarantee the exact times of flights? Too many things need to happen in order for it all to work right. Can it be better? Yes. Can it ever be flawless? No. The only way to solve the problem now is to find out who designed the FedEx package sorting system and put them to work on the airlines." And, finally, J.W.: "Put the airline people in very uncomfortable seats for long periods of time. Make them sit next to fat people with one armrest between them. Make them breathe stale, contaminated air, listen to inane cell phone chatter at high volumes. Give them six peanuts for dinner. Make them smell rich folks dinner. Charge them for a sandwich. And, finally, a little torture by telling them when they can get out of those uncomfortable seats, but then delay, delay, delay, until they all get just a bit little crazy" -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Wow. Strong opinions.

Jack Cafferty -- thank you so much, Jack.