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Mitt Romney Suspends Campaign; Demcrats in GOP Crosshairs; Calls for an Investigation Into Waterboarding

Aired February 7, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Mitt Romney gets out of John McCain's way. Where does the Republican race for the White House go from here, now that Romney is suspending his campaign?
We'll have the first reaction from the McCain camp. That's coming up.

Romney's exit makes the Democrats' lives a little bit more complicated. This hour, new fights between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton over cash, debates and delegates.

And Democrats give new ground on boosting the economy, while Vice President Cheney refuses to give an inch on questions of torture and fighting terror.

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

Mitt Romney says he still disagrees with John McCain on a number of issues, but he won't keep fighting the Republican front-runner. Romney made the surprise announcement today that he's suspending -- suspending his presidential campaign. He did it in front of a conference of conservatives, a group he had hoped would help him win the nomination.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This isn't an easy decision. I hate to lose. My family, my friends, you, my supporters across the country, you've given a great deal to get me to where I had a shot at becoming president. If this were only about me I would go on. But it's never been only about me. I entered this race -- I entered this race because I love America. And because I love America, in this time of war I feel I have to now stand aside for our party and for our country.


BLITZER: Just a short while later, McCain spoke to the very same conservative audience about Mitt Romney's exit.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I had a phone conversation with Governor Romney. I congratulated him on running an energetic and dedicated campaign. We agreed to sit down together, and we agree the importance to unite our party. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's go to Dana Bash. She's watching this story for us.

Dana, so what's the inside story? Why did Romney decide all of the sudden, after his professed determination to continue until the convention, to drop out?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The hard, cold facts Wolf. And those are the numbers. The numbers that showed it would have been virtually impossible for him to win the nomination now given how many delegates John McCain has versus how many he has.

He met with advisers yesterday. He was preparing this speech today. And as he was preparing, we're told that it was abundantly clear to him that this was going to be much more of a good-bye speech.

Now, what he said today in his speech, when he addressed this crowd, this crowd that had thought that they were going to be rallying around him as an alternative to John McCain, what he said is that he simply doesn't want to stand in the way of the Republican Party uniting as fast as they can in order to beat a Democrat in November.


ROMNEY: I want you to know I've given this a lot of thought. I'd forestall the launch of a national campaign. And frankly, I would be making it easier for Senator Clinton or Obama to win. Frankly, in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrendering to terror.


BASH: Now, Romney advisers admit that he is a young man, and that he was thinking about the fact that if he stayed in at this point, he didn't want to look like a spoiler, perhaps, that he's thinking about the fact that he hopes he has a big future in the Republican Party. That's why he decided to make this decision today.

Now, Wolf, we know that he spoke with Senator McCain today. At this point there is no plans for Mitt Romney to endorse John McCain, but we're also told that he might endorse McCain at the appropriate time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And now we know shortly -- just a few moments ago -- and you saw it live here on CNN -- John McCain spoke before the same CPAC group, the Conservative Political Action Conference. A tough audience for him to be appearing at. He didn't speak there last year. What was the reception like?

BASH: You know, it's interesting. This was going to be the biggest challenge, the biggest story of the day for John McCain, to try to unite these conservatives, many of whom do still not think that he is the right man to be their nominee. And he got a wild round of applause when he came in. There was some booing. There's no question. There was some booing, particularly when he made the case about illegal immigration. That is the issue that conservatives really dislike him perhaps most on. He got actual booing to the point where he had to stop his speech.

But for the most part, what John McCain did was try to be the un- John McCain. Not the defiant McCain that we've seen so many times, but to reach out with an olive branch over and over again to say he is a conservative and he wants to unite his party.


MCCAIN: Many of you have disagreed strongly with some positions I have taken in recent years. I understand that. I might not agree with it, but I respect it for the principled position it is. And it is my sincere hope that even if you believe I have occasionally erred in my reasoning, as a follow conservative you will still allow that I have in many ways important to all of us maintained the record of a conservative.


BASH: Maintained the record of a conservative. And, Wolf, he talked a lot about the details of that record, whether it's judges or tax cuts, or his stance against abortion. Over and over reminding these conservative -- these conservative activists, who are very, very important in his party, that he is one of the them, despite their differences.

He also, in terms of the olive branch that he put out there, he also made the case at the very end of his speech that he knows that there will be disagreements in the future, but he promised -- he promised to seek the council of the people that they respect. So that is another sort of bit of a change of tone for this man whose campaign sees him right now as the presumptive nominee of their party -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Dana Bash, over at the CPAC conference here in Washington.

According to the latest fundraising reports, by the way, Romney has spent more than $87 million on his now suspended presidential campaign. Here's what he got for his money.

He won contests in 11 states. He won 286 delegates to the GOP convention. Spent a lot of his own cash, more than $30 million, in the process as well.

Republicans clearly have Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in their sights, and they're trying to make the most out of the fact that the Democratic race is close, contentious, and dragging on. Let's go to Suzanne Malveaux. She's in Chicago watching the story for us.

Any reaction, first of all, from the Clinton and Obama camps to Romney's decision to drop out? SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's no official reaction from either one of the campaigns. They are focusing on their races today.

Barack Obama in Louisiana. There are about 66 delegates up for grabs in that Saturday primary. Nearly half of the voters African- American. So that's a critical state.

We are still waiting to see Senator Clinton in Arlington, Virginia. She's running about two hours late. But there are 83 delegates that are up for grabs in that Tuesday contest.

So, clearly, both of them crisscrossing the country, trying to win those critical voters for those delegates in the days to come. Neither campaign commenting about the Romney dropout development. But I did talk to a number of insiders who say they don't think that this is good news.


MALVEAUX (voice over): Campaign insiders for Senators Clinton and Obama say Mitt Romney's exit is bad news for both. While the Republicans now coalesce around their front-runner, John McCain, the Democratic candidates dig in for a long fight.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The children of New Orleans are America's children.

MALVEAUX: Senator Barack Obama, in New Orleans, unveiled his recovery plan for the city still struggling two and a half years later after Hurricane Katrina.

OBAMA: We have to understand that Katrina may have battered the levees, but it also exposed silent storms that have ravaged parts of this city and our country for far too long -- the storms of poverty and joblessness, inequality and injustice.

MALVEAUX: He also shared a light moment over a bowl of gumbo.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're too frail, baby. We have got to fatten you a little bit.

MALVEAUX: Both camps are competing for big cash to keep their campaigns going in the months ahead. After Clinton revealed she had to loan $5 million of her own money to her presidential campaign, aides announced after Super Tuesday a fundraising blitz over the Internet brought in at least $4 million in 24 hours. And cash is still coming. Her loan has already been paid off. Obama's campaign says they've netted $7 million over the same two-day period.

Now Clinton's camp is turning up the pressure on Obama for more debates. Clinton's campaign manager sent a letter to her Obama counterpart, challenging the candidate, Obama, to five debates. One every week until the March 4th contest. Obama has been lukewarm, so far accepting at least one.

OBAMA: We will -- here's the good news. We will have more debates. We are still trying to sort through our schedule.


MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, what this is really all about, the Clinton camp believes that she is the strongest in the debates, that she wins these debate. So, of course, they want to put Obama out there one-on- one, like we saw back in the last debate, the two of them for the first time.

The Obama folks, they say, look, Clinton has 100 percent name recognition. She has the Clinton brand behind them. What they need to do, they need to spend their time getting voters to know Barack Obama. The more they do that they feel the stronger he is, the stronger he performs. So both of them trying to exhibit and play off of their strengths and minimize their weaknesses -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thanks very much.

Suzanne Malveaux and Dana Bash are both part of the Emmy Award- winning best political team on television.

And remember, for the latest political news any time, check out our Political Ticker at That's also where you can read my daily blog as well. Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" in New York.

What a day, Jack. A lot of news.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: What did you write about today?

BLITZER: I wrote about how candidates, they always say they're not dropping out, they're staying until the convention, until the bitter, bitter end, until they drop out.

CAFFERTY: Which is usually within hours after they insist they're not going anywhere, right?

BLITZER: They insist -- whether it was John Edwards, whether it was Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, now Mitt Romney, they're staying, they're not leaving. They're determined until they leave.

CAFFERTY: No. And then that afternoon they quit. They're liars. That's what they -- they all lie to us.

BLITZER: I guess they have to say it, otherwise they would -- you know, their supporters would be disheartened.

CAFFERTY: Well, that's a good point.


CAFFERTY: But they're probably disheartened when they quit anyway.

Anyway, you've got to hand it to the Republicans. The Republicans, if nothing else, are efficient. With Mitt Romney out of the race now, the Republicans have their man. John McCain will be the Republican campaign for president. Mike Huckabee remain in the race in name only. And I would be very surprised if they're around a week from now.

So while the Republican field is pretty much set, the Democrats, they don't have a clue. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama virtually tied. A long fight ahead.

Even with Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, and a handful of smaller states still out there on the horizon, it's entirely possible that the Democrats will not decide their nominee until their August convention. And one of the reasons the two parties find themselves in such different positions is the rules.

In many states, Republicans use the winner-take-all system for delegates. It's quick. The whole thing goes much faster that way. The Democrats, on the other hand, divide their delegates proportionately. And that makes it much harder for one candidate to get enough delegates to secure the nomination.

What will happen now is the Republicans are free to set about unifying their party, plotting their strategy, their message for November, and most importantly, replenishing their war chest, raising money. While the Republicans do that, Clinton and Obama fight on, spending millions of dollars trying to take each other out, money that could be used to fight John McCain in the fall instead of each other right now.

So here's the question. Now that the Republicans have a clear front-runner in John McCain, do they have an advantage over the Democrats in the general election?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack. See you in a few moments.

Dick Cheney is sounding defiant about the administration's tactics in the war on terror. Still ahead, after acknowledging the use of waterboarding on terror suspects, the vice president says he would do it all over again.

Plus, the possible fight ahead at the Democratic convention. Will so-called super-delegates finally decide who gets the party's nomination?

And coming up next, Glenn Beck on Mitt Romney's exit, and John McCain. Does the outspoken CNN host like John McCain any more today?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Mitt Romney bowing out. John McCain even closer to the Republican nomination. And many conservatives are wringing their hands. We're joined now by the radio talk show host, the CNN Headline News personality, Glenn Beck.


BLITZER: Glenn, what do you think about these dramatic developments today?

BECK: I think Mitt Romney looked -- I think he looked good today. I mean, I think he did the right thing. You know, I've said for a long time that I think he's not policy-wise, but -- I just get the feeling that he was Ronald Reagan in 1976. That his turn is coming in four years.

BLITZER: I watched his speech as the CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, Romney, and a lot of us who were watching said, you know, why didn't he sound like this during the course of the campaign?

BECK: Yes.

BLITZER: He came out so energized, so passionate. And he delivered what arguably could have been the best speech. Unfortunately, for him it came a little bit too late.

BECK: I know. I know. And now we're left with John McCain, who -- you know, I know you're going to talk to Bill Bennett. And Bill Bennett is a good friend of mine, and he's on your show here in about an hour.

And, you know, we had an exchange in the hallway a couple of nights ago. And he's like, "What are you crazy?" And, you know, as I tried to explain to him, I can't pull the lever for John McCain because I'm an alcoholic. And let me explain.

You've got to stop enabling people. You've got to let the conservative movement or the Republican movement collapse on itself, and let it rise again. And I know you people say, oh, no, it's too important. You know what? When I was drinking I knew I was going to lose my family. And I let myself bottom out, and everybody could have tried to enable me, but I would have been dead by now.

I don't want the party, I don't want the conservative values to die. Let it bottom out. I saved my family. We can save the country. We can save conservative values. But not if we continue to enable it and just say, oh, it's too important, we've got to take this guy.

BLITZER: McCain came, he came to this CPAC conference, as you just saw. We carried his speech live here on CNN.

BECK: Yes.

BLITZER: And he made, among other things, this point. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCAIN: My record in public office taken as a whole is the record of a mainstream conservative. I believe today, as I believed 25 years ago, in small government, fiscal discipline, low taxes, a strong defense, judges who inform and not make our laws, the social values that are the true source of our strength.


BLITZER: So here's the question. Do you believe him?

BECK: No. Unbelievably, he led the charge against the border, and for amnesty. Taxes, he said no twice. He does get no spending. Yet, at the same time, he's for a global warming package with Joe Lieberman that will add 50 cents a gallon to your gasoline tax. That doesn't sound good.

Also, the McCain/Feingold, when he talks about judges. He put together the gang of 14. This guy is wrong on major issues every step of the way. And you know what, Wolf? I was fooled by George W. Bush.

He came and said, hey, I'm a conservative, and a lot of people, just like on the other side that fought for John Kerry and everything else, we fought hard. And we really believed in these weasels in Washington. Well, you know what? I'm not going to lend them my trust anymore. By their fruits I will know them. And I'm sorry, John McCain. You've got too many bad fruit, you know, hanging on that tree. I just -- I'm not picking from that tree.

BLITZER: And just to be precise, would you rather vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or John McCain, or not vote at all?

BECK: I mean, jeez, it's like would you rather -- do you have a rope, a knife in the chest, or a gun to your head? I don't know. First of all, too far away. You know, conditions could change. I don't know what I'm going to do. I really don't. And I think there's a lot of people like me that are conservatives that say I don't know.

BLITZER: There's a bunch of radio talk show hosts. We have a list. Ann Coulter, she's not a radio talk show host, but she's an outspoken conservative. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Michael Savage, Hugh Hewitt, Mark Levin, they're in the same boat with you.

BECK: Yes.

BLITZER: They're major McCain critics. Here's the question. How influential is this group? And how much damage could it do to John McCain?

BECK: I think actually it's going to help McCain. And here's why.

First of all, talk radio, you have to understand, talk radio, we're like real estate agents. We might show you some houses, but unless that's the house you're interested in, you're not going to buy it. OK? So, we're as influential as your real estate agent. The second thing is, I believe that gang there is so disliked by the left that if there's, God forbid, some sort of a danger sign that comes up with the war or anything else, and liberals are thinking, I'm going to go for Obama, they're going to say at the end, I don't know. He doesn't have the experience. John McCain does have the experience. And Rush Limbaugh and all those people that I hate so much, they hate John McCain. He's got to be more like me. I think that talk radio list is actually going to help him in the end.

BLITZER: Interesting. All right, Glenn. You might be right on that last point in the general election. Appreciate it very much.

BECK: You bet. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Glenn Beck joining us. Thank you.

BECK: You bet.

BLITZER: There are new developments here in Washington on Capitol Hill in efforts to try to jump-start the economy. We're going to tell you if you're likely to be getting a check in the mail anytime soon.

Plus, a huge drug company agrees to a massive settlement. At issue, popular prescriptions and allegations of improper marketing.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: For those who think waterboarding is torture, the vice president, Dick Cheney, offers some choice words. You're going to hear how he defends the use of that controversial interrogation technique. That's coming up.

And might Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's political fates rest not in the hands of the primary voters, but in the back room at the Democratic National Convention?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now, it's being called the single greatest threat to American military and business technology -- Chinese espionage. And one lawmaker says China could be using thousands of business in the United States, even students and tourists, to help that along. Brian Todd watching this story for us.

Also, a massive crime sweep stretching from New York City to Italy. Prosecutors say they've rounded up prominent members of notorious Mafia families. And Angelina Jolie's mission for what she calls the very vulnerable. She travels to Iraq and talks about why. Her exclusive interview with CNN, that's coming up.

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

Critics calls it torture. Simply put, torture. That's what they say. But the White House says it's not only legal, but perhaps necessary to save American lives.

It's the controversial interrogation technique known as waterboarding. Right now the debate over its legality is getting a fresh airing. Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's watching this story for us.

Some lawmakers, Ed, they want a full-scale investigation into its past use.


And the attorney general said today that he will not investigate, because the Bush Justice Department determined that waterboarding was permissible under the law as it exited at that time. Now, if that careful wording raises some red flags, the vice president made clear today the White House has no regrets.


HENRY (voice-over): Vice President Cheney was defiant about the use of waterboarding on terror suspects, saying President Bush has made the right decisions in the war on terror.

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have been proud to stand by him, by the decisions he's made. And would I support those decisions again today? You're damn right I would.


HENRY: The vice president said, waterboarding, which simulates drowning, was used on a small number of terrorists shortly after 9/11 and was justified because the administration thought another attack was imminent.

CHENEY: It's a tougher program for tougher customers. These include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11. And so, in a heightened threat environment, with a persistent and evolving terrorist adversary, the absence of another 9/11 is not an accident. It is an achievement.

HENRY: But CIA Director Michael Hayden said Thursday he's not sure whether the tactic is currently legal.

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, CIA DIRECTOR: In my own view, the view of my lawyers and the Department of Justice, it is not certain that that technique would be considered to be lawful under current statute. HENRY: One statute is the 2006 Military Commissions Act. And its Republican sponsors John McCain and Lindsey Graham have said they were assured it now bans waterboarding. But White House spokesman Tony Fratto left the door open to it being used again.

TONY FRATTO, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: No one is in a position to rule anything in or out, because I can't speculate in terms of the future as to what Director Hayden or any future director of the Central Intelligence Agency may bring as a proposed technique.

HENRY: Human rights experts say the White House is caught in a legal hole.

TOM MALINOWSKI, WASHINGTON ADVOCACY DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: If they admit that waterboarding is torture, they admit that they committed a crime. If they deny it's torture, then they're basically saying to the whole world, waterboarding is legal. You could do it to an American.


HENRY: Now, Tony Fratto was asked today, if al Qaeda used waterboarding on U.S. soldiers, would it be torture? He refused to speculate, but he insisted the U.S. is not giving a green light to the enemy to use waterboarding on U.S. soldiers -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Now, this is clearly an area where John McCain and George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney, for that matter, they clearly disagree.

HENRY: That's right. Now, John McCain previously has made clear that he thinks that the law he helped pass in 2006 clearly bans waterboarding. But, at this point, the White House is clearly leaving the door open to the possibility of using waterboarding again.

You're not hearing John McCain speak out on this right now, though, because, obviously, he wants to win Bush conservatives right now. He doesn't want to be at odds with the White House. So, you're not hearing him speak out on this right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House, thank you.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration has a message for Congress, and it concerns money for you. The treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, urging Congress to act quickly on the economic stimulus package designed to get rebate checks to millions of Americans. Paulson says quick acts would reduce the odds of a recession.

Let's go to Brianna Keilar. She's up on Capitol Hill, watching this story.

There has been some movement up in the Senate today, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, good news for all those people out there who are counting on these tax rebate checks. There's a key vote going on, on the Senate floor now. After days of bickering, Senate Democrats came to a compromise with Republicans, after Democrats failed to get the economic stimulus package that they really wanted past that Republican minority last night.

So, this Senate plan that is endorsed by both parties, it keeps the tax rebate structure of the House-passed plan. So, basically, what that means is that, if your income is between $3,000 and $75,000, you would get a tax rebate check of between $300 and $600. And then you get an extra $300 for each child that you have.

Now, what the Senate does do, though, is it adds tax rebate checks for more than 20 million low-income senior citizens and disabled veterans. And it also has a provision that would prevent illegal immigrants from collecting a tax rebate check.

And, here, both sides, Democrats and Republicans, calling this victory.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Once in a while, able to come together and do something important for the country, with a minimum amount of partisan bickering, and to do it in a timely fashion.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The vast majority of the United States Senate agreed that we have to change the economic direction of this country. And we have done that. Have we changed it as much as we wanted to? The answer is no. Did we change it? The answer is yes.


KEILAR: Now, both sides not getting exactly what they wanted, but the actual vote on this Senate-backed economic stimulus package is expected here shortly. And then it would move onto the House, presumably move through the House quickly, maybe as early as tonight. And then it would go to the president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And I assume the president is on board with this deal worked out in the Senate, more or less; is that right?

KEILAR: Well, that is what it appears to be at this point, because some of the major sticking points for Republicans and for the president, those issues were taken out of the Senate-backed plan, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we will see what happens, if those checks are in the mail fairly soon.

Brianna, thanks very much.

If the Democratic presidential race keeps going until the convention, party leaders may make the final word on whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama actually wins. Coming up, we're going to take a closer look at the power of these so-called super-delegates.

Plus, now that Mitt Romney is out, will conservatives rally behind Mike Huckabee or finally warm up to John McCain? Our "Strategy Session" just ahead.

And in our next hour, it's a numbers game now for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Can they raise the cash to keep fighting it out for delegates?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Now that Super Tuesday has come and gone, there are some growing questions about whether the Democratic presidential nomination will be decided at the convention at the end of the summer in Denver.

It's a touchy subject for Democrats, especially as they watch John McCain move closer and closer towards sealing up the Republican nomination.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching this story for us.

The Romney decision to drop out of this contest, what does it mean for the Democrats, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, a big problem. The Republican race is shutting down, while there's no end in sight for the Democrats.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): What happens if the Democratic stalemate persists? Then two fights could break out at the Democratic Convention. One is a fight over the super-delegates, who hold 20 percent of the convention votes. Those are officeholders and party officials who automatically get convention votes, but are not pledged to support any particular candidate. The super-delegates dare not reverse the decision of the primary voters.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The argument we would be making to super-delegates is, if we come into the convention with more pledged delegates, then I think we can make a very strong argument that our constituencies have spoken.

SCHNEIDER: But, if the voters can't make up their minds, the super-delegates could make it up for them. It's a political junkie's dream and the Democratic Party's nightmare, backroom decisions, wheeling and dealing.

The second fight is likely to be over seating delegates from Michigan and Florida. The Democratic Party has already voted not to seat their delegates because they held early primaries. Hillary Clinton won both contests. She wants those delegates seated. SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I promise you I will do everything I can to make sure, not only are Florida's Democratic delegates seated, but Florida is in the winning column for the Democrats in 2008!


SCHNEIDER: The Democratic Party is urging Florida and Michigan to hold caucuses to pick delegates, but the Clinton campaign doesn't think much of that idea. Barack Obama has been winning most of the caucuses.

HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I dare say Michigan and Florida will ask for reinstatement. And the credentials committee, which will not be under my control, will make that decision at that time, later on down the road. It will be up to the -- and the convention as a whole.

SCHNEIDER: A full-fledged credentials battle on the convention floor. Oh, boy! Oh, boy.


SCHNEIDER: The record shows, the more divided the party, the more likely it is to lose in November. As Chairman Dean himself observed, there have been three divided Democratic conventions in recent decades, 1968, 1972, and 1980. And the Democrats lost every time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Bill Schneider, for that.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is one of those Democratic super-delegates. I spoke with her up on Capitol Hill earlier today and asked her if it would be fair if party leaders wind up choosing the Democratic nominee.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: When you say just party leaders, governors, senators, members of Congress, we are people who have fought for what is happening in the party.

But let me tell you why there are super-delegates. There are super-delegates so that those people who have worked in campaigns can come to the caucus where delegates are selected and not have to compete with a governor, a senator, or a member of Congress.

The super-delegates were established to give many more people at the grassroots level the opportunity to go to the convention and be really the overwhelming majority of who will decide this convention.


BLITZER: You're going to hear a lot more of this exclusive interview with the House speaker coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM during our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour, and all of this interview Sunday on CNN's "LATE EDITION," Sunday morning, the last word in Sunday talk.

In the "Strategy Session": On his way out of the race, Mitt Romney highlighted his similarities with John McCain.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now, I disagree with Senator McCain on a number of issues, as you know. But I agree with him -- but I agree with him on doing whatever it takes to be successful in Iraq and finding and executing Osama bin Laden.


BLITZER: So, can the GOP's front-runner reach out to Romney's supporters. And Hillary Clinton challenging Barack Obama to a weekly debate, one on one. Since when does a front-runner want more debates? All of that coming up and a lot more -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Mitt Romney is out. John McCain is the front-runner. So, where does that leave Mike Huckabee in this Republican presidential contest?

Let's get to that and more in our "Strategy Session." Joining us, the Democratic strategist Stephanie Cutter and the Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez.

Ladies, thanks very much for coming in.

What do you think? Mike Huckabee, does he have a shot? Is there a strategy? Is there a way he can really derail John McCain?



SANCHEZ: I mean, kind of that's the -- the real answer is no. John McCain has all the momentum. The tipping point was Florida, when he started getting the endorsements of the governors, which really secured his grassroots organization.

Schwarzenegger came on board. It really led to the victory in California as well. And, really, the momentum is very strong. It does not mean that you can't -- you ignore the evangelical voters, or voters that are interested in Romney, the conservatives, but it does mean McCain has his work to do. But it's too much to overcome.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that?

STEPHANIE CUTTER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Absolutely. I don't think, if he even won every single contest coming up, he could beat McCain with the delegates.

(CROSSTALK) CUTTER: I think you're seeing the party consolidate around McCain.

BLITZER: And, so, it's just a matter of time before Huckabee is forced to drop out?

CUTTER: Yes. I think he's going to try to be a power broker between McCain and some of these conservative radio talk show hosts. And, you know, there's a big question on the table whether or not he's running for vice president.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about John McCain right now. He spoke at this Conservative Political -- Political Action Conference here in Washington, generally, I thought pretty well received, although there were some hecklers. There were some boos, including when he himself raised the issue, the most -- arguably, the most controversial issue for him with this group. That would be his support for a pathway toward citizenship for illegal immigrants, the McCain-Kennedy legislation, which went down the tubes, as you know.

Here's the little excerpt of what happened when the issue of immigration came up.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: On -- on the issue of illegal immigration, a position which...



BLITZER: All right. That went on for a little while.



BLITZER: And he shrugged -- sort of slug shrugged it off. What do you think?


SANCHEZ: Sure. Sure. No, there's no doubt about this, that I think what you saw two today, fundamentally, were people who put the cause ahead of their personal ambitions, with Romney's kind of magnanimous stepping aside. And I think McCain was very gracious in reaching out to conservatives.

You have to remember, conservatives, in many cases, are adversary, sometimes, to him, not enemies. I think he's made some inroads today. He did talk about what he would do with judges. He talked about border enforcement with immigration, which is critical. But he didn't talk about McCain/Feingold. So, there's definitely some work that needs to be done. But he's on the right path.

BLITZER: What do you think?

CUTTER: Well, I think that, any time that John McCain is giving a speech like that, it's great for Democrats.


CUTTER: Because the perceived McCain, as a straight talker, independent guy, is bad for us.

BLITZER: Because he comes across as pandering; is that what you're...

CUTTER: Well, when he's giving a speech like he gave today at CPAC, he swinging very far to the right, which is really the John McCain record. It's not the John McCain record that voters know, but we would encourage more speeches like that...




BLITZER: Because you know the argument will be he was pandering to the right, trying to get them on board.

SANCHEZ: You know, anybody who listened to the speech would say, John McCain was John McCain. He said, this is where I stand. You don't always agree with me. This is why I believe this way. And this is why you can trust me.

The reason Republicans are coalescing around him is, he really exudes strong leadership. It's the personal character. He's going to stand his ground. And that's what America is looking for, not only for economic security, but national security.

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about the Democratic contest right now. It's a fiercely fought battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

She's basically gone ahead and agreed to a series of one-on-one debates. She says she's ready for a one-on-one debate with Barack Obama any time, basically every week.

Her campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, wrote this in a letter: "I was disappointed to see that Senator Obama rejected the idea of having more debates, given the fact that he and Senator Clinton have had only a single one-on-one debate. I think we can do better, and so does Hillary."

What do you think of this argument over debates?

SANCHEZ: I think it's a smart strategy on her part, because she does well in debates. The upcoming debates are in states where she is not expected to do as well as Barack Obama. So, it forces those voters to take a look at them, compare them side by side. And, if she is having money problems, which, you know, apparently they raised a lot of money since Super Tuesday, but if she is having money problems, this is free media in these states. It's free targeted media. You can't beat that.

SANCHEZ: This is an open sign of desperation. There's no doubt about this. It's almost like she's on the final count on the mat. And she's out of oxygen. She's out of money. She's asking Barack Obama to help her out. People can argue about who the front-runner is, but the one in control is the one that doesn't have to debate. And that's basically -- she's -- she's giving that mantle of control to Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Usually, the challenger, or the underdog, wants the debates.

CUTTER: Right.

SANCHEZ: Exactly.

CUTTER: Right.

BLITZER: And the front-runner doesn't necessarily want the debates.


SANCHEZ: It didn't help Al Gore.

CUTTER: But the bottom line is that we have two front-runners. And either one of them could make this challenge for debates. And we have seen this, the debate over debates, happening for this entire race. And it's actually a smart strategy on her part.

It's -- even if she's not the front-runner, and she's the challenger, it's a smart strategy. Whether Barack agrees to it, I think that there will be some number of debates coming up. It might not be on her terms. But we will know very shortly.

SANCHEZ: Right. And one thing to think about, it did -- it behooved Al Gore not to debate. We used to talk about the missing man in action. He didn't show up. But he knew what was doing in terms of, it's the person who is in control who can make the decision. And, right now, she gave that decision to Barack Obama.

BLITZER: By the way, I am told that Barack Obama has agreed to at least two more debates, one-on-one with Hillary Clinton, including one in Ohio before the March 4th contest there, Ohio, Texas...


CUTTER: Which is also smart an his part. Ohio is a state where, as of what we know right now, is not a state where he's not going to do as well as Hillary, because it's older voters, less educated voters. And that's typically her base.

SANCHEZ: No. CUTTER: So, it's a smart strategy on both parts, to be selective where you're going to debate your opponent.

SANCHEZ: You know, what's interesting about coming up March, both with Ohio and Texas, it's very diverse audiences, big, strong Hispanic populations, strong military records, you know, a lot of veterans in states like Texas, and economic issues in Ohio. So, it's...

BLITZER: And our debate is going to be in Ohio...

SANCHEZ: That's right.

CUTTER: Right.

BLITZER: ... just before that Ohio contest at the end of February. So, we will see what happens.

CUTTER: We will tune it.


BLITZER: A lot of people tuned in the last time.

CUTTER: They did.



BLITZER: I'm sure even more will tune in the next time.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

What is a former presidential candidate to do after leaving the race? You're going to find out what John Edwards is up to. It involves another hotly -- hotly set of races -- hotly contested set of races. I can say that.

Also, one lawmaker says China could be using thousands of businesses in the United States, even students and tourists, to help spy on America. Chinese espionage is being called the single greatest threat to American military and business technology -- Brian Todd all over this story.

And an exclusive interview with Angelina Jolie. She traveled to Iraq. She explains to CNN why the trip is so important.

Lots more coming up -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: On our Political Ticker: Voter turnout this primary season is on track to reach a record high. According to a student by American University, more than 24 million Americans have voted in primaries so far. That's 27 percent of eligible voters. So far this year, turnout records have been set in 15 states that held both Democratic and Republican primaries.

New Hampshire had the highest overall turnout, above 51 percent. Massachusetts was second with a turnout above 37 percent. More than 32 percent of the voters cast ballots in Illinois and in Missouri. At this pace, at this pace, primary turnout in 2008 is likely to break the record set back in 1972, when, on average, 25.9 percent of voters went to the polls.

Now that John Edwards has quit the presidential race, he obviously has more time for fun with his family. Edwards was spotted with his son Jack at the Duke-vs.-North Carolina basketball game last night in Chapel Hill. Good for them.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out our Ticker at That's where you can read my daily blog as well.

Jack Cafferty once again joining us with "The Cafferty File."

CAFFERTY: You were at the Garden last night watching two of the worst teams in the NBA, weren't you?

BLITZER: I was watching the Knicks and the Pacers. The Pacers won.

CAFFERTY: That's what I said, two of the worst teams in the NBA.

BLITZER: You know, but it was actually a good -- a good -- a good game. I like Mike Dunleavy of the -- of the Pacers, because he's friends with my daughter's fiance.

CAFFERTY: Oh, wow.


CAFFERTY: All right. So, you probably got good seats?

BLITZER: No. We had to pay cash.




BLITZER: But I did get to see him back -- back -- later after the game.

CAFFERTY: All right.


CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Now that the Republicans have a clear front-runner in John McCain, do they have an advantage over the Democrats in the general election? Dwayne writes: "Normally, this unification would be an advantage, but in a year that's anything but typical, I think that conservatives will choke as the smell of McCain rises over the months. By contrast, the Democratic contest will be so curiously appealing that a fickle public will be tempted to get involved."

Meg in West Virginia: "You really got this wrong, Jack. The Republicans may have settled on a candidate, but they are a long way from being behind one person. And, since they have only one, the Republican run for the nomination is no longer news, so their coverage ends. The Democrats are a long way from fighting, and a good distance from any nomination. The latest poll shows that 70 percent of Democrats would be happy with either Hillary or Obama."

Steve writes: "Deciding on a candidate early definitely gives the Republicans an advantage in the upcoming election. However, no matter how many advantages the Republicans might come up with, they will never be able to overcome their tremendous disadvantage. That would be George W. Bush. There's no way they can overcome the most disastrous presidency in modern history."

Nick writes: "Unfortunately, the Republicans may have an edge now. McCain is not going to appeal to conservatives in the Republican Party, but then the entire mood of the electorate is swinging to the left. To win, the Republicans will need a centrist candidate, and McCain is probably the farthest from the right. If he tones down his views on Iraq and starts to talk about a drawdown or, dare we say, a timetable, he could conceivably undermine the Democratic proto- candidates, while they catfight each other."

And Denny writes: "The longer McCain is out there as the GOP candidate, the more people will tire of him. The more time he has, the more likely he will trip over himself. Obama and Clinton will command strong coverage for some time and will help draw attention to the issues that appeal to an overwhelming number of voters. McCain is out of touch and from another time and era" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.