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THE SITUATION ROOM

Thousands Remember President Gerald R. Ford in Ceremonies in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Congress Prepares for Power Shift; President Bush to Announce New Iraq Strategy

Aired January 3, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, guys.
This final, final stage of these six days of official mourning about to come to a close. This is the Grace Episcopal Church, where the service honoring the 38th president of the United States has been taking place, the casket about to be moved back to the Gerald Ford museum in Grand Rapids for the interment services that will be begin after a brief motorcade takes the family, the friends, all the dignitaries who have gathered to the burial at the Ford museum in Grand Rapids, a fitting, fitting tribute to this president who certainly with history has come across a lot, lot better than he perhaps did at the time.

Tom DeFrank is with us from "The New York Daily News." He's been watching all of this unfold. Beautiful blue sky, appropriately enough, in Michigan, chilly but beautiful for this final leg of these days of mourning, Tom.

TOM DEFRANK, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": Well, yes. The weather was much better today in Grand Rapids than it was in Washington yesterday, though it was a clear day here.

I think president Ford would have really enjoyed this ceremony. I think he would have been a little bit embarrassed about yesterday because it was a little slightly out of proportion to who he was. But I think the ceremony here in his adopted hometown of Grand Rapids is something he really would have enjoyed, and I think he would have especially enjoyed what Jimmy Carter said about him, talking about how they had forged a friendship and a relationship.

And I think it was hard for those of us who were there on that inaugural day, January 20, 1977, and remember Jimmy Carter's first words, For myself and for our nation, I want to thank my predecessor for everything he did to heal our land. And for Carter to begin with that and then to end his eulogy with those -- with that simple sentence and have trouble getting through it, that was a powerful, powerful moment. And Jerry Ford would have been touched.

BLITZER: The first -- former first lady, Betty Ford, will be escorted by U.S. Army Major General Guy Swan. He's been her escort throughout this ordeal. They and the four children will walk behind the casket as it's carried from the church to the motorcade and then begin that brief drive back to the museum in Grand Rapids.

Candy Crowley is also joining us in our coverage of this. She's been amazing, the former first lady, Betty Ford, throughout all of this. I think all of our viewers will agree she looks great. She's been very stoic. But clearly supported by her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. This a very tight-knit family. I'm not sure that we would expect anything other than grace and stoicism from Betty Ford. She has been through a lot as first lady.

And later in her private life, as you know, she met the challenge of breast cancer, she met the challenge of alcoholism and prescription pill addiction and turned it into a tour de force, something that was good for the country, something that really saved lives when she set up the Betty Ford Clinic, that saved lives when she went so public with her battle with breast cancer. So that she is stoic and regal at this point should not be a surprise.

I will say, I agree with Tom in this ceremony, much more intimate, and you're seeing much more emotion from the family. Yesterday, pomp and circumstance and it seems to me a funeral for the American people. Today, it seems like a funeral for the family.

BLITZER: Well put, Candy. The vice president and Lynn Cheney are there, certainly the former defense secretary. Donald Rumsfeld and Mrs. Rumsfeld, they're there. The former president, Jimmy Carter, Rosalynn Carter are there, as well. It's an interesting trio of former leaders, current and former leaders, I should say, Tom, as this part of the service continues.

DEFRANK: Well, I was struck, Wolf, by seeing Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld. I know there's been a lot of controversy about what Ford -- what President Ford thought about them. But I can just tell you, he loved Don Rumsfeld and he loved Dick Cheney. And even if he might have had some private reservations about some of the policies, he kept that to himself for the most part, and to the end, he was -- he had very warm feelings about both Rumsfeld and Cheney.

And I -- watching this today, so many -- so many memories flashed through my mind's eye one. And of them that popped up as I was watching Secretary Rumsfeld give his eulogy was one that happened three years ago at a reunion dinner that President Ford always had in Washington. It was called the Alumni Dinner. And this one was on the 30th anniversary, to the day, that he became president.

And he spoke, and he had trouble getting up on the stage, even though it was just a couple of steps. And without somebody saying, Do this, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld got out of their chairs and each went to his elbow, his left elbow and his right elbow, and he -- and they helped him up to the stage. And he righted himself, he got through the speech. But it was just one of those moments that bespoke the affection they had for him and also the affection he had for them.

BLITZER: We see the family, the friends. They're beginning to leave the church right now, making their way to the motorcade which will take the casket back to the Gerald Ford museum for the interment services and the conclusion of these official days of mourning here in the United States. It's been six days that have been, Candy, very, very carefully choreographed to pay tribute to this president. And so far, everything has gone precisely as planned.

I would suggest, though, one thing that's been extraordinary is this outpouring. All these people who have shown up to go past the casket as it lied in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol and here in Michigan, as well, a lot more people than some might have thought, Candy.

CROWLEY: And especially for someone -- we're talking three-plus decades since Gerald Ford was in office. I think probably about a third of the population wasn't even born or was quite small when Gerald Ford took office. So we are talking about the history books for a number of people, and perhaps that's why some of the younger people showed up.

There are those, obviously, who did know Gerald Ford and who did know him as president. But I think so much of this, particularly the public, you know, that was -- or the public ceremony that we saw yesterday was certainly about history, every bit as much as it was about Gerald Ford.

BLITZER: Our Jeanne Meserve is there in Grand Rapids. She's been watching all of this unfold yesterday and today. Thousands and thousands of people from Michigan and beyond went past that casket, Jeanne, to pay their respects.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They say 57,000 people went through this museum overnight in very cold temperatures. They waited outside for more than four hours, some of them. And they are back right now.

They are on the knoll next to me, they are on the opposite shore of this river. They are on bridges. They are along the motorcade route. And they are completely silent, completely silent, in part because the honor cordon has already gone into place. The military band just positioned itself, everything getting ready here for the arrival of the casket and the family.

When it arrives, it will be taken down this sidewalk to an area beyond the museum. It's fenced in. That is where the interment ceremony itself will take place. There will be several ceremonial elements to this, including a 21-gun salute, including a "missing man" formation over the site, also the firing of three volleys, all of these signs of respect for a commander-in-chief who is having his final homecoming -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And this has been long planned, that the burial would be here at the museum in Grand Rapids. They have a plot that's been carefully laid out.

MESERVE: That's correct. There was never any question that this was Gerald Ford's home, this is where he wanted to be buried. And when this museum was designed, this was part of the design. They have built in the space down there sort of a semicircular wall that's into a small knoll, and on there are the words, "Lives committed to God, country and love." And there are the names of Gerald Ford and Betty Ford. She, too, will be buried there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This is expected to be a 30-minute service, the interment service over at the Ford museum, with all the pomp and circumstance, all the honors accorded a president of the United States.

MESERVE: That's correct. And Vice President Cheney will be here. When the flag that has been draping this coffin is removed, when it is folded, it is Vice President Cheney who will take that flag and deliver it to Mrs. Ford.

BLITZER: The love affair that they had -- I want to get back to that, Tom DeFrank, because we're going to be seeing a lot over the course of the next hour or so of the former first lady, Betty Ford. She's been holding up, as I say, amazingly for an 88-year-old woman. they had a wonderful, wonderful marriage, wonderful relationship, great kids. Certainly had their share of problems, as every family certainly does.

But this is a moment that I'm sure she's been thinking a lot about but dreading for so long.

DEFRANK: Well, that's right, Wolf, but I think the strength of her family will sustain her. The strength of her memories will sustain her, as it has for last seven or eight days. It was a -- it was an incredible love affair.

I can remember, year ago, President Ford telling me about this fling he had with a New York model. It's well-known to his biographers. The punch line is, though, they broke up. President Ford came back to Grand Rapids. He met this vivacious woman named Betty Bloomer.

He fell head over heels with her. And a couple years later, after he and Mrs. Ford had been dating for a while, his old flame called and said, Jerry, I'd love to come out and have dinner with you. And you can imagine how Mrs. Ford reacted to that. But Jerry Ford said, Yes, I'll do that. And she came out and met Betty Ford, and she never had a chance.

BLITZER: Never had a chance.

DEFRANK: Never had a chance. It was ancient history at that point.

BLITZER: And the casket now being removed from the Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids. The color guard -- you saw them walk out first, followed by the clergy, now the casket followed by the presidential colors. Then you'll see Mrs. Ford accompanied by Major General Swan and the family that will follow this casket toward the motorcade, the hearse. They will get in their respective limousines and the motorcade will head over to the Gerald R. Ford museum for the final leg of this memorial service.

Jeanne Meserve is there. She's on the scene for us. Jeanne, we're going to be hearing some music pretty soon, as well.

MESERVE: We will. We've also just been told that Mrs. Ford may choose to be in a wheelchair during this interment ceremony. If she is, her son, Steven, will be the one pushing it for her. This has been, as everyone can see, a strenuous and emotionally difficult couple of days for Mrs. Ford.

Earlier today, the family had some private time here at the museum. No one was in there except them. It was their opportunity say final good-byes. And Mrs. Ford took a pass. She decided to take some private time for quiet reflection, we're told. And then we did not see her until she appeared at the church for the service there.

So once again, the word from the military here is that she may choose to be in a wheelchair this evening for this final stage of the services -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The color guard, followed by the clergy and the casket. We anticipate that the family will follow, but we'll see. Obviously, this is quite an ordeal. The band is now providing some music. Let's just listen in briefly.

There's Betty Ford, the former first lady, escorted by Major General Guy Swan, her son. She's getting in the limousine to make what is expected to be about a 15-minute drive from this church, the Grace Episcopal Church, over to the Gerald R. Ford museum, where the interment services will begin, the final stage of this entire official mourning process.

We're going to continue to watch and stay on top of this. We're going to come back to the service over at the museum, once that begins.

And as we get ready to see this motorcade take off, a final thought for right now, Tom DeFrank, from you, as you saw Mrs. Ford clearly holding up under these really tough circumstances for anyone, especially an 88-year-old woman.

DEFRANK: Yes, she has had an extraordinary endurance. And I think I said the other night, Wolf, when I saw President Ford in November for the last time, it was a very brief moment, very painful, very poignant. And in the middle of this conversation, Mrs. Ford showed up.

And when he saw her and she saw him, neither of them said a word, but you could look at the two of them and just see the bond, the magic between the two of them. It was really a heart-warming thing. I feel a little guilty but very privileged to be an eavesdropper on that.

BLITZER: And a final thought from you right now, Jeanne Meserve, as well, as we stand by and we await the departure of the hearse followed by the motorcade.

MESERVE: I mentioned this earlier. It's absolutely striking to me, these crowds that have turned out, people who were too young have known Gerald Ford as president, people way too young to have known him as a congressman. They are standing here, many of them with very young children.

And they are absolutely quiet. Of course, we know that the motorcade has not left yet the church, but they are just here, reverently waiting for this man, for this family, to appear here so they can show their respects for last time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley is with us, as well. Candy, these six days, we've seen so much support, so much tribute being expressed for Gerald Ford, what he achieved, what he did for the country in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, the forced resignation of Richard Nixon as president of the United States, helping to end the Vietnam war.

I assume -- and correct me if I'm wrong, but I just assume that all the good will that has been expressed over these past six days could have a positive spillover on this new Congress, this new relationship that is emerging. Tomorrow, the Democrats take control of the majority in both the House and the Senate. What do you think?

CROWLEY: Well, I think, certainly, there's going to be an effort by Republicans and Democrats to take some of this feeling and move it up to Capitol Hill. But I can tell you that already, Republicans and Democrats are arguing about this 100-day agenda, which will be done without hearings, and Republicans are complaining that they've been cut out of the process.

So I don't want to read too much into this, but it has made for such a striking difference between this era and that era, watching the funeral of Gerald Ford, listening to all of those who are talking about how he didn't make enemies of his political opponents, they were adversaries not enemies to him, about that time, although it was a fractious time for the country, that there was some comity on Capitol Hill. We no long have that, and I think the difference has been striking and we have learned more and more about it as we've gone through the past self-days in a final salute to Gerald Ford.

BLITZER: It's going to be about a 15-minute drive now for the hearse and the motorcade to make its way from the church over to the museum. We'll watch it as it goes along. We're going to stay on top of this. We'll come back when the interment services actually begin, expected in about 15 minutes or so. And we'll bring that to our viewers live here from THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll watch this, and all of our reporters and contributors are going to be standing by for that.

But coming up next, there's other important news we're following, as well. The Democrats right now on the brink of taking charge of the U.S. Congress. Is all the talk of bipartisanship just that, talk? We'll set the stage for tomorrow's historic takeover and tell you how President Bush is now figuring in.

Also ahead, new details on the timing of the president's big Iraq announcement. Will a troop surge be in the mix?

And Mitt Romney officially becoming a presidential explorer. But does he have right stuff to go all the way? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Looking at live pictures at Grand Rapids, Michigan, the Gerald R. Ford presidential museum. In about 15 minutes or so, the final burial service for the 38th president of the United States will take place, the interment service. We will go back there live as soon as it begins, but they're getting ready for this final chapter in the six days of morning, official mourning for President Gerald R. Ford. We'll go back there live as soon as it starts.

Other news we're following, though, President Bush going to some lengths today to get out his political message before the new Democratic-controlled Congress steals his thunder, at least for a while. In remarks in the Rose Garden and in a newspaper opinion piece, the president vowed to work with Democrats. With less than 24 hours to go before the 110th Congress convenes, the president steered clear of the subject the incoming majority party is eager to talk about. That would be Iraq.

Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is standing by with the latest on the president's Iraq options. But let's go to the Hill, our congressional correspondent Dana Bash with more on history in the making tomorrow in the U.S. Congress -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And Wolf, there really is an electricity here on Capitol Hill in Anticipation of the changing of the guard tomorrow morning. And bipartisanship is certainly the buzzword. CNN has learned that the White House even sent a plane to pick up Senate Democratic leaders in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at Gerald Ford's funeral, to bring them back to the White House in order to attend a reception with the president.

But despite all of that, there's already significant signs -- there are many signs of partisan strain.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Across Washington, perfunctory promises to reach across party lines.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), ILLINOIS: We're very clear that we want to work in a bipartisan fashion.

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking forward to working with the new Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Republicans want to work with Democrats.

BASH: Sounds great, but listen on.

REP. JEB HENSARLING (R), TEXAS: It appears that the first hundred hours of the Democrats' legislative agenda will come through a smoke-filled room.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're clearly disappointed... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In my opinion, it looks as if the American people have been duped.

BASH: Not exactly the new kumbaya Congress leading lawmakers have promised. GOP congressmen are up in arms that Democrats plan to push their so-called first 100 hour agenda through the House, from ethics rules to minimum wage hike, and limit Republicans' ability to offer competing proposals. It's instant role reversal.

REP. DAVID DREIER (R), CALIFORNIA: ... the lack of consultation with the minority. I am very disappointed.

BASH: Republicans complaining about the very tactics they used against Democrats for 12 years, and Democrats preparing to use their majority in a muscular fashion that for 12 years they described as abusive.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), INCOMING SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Let's not have a charade about what they decide is bipartisan.

BASH: Republicans argue Nancy Pelosi is breaking her promise to make the House more open and bipartisan in order to make sure she quickly passes her campaign agenda.

REP. ADAM PUTNAM (FL), RCCC CHAIRMAN: This is a missed opportunity to really change the way that the House does business.

BASH: Democrats insist they will be more open to Republican concerns after the they deliver on their top election promises.

EMANUEL: We ran on an agenda, the Democrats, to move this country in a new direction about and to bring change.

BASH: But it's hardly just the complaints about rules and procedures undermining all the talk of bipartisanship. The biggest reason is competing agendas. The president, for example, in one breath talked of working with Democrats, but in the next pushed an idea Democrats vehemently oppose.

BUSH: ... the need to keep this economy going by making tax relief permanent.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And this afternoon, House Democrats unveiled what they will do their first order of business in the first two days that they will have the majority this week, and that is a House ethics reform package. Among the changes they intend to vote on are banning lobbyist-funded travel and gifts and requiring full disclosure of earmarks. That, of course -- those are lawmakers' pet projects, at least funding for their pet projects, Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, there was a Democratic leadership news conference, as you know, earlier. And there was a disruption there. Tell our viewers what happened. BASH: Cindy Sheehan. She has, of course, spent much of her time protesting the president and Republican policies, specifically, of course, on Iraq. Today came up here to protest her fellow Democrats. Rahm Emanuel and other senior Democratic lawmakers were having a press conference. They had to stop it just a couple of minutes after they started because Cindy Sheehan and about a dozen of her fellow anti-war protesters were screaming, "Deescalate, investigate, troops home now."

Now, they were saying that they wanted, essentially, the Democratic leadership to pull funding for troops in order to stop the war in Iraq. Well, that's a non-starter, as you know, as far as the new Democratic majority is concerned. But it certainly was an opening sign of how difficult it will be for Democrats to rule. Just like Republicans, they're going to have pressure from the left flank of their party, the right flank of their party, and today we certainly heard very loudly from the left -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, it's going to be busy up on Capitol Hill. Thanks, Dana, for that.

Let's now move to the turmoil in Iraq and the war strategy here at home. A security guard who was at Saddam Hussein's execution is in custody tonight in Baghdad. He's being questioned about the controversial cell phone video of the hanging, an Iraqi official telling CNN the guard is suspected of taking and distributing the video.

At least two more arrests are now expected. The U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad says Saddam Hussein's execution would have gone very differently if U.S. officials had run it instead of Iraqis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE IRAQ: We had absolutely nothing do with anything further than just the physical movement and security of him, as we had always done, to get him to a predetermined location, which in past had been to the courthouse where he had -- the proceedings had been taking place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Major General William Caldwell also told reporters the U.S. expects Iraqi forces will be operating independently by the end of this new year. He says U.S. and coalition troops will at that point only serve in a support role.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad today, nine people were wounded when several mortars exploded, and officials report 27 bullet-riddled bodies were found across the Iraqi capital, most of them showing signs of torture. The U.S. military death toll in Iraq since the start of the war now stands at 3,005.

At the White House, President Bush is said to be driving toward a conclusion about his changes in the Iraq strategy. And sources say a short-term increase in troop strength remains -- and I'm quoting now -- "an active subject of discussion." Let's check in with our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, certainly, those who are familiar with the president's deliberations over his Iraq policy are giving me a sense of how this is likely to play out. Now, tomorrow, President Bush is going to try to stay out of the spotlight in deference to Congress's big day, the Democrats taking over, but likely on Friday is going to be wrap-up day.

We do know that there are continual consultations that still need to happen. Saturday and Sunday likely to be quiet, and then Monday is the day that it's likely those members of Congress will get those courtesy calls from White House officials saying, first, that the president has his Iraq plan, and secondly, will be briefed on some of the aspects of that plan.

We also expect that in concert with that, that the White House will certainly try to give some sort of briefing or heads-up to the press, as well. And then likely on Tuesday is when the president will address the nation with this possible new plan. Perhaps it will spill into Wednesday. But Wolf, that is the indication that we're getting how this is likely going to play out in the days ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne, thanks very much. Suzanne's going to have more for us coming up in the next hour, as well.

Still ahead: Republican Mitt Romney a step closer to running for the White House. Will conservatives rally behind a Mormon from Massachusetts?

J.C. Watts and James Carville, they're standing by for our "Strategy Session."

Plus, we will go back to Grand Rapids, Michigan. And we will have more live coverage of the funeral of the late President Gerald R. Ford. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

We're standing by to go back live to Grand Rapids, Michigan, specifically this building, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library. This is where the burial service for the 38th president of the United States is about to take place.

Once it does, we will go back there live.

In the meantime, other news we're following: Mitt Romney closes out his tenure as the Massachusetts governor tonight, when Democratic -- Deval Patrick is sworn in. But the Republican now has his sights set on the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), MASSACHUSETTS: We filed exploratory papers today. And, so, the process is moving forward on that front.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Here's where Governor Romney stands on some of the top campaign issues. He supports President Bush's position on Iraq, opposes an early troop withdrawal.

He supports tougher laws against illegal immigrants, and has authorized the use of state police for immigration enforcement. Romney suggests creating an independent panel to formulate a Social Security reform plan. And he backs the president's tax cuts.

Romney opposes abortion, but had been supportive of abortion rights earlier in his political career. He opposes same-sex marriage and civil unions. Romney is welcoming a new move by the Massachusetts legislature that backs his stand on gay unions. Lawmakers voted yesterday to move forward with a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. That puts the measure a step closer to being on the ballot in 2008 in the only state where gay marriage, as of now, is legal.

Joining us now for our "Strategy Session," our CNN political analysts, Democratic strategist James Carville, and former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts.

A quick thought, James, first of all, on Mitt Romney and his presidential ambition?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, he's impressive. When people see him, they come back, and they say the guy really makes a good impression. He seems to be kind of tied in a knot on some of the positions he had in Massachusetts, now that he's running for president.

He's going to have to be very skillful of Senator McCain, who runs a pretty tough campaign, a pretty tough punch. Giuliani has got a lot of appeal out there. He's got a tough row to hoe, but he's a pretty skillful guy. And it's going to be interesting to see how he navigates this.

BLITZER: He's trying to carve out a position within the Republican base, if you will, the more conservative part of the Republican Party.

What do you think, J.C.? You know the Republican Party well.

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I think there are a lot of social conservative voters, that I don't think you can take them for granted, and put them in a box, the way we did before this last election.

In Virginia, we saw the marriage issue on the ballot. We saw 25 percent of evangelical Christians that voted to protect marriage, but voted for Jim Webb. So, we see more social conservatives talking about the environment, talking about poverty. So, I think the social conservative voter, these days, especially in that faith community, they're saying, we're waiting to see what you have got.

BLITZER: J.C. is definitely on to something, because we saw in this recent election a lot of very conservative Democrats doing well with what arguably would be social conservative Republicans.

CARVILLE: Right.

I agree. And I think that there are a lot of Democrats that have some socially conservative positions. There's no doubt about that. I think that Romney's problem is, to some of these people, he's awfully new to coming around to their position.

And, like I say, it's going to take an enormous amount of political skill, which he may possess. From all the reports that I have heard about him, he's a very impressive guy. He's obviously a nice-looking man. He had a very good record with the Olympics. There's two sides to the story of his tenure in Massachusetts, some of it supposedly good, some of it not so good. All that will flush itself out.

He's just going to have to be a very skilled guy, if he's going to do this.

BLITZER: He's a Mormon. Is that a problem with some of that Republican base, the evangelical community specifically?

WATTS: Well, Wolf, again, with that new voter, or that -- that voter that's saying, my eyes are wide open in '08, I think he's got a chance to prove himself with that voter.

I'm not so sure that they're going to be looking at whether or not he's a Mormon or a Baptist, but they are going to be looking at where he has stood on the marriage issue over the last six, eight years, where he has stood on the abortion issue over the last six, eight years.

I think they're more concerned about where he stands on those issues that they are concerned about in the social arena than what his religious faith is.

BLITZER: Let's switch gears to what the president did earlier today, on the eve of the Democrats becoming the majority in the House and Senate.

Let me play this little clip of what the president said earlier today in the Rose Garden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have all been entrusted with public office at a momentous time in our nation's history. And, together, we have important things to do. It's time to set aside politics and focus on the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Everybody says that.

CARVILLE: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: The question, how realistic...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: How realistic is that?

CARVILLE: If I have ever heard political pap -- and I have heard it from Democrats -- that's about as much of a political pap as I mean, yes, it's fine. It sounds great.

BLITZER: It sounds great. But how realistic is it that politics, in these final two years of the Bush presidency, are going to be set aside?

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: There's been no time in the history of the republic -- there are sometimes that a country comes together to accomplish great things.

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: They're not going to be set aside, nor should they be.

But I think that the public is pretty tired of business as usual. I think that they're going to probably have to do some things that they haven't been done before. But that was almost comical. I mean, when you look at it, it's like, oh, come on. You know, say we can't -- two different views. We have got to come together.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: He -- and he made a similar appeal in that op-ed piece he did "The Wall Street Journal" today, trying to reach out. There's nothing wrong with that, is there, J.C.?

WATTS: Well, there's nothing wrong. Don't make me laugh, James.

(LAUGHTER)

WATTS: But there's nothing wrong with, you know, reaching out.

I do think that's healthy. You know, there's two political parties, Republican and Democrat. There are differences on taxes and education and Social Security reform. And those discussions and those debates need to be had. And they can be passionate about where they stand on them. But I do think the American people did vote for change. I do think they want people to get along in Washington. And that remains to be seen. We see what the Democrats are doing in the first 100 hours. I think, Wolf, you know, the American people are going to be paying attention to that. And I don't think that's good for the Democrats to do that.

I -- the issues they are talking about, I think they can win on those issues, without, you know, forcing it down the throats of the Republicans.

BLITZER: I -- we're standing by, James and J.C., for the final -- the burial service of the 38th president of the United States.

These are live pictures we're looking at, at Grand Rapids, Michigan, at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. That's where the interment service will take place in the coming minutes. We see the motorcade now beginning to get close.

There it is, right there, the hearse, followed by the -- followed by the limousines carrying the former first lady, Betty Ford, and the family, the friends, the other dignitaries, including the vice president, Lynne Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Mrs. Rumsfeld, the former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Rosalynn Carter. They're all there, together with so many other family and friends.

Do you think, James, these six day, as we have seen this outpouring of tribute for Gerald Ford, will it spill over? Will it have any impact in convincing the current generation of leadership, the new leaders in the -- in the Congress and the president, his advisers, that they do have to work together in order to get some things done?

CARVILLE: Well, you know, I'm skeptical. It could have some effect.

I think that President Ford's death -- and the thing about this that struck me, it's really kind of sad. I mean, Mrs. Ford -- I mean, I really -- when I watched this, I had a real sense of sadness in -- about it.

But it was at a time when the public is obviously clamoring for something different. And certainly, President Ford was a kind of a bipartisan era, where, you know, that generation got together.

So, it could have some effect. I don't know if it will have a great affect, but I think it could have a positive effect. I really do.

BLITZER: The museum -- this is the presidential museum. The hearse has now arrived. Pretty soon, we will see the honorary pallbearers, their spouses. We will see Mrs. Ford and others walk out as well.

There she is, Betty Ford, 88 years old, sitting in that limousine. She's going to be getting out. We heard from our Jeanne Meserve just a little while ago she may decide to be in a wheelchair.

This, J.C., is going to be a very emotional moment for her, for the entire family. She is, though, blessed with a lot of good friends and a great family.

WATTS: No question.

And, Wolf, in times like this, those friends and family members come in really handy to kind of be there to put the arms around her to say, hey, we're hurting with you. We're sympathetic. We're -- our condolences.

But, you know, a six-day process, I mean, that is really a long process to put a loved one away. But, of course, he was a former president. And that's how presidents are put away.

And I think we can learn a lot from what we have seen over the last three or four days, people saying different things. Sometimes, in death, you know, if you can be in heaven looking down, you think, I can't blame James Carville saying those good things about me...

(LAUGHTER)

WATTS: ... when we were on, you know, THE SITUATION ROOM, and he blasted me.

But people have really -- Republicans and Democrats both have really said good things about a bipartisan, gracious man that served at one time as the president of the United States. And, hopefully, you know, we -- that will rub off on members of Congress.

BLITZER: We will see the casket removed from the hearse momentarily and begin this final process.

Tom DeFrank of "The New York Daily News," who spent a lot of time covering the Ford presidency, and, in subsequent years, interviewing the late president of the United States, I believe, Tom, you had the last interview, only a few months ago, back in May.

This will be the climax, if you will, of these six days.

DEFRANK: Well, that's right.

Presidential burials, presidential funerals, are state events. They used not to be that way, but now the military district of Washington is in charge of putting together a very elaborate funeral plan.

And, in this case, this plan has been in the works for probably 28 years or so. And it's been updated every few month since then. As President Ford has gotten older, as some of his pallbearers, honorary pallbearers, have died, there have been replacements.

And, so -- but I agree with J.C. It's probably a little long. And, probably because it is a little long, it's probably a little more wrenching on the family than anybody would wish it to be. But it is certainly a grand send-off. It's a way for a nation, collectively, to pay its respects and to mourn.

BLITZER: And many, Candy Crowley, have suggested that this has really done more for the American public, the American people, to watch all of this unfold, and, to a certain degree, come together, at least during these days.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, I think, by and large, yesterday, in the very public services here in Washington, that that was aimed at the American people.

I do think that, obviously, the family takes great pride in knowing that one of their loved ones received this much adulation, this much pomp and circumstance, particularly the children and the grandchildren. This is something, obviously, that will mean a great deal to the family.

But, in terms of personally, as a father, as a grandfather, as a great-grandfather, those family members, this funeral that we're looking at right now is much more intimate and much more aimed at them.

BLITZER: It's hard to -- hard to underscore how important this is, 38th -- the 38th president of the United States.

James Carville, as you watch this, and you remember -- you're old enough to remember. You lived through Vietnam. You lived through Watergate.

CARVILLE: Right.

BLITZER: You remember when Gerald Ford became president, after the forced resignation of Richard Nixon.

Correct me if I'm wrong. I suspect, 30 years later, you're a lot more appreciative of what he did than you were at the time.

CARVILLE: I am.

And one of the things about President Ford is, his '76 presidential campaign, among political consultants, was thought to be legendary. I mean, if you remember, in May, he was 25 points or so behind President Carter. And they had a divided Republican Party, won the nomination by like a -- a delegate or two, almost.

And he came that close to being -- re-winning the presidency. And, you know, you had Jim Baker, and you had all of these people were in that campaign. And some people believe -- and I'm probably one of them -- it is the most competently run presidential campaign, maybe ever.

BLITZER: He got so close.

CARVILLE: He did.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Not close enough.

CARVILLE: Not close...

BLITZER: But it was amazing, given...

CARVILLE: It was amazing, given everything that he was faced with.

And I think that, you know, it's kind of funny that you're sitting there saying in a campaign that lost, because it will go down in history. But among real political aficionados, that campaign has a gold-plated reputation.

BLITZER: J.C., take a look at that picture.

We see Donald Rumsfeld and his wife, Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter, Lynne Cheney and the vice president. They are there. They were all very close to this president in different ways -- different ways -- Rumsfeld and Cheney having served directly for Gerald Ford in the White House when he was president.

Jimmy Carter, as James just pointed out, ran against him, won in a close contest in 1976. But only later, in this very small fraternity of former presidents, did they become close.

WATTS: Well, and I think, regardless of the type of campaign that you run in a presidential race -- and James can speak to this better that I can -- I still think, in spite of how hostile they might be, I think you still create some type of bonding in a weird kind of way.

I think Gerald Ford, everything that I knew about him -- I met him a couple of times -- everything that I knew about him, he was a very gracious man, a man of character. So, it doesn't surprise me that he and Jimmy Carter remained friends, that he and Richard Nixon remained friends over the years.

And I think Richard Nixon, in large part, was the reason that he lost in '76, because of the -- you know, the...

BLITZER: The pardon.

WATTS: The pardon.

But, Wolf, think about this. I think Gerald Ford is one of the few presidents that had the humility and the graciousness that, 30 years later, people will say, Republicans and Democrats, he did the right thing for our country. So, you know...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Even Ted Kennedy, who was a strong opponent of that decision to grant Richard Nixon a pardon, wound up, together with the Kennedy family, giving him a Profile in Courage Award from the Kennedy Library as a result of that strong decision. And, you know, I was thinking. This close bond that Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter developed, as former presidents, it's almost sort of similar to the bond that Bill Clinton and the first President Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, have generated in more recent years.

What do you think about that, James?

CARVILLE: You know, I think it's an office that you can imagine what it's like, but, until you have been a president, you don't know what it's like.

And I think that, sometimes, they gravitate toward each other, because they can have a conversation with someone who knows what that office is like. You can go in there. You can know them. You can talk to him. You can socialize with him. You can play cards with him. You don't know it.

Unless you're one of them, you don't know what it's like to go through it.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: And I think that -- so, that they tend to gravitate toward each other in that way.

BLITZER: Just to set the scene, our Jeanne Meserve is out there, as well, at Grand -- in Grand Rapids, Michigan, right now, the presidential museum of Gerald R. Ford. We're going to get to her shortly.

But, as we watch all of this unfold, Tom DeFrank, I want you to weigh in on this thought we were just discussing, the -- this bond that is created by former presidents.

DEFRANK: Well, Wolf, we all forget sometimes that it is what somebody once described as the most exclusive boys club in the world, certainly in the country. There are only three.

I think the most number of former presidents we have had living is either six or seven, no more than seven. But I think six was -- at one point, there were six former presidents living. At some point in the -- in the Abraham Lincoln presidency, Martin Van Buren, our eighth president, was still alive.

But this number is a small number. And now -- now they are three. And I couldn't agree more with James. The shared bond, there's only three people living in this country at the moment who -- who have had to get that very difficult intelligence briefing every morning and know all the -- know secrets that many of the -- most of the rest of us don't know.

There's no substitution for the shared bond of being the man who ultimately has to make life-or-death decisions on lots of things we probably don't even know about even yet today. So, it's not surprising that these bonds develop, even among very potent political adversaries. BLITZER: The casket will be removed from the hearse and make its way to the site, the final burial site, along the Grand River.

It will be placed in a specially draped church truck for the short ride over to the burial site. We will watch all of this unfold live here from THE SITUATION ROOM.

Candy Crowley, as you watch the American flag, American flags are going to be flying at half-staff for quite a while now, as the president declared this official state of mourning, in honor of the 38th president of the United States.

Give us a thought about this relationship that Gerald Ford had with these two men who have come here to pay tribute to him, the vice president of the United States and the former defense secretary.

CROWLEY: Well, obviously the bond was very strong, I think, as you saw in -- certainly in Donald Rumsfeld's eulogy that he delivered, that there was quite a bit of emotion there.

We learned in recent days, from some of Bob Woodward's reporting, that President Ford did not agree with much of what has gone on in Iraq. And two of the major architects, of course, of Iraq are Vice President Cheney and former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.

Nonetheless, this does not seem to interfere, and did not seem, over time, to have interfered -- regardless of what Gerald Ford thought privately, it did not interfere with his personal relationships.

And it just gives strength to what we have learned about Gerald Ford, which is to say that he said, himself, that he had no political enemies. He only had adversaries. And, so, despite the fact that he disagreed, apparently, quite a bit with what was going on in Iraq, it did not change his close friendship and feeling for both Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld.

BLITZER: James Carville, as you look at this -- and just to update our viewers who may just be tuning in, we're standing by for the burial service, the interment of Gerald R. Ford here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.

As you see this unfold, right now, on live television, around the United States, many parts of the world, people are watching this, and they're remembering history. But are they accurately remembering history, or do they sort of drown out the bad things and only remember the good?

CARVILLE: Well, so, of course we do.

And the United States, a power, a world power, uses a presidential funeral the way the Roman Catholic Church uses the funeral of a pope. It reintroduces people. You watch the pomp and circumstance of this. You are reminded of the majesty of the Vatican, or, in this case, of the United States government. It's good for our people to see. My children watch it. And the kind of pomp and circumstance befits what great powers do. And these kinds of funerals, it's -- Mrs. Ford is -- you know, six days of this. But that's part of the thing that you do for being first lady, is, you do this.

And great nations do this. And I think it's important for us to do this. And I think it's important for it to go out to the world, to say, this is the way that a great power buries its leaders.

BLITZER: And it's only done, you know, occasionally.

The last time we did it, J.C., was Ronald Reagan -- and a similar process, although, in some respects, some key respects, quite different. Every president has a great say in how they want the official burial, the official memorial service, the official lying in state, all of that, to unfold. And Gerald Ford clearly wanted it to unfold this way.

WATTS: Well, as has been discussed, Wolf, it's a lengthy process. It's a difficult process for the family and for those who care about the deceased.

But the president of the United States, the leader of the free world, Republican or Democrat, I am -- I admire tremendously any man or woman that would -- that would want to be the president of the United States. If they choose to run for it, there's great admiration on my part.

I think this is very fitting for Gerald Ford, again, I think, because of his humility. I think he -- he understood the impact of what he was doing in 1975, when he did it, and in terms of how he led the nation. And he was kind of a bridge, I think, to get us over a very difficult time.

I hope the American people understand how significant his presidency was to our nation.

BLITZER: Let's listen in, as this casket begins the process of going from the hearse to the final burial site.

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