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Surge of White House Activity Before Bush's Iraq Speech; Senator John McCain Presses For More Troops; Bomb Scare Earlier in Port of Miami
Aired January 8, 2007 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, a surge of White House activity before the president's big Iraq speech.
Will thousands more U.S. troops soon get new marching orders?
We'll have new details on what Mr. Bush will tell the nation Wednesday night.
Also this hour, the political price of a troop increase. Some Democrats now considering drastic action they had earlier ruled out.
And is Senator John McCain gambling his presidential hopes by pressing for more troops?
Plus, the work ethic of the 110th Congress is put to the test. House leaders promised to do the people's business five days a week.
So why isn't the House in session right now?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
At the White House right now, President Bush is finalizing a new battle plan in Iraq and potentially sealing his White House legacy, for better or for worse. His address to the nation is now set for 9:00 p.m. Wednesday night.
The new Democratic leaders in Congress aren't waiting for Mr. Bush's Iraq speech to come out swinging. Some now are rethinking possible ways to block his expected call for a new influx of troops. A cutoff of funding may be on the table after all.
All this amid new statistics from Baghdad that more than 22,000 Iraqis were killed in violence across the nation last year alone.
And in the U.S. -- and the U.S. death toll, by the way, since the start of the war -- keeps rising, as well. It now stands as 3,013.
Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is standing by. But let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, with the latest from there -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Democrats had already said that they oppose a surge in U.S. troops to go to Iraq. And what's happening now is what they're -- they're trying to figure out what to do about that.
And what we're hearing is something that had been unthinkable. Democrats are trying to figure out ways to say no to some or part of the $100 billion funding request for the war that they're expecting very soon.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
BASH (voice-over): Senate Democrats opposed to sending more troops to Iraq are now openly considering using a controversial Congressional tool -- withholding funding for what they call an escalation of the war.
QUESTION: If the president wants more troops, might Congress consider not allowing the funding for that?
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We're going to keep a look at everything.
QUESTION: Including that? Including that?
REID: Yes. There -- we're going to take a look at it, of course.
BASH: That is a significant shift. Until now, cutting off any funding for troops has been the third rail of Iraq War politics. Even Democrats who want the U.S. out of Iraq now have drawn the line at withholding money for the mission, for fear it would endanger troops and cause political backlash. But Democrats now in control of Congress are under intense political pressure to use their new power, and the power of the purse, to stop the president from sending more troops to Iraq.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: My office is now investigating what tools are available to us to condition or constrain appropriations. But what I've also said is that I'm not willing to create a situation in which troops who are already in Iraq might be shortchanged in some way because of restrictions on appropriations.
BASH: Difficult, indeed. The tension ripping through the new Congress about how to respond to the president's revised Iraq strategy is palpable. The House speaker was more cautious, but promises the president's plan will be heavily scrutinized in oversight hearings across the Capitol.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER ELECT: Democrats will not cut off funding for our troops. What the president needs to know, and that's what I was telling him yesterday, is that Congressional oversight is alive and well in the Congress of the United States. BASH: Short of choking funds for a troop surge, Democrats are also considering a resolution capping the number of troops in Iraq and a symbolic resolution calling a troop surge a mistake.
Republicans who support beefing up forces in Iraq warn Democrats are treading in dangerous territory.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The stakes are extremely high. Please, Congress, understand what you're proposing when you say cut off funding or capping troops. You're proposing defeat.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BASH: Now, one of the things that Democrats are wrestling with behind-the-scenes is how to go about cutting off funding for this escalation, if they were even to choose to do that, because escalation would involve troops already on the ground, simply not taking them out at a time that they were supposed to come back to the United States.
And so the question is whether or not, as Senator Obama put it, Democrats can use the budget as a scalpel and not just a blunt instrument.
And one thing that's interesting, Wolf, is it's not just Democrats. I spoke with Republican Senator Gordon Smith, who has been more vocal about his opposition to the war. He said that he would be open to the idea of cutting off troops -- cutting off money for an escalation -- but he called it a catch-22. He said it would "be dishonorable to budget away their bullets when they're ordered to remain in place."
And that really is the rub, if you will, for those who are thinking about even taking this step, which nobody was talking about just a short while ago -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, stand by, Dana.
I want to get back to you on another matter shortly.
I want to go the White House and the lead up to the president's announcement of his next moves in Iraq.
Let's turn to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, really, at this hour, what the president is doing, he's meeting with powerful Republicans from the Armed Services Committee as well as Foreign Relations. Senator John Warner, as well as Richard Lugar.
I also want to mention, as well, Dana talked about Gordon Smith, who created quite a stir on the Senate floor last month when he said he really could no longer support the president's policy, that it was perhaps absurd and criminal. He is also here meeting with president in what the White House is calling consultations, but more accurately, perhaps, Wolf, it really is a courtesy call to the senators.
Speaking with sources familiar with the president's deliberations, they are really putting the final finishing touches on this plan. Speechwriters have been working for days on this. And, of course, the most controversial aspect, the call for at least 20,000 U.S. troops to be sent to Iraq and the region.
The debate within the White House, within the administration, whether or not to send them all at once or perhaps in a phased, month by month process, depending on what the Iraqis do, if they meet certain goals.
There is another part of this plan, as well, perhaps to put those U.S. forces in Kuwait as a contingency force. That is something that the Democrats actually support and have called on.
But White House officials, both publicly and privately, are acknowledging this is going to be a very tough sell.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We've done consultations with Congress, with members of the military, with foreign heads of state, with the Iraqi government, with leaders throughout Iraq, with scholars, with people that agree and disagree. There's been a lot of time and effort put in to trying to figure out how do you try to set the conditions that are going to enable you to move forward so that you have an Iraq that can stand up on its own?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, part of this plan, as well, it's going to include a significant economic component. And that is a jobs creation program to help put Iraqis back to work, in the tune, sources say, a cost of perhaps $1 billion.
Now, the sell is going to happen real quick. We know Wednesday the national address but also the president quickly, the next day, going to travel to Fort Benning in Georgia to talk to troops, to really drum up this plan.
And then, also, Secretary Rice, as well, will be going to the region, visiting the Middle East, as well as European allies -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Suzanne is at the White House.
Suzanne Malveaux, thank you.
And to our viewers, stay right here in THE SITUATION ROOM for complete coverage of the president's Iraq speech. Paula Zahn will be joining me and the best political team on television for our two hour special SITUATION ROOM. That begins 7:00 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday. And tomorrow, we'll set the stage for the president's speech with Senator Ted Kennedy. We'll talk about his call for Congressional action to stop an escalation of U.S. troops in Iraq. That's tomorrow, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
And remember, for all the latest political news at any time check out our Political Ticker at cnn.com/ticker.
Let's go back to Capitol Hill, where something is missing this Monday. The House of Representatives is not in session despite a vow by the new Democratic leadership to work a full week like most Americans do.
We'll turn to our Congressional correspondent once again, Dana Bash -- Dana, what's going on?
BASH: Two words -- college football, Wolf.
The national championship college football game is tonight. It's in Arizona. And Democratic leadership aides say they got a request from a Republican, the top Republican, actually, House Majority Leader John Boehner, who is from Ohio, his home state college team, Ohio State is playing in that game, not to have any votes today so that he could go.
He is there. And we understand that it's not just him. Nine representatives and two senators bought tickets to go to this game in Arizona. And the only Democrat we know about -- there could be others -- the only one we know about now who is definitely going is Stephanie Tubbs Jones, also from Ohio.
Now, this is the kind of thing, Wolf, that wouldn't have even gotten a second look or a second thought just a few minutes ago. But this is a Democratic Congress where leaders promised -- they made a campaign pledge to come in and work five days a week.
So the fact that they adhered to a request, Republican or Democrat, not to work today because of a college football game, it is certainly being noticed.
BLITZER: Dana, thank you for that.
And remember, the clock doesn't start ticking on the much talked about first 100 hours until tomorrow. Here's what House Democratic leaders hope to accomplish.
Tomorrow, January 9th, Democrats want to implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations fully.
The goal for Wednesday?
Increase the federal minimum wage.
On Thursday, Democrats want to tackle another issue many voters care about -- expanding stem cell research. On the agenda for Friday, January 12, legislation to allow the government to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for Medicare recipients.
On Wednesday, January 17th, Democrats hope to cut interest rates on student loans.
The next day they'll try to push through legislation to end subsidies for big oil and to invest in renewable energy.
And remember, stay with CNN as the clock ticks on these first 100 legislative hours. That corresponds to about two weeks in the real world.
The House may be off this week, but the Senate is working today. Senators, a few hours ago, passed a resolution celebrating the life of the late President Gerald R. Ford. Then lawmakers got to work on lobbying and ethics reform. But a final passage is not expected on those measures in the Senate any time soon.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York for another week of The Cafferty File -- hi, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it could take three more years for U.S. and Iraqi forces to defeat the insurgency and train Iraqi security forces. That is according to the second ranking American commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno.
This comes as President Bush is expected to call for up to 20,000 more troops to be sent to Iraq. O'Dierno says a lot depends on whether commanders can show enough progress to find more support for the war back home.
General Odierno says: "I believe the American people, if they feel we are making progress, they will have the patience. I think the frustration is they think we are not making progress."
So far, this war has cost 3,013 U.S. troops and the American taxpayers close to a half a trillion dollars.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi government says 23,000 Iraqi civilians and police officers died in that country last year.
So here's the question -- a top U.S. commander in Iraq says it might take another two or three years to gain the upper hand in the war.
Are you willing to wait that long?
E-mail your thoughts to email@example.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: see you in a little while, Jack.
Thank you for that.
And coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, John McCain is one of the few senators who want more, not fewer troops in Iraq.
Will his stance help or hurt his bid for the White House?
Plus, they promised a five day work week but right off the bat lawmakers in the House failed to deliver it.
Which party will catch the blame on this, the Democrats or the Republicans?
We'll talk about that in our Strategy Session.
Plus, just what was that strange smell over New York City and parts of New Jersey earlier today? That's a question millions of people are asking. Stick around. We'll try to get some answers.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
It's largely over now, but today there was a major bomb scare in Miami. It happened at the Port of Miami. A package that was supposed to be loaded on a cruise ship tested positive for what could be xxv. That according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Bomb squads on the scene actually blew up the package in question. Officials say they're still conducting tests on the scene.
Let's check in with Susan Candiotti.
She's joining us over the phone now with the latest -- what do we know, Susan?
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Well, it's all clear at the Port of Miami now. But about two hours ago, a ship for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines called The Majesty of the Seas, its personnel was making a routine check of the cargo that was to be loaded onto that ship before it left on a cruise this afternoon.
Then they got a positive hit on a box that contained fire sprinkler parts. The box measuring about three foot by two feet by one feet.
In any case, they got a positive hit on this and according to the director of security for the Port of Miami, they decided then to blow up to the box, to be safe about what was inside.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES MAES, PORT OF MIAMI: There was a small explosion here on the port. We had set up a perimeter. At no point was anyone really in any danger here at the Port of Miami. Afterward, the bomb squad took a look at what had been destroyed and indications are that the package was sprinkler parts for a renovation on part of the Royal Caribbean.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CANDIOTTI: Now, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service, sometimes they get positive hits that they can't explain. Right now, they are still trying to determine where this might have come from, but they admit they might not ever be able to find out.
Back to you -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Susan, so, in other words the working assumption now, this was a false positive, that there were no plastic explosives in that little box?
CANDIOTTI: They're not sure. In fact, they're -- the box might have come into some kind of contact. But sometimes, they say, they can't explain how or why. So they're still trying to determine for sure whether, indeed, it really was a positive hit or a false positive.
If it was positive, they might never be able to determine how it all came about, but they're, of course, looking into it.
BLITZER: All right, well, at least the scare is over with for now.
Susan, we'll check back with you as we get more information.
Also, another mystery unfolding today. It's an unknown order that's causing some very certain concern. We're following a worrisome story of a mysterious and pervasive odor, perhaps gassed and engulfed parts of New York and New Jersey.
Alina Cho is standing by in New York.
She has the latest.
A lot of people were worried in New York earlier in the day -- Alina.
What's the latest?
ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, widespread concern, thankfully, not widespread panic, Wolf.
Here is the latest. As this evening rush begins here in New York City, city officials say it is still a mystery. They do not know exactly what caused this mysterious odor or, for that matter, what it was. We simply do not know.
What we can tell you is this all started around 9:00 this morning. Thousands of people called into 911 here in New York City reporting tonight that they smelled something suspicious. And this wasn't just one isolated area of New York City. This was all over the island of Manhattan and as far away as Newark, New Jersey.
In fact, seven people went to the hospital in New Jersey, some complaining of shortness of breath.
Thankfully, there were no injuries reported in New York City, but there were several buildings that were evacuated this morning because of the smell.
Now, New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, held a news conference this morning. He said right off the bat no cause for concern. He said that the city has conducted air quality tests and that it has been determined that the air is not hazardous.
All the while, city officials are still trying to determine the source and the nature of the leak.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), NEW YORK: If it is natural gas, we'll identify its source, obviously, and shut it down. We have been in touch with ConEd, but they're not reporting tonight any drop in pressure that would be the kind of thing you would expect if there was a large break to their gas system.
Generally, the concentrations of the gas aren't strong enough to be harmful. But the smell of mercaptan certainly is unpleasant. And our suggestion is that people should do the best to ventilate areas, open their windows or turn on any fans, until this gas passes to -- and this will help them get fresh oxygen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHO: Now, you may have heard the mayor say the word mercaptan. Let me explain to you what that is. Mercaptan is an additive. It is added to natural gas so that in the event of a leak, people can smell it.
Now, natural gas is exactly that -- it's colorless and odorless. Mercaptan has sulfur in it, which is why it smells. And it smells, unfortunately, like rotten eggs.
Now, unfortunately for the people who smelled it, that's exactly what it smelled like. That's what they're reporting tonight. But the city has not yet determined it was a mercaptan leak. It is simply one of many possibilities that they're looking into tonight.
Wolf, one thing I can tell you is that the street performers are back here in New York's Columbus Circle, and that is one sign that things are back to normal here in New York -- Wolf.
BLITZER: But there's no odor, no smell that you can discern right now, is that right?
CHO: Absolutely not. In fact, that went away later -- late this morning, I would say somewhere around 10:00, 11:00 this morning. It was just -- it just had dissipated by then. And the wind and the rain certainly helped with that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, we'll stay in touch with you, Alina.
Thank you very much for that report.
There's another little mystery unfolding out in Texas, the suburb of Houston, in Sugar Land, Texas.
We're going to bring you the latest on a chemical spill. Some white smoke, some vapor venting from an industrial plant. We're going to tell you what's going on and why schools has been able to keep students indoors in that area. That's coming up.
Also, a moot point?
That's what may happen to the debate over embryonic stem cell research. We're going to have details. An important new development.
Plus, the Democrats' escalate their focus on a possibly troop increase in Iraq. We'll consider their strategy and the voices they're likely hearing in their heads.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: mysteries unfolding around the country.
We heard about one in New York.
In Miami, let's check in with Carol Costello.
She's following another one in Texas.
What do we know -- Carol.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Sugar Land, Texas. That's a suburb of Houston. A huge chemical leak. Take a look at these pictures. They're just incredible.
This is coming from the Nalco plant. You see that plume of gassy smoky like substance coming out of that. That is actually ethylenediamine. That is a chemical which is used as a solvent in the production of dies and pesticides and things like that.
This is coming from the Nalco plant. We don't know how the leak happened. They're still trying to determine that. But if you breathe this stuff in, it can irritate and burn your skin. If you breathe it in long enough, it can actually damage your liver and your kidneys.
There are five schools around this plant. All of the schools are keeping the kids indoors and the windows shut, just as a precaution. They think they have this situation contained now, Wolf. They're just keeping the kids inside as a precaution until they go home. Otherwise, they think everybody is safe. No injuries to report as of yet. But they are asking everyone around this plant in Sugar Land to keep their windows closed, as well, until they have it absolutely contained.
But I'll try to find out more information and I'll get it to you a little later -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Carol.
A lot of people are probably worried in that area, as they should be.
Carol is in New York.
Up next, Senator John McCain's presidential hopes may hinge on his war hero status and his clout on military matters.
But could his support for a troop increase in Iraq change a lot of that?
And will members of the House get angry feedback from voters for effectively taking this day off?
Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan are hard at work this day, pondering that question, among others.
Our Strategy Session, just ahead, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, President Bush prepares to discuss Iraq in prime time Wednesday. Some Democrats are discussing how they might respond. Some Senate Democrats who are opposed to the idea of sending more troops to Iraq are now considering if cutting off funds for the war may be necessary.
He's a presidential prospect for 2008. Republican Senator John McCain thinks there should be an increase in the number of troops in Iraq.
But will that position help or hurt his presidential prospects?
Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, standing by to take a closer look.
And as many people talk about Iraq, the country itself explodes with violence. Today, gunmen ambushed a bus full of workers, killing four. And in Baghdad, a mom, dad and four of their children, all Shiites, were ambushed and killed by gunmen.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The future of the U.S. mission in Iraq is at the top of President Bush's agenda this week. And now it's higher on the Democrats' early priority list as well.
Let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.
He's taking a closer look at what is driving the Democrats to focus more on Iraq -- Bill.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, House Democrats are all set to pass their 100-hour domestic agenda. But they don't seem to be talking much about it right now. Something else has come up.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Iraq is like the elephant in the room. Democrats can't ignore it, even if they want to talk about other things, like their domestic agenda for the first 100 hours. Democrats knew the elephant was there.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Nowhere was the call for a new direction more clear from the American people than in the war in Iraq.
SCHNEIDER: Democrats are enraged by reports that the president will call for a buildup of U.S. troops. And it's not just Democrats.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: I believe that the American people are way ahead of the Congress.
SCHNEIDER: But Democrats have a problem. There is not a lot Congress can do.
REP. DAVID OBEY (D), WISCONSIN: Congress is not the commander in chief. The president has the authority, I suppose, to expand involvement, if he wants to.
SCHNEIDER: The first thing Democrats will do is exercise oversight responsibility on the war, which they say Congress has ignored for years.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: No foreign policy can be sustained in America without the informed consent of the American people -- the informed consent.
SCHNEIDER: The Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees will begin hearings this week, as will the House Foreign Affairs Committee and other House committees soon.
Democrats have pledged they will not cut funding for the troops.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FACE THE NATION")
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We will always support the troops who are there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: But, the speaker warned:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FACE THE NATION")
PELOSI: But there's not a carte blanche and a blank check to him to do whatever he wishes there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: Suppose Congress cuts off funding for additional troops?
OBEY: The president would simply veto it.
SCHNEIDER: In a war, the powers of Congress are limited. But a president will have great difficulty pursuing a policy, in defiance of the people.
RANGEL: No president can -- can -- can be successful, in the conduct of any war, without the support of the American people.
SCHNEIDER: The people spoke in the election. The establishment spoke in the Iraq Study Group report. Now the Democratic Congress is speaking. What will it take to persuade this president? Probably pressure from his own Republican base, if they see political disaster looming -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And Republicans increasingly raising some skepticism about this troop increase.
Thanks very much, Bill Schneider, for that.
Meanwhile, Senator John McCain has clearly positioned himself as a leading, and some would argue, lonely advocate of a troop increase in Iraq. The future of the U.S. forces is hanging in the balance. And so, perhaps, is Senator McCain's bid for the GOP presidential nomination.
Let's turn to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She is here with more on McCain's gamble -- Candy.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the question is, can a presidential contender find success, when, on the premier issue of the day, he holds a position counter to that of most American voters? We will see.
CROWLEY (voice-over): And you thought the argument over Iraq was about Bush administration policy. Perhaps you forget there's a presidential campaign under way.
Exhibit one: Democratic contender John Edwards.
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I reject, categorically, what I call the McCain doctrine, which is an escalation of this war and a surge of troops.
CROWLEY: As they rev up for a presidential campaign in an anti- war climate, those close to John McCain say he recognizes his chances could be hurt by his super-hawk stance.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: To be of value, the surge must be substantial, and it must be sustained.
CROWLEY: "We're not stupid," said one McCain confidant. "We see the polling against a surge." But, off the record and on it, supports say there are reasons to believe McCain's creds will keep him afloat.
DAN SCHNUR, REPUBLICAN POLITICAL CONSULTANT: Number one is his own military record and his own history as a prisoner of war. Second, as a senator and as a politician, is his reputation as a straight shooter, as a straight talker. That means the voters are going to give him more of a hearing on his position, even if it's something with which they fundamentally disagree.
CROWLEY: Outside the Senate, it's easier to float the issue until things gel.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney have not taken a specific position on President Bush's soon-to-be-unveiled plan. About to announce for president and currently in the Middle East, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas has said he would support it, if U.S. military leaders agree and it leads to a political solution.
But Democrats have focused attention on McCain.
GOV. TOM VILSACK (D), IOWA: I announce my candidacy to be the next president of the United States.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
CROWLEY: In one of his first acts as a presidential candidate, Iowa's Tom Vilsack called McCain, the Republican front-runner, his "party's leading authorities on military matters," and "flat-out wrong" on Iraq.
And the Democratic National Committee has jammed cyberspace, slamming McCain's positions.
CROWLEY: One close friend says, if this costs McCain, his reaction is, so be it.
and the truth is, McCain's hawk credentials have been so much in the public eye and so consistent, it's too late for him to back off now.
BLITZER: And, you know, as you remember, in that recent CNN poll, we asked: Do you support an increase in U.S. troops? Only about 11 or 12 percent of the American public supported that position. So, McCain is really taking a real risk right now in taking this stance. And he's not only calling for a troop increase. He's saying, don't do it unless it's robust and it can be sustained for a long period of time.
So, he is -- he is very far in -- in the hawk category. And -- and, you know, you talk to his people, and they say, you know, this is a guy who has never been afraid to take a controversial position. And it's worked out for him.
So, they don't -- you know, while they -- they agree that this could derail things, this could hurt him, they say, you know, in the past, he's done things that are counterintuitive, and it's worked out for him. So, that is what they're betting on.
BLITZER: We will -- we will see what -- how this one works out.
Thanks, Candy, very much. Good report.
Candy Crowley, Bill Schneider, and, as you saw earlier, Dana Bash and Suzanne Malveaux, they are all part of the best political team on television.
And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.
Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich is staking his campaign on opposition to the war in Iraq. And he's urging his party's leadership in Congress to prevent any increase in troop levels in Iraq by simply cutting off funding. Kucinich spoke in New York earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our soldiers stand for us in the field. We must stand for them in the legislature by bringing them home.
It's not credible for anyone to maintain that one opposes the war, yet continues to fund it. This contradiction runs as a deep fault line through our politics, undermining public trust in the political process and in those elected to represent the people. If you oppose the war, then don't vote to fund it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Coming up: As President Bush weighs sending more troops into Iraq, House Democrats push up their timetable for oversight hearings. So, who is driving the debate over Iraq?
And we will have more on the politics of college football, as the House of Representatives grinds to a halt for the national championship game. That's tonight -- more of THE SITUATION ROOM right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: This just coming in: We have now learned that President Bush has decided to name Fred Fielding as the new White House counsel, succeeding Harriet Miers. As you know, she resigned last week.
Fred Fielding, who worked as White House counsel during the Reagan administration, is well-known to many of us here in Washington. He was deeply involved in helping President Reagan deal with several sensitive congressional related investigations back in the 1980s, including Iran-Contra.
And it's clear that this President Bush wanted someone who could deal with the new Democratic majority in the Congress, dealing with some of these sensitive investigations that are likely to explode in the coming weeks and months -- Fred Fielding named by the president to be the new White House counsel. That position does not -- repeat, does not -- require Senate confirmation.
We will watch that story for you.
In today's "Strategy Session": President Bush will discuss Iraq in a prime-time address Wednesday. But Democrats are wasting no time discussing what they think he may say and how they might respond.
Joining us now, our CNN political analysts. Donna Brazile is a Democratic strategy. And Bay Buchanan is president of American Cause.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
Donna, listen to Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, insisting today that this fight in Iraq can be won.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think millions of Americans believe that this war is winnable, and think, furthermore, that it's important to -- to rebuild the sense of political unity.
One of the things that president's often said is the only way we lose is we lose our will.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's the implication, the Democrats, and maybe some Republicans, are going to lose their will and pull out, and, then, the whole thing collapses into total defeat.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, Democrats and Republicans are both resolved to win in Iraq, but we have to win with a strategy that will bring the parties together, that will, somehow or another, force the Iraqis to sit down and make peace with one another. Without a strategy that involves the Iraqis taking control of their security, taking control of their government, balancing out the power in that country, I don't believe we can win it just militarily speaking.
BAY BUCHANAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, George Bush is going to win this round, I believe.
BLITZER: Which round?
BUCHANAN: He is going to ask for an increase in troops. You have the Democrats up there, saying, no; we're going to think about it; we don't think this is the way to go.
They will support his request. I believe the Congress will support it. They fund it, for this reason: because, right now, the responsibility of the Iraq war is on the shoulders of the president. Now, all the country knows that. And he has decided this is what is necessary to move it in the proper direction. He will ask for that increase, and they will give it to him, because they don't have the guts to say no.
BRAZILE: That's not true. We have the guts to say no, especially another strategy that calls for us to put more troops in Baghdad. We have done it twice, with what? With no results.
So, I think Democrats will say to the president: Fine, you want a surge, but we -- we need a diplomatic surge. We need a political surgery. We need more than just a military surge.
BLITZER: The other part of the president's initiative, we're told, Wednesday night, when he delivers his address to the nation, is not only an increase in the number of U.S. troops, maybe 20,000, maybe more...
BLITZER: ... maybe less, but also what they are calling a jobs package for Iraqis, a billion dollars in additional U.S. aid to get jobs for Iraqis.
Do you support that?
BUCHANAN: I do, because, right now, there are so many Iraqi people that have -- one of the ways that they're able to take care of their families is to get involved in these terrorist groups. This is what is helping them to -- to be able to provide for themselves.
If you can give them other options, where they become -- they have a self-interest in some kind of secure Iraq, then, indeed maybe we can turn this around. I think it's a central part of a package.
BRAZILE: I think that's an important part. But, once again, we -- we must bring in our neighbors. Unless the president expand the coalition -- Great Britain, Italy, Poland, many other countries, have announced this year that they're pulling out. The Iraqi government wants us to pull out.
So, the president cannot just come forward with a military strategy, without bringing in all -- some of these other issues.
BUCHANAN: But -- but what will happen is, if the Democrats were to vote against it, then, they will end up taking it upon themselves the responsibility for the war. And they do not have the guts to do that.
BRAZILE: Well, first of all, there are Republicans who are also against this surge.
BUCHANAN: Not enough.
BRAZILE: John McCain is not speaking for the entire Republican caucus.
BLITZER: Let's move on and talk about...
BLITZER: ... something closer to home right now.
The Democrats promised no more of these little three-day workweeks for the U.S. House of Representatives. Five days -- they're going to work Monday through Friday, like most of us have to work, Monday through Friday.
BLITZER: Yet, on this first day of the new session, Monday, guess what? They're not in session today because of a -- of a big football game, a college football game tonight.
BRAZILE: Well, Speaker Pelosi is working. Steny Hoyer and I know many other Democrats are working today.
But there was no votes -- look at the schedule -- no votes scheduled today. The House was on suspension. Members were returning from freshmen orientation or from the weekend, and no votes were scheduled.
Mr. Boehner approached Mr. Hoyer.
BLITZER: John Boehner, he's the minority leader.
BRAZILE: That's correct. And, look, I like the fact that Republicans and Democrats are finally getting along. And they agree on one thing, that tonight is a national football game.
BRAZILE: I don't have a dog in the -- in the Buckeyes vs. the Gators.
BRAZILE: But this is an important opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to establish a relationship.
BLITZER: John Boehner is from Ohio. And Ohio State...
BLITZER: ... is in the championship game...
BLITZER: ... against the University of Florida.
BUCHANAN: Listen, of course...
BLITZER: And everybody wants to be in Arizona to watch the game, including John Boehner.
BUCHANAN: Of course they do.
This is -- this is just -- Washington is just as -- working as usual. Wolf, she says there was no votes. Why would Boehner, then, ask that there to be no votes? He asked there to be no votes. He knew the big football game was coming up.
Basically, they are saying, five-day workweeks, unless there is a big football game or something else we want to go to. This is not how the American people work. We have to work five days a week, no matter what. They are phonies. They are big, fat phonies. This is business as usual.
BLITZER: The Democrats, the Republicans, or both?
BUCHANAN: The Democrats.
They had -- they -- they are out there saying: We're going to be different. We're going to change things, five-day workweek, just like Americans.
First opportunity, first big football game, days off. We don't get days off.
BRAZILE: But the American people also wanted us to work together, Bay.
And they wanted Republicans and Democrats -- hey, what better time to forge a bipartisan cooperation relationship? This is a big game tonight, a championship game. LSU played last Thursday. We won. We beat Notre Dame. Tonight is a big game for America.
BLITZER: Big plug for LSU.
BUCHANAN: That's right.
BRAZILE: All politics is local.
BUCHANAN: They -- they can go to the dinner together, like the rest of us do.
BRAZILE: But the Democrats are on track this week to pass a minimum wage...
BUCHANAN: Sure. Sure.
BRAZILE: ... lower prescription drugs, enact the 9/11 Commission.
BLITZER: All right.
BUCHANAN: And we hope we don't have too many football games or basketball games or other things that may interest them, and take them away from Washington for a day -- another day off.
BLITZER: Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan are part of the best political team on television.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
Up next on our "Political Radar": California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger unveils his plan to provide health care for kids. But there is a catch. We will tell you what is going on.
And has the science world ended one of the hottest political debates here in Washington? We will have the details on a promising new line of study that may -- repeat -- may end the debate over embryonic stem cell research.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: On our "Political Radar" this Monday: President Bush today marked the five-year anniversary of one of his early legislative successes, the passage of his No Child Left Behind education agenda. But critics of the measure are launching fight for major changes in the legislation, as Congress prepares to vote on its reauthorization. A new year brings a new governor and a change of parties in Ohio. Former Congressman Ted Strickland was sworn in as the Buckeye governor just after midnight, becoming the first Democrat to run Ohio in 16 years. He will be watching the game tonight.
Republican Mitt Romney's friends and supporters are dialing for dollars today for his likely presidential campaign. Romney's spokesman says the all-day callathon, as they are calling it, in South Boston is expected to raise about a million dollars. Romney's camp is hoping to raise an ambitious $100 million this year.
And, remember, for all the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.
Want to update you now on a story that you may have first heard about in THE SITUATION ROOM. Using about a dozen live Web cameras, Texas invited the public to report suspicious activity along the U.S. border with Mexico. During the one-month test, the Web site received more than 28 million hits. But did it work?
Abbi Tatton is following the story -- Abbi.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this Web site generated so many e-mails from the public that the Texas National Guard had to be brought in to help read them all -- some of the e- mails, helpful, others, less -- less so.
In the first few days of the test, blank and obscene e-mails far outnumbered reports of suspicious activity. Officials also had to sift through the e-mails coming in, some of them alarmist, some exaggerated.
"I have seen a Mexican man running," reads one.
Another one: "There are at least a hundred people in the river" -- these from "The El Paso Times," that got the e-mails. And we have posted them online at CNN.com.
But the 15,000 e-mails did lead to 10 people being apprehended along the border, and also one drug seizure. A spokesman for Governor Rick Perry said the goal was not apprehensions. They were just trying to test out the technology. They are now moving ahead with a permanent Web site.
That $5 million project, though, does have its critics. We spoke to one Democrat in the state legislature, who said, this is not cost- effective -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you very much, Abbi, for that.
Let's check back with Carol for a closer look at some other important stories making news -- Carol.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Hello to all of you. It is one of the most hotly debated issues, pitting politics against science: stem cell research. Now a new study suggests there may be a way around the controversy.
Researchers say they found that -- they found stem cells that offer the same promise as those found in human embryos. The newly discovered stem cells are found in amniotic fluid, that liquid that cushions a baby in the womb. And these stem cells may offer a way around using stem cells from human embryos, which many conservatives, including President Bush, oppose. Our Mary Snow will have much more on this important discovery in our next hour.
In other medical news, a little comfort for you if you have ever had the flu -- the government has approved a new version of the nasal spray -- of the nasal spray flu vaccine called FluMist. It can be stored simply in the refrigerator, and not frozen. That means it could be kept in schools and pharmacies or in grocery stores. FluMist makers say, the new version of the vaccine should be ready in time for this year's flu season, which is coming up.
Also, a rule is a rule is a rule, and the Supreme Court says at least one is not meant to be broken. You must show your I.D. before you board an airplane. Today, without commenting, the high court rejected a challenge to that requirement. One activist argued had against it, but the government says, checking your I.D. before you get on a plane helps protect you.
And they're caught; they're released; and then they're arrested again. And it happens far too often. That is the conclusion of a report from the Justice Department. It says the number of illegal immigrants who are also criminals who are arrested, released, and arrested again is extremely high. Some of the people studied had been arrested and released six times.
In Germany, he was already convicted as an accessory to murder in the 9/11 attacks. Today, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He's a Moroccan who counted three of the suicide hijackers as friends. His 15-year sentence is the maximum penalty. Judges say he knew the 9/11 hijackers intended to use planes in terror attacks.
In Indonesia, officials hope they have found clues to what happened to a jet that simply disappeared. Today, an Indonesian ship found large metal objects on the ocean off the Indonesian coast. Officials think there may be some sort of a wreckage of the jet. The plane went missing amid bad weather a week ago, with 102 people on board.
That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Carol, thanks very much.
Carol is going to stand by for more news here in the THE SITUATION ROOM.
But, up next, "The Cafferty File" -- Jack with your e-mail. His question: three more years before the U.S. gets the upper hand in Iraq, that according to a top military commander. Are you willing to wait that long? And, in the next hour, the freshman U.S. Senator Jon Tester on the war in Iraq. What does he want to hear from the president during his speech Wednesday night?
We will be right back.
BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack in New York for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour: A top U.S. commander in Iraq says it might take another two or three years to gain the upper hand in the war.
Our question is: Are you willing to wait that long?
Gary writes from Idaho: "The generals want us to put up with this for another three years? Give the Iraqi leaders an ultimatum: Work together. Get your act together. Get your country together. If not, the U.S. will leave in three months, and you will be on your own. The American people are fed up."
Renee in Texas: "Yes. I have two sons in Iraq, one in Ramadi, one south of Baghdad. They have been there a while. They are going to be there a while longer. They don't want to leave until they can say they have success and honor their fellow soldiers lost there. They want the American people to stand behind them."
Larry in Atlanta: "No. As soon as we leave, whether it's now or in 10 years, someone like Saddam or the president of Iran will seize power. The Iraqis will get what they deserve for not taking the opportunity for freedom and entering the 21st century from the 12th century."
Micah in Las Vegas: "Mr. Cafferty, another two or three years? Am I the only one who remembers W. in a flight suit standing on an aircraft carrier, proclaiming mission accomplished? How can we lose a war they said we won three years ago? It's time to pull our troops out now."
An Air Force officer writes this: "Yes, I'm willing to wait for victory, even if it takes two or three years. Our country needs to wake up. We're in a global struggle against radical Muslims, who want to kill you, me and everyone who doesn't become a Muslim. If we don't hold our ground in Iraq, it will only embolden them and prove that America is spineless."
And, finally, Frederick in Delaware: "Two or three years? We will be desperately seeking a way out of Tehran by then" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you.
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