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THE SITUATION ROOM

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Took Fire From Senators Of Both Parties During Hearing; President Bush Meeting With Members Of Families Who Have Lost Loved Ones In Iraq; House Approves Bill To Remove Federal Limits On Funding For Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Aired January 11, 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: And 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, open warfare on Capitol Hill over the president's new Iraq strategy. While Mr. Bush tries to sell his plan, a filibuster fight may be brewing, on top of internal party feuds and plenty of anger to go around.

And another Democrat is diving right into the race for president.

Can Senator Chris Dodd compete with superstars in his own party? I'll ask him about his presidential prospects and what he'd do in Iraq.

And the House presses a hot button.

Will a vote on embryonic stem cell research prove to be just for show?

We're tracking the progress and the politics in the first 100 hours of the new House.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Bush is following up his announcement of a troop buildup in Iraq with a familiar drill. He went to a U.S. military base to push his latest war plan. It's far from the fierce criticism he's getting right here in Washington.

More influential Republicans in Congress are joining Democrats in blasting the idea of sending additional troops into an unpopular war. Key members of the president's war team took the heat for Mr. Bush on Capitol Hill today and the top Senate Republican rushed to his defense.

CNN's Bob Franken is standing by in Fort Benning, Georgia, where the president is spending part of today.

Let's go to Capitol Hill first.

Andrea Koppel with the latest from there -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for about three-and-a-half hours today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took fire from senators. In a marked shift from previous Senate hearings, it wasn't just the Democrats who came out swinging.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL (voice-over): For President Bush it was a stunning rebuke from members of his own party.

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH (R-OH), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I've gone along with the president on this and I bought into his dream, and I -- at this stage of the game, I don't think it's going to happen.

SEN. NORMAN COLEMAN (R), MINNESOTA: Why put more American lives on the line now in the hope that this time they'll make the difficult choice.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NB), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: But I think this speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it's carried out. I will resist it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please refrain, OK?

KOPPEL: One by one, at least three Republicans, including Vietnam vet Chuck Hagel, who may run for president in 2008, rejected Mr. Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq and joined Democrats in venting their frustration at his secretary of state.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: And the fundamental question that the American people and I think every senator on this panel, Republicans and Democrats, are having to face now is at what point do we say enough? What leverage do we have that would provide us some assurance that six months from now you will not be sitting before us again saying well, it didn't work?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, senator, the leverage is we're not going to stay married to a plan that's not working in Baghdad.

KOPPEL: Senators on both sides of the aisle expressed skepticism Iraq's prime minister was up to the job. Rice assured them he was.

RICE: I have met Prime Minister Maliki. I was with him in Amman. I saw his resolve. I think he knows that his government is, in a sense, on borrowed time, not just in terms of the American people, but in terms of the Iraqi people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you confident?

RICE: I'm confident.

KOPPEL: Senators also wanted to know about U.S. military plans for Iraq's neighbors, Syria, and, specifically, Iran, which the Bush administration has accused of arming insurgents.

Delaware's Joe Biden told Rice there is a red line the administration must not cross.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: And if they think they have authority to pursue networks or anything else across the border into Iran and Iraq, that will generate a constitutional confrontation here in the Senate, I predict to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL: Only one senator, Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, said that Congress should use the power of the purse to cut off funds and force President Bush to bring U.S. troops home. But so far, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, has indicated that he intends to bring a mostly symbolic resolution to express opposition to the president's position to the floor some time next week.

But, Wolf, the top Republican in the Senate has said he has the votes to block such a move, a sign that there are still a number of Republicans in the president's camp -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He's assuming that he could block a filibuster, that he could sustain a filibuster, in other words, 60 votes, although the are head counters on the other side who believe there are enough Republicans to join with Democrats and break what Mitch McConnell is recommending as a potential filibuster.

Andrea, thank you very, very much for that.

Let's go over to Fort Benning, Georgia now, where the commander- in-chief personally delivered new marching orders to some of the troops affected by his Iraq strategy.

Our national correspondent, Bob Franken, is covering this story for us -- Bob.

FRANKEN: Well, Wolf, at this hour, President Bush is meeting with members of 25 families of people who have lost their loved ones in the war in Iraq. It is something he does. It is a reminder about one of the biggest prices this war takes, the issue that is really involved here.

He has spent the day watching training exercises here and also at a big luncheon that was held for military people who are on this base and members of their families. He has come from Washington seeking support from those most affected by his decisions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And some units are going to have to deploy earlier than scheduled as a result of the decision I made. Some will remain deployed longer than originally anticipated. I will work with you and the Congress to provide all the resources you need in this war on terror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKEN: Here at Fort Benning, there are units that are going to be deployed to Iraq in about April for the third time. And now other units are going to find that they're going to be going back before they expected to and staying longer than they expected. A heavy price for the people at this facility -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bob, thank you.

Bob Franken at Fort Benning for us.

The president's new defense secretary, Robert Gates, is offering a very vague time frame for how long the new buildup of troops in Iraq might last. Gates and the chairman of the joint chiefs, General Peter Pace, testified before the House Armed Services today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I don't think anybody has a definite idea about how long the surge would last. I think for most of us in the -- in our minds, we're thinking of it as a matter of months, not 18 months or two years. We clearly will know, as I indicated, I think, within a couple of months or so, whether this strategy is, in fact, beginning to bear fruit. It's going to take a while.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Also today, Secretary Gates announced that the military plans to add 92,000 troops to the Army and the Marine Corps over the next five years. But some critics question whether the Pentagon can recruit enough new troops to expand the now strained armed forces.

Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel today introduced a controversial bill to reinstate the military draft for all men and women aged 18 to 42 with no deferments. There's widespread opposition to his bill, including among Charlie Rangel's fellow Democrats.

A short while ago, Democratic leaders in the House checked off another item on their first 100 hours to-do-list. Members approved a bill to remove federal limits on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

But a showdown is still very likely ahead.

Let's turn to CNN's Brianna Keilar.

She's following this story for us -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this bill had bipartisan support and it passed the House with a vote of 253-174. But it may not be enough to escape a veto by President Bush.

This bill would allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and it would increase stem cell lines that researchers can use. Experts say stem cells could be the key to treating diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, even diabetes and spinal cord injuries.

But extracting stem cells from embryos destroys them and many conservatives say that's morally unethical.

So no surprise it led to an emotionally charged debate on the House floor today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN DINGELL (R), MICHIGAN: Embryonic stem cell research holds the potential for developing treatments for many dreaded diseases, including Lou Gehrig's Disease, cancer, cystic fibrosis, heart disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis and pulmonary fibrosis.

REP. JEAN SCHMIDT (R), OHIO: The debate is not about stopping it, but about who's going to pay for it. To my colleagues who support this legislation, I share your concern for finding future medical treatments to improve lives but disagree with your focus on embryonic stem cell research.

There are other promising techniques to produce stem cells, techniques that do not involves the destruction of human life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: So this bill flew through the House. It's also expected to make it through the Senate quickly. But President Bush vetoed basically the same bill in July. He's expected to veto it again. And Congress would need a two thirds majority to override that.

Looking at today's vote in the House, even considering that eight members did not vote, supporters of this bill are far short of that. So these supporters may have won the battle, Wolf, but it's very possible they're going to lose the war on this one.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Brianna Keilar.

We want to welcome her to our Washington bureau. She's our newest addition. She'll be a frequent visitor here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Thanks very much, Brianna, for that.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty.

He's a frequent visitor every single day right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: That's whether you like it or not.

BLITZER: We like it. We like it.

CAFFERTY: That's right.

Initial public response to President Bush's speech indicates that he still has a lot of convincing to do. A "Washington Post"/ABC News poll conducted after the president spoke last evening shows overwhelming opposition to his call for more troops in Iraq.

Here are the numbers. Sixty-one percent of those surveyed say they oppose sending more than 21,000 more troops into war. Thirty-six percent support it. Only about one third of Americans think that President Bush's plan makes it more likely the U.S. will win in Iraq. Ten percent say it makes it more likely that we will lose and 53 percent say it's not going to make any difference one way or the other.

The White House acknowledges a speech like last night's will not convert the critics. One aide to President Bush told the "Washington Post": "What you hope to accomplish with a speech like this is to show the public that there's a genuine, deep and fundamental change and there's a good chance of success."

So, did Mr. Bush accomplish that.

Here's the question -- did President Bush say anything to change your mind about Iraq?

E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- I'll be back, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know you will. And we're happy about that.

Jack, thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: OK.

BLITZER: Coming up, the Democrats reveal the backdrop for their 2008 presidential convention.

What does their choice say about their strategy for trying to reclaim the White House?

Also ahead, my interview with the newest entry on a list of official presidential campaigns. That would be Democratic Senator Chris Dodd. I'll ask him what tough choices he would make to stop a troop buildup in Iraq.

And later, we'll take a closer look at President Bush, himself now on a lonely path. His plan to send more troops to Iraq sets him even farther apart from the American people and even members of his own party.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our Political Radar this Thursday, the Democrats go west. The Democratic National Committee announcing today it's chosen Denver to host its 2008 presidential convention. It's a sign of the party's efforts to try to cultivate traditionally Republican territory. Let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

He's got some more on the mile high opportunity underway right now -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, the last time Democrats held their convention in Denver was in 1908, when they nominated William Jennings Bryan for president for the third time. That didn't turn out so well.

So why are they going back?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Colorado has voted Republican in all but one of the last 10 presidential elections.

So why are Democrats holding their convention in Denver?

They're prospecting for electoral gold. In fact, Democrats have already hit pay dirt in Colorado.

JAMES MERLINO, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL CONSULTANT: And after this week, with everyone being sworn in, five of the nine members of the Congress from Colorado are now Democrats and we have a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature.

SCHNEIDER: Democrats have been making gains across the Mountain West. All eight Rocky Mountain states had Republican governors after the 2000 election. Five now have Democratic governors. The number of Democratic senators has increased from three to five. House members, from six Democrats to 11.

MAYOR JOHN HICKENLOOPER, DENVER: If that momentum continues, those are crucial electoral votes.

SCHNEIDER: What's driving Democratic gains in the West?

A big influx of Hispanic voters, for one thing -- 12 percent of the eligible various in Colorado. There's always been a strong strain of libertarianism in the West. It used to help Republicans, who ran against big government. Now it helps Democrats, who run against the religious right.

MERLINO: You saw the Republican leadership in this state going much too far to the right and paying attention to issues that didn't really appeal to libertarians.

SCHNEIDER: There is also a lot of new Democratic money in Colorado -- Internet millionaires and yuppies.

OK, but what about the weather?

We've been hearing an awful lot about the weather in Denver lately.

MERLINO: August, I can guarantee you we won't have snow in Colorado.

SCHNEIDER: Actually, you will in the mountains, but not in Denver, probably.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Consider the story of Alfred G. Packer, one of the few people in America ever tried and jailed for cannibalism after he allegedly killed and ate several companions trapped in a blizzard in the Rockies in 1874. Now, the story goes that before pronouncing sentence, the judge said: "There was seven Democrats in Hinsdale County but you, you ate five of them."

Packard was eventually pardoned and in 1968, students at the University of Colorado at Boulder named their new cafeteria the Alfred G. Packer Memorial Grill.

Slogan?

Have a friend for lunch.

Message to Democrats -- Colorado could be a dangerous place.

BLITZER: I love Colorado, especially in the summertime. Denver an excellent selection for a presidential convention.

Thanks very much, Bill Schneider, for that.

And remember, Bill Schneider, and, as u saw earlier, Andrea Koppel, Bob Franken, Brianna Keiler, 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.

Up next, the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq is getting a thumbs down from more and more Republicans.

Will that lead to changes in war strategy or in the political strategy heading into 2008?

J.C. Watts and Paul Begala, they're standing by for our Strategy Session.

And some allies of former President Jimmy Carter are bailing on him. We're going to tell you why.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol Costello is joining us from New York with a closer look at some other important stories making news -- hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.

Hello to all of you. There wasn't really any torture and abuse in Washington today, but some protesters sure wanted it to look that way. They staged a mock torture as they protested the treatment of detainees at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Demonstrators dressed in orange jumpsuits similar to those worn by the GITMO detainees and some wore black hoods over their heads to symbolize prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib. At least 60 people were arrested.

In Afghanistan, the mission was to kill insurgents and the mission was accomplished. NATO says that 150 insurgents were killed in eastern Afghanistan last night. In a statement, NATO says two groups of insurgents were seen coming into Afghanistan from Pakistan and were engaged by air and ground forces. One official says of the killings: "The enemy cannot hide."

It's not the Jimmy Carter they came to respect. Those scathing words are part of a letter penned by 14 people who worked for the Carter Center Advisory Board. They've all resigned, upset over the former president's controversial book and subsequent remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many in the Jewish community are also outraged over Carter's stance on the Middle East. I'll have much more on all this in the next hour. This happens too.

And move over Brangelina -- a new mega celebrity couple is coming to Tinseltown. He's an international sports star. They're both global sex symbols. And soon they will be living in Los Angeles. David Beckham has signed a five year deal to play soccer for the Los Angeles Galaxy. In a statement, Beckham says it is the best decision for him and his wife Victoria. Or she was known as Posh Spikes of the Spice Girls.

And I'm sure you remember her from that group -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Of course, can't forget.

Thanks very much, Carol, for that.

Up next, he's been in Congress since 1974 and now he says he's ready for the job of commander-in-chief, Senator Chris Dodd. He'll be here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And in the next hour, the White House press secretary, Tony Snow, tells us how the president's going to sell his plan for more troops in Iraq.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, the Bush administration is selling but many Americans are not buying.

A new Iraq strategy that one Republican senator is calling, and I'm quoting now, "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it's carried out." Other influential Republicans in Congress also blasting the president's plan to send thousands more U.S. troops into Iraq. They're joining many Democrats and a public weary of war.

And might Congress use its power of the purse to stop the president's plan?

Yes, says Democratic Senator Russ Feingold. He says Congress should use the power of the purse to "put an end to our involvement in this disastrous war."

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Add another name to the race for the White House. Senator Chris Dodd today announced he's running for president. The Democrat from Connecticut is skipping the early step of forming a presidential exploratory committee. He's coming right out and throwing his hat 100 percent into the ring.

Dodd was first elected to the House of Representatives back in 1974 at the age of 30. He's won election to the Senate -- he first won election to the Senate in 1980. He's the new chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

Joining us now, and Democratic Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut. He announced he wants to be president of the United States.

We're going to get to that shortly, senator.

First, let's talk about Iraq, the president's speech last night.

Listen to what your Democratic colleague, Russ Feingold, said earlier today about this war.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: And now Congress must -- must use its main power, the power of the purse, to put an end to our involvement in this disastrous war. And I am not talking here only about the surge or escalation. It is time to use the power of the purse to bring our troops out of Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Are you with him on that?

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think we need a change of policy and I would certainly be willing to use the power of the purse to help us change direction and a different mission for our troops there. I would not be prepared to cut off funding to our troops on the ground in Iraq, even though I disagree with the surge.

I think we ought to be voting on that before they go rather than have them on the ground there and then cutting off the resources for them.

I think it's a huge mistake, this escalation. But we ought to deal with that early on, and I hope we do, for this matter.

There's been a new direction in Iraq, a new rationale. It's not weapons of mass destruction. There are no visions of mushroom clouds. It's now a different proposal we have. We ought to have a chance to debate that and vote on it before it happens.

BLITZER: You want another resolution.

What about what Senator Kennedy...

DODD: I like...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... is recommending...

DODD: I like that idea.

BLITZER: ... that, as far as the additional troops...

DODD: That's what I'm suggesting.

BLITZER: ... using the power of the purse to avoid funding their deployment?

DODD: I agree with that. I think you might want to change it a little bit here and there. But I love the thrust of that. I think it makes a lot of sense.

Listen, the American public voted for change on November 7. Democrats are in control. They are going to want to know why, on this, the most -- one of the most important issues before the country, certainly in the debate last fall, why we're not capable of bringing this up at this juncture, and insisting upon a debate and a vote.

If you're for the surge, or the escalation, then, you have a chance to talk about it and vote for it. If you think it's a bad idea, you can do the opposite. We...

BLITZER: The...

(CROSSTALK)

DODD: ... have that opportunity.

BLITZER: The Republican leader, the minority leader, in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, is now saying maybe they will filibuster any of these sense of the Senate resolutions, these nonbinding resolutions. Is that normal, to filibuster a nonbinding resolution?

DODD: It is. And I'm sort of surprised at that, frankly.

I mean, we were criticized last year for filibustering other issues by the Republicans. It would be ironic, at this juncture, given the single most important certainly foreign policy issue, and, I would argue, almost any issue today.

BLITZER: So, you -- but you're saying, it's extraordinary to filibuster, not normal?

DODD: It's extraordinary.

In my experience, in a quarter-of-a-century in the Senate, there are very few times that I can think of, standing before you -- sitting before you, Wolf, where we filibustered a nonbinding resolution.

BLITZER: Well, there are a number of Republicans, some of your colleagues...

DODD: Yes.

BLITZER: ... who are aligning themselves in -- in opposition to the president.

I don't know if you have done a head count, but do you think you have 60 votes that could beat a filibuster?

DODD: I think we would be very close. Particularly on a resolution like that, I think 60 votes might very well be there.

I heard today Chuck Hagel, Sam Brownback, who has been in the region. I listened to Norm Coleman and others who have expressed either strong reservations or outright hostility -- and rightly so, in my view -- to this proposal last night by the president.

BLITZER: Have you lost total confidence in the Bush-Cheney policies, as far as Iraq is concerned?

DODD: Well, I was terribly disappointed last night.

The president set the premise of what I thought offered him an opportunity for a new direction. He started out by saying: Look, this is not working. This policy has failed in many ways. And I accept responsibility.

I thought that was the right thing for the president to do. He then said the second thing. The Iraqis really have to take responsibility for what is going to happen now. Many of us have been saying that for the last several years.

That set the premise, it seemed to me, for him to say: And, as a result of that, we're going to try a new direction here. I'm going to send a permanent representative to the region on a constant basis, around the clock, to be there as long as it takes to get the politics and diplomacy working.

We're then going to have our troops do three things, border security, training troops, guarding the infrastructure in the country, so that Iraqis have an opportunity for a better life. But we're not going to be involved in trying to sort out 23 different militias operating in Baghdad, Shia on Shia, Shia on Sunni, Baathists, insurgents, al Qaeda.

That's a Rubik's Cube that we can't sort out militarily.

BLITZER: You know, he hates the idea that you and several of your colleagues recently showed up in Damascus...

DODD: Right.

BLITZER: ... in effect giving comfort to Bashar al-Assad, the -- the leader of Syria.

DODD: That was hardly comfort, any more than I think that -- that Henry Kissinger or Richard Nixon were giving comfort to Mao Zedong when they went to China, or presidents of all political parties went to the Soviet Union for many years, trying to resolve differences between two enemies.

I went there to find out whether or not we could get any cooperation...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Did you find out if he...

DODD: I did. In fact...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Is he ready to cooperate...

(CROSSTALK)

DODD: Well, I had -- members of the American Embassy were there, who kept the notes. I talked to Condoleezza Rice before I left, talked to her when I came back.

Let me tell you what Assad said to me, in a three-and-a-half-hour conversation.

I said to him, "What sort of an Iraq do you want?"

He said: "I want a secular, Arab country, a secular state. The last thing I want is a Shia, Iranian, fundamentalist state on my border."

Now, he said it in English in a private meeting inside his offices. But we ought to test that. We ought to find out how serious he is about that. And, if we do that, I think there is an opportunity. Remember, this is the first time we have embassies now...

(CROSSTALK)

DODD: ... exchanging ambassadors, ministers between Baghdad and Damascus. They did that on their own, not with our approval, by the way. BLITZER: Let's talk about your big announcement today.

DODD: Yes.

BLITZER: You're running for president of the United States. First of all, have you discussed this? Have you had a conversation with your Democratic colleague from Connecticut, Joe Lieberman?

DODD: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Does he support you?

DODD: He's not taking a position yet.

And, look, we're great friends. We had a bit of a difficulty last summer and fall with his race as an independent. But I was the chairman of Joe's campaign nationally for president. I nominated him when he ran for vice president. We have a good relationship, a good friendship. We disagree on some issues, this being one, on the Iraqi issue, this escalation.

And, in time, I'm hopeful Joe will be supportive. But he's going to take his time I didn't ask him for his support. I'm sure it will work out.

BLITZER: Why should Democrats vote for you, as opposed to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or John Edwards, some of the other main Democratic potential candidates?

DODD: Well, that's a question, obviously, voters themselves are going to have to answer down the road, if it goes that far, as I'm hopeful it will.

In the meantime, let me just say this. I like all of these people. I talked with all of them yesterday, and let them know what I was going to do today, in filing papers.

BLITZER: Including Barack Obama?

DODD: Yes, I did, absolutely, those who are thinking about it, those who are in.

I missed one that I couldn't reach.

BLITZER: Who was that?

DODD: John Edwards. I tried to find him, but he was -- I didn't get ahold of him. And he's on a plane somewhere in California today.

And the point I wanted to make is this. Look, I think there is a sense of urgency in the country. Everybody understands that. You don't need to hear that from me. There is a desperate cry for leadership in the country.

People want to hear an optimistic message about how we get back on track at home and abroad. They want to know that you have got the experience to come up with good solutions for major problems, energy, health care, education, foreign policy.

Normally, Wolf, I would tell you, after 25 years in the Senate, people would disqualify me even considering this. But I think, after six years of what appears to be on-the-job training for a president not prepared for this job, they want to have someone who knows how to do this, who has actually got demonstrable experience and capabilities of working on domestic and foreign policy questions.

This is our turn, yours and mine. I have got young children. I want them to grow up in a century where it's safer and more secure, and there are opportunities for them. I'm very worried, as many people are, that's not going to happen if we don't start to get this right.

I could sit in the bleachers. I could stay in the Senate here in the next two years, offer amendments and bills and give speeches, or get out and be a part of this national debate. And I have decided to be part of the national debate.

BLITZER: We have got to leave it right there.

Senator Chris Dodd, thanks...

DODD: Thank you.

BLITZER: ... for coming in.

DODD: Thank you for listening to me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And here is where Senator Dodd stands on some of the other key issues.

He supports abortion rights. He voted against banning the procedure opponents call partial-birth abortion. He opposes a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Senator Dodd voted in favor of a Senate immigration bill backed by President Bush. It would increase funding and improve technology for border security, improved enforcement of existing laws, and create a path for some illegal immigrants to gain legal status.

Dodd opposes President Bush's plan to privatize Social Security using individual accounts. And he voted against extending the president's 2003 tax cut law. Dodd says it primarily benefited the wealthiest Americans and increased the deficit. Senator Dodd supports tax incentives for businesses to invest in employee health care, pensions, and innovations.

Coming up: the loneliness of leadership. President Bush's decision to send more troops into Iraq leaves him isolated from many Americans. Our John King will have more on the president and his decision.

But up next: If President Bush can't convince his own party that more troops are the answer, how can he convince the rest of America? I will ask Paul Begala and J.C. Watts. They are standing by live for today's "Strategy Session."

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In today's "Strategy Session": The top Republican in the Senate today vowed to filibuster, if necessary, a nonbinding resolution opposing President Bush's call to send thousands more U.S. troops to Iraq.

Joining us now, our CNN political analysts -- Paul Begala is a Democratic strategist. J.C. Watts is a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma.

J.C., let me start with you today.

Listen to Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, reacting to the president's speech last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: I think this speech, given last night by this president, represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it's carried out. I will resist it.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He was looking directly at Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, who was testifying before the Foreign Relations Committee, when he made that statement -- a powerful statement, especially from a Republican.

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, Wolf, in times like these, the burden of leadership is sometimes heavy. And I think the president understands that.

I think he gave the speech last night, trying to inform the American people of what his tweaking of strategy is all about, to say that we're going to clear, we're going to hold, we're going to increase troops there. In order to do that, the Iraqi government has to get involved to stop the sectarian violence. They have to play a larger role. They can't say that any area is restricted; you can't go into that.

So, if the Iraqi government does what they say they're going to do, we have a troop -- we enhance troops there, maybe it has a chance to work. We...

BLITZER: That's a huge if.

WATTS: It's a huge if, but it's also more huge if we don't do something in trying to win this thing. BLITZER: The president has got an enormous political problem on his hands right now, with these Republicans increasingly speaking out against his strategy.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. He's lost. He's lost his party. He's lost the confidence of the American people. He's lost much of the military.

If you notice, he had to get new commanders in Iraq for his escalation, because the commanders he put there on the ground all told him that they didn't want to escalate the war. He's in a terrible position. It's not just Senator Hagel.

Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican senator from Kansas, who is in Iraq right now, decided to weigh in from Iraq, and say the escalation is a mistake. Hagel and Brownback, likely to run for president, they are gambling, and betting, and judging that the winning Republican primary message is anti-war, let alone the winning Democratic message, the way Chris Dodd told you he's against the war.

Now Republicans are lining up to run for president against Mr. Bush's war. It's a disaster for him.

BLITZER: Is Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, the minority leader, in the Senate, right when he says, you know what, the Republicans might filibuster this nonbinding sense of the Senate resolution that is designed to oppose the president's strategy?

WATTS: Well, I personally, Wolf, think it's -- it's a good idea to do that, because I -- I think the resolution sends a horrible message to the soldiers on the ground. And that is who I'm concerned about. I'm not concerned about all the...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... this debate going on in Washington?

WATTS: Yes, all the junk that is going on here in Washington, all the -- you know, the -- trying to jockey for position to run for president or run for reelection.

I think the most important thing in this equation, the most important people in this equation are the troops in Iraq, and their security, and what they think about this. And I think it makes them feel like, well, does our country really care about the fact we're on the front line here, trying to win this thing?

And I think we should be doing things to encourage that, not discourage it.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BEGALA: I will note that Mitch McConnell thought it was wrong to use the filibuster to block just one out of 900 federal judges. Now he wants to use it to block an honest debate about a war. But what if the Democrats do what I'm suggesting, which is, don't put up a resolution opposing the war? Put one up supporting the war. Take the president's speech last night. And it reads better than it was delivered, without the sort of, you know, death-grip-on-the- podium, hostage-tape performance that our president gave us.

Take his words, put them for a vote, up or down, on that. Is Mitch McConnell going to filibuster the president's own speech and his own position? He is going to have to, because his party won't support it. I don't think even the majority of the Senate is -- I do not believe the majority of the Senate is ready to support that, and maybe not even the majority of Republicans.

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS: The bottom line is this. Do the Democrats want to be in Iraq? They're -- I think it's a legislate debate to discuss whether or not we should be there.

There are some that say that we should, because, if we withdrawal, we pull out, they follow us home. Or do we stay there, we tweak the policy, tweak the strategy, and we win?

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS: That -- it's a simple question. Do you want to win or do you want to withdraw? And withdrawing is bad for America.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You just saw Senator Chris Dodd here in THE SITUATION ROOM talk about his presidential ambitions. He announced he is running. What do you make of this?

BEGALA: I love that. He's -- because he is doing it in such an unconventional way, all right, none of the phony baloney of exploratory and all that.

He said: Forget all that. I'm running, Wolf.

He announced, actually, this morning on the "Imus in the Morning" radio show. He just called in to Don Imus. He has been going on that show for 14 years. He said: Don, we're friends.

And millions of people heard him announce...

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: ... instead of the banners and the bunting and the balloons and all the baloney that people like me put politicians up in front of.

It's certainly an unusual candidacy at its start. And I like that. I think it's good for the party. He is -- he is very, very smart. He's highly principled. He's going to bring a lot to this campaign. So, I'm glad he's doing it. BLITZER: What do you think?

WATTS: Well, I, too, appreciate the fact that he said, hey, no exploratory committees.

(LAUGHTER)

WATTS: You know, I'm not going to keep you guessing, beat around the bush. I'm in. Let the chips fall where they may.

I -- I kind of appreciate that.

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of people are in right now. And a few more will be coming in, in the next few weeks and months.

Thanks, guys.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Not us.

WATTS: Paul told me he was running.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: We're staying out of it. No, no.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: We are staying out of it.

BLITZER: Maybe you will. Maybe you won't.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Thanks, guys, very much.

Coming up: What does the White House think about the Republican backlash from President Bush's address last night? The White House press secretary, Tony Snow, he will be joining us live in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour.

But, up next: The president and his decision, has it left him isolated from the rest -- for the rest of his presidency? We're watching that story.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: When President Bush announced his new Iraq strategy, he set himself up on a potential collision course with Congress and with the views of many Americans.

It's the latest example of this commander in chief following his own path, no matter how lonely it might get.

Let's turn to our chief national correspondent, John King -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, remember, just after the elections, and then especially after the Iraq Study Group report came out, some thought perhaps -- this was a chance for the president to set a new course in Iraq that would bring the country and bring the parties together. Instead, a president who believes time will prove him right chose a very different approach.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): He was on shaky ground to begin with, and made his choices knowing they would leave him even more isolated.

KEN DUBERSTEIN, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: It's a lonely road. George Bush thinks he is on the right path. This is very uphill. This is a lonely walk.

KING: In what Mr. Bush and his team describe as a bold new strategy, critics see stubborn defiance, ignoring evidence past troop surges haven't worked, and ignoring the message war-weary voters sent last November.

BRUCE BUCHANAN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS: He has been willing to ignore the will of the people perhaps more than any modern president, certainly on this issue. We could be headed for a constitutional crisis. It kind of depends on how determined the Congress is to push back.

KING: In trademark Bush style, he defied his critics and upped the ante, not only ordering more troops to Iraq, but vowing, key operational shifts will include new efforts to counter Iranian and Syrian action that threatens coalition forces.

Such talk alarmed some in Congress.

BIDEN: Let me say that again: explicitly denies you the authority to go into Iran.

KING: The administration, though, says it has no intention of widening the conflict.

GENERAL PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We can take care of the security for our troops by doing the business we need to do inside of Iraq.

KING: Another key tactical shift raising eyebrows is a plan to remobilize the National Guard, which most governors oppose.

And, most of all, critics cite the promise of bold new steps by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the same prime minister the president's national security adviser described in a recent classified memo as unwilling or unable to make the necessary tough choices. BUCHANAN: Bush really has no choice. He has bet on that horse, and now he's stuck with him. In his mind, his main audience now is history, rather than current opinion.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And, Wolf, one of the most interesting dynamics you see after the speech is that many think that, out in the country, with the American people, the president will get some credit for being so candid about past mistakes, saying the administration did get a lot wrong in the past, and that is he is responsible.

Out in the country, they think that will get the president a bit of credit. But, here in Washington, it's fueling this. And you saw it on Capitol Hill today with Democrats and Republicans. Their point is, they don't think now that an administration that got so many things so wrong can finally get it right.

BLITZER: Because there's a lot of skepticism.

You know, I was at the White House yesterday for a high-level briefing. And what was underscored repeatedly is how this president almost is obsessed with this fear of a -- of Iran with nuclear weapons, a regional superpower, if you will. It's clearly having a very strong impact on his thinking, as far as not only Iraq is concerned, but the overall region.

KING: Absolutely.

And you heard the president again today saying he is sending Patriot missiles into the region. He's sending other firepower into the region that has nothing to do, on a day-to-day basis, with what is going on inside Iraq. That is what has others in Congress, Senator Joe Biden, raising the concerns today, and others, who are saying, wait a minute. Is the president trying to widen this out and escalate the conflict?

The administration says, no; it is simply taking precautions. But it does warn that that is one of the prices. It's one of the dangers, anyway, the administration would say. And they say, certainly, a price of failure in Iraq, that it would only increase what the administration would call Iran's defiance.

BLITZER: John, thanks very much.

John King, and, as you saw earlier, Paul Begala, J.C. Watts, 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.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has long touted his conservative credentials as governor of a blue state. That would be Massachusetts. But a video now circulating online of a 1994 Senate debate between Romney and Ted Kennedy paints a picture of a more liberal Romney than the one we know today. Let's turn to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the video is more than a decade old, but now it's -- Where else? -- on YouTube.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, FORMER GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS: ... believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: That was posted anonymously yesterday. It goes on for about five minutes, goes on to show Romney in that 1994 debate expressing support for the idea of allowing gays into the Boy Scouts.

Other details from his 1994 Senate run are easily available online. Some of them have just surfaced in the last couple of months. But this one is on video. And, so far, it's been viewed more than 20,000 times on the site YouTube. And it was only posted yesterday.

Now, that's not all YouTube users are going to find if they go onto the site. Take a look at this, this posted by Mitt Romney's team yesterday, his response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I was wrong on some issues back then. I'm not -- not embarrassed to admit that. I think most of us learn with experience. I know I certainly have. I -- if you...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: That was Romney calling into a pre-scheduled interview with blogger Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit on a radio show that he hosts with his wife, Helen Smith. That's available at the site.

A Romney spokesman -- spokesperson -- said that they put this online to -- quote -- "use the same medium to answer the question as they used to attack us," whoever they are.

We have tried to reach out to the person that posted that original video, but we haven't heard anything back.

These online videos are getting some discussion today, discussion on two areas -- one, Romney's conservative credentials, the other on his rapid online response to being YouTubed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Abbi, for that.

Still to come, "The Cafferty File" -- Jack has your e-mail on if President Bush said anything to change your mind about Iraq.

That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question is: Did President Bush say anything in that speech last night to change your mind about Iraq?

Shirlee in Oregon writes: "Not only did President Bush's speech do nothing to change my mind about the war in Iraq; it reinforced my belief he's a spoiled brat, who wants it his way, regardless of what anyone else has to say. His plan to send more of our troops to Iraq is a slap in the face to the Iraq Study Group, to all the military experts and generals who have opposed his plans all along, and to the American people, who spoke loud and clear in November."

Brett in Los Angeles writes: "Yes. Now I'm 100 percent confident that the strategy is a complete failure and that our government has no clue what they're doing. If their strategy didn't work the first time, then a slight change isn't going to suddenly turn around a blunder of such epic proportions."

Steve in Washington: "Personally, I stopped listening to the president long ago. And I won't listen to him again until he has something important to say. Something like 'I quit' works for me."

Steve in New York: "President Bush's speech reinforced my opinion that this tragic misadventure is doomed to fail. His new strategy is nothing more than a change in tactics, and is based largely on the hope that the Iraqi government will be willing and able to resolve the political differences that are at the heart of the country's strife. There is not a shred of evidence to support his confidence in the al- Maliki government."

Lynne in California: "No, he did not. How do we define success? Shia and Sunni are determined to wipe each other out. We can't stop it. We can only get in between. We need to secure Baghdad alone, and get out. That's not cowardice. It's common sense."

And Martin in Montrose, Iowa: "No. This is still stay the course -- stay the course on steroids, but still stay the course" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

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