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THE SITUATION ROOM

Democratic Leaders Go To Iraq Before Debating Its Future; National Security Official Tells CNN Bush Administration Has Authorized U.S. Military To Capture Or Kill Iranian Agents Inside Iraq; Anti-War Marches In Washington And San Francisco

Aired January 26, 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, Iraq power plays -- President Bush reclaims the mantle of the decider while Democrats and Republicans in Congress are challenging him more than ever.

Also this hour, in the battle zone -- the House speaker on a mission in Iraq.

Plus, surprising new marching orders for U.S. troops.

Do they have a blank check to kill Iranians?

And Hillary Clinton road tests here likely presidential campaign. The senator is heading to Iowa.

Can she make up for lost time and make up lost ground to her Democratic rivals?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

New evidence this hour President Bush doesn't see much, if any, room for compromise on his Iraq strategy, no matter how much pressure he's getting from Congress or the American public.

Mr. Bush met today with his new commander of the Iraq mission and made it clear he's the one calling the shots.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In that I'm the decision-maker, I had to come up with a way forward that precluded disaster. In other words, I had to think about what's likely to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president's new defense secretary is offering him reinforcement. At his first formal Pentagon news conference today, Robert Gates said a Congressional resolution opposing a troop build-up in Iraq -- and I'm quoting now -- "emboldens the enemy."

Democratic critics of the war are on the ground, actually, in Baghdad today. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, leading a Congressional delegation to Iraq.

Standing by, CNN's Kathleen Koch, she's over at the Pentagon; Elaine Quijano, she's at the White House.

Let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, for the latest from there -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, gave a speech today where he said that the Bush Iraq policy was the most incompetent implementation of American foreign policy in my lifetime. He also said that Democrats may decide to vote on a bill re-authorizing the war in Iraq because he said that America is no longer nation building in Iraq, rather, involved in conflict resolution.

That as other Democratic leaders decided to go to Iraq before debating its future.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): A trip to Iraq by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other leading war critics added drama to the unrelenting pressure on the White House from a newly emboldened Congress. A fact-finding mission, including a meeting with Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki for Democrats who want troops out of Iraq, not more troops in.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: And we were very honored by the time that the prime minister spent with us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes are 81, the nays are zero.

BASH: Back in Washington, the Senate unanimously approved the president's choice to lead his revised Iraqi military campaign, but not before a top Republican opposed to the president's plan made clear that General David Petraeus and the commander-in-chief must heed the concerns of Congress and the American people.

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: The president specifically asked that if there were suggestions, forward them, speak them. And I and others, in a matter of clear conscience, have done just that.

BASH: Over the objections of the White House, Republican John Warner is pushing a bipartisan resolution stating the Senate disagrees with adding troops to Iraq. That will come after a vote now scheduled as soon as next Tuesday on a different resolution, backed by Democratic leaders, saying it's not in the national interests to send more troops to Iraq.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, we hope this Republican leadership will join with us to thoroughly debate this issue. BASH: The White House is bracing for what promises to be the most spirited Iraq debate since the war began. Even Bush allies are being cautious. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told reporters he is "skeptical of the Iraqi government" and called the president's plan "their last chance to step up and show they can be effective."

McConnell said GOP leaders will likely promote an alternative resolution, backed by Senator John McCain, setting up benchmarks for Iraqis to meet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And, Wolf, CNN has obtained an early draft of Senator McCain's resolution. It has 11 benchmarks that it lays out that Iraqis should, "make visible progress toward meeting."

Some of the benchmarks do appear vague in this early draft. For example, number two of 11 says that Iraqis should be assuming responsibility for security in all provinces in a timely manner, but doesn't lay out what that timeline should be.

Again, this is just the beginning, but it is the beginning of what Republican leaders who are allied with the White House hope will be a process to peel off Republicans in order to try to blunt any kind of resolution that will condemn the president.

And, again, those votes will start next week.

BLITZER: Base on Senator McConnell's words, I take it even those Republicans in the Senate who strongly support the president, they're very worried that the Iraqi government of Nouri Al-Maliki is actually going to deliver.

Is that fair?

BASH: Very fair. He said point blank, Wolf, that he, as I said, is very skeptical of the Iraqi government. That's why this is the one avenue, they think, that they really do want to pursue when it comes to a resolution, pressing the Iraqi government to set -- to have these benchmarks.

But, again, it's really unclear what kind of consequences these -- what would appear in this resolution if Iraqis don't fulfill those benchmarks. That's one of the many unanswered questions in this approach that the White House allies here are pursuing right now.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, we're going to get back to you.

Stand by.

Let's go over to the White House, though. There's a newly revealed element of the president's war strategy. In this particular case -- get this -- the target Iranian agents in Iraq plotting attacks.

let's get some details from our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano -- Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon to you, Wolf.

That's right. A national security official tells CNN that the Bush administration has authorized the U.S. military to capture or kill Iranian agents inside Iraq if there is "actionable intelligence" that the agents are plotting attacks against either U.S. coalition or Iraqi forces.

Now, this morning, the president was asked whether he was concerned that the policy of going after Iranians inside Iraq might be considered provocative.

The president said that the U.S. has a duty to defend against those who try to harm American forces.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: It just makes sense that if somebody is trying to harm our troops or stop us from achieving our goal or killing innocent citizens in Iraq, that we will -- we will stop them. That's an obligation we all have, is to protect -- is to protect our folks and achieve our goal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUIJANO: Now, the president made his comments after sitting down for a meeting with his top military brass, including the incoming commander of the Multi-National Forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General David Petraeus. Iraq, of course, a main focus. And at a time when the president is facing a wall of skepticism on Capitol Hill over his plan for Iraq, to send additional U.S. forces there, the president once again defended his strategy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: One of the things I've found in Congress is that most people recognize that failure would be a disaster for the United States. And, in that I'm the decision-maker, I had to come up with a way forward that precluded disaster.

In other words, I have to think about what's likely to work. And so I worked with our military and I worked with Secretary Gates to come up with a plan that is likely to succeed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUIJANO: Now, Wolf, if some of that language sounds familiar, it's because it's strikingly similar to something the president said last year, at a time when there were multiple calls for his then defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to be replaced. The president said at that time, essentially, that while he listened to all of the voices, ultimately, he said that "I'm the decider."

And now the president, despite concerns from members of his own party, as well, the president also voicing the same sentiment, saying, as you heard a moment ago there, "I'm the decision-maker" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll stand -- we'll stand by with you to get some more on that.

Elaine over at the White House.

At the Pentagon, meanwhile, there were some fighting words from the new secretary of defense.

His target?

Critics of the troop build-up in Iraq.

Let's get the latest from our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was an interesting dynamic today. Defense Secretary Robert Gates' first meeting with Pentagon reporters at the Pentagon. And he wanted to set a different tone from his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, so he invited reporters into a dining room nearby his office. Everybody jammed in there.

Gates was somewhat subdued. He did say that he's looking at accelerating the deployment of those extra troops in Iraq, as General Petraeus has asked for. And when questioned about this Congressional resolution, though, he made it clear he didn't think that was a very helpful development.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: It's pretty clear that a resolution that, in effect, says that the general going out to take command in the arena shouldn't have the resources he thinks he needs to be successful certainly emboldens the enemy and our adversaries.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: He also gave a vote of confidence to the outgoing commander, General Casey, who's been criticized for being the general who presided over probably one of the worst years in the Iraq War, saying that he felt he was well-suited to be the Army chief of staff.

And he also revealed that in that meeting today with the president, General Petraeus presented President Bush with a copy of his counter-insurgency manual, the one he helped co-write -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There are new developments you're learning, also, Jamie, about that very disturbing incident in recent days involving U.S. troops in Karbala.

What are you learning?

MCINTYRE: Well, you know, the military has now released its first real complete account of what happened. Initially, they only gave us the sketchiest of details, some of which were inaccurate. But now we've learned that this operation has all the earmarks of an inside job. The militants, who used American uniforms, American SUVs, Americans weapons and spoke English to get by Iraqi security, also managed to have a diversionary explosion inside the compound, abducted four soldiers, took them off in an operation that appeared to be -- have been very well rehearsed, according to the U.S. military.

The soldiers were later found by Iraqi police, shot, execution style, in the head. Two of them were handcuffed together in the back of an SUV.

A full investigation is now underway to find out why there was a massive breakdown of security at that U.S. -- at the Iraqi government facility in Karbala back on January 20th -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And it showed a very -- a very impressive sophistication on the part of these killers, as well.

Jamie at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty and check in with him for "The Cafferty File."

That was a disturbing report, the way they dressed up as American troops. They had American vehicles. They spoke English. They went in, went through three checkpoints as they got in and they went in and simply killed a bunch of American soldiers. An awful situation -- John Kerry.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, remember the stuff Michael Ware was talking about on this program yesterday, where there are elements within the Iraqi Army and Iraqi security who are at cross purposes with the United States and with the goals of the American occupation in that country?

And this kind of thing sort of -- sort of smacks of what Michael Ware was talking about yesterday.

On another subject, Wolf, Congress should do away with race-based groups like the Congressional Black Caucus. That's according to Representative Tom Tancredo, who is a Republican White House hopeful. He says these groups amount to segregation and that it's hypocritical for Congress to allow them.

He says, quoting here: "If we are serious about achieving the goal of a colorblind society, Congress should lead by example and end these divisive, race-based caucuses."

One caucus member sees Tancredo's effort as sour grapes. He says: "It's about a member of the minority party using intolerance to advance his presidential campaign."

In addition to the Congressional Black Caucus, there are Hispanic groups within both the Democratic and Republican Parties.

So the question we're posing this hour is this -- Congressman Tom Tancredo says Congress should abolish race-based groups like the Congressional Black Caucus.

Do you agree?

E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He's running for president and he's establishing some niche positions for him. We're going to be hearing, I assume, a lot more from this congressman down the road, Jack.

CAFFERTY: All right, thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

And if you want a sneak preview of Jack's questions plus an early read on the day's political news, what's ahead right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, sign up for our daily e-mail alert. Just go to CNN.com/situationroom.

Coming up, taking it to the streets to protest the war in Iraq.

But are top presidential hopefuls avoiding the demonstrators?

Find out next.

Plus, who's winning the war of words over Iraq? Would it be the president or the Congress?

I'll ask James Carville and Terry Jeffrey. They're standing by in today's "Strategy Session."

And later, Senator Hillary Clinton taking her first steps on the campaign trail.

Will her visit to Iowa help her make up for lost time?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're just getting some video in, some pictures coming in from the White House. The president of the United States leaving the White House, walking across the lawn. You'll see him walked outside the White House with the first lady toward Blair House, right across the street on Pennsylvania Avenue. They're going to be attending -- actually, they are attending, right now, a little farewell reception for Harriet Miers, the White House counsel, who's leaving office. They're going to say good-bye to her.

Remember, she had been nominated by the president to be a United States Supreme Court justice but that nomination was withdrawn among a lot of criticism, especially criticism from some of the conservative elements of the Republican Party.

But there he is, the president and the first lady, a nice shot, walking over to Blair House. After nearly four years of fighting in Iraq, the ranks of anti- war protesters in this country have grown larger and angrier. The nation's capital about to have another close encounter with those demonstrators.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, big anti- war marches in Washington and San Francisco tomorrow.

Is it back to the '60s?

Not exactly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): An anti-war protest march evokes a lot of strong images -- '60s radicals, flag burning, Jane Fonda. The organizers of Saturday's march say this is not the same.

TOM MATZZIE, WASHINGTON DIRECTOR, MOVEON.ORG: It's not just about protest. It's about citizen engagement with their government. Back then, the protests were louder and more visible -- sit-ins, disruptions, often with an anti-American tone. We're not seeing much of that now.

One reason?

No draft. Another reason -- anti-war activities have a powerful ally they didn't have in the '60s.

MATZZIE: It's not just the anti-war movement anymore. There's now an anti-war public.

SCHNEIDER: Sixty-three percent of Americans oppose the president's troop increase. The anti-war protest is aimed at Congress.

MATZZIE: You were elected with a mandate from the American people on Iraq. It's time to fulfill it. Congress needs to stop the president's escalation in Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: President Bush made this plea to Congress.

BUSH: Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq and I ask you to give it a chance to work.

SCHNEIDER: But when it comes to influencing Congress, an unpopular president is no match for an unhappy public. Members of Congress have to answer to the voters. So do candidates running for president.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: At some point, we've got to step back and say what are our responsibilities in the face of obstinacy on the part of the White House? SCHNEIDER: One conservative Republican contender has already broken with President Bush on Iraq.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: It is difficult to understand why more U.S. troops would make a difference.

SCHNEIDER: So have two other potential Republican candidates.

GEORGE PATAKI (R), FORMER GOVERNOR, NEW YORK: Sending more American troops into Baghdad is unnecessary to achieve the core victory over Al Qaeda In Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: Senator Chuck Hagel's criticism has been full- throated.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NB), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: And I think all 100 senators ought to be on the line on this.

What do you believe? what are you willing to support? What did you think? Why are you elected?

If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Only one presidential candidate, Democrat Dennis Kucinich, is scheduled to speak at this week's -- this weekend's anti- war march.

Now, why are the candidates staying away?

Probably because they're worried that it could look like the '60s. Jane Fonda is on the program -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks.

we're going to be covering those demonstrations in the course of this weekend.

Bill Schneider, as you saw earlier, Elaine Quijano and Dana Bash -- they are 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.

The war in Iraq, the battle against terror, the politics back here at home -- just some of the topics we'll be covering this weekend on "LATE EDITION." Among my guests, Democrat and the new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, John Rockefeller. And Jon Kyl, one of the top Republicans in the Senate.

"LATE EDITION" airs Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern for two hours. "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

Coming up, much more on the next race for the White House.

Rudy Giuliani heads to New Hampshire and gets a major endorsement. That story in today's Political Radar.

Plus, you just heard what former Governor George Pataki had to say, breaking with the president over Iraq in Bill Schneider's report. The former New York governor and presidential hopeful joins is in the next hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring the wires, keeping an eye on the video feeds coming into CNN from around the world.

She's joining us now from New York with a closer look at some other important stories -- hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.

Hello to all of you.

Another day brings an all too common sight in Baghdad. A public market picking up after a deadly bombing. The interior minister says at least 15 people died in this bomb attack on a pet market in the center of the Iraqi capital. Dozens more were injured. Elsewhere, a suicide bomber targeting an Iraqi Army convoy killed two more people.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency wants players in the Iran nuclear dispute to take a breather. Mohamed ElBaradei said today that Iran should freeze its nuclear program. He also says the United Nations should temporarily suspend its month-old sanctions against Iran. He says his hope is that both sides will resume talks. Iran has not responded to the time out proposal. ElBaradei must report back to the U.N. on the matter by February 21st.

In Brussels today, the European Union has pledged more than $850 million in economic aid to Afghanistan. It targets improved rural health care, as well as efforts to steer the country away from dependency on the opium trade. The E.U. pledge follows yesterday's Bush administration announcement of plans to seek nearly $11 billion in new Afghan aid. Most of the U.S. funds would train and equip Afghan soldiers and police.

In Islamabad today, the aftermath of a suicide bombing outside of a Marriott Hotel often frequented by foreign visitors. A security guard blocked the bomber, who set off the blast at a side entrance of the hotel in the Pakistani capital. The guard was killed. At least seven other people were injured. No one has claimed responsibility. The U.S. Embassy advises Americans to stay away from the area.

And take a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good advice from the U.S. Embassy, at least on a day like today, and probably for the next several days.

Thanks, Carol, for that. Up next, the back and forth and give and take over sending more U.S. troops to Iraq. It's ratcheting up. Our John King standing by live to put all of this rhetoric into some sort of perspective.

Plus, it's been three years and counting since Senator Clinton's been to Iowa.

But guess where she's heading now that she's in it to try to win it?

Our Candy Crowley is standing by also.

She's in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, some of the president's leading Democratic critics of the war are now on the ground in Iraq. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, leading a fact-finding delegation there, amid growing opposition to a troop build-up in Iraq.

But President Bush says that in the end, he's the "decision- maker" -- his words -- in Iraq and he had to come up with a strategy that he thinks is likely to work. More on that, coming up.

Add George Pataki to the list of prominent Republicans against a troop build-up. The former New York Governor a possible -- possible presidential candidate -- announced he's breaking ranks with the president. Pataki joins us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour.

And on the road to the White House, Senator Hillary Clinton is making a somewhat belated stop in Iowa. But will Democratic voters in the leadoff caucus state be happy to see her?

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

Even as President Bush was calling himself the decision-maker on Iraq today, we learned new details about one of his decisions. A U.S. national security official says, the Bush administration has authorized the U.S. military to capture or kill Iranian agents in Iraq. That is if American forces have good information that those Iranians are plotting attacks against the United States or coalition forces.

Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King.

This is a major development, potentially, in ratcheting up the tension between the United States and Iran.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly in ratcheting up the pressure and the tension. There are many in Washington, though, asking questions about this.

You just had Jamie McIntyre on a bit earlier in the program. The new defense secretary, Bob Gates, says he is not sure there is anything new here, that U.S. offices have always had the authority to take on someone who they believe is threatening them. So, on the one hand, the Pentagon says, well, it's not all that new.

But, at the White House, they're saying it is new. And many around Washington are asking that question. And some on Capitol Hill are quite skeptical. They're saying, have the rules of engagement tied the hands of U.S. troops? If they needed this new power now, why didn't they have it six months ago or a year ago or two years ago? Because the administration for a long time, as you know, has been saying there is Iranian meddling in Iraq.

So, look, General George Casey is up next week, I believe. It's his confirmation hearing to be the new Army chief of staff. Look for some tough, skeptical questioning from lawmakers who want to know, do you need new rules of engagement or this is just blustery talk?

BLITZER: And the president's use of the "decision-maker" today -- "I'm the decision-maker. I have to come up with a new strategy. This is the strategy, and -- and I'm going forward with it "-- what do you make of this?

KING: I make of it that the bipartisan tone of the State of the Union address lasted just a few days. And that's probably not unexpected, given they are moving quickly in Congress. Nancy Pelosi is in Iraq today, the new speaker. Even Republicans are backing the resolutions condemning the president's decision to send in more troops.

The president is trying to reassert his authority. And even the Democrats will tell you privately he has the power, as commander in chief, to send in these troops. They will be there before anyone can cut off the money, even if they decided to do that.

So, you have some political posturing going right now -- the president asserting himself.

If there's one thing, to me, that jumps out today, Wolf, if you're looking for the biggest news in politics today, what I was most struck by is, the president's top ally in the Senate, the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, saying, this is it. This is the last chance for the Iraqi government, and, implicit in that, the last chance for the president -- Senator McConnell going on to say that, in a democracy, you cannot ignore public opinion.

If the president's top ally in the Senate is saying that, it tells you quite a bit about the political climate.

BLITZER: And he also said something in contrast to what a lot of White House officials are saying, that he's not sure he has a lot of confidence in Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister. He is very skeptical that this guy is going to deliver. KING: By the time we get around to late March, early April, there will be people who have decided whether the president's new initiative is going to work.

The Democrats will complain about it. They will say it's a bad idea. They will pass these resolutions as early as next week. The president has the constitutional ability to do it. He is doing it. But, if it does not work, if there is not clear signs of progress by the end of March, early April, look for this all to blow up again.

BLITZER: John is going to have a lot more on this coming up later tonight. He's filling in for Anderson Cooper tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, "ANDERSON COOPER 360." John King is going to be anchoring that show tonight. You're going to want to see it.

In the race to replace President Bush, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is running behind her rivals when it comes to the must-visit state of Iowa. But the New York senator is about to play catch-up.

Here's our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are talking about two days and five events for her first trip to Iowa since Senator Hillary Clinton went public with her presidential ambitions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I am very confident. I'm in. I'm in to win. And that is what I intend to do.

CROWLEY (voice-over): If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then they will love Clinton in Iowa. She is the last of the '08 big names to show up in the first-in-the-country caucus state.

Recent polls show Iowa is, at the moment, less enthused about the senator than is evident in national polls. Depending on the Iowa poll, Clinton is running second to fourth behind some of her competition, most notably, former Senator John Edwards. He has spent a good deal of time in the state and was a favorite the last time around.

Clinton intends to jump through all the hoops that these early states require, an obligatory session with the state party, a town hall meeting, coffee klatches in private homes.

It is the kickoff what she started on the Internet, her conversation with voters. It is in keeping with the listening-tour template that Clinton used to win her Senate seat in New York. Iowa is perfect for the kind of one-on-one retail politicking that Clinton supporters hope will dispel impressions that she is aloof.

Her friends and political allies have long insisted that the private Hillary Clinton runs counter to her rep, and that these smaller, more intimate gatherings will reveal a warmer, more approachable side to this newly minted presidential candidate.

The Iowa trip kicks off the third week of an almost nonstop Hillary-fest, which began with her high-profile trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, and carried through into her online announcement that she intends to run for president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: And it's not over yet. The Clinton bandwagon will continue down that well-worn presidential path next weekend to New Hampshire -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy, thanks for that.

Candy Crowley and John King are both part of the best political team on television.

Hillary Clinton isn't the only presidential hopeful out on the campaign trail this weekend. Mitt Romney is in Iowa, as well. And that tops our "Political Radar" today.

The former Massachusetts governor meets with Republican activists today in the crucial first caucus state, before attending a conservative summit here in Washington tomorrow.

Rudy Giuliani is heading to New Hampshire this weekend. The Granite State, of course, holds the first-in-the-nation primary. The former New York City mayor is the featured speaker at a state Republican meeting. Giuliani now has the backing of former Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci, who decided to support Giuliani over fellow Bay Stater Mitt Romney.

New Mexico Governor and presidential hopeful Bill Richardson is in Nevada today. Nevada will hold a Democratic caucus right after Iowa and just before New Hampshire.

And retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark will join Bill Richardson at a Democratic Party dinner tomorrow night. Clark, as you remember, ran for the White House back in 2004. We're told he is considering -- considering -- another run right now.

Senator Joe Biden says he will make his bid for the presidency official next week. The Democrat from Delaware has made no secret of his plans to run for the White House, telling me many times right here in THE SITUATION ROOM he's in. A Biden spokeswoman tells CNN the senator Wednesday will file paperwork to declare he's officially a candidate and will launch a campaign Web site.

This will be Biden's second bid for the presidency. He ran back in 1987, before dropping out of the race.

And, as we head deeper and deeper into the 2008 presidential race, remember, CNN is a partner in the very first presidential debate of the campaign season. CNN, WMUR Television and "The New Hampshire Union Leader" will sponsor back-to-back debates among the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates on April 4 and April 5 of this year.

It's an unprecedented early kickoff to a wide-open race for the White House, the first debates in the leadoff presidential primary state.

Remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker. Simply go to CNN.com/ticker.

Coming up: more troops in Iraq in the "Strategy Session." President Bush says he's the decider in chief, but the Congress declares, it has a say in the matter. James Carville and Terry Jeffrey, they are standing by to come up next.

And in the next hour: Despite protests from the international community, Iran is all systems go on enriching uranium -- Brian Todd standing by with a full report.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The gloves are coming off on Capitol Hill as the arena in the political battle over Iraq. Members of Congress are pushing, and the president is pushing right back.

Joining us now for today's "Strategy Session," our CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist James Carville, Terry Jeffrey, the editor at large of "Human Events."

Listen to the president and his choice of words today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In that I'm the decision-maker, I had to come up with a way forward that precluded disaster. In other words, I had to think about what's likely to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He used to say: I'm the decider. Now I'm the decision-maker.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: What do you think of this strategy?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, he has got to do something with these Republicans.

The voters voiced their opinion and put the Democrats in. The Republicans are going south. You have got Governor Pataki. You have got Senator Hagel. You have got Warner. You have got John Boehner saying pretty some critical things of the president at that retreat they're having. Then, you have got Mitch McConnell, who is the most loyal Republican and the most loyal Bush person I know of, saying you have until, like, April. I don't know what they can do between now and April.

So, he might be the decision-maker, but these Republicans -- and they're going to vote on these resolutions, and they're going to send a strong signal. And that's what the voters wanted them to do.

BLITZER: He has got a serious problem -- James is right -- with the Republicans.

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, "HUMAN EVENTS": Well, there's no doubt the president has a serious political problem.

But it's unfortunate, Wolf. I would give more credit to Teddy Kennedy, who said he wants a binding resolution that will prevent this, not a symbolic one. At least he wants to be accountable for the counter-policy he wants to put up against the president.

And I think it's honorable for members of Congress to express their opposition to this. But to have a protracted debate over a symbolic resolution that isn't going to change the policy, but simply positions these politicians for their own political interests, is the wrong thing to do at a time the nation is at war.

BLITZER: What do you think?

CARVILLE: I think voters -- well, they lost the election.

And every poll that I have seen repeatedly says that they want Congress to exercise -- this president is in dire need of supervision. And the voters understand that. And they expect that from the Congress.

JEFFREY: Well, James...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: And they want to hear from their Congress.

This president has proven himself not to be competent to execute American foreign policy and American defense policy. They expect the Congress to step in and give him some ideas and direction.

JEFFREY: But, James, if these members of Congress honestly believe that, why don't they put their money where their mouth is? Why don't they use their own constitutional power, and why don't they try and force a different policy that will -- they -- they think will be more effective and more likely to give us an outcome in our national interests? Why don't they do that?

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: First of all, there are more Democrats that are for the Levin plan than there are Republicans for the Bush plan.

Democrats have put forth any number of proposals to try to get this thing under control. They're not going to cut off funding for troops in the field. They have already said that. But they're sending signals. They have proposed alternative after alternative after alternative that this president has rejected.

And I think the view of a lot of Democrats is, is, this is an administration that is in dire need of supervision. And they are going to try to show the way.

BLITZER: The new secretary of defense had a news conference earlier today. And he was sitting around a conference table. He clearly wanted to show that there was a new secretary of defense, not Donald Rumsfeld. It was clearly a different look.

But what he did say, he said that what the Democrats are trying to do certainly emboldens the enemy and our adversaries.

That sounded very much like something Donald Rumsfeld would say.

JEFFREY: Well, when General Petraeus went up to the Senate this week and testified, Joe Lieberman -- and still a Democratic senator from Connecticut -- asked whether this sort of symbolic resolution against what the president is doing is going to harm his effort in Iraq. He said, correct; yes, it is.

Now, it seems to me it's honorable to disagree with the president's policy. But to go forward with a protracted political debate, in order to position yourself politically, is not the right thing to do in time of war.

CARVILLE: You know, Senator Hagel is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He is for this. Two-thirds of American people are for this.

And this is the old saw that we have heard since the beginning of this. Anybody that doesn't agree with them is a bad American. By the way, Senator Warner...

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY: No, I'm not saying that.

CARVILLE: Let me finish. Let me finish.

Senator Warner asked General Petraeus at the end -- he said -- General Petraeus said, I'm getting into something I'm not.

Senator John Warner, who was -- who served in the Reagan administration, who is a veteran, said that he agreed that Congress ought to do this.

This whole thing of, if you're not -- if you don't agree with this president, you're bad Americans, you favor the terrorists, and all that, the voters have had it with this. And they expect the Congress to supervise this.

BLITZER: But, Terry, you have got to admit -- and correct me if I'm wrong...

JEFFREY: Right. BLITZER: ... if this were being done by the Democrats, by Bill Clinton, if he were president, and the situation had unfolded the way it had, you better believe the Republicans in Congress would be all up in arms as well.

JEFFREY: Actually, I think the correct thing for them to do, if they disagree with the president's policy and they want to fight it, is do what Ted Kennedy says they ought to do. Try and change the actual policy, using the powers that the Constitution gives the Congress to check the president's policy.

BLITZER: But wouldn't that give comfort to the enemy as well?

JEFFREY: If you sincerely think that's the best way to go.

By the way, another honorable position is to state your opposition thoughtfully and in detail to the president's policy, concede it's going forward, then hope that your country wins.

But to have a protracted national debate, when we are, in fact, moving forward with the president's policy, and you're allowing it to move forward, I think is...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: I could not disagree more.

I think it is the most American thing that you can do, is state what you think, and stand up and vote on it. And I think the people that are doing this are very, very good. And I think Senator Hagel is a patriotic American. And I think this all a straw man.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: And the Democrats have put in any number of...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I want you to weigh in on this before I let you go. The new "TIME" magazine, which is out today, has a question and a poll: Which candidate would you most like to have over to dinner?

Look at this. Hillary Clinton gets 26 percent, Barack Obama 15 percent, John McCain 15 percent. At least in this poll, Hillary Clinton comes out on top.

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY: No one got 50 percent.

BLITZER: No one got 50 percent.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: But people want to have dinner with Hillary Clinton more than with Barack Obama or John McCain.

JEFFREY: A small plurality.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY: I want to see the poll...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: If Hillary Clinton walked on water, people would say, well, she knew where the stumps were, you know? There's a whole kind of line.

Yes, she is a very warm, engaging person. I'm not surprised. I have had dinner with her, and I would recommend -- she's a very warm, interesting, brilliant person.

BLITZER: All right, guys...

CARVILLE: OK.

BLITZER: ... we're going to leave it right there.

Thanks very much...

CARVILLE: Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... James Carville, Terry Jeffrey.

Up next: Ever wondered what your member of Congress is up to? Well, freshman Senator Jon Tester is taking the mystery out of his whereabouts. Our Abbi Tatton will have the details.

And what makes former New York Governor George Pataki think he knows more about Iraq than President Bush? We will ask him that question in the next hour.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow.

In Tokyo, men participate in an early morning tuna auction at a fish market.

In China, paramilitary forces participate in training exercises.

In India, a policeman breathes fire during a parade.

And, in Massachusetts, icicles form on the muzzle of a Mexican gray Wolf at a zoo -- pictures often worth 1,000 words.

Our Carol Costello, monitoring the wires, keeping track of all of the video feeds coming in, she is joining us once again with a closer look at some other important stories making headlines.

Hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think a lot of creatures have icicles on their whiskers today, because did someone say global warming? Well, not today in New England.

The Eastern U.S. is taking a brutal winter blast today. Highs in the Boston area were predicted in just the single digits. Throw in gusty winds for a wind-chill factor of 30 below in some portions of Massachusetts. Oh, it's nasty. The homeless are being urged to seek shelter.

Yesterday, the doom and gloom was about existing home sales. Today, the Commerce Department issued its less-than-glowing report about new home sales. Commerce does say that sales of new homes were actually up 4.8 percent in December, for the second straight monthly increase.

But new home sales for all of 2006 were down 17 percent. It was the largest annual decline in 16 years. Many analysts predict the housing market will see further weakness before recovering.

New this hour to CNN, Baseball's Nolan Ryan is in the hospital. A statement released today says the Hall of Fame pitcher was admitted to a hospital outside of Austin, Texas, for recurring systems of a preexisting condition. Now, it did not say what that condition is, but does say that all preliminary evaluations were normal. And Ryan is in stable condition. We will keep you posted.

And state and local police and sheriff's departments get a bit of a windfall from the U.S. military. According to the Associated Press, the Defense Department gave away millions of dollars in surplus equipment to some 16,000 cash-strapped departments in fiscal 2005, everything from armored personnel carriers to weapons to helicopters. Broken down by states, top three recipients of the free equipment were California, which received $17 million worth of material, Indiana, with $10.5 million worth, and North Carolina, which got $10 million material in surplus gear. Now you know.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol, thank you.

Have you ever wondered exactly what a senator does all day? Well, you're about to get a peek. Montana freshman Senator Jon Tester has taken the unprecedented step of actually posting his entire schedule online for anyone in the world to see.

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

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, Senator Tester promised during his campaign last year that, if elected, he would do this. And now that he's in the Senate , there is his schedule on his Web site for all to see.

You can track how many times a week the senator goes to the gym. You can see what time, for example, this morning he left to travel home to Big Sandy, Montana. But, more than anything, you can see who the senator has been meeting with, Montanans, lots of them, committee meetings, staff meetings, and even the occasional lobbyist.

A spokesman for Senator Tester says that this is an opportunity for people to go online and see exactly who the senator has been meeting with. And, if they have an alternative point of view, they also can request a meeting.

Now, there has been a push online brewing for more transparency of this kind on the Internet. The Sunlight Foundation is a group that pushes for greater government transparency.

And, last fall, they launched a campaign where they offered members of the public up to $1,000 cash if they could persuade their member of Congress or a candidate who was running in the midterms to post their schedule online in this way. Well, no sitting member of Congress agreed.

But 93 candidates did do so. And one of them got elected. That's New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand. And there is her schedule online.

All of this is being archived from these two politicians. So, if you want to know just what kind of people these politicians have been mixing with, it's all there online to see -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I think they may be on to something. This could be a trend. We will watch together with you, Abbi. Thank you.

Still to come: "The Cafferty File." Should Congress listen to Congressman Tom Tancredo's call to abolish race-based groups, like the Congressional Black Caucus? Jack with your e-mail -- when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack in New York for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, Congressman Tom Tancredo says Congress ought to abolish race-based groups, like the Congressional Black Caucus. And we asked if you think that's a good idea.

Brian in Calgary writes: "I agree in principle. Humanity only moves forward when we act as one people. But you can't abolish these groups. You have to abolish the attitudes of prejudice and exclusion that made the groups necessary, whether they're race-based, age-based, sex-based, et cetera."

Bob in Round Lake, Illinois: "It's encouraging to hear Mr. Tancredo address an issue that whites are afraid to tackle. If we had a White Caucus, a White Miss America or a White History Month, we would be accused of racism. I'm not a racist, and, yet, I feel discriminated against at times."

Al in Barrington, Illinois: "One needs to remind Congressman Tom Tancredo that the biggest race-based group in the U.S. Congress is the Republican Party."

J.T. in Newport Beach, California: "I think getting rid of these things would be a great start. The comment that Congress should lead by example is true."

Mike in Pittsburgh: "Yes, abolish the Black Caucus, the Red Caucus, the Yellow Caucus, and any other separate or special group. Hasn't the time finally come to award on merit, advance on ability, to have discussions without labels, and to simply look on each other as human beings?"

Yeah, that will happen.

And Marcia in Manassas, Virginia, writes: "What's wrong with him? Blacks and other groups can't get together and discuss their group's needs and wants in government? What, he's jealous there isn't one for old white men?"

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to the Web. I forget the address. I don't know why I said it.

BLITZER: CNN.com/...

CAFFERTY: CNN.com/CaffertyFile.

BLITZER: You got it.

CAFFERTY: Right?

Thank you.

BLITZER: A lot of people love to go there. In fact, they do.

Thanks very much, Jack.

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