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THE SITUATION ROOM

House Gain Moment on Non-Binding Iraq Resolution; Cheney in the Witness Stand?; Romney Announces Presidential Bid; Joint Chiefs Chairman Urges in Caution in Drawing Tehran-Iraq Link

Aired February 13, 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 happening now, a passionate and politically charged debate over Iraq. The House pushes toward a vote against increasing troop levels in Iraq.
What do Democratic leaders hope to accomplish besides venting frustrations with President Bush and the war?

Also this hour, will Vice President Dick Cheney actually testify under oath in the CIA leak trial?

Lewis "Scooter" Libby's defense team makes an announcement that White House watchers have been waiting for.

And Mitt Romney kicks off his presidential campaign by reaching out to conservatives and distancing himself from Washington.

Does the former Massachusetts governor bring anything different to the race than the other Republicans?

We'll examine his record and a wild card -- his religion.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Some Democrats say they've been waiting almost four years for the kind of red hot and historic debate now underway about the war in Iraq. The new majority leaders in the House are determined to pass a symbolic resolution disapproving of the president's troop build-up plan. And they're also determined to prevent Republicans from side- tracking them in any way.

Let's begin our coverage with our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they are so determined, Democrats have decided to block Republicans from offering their own alternative measure and instead want to keep everyone focused on a simple resolution, which is designed to keep Democrats united and to win over as many Republicans as possible.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

KOPPEL (voice-over): The outcome a given, the two sides settled in for a long debate. At issue?

Whether to support a Democratic resolution opposing a decision by President Bush to send more troops to Iraq.

REP. TOM LANTOS (D), CALIFORNIA: The administration has yet to learn that you cannot unscramble an omelet. Instead, it is trying to add to the mix another 21,500 men and women who deserve better than that.

REP. ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI: It's hard to imagine a group less capable of making tactical decisions about specific troop deployments than 535 members of Congress.

KOPPEL: The Democrats' strategy in kicking off this first day of debate, to put the party's military veterans front and center, in hopes of insulating themselves against Republican accusations Democrats don't support the troops.

Michigan's John Conyers served in the Korean War.

REP. JOHN CONYERS (D), MICHIGAN: And I stand proud today, with my fellow veterans in the House of Representatives, to register our opposition to the president's plan to escalate the war in Iraq and to show our support for our men and women in uniform.

KOPPEL: Republicans, meanwhile, are marshalling resources to highlight their own message.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Radio America (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Can you hold one sec?

KOPPEL: Not far from the House floor, in a conference room, Republican staff are manning the phones, a rapid reaction team of sorts glued to TVs monitoring every word the Democrats say, ready to pounce.

REP. ADAM PUTNAM (R), FLORIDA: We want to make sure there is accountability.

KOPPEL: Florida's Adam Putnam is overseeing the effort.

The goal?

PUTNAM: Not letting any of the exaggerations or the outrageous statements go unchecked.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

KOPPEL: Now, what that means, Wolf, is that over the next three days, we're going to see lots and lots of these. They're press releases that the Republicans are churning out, seizing upon statements made by, for example, in this one, Congressman Tom Lantos, seizing on that statement and then rebutting it, giving their members ammunition to dispute those facts -- Wolf. BLITZER: Andrea, thanks very much.

Andrea Koppel on the Hill.

We'll watch this debate unfold.

There's new doubt being cast on claims that Iran has been supplying Iraqi insurgents with deadly weapons. Those doubts are being fostered by a somewhat surprising source. That would be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this past weekend in Baghdad, U.S. military officials laid out evidence claiming to show that the Iranian government is meddling in Iraq, providing bomb making materials to insurgents in Baghdad, who are, in turn, using that to kill and maim U.S. soldiers and Marines.

These claims being met with a hefty bit of skepticism around the world, in part because so many of the claims that the Bush administration made leading up to the Iraq War turned out to be false. And even more skepticism today in the wake of the fact that the president's own chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Peter Pace, is now declaring that while these explosives were made in Iran, "I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit in this."

So I put the question to White House Spokesman Tony Snow several times, as to whether or not the administration was on the same page about this evidence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

HENRY: ... in terms of the Iranian government being behind it.

SNOW: That's...

HENRY: That's not...

SNOW: That's...

HENRY: Nobody is disputing whether it's manufactured...

SNOW: I think...

HENRY: ... in Iran. That's what -- you keep changing what my question is. It's...

SNOW: No, no, I'm trying to clarify your question because I think this is just...

HENRY: Well, I don't need you to clarify it. I'm trying to tell you what -- I know what my question is. And basically he's saying that he doesn't see evidence that the Iranian government is clearly behind it.

SNOW: OK, I think...

HENRY: That's my...

SNOW: Look...

HENRY: I've asked that three or four times and you haven't answered that. You're saying the Iranian government is behind it.

SNOW: OK. Let me put it this way. I'll say it one more time. The Quds force is part of the Iranian government. The Quds force is behind it -- is associated with it.

HENRY: OK.

SNOW: All right?

Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Another curious aspect of this is how the information was delivered this past weekend. It was an off camera, background briefing, meaning that the U.S. officials would not allow their names to be used. That is raising questions about whether or not those officials thought the information was shaky, they didn't want to put their names behind it.

I put that question to Tony Snow, as well. He said that is absolutely not true, that is not why they would not have their names used.

Also, Snow saying he spoke by telephone today with General Pace and that based on that phone conversation, Tony Snow believes the administration is on the same page.

The problem right now is that General Pace is in a plane coming back from Indonesia and Australia. He will not be back until tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ed, thank you.

Ed Henry at the White House.

Let's get now to the newest member of the Republican presidential field.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is in Iowa right now. He formally launched his campaign this morning in Michigan, a state with political and personal significance.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is joining us now from Des Moines with more -- Candy, how did it go this morning?

CANDY CROWLEY, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It went very well. As you noted, Mitt Romney does have politics in his DNA. His father was governor of Michigan. His father also ran for president. So this was like going home.

But Mitt Romney didn't want to talk about his time in government. As you know, he was governor of Massachusetts.

What Romney wanted to emphasize today was his role in the private sector.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney opened his campaign in Michigan, just the venue to run as an outsider. Take this, Senator McCain.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't believe Washington can be transformed from within by lifetime politicians. There have been too many deals, too many favors, too many entanglements and too little real world experience managing, guiding and leading.

CROWLEY: He aimed for the conservative wing of the Republican Party, the faithful who turn out in droves during primary season. Their loyalty is open for competition.

ROMNEY: I believe in the sanctity of human life. I believe that people and their elected representatives should make the laws, not unelected judges.

CROWLEY: Romney's courtship of the right is, well, complicated. He has been pro-choice and friendly to gay rights and embryonic stem cell research. And then he wasn't.

FRANK PHILLIPS, "BOSTON GLOBE": He evolved very clearly from a very socially moderate Northeast Republican to a very conservative, socially conservative Republican who would do well in the red states, which is exactly what he wanted to do.

CROWLEY: How well Romney does among the Christian right depends on how well he convinces them of his conversion.

And there is something else.

REV. DON WILTON, SPARTANBURG, SOUTH CAROLINA: Mormonism does make me nervous, because I'm a Christian and because the precepts and principals, and, more importantly, the practices of Mormonism have cause for great concern.

CROWLEY: Romney is a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, a Mormon -- a religion some conservative Christians, particularly Evangelicals, see as a non-Christian cult. Some in his corner have suggested Romney make a speech addressing his religion and he is said to be considering it.

For now, he speaks to the problem tacitly.

ROMNEY: I believe in god and I believe that every person in this great country and every person on this great planet is a child of god.

CROWLEY: Romney aides have long held that he can overcome, or at least mitigate the religion issue with a focus on shared values.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

CROWLEY: Still, polls show somewhere between 27 and 37 percent of Americans say they would not vote for a Mormon. That is a pretty big hurdle -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Did he mention Iraq in his announcement today, Candy?

CROWLEY: He did mention Iraq. He mentioned now much everybody wanted the troops to come home. But he said, listen, if we left precipitously, the place would implode. He stands behind the president's move to send more troops to Iraq.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley, Ed Henry, Andrea Koppel -- they're all part of the best political team on television.

And thanks to all of them.

Let's take a closer look now at one of those polls Candy was talking about, a new "USA Today"/Gallup survey shows 72 percent of Americans say they would vote for a presidential nominee who is Mormon. That's nearly three fourths of the public. But a larger majority, 88 percent, are open to voting for a woman for president, and even more Americans, 94 percent, say they would vote for an African-American presidential nominee.

More polling perspective on Romney. He comes in fourth in our recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll of registered Republicans nationwide. He trails far behind GOP frontrunners Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, but nips at the heels of Newt Gingrich, who has not announced whether he's running.

Romney does better in the leadoff primary state of New Hampshire. Our CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows him coming in third among the Republican contenders there, ailing McCain and Giuliani by a much smaller margin.

Remember, CNN is a partner with WMUR Television and the "New Hampshire Union Leader" for the very first presidential debate of the campaign season. They're on April 4th and April 5th of this year. And, of course, for all the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker. Simply go to CNN.com/ticker.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York for "The Cafferty File" -- hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, another day, another new plan to try to bring security to Iraq. Officials there say they're going to temporarily close all border crossings with Iran and Syria. The Iraqi commander in charge of Baghdad's security didn't say when the closings will happen, but the hope is to stem the flow of weapons and insurgents into the country. Officials plan to install improved security equipment, including better bomb detection equipment, during the 72-hour closure of the borders.

But it's not clear what effect a temporary closure will have. You see, the bad guys who want to enter Iraq, they don't usually line up at the border crossings, passport in hand, waiting to be processed through. No,. They use illegal roads and places where they can cross into Iraq undetected.

Meanwhile, the violence continued in Baghdad today. A suicide truck bomb killing at least 16 people, wounding 40 others. Police found another 30 bodies across the capital yesterday.

Here's the question -- will closing Iraq's borders with Syria and Iran for 72 hours accomplish anything?

E-mail your thoughts on that to caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.

See you in a little while.

Coming up, some crucial developments today in the CIA leak case.

Will Vice President Dick Cheney testify at the trial?

We're going to find out. That's coming up.

Plus, he's not officially a candidate yet, but he's sure sounding like one. We'll find out what Rudy Giuliani is now saying about his White House run.

And later, the fight at home over the war in Iraq. Some Republicans battle back against the Democratic House resolution. Conservative Congressman Mike Pence -- he's standing by to join us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In the CIA leak case, we're just hearing some major somewhat surprising news regarding who will and who will not be taking the stand.

Let's go to our Brian Todd.

He's outside the federal courthouse here in Washington with the very latest -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, nearly each day has brought a big development in this case. And this afternoon, "Scooter" Libby's defense team threw another one at us.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) TODD (voice-over): A bold announcement from "Scooter" Libby's attorneys -- neither the defendant nor his former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, will take the stand on his behalf. Libby stands before the judge. Asked if he is sure he wants to forego testifying in his own defense, he replies: "Yes, sir."

The announcement makes the testimony of this obscure bureaucrat all the more crucial for Libby. John Hannah, now Vice President Dick Cheney's national security adviser, one of two jobs Libby once had under Cheney simultaneously. Hannah worked under Libby during that summer of 2003, when prosecutors contend Libby was fixated with administration critic, Joe Wilson, and his wife, then covert CIA official, Valerie Plame Wilson.

But Hannah testifies Libby's work load was, at times, overwhelming during that period, taken up with the war in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a crisis in Liberia and much more.

One expert says this goes right to the heart of Libby's defense.

LARRY BARCELLA, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: What this comes down to is an incredibly busy man doing incredibly sensitive, serious things. And this small, little gnat of something that he was doing was something that he forgot about, or at least misremembered certain portions of it.

TODD: The memory question -- another way Hannah helps Libby, telling the court, "On certain things, Scooter just had an awful memory."

Hannah says he'd brief Libby on something in the morning then just hours later Libby would excitedly give Hannah the same information, as if it was new.

With Libby now not taking the stand, does his freedom depend on Hannah's testimony?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Hannah stands in for Libby in the sense that he can testify from personal experience that Libby's job is demanding because he now holds Libby's job. And, second, he can testify that Libby is forgetful.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: Those were arguments that Libby's defense team has always made to deny charges that he knowingly misled investigators. That defense team now expected to wrap up its case tomorrow and deny Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald the chance to sharply cross-examine Libby and the vice president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, what was the risk if the defense team had decided to call the vice president as a witness to support Lewis "Scooter" Libby?

TODD: Well, the main risk was that the prosecution of -- the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, could have essentially portrayed the vice president as heavily managing the counter-claim to Joe Wilson's argument, to Joe Wilson's op-ed piece, where he criticized the administration's rationale for war in Iraq.

The prosecution has always tried to portray the vice president and "Scooter" Libby as being intensely focused on rebutting that claim.

That could have very easily been brought out if Cheney was cross- examined.

BLITZER: And given the fact that this is the District of Columbia, where a lot of Democrats live, Cheney not very popular, presumably, before that jury sitting in judgment right now. It might not -- it might potentially have backfired for "Scooter" Libby to have him come forward.

All right, Brian, thanks very much for that.

Brian is going to continue to watch this trial for us.

Brianna Keilar is sitting in for Carol Costello.

She's joining us now with a look at some other important stories making news -- hi, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he was the third highest ranking official in the CIA, but he's now been indicted. The CIA says Kyle "Dusty" Foggo is under indictment on multiple corporation charges. It relates to allegations Foggo improperly handled CIA contracts. Foggo is embroiled in the same bribery probe that eventually saw disgraced former Republican Congressman Randy Duke Cunningham go to jail.

And our senior national correspondent, John Roberts, will have much more on this next hour.

In Florida, a man once died after being exposed to anthrax here, but now the building is cleared for re-entry. It's the Boca Raton building that once housed offices for the "National Enquirer." Today, a county health department ruled it's safe after a thorough decontamination. Back in 2001, a photo editor for American Media Incorporated died from exposure to anthrax found in an envelope mailed to the building.

And in Kansas, an evolution of thought regarding the teaching of evolution. The state's board of education is preparing to repeal rules against the teaching of Charles Darwin's theories on evolution. The board believes the switch will help improve science education.

And across the Midwest, the weather is not just annoying, it's potentially deadly. Freezing winter storms are blamed for at least four traffic deaths. Storm watches and warnings are in effect in parts of Iowa, Illinois, Ohio and Missouri, and many air travelers are also affected, because, as you know, Wolf, many flights are canceled.

BLITZER: It's getting to be a real mess out there in a big chunk of our country.

Brianna, thank you for that.

Coming up, a top blogger for presidential candidate John Edwards calling it quits. The controversy next, when we get the situation online.

Plus, the House begins distribute over a troop increase in Iraq.

But when it comes to the war, what do the American people want?

Find out all that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani tops our Political Radar today. The former New York City mayor is in California's Central Valley, reaching out to farmers and ranchers. It's his latest stop as he campaigns in the Golden State, which may move its primary up to early February. And although he hasn't formally declared for president, Giuliani is making no secret of the fact he's running for president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: I am 100 percent committed. That official part -- I have to still do a formal announcement, but we'll figure out how to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Giuliani is also picking up some crucial support today.

Congressman David Dreier of California, a top House Republican, announced he's endorsing Giuliani.

And watch tomorrow as Rudy Giuliani joins our Larry King. Tomorrow night on "LARRY KING LIVE," 9:00 p.m. Larry speaks with Rudy Giuliani.

A challenge from one Democratic presidential candidate to another. Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack is offering to debate Senator Barack Obama next week when Obama campaigns in Iowa. But an Obama spokesman says the senator from Illinois will not debate Vilsack or any of the other Democratic candidates until he gets a chance to meet with Iowa voters.

An apology of sorts from Obama over the weekend. While campaigning in Iowa, the senator said the lives of U.S. soldiers were "wasted" -- "wasted in Iraq." That's a quote.

Yesterday, stumping in New Hampshire, Obama said that he misspoke and that he would apologize if any military families felt his earlier comments diminished the enormous courage and sacrifice they've shown. Obama says that when a candidate for president misspeaks, he ought to correct himself and that is what he did. Another note about Obama, by the way, we now know the official name of his campaign. It's Obama For America. Just four years ago, Howard Dean called his campaign Dean For America.

Up next, President Bush isn't the only together of public frustration about Iraq. Americans are sending an angry message to Congress, as well. We're going to show you some striking new poll numbers.

And does Mitt Romney jump into the presidential field with a strike against him? Could that be his Mormon religion?

Donna Brazile and Dick Armey -- they're standing by in our Strategy Session to take on that question and more.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, the secretary of state says the North Korea nuclear deal could be a message to Iran. The deal involves North Korea beginning to close down its nuclear program in exchange for millions of dollars in aid. Asked about it today, Condoleezza Rice says the message could be that diplomacy is finally seeing some results.

Does the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff agree with the Bush administration regarding an explosive claim against Iran?

Today, General Peter Pace appeared to question the administration's claim the Iranian government is involved in manufacturing weapons and exporting them to Shiite groups in Iraq. Pace told the Voice of America he knows the weapons are made in Iran, but he would not say whether the Iranian government is directly involved.

And the secretary of homeland security says Congress should not delay implementation of the Real I.D. Act. That measure sets federal security standards for state drivers licenses. Michael Chertoff says delaying it could help terrorists.

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

BREAK

We're joined now by a key member of the House of Representatives, a Republican who supports the president's troop buildup plan in Iraq. That would be Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana. He introduced a GOP alternative resolution, opposing any cutoff of funding for the troops in Iraq.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let me read the -- the exact two-sentence resolution the Democrats have put forward: "Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States armed forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq. And Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq."

There will be plenty of Republicans, as you know, your colleagues, who will support Nancy Pelosi and John Murtha, and vote in favor of this resolution.

What do you say to those Republicans who vote in favor of this resolution?

PENCE: Well, I respect the franchise of every member of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike.

But I -- I think this is a really extraordinarily important moment in the life of our nation. I -- I believe it's imperative that we stand with our commander in chief. The president has looked a broad range of options.

BLITZER: Are these -- are these members who vote for this resolution, Democrats and Republicans, undermining the commander in chief?

PENCE: Well, in a very real sense. The president of the United States, as commander in chief, under Article 2 of the Constitution, Wolf, has laid out his strategy for -- for achieving the stability necessary to achieve victory in Iraq.

BLITZER: Well, Congress has -- Congress has oversight responsibilities, too, as you well know.

PENCE: Well, Congress has -- Congress has responsibilities under Article 1 of the Constitution. We have the power to declare war, and we have the power of the purse strings to appropriate funding.

But, when it comes to the conduct of war and the decisions that are made of a tactical nature, history and the Constitution teach that belongs to the commander in chief.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So -- so, if this were -- if this were Bill Clinton as president, and he were engaged in this, would the Republicans remain silent, and simply let him do whatever he wanted?

PENCE: Well, you know, that's a great hypothetical. And I -- I know that there is some history there. There was some opposition...

BLITZER: Right.

PENCE: ... to the -- to President Clinton's actions that was also in the form of resolutions.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: Republicans weren't silent then.

PENCE: But let me just say, from my perspective, as someone who cherishes the Constitution, and as someone who truly believes that each branch of government has its own role to play, I think it's very important that, in this moment, we recognize that the president isn't just sending more troops for more troops' sake, that, rather, Wolf, this is a new strategy, new tactics, new rules of engagement.

And I think it's imperative that as many members of Congress as possible, Republicans and Democrats, stand with the commander in chief.

BLITZER: It looks, though, like the Republican leadership -- and you're -- you tried to be the leader, but you didn't -- you didn't make it -- but the Republican leadership, Boehner and Blunt, they are effectively going to let Republican members vote their conscience on this sensitive issue, given the fact that all of them, all the members of the House, are up for reelection in 2008.

Is that smart, to effectively let -- let members vote the way they wanted, as opposed to whipping them together, and making them, in effect, vote down strict party lines?

PENCE: Look, I think the Republican leaders of the House know that this is an issue of conscience for many Americans. Whatever your heart dictates is what...

BLITZER: But you believe it will hurt the president.

PENCE: ... you ought to do.

Well, look, I really believe, as -- as you are going to hear many members of Congress say over the next three days on our side of the aisle, we are locked in a struggle with Islamic extremism that is global in nature. This is really about being willing to support our commander in chief as he deploys additional forces in this central front in the broader war on terror.

BLITZER: John Murtha, a Democrat of Pennsylvania, himself a former Marine combat veteran, he says that, if the U.S. pulls out its combat forces, and lets the -- let the Iraqis do what they want to do, they could find al Qaeda; they could wrap this up.

I want to play a little by a little clip of what he told me here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, THE SITUATION ROOM)

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: The minute we're gone, they will take care of al Qaeda by themselves. Al Qaeda will not even be a factor in Iraq once the United States is gone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you agree with him, that -- that the Iraqis themselves, our allies, could get the job done if we just left?

PENCE: I don't.

And I have great respect for John Murtha, and -- and -- and consider him a friend.

Look, I accept Prime Minister al-Maliki at his word. He has outlined a strategy for quelling violence in Baghdad. He has -- he has requested six additional brigades, American forces, to fill in the gaps of his three brigades that are moving back to Baghdad. No one believes that there is a long-term military solution here.

But Prime Minister al-Maliki and our commander in chief have concluded that, if we can deploy the forces necessary, this temporary increase in forces in Baghdad, as the Iraq Study Group recommended, to quell violence, establish stability, then we can get to the long-term political solution.

BLITZER: They said there could be a short-term surge in order to bring down the level in the long run.

Let me pick your brain...

PENCE: Well -- and that's lost on a lot of people, Wolf.

I sat on the House floor today. The Iraq Study Group...

BLITZER: Right.

PENCE: ... itself recommended...

BLITZER: That's in there.

PENCE: ... a surge of forces to quell violence in Baghdad.

BLITZER: They said that was one option that they certainly raised.

Let me pick your brain, politically, for a second, before I let you go.

Who do you like among the potential Republican presidential nominees? Would it be Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney, someone else?

PENCE: Well, I would tell you I like them all. I think we have got an abundance of riches on our side of the aisle.

While Democrat candidates are focusing, it seems to be, on a lot of externals, on style, on conversations, every single major candidate for the Republican nomination is focused on the war on terror, focused on the issues that we're going to -- we're going to key on, on the House floor this week in this debate.

BLITZER: Could you vote for Rudy Giuliani, given his stance on favoring abortion rights for women, gay rights, gun control? Those are, you know, hot -- hot-button issues for a lot of social conservatives.

PENCE: Well, let me say, I'm -- I'm a pro-life American. I'm a pro-life legislator, and proud of it.

I think it's going to be very important, both for Rudy Giuliani and every other Republican candidate for -- for president, to clarify their view of the courts, their view of Roe vs. Wade.

BLITZER: But despite his known views, you could still vote for him?

PENCE: Well, to the extent that, quite recently, in the case of Rudy Giuliani, he has expressed support for the appointment of strict constructionists to the court, along the lines of Justice Roberts and Justice Alito.

Again, through the course of this candidacy, I think you are going to hear these various candidates outline their philosophy about the courts. And pro-life Americans like me will evaluate who our best choice is. But every one of these choices is better on the war on terror than the whole Democrat field.

BLITZER: I will take that as a tentative yes.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Congressman, for coming in.

PENCE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And let's get back to the war in Iraq now.

It appears many of you are angry. And polls are showing a lot of people angry about one thing.

Here to tell us a little bit more on this subject, our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, Americans are getting frustrated, and not just with the Bush administration.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): What is the most important problem facing the country? Nearly a third of Americans say Iraq in the CBS News poll. No other issue is in double digits.

That's the main reason why President Bush's job approval rating remains low, 32 percent. What about Congress? Just as low, 32 percent. The public is as frustrated with Congress as it is with President Bush. What do they want Congress to do? Vote against the troop increase? Yes, by 2-1 in last month's CNN poll.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I have legislation to cap the number of American troops.

SCHNEIDER: Fifty-seven percent favor limiting the number of U.S. troops serving in Iraq.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This plan would not only place a cap on the number of troops in Iraq, and stop the escalation; more importantly, it would begin a phased redeployment of U.S. forces, with the goal of removing all U.S. combat forces from Iraq by March 31, 2008.

SCHNEIDER: Sixty-three percent want Congress to set a timetable for withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of next year.

John Edwards is calling on Congress to block funding for an escalation of the war. While only 8 percent in the CBS News poll want Congress to block all funding for the war, an additional 45 percent want Congress to block funding for more troops.

The House of Representatives is debating a nonbinding resolution. The Senate can't even do that. Sixty-three percent of Americans say they are bothered by the Senate's failure to hold a debate. Those who are bothered blame Republicans more than Democrats by better than 2-1.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The people elected a Democratic Congress to stand up to President Bush on the war. The people are waiting. And they are getting frustrated -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, with the latest numbers for us, thank you.

Members of the House and many others are mourning the death of a congressman. Georgia Republican Charlie Norwood died today, after a long battle with cancer and lung disease. He left Washington just last week to get care in his home state, but he decided to quit medical treatment, after doctors found a tumor on his liver. Norwood was 65 years old.

And our deepest condolences to his family.

Coming up: President Bush cuts a deal to get the stalled nuclear negotiations with North Korea back on track. But will the deal stick? Our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee, standing by live with a report.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush is defending a new nuclear deal with North Korea. It's a deal denounced by his former ambassador of the United States yesterday, John Bolton, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday. Mr. Bush calls the deal the best opportunity to get atomic weapons out of North Korea through diplomacy.

Let's turn to our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee. She's watching this story. She has got more on how the administration got to this point -- Zain. ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's a deal: heavy oil for heavy metal. But it's also a shift in the Bush administration's approach toward North Korea's nuclear program.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): State of the Union, January 2002, President Bush made it clear where the U.S. stood with North Korea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 2002)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERJEE: But now a complete turnaround.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The parties will provide emergency assistance to the DPRK of 50,000 tons of HFO, heavy fuel oil, in the first 60-day phase.

VERJEE: Once upon a time, the Bush policy was no negotiations with North Korea, until it scraps its nuclear program, and don't reward bad behavior, they say, like the Clinton administration.

But critics of this deal say that's exactly what the Bush administration is doing.

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: It's everything that the administration criticized in President Clinton's 1994 agreed framework.

VERJEE: That agreement gave North Korea economic aid, in return for an end to its nuclear program. But North Korea cheated on the deal, and accused the U.S. of doing the same.

The secretary of state says, this time, six countries have made the deal, and North Korea has to show progress first, before getting the lion's share of aid.

RICE: This is a different agreement. It is an agreement that is also more comprehensive in scope.

VERJEE: Experts say, the U.S. policy was clearly not working. Meantime, North Korea tested a nuclear bomb.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: And, Wolf, Korea analysts say that Americans should really applaud this agreement, but they also ask, why wasn't this agreement done years ago, before North Korea expanded its nuclear program? -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, what is the sense, Zain? Is this deal going to really stick? VERJEE: Well, you know, it -- it's tough when it comes to North Korea, Wolf. You really need to be cautious. We have been down this road, and it's fallen through, in the past.

Secretary Rice today expressed, though, a note of optimism, saying -- saying, you have got five countries here that are pressuring North Korea, and they are going to try, all together, to make it work and make it stick.

BLITZER: Zain, thank you for that.

We are going to continue to follow this story in the next hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM, as well.

Now to a story we have been following: A blogger at the center of the controversy surrounding John Edwards' campaign for the presidency has now resigned. A prominent conservative group slammed the blogger for writing what they called anti-Christian comments before she joined the Edwards campaign.

Let's go to our Abbi Tatton. She's watching the -- the very latest on this story -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, Amanda Marcotte had been contributing to the official John Edwards site. But it was her posts on her own personal blog that were getting the attention, after Bill Donahue, the president of the Catholic League, labeled her and another blogger hired by the Edwards campaign trash-talking bigots.

Marcotte wrote at her site last night that she had wanted to be a tireless employee for Edwards, but she felt that, every time she coughed, she was risking the Edwards campaign. The campaign confirms that -- the resignation and says that the other blogger remains a consultant. That is Melissa McEwan.

Edwards, last week, he had said: Some of the comments, some of the posts personally offended me.

However, he stood by the bloggers, saying: We can't let the debate be hijacked.

After the resignation, Marcotte wrote at her site, posted some of the hate mail that she has received over the past few days. She writes there, "I don't have a conflict of interest anymore preventing me from defending myself" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Abbi, for that.

Up ahead in our "Strategy Session": Has the race for the White House started too early? President Bush's own senior political strategist, Karl Rove, thinks so.

What do Donna Brazile and Dick Armey think? They are standing by live, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: In today's "Strategy Session": Will a presidential candidate's religion matter to voters? We want to talk about that, as well as the race for the White House in a broader sense.

Joining us now, our political analyst, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, the former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey, also chairman of FreedomWorks.org.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Thank you.

BLITZER: In this "USA Today"/Gallup poll: Would -- would you vote for a qualified presidential nominee who is Mormon? Seventy-two percent say yes. Female, 88 percent say yes. Black, 94 percent say yes.

What does that say about the challenge, though, facing Mitt Romney?

BRAZILE: Look, I think Mitt Romney, like many of the other unknown candidates, must go out there, talk about his values, talk about his beliefs.

And, clearly, at a time when the country is looking for change, he must also tell them why he has changed his position on abortion, on gay rights, on stem cells. So, I think he has an awful challenge going forward.

BLITZER: What do you think, Congressman?

DICK ARMEY, FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, in a substantive debate, I think the issues, real issues that people face, would make the difference.

Unfortunately, this is about politics. And politics can oftentimes degenerate into superficial considerations. The fact of the matter is, his religion shouldn't matter. It's a shame that it does. But it's something that, as a candidate, he is going to have to cope with.

In the final analysis, I think he has to demonstrate to the voters his position on the big issues that govern the way they cast their vote. And I do think he has a problem of demonstrating a consistency here.

BLITZER: Because he has changed his views on several...

ARMEY: Right.

BLITZER: ... of the key social issues, like abortion rights for women, for example.

ARMEY: You have got to admit, now...

(LAUGHTER) ARMEY: ... first of all, he is not the only candidate...

BLITZER: Right.

ARMEY: ... in this race that is professing change on issues.

BLITZER: And all of us make changes over the years.

ARMEY: Right.

BLITZER: We change our views.

ARMEY: That's right.

BLITZER: That's a natural way.

In New Hampshire, our CNN/WMUR New Hampshire presidential primary poll, the latest one we did, McCain was at 28 percent, Giuliani at 27 percent, Mitt Romney, from the neighboring state of Massachusetts, at 13 percent.

He still has got some formidable opposition there. He has a long way to go.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: He left office as the governor of Massachusetts with a 60 percent disapproval rating. In fact, in Michigan, where he announced today, his approval rating is only 8 percent.

So, I think Mitt Romney has a long way in proving not just his experience, but, you know, why he is qualified to be president.

ARMEY: But, now, on the other hand, a Republican governor that is 60 percent disapproved of in Massachusetts may have a leg up on the Republican national...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: The fact that there is a -- the fact that there is a Republican governor in Massachusetts says a lot right -- right there.

ARMEY: Yes. That's right.

BLITZER: Let me pick your brain, Congressman, on Karl Rove's statement to the new Web site Politico.com: "I think it is going to mean that people develop a persona earlier and wear out their welcome earlier than they would," he says, referring to this early start in the presidential campaign. "I think there's going to come some point this year where people are going to basically be saying, 'I'm largely disinterested in the contest.'"

What do you think he is -- he is suggesting?

ARMEY: I think that's true. I mean, quite frankly, first of all, politics has gotten to be so trivialized in America today. It's such -- it's so superficial. Politicians refuse to grapple with the big issues. People are weary of it.

And I think, for example, right now, John McCain is carrying a very difficult time. Is he old news? And I have been saying that I believe that the Republican nominee hasn't yet probably made his presence known on the field.

BLITZER: Really?

ARMEY: Yes, unless they start moving dates up and so forth, so that's...

BLITZER: So, we could have a contest, if they keep moving the calendar, up to December?

ARMEY: Right.

Again, you see, that's the logistics. There's too many -- too much of politics these days depends on money and logistics, rather than giving the nation a chance to know, understand, evaluate, and choose among candidates based on critical issues of our time.

BLITZER: Here is a fundamental fact. Every time you think that the process is accelerating, it becomes even further accelerated. And, every time you think it's expensive, guess what? They need a whole lot more money -- these two trends clearly developing.

BRAZILE: Well, clearly.

As a member of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee, every meeting I attend, we have four or five more states that are trying to get their time in the sunlight.

Look, I think Karl is right. These candidates, these -- especially these front-runners, they have to pace themselves. They have to be very careful to keep it fresh and to continue to do outreach. Otherwise, they can burn up pretty quickly.

BLITZER: And it -- you don't have a favorite candidate, even among the lesser -- lesser-known candidates, shall we say?

ARMEY: No, no. It's too early for...

BLITZER: You're staying out of it?

ARMEY: And I have talked to a lot of my friends. It's too early to pick a candidate. Let's get to know folks a little bit.

And let's get them -- we have got to find a way to force people to get to the real big issues, and get away from the superficial and, quite frankly, as politics goes, all too often, silly stuff.

BLITZER: Will Newt Gingrich jump in? ARMEY: Well, I think he will. And I -- Newt is a guy that has been always willing to take on the big ideas. And it might be quite refreshing.

BLITZER: He's a very smart guy, Newt Gingrich.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: And let's not rule out Al Gore. I keep the door ajar, because Al Gore hasn't -- hasn't shut it down. So, why not?

BLITZER: Al Gore, Newt Gingrich, we will see.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: This could really get exciting.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

In our next hour, by the way, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Chris Dodd, he will be joining us live. He says it's time for Congress to exercise the power of the purse to stop the war in Iraq. He is coming up live, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But up next: "The Cafferty File." Will closing Iraq's borders with Syria and Iran for 72 hours accomplish anything? That is Jack's question -- when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour, Wolf: Is closing Iraq's borders with Syria and Iran for 72 hours the answer to accomplishing anything meaningful there?

Lynn writes from Palatka, Florida: "Closing the border between Iraq, Iran and Syria for 72 hours will accomplish as much as our closing our border with Mexico for 72 hours: a big fat zero."

Brian, Ronkonkoma, New York: "The idea is not far off, just not complete. Since no one seems to know how to fix the problem, I now have a pin-the-tail-on-the-problem solution. We should back all our troops out to the borders of Iran and Syria and block anyone from coming in or out. Then let the Iraqi military and police clean up the country on their own."

Martha, Pennsylvania: "Yes, it will accomplish what the administration would like it to, i.e., further tick off or aggravate Syria and Iran. This, along with other provocative acts, will require a response in the form of military action against either or both of these pesky countries. Remember the Gulf of Tonkin incident? Gee, when you have discovered a winning formula, why not go with it?"

Alan in Maine writes: "It will give the arms smugglers a short break. They can use the time to stock up on RPGs and IEDs to bring into Iraq after the borders are open again. But, if the borders are not closed any better than ours, well, it won't make any difference anyway."

Walter in California: "Three days of busy work, 10 days of video clips showing what a great job we're doing of keeping Iraq together."

And Marty in Warwick, New York: "Close them down, fix the potholes, install new E-Z Pass booths, just like New York. Hey, you never know."

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks for that.

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