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THE SITUATION ROOM

Cancellations Plague JetBlue; Al Qaeda Resurgent? Non-Binding Iraq Resolution Stymied by Filibuster; Tom Vilsack Interview

Aired February 19, 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: Happening now, we're following several stories, including a step by step plan to force the president's hand on Iraq. Democrats preparing their next moves after a pair of critical votes. We'll examine their strategy and whether a funding cutoff could be part of the end game.
Also this hour, Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Iraq -- two presidential contenders with very different views on the war, but their political dilemmas have certain similarities.

Plus, the presidential nominees could be decided by this time next year.

Why are so many states so determined to cast their votes early?

I'll ask former Iowa Governor and presidential candidate Tom Vilsack about the trend and whether the kick-off contest in his home state will matter all that much.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

On this President's Day, the commander-in-chief and the contenders for his job are marking the holiday and arguing long distance about the war in Iraq.

President Bush visited George Washington's historic Mount Vernon estate in Virginia and he drew a parallel between the Revolutionary War and the battles being fought now by U.S. troops in Iraq and around the world.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, we're fighting a new war to defend our liberty and our people and our way of life. And as we work to advance the cause of freedom around the world, we remember that the father of our country believed that the freedoms we secured in our revolution were not meant for Americans alone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Many White House hopefuls are spending this holiday on the campaign trail and taking advantage of a week long break in Congress. For most, the driving issue remains Iraq and President Bush's handling of the war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Unfortunately, our leadership, from the Republicans and from the White House, all of them working have undermined America's alliances and friendships around the world. You know, we have to have friends and allies to defeat our enemies. We can't do it on our own. We've got to have people standing with us and rooting for us and working on our behalf.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Top Democrats are preparing for the next round of their fight against the president's Iraq policy and his plan for a troop build-up. They're looking at last weekend's rare Saturday showdown over the war as more of a victory than a defeat.

Let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, on what the Democrats may be planning next -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Senate deadlocked in that rare Saturday session. But seven Republicans voted with Democrats to oppose the president. That is what is giving Democrats some momentum, they insist. And there is a lot of pressure on the new Democratic majority to keep pushing, not just with these symbolic votes, but for real change in policy. And, we're told, a plan for that is already in the works.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Just like in the days of Vietnam, the pressure will mount and the vast majority of our troops will be taken out of harm's way and come home.

BASH (voice-over): Like the days of Vietnam, the Democrats' plan is to move step by step to force a change in Iraq strategy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While patrolling international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin near North Vietnam...

BASH: In 1970, Congress repealed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, used to authorize the war in Vietnam. Now, CNN is told, that top Senate Democrats met late last week and tentatively agreed to try to modify the broad authorization for war in Iraq that Congress passed in 2002.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DW), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Saddam Hussein is no longer there. The 2002 authorization, in my view, is no longer relevant.

BASH: Democratic sources say the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services chairmen are now writing a resolution re-authorizing the war, but limiting U.S. troops in Iraq to a support, not a combat role.

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: We have to start thinking hard about a changed mission in Iraq for our military forces, support them in that mission, but not an open-ended commitment to the Iraqis.

BASH: In a phone interview from Iraq, GOP Senator Jon Kyl told CNN that limiting the mission there "would be a huge mistake when we are just beginning to execute a notwithstanding."

Republicans, from the president on down, are taunting Democrats, saying if they really want to change the mission, they should take a political risk and cut the money for it.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: And have the courage of your convictions to stop this war by cutting off funding.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BASH: Now, in the House, Democrat John Murtha does have a plan to try to restrict the funding that the president has requested -- $93 billion of additional -- in additional money for the war. The goal there is to try to restrict it so that it would actually, in the end, force the president to start bringing them home.

In the Senate, though, Wolf, they are lukewarm to that idea, at least at the top ranks of the Senate Democratic leadership -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, the Democrats couldn't get a non-binding resolution passed through the Senate because under the Senate rules to break a filibuster you need 60 votes. They could get 60. They got 56.

How do they plan to get binding legislation through if they can't get non-binding legislation through?

BASH: That is an excellent question and no Democrats I've talked to can actually answer that question. All that sources I've talked to today and over the past several days say is that they are going to try to take baby steps and that what they are relying on is the momentum that they are going to get.

And, also, what they may have to rely on is the fact that they don't expect much positive news from the ground in Iraq and they expect, in the words of one source I talked to, that this is going to be not a static situation, that the pressure will continue to mount on Republicans, and that could help them in getting -- reaching their goals.

And one -- one kind of piece of evidence, quickly, today, was from a poll out in the Senate Republican leader's home state of Kentucky, Mitch McConnell. It said that 52 percent of people in Kentucky want him to try to change the president's strategy in Iraq.

That, Democrats think, is telling.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much.

Dana Bash on the Hill.

Top Democrats, by the way, are going to new lengths in their war of words with the president over the war in Iraq.

Listen to what the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, told me on "LATE EDITION" this weekend.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: This war is a serious situation. It's -- it involves the worst foreign policy mistake in the history of this country. So we should take everything serious. This is -- we find ourselves in a very deep hole. We need to find a way to dig out of it.

BLITZER: So are -- maybe I mis -- I misheard you, but you're saying this is the worst foreign policy blunder in American history?

REID: That's what I said.

BLITZER: Worse than Vietnam?

REID: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, the Republicans and the Bush administration so far refusing to blink. Also on lei, the White House press secretary, Tony Snow, insisted the U.S. is making some progress right now in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The war is tough, but the solution is not to get out. It is to provide the kinds of resources and reinforcements our forces need to get the job done and, at the same time, say to the Iraqis, you guys have got to step up.

Now, what have we seen in recent weeks with the Iraqis?

We've seen the prime minister say to those committing acts of violence, we don't care who you are, we're going after you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: When it comes to the war in Iraq, two of the leading White House hopefuls are either -- are on either end of a potentially very slippery tightrope.

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

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, this is not a good time to be a Washington establishment candidate, as two contenders are finding out.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Hillary Clinton and John McCain are senators and Washington insiders. They're both facing voters who are angry and apprehensive about the war in Iraq and suspicious of Washington politicians who sound calculated and cautious.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM WMUR)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I remain troubled, though, about your position on Iraq and your unwillingness to apologize to the American people for your vote to authorize the war.

Could you explain?

CLINTON: If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or who has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from. But to me, the most important thing now is trying to end this war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: Senator Clinton's response it not to be defensive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM WMUR)

CLINTON: If the president won't end this war before he leaves office, then I will. And I have a very good idea about how that can and should be done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: McCain has the opposite problem. Republican audiences like his support for President Bush.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I believe we can succeed. I can't guarantee success, but I guarantee failure will result in chaos.

SCHNEIDER: But they worry that his close identification with the war will make it difficult for him to get elected, especially if President Bush's troop build-up does not go well.

MCCAIN: This is a terribly difficult time and Americans and people of Chicago are angry and frustrated and sad.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER: McCain ran as a maverick in 2000. This time, his close ties to President Bush and his embrace of the Iraq cause are making him look more and more like the establishment candidate at a time when both he and Senator Clinton are discovering, the voters are in an anti-establishment mood -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider with some important analysis for us.

Thank you, Bill.

Bill and Dana Bash 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.

Carol Costello is monitoring the wires, keeping an eye on the video feeds coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

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

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Hello to all of you.

A dramatic rescue happening right now on Oregon's snow-covered Mount Hood. Rescue teams have reached three stranded climbers and their Labrador retriever. The two women and one man got stranded when they tumbled over a ledge yesterday during white-out conditions. Two of the climbers suffered minor head injuries, but are said to be doing just fine. Of course, they're a little cold.

Is expected to take a couple of hours to get them down the mountain. Five other climbers in the group were rescued yesterday.

While the political battles over Iraq rage in Washington, violence continues in the Iraqi capital. Eleven people died when mortars slammed into a Baghdad neighborhood. A minibus was also bombed. Separate attacks killed nearly two dozen people across Iraq.

And the U.S. military says five U.S. troops have died in combat in Anbar Province since Friday. That brings the U.S. military death toll in Iraq to 3,143.

Iranian patrol boats may be keeping watch on the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf. Several U.S. military officials tell CNN the boats apparently have been checking out defense measures near two Iraqi offshore oil terminals in the Gulf. They say Iranian patrol vessels crossed into Iraqi waters at least twice last week before Iraqi security forces then told them to leave.

Useful and productive -- that's how Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice describes today's meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. Rice says the three affirmed their commitment to a two state solution involving the Palestinians and Israel. And she says they will meet again. But it's still not clear if the emerging Palestinian Unity Government will recognize Israel and renounce terrorism, which the international community wants.

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

BLITZER: All right, Carol, thank you very much.

Jack Cafferty is off today.

But coming up, he says he's not one of Democratic Party's rock stars running for president, but he calls himself rock solid. We'll find out why the former Iowa governor, Tom Vilsack, when he joins us live. That's coming up next.

Also, much more on a very busy day in the race for the White House. We're going to tell you who's where on the campaign trail right now.

Plus, the war here in Washington over the war in Iraq.

Which party could suffer from the standoff in the U.S. Senate?

I'll ask two experts, James Carville and J.C. Watts.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The former Iowa governor, Tom Vilsack, is campaigning for president in his home state today. Like most Democrats, he opposes the president's plan to send yet more troops to Iraq. But his party is divided over how hard to push back at the White House and when to start pulling those troops out.

Joining us now, the Democratic presidential candidate, Tom Vilsack.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

TOM VILSACK, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You bet, Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of analysts suggested you and your campaign have been sniping at the Democratic frontrunners, including Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, specifically, because their stance, in terms of putting a cap on the number of U.S. troops there is something that you want to avoid.

Explain to our viewers precisely what you want the president to do right now.

VILSACK: Well, capping the number of troops, Wolf, is simply maintaining the status quo, staying the course. We need a change of course.

We need to take our troops out of harm's way and we need to do it now.

The question should be what are you doing, what is every person in Washington, D.C. doing today to get our troops out of harm's way?

This is a civil war. Our troops are in the middle of it. They're not going to be able to resolve it. It can only be resolved in a political resolution among the Iraqis themselves and it's time to transfer responsibility to make those decisions to the Iraqis.

BLITZER: So you say just start pulling troops out as quickly as possible. VILSACK: Take them out of harm's way. This is the thing we know for certain -- and this is the only thing we know for certain -- that as long as our troops stay there, our young men and women are going to continue to die and continue to get injured.

It is an absolute outrage that we still, even after four years, have young people in harm's way without adequate protection and equipment. It's time to get them out of Iraq.

BLITZER: What about using the power of the purse to stop funding the war?

How far should the Congress -- even though you're not a member of the Congress -- how far should your colleagues in the Congress go?

VILSACK: Well, they should take whatever steps are necessary to get this president to change this disastrous course. By cutting off funding and indicating a willingness to do so, it would bring the president to the table and it would hopefully avert an escalation and it would hopefully lead to a reduction and ultimately a withdrawal of troops out harm's way.

Wolf, our young men and women are not going to be able to resolve this. They've been there for four years. They've given the Iraqi people an opportunity to create a nation, a government and an economy that only they can take advantage of. But we can't force them to do so.

BLITZER: Do you agree with the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, who says this is the worst foreign policy mistake in American history, including Vietnam?

VILSACK: Well, I'll tell you, there have been a lot of mistakes that have been made by presidents. But it's pretty clear that this president is continuing to make a big mistake even bigger by proposing an escalation. This will be the third surge in the last 12 months. The previous two did not work. This is not going to work. And the reason it's not going to work is because it's a civil war, a civil war inside a civil war. It can only be resolved politically and not militarily.

BLITZER: But do you think it's the worst foreign policy mistake in American history?

VILSACK: Well, I'm not going to get into judging whether it's the worst or not the worst. The bottom line is this. If we don't get our troops out of harm's way, young men and women are going to needlessly die. And I think it's incumbent upon every single one of us who is involved in public life to do what we can every single day to advocate for an end to this war.

This is taking up a tremendous amount of time. There are a number of other critical issues that this country needs to address. And so long as we're fixated on this war, so long as we are redirecting resources into Iraq and not rebuilding this country, we're not doing right by our citizens and we're not doing right by the Iraqis.

BLITZER: Should Senator Clinton apologize for her vote leading up to the war, giving the president the authority to go to war?

She has refused to formally apologize. She's refused to say her vote was a mistake.

VILSACK: You know, Wolf, I'm not going to get into semantics about whether you should apologize or not. The bottom line is this. We should be focusing on what can be done today, tomorrow and the next day to end this war.

Every single person in Washington, D.C. has a responsibility to focus their time, attention and resources on getting this war ended as quickly as possible.

BLITZER: But can she win -- you know the Democratic Party -- can she win the Democratic presidential nomination if she holds firm and refuses to apologize and say her vote was a mistake?

VILSACK: Wolf, I'm confident that any Democrat will be successful in this election, because we're going to have better ideas, stronger ideas and we're going to be more (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

BLITZER: No, no, no.

Can she win the Democratic nomination?

VILSACK: Well, obviously I don't think she can win the Democratic nomination because I'm going to win it. And that's -- that's why I'm in this race. I'm focused on winning this race and we're going to start by winning Iowa.

BLITZER: Well, let's talk about Iowa. Right now, Iowa goes first, as is always the case. But Nevada follows, on the Democratic side, very quickly, and then New Hampshire. There's all sorts of suggestions now that instead of January, the end of January, they may move up to December, because of the pressure of some of these other states to have a big Super Tuesday in early February -- California and Florida and New Jersey. They all want to accelerate their process. You can't blame them. They want to have a say in who picks the Democratic presidential nominee, as well.

Where do you stand on this?

VILSACK: Well, essentially what is happening, with the larger states considering moving up their date, is that I think that they're just emphasizing the importance of the first states that start this process, rather than de-emphasizing the significance of an Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. I think they're playing greater emphasis on what happens in those four states.

So obviously we're going to continue to work hard in those four states. You're right, there very well could be a leap-frogging process that may take place and we could have the Iowa caucus next week, in which case I would be very confident of my ability to win that because of our organization.

BLITZER: I don't think it's going to be next week. We are going to be hosting the first Democratic and Republican presidential debates in New Hampshire April 4th and April 5th.

I assume we can expect that you'll be there.

VILSACK: I'm going to have every -- take every opportunity that I can to talk about the future of this country, not only how we end this war, but how we avert future wars and talking about energy security. We laid out a very comprehensive energy plan last week. We're going to continue to talk about it. I think it's the dominant domestic issue that requires all candidates to focus.

BLITZER: I'll take that as a yes.

VILSACK: Yes.

BLITZER: OK.

Thanks.

Governor, thanks very much.

VILSACK: You bet.

BLITZER: Governor Vilsack joining us today.

Coming up, Congress is closed for the week, and that means it's busy out on the campaign trail. We're going to tell you where John McCain and the other presidential hopefuls are today.

Plus, in the race for the White House, some of the big states are trying to move up to get a piece of the action. We just mentioned that. Jeff Greenfield standing by to explain what is going on.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's President's Day, a federal holiday and the day off for most Americans. But for eight of the White House hopefuls, there's no vacation. They're all out on the campaign trail and our Brian Todd is tracking their movements.

Let's check in with Brian -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, from New Hampshire to South Carolina to Iowa to California, it's a busy Monday on the campaign trail. And for those candidates with day jobs on Capitol Hill, it's a rare week to get out of Washington and connect with voters.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

CLINTON: We have to make it clear to the Iraqis that the blank check days are over. TODD (voice-over): Senator Hillary Clinton talking about Iraq today in South Carolina. The Palmetto State holds a crucial early primary and is a must stop for the presidential hopefuls. One of Clinton's main rivals, Senator Barack Obama, campaigned there over the weekend. Today, Obama is out in California, beginning a fundraising swing.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: In '08...

TODD: With the Senate on break, it should be a very busy week on the trail.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: By this time next year, we're very likely to know who the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees are. Candidates, especially those who are tied down to their day jobs in Congress, are making the most of this week to try to connect with the influential early voters of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

TODD: Most of the Democrats converge on Wednesday, where they'll speak at a candidates' forum. Republican White House hopefuls are also making the most of the down time.

John McCain stopped in South Carolina today. The senator, a supporter of the president's mission in Iraq, paid tribute to the National Guard.

MCCAIN: They are doing things today that no Guard has ever been asked for in the history of our country. They are doing it with courage and bravery.

TODD: McCain's also appearing today at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Florida.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.

TODD: One of his rivals, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, was there yesterday. Grabbing the support of social conservatives is crucial in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: Not on the trail today, two of the other frontrunners. Democrat John Edwards and Republican Rudy Giuliani are down right now, but expect them back on the trail later this week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They're going to be on the trail a lot, all of them, in the coming weeks and months.

Thanks, Brian.

Coming up, much more on that convention of religious broadcasters. Mitt Romney and other Republican hopefuls are courting them.

But is the religious right happy with any of the GOP frontrunners?

Plus, will 2008 be 1968 all over again?

Few can forget that year's tumultuous Democratic convention in Chicago.

Could next year's Democratic convention be a repeat?

That's ahead right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, al Qaeda out in the open. U.S. officials tell CNN the terror network is a growing and dangerous presence inside Pakistan right now.

Is Osama bin Laden there, as well?

We'll have an eye-opening report. That's coming up at the top of our next hour.

Plus, hundreds of JetBlue passengers angry and stranded. Today, the airline canceled 23 percent of its flights nationwide. JetBlue has been plagued by nearly a week of cancellations and delays, initially triggered by bad weather. The airline now says it will be back to 100 percent service by Wednesday.

And George W. Bush meets George W. That would be George Washington. Mr. Bush cozied up to a George Washington look-alike on this Presidents Day. How do Americans compare the current president to his predecessors? Find out. That's coming up ahead.

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

In the race for the White House, Senator John McCain is trying today to court members of the religious right, a group considered critical to winning the GOP nomination. Senator McCain is one of several Republican presidential hopefuls appearing at the Religious Broadcasters Convention in Florida.

McCain and some other top contenders are having a tough time impressing many Christian and social conservatives.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Who do the social conservatives right now like?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you have to look at the second tier of candidates to find people they like.

Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback, those are the purest of social conservatives, as far as the religious broadcasters are concerned and the conservative Christians across the board. You look at the top three, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and you can have any kind of casual conversation you want down at that Religious Broadcasters Association, and you will come up with the faults of all three of them.

BLITZER: What do these candidates have to do to win the backing of these social conservatives?

CROWLEY: It's different for all of them.

Mitt Romney has to convince social conservatives that his conversion, his -- his new position, being against abortion, is true, is an honest conversion.

As far as McCain is concerned, a lot more complicated -- a lot of conservatives have not forgiven him for taking out after religious conservatives in the 2000 race. They haven't forgiven him for joining that gang of 14 for -- to keep judicial nominations alive.

And they haven't forgiven him for campaign finance reform. But he has the right positions, as far as they're concerned, on social issues. So, there is a base he can build on.

Mitt Romney, while there is some talk of his Mormonism -- I'm sorry. We have done Mitt Romney.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: The...

BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani.

CROWLEY: Rudy Giuliani is the one, in -- in fact, that is just a nonstarter from the beginning, mostly because of his abortion position.

BLITZER: And his support for gay rights and -- and other issues along those lines.

You speak about Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor. He wants to become the Republican presidential nominee. He had this little incident Friday night with a heckler.

I want to play a clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You, sir, you're a pretender. You do not know the lord. You are a Mormon.

(BOOING)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let -- let me -- let me offer just a thought.

And that is, one of the great things about this great land is, we have people of different faiths and different persuasions. And I'm convinced that the nation -- that the nation does need -- the nation does need to have people of different faiths, but we need to have a person of faith lead the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. The fact that he's a Mormon, talk a little bit about the -- the challenge, the unique challenge, that he faces if he's going to get this Republican presidential nomination.

CROWLEY: What -- what was interesting in this Religious Broadcasters Convention is that the Mormonism didn't come up as much as his position on abortion.

Nonetheless, it can't be ignored that particularly evangelicals have a certain amount of problem with Mormonism. They don't think it's a Christian religion. They liken it to a cult. So, he has to work very hard there. Now, what they have been urging him to do, and what he has done,. is to go down there and talk about values -- not religion, but values -- which is what he did in this clip.

And you will note that most of the audience was with him. We're talking about one sort of protester that spoke up, and the rest of them booed him down.

So, how much of a problem this is going to be, we're going to kind of know when the vote comes in.

BLITZER: And we -- I spoke over the weekend with Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader. He himself is a Mormon, and he says he doesn't know Mitt Romney, never met Mitt Romney, but he thinks that the whole issue of religion should not be a factor in this race, what religion someone has.

All right, Candy, thanks very much -- Candy watching all of the politics for us.

Will the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver look anything like the infamous 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago? A group of liberal political activists are using an unusual Internet tactic to make sure their voices are heard next year in Denver.

Our Internet correspondent, Jacki Schechner, is standing by to give us a little take on what's going on as far as this 2008 convention is concerned -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, if you type "Denver convention 2008" into your web browser, it will bring you to the host committee Web site for the Democratic National Convention.

But, if you make a quick switch and you put "2008" in front of the words "Denver convention," it will take you to an organizing hub online for protesters for that convention. They call themselves Re- create 68. They say they bought about 15 different Denver-related Web addresses for about $200 before Denver was even officially announced as the host city. They say the purpose is twofold, that it will take people to their Web site when they're looking for convention information online. And, also, they hope maybe they can raise some money. They say perhaps they will gain enough momentum that the Democratic National Committee will want to buy the Web addresses.

But we spoke to the Democratic National Committee today, and they say they are not concerned at all with these alternate Web addresses -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jacki, thank you.

It's the ultimate Presidents Day portrait, a look-alike of the very first portrait face to face with the 43rd command in chief. The photo-op at the Mount Vernon Presidential Estate, where George Washington had his home, today leads to us a politically charged question: Who was the greatest president of the United States?

A new "USA Today"/Gallup poll asked Americans to rate the men who have served in the Oval Office. Of the 15 who earned mentions in the survey, three came out on top, Abraham Lincoln with 18 percent, Ronald Reagan with 16 percent, and John F. Kennedy with 14 percent.

How did the father of our country stack up? George Washington came in sixth, with 7 percent naming him as the greatest U.S. president. He was beaten out by the last president, Bill Clinton, who came in fourth with 13 percent.

And where does our current president stand in the rankings? George W. Bush came in eighth, with just 2 percent of Americans calling him the greatest president ever.

Coming up: much more of our coverage -- the big states want in on the early action for picking the presidential candidates. You can't blame them -- Jeff Greenfield standing by to explain why.

And new video of President Kennedy's final moments came to light today on the Internet. Abbi Tatton has that story. It's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All across the map, states are clamoring to hold their presidential primary contests early in 2008.

Five states now plan to hold their contests on February 5, a date that's becoming known as super-duper Tuesday. Ten other states are trying to move up their presidential contests, and hopping on the February 5 bandwagon. Those states are trying to enhance their future clout, with an eye toward the past.

Here's our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield -- Jeff.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Wolf, if you want to know why the folks here in Illinois and other big states are anxious to move their presidential primaries to early February, just take a look at the recent past. Time after time, these vote-rich states have had almost no impact on the presidential nominating contests.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Kennedy, 104-and-a-half votes.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GREENFIELD (voice-over): In the days before primaries, political leaders, or bosses, like Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, could deliver huge blocs of delegates to their favorites. That's one reason why John Kennedy won the Democratic nomination back in 1960.

But, in the decades since, Illinois has mattered only once...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALTER MONDALE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thanks for helping us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREENFIELD: ... in 1984, when Walter Mondale regained the front- runner status, after losing a spate of early primaries to Gary Hart.

In the Republican Party, the Illinois primary has never mattered. Or take New Jersey, which votes in June. Here, too, 1984 is about the only time it mattered, when Gary Hart blew a big lead with a clumsy joke about toxic waste dumps. Mondale won a landslide, which helped save him from an all-out battle at the convention. But, for New Jersey, that's about it.

Florida? After George Wallace won a huge victory in 1972, more liberal Democrats were determined to stop the segregationist governor the next time and rallied behind former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter in Florida's 1976 contest. That helped give Carter a big push toward the nomination. That same year, Gerald Ford beat Ronald Reagan, and those delegates formed a major part of Ford's narrow margin at the GOP Convention -- since then, not much.

In California, the biggest state of them all, it used to matter a lot, even with the June primary. Barry Goldwater clinched the 1964 Republican nomination with a narrow win over Nelson Rockefeller.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE MCGOVERN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can't believe we have won the whole thing.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREENFIELD: Democrat George McGovern did the same in 1972. California kept Ronald Reagan in the 1976 hunt and gave Ted Kennedy a big margin in his ultimately unsuccessful 1980 campaign against President Carter. But now, even with a March primary, California has had little to say about recent nominees, even though its Republican primary is still winner-take-all, which would give the victor roughly 15 percent of the votes needed to win the nomination.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: So, you can understand why these big states want an early say. But here is a potential unintended consequence. If three or four candidates split these early primaries, then, it will be the later voting states that really have the decisive say -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield in Chicago for us.

Jeff Greenfield, and, as you saw earlier, Candy Crowley, Jacki Schechner, they are all part of the best political team on television.

And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out the Political Ticker, CNN.com/ticker.

Let's check back with Carol Costello to see what other stories are making news right now -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Hi, Wolf. Hello to all of you.

The world's largest retailer has plans to get even bigger. Wal- Mart says it's building nine new stores in neighborhoods across the United States that need an economic boost. Two of the stores are already open in Chicago and Portsmouth, Virginia. Other Wal-Marts will open in Indiana; Pennsylvania; Cleveland, Ohio; Georgia; Arizona; California; and Maryland. Wal-Mart says it will also help other businesses in the neighborhoods to thrive.

Same-sex couples are taking advantage of New Jersey's brand-new law permitting civil unions, now the third U.S. state to offer civil unions. Town halls across the Garden State opened today to accept applications from couples wanting to make it official. They received the legal protections and rights of marriage, but not the title.

Satellite radio fans, listen up. Oprah Winfrey and Howard Stern may be sharing a home on the radio dial. Satellite radio rivals XM and Sirius are merging. The two radio subscription companies announced the deal today. But it will probably face some tough scrutiny from federal regulators. We will keep you posted.

And we want to bring you a breaking story right now out of Oklahoma City. You're looking at live pictures there -- firefighters battling a three-alarm blaze in the northwest part of the city. It's at the Willow Cliff apartments -- high winds making things even tougher for the firefighters -- fortunately, no injuries reported right now. It's not clear yet what caused the fire.

Of course we will bring you more details as soon as we get them in -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol, thanks for that. We will watch this story unfold.

Up next, in our "Strategy Session": a rhetorical barb between the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, and the White House press secretary, Tony Snow.

And Senator Clinton tells voters to look elsewhere if they don't like her answer on the question of Iraq. Is she standing firm or sinking her chances? I will ask James Carville and J.C. Watts. They will join me next, right here in the "Strategy Session."

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The political fighting over Iraq intensifying -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told me over the weekend, the war in Iraq right now is the worst blunder in American history, even worse than Vietnam.

Joining us in today's "Strategy Session" to discuss this and more, CNN political analysts, Democratic strategist James Carville and former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts.

That's a strong statement from Harry Reid, even worse than Vietnam.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, one eminent military historian, a man named Martin van Creveld, said it's the most foolish military endeavor since Emperor Caesar Augustus invaded what is now Germany in the year 9 B.C. So, he -- at least he -- he knows a lot. He thinks it's the worst in 200 years.

There are a lot of people out -- there are a lot of people who agree with Senator Reid, a lot of people who disagree. It's a debate worth having. And I think he opened up a very important debate.

BLITZER: What do you think, J.C.?

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I -- I think that, when someone says something like that, I think they either misunderstand or just totally ignore the depth of savagery that people will go to, the terrorists will go to, to -- to kill Americans.

I -- I'm -- I'm fascinated. I -- I -- he just totally ignores the fact that we have not been hit since 9/11, 2001. I do think that that plays into it, what we have done -- what we have done in Iraq. And -- and to make that type of statement, I -- I personally think that was going a little bit too far.

BLITZER: You disagree with him?

WATTS: I do disagree with him.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk a little bit about the fallout from what happened over the weekend, a rare Saturday session. The senators met. They couldn't break that 60 vote needed to get to an actual piece of legislation, albeit a non-binding...

CARVILLE: Right.

BLITZER: ... piece of legislation.

What do you think?

CARVILLE: I think the country likes it.

I mean, I don't say that they -- they like the fact there wasn't a vote. I think they like having a debate on this. I mean, for -- for -- for six years, or at least for four years, during the conduct of the war -- almost four -- we didn't have debates.

And I think the -- I think the country is like, yes, this is what we want to hear, a discussion of this, where there -- there's great division -- actually, there are more -- way more people who oppose this war than are for it, but there are mixed feelings about it. And I think that it's good that -- that they had this. And I -- and I suspect it's not going away as an issue, as it should not. It should continue to be an issue.

BLITZER: That's what the Democrats say.

CARVILLE: It should be at the forefront.

BLITZER: That's what the Democrats say, that -- that the House passed that non-binding resolution. The Senate couldn't do it, because they couldn't get over that 60-vote hurdle.

But the senators are saying, you know, they have got other things up their sleeve.

WATTS: Well, and -- and I agree with James.

I think there should be a discussion. I think there should be a debate. We are in America. And -- and -- and, in America, we -- we have the right to have these debates.

But I think we also should understand, there is a cost for these type of debates. I think a lot of it is -- is political. But, be that as it may, we still have the right to have these debates. But again, I think we have to recognize that there is a cost. I think, with these type of debates, and with these type of political shenanigans, I think we see that we validate the terrorists. And I think we embolden the terrorists. And I think that's the cost.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: I want to add one thing here, Wolf. There's a cost to silence. There was a cost to -- to the Republicans going along with everything and shutting down debate.

And that cost was the most incompetently executed war in American history, and -- and a Congress that sat by and did nothing. And -- and look at what happened. There's a story about how terrible the health care is that they're receiving at Walter Reed. Silence always costs much more than debate. And that's something that we -- we -- we have to realize, as Americans. There's a real cost to silence.

WATTS: But the quality of health care and war, those are two distinctly different things.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: No, it's at Walter Reed, the wounded soldiers. You can't separate the -- from the war...

WATTS: Wounded soldiers -- wounded soldiers' health care is to -- that's -- they're on American soil, and we can debate the quality of their care.

CARVILLE: I'm not...

WATTS: But to debate, for political reasons, the war in Iraq...

CARVILLE: J.C. -- J.C...

WATTS: ... with soldiers being -- losing their lives, there's a cost.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: You didn't debate this. Silence has a much higher price than debate.

To sit silently as this thing was pursued, as it happened, was a much higher cost. I'm proud that my party is leading this debate.

WATTS: Oh, no -- no question. We...

CARVILLE: And I think it's much better to do that.

WATTS: We should have the discussion. But understand there is a cost. We validate the terrorists, and we embolden the terrorists. And that's the cost of it.

BLITZER: You're informally helping Hillary Clinton become president of the United States.

CARVILLE: Right.

BLITZER: First of all, is that right?

CARVILLE: That -- that is correct.

BLITZER: Informally.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Right.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about a statement. She made a tough statement over the weekend, saying: You know what, if you don't like my position on why I voted for the resolution leading up to the war -- the fact that she's not formally apologizing or saying it was a mistake -- then, you know what? You can go vote for somebody else -- a strong statement from her.

CARVILLE: It -- it was. She said she took responsibility for the vote. She said, obviously, if she knew what she knew now, she wouldn't make it.

But I think, at some point -- and I think it was a -- it was strong, but it was true, is, it -- she's a very conscientious person. I think she felt like that she -- she -- she gave -- it wasn't a vote that I certainly agreed with, but I -- I -- I'm over it.

And some people, some of my friends, can't get over it. And she says: I understand that, but I'm -- we're going to talk about how to get out of here for the rest of the time.

I thought she did quite well.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... she's refusing to take the John Edwards position. He was in the Senate at the time.

CARVILLE: Right.

BLITZER: He voted for it. He says: you know what? I made a mistake, and I apologize for it.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: She's -- she's pointedly refusing to go that far. Is that smart?

CARVILLE: I -- you know what? I think it's -- it's -- it's what she feels. And, by -- by goodness -- and she says, if she knew what she knew now, she would have never done it.

As -- as David Brooks, the conservative columnist, points out in -- in "The New York Times," she repeatedly literally almost begged this president not to go to war, to give the U.N. inspectors more time.

But, in the end, I think that, in her mind, she cast a conscientious vote. And better -- better just to -- to be that way and -- and -- and stick by it. And, you know, like I say, some people -- I think there are a fewer number than we think -- will never get over it. Some people will say, you know what? She -- that's her view, and I respect it.

BLITZER: What do you think, J.C.?

WATTS: I respect the senator for taking the responsibility for a vote.

We had this discussion...

CARVILLE: Right.

WATTS: ... two weeks ago, when I thought she was trying to put the blame off on somebody else.

But I -- I think I like the fact that she's saying: Hey, this is what I did. I accept the responsibility. If you're looking for somebody that you think that should have done something else, and you don't like it, go find you another candidate.

I -- I appreciate that.

BLITZER: We have got to leave it there, guys.

CARVILLE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

CARVILLE: Appreciate it. Well, we had our debate here.

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Nothing wrong with that.

CARVILLE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: James Carville and J.C. Watts, as you know, are part of the best political team on television.

Coming up: Osama bin Laden, is he alive and well? Is he using north Waziristan in Pakistan as a safe haven? Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, he's standing by to join us live. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour.

Also coming up: new video of...

(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 Pakistan, family members wail for missing passengers who were aboard a train where two bombs exploded. The attacks killed at least 65 people.

On the West Bank, an Israeli soldier tells Palestinian men to be quiet during a dispute between Palestinians and Jewish settlers.

In Trinidad, mud-covered members of a band parade through the streets during a carnival celebration.

In Ukraine, a woman plays with one of her 91 cats in her two-room apartment -- some of this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth 1,000 words.

Haunting new footage of John F. Kennedy's final moments has just surfaced online. The newly discovered video shows President Kennedy and the first lady in their Dallas motorcade seconds before the president was shot.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, has a closer look -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this silent home movie sat undiscovered for more than 40 years, before it was donated to a museum just over the weekend.

It was shot by Texan George Jefferies, now 82 years old, who took his camera to work that day in 1963, hoping to glimpse the president. What he recorded were these crystal-clear images of first lady Jacqueline Kennedy sitting next to President Kennedy there in the motorcade, this approximately 90 seconds before the assassination.

Jefferies, just last year, mentioned the footage to his son-in- law. They agreed to donate it to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. The museum curator, Gary Mack, says these are the clearest images he's seen of the first lady in the motorcade. And Mack says that he thinks there are more images out there that have never been seen -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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