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THE SITUATION ROOM

Democratic Leaders Hoping To Repeal 2002 War Authorization; Tom Vilsack Abandons Presidential Bid; Joseph Biden Interview; Al Gore To Attend Academy Awards

Aired February 23, 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, Democrats plan their next step to try to force the president's hand on Iraq.
Will they take away the green light for war that Congress gave Mr. Bush four years ago?

I'll ask senator and presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Also this hour, what drove one Democrat out of the race for the White House?

We'll tell you why Tom Vilsack is calling it quits and who may benefit from his exit.

And Al Gore has his eyes on a new prize -- the Oscar. If he's a winner on Hollywood's big night, what might he do for an encore?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Senate Democratic leaders are set to come back to work next week and possibly add more fireworks to the Iraq debate. They're hoping to pull the rug out from under the president and his war policies.

But today White House is warning against that and promising a fight.

Our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel, is following all of these moves on Capitol Hill.

So what are the Democrats planning on doing -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Democratic leaders are hoping to repeal the 2002 war authorization, which gave President Bush the right to invade Iraq. Their argument is that the terms troops they signed off on in 2002 no longer apply to 2007.

And they're hoping to do so in the following ways.

Senators Joe Biden of Delaware and Carl Levin of Michigan have basically put together a draft resolution. And in this resolution, it has three tenants.

The first would say that they would repeal the 2002 authorization, saying it's no longer relevant.

The second is they would replace that authority with a much more narrowly defined mission. This mission would deny al Qaeda the right to seek sanctuary in Iraq. It would basically train Iraqi troops in Iraq and also help to guard the borders in Iraq.

Now, the third piece would set a goal to remove all U.S. combat troops not involved in training Iraqis from Iraq by March, 2008. That's when the Iraq Study Group had said they should leave.

Now, what's still unclear, Wolf, is when this resolution would be introduced, whether it would be next week or in coming weeks.

BLITZER: Andrea, so what are the Republicans doing in responding to this?

KOPPEL: Well, Republican leaders, Wolf, are -- they're accusing Democrats of trying to have it both ways, of trying to appeal to the anti-war movement by saying that they oppose the president's plan to withdraw -- or to send thousands more troops to Iraq, but at the same time saying that they still support the troops in Iraq.

And just a few moments ago, there was a conference call with the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, with reporters in which he said explicitly that Democrats, if they're really opposed to the war, they should just put on the floor something to cut off funds for troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: You can't unring a bell. That was the vote we had in 2002. It didn't have an expiration date on it. And at this point, the only thing Congress can meaningfully do -- and I know you all are getting tired of me saying this -- but the only thing Congress can meaningfully do at this point is decide whether or not to fund the operation, the troops.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOPPEL: Now, McConnell is insisting that any debate on whatever it is Democrats want to have must included a resolution that would call for not cutting off funding for the troops. It's a vote that he tried to have a week ago with this non-binding resolution, Wolf, and Harry Reid blocked him.

BLITZER: Andrea, thanks for that.

We're going to have a lot more on this Iraq debate and what happens next. That's coming up here on "LATE EDITION" this Sunday. A talk, among other things, with the chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Jane Harman; congressman and GOP presidential candidate Duncan Hunter. "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk. That airs 11:00 a.m. Eastern for two hours here on CNN.

If the Senate moves ahead with its plan to try to modify that war resolution, they'll be in uncharted waters.

I asked the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee about that just a little while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: To the best of my knowledge, there hasn't been one. But there's never been a president as irresponsible in the use of that force as this president has been. So there is -- this is a new precedent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're going to have more of that interview, in fact, the whole interview with Senator Biden. That's coming up in a few minutes right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In the race for the White House, the Democratic field is a little less crowded right now. Tom Vilsack abandoned his presidential bid today, just two and-a-half months after his formal campaign kick-off. The former Iowa governor acknowledges he just couldn't compete financially with the better known candidates and their massive war chests.

But just four days ago right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Governor Vilsack sounded optimistic about his presidential prospects.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM VILSACK, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to win. And that's why I'm in this race. I'm focused on winning this race and we're going to start by winning Iowa.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

I don't know about you, but I was sort of surprised that he dropped out as quickly as he has.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I was, too. But I have to tell you that people in his camp say that he has been thinking about it for a little while. So he knew four days ago that it was possible he was going to pull out.

You know, Wolf, you're in until you're out. You can't very well signal that you're about to get out, because then everybody comes around looking for your staff and those who have already given money for you.

But, you know, in the almost three months that he campaigned for president, Tom Vilsack was able to take a cold, hard look at the future of his campaign and he found there was none.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): To run for president is about the American dream, but it is not about reality. VILSACK: I came up against something that, for the first time in my life, where hard work and effort couldn't overcome. I just couldn't work any harder, I couldn't bring any greater effort and it just wasn't enough.

CROWLEY: Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, the first to officially get into the Democratic presidential race, is the first to officially get out after a three month run, a cash casualty.

VILSACK: Money and only money, that is the reason that we are leaving today.

CROWLEY: He is a charming, smart former two term governor, former state senators, former mayor and short lister for the number two spot on the 2004 Kerry. Ticket. He is a fierce opponent of the war and a supporter of universal health care.

Bumpkins (ph).

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: You need to be able to reach the voters. You need to have good ideas that speak to them. But even with all of those good qualities, if you don't have the money, you're not going to get your message out. You're not going to survive.

CROWLEY: And, oh, what a lot of money it takes to run for president. Watch this graphic as it begins with the $55 million Jimmy Carter spent to win the White House, moving ever upwards to the almost $419 million George Bush spent two years ago. Even adjusted for inflation, the 2004 road to the White House was more than twice what the road cost in 1976.

This cycle, most people figure you need about $50 million to just make it to the primary season, when people actually begin to vote.

KRUMHOLZ: Next year, you'll need about $100 million to get through the primaries and if you are the nominee, you'll need about a half a billion dollars to make it -- to be viable.

CROWLEY: Only three kinds of people can raise that kind of money -- somebody with a name, somebody with another name or somebody who runs into a huge stroke of luck.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: In some ways, it is the Catch-22 of campaigning -- you need a name to get money and you need money to get a name.

BLITZER: And so that's it. He drops out and he moves on.

Is there any immediate winner right now out of this? Does anybody grab onto Tom Vilsack, whatever -- whatever support he may have had?

CROWLEY: I would assume that Tom Vilsack's endorsement, which probably won't come for some time, will be important, first of all, because he's from Iowa. There are also -- he had some very talented campaign people who are very good in Iowa. So I suspect whoever scoops them up will be the big winner.

BLITZER: And it really opens up Iowa right now...

CROWLEY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... if there was any question before, having a native son no longer in the contest is -- makes it a wide open field for all of the other Democrats.

Thanks, Candy, very much.

Along with trailing in the money race, Vilsack had trouble drumming up the kind of online buzz that other candidates already have.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner.

She has the latest on the so-called net routes -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: That's right, Wolf.

Let's take a quick listen to Tom Vilsack on his own Web site in his own words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VILSACK: Well, this is a tough day for myself and my family, but I wanted to share just a message with all of the supporters who have been so important to us in the -- in the video blogging world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHECHNER: Now, he goes on to talk about his decision to leave the race, how money was a big factor for him.

He was the first Democratic presidential hopeful to set up a Democratic presidential hopeful Web site. And for all the social networking outreach he did, he really didn't manage to generate much buzz in the liberal blog, unofficial straw polls. As recently as early February, he was barely even registering on the radar there.

But an important thing to note and kind of tagging onto what Candy was talking about and what he leaves behind, he did have a list of more than 1,000 committed Iowa caucus goers. And now they don't really have anyone to support.

So it'll be interesting to see who takes advantage of that and really steps in at this point -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And he was really trying to position himself as one of the more anti-war candidates out there.

Jacki, thank you for that. Jacki Schechner, Candy Crowley, Andrea Koppel -- they are all part of the best political team on television. And remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.

Here's something you don't see every day over at the White House. President Bush looking a bit like the mechanic-in-chief. He checked out electric cars parked on the South Lawn, peering in a trunk and under the hood. It's the president's latest attempt to drive home his campaign to break America's addiction to oil.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm talking with people on the leading edge of change. And the reason why I've asked them to come in to see me is because I want to make sure that the goal I set by reducing gasoline usage by 20 percent over a 10-year period is a realistic goal.

I know it's a necessary goal. It's necessary for national security purposes and it's necessary for economic security purposes and it's necessary in order to be good stewards of the environment.

My question is, is it a practical goal? Can we achieve that goal?

And the answer is absolutely.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're going to have a report on hybrid cars, whether they're the solution to America's fuel habit. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour.

Jack Cafferty is off today.

Coming up, should Congress repeal the original resolution that authorized the war in Iraq?

I'll ask the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Joe Biden. The presidential candidate joins me next. That's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And, also, could an award winning night in Hollywood move Al Gore toward another run for the presidency?

We're going to go live to the red carpet. Bill Schneider is there to find out.

And later, the money game -- is the huge demand for campaign cash forcing talented people out of the presidential race?

That will be the topic in today's Strategy Session.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The two Democratic presidential frontrunners speaking out right now.

Senator Clinton out in San Francisco at a town hall meeting, a conversation with voters, as she likes to call it. And Senator Barack Obama is over in Austin, Texas right now, the University of Texas at Austin. He's speaking to students, faculty and a lot of other Texans right now.

We're watching both of these events. The live feeds are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. We'll get you more on that as it becomes available. We'll continue to watch both of these Democratic presidential frontrunners.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration is warning Senate Democrats against trying to revoke the president's authority in the war in Iraq.

But could Democrats pull it off, given what the White House calls the shifting sands in the party's position?

And joining us now from his home state of Delaware, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.

BIDEN: I'm happy to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: What makes you think that you have the 60 votes necessary to pass a new resolution reauthorizing the military efforts in Iraq when you couldn't get a non-binding resolution passed in two earlier attempts?

BIDEN: Well, I don't start off that way. I start off, Wolf, what's the right thing to do. And the president's authority, the way he's using it and he's misusing it, the rationale for him being in Iraq no longer exists. We went there, gave him the authority to take out weapons of mass destruction -- which never existed; take down Saddam, who is dead; and force compliance with the U.N. resolutions. They're already forced.

And now we have this -- this president's policies driving us into a boxed canyon. We've got to redefine the mission. It's a process. We've got to bang it away. Carl Levin and I are working very hard with our leadership to try to make this case.

We may not get it initially, but we will eventually.

BLITZER: Here's what the White House spokesman said earlier today on this new effort that you and your colleagues are coming up with.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The war authorization spoke to how -- and certainly envisioned subsequent U.N. Security Council resolutions. And the authorization is very clear in that the president has the authority to strictly enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He is the commander-in-chief. The constitution gives him that ability to conduct war.

BIDEN: It does, only if the -- only if the Congress gave him the attorney in the first place. We're repealing the initial authority. And we are -- and, by the way, the United States constitution cannot be trumped by the United Nations. It cannot be trumped by it. The Implementation Act of the United Nations Treaty, when we passed it, said it depends upon the Congress' authority.

And so, the fact of the matter is this is constitutionally permissible. The bottom line here is, Wolf, this president is taking us, in the midst of a civil war, of a self-sustaining cycle of sectarian violence and revenge, which, even if we had 100,000 troops, we couldn't stop.

We should define the mission -- protect the borders, train the Iraqi Army, deny al Qaeda occupation of territory like they did in Afghanistan, and protect our troops -- not get in the middle of a civil war they couldn't solve even if we wanted to.

BLITZER: Have you done any check to see if there's a historic precedent whereby the Congress has authorized the president to use force in one specific engagement and then withdrawn that authorization?

BIDEN: To the best of my knowledge there hasn't been one, but there's never been a president as irresponsible in the use of that force as this president has been. So there is -- this is a new precedent.

BLITZER: Do you think this is the worst foreign policy blunder of any U.S. president?

Because that's what Harry Reid told me last weekend.

BIDEN: I believe it is. I believe, look, there's been more consequential things that have happened, but they haven't been blunders. World War I, World War II, the Korean War -- they cost a great deal more and they -- more blood and treasure shed.

But there's never been a foreign policy initiative that's done more damage, isolated the United States more from the rest of the world, put us in a position where there is no real good solution left and continued to be pursued by a president who has no notion of how this is going to end.

BLITZER: So this is a worse blunder than Vietnam?

BIDEN: I think it is a worse blunder than Vietnam in the sense that -- in the sense that the consequences for us not getting it right in Iraq are going to stick with us for a generation. As opposed to, in Vietnam, we all knew when we got out of Vietnam we would have suffered great loss, but there wasn't another shoe to fall.

It wasn't like you're all of a sudden going to have Russia controlling the Straits of Hormuz or that you were going to have, you know, China controlling Vietnam and we were going to have another war.

But look what happens here. We don't get it right here, what happens?

If this civil war metastasizes into a regional war, we may end up with war with Iran. We may find there's a whole regional war that affects the entire -- our entire future.

This is much more consequential in that sense.

BLITZER: If it's that big of a deal, why not do what Congress clearly has the authority to, and namely use the power of the purse and cut the funding?

You're going to have the opportunity. There's a $100 billion supplemental request that the president is making for emergency funding. You could cut the money if you want.

BIDEN: Well, we could cut the money but it doesn't solve our problem. Most of us still believe that there's a need -- I don't know of a single proposal out there that says bring all the troops home right away without damage being -- occurring. I don't know anybody who says you're not going to have to leave some troops behind as an over horizon force from John Murtha, to the Baker Commission to the Biden-Gelb Plan.

And so it gets very much more difficult to parse it out that way. The clearest way to do it is to say Mr. President, here's your mission. Here's the authority you have. The mission you have is to do the following four things. You don't have authority to do other things. That's the clearest way to do it, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let me ask you a political question before our time runs out.

BIDEN: Sure.

BLITZER: You're running for president. Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, dropped out today, saying it was a money problem. He couldn't raise the money.

Do you see this money as the single most important factor right now in your presidential bid? do you have the money to sustain a race for the White House?

BIDEN: I believe I do. But I don't see it as that. And it may have been the case for Tom.

By the way, he would have been a good president. This is a competent guy. This is a guy who turned the state around. This is the guy who made it blue. This is a guy who's fully -- who has absolute capability to do whatever he would be appointed to do or asked to do.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it there, unfortunately. Our time is up.

Senator Biden, thanks for coming in.

BIDEN: Thank you.

Thank you very much.

BLITZER: And remember, CNN is a partner with WMUR Television and the "New Hampshire Union Leader" for the very first presidential debates of the campaign season. They're on April 4th and April 5th of this year, the first debates in the lead-off presidential primary state of New Hampshire.

Coming up, in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination, will California once again play a crucial role?

Jeff Greenfield takes a closer look.

Up next, though, fighting words today from Iran's president. We'll tell you what he's saying.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There has been a major train derailment in England.

I want to go to Carol Costello.

She's monitoring this story -- Carol, what are we picking up?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, it's pretty serious, Wolf. This passenger train was headed from London to Glasgow and it has derailed and slipped down an embankment. In fact, British media is reporting that people are trapped inside of that train. Others are crawling out through the windows. They're trying to get out however way they can. Fire crews are on the way to the scene. Of course, when we get pictures, we'll pass them along to you.

Also in the news this afternoon, Iran's president is vowing a lasting fight to maintain his country's nuclear program. He says if Iran retreats, the arrogant will look for more demands. His statement comes a day after the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, issued a report. It said the IAEA cannot provide assurances that Iran's nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.

And the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog chief is planning to visit North Korea. Mohamed ElBaradei says he received a letter from Pyongyang inviting him to work for normalization between the IAEA and North Korea. He says he welcomes the opportunity and he calls it a step in the right direction toward ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Britain plans to send 1,000 more troops to Afghanistan. The move, announced by British lawmakers today, will bolster the 5,000 British troops already in Afghanistan. Earlier this week, Britain said it plans to withdraw 1,600 troops from Iraq in the coming months.

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

BLITZER: All right, Carol.

When you get more information on that train derailment, let us know. We're going to come right back to you on that.

Thanks very much.

Up next, does the road to the White House go through Hollywood?

Bill Schneider is standing by on the red carpet in Hollywood. He has the answer.

Plus, many blame Ralph Nader for costing the Democrats and Al Gore the presidency back in 2000. He ran again in 2004.

Will Nader make a third attempt this time around?

I'll ask him. That's coming up in the next hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's standing by live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, a third day of deliberations. Jurors still are weighing the charges against former Cheney chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Libby could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted on all five counts of lying and obstructing the CIA leak investigation. We're going to have a full report. That's coming up in our next hour.

A senator flirts with shifting the balance of power.

Might Democrat turned Independent Joe Lieberman change parties again and go Republican?

We have a report on that. That's coming up, as well.

And the '08 exit strategy -- now that Tom Vilsack is out of the Democratic race, who is likely to win over his supporters? Winners and losers, that's coming up in our "Strategy Session."

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

Movie stars and fans are counting down to the Academy Awards Sunday night. So are political pundits, eager to see if Al Gore walks away a winner more than six years after he lost the race for the president. The former vice president's starring role in a documentary on global warming has made him hotter than ever among liberal activists, especially out in Hollywood.

Let's go out there.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is standing by.

Bill, there is supposed to be a red carpet someplace around you. Tell it us what is going on in Hollywood.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, here is one right here. This is the red carpet. I guess, if you look real close, maybe you can see Scarlett Johansson's heel marks somewhere in this carpet.

But here I am, on the red carpet, waiting for the Academy Awards. You know, Wolf, we have seen plenty of political moments at the Oscars before, but, this year, we could see the most unusual political moment ever.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): It's Academy Awards night. Best documentary feature is up. And the Oscar is favored to go to "An Inconvenient Truth," starring Al Gore.

LAWRENCE BENDER, PRODUCER, "AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH": Al Gore will be at the Academy, sure.

SCHNEIDER (on camera): Yes. He will be in the audience?

BENDER: He will be in the audience.

SCHNEIDER: Lawrence Bender and the film's other producers come up to accept the Oscar with Gore. The audience roars its approval. This is liberal Hollywood. Gore speaks.

MARTIN KAPLAN, DIRECTOR, NORMAN LEAR CENTER: There is even some speculation that he would use his Oscar as the occasion to announce that he is running. Imagine that, a billion people worldwide. Take that, Jay Leno, as an announcement venue.

SCHNEIDER: Really?

BENDER: It's electrifying because, not politically, because is Al Gore going to run or not going to run? That's -- there is nothing going to happen like that. It's electrifying because the man who was responsible for solidifying the forces to -- about -- around global warming is going to -- and -- and now been acknowledged.

SCHNEIDER: Could an Oscar start the momentum for a draft-Gore movement?

KAPLAN: People think that he has paid his dues. He has had more of an impact on issues that people care about than many people who have been in office. And I think there's a -- a feeling that he is finally lost that student council president condescension, which was fingernails on the blackboard to a lot of supporters. SCHNEIDER: The Democrats are desperate to win. Doubts have begun to surface about...

BENDER: He was right on Iraq. He was right on global warming. He has an issue that is so formidable, and has attacked it, tackled it. So, I would love to see him run, sure, but I don't -- I don't see -- I don't see that in the cards.

SCHNEIDER: But, once that envelope is opened, there will be a new card to play.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And maybe Mr. Gore will stand up and say, "I have a new song to sing," because, after all, his film has been nominated in the best song category, too -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Two nominations for "An Inconvenient Truth."

SCHNEIDER: Exactly.

BLITZER: We will watch Sunday night with you, Bill. Thanks very much. Thanks for showing us the red carpet as well.

For the current presidential hopefuls , it's a busy day out on the campaign trail. Among the Democrats, Senator Barack Obama is in the Lone Star State, speaking right now live over at the University of Texas in Austin -- the senator from Illinois fund-raising and rallying support in Houston yesterday. And he's trying to steer clear of the feud earlier this week between the Obama and Clinton camps.

As for Senator Clinton, she's in California today. The senator from New York is attending a fund-raiser and forum with voters in San Francisco right now.

Also in California, by the way, today, Senator Sam Brownback -- he is trying to prove that Hollywood doesn't necessarily simply belong to the Democrats. The Republican senator from Kansas is in Los Angeles. Last night, he attended the preview of a film about the abolition of slavery.

John McCain, by the way, is in Seattle, Washington, right now. The senator from Arizona is the first presidential hopeful to meet with Washington state voters.

Back east, Mitt Romney is in New Hampshire. The former Massachusetts governor is pushing his energy plans to wean America off imported oil -- a quick look at who is on the trail on this day.

California is the major prize in the general election, and could play a bigger role in the presidential primaries in 2008.

Our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, is in the Golden State -- Jeff.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Wolf, here's a question for you: What do Republicans do that Democrats haven't done for decades? Answer? In some states, including right here in California, they still run their presidential primaries like steel-cage wrestling matches: winner take all.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(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 (voice-over): Back in 1972, George McGovern won the California primary, and with it, all of the state's delegates.

At the Democratic Convention that year, the anti-McGovern forces tried to change that and impose a kind of proportional distribution. The governor won the floor fight and, with it, the nomination. But the Democrats decided to stop winner-take-all primaries for the future.

The Republicans, though, leave it up to the states. In some, it depends on how big a chunk of the statewide vote you win. Others, like Florida and Oklahoma, do it by congressional district. You win the district, you win those delegates, with another group of delegates going to the statewide winner.

But, at least as of now, a couple of states that plan to hold their primaries on February 5, Delaware and Missouri, for example, are winner-take-all states. If you win the primary, even by one vote, all of the delegates are yours.

And, oh, yes, at least one other state that plans a February 5 primary is winner-take-all: California.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: California proudly casts all its 162 votes...

GREENFIELD: Which, in 2004, had nearly 15 percent of the delegates needed for the nomination.

Now, ask yourself, if you're a high-level aide to one of the eight or nine or 10 Republicans who may be seeking the presidency, where are you going to be concentrating your energy and time and money? The answer is obvious. If you think you have any chance to pull off a winner-take-all victory in the biggest state in the country, you're going to put everything you have got into California.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: Two points bear mentioning.

First, there's no way to know which Republican candidate this California system benefits. Yes, California has a pro-choice moderate Republican governor, but Arnold Schwarzenegger never had to navigate a Republican primary, where voters tend to be conservative.

Second, anything that lets us reporters spend more of our winter in California, and less of it in Iowa and New Hampshire, is an absolutely good thing -- make that a great thing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you for that.

Jeff Greenfield, Bill Schneider, they are part of the best political team on television.

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

Coming up: Is Connecticut's independent-minded Democratic Senator Joe Biden (sic) being wooed by the Republicans to join their party? And is he becoming comfortable with that idea? We will have a live report from our Mary Snow.

And kind words of support for Senator Clinton from an unlikely source. We're going to tell about that. That's coming up in our "Political Radar."

Stick around. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Senator Joe Lieberman, not Senator Joe Biden, as I erroneously said just a couple minutes ago, is keeping members of every party guessing once again. The Democrat-turned-independent is dropping hints that a jump to the GOP is a possibility. And that could turn the balance of power in the Senate on its head.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's watching all of this unfold -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, today in Connecticut, Senator Lieberman told reporters he has no desire to change parties. But some political observers say the fact that he is even talking about it sends a message.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Is Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman considering a defection to the Republican Party, a move that could potentially tip the Democratic majority Senate of 51 to 49?

He tells "TIME" magazine, leaving the Democratic Party is a "very remote possibility."

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: Well, it's certainly a threat. Some would say it's blackmail. Those who agree with Senator Lieberman, though, will say it's principle.

SNOW: The dividing issue, Iraq. The Politico, a new political Web site, reports, Lieberman is suggesting that, if Democrats cut off funding for the war, it could prompt him to switch parties. He is quoted in the article saying: "I have no desire to change parties. If that ever happens, it is because I feel the majority of Democrats have gone in a direction that I don't feel comfortable with."

Lieberman clearly didn't feel comfortable with a non-binding resolution introduced by his party to oppose the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: We should not allow our divisions to lead us to a constitutional crisis, in which no one wins.

SNOW: Lieberman ran as an independent in 2006, after losing the Democratic primary in his state. He said he considers himself an independent Democrat. Along the way, he's been singled out by top Republicans.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Acting on the good advice of Senator Joe Lieberman and other key members of Congress, we will form a new bipartisan working group.

SNOW: If Lieberman switched, the Senate makeup would be evenly divided, allowing Vice President Dick Cheney to make a tie-breaking vote.

SABATO: It would be significant breakthrough for President Bush, in trying to manage his final two years. And it would almost certainly kill any chance of major limitations on the Iraq war.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: A spokesman for Democratic Senator Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, says Senator Reid does not believe that Lieberman will switch parties -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Mary, for that. We will watch Senator Lieberman closely.

On our "Political Radar" this Friday: A Republican is rushing to Senator Hillary Clinton's defense. That would be the California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who says that Democrats should stop pressing Senator Clinton to apologize for her vote to authorize the war in Iraq. Schwarzenegger weighed on the Democrats' feud in an interview with Politico.com.

And, as the Oscar hoopla intensifies, will President Bush be rooting for any films Sunday night? A White House spokesman says he doesn't know Mr. Bush's preferences in Hollywood's annual awards ceremony, but he notes that the president has seen two of the best- picture contenders, "The Queen" and "Letters From Iwo Jima."

Carol Costello is monitoring all the developments coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's check in with her once again -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Hello to all of you.

Senior officials from the U.S., Canada and Mexico are meeting in Canada right now. They're discussing ways to thwart cross-border security threats, cope with a potential bird flu outbreak, and boost North American trade. They are expected to come up with recommendations for President Bush and the leaders of Canada and Mexico. And those people will consider those proposals at a summit later this year.

A deadly scuffle in Costa Rica involving an elderly American tourist -- police say he killed a mugger with his bare hands. This American tourist was 70. He was on a bus with some other Americans, when three men, armed with a knife and a gun, held up the bus. People say he put a 20-year-old attacker in a headlock and apparently asphyxiated him.

His traveling companions fought off back against the other attackers, who got away. Police say the Americans were defending themselves, so no charges will be filed.

Girl Scout cookies are now a little better for your health. This year's batch is virtually free of artery-clogging trans fats. Scouting officials say the two companies that bake the cookies had to find alternatives that taste just as good as trans fat. So, don't worry. Your thin mints will taste the same.

(LAUGHTER)

COSTELLO: But no one is calling the new cookies health food. One Girl Scout official says, "We know we aren't selling broccoli" -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Love those Girl Scout cookies. They're delicious.

COSTELLO: Me, too.

BLITZER: The thin mints, the peanut butter ones. I'm sure you love them as well.

COSTELLO: I do.

BLITZER: And they are healthier. At least -- they're not healthy, but they're healthier.

COSTELLO: Exactly.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Up next: Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, he was the first to enter the race for president and the first now to drop out. What does that say, the exodus say about the race and the rest of the field? And, as the jury debates the fate of Lewis Scooter Libby we wonder, what happens if he is convicted, or if he gets off? That's coming up right here in the "Strategy Session." Paul , Terry Jeffrey, they are standing by live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In today's "Strategy Session": The Democratic presidential field is a little smaller this afternoon. The former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack dropped out of the race today, citing money problems.

Joining us now, our two CNN political analysts, Democratic strategist Paul Begala; editor at large of "Human Events," Terry Jeffrey.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Let me play a little clip of what Tom Vilsack said, in explaining why he suddenly announced he is dropping out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM VILSACK (D), FORMER GOVERNOR OF IOWA: It is clear to me that we would not be able to continue to raise money in the amounts necessary to sustain not just a campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire, but a campaign across this country. So, it is money, and only money, that is the reason that we are leaving today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Are you surprised by that? You have been around presidential campaigns for a long time.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I am. And I think it's regrettable for the Democrats. It's obviously too bad for Tom Vilsack, but, more importantly, for my party.

A lot of people think Vilsack won the ideas primary. Now, he was farther down the road than most of his competitors on particularly energy independence and the war in Iraq, the two biggest issues among Democrats. And, yet, he lost the money primary.

And what he is talking about, beyond Iowa and New Hampshire, where you can still win on a low budget, is, a lot of the big states are talking about -- and probably will -- move their primaries up, particularly California, perhaps New Jersey. These are mega-expensive states.

And I think he just looked at the dollar signs and said, it wasn't there. It's like the old Fabulous Thunderbirds song. How do spell love? M-O-N-E-Y.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: He wasn't feeling the love, man. BLITZER: You know, and maybe Florida, too, they could move up their primary...

BEGALA: Right.

BLITZER: ... as well.

On the Republican side, is money also the dominant factor right now? McCain and Giuliani clearly are raising tons of money. But what about the other candidates?

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, "HUMAN EVENTS": Well, actually, I think it might be more of a factor on the Republican side, because, right now, the Democratic caucus and primary schedule is a little bit more spread out.

But I think the money thing is a cop-out. I think an insurgent candidate who has a smart message, a sharp message, and can use the old media and the new media, can leverage that to get money. I think what they need to do is go after the front-runners, go after them hard, go after them on the issues. Vilsack just didn't deliver his message sharp enough, and didn't the manipulate the media the degree you need to.

BLITZER: And with the native son Democrat now out of the Democratic caucus in Iowa...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... that really opens it up to all the other Democrats.

BEGALA: It does.

And one of the -- this violates one of my rules. One of my general rules in this has been, the bigger the field, the better it is for Hillary, as the front-runner, because there is some real anti- Hillary sentiment in my party. And, so, if that is divided up by a lot of guys, that's better.

I think this is an exception, because Vilsack is a big moderate. When he gets out, I think it's more likely that, in his state, Hillary can go to Vilsack Democrats and win their support more easily than those who are running to the left of Hillary.

BLITZER: Where do you see the political fallout from this?

JEFFREY: Well, here's the problem Hillary has, I think. The Democrats are going to have a caucus in Iowa, a caucus in Las Vegas, then the New Hampshire primary...

BLITZER: In Nevada, not just in Las Vegas.

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY: Right. No.

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY: They are going to go up there and get -- right, Nevada. Then they're going to down to South Carolina.

If someone could run the table on Hillary on those things, and then they go into this big conglomerated primary, you can see someone come out of nowhere and beat her. It isn't necessarily a schedule that always is going to favor the biggest candidate with the biggest amount of money.

BEGALA: That's right.

In fact, this is why, from the beginning, I have said she will have a harder time winning the primary than she will the general election. I mean, you see she gets good reception on the stump, according to our reporters who are out there with her. But, at every spot, somebody asks her about that vote on the war. And it is still hurting her. And she didn't help herself at all this week with that fight with Obama.

JEFFREY: No doubt about it.

I think you see the degree to which Hillary Clinton's campaign sees she's vulnerable on the war in the way they went after Barack Obama this week on the David Geffen thing. They think Obama can beat her. And the reason think Obama can beat her is because he has outflanked her to the left on the war, and he has already demonstrated that mass grassroots appeal.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: But who is going to beat both of them is Johnny Edwards. Edwards can go right up between the two of them. He is the big winner this week.

BLITZER: Because of the feud between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama?

BEGALA: Yes, the both of them looked like 12-year-olds.

And Edwards, you know, who actually kind of looks 12, he's so young, but he can drive right up through the middle between...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But you were -- you're a veteran of that Clinton war room mentality back in '92.

If -- if David Geffen, this Hollywood mogul, a big-time Democratic political fund-raiser, goes out and gives Maureen Dowd an interview, and says, Hillary is a liar, Bill Clinton is a liar, they are terrible, and she can't win because she has got so much baggage, and so does he, what are they supposed to do?

BEGALA: They could do a whole lot of things, differently, candidly. I mean, you know, what... BLITZER: What should they have done?

BEGALA: What should they have done? They should have called reporters off the record, on background, and not said -- not go trash David Geffen. He has a perfect right to say anything he wants. He's a Democrat, and he did give President Clinton millions -- or helped raise millions for Clinton.

The point that nobody picked up was, the reason Geffen broke with Clinton was because President Clinton refused to pardon Leonard Peltier, a man who was convicted of murdering two federal agents. Now, I think that was the right decision President Clinton made. I think it would have been appalling to pardon...

JEFFREY: But he did pardon Marc Rich.

BEGALA: Which was also appalling. But Marc Rich did not murder federal agents. That's not why David Geffen...

JEFFREY: He didn't deserve the be. He should not have been pardoned.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Geffen broke with Clinton, he said in the interview, because Clinton refused to pardon Peltier.

Nobody went to Barack Obama and said: Senator, was Clinton right? Would you have pardoned Leonard Peltier? That would have put him between Scylla and Charybdis. Either he says yes to please Geffen, and angering people who support law enforcement, or he says no, and he is in the same position as Clinton is in with Geffen.

JEFFREY: Well, the greatest damage...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: That is what I would have done.

JEFFREY: The greatest damage David Geffen did to the Clintons is, he says they lie with such ease. He says, all politicians lie, but the Clintons lie with such ease.

This is a friend of theirs. This is someone who raised money. He raised money for them.

BEGALA: This is a Hollywood producer talking about lying. Come on.

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY: They brought them into the White House to be their guests.

That was a very damaging statement from someone who was that close to the Clintons. (CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I disagree.

I think that the problem was with the way they handled it. You're always going to have people who attack the president or Hillary or any of these people or Senator Obama.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: And I think that they give it more credence when they...

JEFFREY: That's right.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... fan the flames like that.

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY: They should have let Maureen Dowd's column lie.

BEGALA: But people aren't going to say, gee, I'm going to let it...

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY: But, by going after it -- I think you're wrong. This didn't hurt Obama. I think Obama has been elevated up even more, because people look at him, and they see the fear in the Clinton campaign.

If Obama can go out there -- if he wins Iowa and wins Nevada, he has got South Carolina, which is going to be a lock for him, which means Hillary better hold down New Hampshire, or Obama is going to be the Democratic nominee.

BLITZER: If you look behind you, you can see Barack Obama. He's at the University of Texas in Austin...

BEGALA: The greatest college in the world...

JEFFREY: There you go.

BEGALA: ... right there.

BLITZER: ... a place close...

BEGALA: Hook 'em, Horns.

BLITZER: ... to Paul's heart right now.

Look at him. He is in the midst of that crowd over there. They want him to sign his book, and he just gave a pretty rousing speech. We were listening to it earlier.

Guys, we are going to have to leave it right there. Have a great weekend. Thanks for coming in...

BEGALA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: ... Paul and Terry.

And still to come: Senator Clinton makes her blogging debut. How are the reviews? Abbi Tatton will be with us on that.

And some call him a thorn in the side of the Democratic Party. Does Ralph Nader plan to throw his hat into the ring once again? He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That's coming up shortly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's been a month since Hillary Clinton kicked off her presidential campaign on her Web site. Now the Democratic front- runner has started blogging. But are these online campaign tactics actually working?

Let's go to Abbi Tatton. She has got a closer look -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, Hillary Clinton today featured as a special guest on her recently launched blog, where she writes, the Web is creating new forms of political dialogue.

With many presidential hopefuls making similar claims, they're getting intense scrutiny online from bloggers, who are analyzing their Web sites, to specially formed Web sites that are looking at what people are doing and who is using technology successfully.

This is the Personal Democracy Forum's recently launched TechPresident. They have analysis day by day of what the sites are doing, what e-mails are going out. They're also looking at the social networking of the different hopefuls, Barack Obama leading at the moment in terms of MySpace friends.

And another recently launched site here, PrezVid, this from blogger Jeff Jarvis, who looks exclusively at the use of online video, this week taking on John McCain's new Web site.

For Senator Clinton, some of the discussion is closer to home, on her blog. There is a comments section, where people are weighing in. The reception to her blogging is pretty positive, although this one reader here saying, while he likes Hillary, he prefers JohnEdwards.com -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

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