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THE SITUATION ROOM

The Fight Over Funding the Iraq War; Pelosi Visits Syria

Aired April 3, 2007 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the fight over funding the Iraq War. Angry new barbs today between the White House and Congress, the positions more and more entrenched, their frustration clearly showing.

Who will blink first in this high stakes showdown?

Also, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrives in Syria on a mission the White House calls dangerous diplomacy. Her controversial meeting with President Bashar Al-Assad now just hours away.

Plus, a dramatic change in poll position in one key primary state. One presidential candidate surging ahead with new momentum. I'll talk about it with John Edwards.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The battle over funding for the war in Iraq is increasingly becoming trench warfare. President Bush and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refusing to budge and trading new barbs today over Democratic demands for a time label -- timetable, rather -- for U.S. troops to come home.

CNN Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel, joining us live -- both of them seem to be entrenched in their positions and jockeying for some sort of breakthrough.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Suzanne. Jockeying for some kind of breakthrough or for position, and at least at this point, neither side seems ready or willing to blink.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

KOPPEL (voice-over): In the battle for public opinion, both sides are digging in. In one corner -- President Bush. In the other -- Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid.

Bush firing another volley at Democrats.

Reid firing right back.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It didn't change course in the coming weeks, the price of that failure will be paid by our troops and their loved ones.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The president has a swagger and he has -- he's been very uncompromising. And that's the reason we're in the quagmire we're in in Iraq. KOPPEL: At issue in this high stakes showdown -- an emergency war funding bill including a timetable for U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq.

The House says troops should leave by August 31, 2008, while the Senate set a more loosely worded goal of March 31st.

Now, as lawmakers struggle to bridge this divide, President Bush is turning up the heat, repeating a pledge to veto the bill, blaming Democrats for being on vacation while leaving U.S. troops high and dry.

BUSH: Our troops need Congress to provide the resources, funds and equipment they need to fight our enemies. It has now been 57 days since I requested that Congress pass emergency funds for our troops.

KOPPEL: Reid says it's the White House, not Congress, that's wasted time, and accused the president of misrepresenting the facts.

REID: The troops aren't about to run out of money. The independent, non-partisan Congressional Reference Service says there's enough money to go until July.

He should become in tune with the fact that he is president of the United States, not king of the United States.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

KOPPEL: And Reid has already signaled if Bush follows through with his veto threat, he's prepared to end all funding for the war itself after March 31st, 2008. He's joined with Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and a few other Senate Democrats, Suzanne, in saying that that bill could be next step in the shoot.

MALVEAUX: Well, Andrea, certainly it's questionable whether or not this White House strategy is going to work. They are -- they are not budging at all.

Is there any chance that this bill would actually pass?

KOPPEL: Well, as I'm learning, you never say never up here. But it looks very, very unlikely considering just how tough it was to get the war supplemental with the deadline passed over in the Senate, 51- 48, and then over in the House, 218 Democrats -- the slimmest of majorities -- to get it through.

MALVEAUX: Andrea Koppel, thank you so much.

If Congress does cut funding for the war, how would it impact troops already in Iraq?

CNN's Brian Todd has been investigating that part of the story.

Obviously, a lot of different figures that people are throwing around -- what are you finding?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, while the politicians fight in Washington here over money and deadlines, military analysts say commanders on the ground should still be able to fight the war effectively. But the crunch could be felt in a few months.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

TODD (voice-over): If the money keeps getting delayed, military analysts say the first to feel the pinch will be those inside the Pentagon -- travel, contract work, other non-essentials would be slashed.

In an internal memo obtained by CNN, the Army Budget Office tells commanders to get ready for that.

But how would it eventually affect combat operations?

Analysts say one scenario from the president is most realistic.

BUSH: Some of the forces now deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq may need to be extended because other units are not ready to take their places.

LT. COL. ROBERT MAGINNIS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): We're going to cut back on training in this country, perhaps except for those units that might be on their way immediately to the battlefield. But it does begin to drain you physically as well as emotionally. And, of course, you have to look at retention stats.

TODD: And troops could feel another crunch.

BUSH: The Army would be forced to consider cutting back on equipment, equipment repair.

MAGINNIS: We don't have enough equipment to do what we're trying to do. And so, as a result, we're trying to gin up as many of the depots to put out as fast as they can working 24-7 all that equipment so it can go back.

TODD: But on one presidential prediction...

BUSH: The Army may also have to delay the formation of new brigade combat teams.

TODD: Analysts say that likely wouldn't happen immediately. If no new money comes in, an independent research arm of Congress says cash could be shifted around and commanders could run their combat operations until the end of July.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: After that, the predictions get more dire. Two military analysts, retired officers who've dealt with these kinds of crunches, say a worst case scenario is that commanders on the ground don't have the ammunition, gas, other crucial supplies to actually pursue the enemy and they might have to hunker down or hand more combat operations over to the Iraqis -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Brian, how soon could something like that happen?

TODD: It depends on the analyst you speak to.

Colonel Robert Maginnis, who was in our piece, says he doesn't think that would come to pass any time soon, that by the time that could come to pass, this budget fight will have already been resolved.

But another analyst, General Don Shepperd of CNN, he's worried about another Vietnam scenario, where the politicians keep dragging this fight on for months, the pipeline of supplies and money gets compromised and the troops get put in the meat grinder.

General Shepperd was in Vietnam. He is worried about that happening again.

MALVEAUX: Brian, a very good piece.

I noticed that each one of them emphasize a different timeline, a different date that meets their political positions.

TODD: That's right.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Brian.

And as we look at what impact this war funds battle might have on the troops, what effect might it have on the efforts to calm Iraq's cauldron of violence?

Moments ago, I spoke with CNN's Michael Ware.

He's in Baghdad.

He's covered this war since the very beginning.

Thanks for joining us, Michael.

Now, obviously Congress, as well as the administration, they're at loggerheads over whether or not the troops should withdraw, whether or not they should withdraw funds, as well.

And we've heard from -- from the vice president, Cheney, and President Bush, saying look, this emboldens the insurgents here.

Do they pay any attention to this at all? Is that even true?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what I can tell you from the outset, Suzanne, is that, say, for example, by some bizarre political miracle, Congress was able to impose a real time line, a real deadline on the U.S. presence here or on the funding for the war here. Now that absolutely would play completely into the hands of America's identified enemies, al Qaeda in Iran. That would be handing the entire advantage to them. That's why that can never really happen.

But in terms of the broader debate, in terms of, you know, taking the temperature of the American mood, of the American public, adhering to what's going on in Congress, looking at the Congressional elections, absolutely do the insurgents, do al Qaeda and does Iran and its proxy organizations in Iraq pay attention?

Yes, for sure. I mean they know that the most certain way to strike at their enemy is to strike at his support back home. And, indeed, they monitor these things. They know that, you know, what's happening in D.C. doesn't really relate to the ground. This is just political artifice.

Nonetheless, it does tell them about the pressure points to apply. And we saw from 2003 the Baathist insurgents saying from the beginning this war will not be won on the battlefield, it will be won on that -- pointing to a TV screen.

That's where this war will be won -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Do you think the president, as well as the vice president, then, are actually correct -- they're accurate -- when they describe to the American people, saying, look, all of this infighting is weakening our position overseas, specifically in Baghdad?

WARE: Oh, absolutely. I mean it's very clear -- it's been evident since the mid-term elections that America is in a period of strategic malaise. Essentially, America does not have one rock solid strategy. There's no one clear way forward to U.S. victory.

There is a lot of infighting. There's a lot of debate. Now in a pluralist democracy, that's seen as a healthy thing.

But when you're fighting a war, you want a clear and concise direction. You want everyone on the same page and you want your enemy to know that you shalt not falter.

Now, that's precisely the opposite message that America is sending to its opponents here in the region. And, quite frankly, that's why America's rivals in the Middle East are becoming so much stronger and the concept of American empire or American presence is becoming so much weaker.

MALVEAUX: Thank you very much, Michael Ware, from Baghdad.

Jack Cafferty is in New York with The Cafferty File -- Jack, what are you looking at?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Another state is one step closer to getting tough on illegal aliens and the companies that hire them. In other words, one more state is sick and tired of waiting for Washington to do its job and enforce this nation's laws against illegal immigration.

Oklahoma is considering a measure that would deny welfare benefits, in-state college tuition rates and other state subsidies to illegal aliens. It would also allow the police in Oklahoma to detain illegal aliens and it would force businesses that do work for the state to prove that their employees are legal.

Colorado and Georgia passed similar laws last year. The bill's author in Oklahoma, Republican Representative Randy Terrill, says that illegal aliens won't come to Oklahoma if there are no jobs for them, no benefits and if they know they'll be picked up and held by the police.

This is a concept that is all but lost on our federal government. Critics of the measure include the Catholic Church and, of course, powerful business lobbyists who profit from the use of illegal aliens because they work cheap.

The Catholic Charities organization wants to be able to harbor illegals for humanitarian reasons.

A state senate committee passed this same legislation this afternoon, and that means it moves on now to the floor of the senate for a vote by the whole body. The house of representatives has already approved the measure.

However, Oklahoma's governor hasn't said yet what he plans to do if it passes, as it looks like it might.

The question then is this -- is it a good idea for the states to go after illegal aliens and their employers?

E-mail us at caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks very much, Jack.

And up ahead, a leading Democratic presidential candidate lashing out at President Bush over Iraq and his showdown with Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I think is the president is dead wrong. He's just dead wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: John Edwards joining us this hour.

I'll ask him about a major shake-up in the polls.

Also, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Syria against White House wishes, about to hold a historic meeting. We'll take you live to Damascus.

Plus, we'll show you how one possible presidential campaign could wipe a hit TV show right

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MALVEAUX: The White House is announcing a major new diplomatic initiative with North Korea. New Mexico governor and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson will help lead efforts to retrieve the remains of Americans killed in the Korean War.

CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry joining us live -- obviously, this White House doesn't do anything without thinking about strategy first.

What can you tell us about their position on a trip to North Korea?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you know, the White House has taken flak on a whole host of issues like Iran and Syria. Democrats saying they're not doing enough to open up new diplomatic doors, diplomatic initiatives. And this is one case the strategy for the White House is they seem to be ever so slightly opening, cracking open that diplomatic door to North Korea.

As you know, there's been some modest success out of the six party talks. That's a much bigger part of this equation. But now it appears thanks for that this delegation is going to be going to North Korea, it looks like maybe these two governments are starting to talk and that's something positive the White House wants to tout.

MALVEAUX: Now, maybe kind of something on the side here that's happening that the White House didn't expect, they are raising the profile of a Democratic presidential candidate, are they not?

HENRY: You're absolutely right, except the White House is trying to be very carefully pointing out that they did not pick Bill Richardson over other Democratic presidential candidates. What they say is that the North Korean government came to the Bush administration and said they wanted Bill Richardson because, as you know, as a -- when he was back in the House of Representatives, Richardson did some diplomatic missions to North Korea, helped out the Clinton administration.

So he has contacts in that government. So he was essentially picked by the North Korean government.

The Bush administration went along with that, but then said wait a second, we have to have a Republican in this delegation, too. So they picked Anthony Principi, who, as you know, is the former Veterans Affairs secretary, earlier in the Bush administration -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK, thanks, Ed, for keeping an eye on all of that.

Appreciate it.

President Bush is accusing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of sending mixed messages with her mission to Syria. But she is flying in the face of the White House, arriving in Damascus and now just hours way from her very controversial meeting with President Bashar Al-Assad. Pelosi will be the highest level U.S. official ever to meet with Assad, who is accused by the U.S. of sponsoring terrorism. That meeting scheduled to take place tomorrow.

Pelosi is traveling with a Congressional delegation that includes one Republican congressman.

Pelosi says she has "no illusions but great hope."

And coming up, the race for the White House and "Law and Order" -- find out how one could impact the other, possibly blacking out a hit TV series.

And Hillary Rodham Clinton setting a campaign cash record.

But is she also setting expectations too high?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Our Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, juggling a lot of things here.

What do you have on your plate?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, incoming right now, Suzanne, a former Washington, D.C. taxi driver could face 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to help a group on the U.S. terrorism list. Mahmud Faruq Brent of Baltimore, Maryland entered his guilty plea in a federal court in New York.

He admitted to attending a training camp for the Islamic Guerrilla Group, based in Pakistan, five years ago. Brent was supposed to go to trial later this month. He'll be sentenced in July.

There's new research suggesting that the older the parent, the greater the risk a child will be autistic. The findings come in a study of 133,000 children conducted by a Kaiser Permanente team in Oakland, California. It found that for parents over 40, the risk of having an autistic child is as much as 50 percent greater than that of twenty-somethings. A recent surge in autism diagnoses has prompted a search for possible causes.

The Chinese company named as the supplier of tainted wheat gluten suspected in the massive pet food recall is calling the government claims rumors. Still, it says it's cooperating with the investigation and has supplied samples for testing. More than a dozen cats and dogs have died from the contaminated foods. Vets across the United States believe the number is much higher. Food maker Menu Foods recalled 60 million cans of wet food last month. The list of affected brands continues to grow.

And a French train with a 25,000 horsepower engine has broken the world's speed record for conventional rail trains. The black and chrome V150 flew on track through the French countryside today at 357.2 miles per hour. It did not break the ultimate record set by a magnetically levitated Japanese train back in 2003. That train covered ground at a blistering speed of 361 miles per hour.

Wow!

Back to you -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Carol, I know you have a commute, quite a commute. That would be amazing if you got on that train, huh?

Cut it in half, maybe?

COSTELLO: That would be great. I know. My hour commute would be cut down to, what, 10 minutes?

MALVEAUX: Ten seconds, I don't know.

COSTELLO: Ten seconds, right.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Carol.

And coming up, calling on Congress to get even tougher with President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWARDS: This president has to be forced to change course. The Democratically controlled Congress can do that. He's made mistake after mistake after mistake and he has to be stopped.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards enjoying a poll surprise in one key state. My one-on-one interview with Edwards is coming up.

Plus, cash in the campaign contest -- we'll show you why money can't buy Hillary Rodham Clinton peace of mind.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, might your tax returns be in jeopardy?

Federal authorities are asking courts to shut down 125 Jackson- Hewitt stores in Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit and Raleigh-Durham. Officials allege some locations in those cities encourage fraudulent tax return preparation.

Also, a tragedy hits very close to home. At the CNN Center in Atlanta, a shooter killed a woman who may have been pregnant. Officials say the alleged shooter was shot in the face by a security guard and that he is in the hospital. Officials say it stemmed from a domestic dispute. And the big three U.S. automakers continue to lose gas against Toyota. Sales at G.M. Ford and Chrysler all slipped last month. But Toyota's U.S. sales jumped to a record in the same month.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Now, since when is coming in first place not quite good enough?

It appears when you're a top presidential candidate being watched by your supporters and political enemies.

Our Mary Snow in New York -- Mary, just as we heard Senator Clinton getting these record numbers, fundraising here, maybe the suggestion that she could have done even better.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Suzanne.

Some people are suggesting that she could have done better, and here's why.

All agree it's an impressive amount. But some experts say it's not so large that it will discourage support from other candidates.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): She smashed the record, raising $26 million in the first quarter put Senator Hillary Clinton in the lead of the money race for the White House. That's on top of another $10 million she carried over from her Senate election in New York.

So why, with all that money, does she still have to look over her shoulder?

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: It's impressive, but it's not the knockout blow that they had planned.

SNOW: If raising $26 million in three months is not a knockout blow, you know we're in for a tough race. Newcomer Senator Barack Obama has reportedly raised $20 million, though his official numbers aren't out yet. Former Senator John Edwards isn't far behind, with $14 million.

Senator Clinton's take on the competition?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I think it's a real tribute to the American people, and particularly to Democrats across our country, that there's so much enthusiasm and energy behind this election already.

SNOW: But some political strategists say the biggest goal of bringing in lots of early cash is to convince contributors there's really only one good bet for their party, just like Al Gore and George Bush accomplished in 2000. SABATO: That money had an impact. It convinced the big players and their parties that if they wanted to back a winner, they'd better get behind either Gore or Bush.

SNOW: This time, given how many candidates are raising big money, the big players may have to hedge their bets.

THOMAS MANN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: This is not a coronation, this is a competitive contest for the nomination.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SNOW: Now, the next big test comes with the next quarter.

Can the candidates keep the cash coming in at the same pace?

Some analysts say don't bet against it, given what's already happened in the first quarter -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Mary, obviously, this could certainly change the way this whole campaign looks. I mean some emphasis in grassroots, but a lot more emphasis on fundraising.

SNOW: Absolutely. And, you know, the big question is can the momentum keep going for the rest of the year?

And that is going to be the really big test. With so many candidates, this is really uncharted territory.

MALVEAUX: OK, thanks for following that, Mary.

Some dramatic changes in the Democratic race for the White House in a key primary state.

Take a look at this CNN/WMUR New Hampshire presidential primary poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire. It shows Senator Hillary Clinton still in the lead at 27 percent, but her support is down eight points from February.

Much of that lost backing going to John Edwards. He's now in second place, at 21 percent, up five points from February.

And Barack Obama is now in third place, but his share is essentially unchanged. While former vice president Al Gore, who is not a candidate at this point, now has 11 percentage -- percentage points support.

So, what does Edwards make of the new momentum?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Senator John Edwards, thanks so much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Now, a lot of people have really set up this race as one, Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama. But these poll numbers show you second to Clinton, neck and neck with Obama. If Hillary Clinton and her folks are watching now, and they see the poll numbers, what is the message you have for her today?

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, it's the same message I would have to anybody. I think it's pretty clear that this is a very competitive race.

I've been moving up. We have some momentum now. I'm ahead in Iowa, according to the public polls. I'm obviously right in the thick of things in New Hampshire. We have moved up significantly there.

So, I this is going to be a serious race, where voters get a chance to look at the differences in our positions and our personal characteristics to be president.

MALVEAUX: Do you think the media has essentially written you off as number three a little bit too soon here? Because it looks like we've got a three-way race, and you are just climbing up close to Clinton.

EDWARDS: Oh, I think it -- I think that would be a foolish mistake to write anybody off. We are very early in the campaign.

I started in a strong place. We had a great fund-raising quarter. We -- I'm ahead in Iowa, which is the place of the first caucus, right in the midst of things, obviously, in New Hampshire, and we have moved up there. So, I'm out there talking about the things that matter -- a real universal health care plan, changing the way we use energy, and a real plan to get out of Iraq.

MALVEAUX: And obviously another thing that matters to the American people is Iraq.

Let's take a listen at what President Bush said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congress's most basic responsibility is to give our troops the equipment and training they need to fight our enemies and protection our nation. They are now failing in that responsibility, and if they do not change course in the coming weeks, the price of that failure will be paid by our troops and their loved ones.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now, Senator Reid has actually gone as far as saying that he would support cutting off most funding for the Iraq war, if the original legislation is vetoed.

Do you think that that's gone too far? Should Senator Reid cool it at this point?

EDWARDS: No, what I think is the president is dead wrong. He's just dead wrong. He's -- if the president vetoes the bill that provides funding for the troops, it's President Bush who is not providing the support and funding for the troops, because he's the one who stopped the funding. And I think it's the responsibility of the Congress if he does that to stand firm, stand strong, send him another bill that provides funding for the troops, but provides to start bringing the troops home.

That's what Congress should be doing. They should be strong.

MALVEAUX: So, would you support Senator Reid's bill if it came to the president, if it came to Congress, saying, look, we're not going to support most of the funding for the Iraq war, as he as suggested?

EDWARDS: I'll tell you what I support. What I support is sending a bill to the president that provides for a drawdown of the troops in Iraq. If the president vetoes that bill, I would send him another bill that provides for a drawdown of the troops in Iraq.

This president has to be forced to change course. The Democratically-controlled Congress can do that. He's made mistake after mistake after mistake, and he has to be stopped. And we have to be strong.

MALVEAUX: So you would not support Senator Reid's bill to cutting off most of the funding for Iraq?

EDWARDS: I can't tell from the way you are describing it and from the description I've heard enough about the specifics. I think that what we ought to be doing is standing firm, standing strong, and forcing this president to start drawing down troops.

MALVEAUX: I want to go to Syria here. As you know, Speaker Pelosi is in Syria. She is not traveling in any official capacity. She has no negotiating power. Some people look at this as simply political theater, a stunt.

Do you think that's right?

EDWARDS: I think that what America should be doing on the issue of Iraq is dealing directly with both the Syrians and the Iranians, and I don't know precisely what Speaker Pelosi is going to do in Syria, but we as a nation should be engaged with both the Iranians and the Syrians directly in helping stabilize Iraq.

Both countries have an interest in a stabilized Iraq. They don't want refugees coming across their border, they don't want economic instability, and they don't want to see a broader Middle East conflict. And I think it makes sense to not on some ideological basis not deal with them, but to engage with both of them directly.

MALVEAUX: You said that you would stop the president when it comes to Iraq. Obviously, you have a difference of opinion. How far would you go to stop the president? What would you do? EDWARDS: I would continue to do exactly what the Congress has done so far, which is, I would send to the president a funding bill -- the Congress has the power to fund, and that gives them the power to control the circumstances of the funding. I would send the president a bill that says, we're going to support the troops, but you are going to be forced to start drawing down the troops. If the president vetoes that bill and sends it back, I'd send him another bill, and then I'd send him another bill.

MALVEAUX: And what does that other bill look like, that other bill?

EDWARDS: The subsequent bills would be effectively the same thing. There may be changes in the details, but effectively the same thing, to specifically provide that this president has to start drawing troops down in Iraq, and to continue to draw them down over the course of the next year or so.

MALVEAUX: And what if the troops are caught in the middle here? What happens if it just goes back and forth, back and forth. There is no resolution here?

EDWARDS: Well, as I understand it, we've got -- according to the Pentagon, we've got roughly 60 days or so, where the funding is already in place. The president of the United States has the responsibility -- as commander in chief, he has a responsibility to the troops. He also has a responsibility to recognize the separation of powers.

The Congress decides what to fund. The president is the commander in chief, and we are in one of those circumstances where the president has consistently made mistake after mistake after mistake, and we have got to save America from this president. And that's what the Congress should do.

MALVEAUX: You are doing well in terms of poll numbers. You're also doing well in terms of fund-raising.

How much of this do you think is the result of you being so forthcoming in all the well wishes that have been given to your wife's recovery?

EDWARDS: Oh, I don't have any way of knowing that. I suspect that there's been a lot of attention.

I think people take their vote for president very, very seriously. And I think what the attention has meant is they are looked at both the things I want to do as president, and looked at me and Elizabeth as human beings and made judgments. And I suspect it's the result of that.

Time will tell.

MALVEAUX: Thank you very much, Senator Edwards.

EDWARDS: Thanks for having me. (END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Up ahead, there are two sides to every story. While reports from Iraq show a country still in chaos, one presidential candidate says you're not getting the full picture.

And he's not a district attorney. He plays one on TV. But if Republican and actor Fred Thompson decides to run for president, you may see less of him on "Law & Order".

We'll explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: There's bloodshed amid breakthroughs and discord amid positive developments. But just how good or bad the situation really is in Baghdad depends on whom you ask. One presidential candidate says there are two sides to every story, and he is blasting the news media.

Here's Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" -- Howard.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": Suzanne, for Senator McCain and the media, what was once a warm relationship has turned decidedly chilly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ (voice over): When John McCain ran for president seven years ago, he spent much of his time riding with reporters on his bus. And the mostly favorable coverage cast him as a straight-talking maverick. McCain even joked that the media were his base.

Things are different this time around. As the Arizona senator has positioned himself as a man of the Republican establishment, strongly backing President Bush on the Iraq war, the coverage has turned more skeptical. Especially after McCain told radio host Bill Bennett...

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today.

KURTZ: When Wolf Blitzer challenged him on CNN, McCain stood his ground.

MCCAIN: You know, that's where you ought to catch up on things, Wolf. General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed Humvee.

KURTZ: Correspondents in Baghdad were quick to say that McCain was wrong. CNN's Michael Ware...

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No way on earth can a westerner, particularly an American, stroll any street of this capital of more than five million people. KURTZ: Other news organizations are also challenging McCain's remarks. After McCain and other members of Congress visited a Baghdad market Sunday, NBC's Tom Aspell noted that this was no ordinary stroll.

TOM ASPELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The U.S. military, which provided still pictures, told NBC News the market was a three-minute drive directly across the Tigris River from the Green Zone, and that McCain's delegation was guarded by more than 100 American soldiers, with three Black Hawk helicopters and two Apache gun ships overhead.

KURTZ: "The New York Times" said of the market, "Merchants and customers say that a campaign by insurgents to attack Baghdad's markets has put many shop owners out of business and forced radical changes in the way people shop."

ABC's Terry McCarthy also questioned McCain's upbeat assessment on Iraq.

TERRY MCCARTHY, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Iraqi figures show 1,861 civilians were killed in March, compared to 1,465 in February. An increase of 13 percent.

KURTZ: McCain seemed to take another swipe at the media on Sunday, saying Americans aren't getting the full picture of what the president's military escalation is achieving.

MCCAIN: And I'm not saying that "mission is accomplished," or "last throes," or a "few dead-enders," but what we don't read about every day and what is new since the surge began is a lot of the good news.

KURTZ: McCain has a point. Killings are down in Baghdad in part because Shiite militias are laying low during the surge, and new military outposts have made modest progress in such cities as Ramadi. But these developments have been reported, if not as prominently as the senator would like.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: McCain's steadfast support for an increasingly unpopular war appears to be one factor hurting his presidential campaign. The question now is whether voters will believe the senator or the media on whether Iraq is really getting safer -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Howard.

A new claim from Senator John Kerry may have political implications for 2008. In an online interview, Kerry says Senator John McCain approached him about being his running mate in 2004. The allegation comes on the heels of a report last week that McCain was courted to switch parties in 2001.

Let's bring in Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, I covered that campaign. A lot of rumors. But what did Kerry say?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, it's right here, the interview on the liberal blog MyDD today, Suzanne. This is Senator Kerry referring to Senator McCain.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It surprised me completely, because his people similarly approached me to engage in a discussion about his -- for potentially being on the ticket as vice president. So, his people were active. Let's put it that way.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TATTON: That's an interview taped yesterday with Jonathan Singer, released online today, and it has blogs lighting up.

John McCain's campaign was quick to respond, calling this idea that McCain approached Kerry "a fantasy." Two senior advisers for John McCain went -- did an interview with the conservative townhall.com to say that actually, it was Kerry who approached McCain three times during the presidential campaign.

A spokesman today for Senator Kerry confirmed that those comments were made to MyDD, but wouldn't speak further, saying, "I'm not going to discussion the vice presidential vetting process" -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: So, Abbi, still maybe a mystery, huh?

TATTON: Absolutely. We're still waiting to see more of it. It certainly has people talking online.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thanks.

Abbi Tatton.

(NEWSBREAK)

MALVEAUX: Up ahead, there is some stunning movement in the presidential race in New Hampshire. Candy Crowley will be along our 7:00 Eastern hour to crunch those numbers.

But just ahead, the "Law & Order" factor. If Fred Thompson jumps into the presidential race, you might not be able to catch him on the tube as district attorney anymore.

Our Carol Costello will explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: It may be just the political price of fame. If Fred Thompson decides to run for president, the "Law & Order" actor may have to deal with less TV time.

Now, our Carol Costello, of course, in New York to explain all of this. The characters on air, the presidential candidate, how are they going to change if he decides to run?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the character on "Law & Order" just might go away, and that may not be good for Thompson. I mean, how many of you really remember his eight years in Senate? But I bet you know him as the D.A. of Manhattan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRED THOMPSON, ACTOR, "LAW & ORDER": She had an accomplice.

COSTELLO (voice over): Some say Fred Thompson has that intangible thing, that no-nonsense, get-it-done persona he so effectively exudes on TV's "Law & Order".

THOMPSON: And accomplice means it's a game (ph).

COSTELLO: And some say his fictional D.A., Arthur Branch, is one of his strongest campaign tools.

MCCAIN: I often said, if I had his voice, I'd be president of the United States today.

COSTELLO: So, you've got to wonder, if Fred Thompson decides to run for president, how would his opponents feel about those "Law & Order" reruns seen by millions of Americans?

ANDREW JAY SCHWARTZMAN, PRESIDENT, MEDIA ACCESS PROJECT: Whenever there is a recognizable appearance on an over-the-air television station by a candidate for public office, the law applies, and equal time has to be given if opposing candidates request it.

COSTELLO: It happened to Ronald Reagan's campaign. It happened to "The Terminator". It even happened to Al Sharpton.

AL SHARPTON, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The real Al Sharpton, President Al Sharpton.

COSTELLO: Each one fell victim to the FCC's equal time provision. So, what about Thompson? There are nearly 400 "Law & Order" episodes that have already aired on NBC, with 109 featuring Fred Thompson as D.A. Branch, as well as his appearances in other "Law & Order" spin-offs.

If anyone of those episodes airs on NBC, the other candidates can request equal time. Or NBC can yank those episodes off the air. But, if they appear on cable, that's a little murkier.

SCHWARTZMAN: Cable operators are under no obligation to pull programming that appears on the satellite-delivered channels where "Law & Order" would appear.

COSTELLO: And that would leave those battling a possible Thompson run with few options -- petition the FCC, or take the battle to court, or hope that cable operators voluntarily pull those up episodes as California cable systems did when Arnold Schwarzenegger was running for office.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Oh, and just a final thought. In the case of Reagan, Schwarzenegger and Sharpton, the networks decided to not air the programs, rather than getting bogged down and providing equal time to other candidates -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: So, Carol, what happens in a scenario if these other candidates ask for equal time?

COSTELLO: Oh, it's just so weird. It is weird.

Like, let's say Fred Thompson appears as the Manhattan D.A. on an episode of "Law & Order" for a minute and five seconds. An opposing candidate can request of NBC to be seen on the network somewhere for a minute and five seconds.

So, you can understand why the networks would probably opt just to yank the show.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thanks, Carol.

Up next, getting tough on illegal immigrants. Jack Cafferty wants to know if you think that's a good idea. Your e-mail is just ahead in "The Cafferty File".

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MALVEAUX: Time now back for a check with Jack Cafferty.

Jack, how you doing?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Good, Suzanne.

The question this hour is: Is it a good idea for states to go after illegal aliens and their employers?

Oklahoma, the latest state to flirt with passing legislation that would crack down on illegal aliens in light of the fact that the federal government doesn't seem interested in enforcing the immigration laws.

Bob in Minnesota writes, "Illegal is illegal. It boggles my mind that we even have to argue this. They're breaking the law, period. What does this do and say to all of those who follow our laws and become citizens legally?"

Wistar in Georgia, "Pointless to go after illegal immigrants. It's important to lock up illegal employers. Illegal employers have an unfair competitive advantage over firms that follow the law." Tony in South Carolina, "It would be a good idea if we had federal leadership that wasn't in the pocket of the very corporations that demand the illegal cheap labor. The ones trying to enforce the law will be the ones imprisoned for doing their jobs. Remember the border guards?"

Roseanne in New York, "Ah, yes, another government mandate without providing the means to comply. So states want to hold employers responsible for hiring illegals, but there's no ID card that employers can rely on. Also, last time I looked, it was the government's job to enforce the law, not businesses' job."

Steve writes, "Why do we report all the witnesses? Give a green card to every undocumented worker that testifies against an illegal employer. No fence required, just sting operations, with undocumented workers violating illegal employers instead of the other way around. The penalty, a seven-year IRS audit denying all illegal wages deducted from gross income."

Vic in Norris, Tennessee, writes, "If you want to know how illegal aliens can affect a nation, ask the American Indians."

And John in Sevierville, Tennessee, How insensitive of you, Jack, to call them 'illegal aliens'. You may hurt their feelings. I prefer to call them pre-citizens."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile, where we post some more of them. We also have video clips of "The Cafferty File". However, there are no coffee cups or T-shirts available at that site -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Jack Cafferty, with "The Cafferty File".

Thank you so much.

And we're here every weekday afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00 Eastern, and we're back at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, just one hour from now.

Until then, I'm Suzanne Malveaux in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.

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