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THE SITUATION ROOM

Senate Passes War Spending Bill; McCain Tells Murtha to 'Get a Life'

Aired April 26, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, the Senate firing a major shot in an historic confrontation with the White House over the war in Iraq.
After defiant votes and a certain veto, will Mr. Bush and the Democrats finally compromise?

Also this hour, two war veterans in battle over Iraq and a joke. It's Democrat John Murtha versus Republican John McCain. Find out why McCain is telling Murtha to "get a life."

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The White House is calling it dead before arrival -- a war spending bill that would require troops to start leaving Iraq by October 1st soon will be heading to the president's desk.

The Democratic controlled Senate gave final passage this afternoon. The 51-46 vote was largely along party lines.

So was the sometimes heated floor debate just that -- a debate -- or is there more?

We'll have a taste now of the fireworks.

Let's listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: What we are saying today with this bill is no more blank check for the Iraq War.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: If the president were to sign this, it would be the day that al Qaeda would declare victory.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: What utter nonsense.

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: Make no mistake about it -- this is a world war. Al Qaeda is in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano, is standing by.

But let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash first -- do we know exactly when the Democrats are going to be sending this legislation to the president?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some time early next week, Wolf, in part because Democrats say the timing is politically fortuitous for them next Tuesday. It is the anniversary of the president's ill-fated so-called "mission accomplished" speech.

But it's something else. They also say it is one more reminder holding in here to the president of the Democrats' new power.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By a vote of 51-46, the conference report is adopted.

BASH (voice-over): With that Senate vote, the stage is set for a dramatic wartime showdown between Congress and the White House, the likes of which not seen since Vietnam.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), DEMOCRATIC WHIP: When the president receives this bill early next week, I hope he'll ask himself some basic questions -- how many lives, how many wounds, how many soldiers must America sacrifice waiting for the Iraqis to accept their responsibility?

BASH: It is a confrontation with the president the Democratic majority says they were elected to have, by voters who've soured on the war.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: In the last election, the American people called for a new direction. Nowhere were they more firm in that new direction being necessary than in the war in Iraq.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We have carried forth the wishes of the American people.

BASH: The $124 billion emergency spending bill would fund the war, but order U.S. troops to start coming home October 1st, with a goal of withdrawing all combat forces by this time next year.

BROWNBACK: And if he would sign it, it would be the day that al Qaeda would declare victory. It would be the day that the deadline is set. It would be the day they would declare victory, much of the world would agree.

BASH: Republicans say it's a surrender date and call Democrats irresponsible for sending the president an Iraq funding bill they know he won't sign.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY WHIP: By this political theater that we're fixed to embark upon, a vote that we know will not become law, one that will surely be vetoed by the president, this legislation is dead before arrival.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BASH: Democrats know they don't have the votes to override a veto. They also know that they're going to have to move very fast in order to pass a funding bill that they know he will sign because they're going to get hammered for somehow endangering troops who are in harm's way.

One idea, Democratic sources say they're considering is setting a series of benchmarks for Iraqis. And, Wolf, that actually got a surprisingly welcome reception from Republican leaders in the House and in the Senate today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much.

Dana Bash reporting for us.

Let's get to the White House right now, where the president's veto pen is poised.

Our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano, standing by.

What are they saying there -- Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, far from backing down from their position, officials here at the White House are digging in and pushing back hard against Democrats.

Spokeswoman Dana Perino today saying that any time line for a troop withdrawal amounts to a surrender date. Perino again reiterated President Bush's veto threat. And just as Democrats are preparing to note that fourth anniversary of the president's "mission accomplished" speech, Perino labeled the Democrats' legislation mission defeated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA PERINO, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is very serious. We are deluding ourselves if we think that we walk away, that everything is going to be OK and that we can just let that region fester and not have any consequences for it and not have to suffer the consequences of our actions here in Washington.

And that is why the president has the principled stand that he does. And he is the commander-in-chief with the long-term national security interests of this country in mind with every step of the way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUIJANO: Now, the White House also notes that it has been 80 days since President Bush has submitted his funding request to Congress. And as Americans watch this play out, officials here, Wolf, continue to make the case that even though it is the president who is choosing to exercise his veto power, they feel that the American people will ultimately hold Democrats responsible for this impasse -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Elaine, thank you.

It seems like a sure bet that the Iraq War will certainly come up during the first Democratic presidential debate later tonight. The party's '08 candidates are gathering on an early primary season battlefield. That would be in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

That's also where our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is -- do we expect the frontrunners, specifically Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Candy, to be going after each other tonight?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, I have to tell you, I don't. I'm sure there'll be some jabs here and there, but sort of full frontal assaults I don't expect, and here's why.

Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner, doesn't need to do anything that -- she needs to sort of stay above the fray.

Barack Obama has said look, I'm running a different kind of campaign. I'm not into the attack politics. It makes it difficult for him to set off any kind of pyrotechnics.

It's also pretty early in the calendar to do this. There is plenty of time down the line to have the kind of fisticuffs that sometimes come with these debates, as the date of the elections comes closer.

So there are a lot of things, it seems to me, that point to -- against any kind of major battle between the two frontrunners. They do, after all, also have George Bush to use as a target.

BLITZER: What does this debate mean for John Edwards, who, after all, was born in South Carolina?

CROWLEY: Absolutely. And, as you know, he's -- John Edwards is doing better in the state polls, certainly here in South Carolina, in Iowa and in New Hampshire, than he does in national polls.

Look, he's looking for some running room here. He's running a strong third and he's looking for a place, an entry, to get into that mix. So look for him tonight to sort of try to expand on why he wants to be president, what he thinks he brings to the table.

It would be to his positive if there was a dustup between the top two, but this seems unlikely.

BLITZER: What about the rest of the Democratic field? As we know it's a pretty big field.

CROWLEY: It is. And this is their moment. Look, the lower tier, as we call them, just the candidates that have been unable to find some shine through the huge shadows of both Obama and Clinton.

So this is their night to stand on the stage toe to toe, to be seen as equals to these two headline grabbers.

So I think you'll see a little more punch from the lower tier than you'll see from the top.

BLITZER: And the significance of the debate being in South Carolina, talk a little bit about that, Candy.

CROWLEY: Well, South Carolina is the first race in the South, the first primary for the Democrats in the South. Here, we expect about 50 percent of the primary voters to be African-American. We are here on a traditionally African-American campus.

So tonight you're going to be seeing, I'm sure, some of the same topics being discussed -- health care, education, jobs, the economy. But I think that the bent will be on the huge gap, which is particularly acute here in South Carolina, between blacks and whites on those issues. It is bound to come up.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley on the scene for us.

Thanks, Candy.

Candy Crowley, Elaine Quijano, Dana Bash -- they're all part of the best political team on television.

So is Jack Cafferty.

He's joining us from New York with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's too early for the presidential debates.

What have we got, a year-and-a-half before the election?

BLITZER: But remember, the first caucus is in January. That's getting -- that's not that far away. And then there's a primary in January. And there's going to be a Super Duper primary in early February.

I'm just --

CAFFERTY: You love this, don't you?

BLITZER: I'm just disagreeing with you.

CAFFERTY: Oh.

BLITZER: It's never too early for debates.

CAFFERTY: The government, Wolf, wants to put tighter restrictions on lawyers who represent the detainees at Guantanamo. The "New York Times" reports the Justice Department is asking a federal appeals court for some changes.

Limit lawyers to three visits with an existing client. Currently, there's no limit.

Scrap the lawyer-client privilege by having intelligence officers and military lawyers read mail sent to the detainees by their attorneys.

And, in a reversal of the existing rules, allow government officials to deny lawyers access to secret evidence that's used to classify their clients as enemy combatants.

The filing claims lawyers cause unrest at the base. Sort of like they do everywhere else. They cause things like hunger strikes, protests and disobedience. They also believe lawyers pass on information from the detainees to the news media.

But some lawyers say these restrictions will make it impossible to represent their clients. One expert told the "Times," the government is trying to restore relationships between lawyers and their clients. He claims they want to "restore Guantanamo to its prior status as a legal black hole."

A court hearing scheduled for May 15th on all of this, and it could turn into another legal brouhaha over the Bush administration's detention policies.

Here's the question -- should lawyer visits with detainees at Guantanamo prison be limited?

E-mail caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Coming up, add another Republican name today to the race for the White House. The former Virginia governor, Jim Gilmore, throws his hat into the ring formally today. And get this -- he's going after his rival Republicans, including Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney.

You're going to want to hear my interview with Gilmore.

Plus, two battle-hardened Vietnam War veterans face-off over the war in Iraq. We'll go in-depth on the fight that's underway right now between John McCain and John Murtha.

And later, we'll have more on the showdown among the Democratic presidential hopefuls.

Will there be fireworks?

Donna Brazile, Terry Jeffrey, they're standing by for today's Strategy Session.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As of today, yet another Republican is an official candidate for president.

And joining us now from Iowa, the former governor of Virginia, Jim Gilmore.

He announced today formally he's in this Republican presidential contest.

Governor, thanks for coming in.

JIM GILMORE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Great.

Thank you, Wolf.

Thanks for the chance to be here.

BLITZER: In December you caused a stir among Republicans when you said this.

I'll play a clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GILMORE: I think that is a void. I think there's a need for a committed conservative who's able to put together a national campaign. I didn't pretend to be one thing one day and then another thing another day. I actually governed as a conservative.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, you got a lot of criticism by suggesting you're the only committed conservative, perhaps.

What -- what was your point? Who were you criticizing?

GILMORE: Well, the point I was making was to talk about what I am, which is a longstanding conservative, Ronald Reagan conservative, fiscal conservative. I ran on tax cuts. I governed as a conservative. I keep my word. I did what I said I was going to do.

And I think that people can assess the people who have been sort of anointed as the three frontrunners, but I don't think that they have a long history of being in conservative politics or pushing conservative ideas...

BLITZER: So you're referring...

GILMORE: ... whereas I am and I have.

BLITZER: You're referring specifically to Rudy Giuliani. He's the frontrunner in all the polls. You're not convinced, what, he's a committed conservative?

GILMORE: Well, I don't even think that Rudy Giuliani asserts that he's a conservative. That's -- that's really not the issue at all. He may be trying to run on something else, but it's certainly not conservative principles that can help regular people across the country.

John... BLITZER: What about John McCain?

GILMORE: His reputation is as a maverick. That's really how he's made his reputation. He's -- he opposed the Bush tax cuts. He's got some strange views on immigration, I believe.

And Governor Romney, his views are -- have been very moderate to liberal in north -- in the Northeast and it's all on videotape. And now he's trying to shift to be a conservative.

But the point is I think you assess people on their record. I think where you have been is where you're very likely to go.

And I ask people to look at the records of all of us. And I think that my reputation and record as a proven Ronald Reagan conservative, I think, will stand the country well.

BLITZER: All right, so you criticized the top three Republicans.

What about some of other second tier Republicans, like Sam Brownback, for example? Duncan Hunter? Tom Tancredo?

Where do you assess them?

GILMORE: Sure.

You know, actually, Wolf, it wasn't a goal to criticize them as to contrast myself and my record with them. They can run on anything they want to. They can be anything that they want to be and they have been, in fact, one particular thing within their records.

But my record is as a consistent person that people can count on. I'm not going to change or flip or flop just to try get nominated or get elected. I've had a proven track record.

As far as the other gentlemen go that you've been talking about, they have many attributes, to be sure. But I think that my record, as a person who has run on tax cuts, empowering individual people, strong education, a person who chaired the National Commission On Terrorism for five years, a person who chaired the Commission On Terrorism, a person who was, in fact, chairman of the Board of Business at the United States Air Force Academy. I am a veteran, an Army veteran. I believe I have a proven track record as a chief executive of a major state.

BLITZER: All right, what about the war in Iraq? Where do you distance yourself, if you do at all, from what the president is trying to do?

GILMORE: Well, this is my view. I think the American people were very frustrated with the war, to be sure, in the last election. But I think that the Democrats have, as usual, lurched back to sort of the approach that they want to take, which is to demand that we get out of Iraq immediately on a timetable.

And, Wolf, I think that's flat wrong and dangerous to the interests of this country. And I don't know how you support American troops by sending them into the streets today but suggesting to them in a date certain we're going to be out and that the enemy knows that.

But I do believe that we can't stand pat. I believe we have to move forward to try to bring some sense of law and civil order to that country over there. But one thing we know for sure, if we pull out too quick on a timetable, we're going to create chaos. And the very same people that demand that we get out will be -- will be demanding that we go back again.

BLITZER: Well, how much longer, governor, do you think that the U.S. should make a commitment to keep 150,000 or so troops in Iraq?

GILMORE: It's not a matter of when, it's a matter of what. It's a matter of making sure that we bring some sense of civil order there and then recognize at that point that the Iraqis need to use police forces, as well as military forces, courts and a sense of law in order to bring some sense of civil society and a rule of law to that country.

And, Wolf, you have to consider this in the larger context of a sense of general resentment and rebellion across the country, across the world and to recognize that this is part of that that's going on, which means that the next president has to use the entire full panoply of what America has to offer -- diplomatic, economic, military and the moral high ground, to make sure people across the world know that we have their interests at heart, as well as our own.

And then you begin to deny some of the resources that these Muslims have got that are working against us.

BLITZER: Governor Jim Gilmore, announcing today he's a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

Governor, thanks for coming in.

GILMORE: Good.

Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: And coming up, the president's job approval rating stuck in the 30s.

So are the Republicans running for president running away from him?

I'll ask our Bill Schneider.

And online gambling -- the GOP Congress and President Bush banned it, but it could be coming back to a computer near you. We'll tell you why, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is a story just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. The former CIA director, George Tenet, unleashing a very angry, new attack on the Bush administration for trying to make him supposedly the scapegoat for the war in Iraq.

CNN's Carol Costello is joining us with details.

What's George Tenet saying -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm telling you, Wolf, this is compelling stuff. CBS News is releasing excerpts from a new and provocative interview with Tenet, one that will air on "60 Minutes."

At issue here is a pre-war remark Tenet acknowledges he made in reference to making the case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

He said, "It's a slam dunk case."

Tenet says that remark was leaked to journalist Bob Woodward and taken out of context in his book about the lead-up to the Iraq War.

Tenet tells CBS the leak ruined his reputation and effectively ended his career.

Here's more. CBS quotes Tenet as saying: "It is the most despicable thing that ever happened to me. You don't do this. You don't throw somebody overboard just because it's a deflection. Is that honorable?

It's not honorable to me."

According to CBS, Tenet goes on to stay this: "The hardest part of all this has been just listening to this for almost three years, listening to the vice president go on "Meet The Press" on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, and say, "Well, George Tenet said slam dunk, as if he needed me to say slam dunk to go to war with Iraq. And you listen to that and they never let it go. I mean, I became campaign talk. I was a talking point. Look at the idiot who told us and we decided to go to war.

Well, let's not be so disingenuous," Tenet says. "Let's everybody just get up and tell the truth, tell the American people what really happened."

According to CBS, Tenet says he does not believe and will never believe that his slam dunk remark influenced President Bush's decision to go to war.

And, Wolf, we're still trying to get a White House response to this CBS report. The White House previously has refused to comment on George Tenet's new book. So hopefully we'll have more for you later.

BLITZER: And Tenet says he's convinced the president and the vice president, they were determined to go to war long before he made that comment, slam dunk.

All right, we're going to continue to monitor this story. Carol, thanks very much.

Up next, they both saw battle in Vietnam. Now they're facing off over the current war in Iraq. We'll go in-depth on the fight between John McCain and John Murtha.

And he says he has no interest in running for president. But don't totally count New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg out, at least not yet. We'll explain. That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, stories we're following with much more to come.

Congress' war spending bill and its withdrawal time line -- an act of Democratic defiance or a declaration of defeat?

We'll ask the party chairman, Howard Dean.

The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq has his own ideas about what it will take to turn the tide of the conflict. In our next hour, the blunt assessment of General David Petraeus.

He's consumed his share of chicken dinners and White House fare. Now, the former president of the United States has teamed up with TV chef Rachel Ray to fight childhood obesity.

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

They're both battle hardened Vietnam War veterans. And now they're lobbing grenades at one another over the war in Iraq.

It started with an attempt joke by Senator and Republican presidential candidate John McCain. That set off Democratic Congressman John Murtha. And this war of words was set in motion.

Let's go to CNN's Kathleen Koch.

she's got the details -- Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was just last week, at a campaign appearance in South Carolina, that Senator John McCain raised eyebrows by joking about bombing Iran. Well, this time the joke was about roadside bombs and some people weren't laughing.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART," COURTESY COMEDY CENTRAL)

JON STEWART, HOST: What do you want to start with, the bomb Iran song or the walk through the market in Baghdad?

What do you -- what do you want to... SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think maybe shopping -- shopping in Baghdad.

STEWART: Yes.

MCCAIN: I had something really picked out for you, too. It's a nice...

STEWART: Did you really?

MCCAIN: Yes, it's a nice little IED to put onto your desk.

STEWART: That's very lovely of you.

Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOCH: It was a comedy show and the line was a hit. But Senator John McCain's humor fell flat with one congressman on Capitol Hill.

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Imagine a presidential candidate making a joke about IEDs when these kids are blown apart? It's outrageous.

KOCH: IEDs or roadside bombs are responsible for the majority of U.S. combat fatalities in Iraq.

Still, Senator McCain doesn't plan to apologize. On "Good Morning America," the decorated Vietnam War vet and former POW called Murtha's criticism hysteria.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "GOOD MORNING AMERICA," COURTESY ABC NEWS)

MCCAIN: When I was in combat and in tough situations, we used humor all the time and all I can say is to Murtha and others, lighten up and get a life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOCH: Just last week, McCain crooned an answer to an audience question about how to respond to Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: That old -- that old Beach Boys song, "Bomb Iran?"

You know, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb -- anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that all of the candidates need to be very careful about what they say on the campaign trail. John McCain is John McCain and you're not going to change him.

(END VIDEO TAPE) KOCH: People in Washington who know Senator McCain are very familiar with his dry sense of humor. It's simply part of who he is. But it's not going to be up to the voters to decide, Wolf, whether or not they get the joke or the joke's on him.

BLITZER: Kathleen Koch, good story. Thanks very much for that.

KOCH: You bet.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, by the way, is making it clear today he will keep joking and keep pushing the envelope. Kathleen Koch just mentioned how McCain got flak for changing the words of the "Beach Boys" hit "Barbara Ann" into "bomb Iran."

Guess what song the McCain played at the end of an event in South Carolina today?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

("BARBARA ANN" PLAYS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A McCain aide tells CNN the campaign played "Barbara Ann" to add a little bit of levity to the campaign, to show the senator isn't -- is not going to be pushed around.

Senator McCain knows full well GOP candidates running for the White House have to struggle with the record of the man now serving in the Oval Office.

Let's get some analysis from our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Talk a little bit about what's going on, on this front, Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, elections, Wolf, are supposed to be a choice between continuity and change. Happy with the way things are going? Vote for the party in power. But Americans are not happy with the way things are going, not at all.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Only 22 percent of Americans say things in the country are going in the right direction, the lowest number since President Bush's father was in office. And he got fired.

The current President Bush can't run again. Are there any Bush Republicans running? John McCain never mentioned President Bush's name in his announcement speech.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When Americans confront a catastrophe, natural or manmade, they have a right to expect basic competence from their government.

SCHNEIDER: The chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party says:

KATON DAWSON, CHAIRMAN, SOUTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN PARTY: I think every candidate has some attributes that would certainly emulate the president.

SCHNEIDER: Mitt Romney, a former governor, is running as a Washington outsider, like Bush in 2000.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The halls of government are clogged with petty politics and stuffed with peddlers of influence.

SCHNEIDER: McCain's support for President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq has created a problem for him.

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He's running for a third Bush term. And this country is not going to give Bush a third term with John McCain or anybody else.

DAWSON: Well, we got put out in 2006. And it's obvious. We got put out over several issues.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans cite one in particular.

DAWSON: The spending issue is one that was certainly taken to heart by grassroots Republicans.

SCHNEIDER: And by Republican candidates.

MCCAIN: Government spends more money today than ever before.

SCHNEIDER: Rudy Giuliani is trying to replicate not the Bush of 2000, who won a disputed election, or the Bush of 2006, who led his party to defeat, but the Bush of 2004.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I have been dealing with terrorism before people even knew about it, going back to the '70s.

SCHNEIDER: Even resurrecting charges that the Bush campaign made in '04.

GIULIANI: And make no mistake about it. The Democrats want to put us back on defense.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Rerunning the '04 election sounds like a good idea to Republicans. Giuliani is their front-runner -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, thank you -- Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst.

Gambling on the Internet is now banned, thanks to a bill passed last year by the Republican Congress. Today, a powerful Democrat, Congressman Barney Frank, wants the online gambling ban overturned. Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Why does Barney Frank want to do this, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, he says this ban interferes with personal freedoms. Congressman Frank introduced legislation today that would regulate the Internet gambling industry, so, Americans would be free to gamble online.

It's a $13 billion industry. So, also, it could mean big bucks for the government, in terms of tax revenue -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It became the law of the land in October. What are the chances it's going to be overturned?

TATTON: Well, Frank faces a tough crowd in the House. When the ban passed last year, it did so with overwhelming margins. And a spokesman for Congressman Frank acknowledges that they have got an uphill struggle, saying that it's the people out there that oppose this ban that would have to get mobilized, lobby their elected officials, in order for this to happen.

One group on that front that doesn't need any encouragement, the Poker Players Alliance. They have got talking points on their site for their members to take this issue to elected officials -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you. Thanks very much.

Abbi Tatton, Bill Schneider, Kathleen Koch, they are all part of the best political team on television. And, remember, for all the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.

Coming up: why elections matter, the fallout from the 2006 elections.

And later: the political battle over Iraq. Now that Congress has passed its spending bill tied to a timeline for withdrawal, what will the next move be? That's in our "Strategy Session."

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring the wires, keeping an eye on the video feeds coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from around the world. She's joining us now with a closer look at some other stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

What's going on, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, let's start in Istanbul, Turkey. Rescuers are still searching the debris of a collapsed multistory apartment building, hoping to find more survivors. It's believed one person may still be trapped. Rescuers successfully freed a young girl and a man buried alive in that same rubble.

The building buckled as crews were trying to tear down the building next door. Residents fled the building after hearing a crack in the roof. But some returned before the building came down.

New Hampshire is rubber-stamping civil unions. State senators voted today to authorize a bill clearing the way for civil unions for gay couples. The vote was 14-10, along party lines, Democrats in favor, Republicans opposed. Governor John Lynch announced last week that he would sign it. Three other states already offer civil unions for gay couples. They are Connecticut, Vermont and New Jersey.

New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine remains in the hospital, but he has been slapped with a citizen complaint. A New Jersey man has filed a complaint against Corzine for defying state law by failing to wear his seat belt in the highway accident two weeks ago. Corzine was riding in the front passenger seat of an SUV driven by a state trooper at 91 miles per hour. The governor has not been cited for not buckling up.

New York officials confirm a body found in a burned-out farmhouse is that of a man believed to have shot and killed one state trooper and wounded two others. The shootings happened during a manhunt that began Tuesday, after Travis Trim allegedly wounded a trooper during a traffic stop. The fire at the Margaretville farmhouse began during a standoff with Trim.

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

BLITZER: Carol, thank you.

If you have ever asked yourself if your vote really counts, consider some of the latest political maneuvers under way right here in Washington, specifically, attempts by the new Democratic-controlled Congress to try to force some administration officials to tell all.

Let's bring in CNN's Brianna Keilar.

Brianna, there's been a flurry of subpoenas that have been OKed by this Democratic majority in Congress.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, this week alone, Democrats are deciding on subpoenas for more than a dozen administration officials. But is there a risk they will push their power too far?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): Democrats are feeling their oats, using their new power to investigate the Bush administration up, down and sideways.

Their latest target, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, says she will answer in writing, but she doesn't want to testify about confidential conversations she had with the president about prewar intelligence while she was working at the White House. Plus:

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I think I have more than answered these questions, and answered them directly to Congressman Waxman.

KEILAR: Henry Waxman and other Democrats say they are simply making up for the lack of executive branch oversight during the last six years of Republican congressional control.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D-CA), GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Think about that contrast: 1,052 subpoenas to the Clinton administration and Democratic targets, compared to just five subpoenas to the Bush administration.

KEILAR: High-profile hearings so far, the Valerie Plame CIA leak, the cover-up of Pat Tillman's friendly-fire death, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the fired U.S. attorneys, and don't forget the subpoenas for thousands of pages of documents from the Justice Department in that investigation.

Republicans, who lost seats after the Clinton impeachment, are warning Democrats they are in danger of over-investigating and overreaching.

REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: The American people say, I'm fed up with it. And they are going to vote you out of office, just like they voted us out of office.

KEILAR: So, how will Democrats know how far they can push before alienating the public?

STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": If the Democrats look as if they are just sticking it to the president and want to punish him, I think they run some risk of creating a backlash.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: And, when it comes to his closest White House aides, President Bush has shown he is not afraid of a fight, promising to oppose any attempts to subpoena White House officials -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Brianna, for that -- Brianna Keilar reporting.

Up next: the showdown over Iraq happening right now in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The president has put our troops in the middle of a civil war. There's no other way to say it.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The president will veto this legislation. And he looks forward to working with congressional leaders to craft a bill that he can sign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: In this game of political chicken, it's now the president's turn to make the next move -- advice for him coming up in our "Strategy Session."

And will we have another New York mayor in the race for the White House? That story coming up as well. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The lines have been drawn over Iraq by today's passage of the Iraq war spending bill, which President Bush has vowed to veto, this as the U.S. commander of forces in Iraq declares Iraq a key front in the war against al Qaeda as well. So, what's the next move?

Joining us now in our "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and her Republican counterpart, Terry Jeffrey.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Let me play a little clip of some of the sound and fury leading up to this vote in the Senate today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: This legislation is tragic. If the Iraqis make progress, we leave. If they don't, we leave. This is not a choice. It is a mandate for defeat that al Qaeda desperately wants.

REID: We hope the president will reconsider his stubbornness and his refusal to listen to the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A lot of people, Donna, believe that, after the president vetoes it, the Democrats in Congress are going to have no choice but to then give him a new piece of legislation that funds the troops, but at the same time doesn't include those timelines that the president hates.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know if the Democrats will give the president a so-called clean bill.

Look, the Democrats believe they are doing what the American people would like them to do, which is to set a timetable to give the Iraqi government time to get its political house in order and to have a responsible plan to defeat al Qaeda, to fight the insurgency, but not to keep our troops in the middle of a civil war.

BLITZER: How risky of a strategy is this for Republicans? Because the polls show that the American people right now increasingly siding with the Democrats in Congress, as opposed to the president. TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, "HUMAN EVENTS": Well, I mean, look, there's no doubt that the war is a detriment to Republicans. If the situation in Iraq is much like it is now as of November 2008, it's going to be tough for the Republicans in the election.

The truth is, though, that the Democrats don't even want the law that they passed in the House to actually -- or the Senate -- to actually become the law, Wolf. It is contradictory in and of itself. It's unworkable.

I pulled up the language from the congressional record. On the very same page, it says, under this law, the president must, by July 1, certify the Iraqi government as allowing U.S. forces to attack -- quote, unquote -- "all extremists" in Iraq, including the Sunni insurgents and the Sunni militia.

On the same page, it says that, after this redeployment deadline that the Democrats claim they are setting, U.S. troops will still be there training Iraqis. U.S. troops will still be there going after al Qaeda and what they call other terrorist groups of global reach.

Well, who are they?

BRAZILE: Because it's a phased redeployment. It's not a pull out everybody tomorrow. It's an opportunity for the Iraqi government to have the time they need to build in those political benchmarks.

So, the Democrats are saying, let's begin to pull some of our troops back, leave some there to help train the Iraqi army.

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY: People need to understand that what the Democrats would like to make law, if they are really serious about the actual law they proposed, it says, Americans must go after "all extremists -- quote, unquote -- in Iraq this summer.

But, after September, they can only go after some extremists. But the law doesn't define who those extremists are. This is completely unworkable. They are not serious about making this into law.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But the complete pullout of combat forces that's supposed to take place at the end of March, beginning of April, in this legislation, that's not a binding aspect of it. It's a goal. It's a nonbinding goal that the Democrats have put forth.

BRAZILE: And the president can come back to the Congress and say, it's in our vital interests to change it. But, once again, it's accountability. Finally, the government in Iraq must be held accountable to the benchmarks the president set.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: Let me ask you this question, a political question. The Republican presidential candidate John McCain was not in the Senate for this vote today -- a spokeswoman saying, he's in South Carolina for the launch of his presidential campaign. "Everybody knows where he stands on this issue. He talks about it every day. And his presence would not have changed the outcome of the vote anyway."

Is that an issue at all among Republicans, that McCain skipped this vote today?

JEFFREY: I don't think so. I think the spokeswoman is absolutely right. Everybody knows how John McCain would have voted on this bill. Not only that -- everybody knows where John McCain stands on the war.

His position has the virtue of being completely consistent. It has the detriment that he's clearly the most pro-war candidate in the field, at a time when the war is tremendously unpopular. His fate as a candidate will largely be determined by the fate of the U.S. action in Iraq.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the Democratic political environment right now. We did our so-called poll of polls. We took all the major national polls that have been taken about the Democratic presidential candidates, the registered Democrats or independents leaning Democrat.

And it shows Senator Clinton at 35 percent, Barack Obama at 24 percent, Edwards at 15, Al Gore, who is not even running, at 15, everybody else way, way down.

At this early stage, months, obviously, before Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, how significant is this horse race?

BRAZILE: Well, look, that's important for candidates out there doing fund-raising, picking up endorsements. But, in terms of the eventual outcome, I wouldn't bet -- I wouldn't on that poll, because here's the -- Wolf, it's wide open.

People are still making up their mind. And we will know a lot more after tonight's debate, and, of course, the CNN debate in June.

BLITZER: What do you think?

JEFFREY: Well, I think there's two things about this, Wolf.

Number one is, Hillary Clinton clearly has not emerged as the presumptive Democratic nominee. There's a real race. Obama is in it. Edwards is in it. Maybe even Al Gore could get in it, if he wanted to.

The second thing is, if you look at the state-by-state polls, John Edwards is still ahead in Iowa. And, when this campaign gets right down to it, momentum is going to be developed by how thing unfold in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. It's not the national polls that matter. It's the state-by-state contests. BLITZER: Terry Jeffrey, Donna Brazile, both of you, thanks.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Still to come: Howard Dean. He has some tough words for Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani. My interview with Howard Dean, that's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And "The Cafferty File": Should lawyers -- lawyer visits with detainees at Guantanamo prison be limited? Jack with your e-mail.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

In Baghdad, a child looks through a shrapnel-riddled window in the Shiite district of Sadr City.

In Bangladesh, supporters of a political party feed sweets to each other, after the government lifts the ban on the return of their party's president to the country.

In China, workers shovel thousands of pirated DVDs before they're destroyed. The event was held to publicize China's efforts in cracking down on piracy.

And, in Bulgaria -- look at this -- a 3-month-old baby bear is bottle-fed by a zookeeper. Very nice -- some of this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth 1,000 words.

The New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, will be the first to say he's not running for president in 2008. But that's not quelling all the buzz that he may eventually decide to enter the race as an independent.

Our Mary Snow certainly has her ear to the ground in New York.

There's speculation galore. And there's some fuel adding to that speculation.

What is the latest, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, just as the presidential campaign intensifies, so does the speculation. And, when Mike Bloomberg makes high-profile public appearances, he can't seem to shake off the questions of a 2008 run.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I'm going to ask Al for an autograph afterwards. SNOW: When former Vice President Al Gore and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg shared a stage at a film festival, Bloomberg couldn't resist poking fun at something else the two men share: speculation they will run in 2008.

BLOOMBERG: Al, don't you just hate those rumors about running for president?

SNOW: Those rumors followed Bloomberg to Mexico earlier this week.

BLOOMBERG: Let me make it clear. I am not a candidate for president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, he may be saying no, but this is a presidential year in which all bets are off.

SNOW: NYU professor Mitchell Moss describes himself as a friend of Bloomberg. He makes secret he wants the moderate Republican mayor to run as an independent candidate. And money isn't a problem. Bloomberg's estimated to be worth at least $5 billion. Political observers are keeping the speculation alive, despite Bloomberg's objections.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's got some political operatives who are looking at it pretty closely. So, I know that they are paying attention. They are thinking about it.

SNOW: The rumors about '08 seem to rise along with the high- profile issues Bloomberg takes on, for example, an ambitious environmental initiative for New York, teaming up with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to fight global warming, and a campaign leading U.S. mayors in a crackdown on illegal guns.

Those around him say, the fact he's a mayor not facing reelection frees him up to concentrate on issues he cares about. But those who keep tabs on politics say Bloomberg's mind could be changed, depending on the presidential nominees chosen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If there's a very conservative Republican in that post, then it really opens the field for moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats alike to an independent race for Michael Bloomberg.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Political observers say what could close the door for a Bloomberg candidacy is if his predecessor and fellow New Yorker, Rudy Giuliani, become the Republican nominee -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you for that, Mary Snow, in New York.

Jack Cafferty is also in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Bloomberg would be terrific as president. You know what I like about him is, he's doing a good job as mayor. But, when there's like a disaster or a problem, he stands up in front of the news media, and he says: This is what we know, and this is what we don't know. And I'm not going to pretend to tell you stuff that I don't know, as though I actually know or will speculate. I know this. I don't know that. That's the information I have. And I will get back to you when I have some more.

He's a straight shooter. And I think he would be good. Plus, with $5 billion in his pocket, he wouldn't be on the take, now, would he?

BLITZER: You know, and the other thing about Bloomberg, Jack, as you know, he is so rich. He doesn't need this. He could have just gone on and enjoyed his life. He's willing to work hard because he believes in public service.

CAFFERTY: No, I think he would be a terrific candidate. And I think he would make a great president. My opinion counts for absolutely nothing, but I live in this city. And I think he's a good mayor.

Jim in Georgia -- what is the question? Should lawyer visits with detainees at Guantanamo be limited? The administration has gone to a federal appeals court, and they want to clamp down on the access these people at Gitmo have to their attorneys.

Jim writes from Savannah, Georgia: "Who is next? Limit visits to felons, child abusers, et cetera, just because we don't like them? Is there a Constitution or isn't there? Has anyone at the White House or DOJ ever read it? Did they all forget they swore to defend it? When do we get to send Bush and Cheney to Gitmo?"

Roxie (ph) in Minnesota: "Considering the outcome is life and death, detainees should have unlimited access to their lawyer. What is our government afraid of, that the detainees might get a fair trial?"

Dan in Des Moines: "Jacko, I think they should allow these maggots to fly back to New York to meet with their lawyers. They could also visit what is left of the Trade Center for a touchy-feely moment with some Democrats."

Ian in Vancouver: "Mr. Cafferty, if Americans were being treated by another country the way the Bush administration is treating those being held at Guantanamo, there would be rioting in our streets, demanding war to get them released."

Terry in North Carolina: "If that is what Bush and Gonzales think justice is, then that is how it should be. Who do you think you are to be questioning professional deciders and professional forgetters?"

And Sid in Danbury, Texas: "Most of the lawyers I know should be interned with the detainees."

(LAUGHTER) CAFFERTY: Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that -- Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

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

Happening now: an act of defiance the White House likens to an act of defeat -- the Senate passing a bill with a timetable for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. Is history repeating itself? Is Iraq turning out to be another Vietnam?

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