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THE SITUATION ROOM

New '08 Polls Show Senator Clinton Leading Democratic Field, Republican Race Tightening; Interview With Governor Sebelius

Aired May 7, 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, presidential fields in flux -- our brand new poll suggests one race is widening, the other tightening.
Also this hour, pomp and political circumstances -- while President Bush is rubbing shoulders with the queen, is he on even shakier footing with the American public?

And natural disaster and the National Guard -- in tornado stricken Kansas, the governor says the state's emergency response is limited because of the war in Iraq. I'll talk about it live this hour with Governor Kathleen Sebelius.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up first this hour, the presidential contest is moving in two different directions. Our brand new poll out this hour provides some compelling snapshots of the Republican and the Democratic races after the first round of prescription drugs.

Let's go straight to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, who's standing by.

The races for the nomination, are they tightening up -- Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the answer is yes -- and no.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Republicans are supposed to be the party of orderly succession. Democratic races are often wide open contests among little known contenders.

This time, it's the other way around. Republicans have 10 -- count them -- 10 declared candidates, but nobody is pulling ahead. The new CNN poll, conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation, shows a tightening race nationally, with Rudy Giuliani and John McCain running neck and neck.

Giuliani's lead has been slipping since March, when he led McCain by nearly 20 points.

At first, Fred Thompson's show of interest cut into Giuliani's support. They both have celebrity appeal.

But things have not improved for Giuliani. His debate performance, when he was asked how he would feel about repealing "Roe v. Wade," raised a lot of questions.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It would be OK to repeal. It would be OK, also, if a strict constructionist judge viewed it as precedent.

SCHNEIDER: Among Democrats, frontrunner Hillary Clinton is gaining support. Last month, she led Barack Obama by eight points. Now, she has a 14 point lead.

Where are Senator Clinton's gains coming from?

Women, yes. And, also, liberals. Last month, Clinton and Obama were just about tied among Democrats who call themselves liberal. Now, Clinton has forged 20 points ahead. Her strong position against the Iraq War seems to have convinced liberals she's with them.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: It is time to sunset the authorization for the war in Iraq. If the president will not bring himself to accept reality, it is time for Congress to bring reality to him.

SCHNEIDER: This time, Democrats are happy with their choices. Thirty-eight percent say they are very satisfied with the field. Only 20 percent of Republicans feel that way.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER: There is one constituency where Barack Obama has been growing stronger -- colleague educated Democrats. Obama has a strong lead over Senator Clinton in that constituency, which tends to be more independent and reform-minded -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The problem, though, is that the younger the voters are, the less likely they are to vote, statistically, over the years. The older the voter, the more likely they'll vote.

Is that basically fair?

You've studied these trends over so many years, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: That's always been true, that the older voters are the most reliable voters. Younger voters are fairly unreliable. It takes a lot to get them out to the polls because they usually haven't lived in a place for very long and the longer you live somewhere, the more likely you are the vote.

BLITZER: In our new poll, do we get the sense that the voters, the potential voters out there, feel they already know the candidates?

SCHNEIDER: No, not really. They only know a few of the candidates and those are the best known, like Fred Thompson, who's not yet a candidate, if he is going to become one; Rudy Giuliani, of course, because of his mayoralty after 9/11; John McCain ran before.

A few Democrats -- Hillary Clinton is well known. Barack Obama became a sensation in 19 -- rather, in 2004. But for the most part, the other candidates are still pretty unknown. And the rule in American politics is if people don't know you are, they're not going to support you. And it takes a lot of effort and a lot of money to gain name recognition.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider with the latest numbers for us.

We're now less than a month away from CNN's presidential debates in New Hampshire, co-sponsored with WMUR TV and the "New Hampshire Union Leader."

Due to the significance of these forums, CNN has decided to allow unrestricted media access to our debates after each one airs live here on CNN. The Democratic presidential candidates square off on Sunday night, June 3, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Eastern. The Republican presidential candidates debate on Tuesday night, June 5, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Over at the White House, partisan bickering is taking a back seat, at least for a little while, for a truly royal welcome. Queen Elizabeth II is here in Washington for a state dinner. That's the ultimate in presidential formality.

Let's go to CNN's Brianna Keilar.

She's covering all the pomp and ceremony.

Right now you're, what, outside the British embassy, where there's a little garden party underway for Her Majesty?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

This is actually the British ambassador's residence next to the embassy there. And we just saw the queen leave a moment ago with a very impressive Secret Service detail.

There was a garden party here with 750 guests. We saw the queen and Prince Philip arrive about an hour-and-a-half ago, and they were meeting various guests -- some big Washington names -- Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as well as Senator Joe Lieberman, Dennis Kucinich and his wife. And we also saw Mickey Rooney. This was kind of a cute exchange that we saw. He broke with protocol and kissed the queen's gloved hand. And she smiled. So that's good.

Now, earlier, of course, we saw that formal welcome at the White House. President Bush, First Lady Laura Bush welcoming Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

A lot of pomp and circumstance there, meticulously planned, but still, President Bush showed us there's always room for a little error.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people are proud to welcome Your Majesty back to the United States, a nation you've come to know very well. After all, you dined with 10 U.S. presidents. You helped our nation celebrate its bicentennial in 17 -- in 1976.

(LAUGHTER)

She gave me a look that only a mother could give a child.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: And lucky, she also gave him a little chuckle there. But we did hear President Bush and Queen Elizabeth talk about the shared history of the U.S. and Britain. And we're paying, of course, a lot of attention to decadent details. You really can't avoid that.

But this trip is also about diplomacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUEEN ELIZABETH II: A state visit provides us with a brief opportunity to step back from our current preoccupations, to reflect on the very essence of our relationship. It gives us the chance to look back at how the stories of our two countries have been inextricably woven together. It is the moment to take stock of our present friendship, rightly taking pleasure from its strengths, while never taking these for granted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: So, tonight, look for Queen Elizabeth in her third outfit of the day at that state dinner at the White House.

President and Laura Bush have hosted several state dinners. But this is the first white tie state dinner they've hosted in his entire presidency. And the last time Queen Elizabeth was here at the White House -- or was at the White House for a state dinner was 1991, Wolf. And that is when George H.W. Bush was in the White House.

BLITZER: We're going to have coverage of that state dinner tonight, the white tie state dinner, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Brianna Keilar reporting for us.

Brianna is watching what's happening over at the British ambassador's residence, as well.

So what do you think about Queen Elizabeth?

Eighty percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the queen. That according to our brand new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. That's up from 47 percent back in 1997, after the death of Princess Diana. Forty-one percent of those questioned say Britain would be better off without a royal family. Forty-five percent say Britain would be worse off.

And we want to show you that -- that little snafu when Mickey Rooney, the actor, greeted Her Majesty earlier, just a little while ago, at the British ambassador's residence.

Take a look at this. You're not supposed to do this, Mickey. You're not supposed to kiss the glove of Her Majesty. You're just supposed to shake her hand, let her squeeze your hand. But, you know, that's Mickey Rooney and Mickey Rooney did kiss her glove -- Jack Cafferty, you would never do anything like that as far as upsetting the protocol dealing with Her Majesty.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely not. And the last thing I'd ever do is comment on those silly looking hats she wears.

How many hats do you suppose she brings with her from -- I mean we've been watching this...

BLITZER: I saw guys carrying like box after box after box...

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: ... off the plane.

CAFFERTY: I mean, from the time she was down at Jamestown in -- up until now. And she's got a different hat on every time you see her.

Where's Richard Quest, by the way?

BLITZER: He'll be in in the next hour. He's getting ready for major coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

CAFFERTY: OK.

Good.

France -- on to other things European -- has elected a new president. The conservative, Nicolas Sarkozy beat out his socialist rival in the runoff yesterday, beat him rather handily. Sarkozy is described as an unabashed admirer of America -- that would be a switch -- and is having an admiration for the U.S. that's unusual for a French politician.

No secret the U.S. has had what you may call strained relations with Jacques Chirac, the outgoing French president. But it looks like that could a all soon change under Sarkozy, who says that Americans "can rely on our friendship. France will always be next to them when they need us."

He did add that friends can think differently and he called on the U.S. not to impede the fight against global warming.

But still, it's a far cry from what we're used to hearing from the French these past few years.

So here's the question -- how will France's election of a pro- American conservative president affect U.S. relations with Europe?

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

Here's a side note, Wolf. Eighty-four percent of France's registered voters went to the polls yesterday to elect their new president, which is a fairly astonishing number. I think our -- our turnout in this country is something in the neighborhood of half that. And -- and that'/s embarrassing to admit. But they -- they did turn out in force for the runoff yesterday.

BLITZER: If we get 50 percent in a presidential election people think that we're doing pretty well. It is pretty impressive, the turnout in France.

Jack, thanks very much.

Coming up, the president's waning political capital as his days in office run out.

What can he hope to accomplish?

Plus, Kansas in crisis and the strain of war in Iraq. I'll ask the governor, Kathleen Sebelius, about limits on the National Guard and tornado recovery because of the war in Iraq.

And the top Republican in the House raising a new red flag about the war.

Is there a deadline for GOP support to waver?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Fresh numbers this hour on President Bush. Brand new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows Mr. Bush with a 38 percent job approval rating. That's up two points or so from our last poll. Sixty-one percent of Americans disapprove of his work on the job.

Our poll, by the way, is 10 points higher than a "Newsweek" survey that came out over the weekend. But when you add together the eight -- eight new polls on the president the past few weeks, the average comes out to 35 percent approval.

More on the president's numbers and what we can expect during his remaining time in office.

And we're joined by our chief national correspondent, John King.

A 38 percent job approval. So realistically -- John, what can he hope to accomplish while he's still in office?

JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a pretty low number, Wolf.

Historically, very low -- lower than where Ronald Reagan was, much lower than where Bill Clinton was at this point.

The quick answer is not much, at least when it comes to big things. But it's somewhat counter-intuitive. He has to work with the Democrats, of course. They're in charge of Congress right now.

He could get an immigration bill to his liking. They still need to work out some bipartisan issues there, but the president could get a significant accomplishment there.

They are likely to renew some form of the No Child Left Behind education bill. The Democrats want to make some changes, so it won't be exactly what the president wants, but most likely, in the end, be something he would support.

But the big things are not happening and it is simply a result of the Iraq War and the toll that has taken on the president's standing. Remember his State of the Union -- he said I have a big health care initiative. He said we need to deal with Medicare and Social Security. Take those three right off the board.

The big things are not going to happen as long as he is president and as long as the country is divided by Iraq.

BLITZER: Now, you and I covered the Clinton administration and at this point during the final year-and-a-half or so of the Clinton administration, President Clinton's job approval was, what, 59 percent, 21 percent better than -- than Bush at this stage.

How did he do, though, in that final year-and-a-half?

KING: And don't think that split makes President -- doesn't make President Bush cringe a little bit. You want the number that President Clinton had at this point and he had that number fresh from impeachment, remember. And yet he didn't get that much done either.

But consider how different the political circumstances were. Both did have the opposition party in Congress, which was the reason President Clinton didn't get the big things done. President Bush won't get the big things done.

But the fight in the Clinton days was over the big budget surplus -- what to do with it, how much should we put into improving Social Security's footing?

What should we do with all that money?

Now you have the Republican candidates for president saying this Republican president is a big spender. They're running from the Republican president.

So the Democrats don't like this president. The Republicans are distancing themselves more and more. It's a much different political environment and a much more sour political environment for President Bush.

BLITZER: And his dismal approval numbers largely the result of the war in Iraq.

KING: Overwhelmingly the result of the war in Iraq. The economy, by the numbers, some parts of the country not so good, but the overall national number is quite good. That is usually the tide that lifts all presidential boats. It is why President Clinton survived impeachment, because of the economy was so strong.

This president gets no credit for anything else.

He's dragged down by Iraq, Iraq, Iraq.

BLITZER: All right, John, thank you.

John King reporting for us.

So what do you think about Queen Elizabeth?

Actually, we asked that question already.

Let's get some more information on gas prices. There's going to be coming up.

John King, by the way, as you saw earlier, Bill Schneider -- they are all part of the best political team on television.

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

Let's get to gas prices right now.

More fuel for voter angst and anger at the government. Brand new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows most Americans, 79 percent, believe gasoline will reach $4 a gallon some time this year. Eighty-one percent of those surveyed say they think gas prices are unreasonable. That's up from 60 percent who thought gas prices were unreasonable back in 1974, a time of gas shortages -- skyrocketing prices for the mid -- as a result of the Middle East oil crisis.

Back then, by the way, a gallon of regular gas cost about $0.55 a gallon.

We're going to have more on the soaring gas prices and a new call for a federal investigation of oil companies. That's coming up in our next hour.

Still ahead, a new step in the New Jersey governor's recovery after the car crash that nearly killed him.

And, is Hillary Clinton cementing her status as the Democratic presidential frontrunner or is she enjoying a temporary surge?

Paul Begala and Terry Jeffrey weigh in on the race and the polls.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring the wires. She's keeping an eye on the video feeds coming in from around the world here into THE SITUATION ROOM.

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

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

It is Monday and it's back to work for the governor of New Jersey. Jon Corzine back on the job one week after he left the hospital and nearly one month after a car crash that nearly killed him. The governor can walk, but as you can see, he needs crutches. And since he needs lots of intensive therapy, Corzine plans to work from the governor's mansion for a while before heading back to the statehouse.

It is OK to eat pork, chicken and some eggs from some animals involved in that pet food scare. Those animals had eaten food mixed with pet food scraps that were contaminated by the industrial chemical melamine. But today, government scientists said the potential human exposure to that chemical is minute. So eating products from those animals poses a very low risk to humans.

At least one casualty of the controversy over work romance and the head of the World Bank. A top adviser to Paul Wolfowitz is reportedly resigning. According to reports, Kevin Kellems says the uproar over Wolfowitz is making it nearly unbearable to focus and work at the institution. Of course, the situation he's talking about is Wolfowitz's promoting his girlfriend and giving her a pay raise in 2005 and the calls for Wolfowitz to resign over it.

Should you be able to buy lower priced prescription drugs that are imported from Canada and elsewhere?

The Senate is expected to vote on that issue at this hour. A measure would allow pharmacies and drug wholesalers to import government approved drugs from places like Australia, Europe, Japan and New Zealand. Drugs in those countries are often much cheaper.

Of course, we'll keep you posted.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So we'll see what happens on that.

That could affect a lot of people, Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

One Democratic senator is taking advantage of a popular online tool to bring his recent trip to Iraq home to his constituents. That would be Senator Bill Nelson of Nebraska. He's using Google Earth to give a simulated tour of the country.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is joining us with more.

So how does this work -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was a staffer on the trip with a simple digital video camera, combined with a new tool from Google Maps and Google Earth.

Senator Bill Nelson led a Congressional delegation to Iraq last week, his third visit to the country. And this time, you can watch exactly where he went.

This is it right here. This Google mapping tool lets anyone create personalized journeys online, adding information and images of video like this one of the senator arriving in Baghdad.

Nelson's office says the aim is to allow visitors to their Web site to virtually travel alongside with the senator as he met with Nebraska troops and with Iraqi leaders.

There are plenty of Congressional Web sites now that use interactive tools, online video, that kind of thing, to communicate with their constituents. This kind of mapping tool this is the first time we've seen this kind of thing being used by a member of Congress -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It won't be the last, I'm sure, Abbi.

Thank you.

Up next, a tornado disaster on a massive scale.

Would rescue and recovery move faster if there was no war in Iraq?

The Kansas governor, Kathleen Sebelius, she's standing by to join us live.

And even an actor can fail to sell his lines. Fred Thompson gets some less than impressive reviews from a speech out in California.

Will it discourage him from jumping into the presidential race?

Paul Begala and Terry Jeffrey -- they're standing by for our Strategy Session.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, happening now, for many people, it seems like every time you drive by the gas station, the price just goes up and up. Now one Democratic senator wants to know if the oil companies are doing something to keep gas prices high.

Also, U.S. and Iraqi troops set out looking for an alleged Iraqi extremist. But what they found was shocking -- handcuffs, bloodstains, face masks, in what appears to have been a brutal torture room. We're standing by for details.

And some of his critics are calling him "an American neo- conservative with a French passport." That would be the man just elected to become France's next president. We'll take a closer look at Nicholas Sarkozy's win and what he faces next.

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

In Kansas, the death toll from devastating tornado packed storms is up to 12 today. Rescue teams are searching the rubble in communities that were largely wiped out. The governor of Kansas says recovery efforts are limited because so many National Guard troops and resources are deployed in Iraq.

Our Brian Todd is joining us now.

he has more on what's going on.

How strained are the National Guard units when these natural disasters strike -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're stretched thin all over the country, Wolf, and it's mostly a shortage of equipment.

In Kansas, Guard officials tell us it doesn't so much affect what they can handle, but how fast.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

TODD (voice-over): To recover in Greensburg, tons of debris will have to be cleared away. Some crucial first responders, National Guard units, are being hampered in this effort. And officials say troop strength is not the problem.

GOV. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS (D), ARKANSAS: We need trucks. We are missing Humvees. We're missing all kinds of equipment that could help us respond to this kind of emergency.

TODD: Kansas National Guard officials tell us they now have less than half the equipment allocated to them by the U.S. National Guard Bureau and they've been dealing with the shortfall for years.

MAJ. GEN. TOD BUNTING, KANSAS NATIONAL GUARD: We weren't fully equipped with all the resources we needed before the war started. So that and the fact that we went with a bunch of our forces to Iraq and Afghanistan just further depleted us.

TODD: Kansas is by no means alone. Listen to this finding by a commission reporting on the National Guard's ability to respond to disasters at home. MAJOR GENERAL ARNOLD PUNARO (RET.), CHAIRMAN, COMMISSION ON NATIONAL GUARD AND RESERVES: The National Guard, for the units that remain here in the continental United States, 88 percent of those units are not ready, due to equipment deficiencies.

TODD: Last month, the top National Guard official admitted the Army branch of his force is -- quote -- "woefully under-equipped."

But he also pledged:

LIEUTENANT GENERAL STEVEN BLUM, NATIONAL GUARD CHIEF: I will deliver and ensure that the adjutants general have the equipment and plans that they need to be able to respond.

TODD: Kansas National Guard officials tell us they can manage this disaster with the equipment they have and the shortage has had no effect on deaths or injuries in Greensburg. But...

BUNTING: If we had another big storm right now, we would be hard-pressed to cover that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And they may be hard-pressed soon. Weather officials tell us not only are we in the peak month for tornado season, but storm systems have just caused flash flooding and evacuations in Topeka and the Kansas City area -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What are the National Guards troops in Greensburg doing right now, Brian?

TODD: Well, the Guard officials tell us they are providing security, food and water, and they're helping to remove debris. But they also tell us the states are hiring some outside contractors for that equipment, at least some of it.

BLITZER: We know, when the National Guard forces go to Iraq or Afghanistan, they go with their equipment, their vehicles, their other sophisticated equipment. What happens to that equipment when they come home?

TODD: Well, it doesn't get sent back immediately. Officials say the equipment that these units take with them that's not damaged is left there for the units coming in. They say it simply doesn't make sense for them to ship the same kinds of equipment back and forth.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us -- thank you, Brian.

And joining us now from Greensburg, Kansas, is the governor, Kathleen Sebelius.

Governor, thanks very much for joining us.

And, first of all, our deepest condolences. Our heart...

GOV. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS (D), KANSAS: Good to be with you, Wolf. BLITZER: Our heart goes out to all of the families who have suffered so badly as a result of these tornadoes.

First of all, before we get to the issue of the National Guard, what's the latest? How bad is the situation right now?

SEBELIUS: Well, we have lost 10 lives in this community, two other Kansans. And that's a big loss. In a community of 1,500, to have 10 friends and neighbors lose their lives, another 17 in critical condition, is a huge loss. And, so, there's a lot of grief in this small town.

Beyond that, every bit of the town is gone. Main Street has no businesses left. We have lost the grade school and the high school, the hospital, the three churches where people worshipped up until last Sunday. So, there's really not much left in this community, except a lot of people who are determined to bring back Greensburg, Kansas.

BLITZER: What about other areas in Kansas? Is it strictly Greensburg, or how much have you suffered elsewhere?

SEBELIUS: Well, Kiowa County took the direct hit on Friday night. And that's right here in Greensburg.

A surrounding county had some damage. And, then, further east, there was some additional damage. The following night, there was a series of eight tornadoes that touched down, 11 more injuries, and a death when a tractor trailer went into the lake. So, we continued to have a bad storm on Saturday night.

And, yesterday, the flooding started. So, in the northeast part of the state, we have now had to evacuate areas around Topeka, a nursing home in Rossville, because we have floodwaters rising. So, we're dealing with two simultaneous weather-related disasters.

But thank God the sun came out today, and people in Greensburg are back looking at the devastation of their town. This is the first day they have been back in.

BLITZER: We did some checking with the National Guard Bureau, Governor, and we found out that, in Kansas, you have about 5,500 troops in the National Guard. And, what, almost 800 of them or so are deployed in Iraq right now.

How much of a factor is that in dealing with this current crisis?

SEBELIUS: Well, the troop strength is -- is down a bit because of the deployment. We actually have about 900 of our troops overseas.

We can cope with that. It was about twice as high a year ago. What really is hampering reactions like this and our opportunity to clean up quickly is the equipment shortage. It's something that governors across this country have talked about to the president, to the Department of Defense, really for well over two years. And it's happening every place in the country.

When a Guard unit is deployed, the equipment goes with them. It doesn't come back, and it isn't replaced.

BLITZER: Because, a lot of times, they just hand over that equipment to other units coming in, or they give it to the Iraqis. Is that what happens?

SEBELIUS: Well, that's right. It's, as they call it, up- armored. Clearly, we don't need the kind of armor in Kansas that you need to defend against an IED attack driving down a street in Tallil, which is where one of our engineering companies was recently.

So, it isn't appropriate, probably, that that same piece of equipment come back. It's damaged by the war. It's damaged by the sand. And it has too much armor on it. But what hasn't happened over the course of the four years of the war is that equipment be replaced.

So, about 50 percent of our heavy equipment is gone right now from Kansas. We're missing front-loaders and dump trucks. We're missing backhoes. We're missing bulldozers. We're missing Humvees to move people around. We're missing Black Hawk helicopters that could do aerial surveillance and move heavy and awkward equipment up and down the airways, instead of the highways.

So, it really has a serious impact, in terms of both training new National Guard men and women who come in, as well as being able to respond as rapidly as we need to, to a national disaster.

BLITZER: And it would be compounded, obviously. If, God forbid, you suffered another disaster, another tornado, ripped apart another community in Kansas, you clearly would be suffering as a result of that shortage of equipment.

SEBELIUS: Well, actually, Wolf, we're doing that right now. We have National Guard units in the northeast part of our state who are -- had to evacuate a nursing home last night, who had to set up a shelter around the capital city, because about 500 people were flooded out of their homes.

All of our schools in Topeka were closed today. We have got a small community in Rossville which is flooded. So, again, the National Guard is currently being deployed here in south central Kansas and there in northeast Kansas right now, today, simultaneously. And that is a strain under any conditions.

But it's really a strain when we're missing the trucks that could move folks in and out of water conditions easily or begin this debris cleanup. This is an amazing amount of devastation. An E-5 tornado hit right here in Greensburg, Kansas. And, really, 95 percent of the structures are gone.

I guess the -- the new terminology is EF-5. And we, unfortunately, had one of those, a mile-wide at times and on the ground for about 20 minutes. And it took out every structure here in Greensburg.

BLITZER: And, Governor...

(CROSSTALK)

SEBELIUS: So, there's an enormous amount of cleanup.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time.

SEBELIUS: Sure.

BLITZER: But why not simply ask some neighboring governors for help?

SEBELIUS: Well, unfortunately what we're seeing here in Kansas goes on across the country. We will ask our friends and neighbors for assets.

But the National Guard equipment, the -- 40 percent of the troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan are National Guard, and they come from across the country. Their equipment is gone also.

BLITZER: Any indication the president of the United States might drop by to offer his support?

SEBELIUS: Actually, the president indicates that he is coming here tomorrow -- I'm sorry -- on Wednesday. I am forgetting what day it is. He will be here on Wednesday.

We were very pleased with prompt reaction. A declaration was signed by the president 24 hours after this tornado hit. The FEMA director is here with us today. David Paulison is on the ground here in Greensburg. And the president will be here in two days.

So, we definitely have the national attention here in south central Kansas, and we're very grateful for that.

BLITZER: Governor Kathleen Sebelius, thanks very much for joining us. And good luck to everyone out in Kansas. Our heart goes out to the families and everyone else.

Thanks for coming in.

SEBELIUS: Keep us in our thoughts and prayers, please.

BLITZER: We certainly will, Governor. Thank you.

And coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM: a top Republican acknowledging his party's patience with the war in Iraq has limits. What might the GOP lawmaker be ready for doing next? Is there a plan B?

And a pro-American candidate wins the presidency in France. Will it help U.S. foreign policy as much as the White House might hope? The former Defense Secretary William Cohen, our world affairs analyst, assesses the possible impact.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Are some Republican supporters of the Bush administration's new Iraq plan getting somewhat skittish about its progress?

The House minority leader, John Boehner, says many of his peers will want to see some positive signs by this fall or they may be asking for what's now being called plan B. Boehner made his comments yesterday.

Joining us now, our congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

What are you hearing about Boehner's comments, the reaction from other Republicans, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, at first blush, those comments were from Congressman John Boehner weren't that surprising to those of us who walk the halls of Congress and talk to Republicans all the time. We get a sense of the impatience, the growing impatience, that Republicans feel when it comes to the war.

But, looking at it more specifically, hearing those kinds of comments from not only the top Republican in the House, but somebody who has been a staunch supporter of the president and his strategy on Iraq, is quite telling.

And it's telling, in that what Republicans here understand is that they don't support any timelines or deadlines, but there is an unofficial deadline of sorts for the president's strategy. And that is this fall. General David Petraeus came to the Hill just a few weeks ago and said that he's going to come back, and he will not know before and certainly may know by September whether the strategy is working.

So, everybody -- everybody -- is holding their breath, and they are going to give the president until September for the strategy to work, but maybe not much more.

BLITZER: Now, as you know, there's this sort of informal deadline to get the funding bill through the House and the Senate to the president's desk by Memorial Day. What's the latest on that effort?

BASH: The latest on that, Wolf, is that the House Democrats have decided to kind of split off and go, at least temporarily, on their own with their own proposal. And we are going to see this likely by Friday.

What House Democrats are going to do is have this in a two-stage process, this war funding bill. And what they are going to propose is funding 50 percent of the war through July. And then stage two would be in July. The remaining 50 percent would be appropriated or approved, but only after the president gives Congress a report on how Iraqis are doing in terms of the progress there.

Now, this is interesting and telling in terms of what we have been talking about, Wolf, which is that House Democrats in particular have the biggest hurdle to climb when it comes to the politics of this, because they know they are going to have to drop the timeline for withdrawal. But they still have to make clear to their constituency, the Democratic constituency, that they are trying to hold the president's feet to the fire when it comes to not just benchmarks for Iraqis, but making clear to the president that he is being held accountable on Iraq.

BLITZER: Dana Bash on Capitol Hill.

Up next: the "Strategy Session." Fred Thompson retraces Ronald Reagan's early political footsteps.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRED THOMPSON, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: I really believe that some people's proposals as to how we should react to these things is much more dangerous than the problems that are perceived in and of themselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But critics say he wasn't necessarily Reaganesque enough. Is he the dream candidate for the GOP?

And retired U.S. Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, he was skeptical about overthrowing Saddam Hussein before the invasion. I'm going to ask him now, what would happen if the U.S. were to leave quickly?

All that coming up -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In today's "Strategy Session": fresh poll numbers, who is up, who is down among the Republicans, the Democratic presidential hopefuls, and more.

Joining us, our CNN political analyst, Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and Terry Jeffrey, the editor at large of "Human Events."

Let's get to those polls in a moment.

I'm going to run a little clip of Fred Thompson, the former Republican senator, the actor. He was out in California, saying this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMPSON: We're talking about, once again, targeting the rich. My advice for anybody in the middle class, don't stand anywhere near the target.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He was going after the Democrats for threatening to raise taxes once again. Our old friend Bob Novak, he wrote a column suggesting he -- quoting people there at that event that he was less than overwhelming.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I know. And I love Novak. I always tease him that he's one of the finest minds of the 12th century.

But that 12th century mind-set is among the majority of the Republican primary voters. I read the text. I wasn't there, like Novak was. But it's very lackluster, none of Reagan's humor, none of Reagan's passion, none of Reagan's moral clarity. I don't expect him to give a liberal speech. I expect him to give a good conservative speech.

And the dominant issue of our time, Iraq, he mentions once. He spends more time on term limits.

You know, how about term limits for troops in Iraq, Senator?

It was really lame. He has got to hire a speechwriter if he's going to be a serious candidate.

BLITZER: He is going to be doing, we're told, a whole series of these kinds of speeches across the country.

What do you think, Terry?

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, "HUMAN EVENTS": Well, I think he has a heavy burden to define where he stands on the issues as a candidate, giving these speeches.

Unlike Ronald Reagan, who was also an actor, when Reagan ran in 1980, Wolf, he had been a conservative hero ever since 1964, when he supported Barry Goldwater. He had served two terms as a very conservative governor of California. He had run for president in 1976 against the sitting Republican, Gerald Ford. Everybody knew where Ronald Reagan stands.

Republican voters don't know where Fred Thompson ran -- stands. He ran for the Senate twice as a moderate. Now he wants to run for president as a conservative. If he's going to do that, he has to come out and sharply define himself on the issues.

BLITZER: In this new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll that's just out, he comes in third among registered Republicans or those leaning Republican. Right now, Giuliani is at 25 percent, McCain, 23 percent, Fred Thompson at 13 percent, up from 11 percent -- pretty impressive for a guy who is not even formally running. He's ahead of Mitt Romney, who is running.

BEGALA: Yes, that's -- that's really interesting to me, because Romney has been phenomenally successful with fund-raising. And a lot of Republican elites really like him. But he -- and the only problem is, the voters don't.

I think that Thompson getting 10 percent is probably a reflection of the idea of Fred Thompson. Republicans are very unsatisfied with the candidates they have running. Many of them are remarkable talents, but Republicans are not happy with the field they have. Democrats are very happy with the men and women who are running in their party.

BLITZER: Are you happy with the field right now? You're a good Republican.

JEFFREY: No. There's no question about it.

And I understand the reason why a lot of conservatives are looking to Fred Thompson as a potential savior. He has great name recognition. He has excellent presence.

But he could have the problem Romney has. Romney's problem is, he governed as a liberal in Massachusetts. Now he's trying to run for president as a conservative. He doesn't seem to have credibly sold that.

Fred Thompson has to credibly sell who he is. And it needs to be a conservative. If he does that, he could emerge as the conservative alternative to Rudy Giuliani.

BLITZER: Here's the other poll that we have on registered Democrats, their choices nationally. Hillary Clinton, from 36, she's to 41 percent, Barack Obama from 28 to 27 percent, John Edwards holding steady, about 15 to 14 percent.

What do you make, if anything, of this, Paul?

BEGALA: Not much.

I mean, a national poll this early is not very instructive for the campaign.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: More instructive would be polls in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina; is what you are saying?

BEGALA: Right. Absolutely.

And, in Iowa, I bet you John Edwards is still winning.

JEFFREY: That's right.

BEGALA: I haven't seen a poll in months that Edwards wasn't leading.

But I think, if you step back, what's more interesting for Democrats is not the national polling. It's the fact that, by half-a- million, more people tuned into the Democratic debate than the Republican debate. By 50 -- no, by 25 million, more people gave money -- more money was donated to Democratic candidates than Republican candidates. So, non-polling indicators that I think are more reliable suggest that the Democrats are in pretty good position going into '08. But I would be very surprised if Hillary's campaign is popping champagne corks right now. There's polls, not...

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY: Well, they like this poll better than the Quinnipiac poll that came out last week, which shows a completely different trend, with Hillary going down.

But I agree with Paul, that the states are going to matter. John Edwards is, in fact, leading in Iowa. You have a much tighter race in New Hampshire, where Obama has got a shot, if you look at the polls now.

Hillary can't afford to lose early on. And, right now, she's not doing so well in the early states.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much, Paul Begala, Terry Jeffrey joining us.

Still to come: America has a powerful new admirer in France. But will it help the U.S. bolster other friendships in Europe? Jack Cafferty is standing by with your e-mail.

And what's the driving force behind the rising price of gas? Coming up: a new call for a federal investigation into whether oil companies are doing anything improper.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Some tough talk from Senator Barack Obama on energy topping our "Political Radar" today: The senator from Illinois and Democratic presidential candidate says his plan pushes U.S. automakers to build fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles. And his proposal calls for the federal government to help the automakers achieve this goal. Obama made his comments during a speech today in Detroit.

Hillary Clinton is in what you might call enemy territory today. The senator from New York is fund-raising in Chicago. Clinton grew up in the Chicago area, but, nowadays, the city appears to be the heart of Obama's political and financial base. Clinton says she doesn't think Chicago is off-limits to her.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My colleague and a wonderful candidate as well, we are competing across the country. And I wanted to be sure that I had a chance to come here to let the people in this city and state know that I don't consider Chicago or Illinois off-limits to me. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: There's been a shakeup in John McCain's campaign staff, McCain's political director, Michael Dennehy, stepping down from day- to-day duties, heading home to New Hampshire, telling colleagues that family obligations are conflicting with his duties.

The McCain campaign says today's move has nothing to do with other staff changes, including the replacement of McCain's longtime fund-raising chief. Dennehy will now help oversee political operations in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's joining us in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Who is calling for this investigation you alluded to in the gas prices? Is that Schumer?

BLITZER: That would be Chuck Schumer of New York.

CAFFERTY: Yes. They do that every time prices go up. They say, let's have an investigation of the oil companies. Nothing ever happens. We don't have enough refineries, apparently. There was one under construction in Arizona. They stopped working on it.

But the federal government, they all -- all the politicians jump up and down and say, we have got to have an investigation.

The question this hour is: How will France's election of a pro- American president affect U.S. relations with Europe?

Sarkozy, the conservative, won in a run-off yesterday in France.

Ron in San Diego: "We salute the country that sold us the land of Katrina and Louisiana. We rejoice that there will be" -- this reads like a proclamation -- "We rejoice there will be someone in political power in Paris who recognizes our long history of careful diplomacy and kindred spirits. May we now elect someone to the White House who feels the same appreciation of the French. I still miss Jacqueline Kennedy speaking French once in a while."

Michael in California writes: "The portrayal of the president- elect of France as pro-American is cartoonish. No mainstream French politician, left or right, is anti-American. They and the French populace are fervently anti-Bush on matters such as Iraq, gun control, religious fundamentalism, and global climate change. But, then, so are many, many Americans. If the Bush administration is expecting Sarkozy to be another poodle, the second coming of Tony Blair, they will be grievously disappointed."

Terry in Fayetteville, North Carolina: "The Bush team will demonize Sarkozy, like they did Chirac and Putin, just as soon as Sarkozy dares tell Bush something he doesn't want to hear, like what a sound immigration policy looks like."

Pat in Idaho writes: "A friend can't possibly hurt the U.S., even if it's France. Our roster of friends around the world isn't very impressive."

James in Canada: "Just think. Americans might again enjoy drinking fine French wines. Don't be fooled by thinking he is pro- American. French people can't stomach Americans."

Sharon in Toronto: "Before Americans can comment on the election in France, they should be required to locate the country on a map."

Tad in California: "Sacre red, white and bleu."

And Bette in Houston: "I think this is terrific. When can we expect the French Foreign Legion to come in and relieve our troops in Iraq?" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

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