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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview with Bill Clinton; Democrats' plan for Iraq. Schneider examines the polls.

Aired May 8, 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, are hopes for a compromise over Iraq war funding out the window?
House Democrats unveil their latest attempt to hold the president accountable. We'll see if they have the votes and the public on their side.

Also this hour, Rudy Giuliani's weak spot with some conservatives. Fresh evidence of his support for abortion rights the talk of the Republican presidential race.

And Bill Clinton makes a deal. An exclusive interview with the former president about his new push to make treatment for AIDS more affordable.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

First this hour, House Democrats once again taking an in your face approach when it comes to the war in Iraq. Their newly unveiled plan would give the president only part of the money he wants to fund the war. A top Republican is accusing Democrats of treating the troops like children getting a monthly allowance.

Our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is following this latest round of infighting.

Dana is joining us from Capitol Hill.

The House speaker striking a pretty strong tone today.

What's going on -- Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you remember, Wolf, six days ago, the House speaker walked out of the White House, a bipartisan meeting there, saying that she was willing to talk about consensus, just like all of the other lawmakers of both parties who walked out.

But today, Nancy Pelosi said she did not talk about any compromise.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I said we had a responsibility to the American people to try to find our common ground. Where we didn't find our common ground, we would stand our ground. That's exactly what I said.

BASH (voice-over): Now, instead of negotiating with the White House on a war spending bill all sides agree must be complete in three weeks, House Democrats plan a vote later this week on a measure that would withhold more than half the $100 billion the president wants.

It's a two-pronged approach. First, approve $30 billion through July. Then, vote on the rest of the money after the president reports to Congress about Iraqi progress.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL, (D), ILLINOIS: The days of having a blank check from Congress are over.

BASH: Democrats trying to appeal to a left flank furious about funding the war without a plan to bring troops home say this holds the administration accountable. Republican leaders dismiss it as irresponsible.

REP. ADAM PUTNAM (R), FLORIDA: It is unconscionable to think that they want to fund a war 60 days at a time.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: We need to get the job done. We need to do it for the entire period, through September 30th. And we need to it before Memorial Day.

BASH: But House Democrats may get support from Republicans, who will find it hard to vote against a bill that puts pressure on the Iraqi government to show progress.

REP. JIM GERLACH (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Do we need to put things out in front of the Iraqi government that makes them realize they have to do certain things to continue the support of the American people?

Absolutely. And if that also allows us, as a vehicle, then, to get more money to our troops when they need it, then we need to take a strong look at it.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BASH: Now, as for the Senate, Democrats there have long been lukewarm to this idea of a short-term funding bill. Today, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, said that he's going to wait and see what the Senate does.

There seems to be, Wolf, a good cop/bad cop approach between Senate Democrats and House Democrats because the Senate Democratic leader is going to sit down once again with the Republican leader and the White House tomorrow.

BLITZER: But even as this is unfolding, Dana, there are increasing calls from Republicans, including some leaders, for real progress to emerge by September or October of this year in Iraq.

BASH: That's right. We talked about some of that yesterday, that many Republicans have been saying for weeks now that because General Petraeus said he's going to come back with a report in September, that is when they will reassess their support for the Iraq mission.

I talked to one Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, who said something today, Wolf, that she hasn't said before. She says when she reassess that, she may, in fact, call for troops to start coming home.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R), MAINE: And I do believe that there comes a point in September where if it's evident that the new strategy is not successful and it's not going to succeed, that we do have to change course. And that means looking at all the options, including a plan for withdrawing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, that is noteworthy because Senator Collins has voted against all timetables for withdrawal so far. She is among several Republicans, vulnerable Republicans, who are having ads run against them by anti-war groups about the war -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is she up for reelection next year?

BASH: She absolutely is. She's up for reelection in 2008. And, as I said, just like several other senators, like Senator John Sununu, Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota, they are under the gun in particular because Democrats are pushing very hard in their home states about the war. And these ads are going up. There is one set of ads running now, another set starting tomorrow.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much.

Dana Bash on Capitol Hill.

The Bush White House isn't budging from its position that the war needs to be funded without major strings or a pullout timetable attached.

The press secretary, Tony Snow, warning Democrats and Republicans looking for signs of progress in Iraq that the violence won't end overnight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Please avoid the idea that Iraq is like Oz and one day it's going to be black and white and the next day you're going to wake up and it's color. It's a war. And in a time -- and it is something where progress is something that our people are devoted and dedicated to achieving, but it is not something that appears with the snap of a finger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Tony Snow calls the House Democrats' new plan to fund the war through July only, and I'm quoting now, "bad management."

Democrats are hoping their Plan B approach to war funding under pressure to limit the Iraq mission without putting troops at risk. They're hoping that this will work.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is here with some brand new poll numbers that we're releasing this hour.

What does the public want the U.S. -- the administration -- to do in Iraq -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: They want to end the war, carefully.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Most Americans disagree with President Bush's decision to veto the Iraq funding bill that contained a timetable for withdrawal.

What do they think Congress should do now?

FORMER SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Congress should send him another bill with the funding authority for the troops with a timetable for withdrawal.

SCHNEIDER: The public agrees. In the new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, 57 percent want Congress to pass another bill with funding and timetables.

Another proposal is to replace timetables with benchmarks that the Iraqi government must meet to show progress toward a political resolution. That proposal gets slightly more support -- 61 percent.

Republicans charged Democrats with failing to support U.S. troops.

PUTNAM: The troops desperately need the funds and the political games that are being played by the Democratic leadership are jeopardizing the reinforcements that they so desperately need to succeed in that country.

SCHNEIDER: Most Americans do not favor a measure that would provide no additional funds for the troops and require them to withdraw by next March. Democratic leaders pledge...

REP. STENY HOYER (D), MARYLAND: We intend to fund the troops, as Speaker Pelosi and I have said. Our troops are in harm's way. We're not going to leave them defenseless. We're not going to leave them unsupported.

SCHNEIDER: Senators Clinton and Byrd want Congress to revoke the authority it gave President Bush to invade Iraq in 2002 and require him to seek new authority to continue the war.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I believe a full reconsideration of the terms and conditions of that authorization is overdue.

SCHNEIDER: Half the public agrees.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The public trusts Congress more than President Bush to set policy in Iraq. Congress is more committed to ending the war -- Wolf.

BLITZER: In this poll, Bill, who do the American people believe is more responsible for -- for the failure to get the troops the funds that they need?

SCHNEIDER: Well, 44 percent say the Democrats in Congress are more responsible for the stalemate, while 34 percent say President Bush. With trust comes responsibility -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider with the latest numbers for us.

Let's go to New York and Jack Cafferty.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Senate has blocked an effort that would have allowed Americans to buy prescription drugs from abroad, places like Canada, Japan, Australia and some European countries -- places that have similar regulatory requirements on pharmaceuticals as the United States.

Instead, the Senate passed a measure that imports will not be allowed unless the secretary of Health & Human Services can verify their safety -- something officials have said they can't do.

The pharmaceutical industry says it opposes drug imports because it could leave the U.S. open to dangerous counterfeits and health officials in both the Clinton and Bush administrations and blocked efforts to import foreign drugs, saying they can't guarantee their safety.

Critics claim the ban is simply there to protect the drug industry in the United States. It's much more about that, they say, than about safety. They favor imports as a way to make drugs more affordable. Senator Byron Dorgan, who was a co-sponsor of the proposal to allow the imports, accused the pharmaceutical industry of dictating prices to American consumers. Dorgan insists that: "The fight isn't over. We'll be back."

Here's the question -- should Americans be allowed to buy prescription drugs from abroad?

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

BLITZER: We import a lot of food from around the world and that doesn't seem to be such a big problem, right, Jack? CAFFERTY: And apparently only 7/10 of 1 percent of all of that food that's -- imported is inspected to make sure that it's safe, according to something I read somewhere earlier today. So they only get -- they don't look at 99 percent of the food that's coming into the country, but they want to be able to certify all of the -- of the prescription drugs, even though many of the prescription drugs that Americans would be buying from abroad are manufactured by the same pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the stuff here in the United States.

BLITZER: And -- but they're a lot cheaper abroad than they are here.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: Jack, stand by.

Thank you.

Coming up, Rudy Giuliani's stand on abortion already making him a lonely guy among the Republican field. We're going to tell you what may be making matters even worse for him.

Plus, new calls for boycotting the Beijing Olympics next year. A Republican congressman is teaming up with an actress, who's accusing China of aiding genocide. And the former president, Bill Clinton, striking a deal to get more for less in the battle against AIDS. In an exclusive interview, he tells our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta why this is a very happy day.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Federal officials say the bloodthirsty goal was to kill as many American soldiers as possible.

We're following a developing story about an alleged plot targeting a military base in New Jersey.

Carol Costello is in New York.

She's watching this story for us, part of our Security Watch.

What do we know right now -- Carol?

What's the latest?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've been waiting for more information on this. Just about a half hour ago, officials held a press conference about this alleged plot to, as you say, kill U.S. soldiers.

Officials say the intended target was the Fort Dix military base in New Jersey. The government says six alleged Islamic radicals are involved and they were nabbed last night. Now, at that news conference Marines ago, one official talked about a key detail of the threat.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER J. CHRISTIE, U.S. ATTORNEY: In 2006, in January, a clerk at a local store here in New Jersey came into possession of a video which the defendants wanted dubbed onto a DVD. That local store clerk, having viewed the video of these people in military garb yelling out Jihadist statement and shooting semi-automatic weapons, brought his attention to the fact that there could be a problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Good for that clerk.

Now, one of the men allegedly delivered pizza to the base regularly. He did that to learn the layout. The White House says there is no indication the six people were connected to any larger organized terror group.

We'll have more on this later -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And four of those six, we're told, were from the former Yugoslavia and two of them elsewhere. One was born in Turkey, one was born in Jordan.

All right, we'll stay on top of this story for our viewers. All of them had lived here in the United States, though, Carol, for a long time, is that right?

COSTELLO: Right.

That's right.

BLITZER: All right, Carol Costello is going to watch this story for us.

And remember, stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.

Right now, some critics of China are saying its slogan for the 2008 Olympic Games should be -- and I'm quoting now -- "the genocide Olympics." They're blasting China for what they consider its complicity in what's happening in Sudan's Darfur Region.

Our Brian Todd is standing by -- Brian, there are two very unlikely partners teaming up right now.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, a Republican Congressman and actress Mia Farrow, of all people, teaming up now to pressure China and even threaten a boycott of the 2008 Olympics.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) TODD (voice-over): China in the crosshairs again in Congress, with one lawmaker accusing the country of trying to hide its human rights record.

REP. FRANK WOLF (R), VIRGINIA: I mean the Chinese are, in essence, doing what the Nazis did in the Olympics in the '30s -- cleaning the streets and changing things.

TODD: The issue?

The alleged genocide in Darfur, Sudan. China has used its power at the U.N. to block stronger U.N. action on Darfur.

Actress and activist Mia Farrow says if China continues to obstruct on the Darfur issue, the Olympics should be boycotted.

MIA FARROW, U.N. GOODWILL AMBASSADOR: And with China's Olympics and their slogan, "One World, One Dream," there is one nightmare that even China cannot sweep under the rug.

TODD: Also, a new report by Amnesty International asserts that arms supplied to Sudan by China have been used by Sudan for violations of the U.N.'s mandatory arms embargo.

Sudan's chief diplomat in the U.S. tells CNN his government is not buying arms from any country and denies the government is involved in Darfur's violence.

Our repeated calls to a spokesman at the Chinese embassy in Washington were not returned. But a Chinese official said this last month.

QIN GANG, CHINESE FOREIGN AFFAIRS SPOKESMAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): It is a totally misguided approach for people to link the Darfur issue with the Games.

TODD: The Sudanese official says his country does get help building refineries from China and sells oil to Beijing.

Will American athletes be told to boycott the Beijing Olympics?

LINDA MILLER, FORMER OLYMPIC ROWER: Boycotting the Olympic Games, it turns the athletes themselves -- who spent just countless years in single-minded pursuit of one goal -- into political pawns in a fight between nations that they have nothing to do with.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: But ultimately one of the final decision-makers here will be the U.S. Olympic Committee. And the Committee tells CNN it has not given any consideration to boycotting the Beijing Games, nor will they. It says the Games are not about politics -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the Bush administration? What do they say?

TODD: Well, Wolf, a spokesman for the National Security Council tells us: "The U.S. is working with China and the others to convince the president of Sudan to stop the violence in Darfur and to bring much needed humanitarian assistance to his people."

That's from the National Security Council.

BLITZER: Brian, we'll stay on top of this story, as well.

Thank you.

Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, what does Karl Rove share with Bill Clinton?

The answer online.

And more Republicans appear to be setting a deadline of their own for their support of the war in Iraq. Donna Brazile and Rich Galen, they take on the GOP push back in our Strategy Session.

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

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani on the definitive once again today about his position on abortion.

At issue?

His past contributions to a group at the forefront of abortion rights.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow.

She's in New York.

There's a new twist in this latest issue involving Rudy Giuliani and abortion rights for women -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, Wolf.

And this new twist comes as Rudy Giuliani has already been putting Republicans to the test when it comes to the issue of abortion. That test is getting more complex.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): When it comes to abortion and the '08 field of Republican contenders, Rudy Giuliani stands alone.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hate abortion, but ultimately, since it is an issue of conscience, I would respect a woman's right to make a different choice.

SNOW: At the first Republican debate, the former New York City mayor was the only candidate to not fully support the overturning of "Roe vote. Wade."

GIULIANI: It would be OK to repeal. It would be OK, also, if a strict constructionist judge viewed it as precedent.

SNOW: It's a mixed message that's now getting more complicated.

Federal tax returns show that Giuliani and his former wife contributed money at least six times during the 1990s to Planned Parenthood, one of the nation's leading advocates of birth control and abortion rights.

The tax returns have been in public for years. But the online Web site, The Politico, says aides to a rival campaign provided them with details on Giuliani's support for Planned Parenthood.

CNN also has a copy.

It's the talk today among conservatives.

LAURA INGRAHAM, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: I think it's giving people a lot of pause. And I think the fact that he says he hates abortion and then we find out that he has given, on multiple occasions, to Planned Parenthood, donations, it's hard to square those two things. I don't donate to things I hate.

SNOW: Giuliani said today the donations are consistent with his personal position against abortion and that Planned Parenthood provides information on options available to pregnant women.

Mitt Romney's also felt the heat over his shift from abortion rights to opposing them.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When I ran for office, I said I would protect the law as it was, which is effectively a pro- choice position. About two years ago, I changed my mind.

SNOW: John McCain says it will be almost impossible for a Republican candidate who favors abortion rights to win the nomination.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think it's one of the fundamental principles of -- of the -- of a conservative to have a -- a respect and a commitment to the dignity -- to the dignity of human life, both the born and the unborn.

SNOW: But could Giuliani's abortion stance help?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Abortion is Rudy Giuliani's Achille's heel with social conservatives. But it could be one of his strongest assets should he win the Republican nomination.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SNOW: While Giuliani is facing challenges in the Republican primaries because of his stance on abortion, it could actually help him in a general election, with Independents and some Democrats -- Wolf. BLITZER: Mary Snow reporting for us.

Thank you.

So what do Karl Rove, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Bob Dole all have in common?

They're all among the political heavyweights weighing in on one small town politician's run for local office.

Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, is joining us with details.

What's this all about -- Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, Jim Trippon is a CPA running for city council in a small town in Texas. And he sent out 100 letters to 100 politicians and political advisers asking for their advice on his very first campaign. He's heard back from about 25 of them so far and some of them are very impressive names.

For example, presidential adviser Karl Rove gives the advice that his job is to make himself seen as he is on his best day. He's heard from former President Bill Clinton, who says he needs to be dedicated to the needs of the people. He's also heard from former Senator Bob Dole, who says that he needs to listen to the people and to meet as many as possible, which should not be hard, considering that the city of Hunter's Creek has a population of about 4,000.

Trippon says he'd still like to hear from the current president, although he already has heard from the president's father. The election is this Saturday and Trippon does have an opponent. His name is David Wagner (ph) -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jacki, for that.

Up next, Bill Clinton on his worldwide battle against AIDS. You're going to want to hear what the former president told CNN in an exclusive interview today.

Also, deadly tornadoes and now destructive flooding.

But is Kansas getting all the help it can from officials here in Washington?

I'll ask the White House homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend. She'll join us in our next hour live, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now -- she says/they say -- the governor of Kansas is trading words with the Bush administration over the response to those deadly tornado packing storms. I'll speak with the White House homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend. That's coming up. Also, as Kansas deals with the aftermath of those deadly tornadoes, it's now also reeling from dangerous floods and forecasters are worried about floods from South Dakota all the way down to Texas.

And some fish intended for you to eat are now involved in that pet food scare that's killed some animals. There's a disturbing new report from health officials and they're responding to fears about risks to your health.

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

The disease does not discriminate. So for those living with AIDS and in need of treatment, it should not matter where they live. That's the thrust of some efforts by Bill Clinton.

Today, the former president announced he's helped negotiate a deal with drug companies to lower the price of high cost AIDS drugs for millions of people.

Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, sat down with Bill Clinton for an exclusive interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot of people watching think AIDS is a death sentence, still. How effective are these pills?

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Very.

We know that -- from our experience in the United States, that, if we can get people on medication when they need it, even if they are very young, and they have proper nutrition, and live a healthy lifestyle, they can have virtually a normal lifespan.

Of course, they will have to change so as not to infect other people. But they can have a normal lifespan. And that's what's so tragic about all these people still dying in poor countries around the world.

GUPTA: A lot of this has been focused on the cost of these medications. How do you determine a good price point? I mean, the per capita income in a lot of these places is still around $700 to $800 a year. This is $350 or so. Can they afford it?

CLINTON: Well, it's still a lot of money, but it's easier to take. The three-in-one pill is so much easier to take, that we wanted to get down the price as low as we could. And I think a lot of middle-income countries like Brazil, Thailand, Mexico, a lot of those countries will buy this pill.

And, it will -- because we cut the price by about -- this is about a 50 percent price cut for them. And most of the pharmaceutical companies that have been selling this did sell it for less in sub- Saharan Africa, but, still, it's a big price cut there, too. So, more people will be able to use it. But keep in mind, we still can sell the regular first-line drugs at about $130 a person a year. So that's much, much less expensive.

GUPTA: What in your life has prepared you for this, for working with AIDS, doing this sort of work that you're doing now?

CLINTON: Well, I have always been interested in health care, ever since I was a little boy.

Even my mother was a nurse-anesthetist. and a lot of my adult role models were doctors when I was a kid. I hung around hospitals. I was watching surgery by the time I was 12 and not getting sick at the sight of blood.

And, when I was governor of a state that was both small, but had a limited per capita income, I devoted an enormous amount of time to thinking about efficiency. Keep in mind, one of the most successful things I did as president -- I don't know that I or, more sadly, Al Gore, ever made any votes out of it, but one of the best things we did was the reinventing government initiative.

I mean, government was smaller when I took office than it had been since the last months of Dwight Eisenhower's presidency. The Social Security Administration won an award for being the most efficient consumer-oriented business in America in serving people. We totally redid the veterans health care system.

I was used to trying to organize and direct under-funded markets for what I would call public goods. That's what the Empowerment Zone Program was all about, the new markets initiative, trying to get people to invest in poor areas.

I think, very often, the lives of people who don't have enough investment or health care or education not only suffer from too little investment money, but a total lack of organization, a lack of effective systems.

So, I figured, since I didn't have the money of the Gates Foundation, what I could do is organize these markets for public goods, and try to then attract investment because they were organized and you could get a high return for the dollar you put in.

And I have just been doing it ever since I got in public service.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Bill Clinton also told Sanjay Gupta that this is a particularly happy day for him. That's because bitter enemies from Northern Ireland's past joined forces today in a new government.

Power-sharing was the central goal of a Northern Ireland peace accord brokered by the Clinton administration back in 1998. The former president says, after a long and difficult process, today marks the formal end of the longest civil conflict in European history.

And let's hope it stays like that.

Coming up: Will the actor Fred Thompson seek the role of a lifetime? We're going to examine the secret to his appeal with Republicans who want him to run for president.

And we're also standing by for remarks by President Bush and a possible response to the Democrats' latest jabs at him over Iraq.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The actor former Senator Fred Thompson is preparing for another test of the presidential waters. The "Law & Order" star gives a speech in Florida on Thursday, just days after his debut on the campaign trail got some mixed reviews.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, looks at Thompson's appeal to Republicans -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, 10 Republicans running for president seems like nine more than needed. So, what's the deal with Fred Thompson? Why all this talk about one more?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Frankly, people are so hungry for this race, that the feedback I'm getting, Candy, is, when? When can we go? When can we start?

CROWLEY (voice-over): According to the non-campaign, the Thompson-for-president bandwagon includes a number of former Reagan types who are putting together a meeting with Thompson to discuss issues.

The non-candidate is already polling ahead of actual candidate Mitt Romney. A small cadre of unofficial Thompson advisers reads that as dissatisfaction with current choices.

Outside Thompsonville, they think it's more like high school dating. You want the one you don't have.

VIN WEBER, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: At this stage in the process, it's unlikely that a party, particularly a party that's struggling a little bit, as the Republicans are right now, is going to look at any of their candidates and say, well, that's our savior. And, so, the guy that is not in the race tends to look a little better.

CROWLEY: And Thompson has done little to dissuade his fan base. He's the '08 tease, on the blogs with his thoughts, on radio with his commentary, on TV with his day job.

And, in California's Orange County at the Lincoln club, AKA rich Republican territory, the folksy Thompson talked Republican stuff, small government and muscular foreign policy.

FRED THOMPSON, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Even though we won't be going around in the woods trying to find any bears to kill, sometimes, the bear visits you, whether you are looking for him or not.

CROWLEY: It was his debut political speech, but Thompson got panned as uninspiring. The thing is, even with a bad performance, there is something about Fred.

MICHAEL SHEAR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Despite the fact that it was a kind of rambling speech, despite the fact that it didn't maybe make the crowd stand up and -- and -- you know, and applaud on their feet, he's got the voice. He's got the stature and the size and the presence.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: In short, he looks the part. He talks the part.

Fred Thompson is often described as Reaganesque, which is pretty much all you have to say to make Republicans swoon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Candy, we thank you.

In addition to giving speeches and popping up in the presidential polls, Fred Thompson is becoming a regular fixture on conservative blogs.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is here with some details.

What's he been talking about there, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, all kinds of things.

It's hard to miss Thompson online at the moment. Last night, he showed up almost 10:00 on the conservative blog Redstate to comment on the media dredging up some of his early acting roles.

But that's just the latest. In the last couple of months, his online musings have tackled everything from the NFL draft, to concealed weapons, to Iran, and the movie "300."

And, if you have missed Thompson himself, well, it's hard to ignore his supporters, banner ads online on blogs asking people to draft Fred Thompson. The blog of former Senator Bill Frist has, at times, looked like some kind of Thompson fan site.

And the response to Thompson's speech last week from conservative bloggers was not overly enthusiastic, underwhelming, said one, but these frequent appearances online certainly creating online buzz as well about a presidential bid -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi Tatton watching the Internet for us.

Abbi Tatton, Candy Crowley, they're both part of the best political team on television. And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can check out our Political Ticker. Simply go to CNN.com/ticker.

Other news we're watching: bodies in the streets, a rising death toll raising new questions about the security crackdown in Baghdad.

CNN's Hugh Riminton is in the Iraqi capital -- Hugh.

HUGH RIMINTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's too early to say if this constitutes a trend here.

But, if it is a trend, it's a disturbing one. The body count in Baghdad, the bodies dumped across the city, appear to be rising again -- on Monday, 30 bodies found, many of them showing signs of torture. That brings the seven-day total to 153 bodies. That figure had been lowering in recent days, seen as a promising sign for the Baghdad security plan, signs perhaps of it spiking back up again.

More bombs across Iraq as well, the worst of them in Kufa, south of Baghdad, outside a restaurant favored by Shiite pilgrims moving to holy city of Najaf, a car bomb exploding, killing 16 people and injuring scores more.

Another bomb in southeastern Baghdad outside a minibus, killing three people, and a suicide bomber igniting or setting off a vest in Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad, a province that has seen a lot of trouble -- he set off the bomb inside a police station. And that one killed five people and injured 15 more.

One other thing we're seeing, U.S. military is trying to crack down on the chemical car bombs, also chemical truck bombs. They found some intelligence last month. They acted on that intelligence with three raids across the country. And they brought in 13 suspected terrorists -- trying to crack down on that particular manifestation of the terrorists' plan here in Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Hugh Riminton in Baghdad for us.

So, when will Iraqi forces be ready to take over, let U.S. troops go home?

U.S. Army Colonel Stephen Twitty is with the U.S. Army in northern Iraq. He's in Mosul. He's trying to help train Iraqis. I asked him how that process is going forward.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLONEL STEPHEN TWITTY, U.S. ARMY: When I came in, there was a brigade here. Now there's a battalion here. And I routinely pull that battalion out of combat operations here in Mosul to test the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police.

We just tested them over the weekend. They maintained the battle space. We pulled our forces out, and they did an absolutely outstanding job. And we do that routinely. And I am committed to keeping quick-reaction forces prepared to respond and other enablers to assist them in fighting on the battlefield.

But, for the most part, they are leading operations here, not only in Mosul, but in the province.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Colonel Twitty also says -- and I'm quoting now -- it's "absolutely doable" -- his words -- "for the U.S. to dramatically scale back its presence in northern Iraq by November." That's when he and his brigade from the 1st Armored Cavalry Division scheduled to return to the United States.

We will watch.

Up next, in the "Strategy Session": Republicans are pushing for full funding for the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY WHIP: Congress has debated this issue, sent a bill to the president with timelines. He did not accept it. He vetoed it. We need to get an agreement. What we need is funds for the troops. That -- that should be our focus. And we need to get agreement on that as soon as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But are they giving the president a deadline to turn things around in Iraq by September?

Plus: our exclusive new poll numbers. The American people didn't think too highly of President Bush's veto. But they are also not in favor of cutting funding for the war. Donna Brazile and Rich Galen, they are standing by to make some sense of all of this.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: So, do some Republicans in Congress have their own deadline for when they want to see meaningful progress in Iraq? That's one item for today's "Strategy Session."

Joining us here, our -- our CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist Rich Galen.

Senator Trent Lott, he is the number-two Republican, Rich, in the U.S. Senate. He said this on Monday: "I do think, this fall, we have to see some significant changes on the ground in Baghdad and other surrounding areas."

It sounds like there's a self-imposed deadline a lot of these Republicans are imposing on themselves to try to come up with some progress.

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes. I think -- well, from a strategy standpoint, I think what that means is -- and I think we all recognize this is coming -- that, some time around Labor Day, this administration is effectively over. And candidates, both for Congress, Senate and president, will feel free to break away from this president, for whatever reason, and go off in a different direction.

And I think what Trent Lott is doing is, he's just signalling that that's about to happen.

BLITZER: And a lot of Republicans in the House and the Senate -- all the Republicans in the House who want to be reelected, because they are all up for election next year -- but a lot of the Republicans who are up for reelection in the Senate, they are already posturing, positioning themselves to distance themselves from the administration's stance, if there's no significant progress coming up soon.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's correct.

I mean, Gordon Smith voted with the Democrats a couple of weeks ago on the withdrawal plan. But, also, Norm Coleman of Minnesota has also put out...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And Susan Collins today, we heard from Dana Bash.

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

And they are all up in 2008. Look, I'm not surprised that the Republicans are joining with the Democrats on setting a timeline. I'm surprised that they are going to wait that long to begin to change course.

GALEN: Oh, I don't think they're setting -- it's a different timeline, though, Donna. I mean, they are not suggesting that -- that the troops have to be withdrawn by September.

What they are saying is, they want to look -- they want to see some significant progress. And that interview that you had with the colonel up in Mosul, I think that indicates that it is possible that significant progress may well be made.

BRAZILE: But, as you well know, that's also the end of the fiscal year, when we take a look at both the defense authorization, defense appropriations bill. So, that is a good time to review not just our strategies, but also the plans for the future.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Rich, why do you think this administration effectively is over with after Labor Day?

GALEN: Well, because -- because it's the last year of an eight- year term. And Republicans -- this happened with -- look back to -- oh, maybe Al Gore's campaign. We could have a better discussion from Donna. At some point, you have to say, OK, that's it. I need to set my own course.

The election in France Sunday showed us that a member of Chirac's own party, Chirac being very unpopular in France, effectively broke away, yet won an easy election.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And that -- so, that may be a game plan for some of these Republicans.

Do you buy that?

BRAZILE: I don't know if I buy anything from the French election.

But it is hunting season in the fall. And I'm sure the Republicans are going to go out there and look for votes. And, clearly, the Democrats are firm. They are negotiating in good faith with the Bush administration. But they would like to see this war brought to an end.

BLITZER: In our new CNN/Opinion Research poll, we asked if the American public approves or disapproves of the president's decision to veto the legislation to fund the war with that deadline imposed; 44 percent approve of the veto; 54 percent disapprove of the veto.

Were you surprised by that?

GALEN: Sixty-one percent in that same poll said that they -- they disagreed with a timeline. They agreed with benchmarks. But 61 percent of the American people disagreed with them.

These kind of polls, I think, say is that what -- that, when you ask -- it depends on how you ask the question, that people say, this is what I wish would happen. But, when it comes down to the crunch, paying for the soldiers, paying -- paying the bills to continue this war against terrorism, that's 61 percent of the American people...

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: Well, 59 percent also believe that Democrats should be in charge of our strategy in Iraq.

BLITZER: In that same poll, let's take a look at this other number, because it was interesting.

Senator Hillary Clinton's decision to team up with Senator Robert Byrd and revoke the authority for going to war that was put forward almost five years ago -- this October, it will be five years -- we asked, do you support that decision by Senator Clinton or not? Fifty percent favor revoking President Bush's authority to conduct military actions in Iraq. Forty-seven percent oppose. Donna, it looks like the American public, on that issue, is pretty split.

BRAZILE: Well, they are.

But let me just tell you this. Hillary Clinton supported Bob Byrd -- Robert Byrd's decision back in 2002 for a one-year authorization. John Edwards voted against it. So, I think Senator Clinton is consistent in her -- once again, she said, I disagree with the president in the way he's handled this situation in Iraq.

GALEN: It just -- it depends on what your definition of consistent is.

But let me make a point about -- about this whole timetable business, the fact that -- the Democrats negotiating in good faith -- even you couldn't keep a straight face when you said that -- that the -- that it's interesting to me that "The New York Times" had a front- page piece over the weekend about the pressure that MoveOn.org and the left wing of the Democratic Party is bringing on.

They said, we want to be perfectly clear. If Democrats appear to capitulate to Bush, the unity Democrats have enjoyed will disappear. Lo and behold, not 48 hours later, the Democrats back away from negotiating in good faith, and decide that they're going to come...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Donna, how much influence does the MoveOn.org and other elements in the Democratic Party have on the leadership in Congress right now, which -- I think Rich is right. They are walking a delicate tightrope between those Democrats who are willing to work out some sort of compromise and those who say just get the troops out of there right away.

BRAZILE: Well, talk about consistency. Their position is consistent with the will of the American people. And the will of the American people right now is, they want a timeline; they want a benchmark; they want a change of direction in Iraq.

So, those organizations clearly represent the will of the American people.

GALEN: Right.

And, if this were a conservative group that is meeting every day and giving instructions to the speaker of the House, there would be...

BRAZILE: They're not giving instructions.

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: Oh, yes, they are.

BLITZER: All right.

GALEN: It would be projectile split (ph) on the part of the press corps about how dangerous this is.

BRAZILE: They are providing strategic guidance and advice..

(LAUGHTER)

BRAZILE: ... not instructions.

BLITZER: We have got to leave it there.

Donna and Rich, thanks for coming in.

And still to come: a possible -- possible -- prescription for cheaper drugs here in the United States. Jack Cafferty will be back with more on calls to allow purchases across the border.

And the political humorist Bill Maher on some funny moments involving President Bush, Hillary Clinton, among others. Bill Maher, he will be here live in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The battle for big-name endorsements tops our "Political Radar" today.

Senator Hillary Clinton is making a stop in Maryland tomorrow, where she will get the endorsement of the state's governor, Martin O'Malley. Next week, she's expected to land the support of New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer.

Former President Bill Clinton speaking out about the race to the White House, and, while he is obviously supporting his wife, he says he really likes this year's field of candidates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Well, I am really proud of her. I thought she was great in that debate.

And I like this election because, you know, you don't have to be against anybody. I mean, all these people are really sort of admirable people. You know, you just pick the person you think would be the best president. And that's the way it ought to be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: About 20 former fund-raisers and supporters of Al Gore are meeting tonight for dinner here in Washington. That's fueling speculation yet again that Gore may eventually run for president.

Gore continues to say he has no plans to run. A Gore spokeswoman says tonight's get-together was not organized by their office, and that Gore will not be attending.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York.

Lots of speculation on the political front, Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, a basket of gems, those candidates, aren't they?

The Senate yesterday killed a bill that would have allowed Americans to buy prescription drugs from abroad.

So, we asked whether or not we should be allowed to do that by our fine government in Washington, D.C. Apparently, they don't think we should.

John in Fort Lauderdale -- this is a little long but worth listening to -- "Yesterday's addition of the poison pill that effectively killed carefully crafted legislation that would have the allowed the monitored importation of identical prescription drugs from select countries is a stunning example of big pharma's ability to buy legislation. As a lawyer with FDA expertise, I can assure you that yesterday's vote, while couched with protectionist labelling, was nothing more than a gift to the pharmaceutical companies to continue to impose worldwide discriminatory pricing schemes that are now a legislatively condoned license to pick the pockets of sick, primarily older, Americans."

Roy writes from Texas: "When our jobs are shipped overseas, the politicians tell us that's the globalization of markets, and that's a good thing. If we want to buy cheaper drugs from Canada, they tell us that's a bad thing. Does the fact that, last year, the pharmaceutical lobby employed 1,100 people and spent $155 million lobbying the federal government have anything to do with it?"

Shaun writes: "Sure, import them from abroad, if you want to die from drugs that are contaminated. People want cheap drugs. They want them to be safe. Unfortunately, having both at the same time is very difficult to do."

Rick in Indianapolis: "The Senate vote yesterday on importation of drugs from countries like Canada, the U.K., Japan, et cetera, shameful. People need to remember that when they vote next year."

Suzanne in Houston: "Absolutely. Drugs from Canada, Australia, and Japan should be imported. I come from Canada. The suggestion that drugs are any less qualitative is totally ridiculous. How about taking a more serious look at the foodstuffs coming from China?"

And Craig in Andover, Mass.: "Maybe if our honorable senators protected our agriculture industry with the same suspicious stubbornness as they do the pharmaceutical industry, the American farmer might be more than a nostalgic afterthought" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

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