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THE SITUATION ROOM
Immigration Reform Showdown, G8 Summit, Presidential Candidate's Pets, Missing Connecticut Girl Found
Aired June 6, 2007 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MARCIANO: See you tomorrow, Susan. Thanks.
PHILLIPS: Now over to Wolf Blitzer in the SIT ROOM.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST "SITUATION ROOM": Happening now, a high- stakes showdown over immigration reform. A controversial bill survives a killer vote. But the skirmishes in the Senate are only just beginning. Also this hour, cold war deja vu. President Bush preparing for tense talks with Russia's Vladimir Putin. Are these nuclear-armed allies reverting to enemies?
And they were on the same stage, but they were miles apart. We're going to tell you how the Republican debaters differed from their Democrats counterparts. And how just about everyone took a shot at Senator Hillary Clinton. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
Right now, critics of the Senate immigration reform deal have their long knives out. They're eager for another shot at killing the bipartisan compromise after it narrowly survived a potentially fatal challenge today. Let's go straight to our Congressional Correspondent, Dana Bash. She's standing by up on Capitol Hill.
Tell us, Dana, about today's votes and the threats that clearly remain.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Let me put it this way, Wolf, if you thought that last night's tough talk was strong when it comes to the Republican presidential debate and immigration, all you had to do was listen to the Senate floor and the raw debate there today.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Leaven.
BASH: It was the biggest challenge yet to a fragile bipartisan immigration compromise.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the amendment is not agreed to.
BASH: And the bill's backers narrowly defeated it. GOP Senator, John Cornyn, an opponent of the immigration measure, said his amendment would close a gaping loop hole. One he said, allows felons to become U.S. citizens. SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R) TEXAS: They blew their chance and they've shown themselves unworthy of the trust and confidence of the American people when it comes to living among us in compliance with our laws.
BASH: But supporters of the immigration bill called Cornyn's measure too broad, blocking not only gang members, sex offenders and drunk drivers from becoming citizens, but virtually all illegal immigrants who have committed lesser crimes like doctoring documents to get work.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) NEW YORK: It not only says that felons shouldn't become citizens. We agree with that. It says anyone who has filed an illegal paper should not become citizens. That's every immigrant who would be on the path to citizenship.
BASH: Cornyn insisted only illegal immigrants already convicted of using false documents would be ineligible for U.S. citizenship. His appeal included a thinly veiled threat at John McCain, who is drawing conservative fire as the only GOP presidential contender in favor of the immigration compromise.
CORNYN: I believe this amendment and the vote on this amendment is a defining issue for those who seek the highest office in the land. To demonstrate their respect for the rule of law.
BASH: But Senator McCain joined other architects of the deal and voted against the measure.
JOHN MCCAIN, (R) SENATOR: I understand that presidents don't --
BASH: And there were other amendments, votes on amendments throughout the day today. There will be more later on today. But after two weeks of debate and votes, Wolf, the so-called grand bargain on immigration to secure the border and also allow about 12 million immigrants to have citizenship, that's so far is intact.
BLITZER: So what are the prospects, long-term, for this bill to become law?
BASH: Well, you know, it's really unclear at this point and here is why. Just in terms of what's going on in the Senate, Wolf, the Senate majority leader wants to have a final vote on immigration by Friday. That's two days from now. In order to do that, he's got some problems because there are opponents on both sides of the aisle who want to keep changing it, who want to take a crack at changing it. That means offering amendments.
What he and other Senators are trying to do is try to limit the number of amendments. They're negotiating that right now. If they can't, Wolf, the Senate majority leader could force a vote and this whole thing could go down in flames. But, as I said, they're negotiating right now. Over the next 24 hours, it will be really telling as to whether this immigration bill can even get off the Senate floor. BLITZER: And then of course, even if it passes the Senate, it faces an enormous hurdle in the House. Dana, thanks very much. Dana is up on the Hill.
At the G8 summit in Germany, meanwhile, President Bush finds himself in the middle of clashes and tensions. Police battled anti- war and anti-globalization protesters. At one point, the marchers blocked all roads leading to the resort where the world leaders are gathering.
President Bush is bracing for a confrontation of his own with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. On the eve of those talks, Mr. Bush made a somewhat surprising statement that invoked memories of the cold war and the arms race between Washington and Moscow.
Our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is with the president in Germany. Ed?
ED HENRY, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in a sign of the seriousness of the U.S./Russian tensions after more than a decade of detente, President Bush was forced today, to deny that America is about to go to war with Russia.
(voice over): All smiles as the G8 summit kicked off with President Bush lunching with the host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But the pleasantries may get over shadowed by tensions between the U.S. and Russia over plans for a missile defense system in Europe.
On the eve of what could be a difficult meeting Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr. Bush told reporters off camera, there needs to be no military response because we're not at war with Russia. Russia is not going to attack Europe. The president was answering a hypothetical question about whether the U.S. would respond militarily if Putin followed through on his threat to aim nuclear weapons at Europe.
Just one day after escalating the battle by publicly slamming Putin's slow progress on democratic reforms, Mr. Bush downplayed the friction, telling reporters, Russia is not an enemy. But Former Soviet President, Mikhael Gorbachev, says he's hearing echoes of the cold war, charging the Bush administration has sparked a new arms race.
MIKHAIL GORBACHEV, FMR. SOVIET PRESIDENT: The United States is driving itself in a corner. At this stage already, they have lost credibility in the world.
HENRY: While Putin's spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, insists there's not another cold war, he did make clear Russia is not backing down.
DMITRY PESKOV, PUTIN SPOKESMAN: We are expecting some explanations from our American partners, what is the necessity for this being in a hurry and what is the necessity for this entire missile shield against non-existent missiles.
HENRY: Mr. Bush said that he will work to make sure his meeting with his Russian counterpart is not tense but that may be easier said than done. Especially with talk of a new cold war. Having the potential to overshadow climate change and other big issues on the summit's agenda. Wolf?
BLITZER: Ed Henry reporting for us from the G8 summit. Let's check in with Jack Cafferty, he's got the Cafferty file.
These tensions between the U.S. and Russia, who would have thought, at this stage after the end of the cold war, some echoes reemerging.
JACK CAFFERTY, HOST THE "CAFFERTY FILE": Why is President Bush doing this? He says that the missile shield wouldn't have anything to do with Russia. He says it's because of Iran. Iran says it doesn't have missiles capable of reaching Europe and I mean, talk about a suicide mission. All they'd have to do is launch something at Europe and Iran wouldn't exist in about three hours. Why is he doing this?
BLITZER: Are you asking me?
BLITZER: I thought it was a rhetorical question.
CAFFERTY: No I was asking you. Last night you were asking the questions and now I'm asking you one
BLITZER: Sometimes you do rhetorical questions.
CAFFERTY: But this isn't one. Why is he doing this?
BLITZER: I think there's some tough talk coming from Putin, as well. These guys were pals at one point but now they're both sort of escalating the rhetoric.
CAFFERTY: But Bush started this by announcing that he's going to put some missile shield in eastern European countries.
BLITZER: They're worried about the Iranians and the missiles that potentially could reach Europe.
CAFFERTY: Baloney. You know what they want to do? They want to get in your pocket and mine and give some more of our money to the defense contractors to build the missile shield. That's what this is all about.
Pardoning Scooter Libby. Apparently, such a sensitive topic at the White House that top aides have been kept out of the loop and President Bush's friends are being told not to talk about it. That's according to a front-page piece in the "Washington Post." The report goes on to say that officials expect Vice President Cheney to favor a pardon. There's a surprise. While others in the administration worry about the political fall-out. Of course, at the root of the Libby case is the justification for invading Iraq. And then there are advisers that think that the president's has already got so many political problems that one more black mark wouldn't be that big a deal, so go ahead and pardon him. President Bush wouldn't say today. He declined on -- when he was asked about whether he'd pardon Libby, but it's clear the pressure is on now for a pardon.
The "National Review" put out on editorial with a headline that read, pardon him. The "Weekly Standard" is accusing the president of abandoning Libby. Also, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, says a pardon would be quote, "exactly the right thing for the president to do."
Democrats say a pardon would be an outrage. And Valerie Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, says it would be improper. So here's the question. Do you think President Bush will pardon Scooter Libby? Email Cafferty File at or got to CNN.com/caffertyfile.
BLITZER: There were two editorials today. One in the "Wall Street Journal," saying pardon him right away. One in the "New York Times" saying he deserves every day of those 30 months, he's about to potentially spend in prison. So a good debate. A good question for our viewers. Let's see what they say, Jack.
CAFFERTY: Which way do you think it will go? That's not a rhetorical question.
BLITZER: I think a lot will depend if he has to go to jail pending appeals. If he's out until the end of the term, let's say December 2008, after the election, that's a good time for the president to be issuing pardons to a lot of people.
CAFFERTY: That's a good point. And they'll make that decision on whether he is going to stay out, pending appeal, in the next couple of weeks. Right?
BLITZER: Right. Within 60 days. Thanks, Jack.
CAFFERTY: Alright. Thanks.
BLITZER: Alright, Jack, thanks very much. Coming up, the Republicans turn on our debate stage.
Coming up, the Republicans turn on our debate stage. How did they compare with the Democrats on key issues? Our John King is standing by live. Got a SPECIAL REPORT on that. And Donna Brazile and Dick Army (ph), they'll add their insight in our strategy session.
Plus, the GOP debaters sharpen their jabs at President Bush. What's behind all the tough talk?
And New Hampshire voters chew on what the candidates said, what they didn't say. We're going to tell you where the presidential race stands in the lead-off primary state after our debates.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: They featured fierce opponents jockeying for a position, all sparring with the gloves on. It wasn't a boxing match, it was our presidential debate. Right now, we're looking at just what the Republicans and the Democrats said and where they differed, and there were significant differences.
Our Chief National Correspondent John King is joining us from Manchester, where the debates were held.
Talk a little bit, John, about the substance of these major differences that were clearly evident Sunday night as opposed to last night?
JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, of course it is June '07. Still extraordinarily early in the presidential primary season, but compare and contrast Sunday night to Tuesday night and consider it a bit of a next fall preview.
KING (voice-over): First, eight Democrats, then ten Republicans, two New Hampshire debates, and two very different approaches.
SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D-DE) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ladies and gentlemen, you're going to end this war when you elect a Democratic president.
KING: Most striking is the Iraq divide. All of the Democrats favor reducing troop levels immediately. All of the leading Republicans call that a recipe for disaster.
RUDY GIULIANI, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Iraq is part of the overall terrorist war against the United States. The problem the Democrats make is they're in denial.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is wrong and hard and tough. But I think we can succeed.
KING: The Democrats are more in tune with overall public opinion on Iraq, but the primaries come first.
ANDREW SMITH, U.N.H. POLLING DIRECTOR: Republicans in New Hampshire, the voters, are still behind Bush and they're still behind support for the war.
KING: The big immigration proposal before Congress is another dividing line.
MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And what it allows is people who have come here illegally to stay here for the rest of their lives.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think most Americans will support that if they have some sense that the border is also being secured.
KING: Senator John McCain is the immigration exception. He sides with the Democrats in favoring a compromise he concedes is far from perfect.
MCCAIN: It's our job to do the hard things.
KING: More differences on pocket book issues.
HILLARY CLINTON, (D-NY) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm thrilled that the universal health care is back on the national agenda.
JOHN EDWARDS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I (ph) pay for it by getting rid of Bush's tax cuts for people who make over $200,000 a year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Number one, my plan is mandatory.
KING: To Republicans, all that adds up to higher taxes and bigger government.
GIULIANI: What the Democrats suggested on this stage two nights ago was socialized medicine.
KING: Not one of the Republicans raised his hand when asked if gay Americans should be allowed to serve openly in the military. The leading Democrats have a different view.
CLINTON: Barry Goldwater once said, you don't have to be straight to shoot straight. And I think he was right.
KING: Now, again, of course, the overwhelming focus of these candidates, Democrats and Republicans in the coming weeks and months is on their own parties, primary and caucus goers. But Wolf, when you do stack up Sunday to Tuesday, it did give us a unique early glimpse of what are likely to be the major battle lines come the general election next year -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Now John, Rudy Giuliani apparently deciding to skip what's called the Iowa straw poll this summer. For our viewers who aren't all that familiar with this and the political impact, what does it mean?
KING: It is a big event for Iowa Republicans. It helps them raise money to pay for the caucuses. It has no effect, no meaning on the delegates that anyone gets from Iowa, but inside the state it is a huge deal. And Giuliani's own supporters are very disappointed in this. His campaign said it is a question of resources, they promise they still will compete to win in the Iowa caucuses. They will be held early next year.
But by skipping the summer straw poll, they have not only caused a bit of a morale crisis among their own supporters in the state, they have many Republicans, especially social conservatives in Iowa, saying Rudy Giuliani has made a tactical decision to all but give up on Iowa. Again, the Giuliani campaign says, no, but he's going to have to prove that over the next coming weeks because he has disappointed even his own people out there, Wolf.
BLITZER: John King, reporting from lovely Manchester. I woke up there this morning back in Washington, a short flight. John, have a safe trip back to Washington, thanks very much.
Former Senator Fred Thompson has just gone live with his new official Web site. Thompson's site comes as he officially tests the waters for the presidential bid.
Let's bring in Abbi Tatton. What is Thompson telling his supporters through this new Web site, Abbi?
ABBI TATTON, INTERNET REPORTER: Well Wolf, the Thompson supporters that sign up through the site will receiving this e-mail today. Thompson telling them, welcoming them to what he calls this new phase, telling people he's going to be reaching out through the Internet, but also he says knocking on a lot of doors.
There aren't any positions laid out on this new Web site. It's really a place to fund raise and there are actually two different ways of doing that through the site. One of them's a Web fund raising tool for the conservative bloggers that have been encouraging a Thompson run, and you're already seeing that showing up on some of their Web sites.
In terms of the Web site from Thompson, this is the first official foray online, although over the last few months, we've seen several unofficial ones, home movies, blog posts from the former Senator. He's been the target of draft Fred Thompson movements online that have garnered tens of thousands of volunteers signing up.
The new official site, imwithfred.com, not to be confused with Thompson for America, that's the other guy -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A couple of Thompsons already going on there. Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.
Still ahead, Senator Barack Obama laments what he's calling quiet riots in black communities, and he says they're being ignored by the Bush administration.
Plus, must love dogs. If that's your qualification for a presidential candidate, stick around for a pet project.
Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: There's a dramatic story just coming in to CNN. I want to bring in Carol Costello, who is monitoring all of this. What are you picking up, Carol?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Pretty amazing story, Wolf. We're monitoring a news conference regarding a 15-year-old girl who has been missing in Connecticut, missing for a year. We're hearing that the girl was found alive. Police say she was found locked in a small secret room underneath a staircase in a home in West Hartford, Connecticut. This is what police officials had to say just moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAPT. JEFFREY BLATTER, BLOOMFIELD, CT POLICE: Investigators served a search warrant on a residence in West Hartford, and the warrant was for a DNA swab of a suspect. And fortunately, we came across a hidden room, where the juvenile was located.
Currently, she is physically OK. She's under medical care, being evaluated both physically and psychologically.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSTELLO: Police say a 41-year-old man was arrested, along with a 40-year-old woman. They expect to make other arrests. Of course, we'll continue to monitor this story and we'll have more developments for you as they come in to us.
Many of our viewers are obviously very happy with their cars from Ford. Ford Motor Company ranks highest -- highest -- in the latest survey of just how happy car owners are with their vehicles. In the JD Power survey, five Ford models placed at the top of their categories in quality. Among them, the Ford Mustang was ranked the most problem-free mid-sized sporty car. The Mercury Milan, the highest ranked mid-size car, and the Lincoln MKZ the top-ranked entry premium car.
A potential breakthrough in stem cell research. Three teams of scientists say they have produced the equivalent of embryonic stem cells, at least in mice, and they didn't have to take the controversial step of destroying embryos. The scientists say their procedure makes ordinary skin cells behave like stem cells. Experts believe embryonic stem cells might be used to create treatments for a number of illnesses.
And it is not good news for home sellers. Realtors predict home prices will drop even more than they already have. The National Association of Realtors also projects slower sales than earlier estimates.
Back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Carol, thanks very much. Carol Costello reporting.
It's the latest effort to shed light on the violence in Darfur. New technology is bringing the conflict in Sudan right to our computer screens. Let's go to our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner. How close could we get to this conflict, Jacki, in Darfur?
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Pretty close, Wolf. It's a new Web site just launched today from Amnesty International called EyesonDarfur. And what they're pointing are villages they say are at risk currently, like this one called Kafod (ph), where it says that people live in fear of being attacked by the Janjaweed militias.
Now, Amnesty says it created the project to keep challenging the Sudanese government's assertion that the crisis in the region is being exaggerated. They also say if people can see a village intact one day and then destroyed the next, it might compel people to actually take action.
The project will also show you before and after images. Here, the red dots that you're looking at are where some 24 structures have been destroyed.
This is not the first time, by the way, we've seen satellite imagery used to draw attention to the crisis in Darfur. In April, Google Earth and the U.S. Holocaust Museum teamed up to introduce this new program on Google Earth, which basically shows where some 1,600 villages have been either damaged or destroyed, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Jacki, for that.
Up next, Senator Hillary Clinton as a punching bag for presidential rivals from both parties. And in that way, she has something in common with President Bush. We'll look at those big-name debate targets. All that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Much more on our New Hampshire debates coming up.
But happening right now, the man infected with that rare, possibly fatal form of tuberculosis, talks to Congress. Andrew Speaker phones in details of his story. You'll hear just what he had to say. That's coming up.
Also, Barack Obama on what he says is an aftershock of Hurricane Katrina. Obama says it exposed -- and I'm quoting now -- "quiet riots that happen every day in the black community." But who does the presidential candidate think those so-called quiet riots are aimed at?
And Fidel Castro, opening up in his longest interview since his surgery last year. He talks about his health, offers some diet advice. He seems to refer to plots to kill him.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It's what happens when you're leading the pack. Your political opponents often consider you target No. 1. Right now, Senator Hillary Clinton is the front runner among Democratic presidential candidates, and that makes her a political bull's eye.
Let's turn to CNN's Kathleen Koch. She's joining us.
Kathleen, we saw that both Democrats and Republicans were going after the senator from New York. KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, and Wolf, as you pointed out, that's what happens when you're the front runner. I mean, again, if there was one Democratic name on everyone's mind last night, it certainly did appear to be Hillary Clinton. And the Republicans did not hesitate taking shots at the Democrats' frontrunner.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Senator Clinton doesn't understand that presidents don't lose wars, political parties don't lose wars. Nations lose wars.
KOCH (voice-over): She's fast becoming both parties' favorite political pinata. Though there are eight Democrats in the race, only one was mentioned last night in the Republican debate.
JAMES GILMORE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hillary Clinton is wrong...
BLITZER: Thank you.
GILMORE: ... when she says that we should eliminate those tax cuts.
KOCH: And during the Democratic debate, most seemed determined to knock Hillary Clinton from her front-runner perch.
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is a difference between leadership and legislating.
STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": She's the big name. Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, to some extent, you want to talk about how you are similar to or different than Senator Clinton.
KOCH: Stuart Rothenberg, editor of "The Rothenberg Political Report," says, for Republicans, criticizing Hillary Clinton rallies the base, just like Democrats do when they criticize President Bush.
ROTHENBERG: For Republicans to beat up on her, to portray her as the enemy is really, I think, a win for them. The problem comes, of course, later in the cycle, when Republicans are going to have to talk about themselves, not the Clintons, not who they don't like, not who's -- who's a big liberal, but about their own agenda.
KOCH: So what about Senator Clinton? How does all this impact her?
Well, initially, it certainly does increase her visibility. But Rothenberg warns that, if these attacks become relentless, they could begin to build doubts about the senator's electability, Wolf. She could be seen as simply too polarizing.
BLITZER: Kathleen Koch reporting -- thanks, Kathleen. KOCH: You bet.
BLITZER: President Bush, no doubt, can relate to Senator Clinton's role as a debate target. He not only gets blasted by Democrats. Fellow Republicans also seem increasingly eager to lay into him.
That's just what they did on the debate stage last night in New Hampshire.
Let's bring in Brian Todd. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Is there a change you're sensing in the way these GOP candidates are going after the president?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf.
Now, we knew going in that, with the president's popularity at such a low ebb, that the top GOP candidates would not exactly run on his coattails. But we have seen in recent days, they have a decidedly sharper edge now against Mr. Bush.
TODD (voice-over): The top Republican candidates may not be looking to attack their unpopular party leader at every turn, but, when given an opening, especially on Iraq, they're taking it.
MCCAIN: This war was very badly mismanaged for a long time. And Americans have made great sacrifices, some of which were unnecessary, because of this management of the war -- mismanagement of this conflict.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we were underprepared and underplanned for what came after we knocked down Saddam Hussein.
AMY HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: We knew going in that the candidates were not going to be wanting to be associating closely with the president. But there was no love on that stage for President Bush last night. And they went out of their way to say Bush mishandled the war. We have heard that before, but it was a much -- much stronger last night.
TODD: Most of the GOP contenders are careful to support the Iraq invasion and the surge. But even a former Bush Cabinet secretary concedes failures.
TOMMY THOMPSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We went to Washington to change Washington. Washington changed us. We didn't come up with new ideas.
TODD: Other opportunities to attack on the subject of Republican scandals, but the candidates are careful not to say the president's name.
GIULIANI: I would establish accountability in Washington. Washington is a mess, and that's one of the reasons Republicans lost.
TODD: Lower-tier candidates are getting more personal.
Congressman Tom Tancredo bitterly recalls being asked years ago by Bush political adviser Karl Rove not to -- quote -- "darken the doorstep of the White House" because of Tancredo's criticism of the president.
Now it's payback.
REP. TOM TANCREDO (R-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As president, I would have to tell George Bush exactly the same thing Karl Rove told me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Tancredo said today, the GOP base is furious with President Bush for his support of the immigration reform bill now before Congress.
Analysts and GOP strategists we spoke to say it's one thing for candidates like Tom Tancredo to attack the president so strongly, but the top contenders, they say, have to walk a delicate balance. Going out of their way to slam the president on the campaign trail in places like Iowa, they say, could be dangerous, because the president still polls well among many primary voters -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Any reaction to all of this from the White House?
TODD: I spoke with a White House official. They're being very careful now to stay out of the middle of it.
This official said that the president is going to stick to his mantra. He does not want to be the pundit in chief. They're being careful now to stay out of the -- out of the way of this. And they also make sure that they say that this is in the context of the campaign. They kind of understand the game here.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting -- thank you, Brian, for that.
Brian Todd and Kathleen Koch are both part of the best political team on television. And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.
Coming up: Are the front-runners in New Hampshire still the favorites, or do voters want new politicians in the race? Our Bill Schneider is standing by for that.
And I will press the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, on the Bush administration's support for that immigration reform bill that quite a few Republicans simply hate.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Many New Hampshire voters now are reassessing the presidential candidates, after their debate performances in the lead- off primary state.
Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, talked to people at the famous Merrimack diner in Manchester. I was just there over the past couple days myself.
Bill, how do the -- how do they rate the candidates after these two debates?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the answer I heard, Wolf, was: Don't rush us. We're still mulling it over.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): New Hampshire voters know something about how to score politicians.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the Democratic side, I think I had three- and-a-half people in the top tier, the traditional three, Clinton...
SCHNEIDER (on camera): Edwards.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... Edwards...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... and Obama. And I gave half-a-point to Governor Richardson.
SCHNEIDER: Is the Democratic front-runner still the front- runner? Probably, says the director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.
PAUL MANUEL, NEW HAMPSHIRE INSTITUTE OF POLITICS: Hillary Clinton did extraordinarily well. People felt that she was composed and focused.
SCHNEIDER: In the Republican race, one of the debate moderators believes John McCain may have restored his front-runner standing in New Hampshire.
SCOTT SPRADLING, WMUR ANCHOR: I do believe that he did sort of remind New Hampshire voters of that independent, straight-talking, maverick-type of candidate that made him so popular here in 2000.
SCHNEIDER: But, in New Hampshire, nothing is a lock.
MANUEL: Don't be surprised if you see a Richardson jump ahead on the Democratic side or a Huckabee on -- on the Republican side. It could happen.
SCHNEIDER: Before they can decide on a candidate, Republicans have to decide what they're looking for. SPRADLING: They haven't quite defined what it is that they want to stand for, for 2008. Is it an electability type of primary, or is it a return-to-principle type of primary?
SCHNEIDER: One candidate is trying to show, he offers both.
MANUEL: I Think Romney was testing that yesterday, with all of this discussion about the future and optimism. But, in one -- in one phrase, he invoked Ronald Reagan, and we have to get ready for a new frontier, John F. Kennedy. I thought it was extraordinary that he brought those two elements into his campaign.
SCHNEIDER: Republicans are not the only ones looking for more choices.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Personally, I kind of wish Al Gore was in the mix. I just think he has the experience that I would like to see. I don't want to see OJT again.
SCHNEIDER: OJT? Well, that's New Hampshire shorthand for on- the-job training -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Did these two debates, Bill, make the 2008 race any clearer?
SCHNEIDER: I thought they clarified one thing, and that's going to -- likely to be the central issue in 2008. The Republicans almost all agreed on one point, that, if the United States leaves Iraq too soon, it will increase the terrorist threat to the United States.
The Democrats agreed on just the opposite point. They said, if the United States remains in Iraq, it will increase the terrorist threat to the United States. That is likely to be the central debate of 2008.
BLITZER: And these debates, the Democratic debate and the Republican debate, certainly clarified the differences between these two parties.
SCHNEIDER: They certainly did.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Bill, for that.
The debates are over, but some of the Republican presidential hopefuls are stumping in New Hampshire today. Rudy Giuliani was along the Granite State's Seacoast this morning. The former New York City mayor was stressing that Americans need to remain focused on the war on terror, a theme for him on the trail.
Rival Mitt Romney is making six campaign stops in New Hampshire today. This morning, the former Massachusetts governor said Fred Thompson may bring some Hollywood aura to the Republican presidential contest. Thompson is close to jumping into the race. Barack Obama is here in Washington today at his day job. That would be the United States senator from Illinois. But his wife, Michelle, is on the campaign trail, in place of her husband. She's in Atlanta, meeting with Obama student supporters.
Hillary Clinton is also back here on Capitol Hill. In the next hour, the senator from New York attends a campaign event here in Washington hosted by Babyface, an entertainment mogul, and Katharine McPhee, an "American Idol" finalist.
Up next in our "Strategy Session": lessons learned from our presidential debate. Iraq is not the only thing they disagree about.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Iraq should not be seen in a vacuum. Iraq is part of the overall terrorist war against the United States. The problem the Democrats make is, they're in denial.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: From Iraq to universal health care, the parties' key distinctions were very much on display in our presidential debates. But what did he learn? I will explore that with Donna Brazile and Dick Armey.
They're coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: There were flashes of candor, sparks of bitterness, even literally sparks of lightning.
Both our Republican and Democratic presidential debates included many magnetizing moments.
Joining us now in our "Strategy Session," our CNN political analyst, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey.
It was very, very evident, the differences Sunday night between the Democrats and Tuesday night involving the Republicans, first and foremost on Iraq.
Listen to these two clips.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Everybody on this stage, we are all united, Wolf. We all believe that we need to try to end this war.
MCCAIN: I think this strategy needs to be given a chance to succeed. We haven't barely gotten the 5th Brigade over there, which is part of this strategy. I am convinced that, if we fail and we have to withdraw, they will follow us home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Clear differences, Congressman, on the issue of Iraq. The polls show, by and large, the American public is with the Democrats on this issue. They want the U.S. military out of Iraq as soon as possible.
DICK ARMEY, FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Yes, that probably is the case. Iraq is exactly the quagmire I always knew it would be.
And, if you said, Dick Armey, tell me who's right, who has got the correct answer, I couldn't give you a correct answer.
BLITZER: Even you, a good, solid, strong Republican.
ARMEY: I do not know. I do not know what is the right answer on that.
But I do think this. We -- we have -- our young people spent their time, their effort trying to accomplish something. I think that the correct thing to do, in terms of our moral obligation to our people that are and have been on the ground and, unhappily, are in the ground, is to see this thing through to the best of our ability.
BLITZER: All right, Donna, in terms of the strategy, who's got the upper hand on this issue?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No question the Democrats have the upper hand.
The American people agree with the Democrats that it's time to set a timetable. It's time bring our troops home. And, look, even John McCain, who is a staunch supporter of the current strategy, said the president has badly mismanaged.
I thought it was one of his better moments when he talked to that young lady about the death of her brother. But, still, the Republicans are out of synch with the American people. The American people want our troops home.
BLITZER: And there were also differences expressed Sunday night with the Democrats vs. Tuesday night, the Republicans, on the war on terror.
Listen to these two clips.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EDWARDS: But what this global war on terror bumper sticker -- political slogan, that's all it is, all it's ever been -- was intended to do was for George Bush to use it to justify everything he does: the ongoing war in Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, spying on Americans, torture.
GIULIANI: And you saw that two nights ago here. They couldn't even utter the words "Islamic terrorism." It's our biggest enemy. They couldn't utter it. We need somebody who can stand up to that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That may be more of a winning strategy for the Republicans, Donna, as opposed to Iraq, this war on terror, because, for most Americans, what happened on 9/11 is still burning very, very deeply.
BRAZILE: Look, Democrats understand that we have to fight a war on terror, but we cannot fight it with one hand tied behind our back and with the whole world disliking us.
So, I think Democrats understand that we need a new strategy to fight the war on terror, and not make it just another bumper sticker to, you know, scare Americans.
ARMEY: Well, it is a difficult thing.
We have never seen an enemy like this. It's so insidious and so pervasive, you don't know where the threat will be. It's a very, very difficult thing, and hard for me personally to not be sympathetic with the Democrats' expressed concerns on privacy issues as they relate to our security, issues on what the tradeoff balances are.
It seems to me that we always have to keep a really sharp eye on what we could do. We just went through the Patriot Act again, not to my satisfaction. But, again, there are a great many people in the country who believe our -- our security needs are so urgent and so huge, that we have got to sacrifice some of our privacy.
BLITZER: One issue that was clearly underlined, the differences between Democrats and Republicans involving -- involves allowing gays to serve openly in the U.S. military.
Almost all the Democrats said the don't-ask/don't-tell policy should be abandoned; gays should be allowed to serve openly. The Republicans, all of them, said the current policy works well.
Listen to these two clips, starting with Senator Clinton quoting the late Barry Goldwater.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: You don't have to be straight to shoot straight. And I think he was right.
CLINTON: And I believe we should open up our military.
ROMNEY: It's been the policy now in the military for, what, 10, 15 years? And it seems to be working. And I agree with what Mayor Giuliani said, that this is not the time to put in place a major change, a social experiment, in the middle of a war going on. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Politically speaking, Congressman, who has got the stronger political stance on this sensitive issue?
ARMEY: I don't know.
This issue, to me, is such a trivial thing. I will tell you, it is not -- it is not for you to require me to be interested in your sex life, and it's not for me to want to be interested. Why would you even know if, in fact, people are doing their job?
But what distressed me when I watched this segment was that we have a big issue that is so much bigger in retirement security in America. We should expect presidential candidates to be spending their time and energy on something like this.
This issue, to me, is obnoxious in its triviality. And it should just go away. The fact is, whether you're gay or straight, what your love life is, are you cheating on your wife, it is, fundamentally, none of my business.
BRAZILE: Well, I have to stand with my friend Dick Armey on this issue.
And I think the United States has three important allies in the war on terror. And Great Britain, Canada, Israel, they all allow gay men and lesbian women to serve openly in the military. We have spent millions of dollars, you know, tracking down people's sex lives, when we should be encouraging people, especially specialists, linguists, to encourage them to stay in the military and help us fight.
BLITZER: There was also a clear difference on the issue whether English should be made the official language of the United States.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have too few of our people in this country that can't understand second languages. This is the 21st century. This is a global economy. We need to encourage more diversity in that.
TANCREDO: We are testing our willingness to actually hold on to something called the English language, something that is the glue that is supposed to hold us together as a nation. We are becoming a bilingual nation. And that is not good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, Congressman, what do you say?
ARMEY: Well, the fact that many people like to speak Spanish, which is a beautiful language -- I happen to think German is a beautiful language -- is of, frankly, no consequence to the English language.
What is more important is this damnable (ph) deconstructionist faddishness going on in English departments all over America that basically say, words have no meaning, whatever you impute to them.
We ought to respect the discipline of every language, and we ought to enjoy the beauty of all languages.
BLITZER: You get the last word, Donna.
BRAZILE: Oh, I support him once again on this issue. Look, as someone who comes from a -- a French-speaking state, where many of our residents still speak Acadiana, I support -- I support his position.
ARMEY: (SPEAKING FRENCH)
BRAZILE: Merci. Merci beaucoup.
BLITZER: That would be Louisiana, for our viewers who are not familiar with...
ARMEY: If I want to hug her, why does he holler for mercy?
BRAZILE: I said, thank you, honey.
BLITZER: Texas and Louisiana.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very much.
ARMEY: You're welcome.
BRAZILE: We do hang out from time to time.
BLITZER: Still to come: Who loves dogs and who loves cats? What can we learn about the presidential candidates if we know what kind of pet they own?
And, speaking of items no one yet knows, do you think President Bush will actually pardon Lewis "Scooter" Libby? Jack Cafferty has been asking that question. He's going to be back with your thoughts right after this.
BLITZER: Newt Gingrich tops today's "Political Radar."
The former House speaker give himself 4-1 odds against running for president. The Georgia Republican tells the Associated Press he enjoys being a pundit and a book author. His new comments are somewhat at odds with recent statements where he was apparently more enthusiastic about jumping in. Gingrich says he will make a final decision about running in the fall.
Hillary Clinton's campaign is expanding its team in Iowa, and is naming a new state director. The move seems to indicate that the senator from New York is taking Iowa very seriously. Clinton is battling former Senator John Edwards in most of the polls in the Hawkeye State. The Iowa caucuses kick off the presidential primary season next January.
And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.
Some people think you can learn a lot about a person by the pet they own. So, the Associated Press is breaking down the presidential field between dog and cat lovers. Six contenders cast their votes for canines. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards are proud dog owners.
Dennis Kucinich and Mike Huckabee and Duncan Hunter each have more than one pooch in the family. Mitt Romney's dog Marley recently passed on.
Barack Obama, Rudy Giuliani, Tom Tancredo, and Chris Dodd currently are petless.
In our next hour, cat lovers, they will get equal time.
Jack Cafferty is joining us with "The Cafferty File."
You got a pet, Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I have both, cats and dogs.
BLITZER: OK. Good.
CAFFERTY: Well, one dog and five cats.
BLITZER: I got nothing.
CAFFERTY: Well, you should get some.
BLITZER: I had a dog named...
CAFFERTY: I will give you some of my cats.
BLITZER: I had a dog named Dolly (ph) growing up in Buffalo.
CAFFERTY: And what happened to Dolly?
BLITZER: Dolly died. She was a lovely dog.
CAFFERTY: She probably ran away because she was in Buffalo.
BLITZER: No, she loved Buffalo.
CAFFERTY: The question is: Do you think President Bush will pardon Scooter Libby?
Iza, Raleigh, North Carolina: "Not unless he pardons the Border Patrol agents first, because, if he were to pardon Scooter Libby and not pardon those men, who were simply doing their jobs and protecting our borders, I would like to think the backlash would be something the president, and, therefore, the Republican Party, would not be able to recover from. And they have enough issues with the American public as it is."
Mark in Oklahoma City: "Well, Jack, in my opinion, Scooter should definitely get a pardon. He committed the same crime President Clinton was guilty of. Bill Clinton lied under oath, and not only got away with it, but has since made millions of dollars in speaking fees, and is treated like a rock star wherever he goes. Somehow, I don't see the same thing happening to poor old Scooter."
Joe in Phoenix: "I honestly couldn't care less about Scooter. Pardon him. Don't pardon him. The issue is, where's the trial for the persons who actually leaked the information as to who Valerie Plame was? Where's the trial for the high-ranking official who told someone to leak that information?"
Rod in Eugene, Oregon: "Probably. And, if he does, you can be sure it will be followed quickly by the discovery of yet another terror plot as sophisticated as the terrorists who were going to invade Fort Dix disguised as pizza boys."
Sharon in Toronto: "Hi, Jack. The sooner Scooter gets his reprieve, the better. Wilson will still get his book deal. And Valerie will have what she wanted in the first place, lots and lots of money. Spare me."
And Jordan in Texas: "Pardon me for asking, but you much be jesting. Bush will be forced to pardon him when Uncle Dick has him into his office when he gets back this week from his summer internship in Europe."
CAFFERTY: "The most secretive government in modern history is winding down, and surely will take care of their own when the time is right" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thanks.
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