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THE SITUATION ROOM

Massive Earthquake Rocks Guatemala; Congress Subpoenas Two White House Officials

Aired June 13, 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: Thanks very much, guys.
Happening now, breaking news we're following. A massive earthquake rocks Guatemala. We're tracking what could be a monstrous disaster.

We'll stay on top of this story for you.

Also, two former White House officials are being slapped with subpoenas. Congressional panels want answers about the firing of eight federal prosecutors.

Why wasn't Karl Rove ordered to testify, as well?

Also this hour, you like them -- you really like them. New Hampshire voters rate the presidential candidates' personalities.

But will popularity matter on election day?

And a huge blast in western Beirut. A Lebanese lawmaker, highly respected, is among the dead in an apparent assassination -- again. We're following this new explosion of violence in the Middle East.

Lots of news going on right now.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

So let's begin with the breaking news. An earthquake strikes Guatemala. Twelve million people live in that country. It's powerful enough to do major damage. Information only now coming in.

Let's bring in Carol Costello.

She's monitoring what we know right now -- Carol, what's the latest information we're getting?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT:

Yes. We have differing reports, -- Wolf.

According to CNN, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake just struck off the Pacific Coast of Guatemala. That's according to the U.S. Geological Survey. A Pacific-wide tsunami was not expected, but this quake was centered about 70 miles from Guatemala City, Guatemala.

According to Reuters, some of the buildings in that capital city have been evacuated. The actual earthquake hit, though, in the coastal town of Escuintla -- and I hope I'm pronouncing that right. That's reported as having a magnitude of 7.2.

Now, this is a massive earthquake, because you remember, the San Francisco earthquake of '89, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake. So this is a serious thing, -- Wolf.

And, as you said, a lot of people live in Guatemala City and the surrounding areas. And information probably will be pretty slow in coming in. But, of course, we'll pass along whatever we get in.

BLITZER: And we're trying to get in touch with people on the -- on the ground in Guatemala right now.

Carol, stand by for a moment.

Chad Myers is watching all of this, as well -- Chad, update our viewers on what -- you're seeing and what we know about this 6.8 -- earlier reports maybe 7.0. There was a report of 7.2. I take it that these numbers fluctuate at the beginning until they really get a handle on how powerful this earthquake really was.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Without a doubt, especially, Wolf, if they're offshore and they're not near a recorder. They don't have recorders on the bottom of the sea floor to know how big the earthquake was. So they have to, one, triangulate it from different recorders around -- when did it hit all of the recorders? It's kind of like triangulating a cell phone call. They can do that now by how long it takes for the signal to go.

How long does it take for the shaking to go to any of these recorders?

There is the latest one. This -- it's a red dot because it's now within the past hour. The official time that I got on the Helicorder out of California was about 3:36 Eastern time. So, less than a half hour ago. And that's when it was a 7.2.

They've since looked at the detectors and said, no, probably more like a 6.8, which is four times -- four magnitudes smaller. So that is some good news.

But because there was no Pacific-wide tsunami threat does not mean that there wasn't a local tsunami threat to this coast, especially in its shape, like that upside down -- that convex right there. As you see, that's a dangerous shape for any type of coastal area for or for a marina area, as you see those waves possibly push onshore there. And this was so close that they didn't have much warning, even if they did know it was coming -- -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And people sometimes believe that there really isn't much difference between a 6.8 or a 7.0 or a 7.2. But there is an enormous amount of difference -- differences in those tenths of a point.

MYERS: Absolutely. When you go -- just the tenth of a point makes sure -- makes it a -- almost twice as big of a shake. And it's that first moment that shakes and how the -- how the Pacific Ocean lies. And this is the subduction zone. The plate here, Guatemala, Honduras, all the areas, that plate is actually going down under the Pacific plate. And that's why you get so shower -- get so deep so quickly here off the Pacific Ocean.

And that's the same shape that it was when in Banda Aceh as the shake happened there. Obviously, you know about that a couple of years ago with that huge earthquake. But that was over nine in intensity, where this is under seven.

BLITZER: And NOAA is saying it's about 70 miles away from the capital city of Guatemala City, which is a city of about 2.5 million people. Seventy miles -- it sounds like a long distance, but it's not necessarily all that long.

MYERS: No, certainly not. They saw a lot of shaking. We do know that buildings were evacuated. There was some cracking in some of the buildings. But if this is 70 miles -- there's Guatemala City right there. If this is 70 miles, this is only 20. And so the time that they may have had to get some warnings out or get away from the coast was very short.

Also, Wolf, one more thing going on. Tornadoes in parts of the country that usually don't see them. A new tornado for South Central Lancaster County in South Central Pennsylvania. We'll keep you up to date as these storms get pretty intense this afternoon.

BLITZER: All right.

We don't have reports of squalls or damage yet in Guatemala...

MYERS: Right.

BLITZER: ... But it's obviously very, very preliminary and we're going to stay on top of this. Hold on for a second, Chad.

Abbi Tatton is watching the online for us -- Abbi, what are you picking up?

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the maps online at the U.S. Geological Survey are being updated right as we speak.

We've been looking at the map here, showing the earthquake, 6.8 magnitude, offshore of Guatemala.

But what's interesting here at the site is the estimations you're getting here on the shake map. These are done -- the shake map is done after these -- the earthquakes happen and they tend to be updated. But right now that star will orient you. That's where they believe that the epicenter is right now. And then the colors indicate the different levels of shaking that they're estimating right now. The bluey-green area, that's just light shaking. But look at the area just along there on the coast there. This yellowy orange color along the coast, that would be a perceived shaking level of very strong, as to moves yellow, green, going toward Guatemala City, going inland. That would be strong shaking.

And what that means in terms of potential damage, according to the chart here on the U.S. Geological Survey Web site, is in that yellowy orange area along the coast, to vulnerable structures, they're suggesting that that would be moderate damage.

And, Wolf, we're going to continue to look at this site. When these things happen, the site generally gets updated. And we'll get more information and bring that to you.

BLITZER: Thank you, Abbi, very much.

And we're working to speak to some reporters in Guatemala on the screen right now. As soon as they're able to establish contact with us, we'll bring you their reports. And we're also hoping to get the first video of what's happening in Guatemala right now -- approximately 6.8 earthquake off the coast of Guatemala, not far from the capital of Guatemala City, about 70 miles, we're told.

We're going to stay on top of this story and bring you all the information. Stay with us for that.

We'll move on now to some other important news we're following here in Washington.

It's a first in the ongoing showdown over the firing of those eight federal prosecutors. And it's ratcheting up the political tension to a whole new level. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees are issuing subpoenas to two former Bush White House insiders. They're the former White House Counsel, Harriet Miers, and the former deputy to Karl Rove, Sara Taylor -- the political director, formerly, at least, over at the White House.

Let's bring in our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

She broke the story for us earlier today.

Why these subpoenas now -- Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Democrats say they simply have run out of patience, -- Wolf. They say that for over three months they have been asking for White House aides to come talk to Congress voluntarily, but the White House has allowed them only to come behind closed doors with no oath and no transcript. And Democrats and Republicans have essentially said no deal.

So now they've essentially decided to use the power that they have, Democrats, that is, of their new majority to try to force these people to come and testify, setting up a constitutional clash.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) BASH (voice-over): It is a dramatic turn that raises the legal and political stakes of the fired prosecutors controversy -- the first Congressional subpoenas for two former top presidential aides and for sensitive White House documents.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: It's now up to the president.

Is he going to cooperate with an investigation that has really rocked the Justice Department, brought out facts that we have never seen before or are they going to continue to stonewall?

BASH: The subpoenas demand testimony by next month from former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and Karl Rove's former deputy, Political Director Sara Taylor. Both could shed light on whether the federal prosecutors were fired for political reasons.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is an oversight that has been missing in the Congress for a couple of years.

BASH: The aggressive move sets up a constitutional showdown. The White House argues presidential aides must be protected from revealing internal deliberations to Congress.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: At this juncture, you know, it's clear that they're trying to create some media drama and I'll leave it at that.

BASH: Democrats investigating why eight U.S. attorneys were fired insist they have no choice. The House Judiciary chairman says the "bread crumbs of their investigation lead straight to the president's inner circle."

If the former White House aides refuse to comply with the subpoenas, this could be a lengthy legal fight. But experts say political disputes like this tend to be resolved without the courts.

TIM HEAPHY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I mean both sides have some kind of an incentive to work it out. It doesn't necessarily make either side of these fights, particularly the administration, look good, in the public view, in the political arena.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BASH: Now, we just got a statement from Sara Taylor's attorney which essentially says that he did accept the subpoena on her behalf and that she takes her responsibilities as a citizen seriously and that he's hopeful that the White House and Congress can work out what he called "an appropriate agreement" here.

Now, we have not yet gotten any calls back, repeated calls from Harriet Miers or her office. But both, Wolf, are long time loyal Bush aides, so presumably they will do what the White House wants here.

Democrats, for their part, they do say that if they have to, they are going to go to the courts for this because they insist that there is ample legal precedent for White House aides to come before Congress and testify.

BLITZER: Dana Bash on the Hill for us.

Thanks, Dana.

We'll stay on top of this story, as well.

Let's get to Iraq, though, right now -- the war specifically. Suspected Al Qaeda Zain Verjee attacked a major Shiite shrine in Samarra once again today, a year after the mosque's Golden Dome was destroyed in sectarian violence. It's another huge blow to U.S. And Iraqi efforts to try to ease the killing and the chaos.

Today, the White House appears to be rethinking the importance of a widely anticipated progress report on the situation in Iraq.

Let's turn to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

He's watching this -- Ed, a lot of people have been suggesting this report that General Petraeus was going to release in September was going to be decisive and critical.

What are they saying now?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Congress certainly still thinks it will be decisive and critical. The president has been using this September promise as a way to buy more time with restless Democrats and Republicans. But all of a sudden it seems like the White House is backpedaling.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): After weeks of the White House promising a major September progress report on the increase of U.S. Troops in Iraq, Spokesman Tony Snow is trying to dial that back.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What I would suggest is rather than it's sort of a pivotal moment, it's a -- it is the first opportunity to be able to take a look at what happens when you've got it up and running fully for a period of months.

HENRY: The president repeatedly said the opposite last month in a Rose Garden news conference.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This summer is going to be a critical time for the new strategy.

HENRY: Mr. Bush added General David Petraeus' progress report will be so important, insurgents will try to kill as many as possible to influence the debate.

BUSH: And, so, yes, it could be a bloody -- it could be -- it could be a very difficult August.

HENRY: Snow faced a barrage of questions about whether he's pulling back expectations. QUESTION: Right now you're saying it's not a pivotal moment. I mean you don't seem on the same page with the president on that one (INAUDIBLE)...

SNOW: No, I...

QUESTION: Is it going to be pivotal or not?

SNOW: ... Characterizations. I'm just -- I think when he's talking about a critical moment because it allows people, again, to take a look at what's happening with the security plan.

QUESTION: He has said we'll know whether it's working in September.

SNOW: OK. But what I'm -- OK.

QUESTION: Is that what you think (INAUDIBLE)...

SNOW: No, I think my concern is that the expectation that seems to be raised is that suddenly in September there -- there may be an expectation that the report says, OK, all the problems are solved. No.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

HENRY: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just emerged from a meeting here at the White House with the president and other lawmakers and she lashed out at Tony Snow's comments, saying that given what she considers to be a lack of progress on the ground in Iraq, she's not surprised that the White House is trying to push back the date for a report card -- -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House.

Thanks very much.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty.

He's got The Cafferty File -- hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a majority of Americans support allowing illegal aliens to become citizens if they pay fines, learn English, get fingerprinted and meet some other requirements. A "Los Angeles Times"/Bloomberg poll found 63 percent of those surveyed are in favor of this key part of that stalled immigration bill. That includes almost two thirds of Republicans. Only 23 percent of Americans are opposed to allowing illegal aliens to get legal status, according to this particular poll. The poll also shows 49 percent of those surveyed support a guest worker program that would give a temporary visa to non-citizens. Twenty-six percent oppose that.

Those findings seem to be along with what President Bush is trying to get through Congress. Supporters insist the opponents of that legislation represent a minority and that most people are more welcoming toward illegal aliens. So here's our question. A new poll shows a majority of Americans apparently support allowing illegal aliens to become citizens if they pay fines, learn English and meet other requirements.

How is this going to affect that stalled immigration bill, do you think?

E-mail your thoughts on that to caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

We're standing by.

We're watching this earthquake that has just happened off the coast of Guatemala, about 70 miles from the capital city of Guatemala City.

We're getting new information that's coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now, breaking news that we're following.

We'll take a quick break, update you on what's going on in Guatemala.

This quake was felt in El Salvador, as well.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news off the coast of Guatemala. A 6.8 earthquake in the Pacific Ocean, about 70 miles or so from the capital of Guatemala City, has been felt. It clearly has been felt in the city, the capital, a city of about 2.5 million people.

We're getting reports in -- our CNN en Espanol reporter on the screen, Patsy Vasquez, just reported that local authorities are having trouble with communications via telephone. They say torrential rains there have clearly knocked out a lot of antennas and are causing a lot of complications.

We don't have word on casualties or damage, at least not yet. One spokesman for the Guatemala emergency services says at least now he hasn't seen any damage. But buildings were swaying, we're told. And they say this is about 70 miles from the epicenter of this earthquake, closer in to the coast of Guatemala, along the Pacific. The damage could potentially have been a lot more severe.

We're standing by to speak with a spokesman from the U.S. Geological Survey. We're waiting to speak with people on the scene, as well.

We did establish contact with someone over at the Intercontinental Hotel in Guatemala City who says they clearly felt this earthquake, although this individual did not have any immediate information on damage or casualties. A 6.8 earthquake -- that's a major earthquake -- off the coast of Guatemala. And we're watching it very closely.

We'll get back to the breaking news as we get more information here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's move on to some political news we're following, as well.

We've heard candidates say it before -- running for president is not a popularity contest.

But is it?

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, has been going over our latest polling numbers in New Hampshire.

Bill is joining us right now.

Does the matter of likability really affect this contest, at least based on what we're seeing, Bill, right now?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it may not be the determining factor, but likability does really matter.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Hillary Clinton is the Democratic frontrunner in New Hampshire. But when New Hampshire Democrats were asked which candidate they find most likable, Clinton came in third, behind Barack Obama and John Edwards.

Is that a problem?

STEPHEN HESS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: If you are listing the things a president had to be good at, like being commander-in-chief or chief executive of the federal bureaucracy, you wouldn't put likability up there as a necessary quality.

SCHNEIDER: But it helps.

Mr. Hess worked for President Eisenhower. His campaign slogan: "I like Ike."

The president comes into peoples' homes and bedrooms nearly every day. People want to spend time with someone they like, like Ronald Reagan.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This shining city on a hill.

SCHNEIDER: Have the Americans elected a president they didn't particularly like?

HESS: Try Richard M. Nixon.

SCHNEIDER: Among New Hampshire Republicans, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani are rated pretty likable. John McCain is not -- maybe too much straight talk on Iraq and immigration.

New Yorkers are probably astonished to hear their former mayor described as likable, but the new Rudy has put on a smiley face.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, for -- for someone who went to parochial schools all his life, this is a very frightening thing that's happening right now.

SCHNEIDER: Senator Clinton wants to prove she's tough enough for the job.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or who has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from.

SCHNEIDER: Maybe that makes her less likable, but it could be a risk worth taking.

HESS: Ultimately, when you have to choose experience versus likability, my hunch is you go experience.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER: When people choose a president, it's like hiring someone for a job. The first thing voters want to know is can the candidate to the job?

And once they're satisfied with the answer they ask, well, OK, but is this someone I like?

After all, we're going to have to work together for the next four years -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider with that.

Thanks very much.

A lot of our viewers obviously like Bill Schneider, as well. A very likable kind of guy.

We're following a major story that's happening in Central America right now. An earthquake registered at 6.8 -- this is a major earthquake -- off the coast of Guatemala in the Pacific, about 70 miles or so from the capital of Guatemala City. Much closer to the shore, to the beaches, in Guatemala. We're going to go back there and see what we can get, the latest information.

Apparently no tsunami potential, at least not reported right now.

We'll stay on top of this breaking news for you.

Also ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the House passes its first gun law in years with help from -- believe it or not -- the NRA. We're going to have an update from Capitol Hill on what's going on. Also, a former party leader takes the top job at the White House. Ed Gillespie's new appointment is one of the topics in today's Strategy Session.

Lots of news happening right now right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A strong earthquake rocks Central America, specifically Guatemala. It's about 70 miles away from the capital of Guatemala City.

We're getting new information coming in. Registered right now at a 6.8. This is a major earthquake with the potential to cause lots and lots of damage.

We're staying on top of this story. We'll bring you more information as soon as it comes in to THE SITUATION ROOM.

Meanwhile, Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney appear to have put down their verbal swords during our recent presidential debate in New Hampshire, but now they're feuding once again and it's getting intense.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

She is here.

The two camps, they're sparring with each other -- Candy, what's going on right now?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are. And intense is a good word for it. It all began when a press release came out from the McCain camp basically saying that Mitt Romney said at one point that he was against abortion and six months later said that he was pro- choice. They did this under a banner that said "Mitt Versus Facts: Say Or Do Anything." And one of the quotes from there saying that: "Romney's biggest challenge in this election will be convincing Republicans he has principled positions."

In about, umm, half an hour, out came the Romney camp, hitting back, saying that this particular press release was "born of desperation. A campaign that is faltering and flailing has again resorted to calculated distortions in a last ditch effort to maintain relevance."

BLITZER: That's quite a difference...

CROWLEY: So a couple of ouches here.

BLITZER: Quite a difference from last week, when I asked Mitt Romney if he wanted to go public and criticize McCain at all for his position on immigration. He didn't want to do it. McCain didn't really want to get into it at the debate. But they're really going at it right now. Is there something specific that prompted this latest exchange?

CROWLEY: Well, if I were a cynic, I'd say that poll number that Mitt Romney now is up by eight points in New Hampshire. He's clearly becoming a force. The McCain campaign, one of their strengths is the believability. So they back at one of Romney's weak points, which, of course, is the whole flip-flopping charge.

But basically what we have here is late fall language in early summer.

BLITZER: And presumably because Romney's numbers are going up dramatically, at least in our newest CNN/WMUR poll that we released yesterday. And McCain's numbers and Giuliani's numbers, for that matter, they've gone down since the last debate.

That's in part fuelling some of this? Is that what you're suggesting?

CROWLEY: I mean I -- I think it does. And I think, as we've seen them go at it before, and what happens here is you get a certain amount of distance between yourself and negative attacks if you put it out in the form of a press release. But it's very clear there's tension between these two camps.

BLITZER: All right, Candy, thanks very much.

Candy Crowley.

And as you saw earlier, Bill Schneider. They 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.

I want to get back to the breaking news we're following right now.

A spokesman from the U.S. Geological Survey is joining us right now, Rafael Abreau.

I'm not -- I'm not sure I'm pronouncing your name, Rafael, correctly, but please correct me.

RAFAEL ABREAU: Yes, my name is Rafael Abreau, is actually the right pronunciation. But you were close enough.

BLITZER: Close enough, but not close -- but not perfect. And we want to be perfect.

So, Raphael, please tell us what we know about this 6.8 earthquake off the coast of Guatemala.

ABREAU: All right. At this moment, basically, like you said, we had a 6.8 preliminary magnitude on the earthquake. And we're talking about -- it was -- the epicenter is basically located 150 kilometers, or 70 miles, south-southwest of Guatemala City, OK, which is the biggest area that we've got right now, OK?

The location is pretty well constrained. It was -- it happened in the area of 64.8 kilometers in there, which makes it an intermediate earthquake. And I guess we're pretty fortunate -- I mean the area it chose is pretty fortune that it's actually that deep, OK?

If it -- had it been closer to the surface, then you would be seeing -- or you would expect, you know, certain more critical effects of the earthquakes.

BLITZER: You're a physicist. The first thing that always goes through my mind, at least one of the first things, is aftershocks.

What do we anticipate? Have we felt any aftershocks since the initial 6.8 shock?

ABREAU: We haven't registered any aftershocks so far yet, I mean. But we could expect some related to this earthquake. But to this point, we haven't had any aftershocks so far.

BLITZER: All right, so give us a sense, Rafael, of the kind of damage -- this was off the coast of Guatemala -- what people along the coast itself and near the coast, what kind of damage of buildings -- structural damage, what kind of damage should they anticipate?

Because, clearly, buildings were felt shaking in the -- in the city, the capital city of Guatemala City itself, and that's 70 miles or so away.

ABREAU: OK.

Basically, at this point, and I'm looking at the statistics for the field reports that we have gotten so far on the west side, and, basically, in terms of the Mercalli intensity scale, we're getting reports of the rage up to the 5 in intensity scale, which pretty much means some pretty strong shaking up to this point.

It could generate some moderate damage in areas in which buildings are not really that resilient or, you know, not seismically resistant. OK? To this point, we don't have any confirmed reports of damage or casualties related to the earthquake.

But what we can really see over here is that, well, some pretty strong shaking was felt in Guatemala and even in parts of El Salvador.

BLITZER: In El Salvador, as well.

This is a country, Guatemala, of about 12 million people, 2.5 million people in Guatemala City itself. And I assume a lot of the buildings are not necessarily all that strong, all that structurally secure.

But let's get back to the earlier point that you made. The epicenter is in the Pacific Ocean. And it was in very deep water. And you say that's good. Explain why that's good. ABREAU: Well, basically, what happens is, as with any other earthquake, you know, the closer the rupture zone of the earthquake, you know, the closer you are to the rupture zone, I mean, the greater the shaking it is you're going to feel closer to the source.

In this particular -- in this particular case, not only are you pretty much far away from populated areas, being, you know, offshore, but, also, being 68 kilometers under the surface of the earth, the rupture zone, that generates a little bit of distance, you know, and the seismic wave has to travel farther, and it attenuates.

So, the shaking is not as strong if it had been, for example, like 10 or five kilometers in depth.

BLITZER: And one final question, Rafael -- a tsunami, is there no fear of that, either to the coast of Central America or moving out from the Pacific toward Hawaii or other areas? Has that tsunami fear gone away?

ABREAU: Well, basically, at this particular point, we really don't expect a tsunami to be associated with this kind of earthquake.

Once again, you know, one of the things that is number one, it's not really a shallow -- it's not a shallow quake. It's not close to the surface, which are the kind of earthquakes that tend to generate tsunamis, OK?

So, a Pacific-wide tsunami, as you're describing, being -- going as far away as Hawaii or something like that, it's not likely for this kind of quake. You might expect some wave activity really, really close to the area, which could be related, to, you know, secondary effects, like, you know, some landsliding or something like that.

But we don't have any reports whatsoever at this point about that either.

BLITZER: Rafael Abreau of the U.S. Geological Survey -- Rafael, we're going to stay in touch with you and get back to you as more information comes in.

And I just want to caution our viewers all of this is preliminary information, very preliminary. We're going to stay on top of this story, a powerful earthquake that has rattled Guatemala. And we're getting information coming in from Guatemala itself.

We will come back to this story shortly.

But we're also following other stories here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Some more Democrats hop on the impeachment bandwagon. Is it a real threat to the vice president, Dick Cheney?

And an unlikely alliance on gun control -- Democrats team up with Republicans and the NRA, the National Rifle Association. We will tell you what's going on. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Just want to remind you, we're staying on top of the breaking news in Central America, an earthquake, 6.8, off the coast of Guatemala. We're getting new information that's coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We're going to go to Guatemala shortly and get an update. We're following the story closely.

Other news that we're following, on Capitol Hill today, gun control back on the front burner -- the House voted to fix flaws in the national gun background check system. It's a relatively quick and emotional response to the Virginia Tech massacre.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel. She's watching this.

It's a -- could a first of a kind, at least some are suggesting, Andrea, the alliance that was put together to get this legislation passed.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It absolutely could be, Wolf.

And, if it passes the Senate, it could be the first major federal gun control law since 1994.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL (voice-over): After Cho Seung-Hui, a mentally ill gunman, killed 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech in April with guns he should never have been allowed to purchase, Democrats who want stricter gun laws found an unlikely ally in the NRA.

And, today, the House voted unanimously to beef up the national system that checks backgrounds of gun buyers.

REP. LAMAR SMITH (R), TEXAS: The tragedy of April 16 can never be erased, but this bill is a step forward in protecting our country from violence by persons who have no right to possess a firearm.

KOPPEL: Among those who would be prohibited from buying guns, criminals and those, like Cho Seung-Hui, determined by a judge to be mentally ill. With a mix of carrots and sticks, the bill's supporters say states will now be encouraged to share records of those disqualified under federal law and to put them into a national database.

REP. CAROLYN MCCARTHY (D), NEW YORK: The bill will take millions and millions of names that are sitting in boxes in courtrooms across this country and get them into the system.

KOPPEL: But, according to a White House report on the Virginia Tech massacre released today, only 23 states currently provide any information. The other 27 claim privacy laws prevent them from sharing mental health information.

And, among the bill's potential loopholes, it won't cover firearms sold at gun shows, even though that's how the kids who carried out the Columbine massacre bought their guns.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says, unless the bill applies to all gun sales, it's not going to work.

PAUL HELMKE, PRESIDENT, BRADY CAMPAIGN TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE: We're hopeful that, now that the NRA has come around to our point of view in terms of strengthening the Brady background checks, that now we can take the next step, after this bill passes, to make sure that those background checks apply to all sales of guns.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL: Now, first, the bill has to get through the Senate, but, over there, senators, including Chuck Schumer of New York, say they're quite confident it will pass, because it has the backing of the NRA, and because of that new White House report that just came out today, Wolf. Strengthening the background checks is one of the recommendations -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Andrea Koppel, for that.

Coming up: Congressman and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich picks up some support for his push to impeach the vice president, Dick Cheney. But is it much ado about nothing?

And in our "Strategy Session": James Carville and J.C. Watts on the presidential campaign and surprises in our New Hampshire poll. James says he wants to admit something, that he might have been wrong in his initial assessment. We will tell you what's going on.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A 6.8 earthquake off the coast of Guatemala -- we're getting new information, and we will update you on what we know. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Other news, though, we're following right now, he wants to impeach the vice president, Dick Cheney. And now Dennis Kucinich is gathering a bit of support for his drive to oust the V.P. The Democratic congressman and presidential candidate wants to impeach Cheney because he says the vice president lied about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and tricked Congress and the American public into believing war with Iraq was necessary.

Kucinich says the vice president is also threatening aggression against Iran.

Let's turn to CNN's Tom Foreman. He's watching this story.

Tom, who is joining Kucinich right now? TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know what, Wolf? It's hardly a mass movement. But the congressman from Cleveland is picking up a few new pals.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): In April, he stood alone.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These articles are about the conduct of the vice president of the United States, that he deceived the people of the United States to take this country into a war, that he continues to exhibit a pattern of conduct that could take this country into another war based on false pretenses.

FOREMAN: Now he is one of eight.

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: I come this morning to join with my friend and colleague and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich in calling for the impeachment of Vice President Cheney.

FOREMAN: Congresswoman Maxine Waters and six other House Democrats are joining Kucinich's crusade. But the odds are heavily against them.

KUCINICH: We understand that impeachment is not on the leadership's agenda.

FOREMAN: In fact, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rules it out.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I have said, and I say again, that impeachment is off the table.

FOREMAN: That was Pelosi right after the midterm elections, when the Democrats won back Congress. And she hasn't changed her mind. With congressional approval ratings, as well as her own personal ratings, falling in the polls, impeachment is the last thing Pelosi needs to worry about.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: If this ever happens, this would be a big roll of the dice for the Democrats, a huge political payoff if they win, but a big cost if they don't.

FOREMAN: Regardless, Kucinich remains optimistic.

KUCINICH: Our numbers are going to continue to grow. And you will start to see that more and more people, as they see this momentum, will join on.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Certainly, Kucinich is sincere about all this. Why isn't he going after President Bush? Kucinich says, there's a practical reason. If George Bush is impeached, then Dick Cheney becomes president.

(LAUGHTER)

FOREMAN: But there's also raw politics in all of this, Wolf.

They're sincere, sure. But I can be sincere about becoming Miss Teen Ohio. It doesn't mean it's going to happen -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Tom Foreman.

You're not going to become Miss Teen Ohio.

FOREMAN: Probably not.

BLITZER: No -- no fear of that.

Up next in our "Strategy Session": The president has found the person he want to fill the role of senior presidential adviser.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm fortunate that Ed Gillespie has agreed to join the administration. He is a seasoned hand who has got excellent judgment. He's a good strategic thinker that I know will do a fine job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But how much of a difference will the former chairman of the Republican National Committee make during the twilight years of the Bush administration?

And our poll of polls -- we're going to show you where the race for the White House stands, including in the key battleground state of New Hampshire. J.C. Watts and James Carville, they are standing by live, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In our "Strategy Session": new ups and downs in the presidential race and a new power player in the Bush White House.

Joining us now, Democratic strategist James Carville, former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts, both CNN analysts.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Thank you.

BLITZER: In our national poll of polls, take a look at the consistency going back to February. Hillary Clinton was at 37, 36 in March, 35, then 36 now in our average of all the major national polls -- Obama, very consistent, at 22, 23, 22, 23 -- Al Gore, not even a candidate, very consistent, and Edwards relatively consistent.

What do you make of that consistency?

CARVILLE: You know, never have so many said so much and had so -- and done so little. I mean, in one sense, I guess, if you're Hillary Clinton, the status quo is good, because you have a lead.

But the one thing that we know, it won't stay that way. It will change in -- to somebody's benefit as Iowa comes, then after that.

BLITZER: And it certainly has changed in New Hampshire since our last televised debate.

Back in April, Hillary Clinton was at 27 percent among Democratic voters. She's now gone up to 36 percent. Obama stayed roughly the same, 20 percent, now 22 percent. Edwards, he has -- he has been hurt. He's gone from 21 percent, down to 12 percent. Al Gore has been consistent.

Look at Bill Richardson...

CARVILLE: Right.

BLITZER: ... J.C. He's gone from 4 percent up to 10 percent, the governor of New Mexico. He emerged out of that debate in relatively good shape for Bill Richardson.

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I -- I didn't necessarily think that Bill performed very well in the debate, but I -- I have said all along that I thought he was the dark horse, and could maybe, you know, gain some ground, and, you know, pick up some steam.

But I think, Wolf, those polls are saying that -- what I believe, that Senator Clinton is the person to beat. And I think, unless she stumbles terribly bad, which she's got smart people around her -- she's very savvy -- don't know if that happens.

I -- the Republican side is a little different, but I think the Democrat side is more settled.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: James, you didn't think Bill Richardson did that well?

CARVILLE: No, I didn't -- I didn't think he did very well at all. And he got the biggest percentage increase, not the -- I think Senator Clinton got the biggest total increase -- but the biggest percentage increase.

So, it goes to show you, maybe the voters in New Hampshire saw something that I didn't see, but I thought he wasn't very impressive at all in the debate.

WATTS: Well, that shows you, Wolf, that we give our opinions on these things.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Not necessarily what the voters out in New Hampshire necessarily think.

CARVILLE: Right.

BLITZER: Let's take a look at the Republican side right now.

Giuliani, back in March, was at 37 in our national poll of polls among registered Republicans or independents leaning Republican. He's gone down to 30 percent, lost a little bit. McCain has been relatively steady at 19, 22, 22. Fred Thompson, who was just thinking about it then, now is doing a lot more than that, he's been steady at 11, 11, and 12. And Romney has been relatively steady in a national poll of polls, coming up a little bit to 10 percent.

What do you make of that?

CARVILLE: You know, the big news in both of these polls, with the possible exception of Giuliani, who is slipping -- and he's not going to be the Republican nominee -- is, there's great stability. And that's not unusual. I think that's characteristic of previous presidential campaigns at this point.

The difference here is -- is, boy, there's been more debates and there's been more talk and more early fund-raising and everything going on. I'm not sure that the voters have -- have not really checking in totally just yet. I don't know. But the -- the amazing thing that strikes me is the stability in both -- in both fields.

BLITZER: And take a look at New Hampshire, though. Romney did have a major jump. Back in April, he was only at 17 percent among Republicans. After the debate, he's gone up to 28 percent.

CARVILLE: Right.

Giuliani and McCain suffered considerably, from 29 to 20 percent. Fred Thompson went from 3 percent in April. Now he's at 11 percent.

J.C., why Romney doing so well, at least in New Hampshire?

WATTS: Well, he's on the air. He's advertising in New Hampshire. He's from the area. He's a governor from that -- from that New England area. I think that probably factors into it.

Now, I -- I -- what James said earlier about voters not settling in, I think that's a lot more true on the Republican side than I do the Democrat side. I do think that Republicans -- as I have traveled around the country, they are still kind of kicking their tires, trying to figure out who their candidate is going to be.

But, Wolf, the thing in those numbers, again, John McCain's numbers, somewhere he's going to -- he's been all along, from 20 to about 27 percent. If Fred Thompson gets in the race, where does he draw from? And I think he draws more from Romney and Giuliani.

BLITZER: Very -- very quickly, Ed Gillespie coming into the White House, counselor to the president, replacing Dan Bartlett, who is leaving, big deal?

CARVILLE: Well, I mean, no, I don't know if it's a big deal, but I think it's a good deal for President Bush.

I don't think his problem is communications. I think Tony Snow is a good press secretary. Ed was chairman of the Republican Party. He was chairman the Democratic -- the Virginia Republican Party. And now he's going to the White House. You can question Ed's sanity, but you can't question his commitment to this president or his political party.

WATTS: He is. He's very committed to the party. Ed is kind of the -- you know, the cleanup hitter, you know, RNC chairman -- the utility guy, the RNC chairman, you know, communications guy.

CARVILLE: Well, is he the cleanup hitter or the utility guy, J.C.?

(LAUGHTER)

WATTS: Well, he -- well, the utility guy.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right, guys.

CARVILLE: All right.

WATTS: Yes, he's the utility guy.

BLITZER: Whatever he is, whatever he is, he's going to be doing it for the president.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: He does a good job.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much, James Carville, J.C. Watts.

Still to come: "The Cafferty File."

And the last time it was bombed, bloody violence followed. Now a Shiite mosque in Samarra hit again. I will speak with the top coalition spokesman in Baghdad about what happens next.

Also, who is arming the Taliban? A top U.S. diplomat points the finger directly at Iran and says he has the evidence to prove it.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, a new "Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll shows that a majority of Americans support allowing illegal aliens to become citizens, if they pay fines, learn English, and meet certain other requirements.

We asked, how will this affect that stalled immigration bill in Washington?

Jody writes from Tennessee: "Jack, I really don't believe Americans are for legalizing millions of illegals. Yes, we want the border secured, but we also want the flow to end. We have to save our country from others who would do us no good in the long run. The middle class would be destroyed by this."

Charles in Michigan: "Where are they taking these polls, in John McCain's cabbage patch? I don't know a single person who is for amnesty for illegal aliens. The fact that there are more independent voters than any other kind tells it all. The American people want secure ports and borders before we talk about anything else."

Jan in Pittsburgh: "I don't know how it will affect the stalled immigration bill, but what I would like to know is this. If we can't find the 12 million illegals to deport them, how are we going to find them to make sure they pay their fines, learn English, and meet certain other requirements?"

Ambro in Florida writes: "This poll had to be taken by the White House, certified by Rove, and witnessed by the attorney general. Don't ask them about it, though. They surely can't recall."

Ken in Virginia: "The majority of Americans don't even understand the intent of the Bush-McCain-Kennedy bill. The bill is a fraud, a lie, like the rest of Bush's policies. Bush has no intention of securing the borders, ports, or interior of the U.S. from illegal immigration. This bill is to provide cheap labor for business interests and appease special interest groups, and to hell with American citizens."

Carl in Florida writes: "I hope they don't pass it. Come on, first things first. Let's build a fence. Then we will talk. If you're not going to build a fence, give us our money back."

And Peter in Chandler, Arizona, writes: "Jack, who took this survey? The Mexican Embassy?" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

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