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THE SITUATION ROOM

Nifong to Resign; Hamas Controls Gaza, Fatah the West Bank

Aired June 15, 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. The prosecutor in the botched Duke lacrosse university lacrosse case is stepping down. We're going to have details in a moment.

A Middle East hot spot turned upside down. Hamas militants fully in control in all of Gaza right now. Rival Fatah fighters are seeking revenge and the U.S. grapples with a new global crisis.

Also this hour, prayers and a new pitch for immigration reform. President Bush teams up with a top Democrat to promote a new deal aimed at bringing the bill back to life.

And presidential campaign hot buttons -- Barack Obama on race and how it might influence him in the White House. And Mitt Romney on abortion, explaining his conversion on the issue.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with the breaking news out of North Carolina. The fate of the prosecutor in the Duke University lacrosse case. That fate has now been announced.

Jason Carroll is following this story -- only moments ago Michael Nifong, Jason, announced something.

Tell our viewers what he did.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was extremely emotional. Just a few moments ago, embattled Durham District Attorney Michael Nifong said it is his intention to step down as Durham's district attorney.

He said it has become apparent this week that his presence as D.A. Is not furthering the case of justice and the cause of justice. He said it wasn't fair to the community, Wolf, to be represented by someone not held in high esteem. And that's why, he said, regardless of the outcome of this hearing that's being held right now by North Carolina's bar into ethics -- allegations of ethics violations by Nifong, that it is his intention to step down.

He said: "I will go to my grave associated with this case and that's OK. I took this case and whatever mistakes I made were my mistakes." He also, at that point, Wolf, went on to apologize to the former Duke lacrosse players and their families. He named them -- Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, Dave Evans. He said that he had caused the players and their families a great deal of pain. He said that all of this had sort of come to a head for him when he had a discussion with his son about the case. And I guess at that point, that was one of the moments where he had decided, in fact, it was time for him to step down.

This hearing is still taking place. It is not over yet. But, once again, Wolf, regardless of the outcome of this hearing, it is his intention to step down as Durham's district attorney -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, you know, Jason, the speculation's going to be he made this announcement preemptively, in advance of any decision by this jury to disbar him. For example, had he been disbarred, he would no longer have been allowed to practice in North Carolina, then and there. So the speculation, I assume, is going to be he did this to try to discourage the jury from coming back and saying he should be disbarred -- let him go on and continue to practice law, albeit in the private sector.

CARROLL: Absolutely. And it was becoming very clear, after listening to this hearing, Wolf, that that -- that Nifong most definitely was going to be found guilty of ethics violations. He all but admitted to making mistakes in this case. He said that he had made a mistake in issuing inflammatory statements in the early stages of the case. He said that he had made a mistake in how some of this DNA evidence was withheld from the defense -- defense attorneys.

So it became clear, in his own words, that he was going to be punished. In some way, shape or form, he was going to be punished. And so, perhaps, some will speculate that this was, in fact, some sort of preemptive strike -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jason is going to be back later in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Some dramatic sound from Reade Seligmann, among others, during the testimony earlier today.

Jason will have a full report on all of this.

That's later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But let's move on to the Middle East right now. The bloodshed in Gaza gives way to an unsettling calm, as Hamas militants consolidate their grip on power. Masked gunmen are running roughshod in the presidential compound in Gaza. They ousted the leaders of the rival Fatah faction yesterday.

Now, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is holed up in the West Bank. He's rallying international support after dissolving his government, that included Hamas leaders. And fighters loyal to the Fatah movement are showing their rage and thirst for revenge.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in the West bank city of Nablus -- Ben. BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the battle for Gaza may be over, but the battle for the West Bank looks like it's just beginning.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Fatah gunmen ransacked Hamas' media office in Nablus -- destruction, the theme of the day. Fatah answers Hamas' rampage in Gaza with its own. In the streets below, Fatah fighters warned this is only the beginning.

"We'll continue to do this until Hamas has been destroyed," says gunman Abu Escandar (ph).

This is the law here, delivered through the barrel of a gun -- blind rage smashing everything associated with Hamas.

(on camera): This is a taste of the mayhem to come. Fatah has now taken revenge on Hamas -- destroying everything it can, burning their offices, killing their members.

(voice-over): This was the first Hamas supporter in Nablus to be killed -- 31-year-old Anis Saluus (ph). Relatives say he was grabbed as he left a mosque Thursday, bundled into a car and driven away. Mourners accuse Fatah of being behind the killings. Specifically, they blame Mohammed Dahlan (ph), who was Fatah's strongman in Gaza before it was overrun by Hamas.

"No one is investigating how he was killed," Anis' father tells me. "No one is investigating anything."

A few hope the carnage will end soon.

"God willing, this was the last killing," says the Nablus resident Abu Mohammed al-Halabi (ph) at the funeral, "and we'll be brothers again."

With anger on both sides, it doesn't look like the bloody conflict between Hamas and Fatah will be so easily buried.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

WEDEMAN: And the latest we've heard is that Fatah gunmen are now working in the villages surrounding Nablus, rounding up known Hamas supporters -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman on the West Bank for us.

Thank you, Ben.

President Bush is traveling today, making appearances in Kansas before heading to his ranch in Crawford, Texas. But he's keeping a very close eye on the situation in Gaza and the West Bank and the potential impact on the entire region.

Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is traveling with the president in Wichita right now -- what's the administration, Suzanne, saying about this meltdown in Gaza?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Bush administration realizes this is really a desperate, dire situation. We have heard from several officials. This is why they are bolstering the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and trying to diminish Hamas. They believe that Abbas made the right move in dissolving the government, replacing the minister. A spokesman for the White House aboard Air Force One, Scott Stanzel, saying: "President Abbas, we believe, has exercised his lawful authority as president of the Palestinian Authority and leader of the people and we support his decisions to try to end this violence."

It was earlier that Secretary Rice reached out to her counterparts over the phone, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, to try to come up with a way to bolster the Abbas government, even perhaps lifting the embargo against the Palestinian Authority -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there anything else they are saying about next, specific, concrete steps that the U.S. might be taking?

MALVEAUX: Well, yes. You know, the big question is what is going to happen to the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza who are effectively under the control of Hamas?

That is the main issue. And President Bush, on Tuesday, is actually going to be meeting with the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, at the White House to discuss that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much.

Suzanne Malveaux watching this story for us in Kansas.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty.

He's watching all of the news for us in New York -- hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, "THE CAFFERTY FILE": Wolf, House Republicans have forced the Democrats to be more open about pork spending. Go figure. After years of filling legislation with pet projects of their own, it's the Republicans who got the Democrats to drop plans to pass spending bills without letting opponents challenge the earmarks in the full House. The Democrats wanted to allow the pork to be layered on later, to House/Senate compromise bills in the fall, when it would be virtually too late to do anything about them.

The excuse offered?

Well, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, David Obey, said there are too many earmarks -- 32,000 of them -- for them to be handled in the traditional way.

Come on. That is nothing more than an attempt to keep the pork spending out of public view until nobody can do everything about it.

Now, Republicans say everything will be out in the open and earmark opponents are getting ready to go over spending bills for waste.

But it's still not clear what effect all this will have. Those who try to kill earmarks in the full House usually are not successful. Republican Congressman Jeff Flake says every time he tries to do it: "I get beat like a rented mule."

And just because we'll now be able to know what's going on doesn't mean that these greedy, shameless representatives we have will behave any differently. Thirty-two thousand earmarks. Here's the question -- when it comes to Congress and pork, who do you trust?

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

BLITZER: Thanks...

CAFFERTY: They're only talking about real money, with 32,000 of those things.

BLITZER: That's a lot of money.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.

See you soon.

CAFFERTY: Sure.

BLITZER: Coming up Mitt Romney calls himself a proud abortion opponent. Critics call him a flip-flopper. We'll take a look at the GOP presidential candidate's evolution on several red hot social issues.

Also ahead, a mini uproar -- one presidential contender is taking a stand against a short skirt.

Is it a joke?

Is he serious?

What's going on?

And conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh right now at the center of a verbal smack-down over immigration. We'll see if Donna Brazile and J.C. Watts want to take sides. That's coming up in our Strategy Session.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush is vowing once again today to work with members of Congress from both parties to pass comprehensive immigration reform. We're going to have a full report coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM on the status of the bill, this on the day after senators reached a hard-fought bipartisan agreement to try to revive it.

Right now, though, we want to explore your views on immigration.

Let's turn to CNN's Kathleen Koch -- Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if you look at the polls, the answer is yes and no.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This debate can be emotional.

KOCH (voice-over): President Bush isn't kidding. The debate here in Washington and out on the trail has been brutal.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: The security of American borders should not be conditioned on amnesty.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This is not amnesty. And the thing -- if there's anything that really gets me going is this description that it's "amnesty," because it's not. It's earned citizenship.

KOCH: The fight's over the path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Polls indicate most Americans support that plan. When it's called amnesty, as opponents describe it, a recent Pew poll shows a majority still say they favor the idea.

So why the big battle over the bill?

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: People who support the path to citizenship don't care about the immigration issue very much. But people who oppose it care about it a great deal. Forty-seven percent of them in our most recent poll said that the immigration issue was extremely important.

KOCH: And the two parties look at the subject very differently. For Democrats, immigration ranks low among the issues.

HOLLAND: But among Republicans, it ranks fifth in terms of importance -- far above GOP staples such as abortion, gun control, gay marriage, even taxes.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

KOCH: But one thing just about everyone agrees on -- something needs to be done. And last night's agreement to debate the bill again may bring the Senate closer to actually acting on it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kathleen Koch watching this story for us.

Thank you, Kathleen. And later on we're going to have a full report on what's going on today in the aftermath of that decision yesterday to try to revive this immigration legislation.

Let's move on, though. A GOP candidate finds himself in a mini controversy offer a mini-skirt. That would be the former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee.

We'll turn to Carol Costello.

She is here -- what's Huckabee saying, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, you've heard it a thousand times. You just have to be careful about what you say these days. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is known for his great sense of humor.

But you know what?

When his comments are in print, you can't hear the tone of his voice and that is causing him some discomfort.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): The mini-skirt, long a symbol of female liberation, is back style. And presidential candidate Mike Huckabee seems somewhat chagrined. In an interview with "Marie Claire" magazine, he was asked if he was against mini-skirts. He said: "If a person dresses provocatively, they're calling attention -- maybe not the most desirable kind -- to private parts of their body."

"Marie Claire" reporter Terra McKelvey does say everything said about skirts and skin was in jest.

But humorists or not, even the suggestion that mini-skirts are provocative provoked passionate reaction -- on the Web and on the streets.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A woman should be able to wear whatever she wants.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're free to choose what we want to wear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's nothing wrong with showing off good looking legs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Except when you have cellulite.

COSTELLO: As for what Huckabee says now?

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was in the context of a was humorous conversation that I was having. And somebody has people have picked it up and made it serious.

Look, I think some people look great in mini-skirts. COSTELLO: Whether or not it was a joke, this isn't the first time Huckabee has taken on fashion. He pondered provocative dress in his new book, "From Hope To Higher Ground." That's why McKelvey asked the mini-skirt question.

TARA MCKELVEY, "MARIE CLAIRE" CONTRIBUTING EDITOR: I noticed in his book he had lots of suggestions for what Americans should do, so I wanted to find out more about his views on what we should wear.

COSTELLO: In his book, Huckabee says fashion is designed to call attention to a person's sexuality instead of one's face. So McKelvey wondered if he meant no skin. So she asked him if a burkha would do it?

"No, that hides everything. I think a person's hair, arms, shoulders, legs are an appropriate display of who they are."

Again, Huckabee says it was a joke!

But clearly not everyone got it.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

COSTELLO: As Kirsten Fedewa, Huckabee's press person, told me, hey, it was just something any conservative dad would say -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you for that.

Carol Costello joining us.

She'll be back shortly.

Still ahead, he's hoping to become the first African-American president of the United States.

How would racial issues influence Barack Obama in the White House?

I'll talk to our contributor, Roland Martin, about his candid interview with Senator Obama.

An out of the world problem, as we're keeping tabs of repairs aboard the International Space Station right now. Miles O'Brien is watching all of this for us. There are serious problems out there. We'll tell you the latest.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Carol.

She's monitoring the wires.

She's keeping an eye on the video feeds coming in from around the world.

She's joining us now.

She's here in Washington, also, with a closer look at some other important stories -- hi, Carol.

COSTELLO: Hi, Wolf.

Hello to all of you.

A federal jury in Mississippi has convicted a 71-year-old reputed Klansman in connection with the 1964 deaths of two black teenagers. James Ford Seale could face life in prison for his role in the kidnapping and murder of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Dee. Seale was arrested not long after the murders happened, but the charges were dropped after witnesses allegedly refused to testify. But he's been convicted now.

The D.A. In the Duke lacrosse case says he will resign his post as the North Carolina district attorney. Mike Nifong made his tearful announcement from the witness stand at his ethics trial. He's been charged with professional misconduct based on his handling of the Duke case. As you know, the state attorney general later dropped all the charges against the Duke players. Much more on this story just ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The U.S. Treasury Department has frozen the assets of two Iranian men it says are key players in Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. In addition to having their U.S. accounts frozen, Americans are banned from doing business with the two men. It is the latest effort by the U.S. officials to pressure Iran with financial penalties.

And Russian cosmonauts are still trying to reboot those failed computers aboard the International Space Station. The problem started around the time cables were being hooked up to new solar panels outside of the station. Also today, astronauts headed out on their second space walk to repair a tear in the shuttle's thermal blanket.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Carol.

At least one Russian Soyuz capsule, by the way, is always docked at that Space Station to be prepared to return to earth at any time with up to three crew members. The journey back to earth takes less than three-and-a-half hours. It takes the space shuttle, by the way, a little more than an hour from de-orbit burn to touch down at its Florida landing site.

The spacecraft is positioned -- the Russian one -- to parachute into Kazakhstan in Central Asia, but it doesn't always hit the mark you see here in orange. In May of 2003, for example, a vehicle missed the target by hundreds of miles. The reentry capsule cannot be reused. Each spacecraft flies once and is then discarded.

Up next, President Bush finds a new backdrop to promote an immigration reform bill. He's making nice with key Democrats.

Will that help him get what he wants?

Plus, Mitt Romney walks into a forum where his evolving views on abortion are at issue.

Is he confronting his critics head on?

Much more of our coverage.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, fierce fighting in Gaza, renewed violence in Lebanon.

Who's arming militants in the Middle East?

U.S. officials are pointing the finger. We're going to tell you whom they say is responsible.

Hamas takes full control of Gaza.

Can the U.S. do anything about it? Should the U.S. do anything about it? Should it take military action?

Jamie McIntyre is standing by with a report.

Also, Democratic hopeful John Edwards -- he's standing by to join us live.

What would he do about the situation in Iraq?

And how does he plan to catch his party's presidential frontrunner?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

On Capitol Hill today, immigration reform appears to be on its way back from the dead, a day after senators reached a bipartisan agreement to revive it. President Bush is doing his part today to try to promote the measure. And he's making nice with some top, very liberal Democrats along the way.

Our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel, is here joining us -- Andrea, what's next in the push for a new immigration bill?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, Democratic and Republican leaders agreed to whittle down hundreds of potential amendments to a list of about 20, clearing the way now to bring back immigration reform to the Senate floor as soon as next week.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

KOPPEL (voice-over): At the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast, new hope, an immigration deal could be within reach.

BUSH: Gracias. Siente ses, por favor.

KOPPEL: And a new appeal from President Bush.

BUSH: Thank you for making comprehensive immigration reform your top priority. I share that priority.

KOPPEL: And from some of the bill's biggest Republican and Democratic boosters.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: This is in our national interests. This represents the best opportunity to make a difference for our country. And failure is not an option.

SEN. MEL MARTINEZ (R), FLORIDA: The battle is long and the battle is hard. But I know that with your spirit and with your faith, that we will continue and we will prevail and persevere.

KOPPEL: The breakthrough, just one week after immigration reform seemed to hit a dead end, came after President Bush made a rare visit to Capitol Hill this week to meet with Republicans and after Mr. Bush pledged to support over $4 billion for border security, a key demand of conservatives.

BUSH: Our responsibilities are straightforward. We've got to enforce the border, the basic duty of a sovereign nation.

KOPPEL: But on the Washington Mall, organizers of a weekend anti-immigration rally, like Michelle de la Cruz of Phoenix, are digging in.

MICHELLE DALLACROCE, FOUNDER, MOTHERS AGAINST ILLEGAL ALIENS: The illegals don't even listen to us now. The illegals are dictating our lives to us now. Do we really think, does our Congress and this president think that we're that stupid?

(END VIDEO TAPE)

KOPPEL: And Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions agrees, and in a written statement said he "can't fathom why they seem so obsessed to ram through this flawed bill, that the American people overwhelmingly reject" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Andrea, watching this story for us on the Hill.

Thanks.

Let's go straight to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi, what are the conservative grassroots online saying about this effort to revive this immigration legislation? ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, from the comments section of one of these popular conservative blogs today, the words, "We have been sold, betrayed."

And that pretty much sums up the strength of feeling on the right online about the issue that's kept them mobilized for weeks. They have been circulating petitions amongst their readers, getting them to sign it, trying to post online names and phone numbers of Senate offices, hoping that their readers will flood these offices with their opposition.

And, talking to the managing editor of the popular "Red State" conservative blog online, he has told me that he's never seen his issues this rapid on any issue. And bear in mind, these are blogs where feelings can run pretty high.

And news that the Senate bill will be revived, with Bush supporting more money for border security, well, clearly, that's not going to come even close to satisfying people online. There's complaints, people angry about being dismissed as a noise machine -- some of the headlines out there today, throwing money at it, at the border problem, isn't good enough, Red State here, border security, yes, all other provisions, no.

Clearly, they're gearing up for another fight. The Senate phone numbers are back being posted online. And the headline here today is that it's back and here are ways to stop it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much. We are going to have more on this grassroots effort coming up later in our "Strategy Session" as well.

Meanwhile, Republican Mitt Romney's views on abortions are being called into question once again today, as he addresses the National Right to Life Convention in Missouri. The presidential candidate's change of heart over the years on abortion is a vulnerable point that some of his rivals are quick to jab at.

Let's bring in Mary Snow. She's watching this.

Mary, does Romney's confronting the decision head on now on abortion, what does that do on this -- this notion that his critics charge, that he's sort of a serial flip-flopper?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, he is confronting this change of heart he had on abortion. However, though, he's not conceding shifts on other issues where he's coming under fire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Mitt Romney came face to face with a crowd where the conversion on his abortion stance may face the biggest test. The Republican presidential hopeful told the National Right to Life Convention, he's a proud convert. MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can promise you this. You will be welcomed and we will work together if I'm fortunate enough to be elected president of the United States.

SNOW: Romney has been outspoken about his change from supporting abortion rights to declaring himself firmly pro-life.

ROMNEY: It's fair to say that I have changed my view with regards to abortion. That's pretty clear.

SNOW: As he vies for the conservative vote, Romney's coming under attack by Senator John McCain. McCain is taking aim at Romney not just over the topic of abortion, but also stem cell research, saying Romney has changed his position on federal funding.

The Romney camp calls that a -- quote -- "absolute inaccurate attack."

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: The stem cell controversy is not as clear-cut as the abortion controversy is.

SNOW: Take, for example, back in May at a Republican debate aired on MSNBC, when Romney was asked if scientists should be able to do research on embryos that fertility clinics would otherwise discard.

ROMNEY: I'm happy to allow that to be -- well, I shouldn't say happy. It's fine for that to be allowed to be legal. I won't use our government funds for that.

SNOW: Some social conservatives would disagree with him on that response.

But there have been other examples of what his critics charge is flip-flopping. Romney supported an amendment to ban gay marriage in Massachusetts, despite saying in 1994 he had a better track record on gay rights than Senator Ted Kennedy.

As Romney gains in polls, the McCain camp has been going out of its way to point out Romney's inconsistencies. "The Politico" even reports, the McCain camp is launching an anti-Romney Web site. That's something Senator McCain today told CNN would not happen.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we have the Web site. We will not use it, period.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, the McCain camp did post a 2005 video of then Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney supporting abortion rights. The Romney camp fired back, calling it a sad indication of where the McCain camp is -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Senator McCain -- correct me if I'm wrong -- is not the only Republican going after Mitt Romney on the issue of abortion.

SNOW: Yes, that's right.

Yesterday, we saw Senator Sam Brownback also jumping in, going after Romney on this abortion issue.

BLITZER: Mary Snow watching this story for us -- thanks, Mary, very much.

Coming up: Barack Obama on civil rights vs. economics. Which is the driving issue for African-Americans? The Democratic presidential contender speaking out.

And is Rudy Giuliani taking a shot at President Bush's leadership? J.C. Watts and Donna Brazile, they're standing by live. They will weigh the Republican's words in our "Strategy Session."

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Senator Barack Obama sees his presidential campaign as about much more than the color of his skin. But the Democrat also is clearly concerned about race in the United States.

Our CNN contributor Roland Martin sat down with Senator Obama. He asked him, if at this point in our nation, the defining issue for African-Americans and other minorities isn't civil rights, but economics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Race is still a factor in our society. We can't deny that. And, yes, we need a White House that enforces the civil rights laws.

We have got a Justice Department that has ignored civil rights laws. We need to understand that the criminal justice system still has significant biases that we have to fix. So, there's still going to be the need for enforcement of our civil rights laws.

But the fact of the matter is, is that our biggest problems right now have to do with poverty, have to do with children not getting an education, having to do with men without jobs. Those are the things that we're really going to have to focus on.

And we're not just going to be able to pass a civil rights law in order to deal with that. We have got to get resources in those communities. We have got to organize our institutions, so that they're more effective. We have got to renew our commitments to family and to excellence. Those are the things that are going to, I think, help us move in the next direction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, let's bring in Roland Martin. He's joining us from our Chicago bureau.

Roland, what do you think? What do you think of his answer?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I mean, he was dead on the money.

And what you see is, those who operate from a post-civil rights- movement perspective, that is, the individuals who really came after Dr. King and the others, that is what they're focused on. Former Congressman Harold Ford, Artur Davis in Alabama, they understand that economics is the reality of where African-Americans stand. So, there is no doubt that he is going to emphasize that vs. the traditional civil rights models.

BLITZER: You also asked him about that comment he made involving the words "quiet riot" that's going on. And he explained what he what he had in mind. And he also explained why he's trying to appeal to people of all colors in our country.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

BLITZER: I want to play another clip, Roland. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Well, it was interesting. When I made that speech about a quiet riot, the point I was making was that all of us as Americans ignore too often poverty, unless it flares up in riot or unless it's revealed as a consequence of flood down in New Orleans.

And we go from shock to trance. And, so, I was making, actually, a universal point, which is that we should be thinking about these issues each and every day, and not just waiting until there's some tragedy, some obvious tragedy.

I mean, as you're aware, we had 28 Chicago schoolchildren killed this year on the streets during the school year, Chicago public school kids. Now, that's a tragedy that deserves attention. And, yet, despite some good work done by Anderson Cooper and yourself and others to highlight it, for the most part, it didn't break into the mainstream.

So, my general attitude is that, whether you're white, black, Hispanic, Asian, whatever demographic you come from, we all have a stake in making sure that we don't have young people who are shooting each other on the streets, whether it's at Virginia Tech or on the South Side of Chicago.

And that requires all of us to pay attention in a consistent, sustained basis. And, if I'm talking about those issues in general terms, then I hope that I'm not just appealing to the African-American vote when I say something like that. That's something that speaks to our larger ideals as Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Roland, let's talk about that. Dissect it a little bit for us. What do you think? MARTIN: That is a critical comment, because, any time we talk about poverty, when you talk about violence in the inter city, there are people who automatically assume, well, that's a black problem, when, in fact, it affects all of us.

When you see one million, two million people in our prisons, that impacts us when it comes to our tax dollars. It impacts us when it comes to the budget. And, so, we can't see it just as a matter of race.

I just finished my syndicated column about 10 minutes ago, and I talked about, Dems should invest in poor whites. And that is, when we think about poor people in America, we often think of African- Americans.

Yet, if you go that -- if you go to "The Wall Street Journal," they just profiled the 10 of the top 20 states where people are with the highest poverty rates, South Dakota, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, a significant number of people.

And, so, we have to broaden our view and understand, when we speak of the poor and speak of the disenfranchised, we're not just talking about African-Americans. We're talking about whites and Hispanics and African-Americans, America, not just a particular ethnic group.

That's what I think he's going to try to get across and sort of tie all of us together, vs. saying we're separated based upon ethnicity.

BLITZER: You have been watching him in Chicago for a long time, Roland. Why is he so appealing, not only to African-Americans, but to Americans, all Americans? Especially in New Hampshire, where there are very few African-Americans, he's doing incredibly well in this Democratic presidential contest.

MARTIN: I think primarily because he is trying to speak to broader issues, and say, this is where we stand as America, and also being honest.

His speech in Detroit to the automakers, people said, well, it backfired. So, he's speaking honestly. He's not pandering to people.

And, so, when we talked, he said, you know, Roland, I'm trying to educate people, inform people.

And, so, we're used to candidates with a sound bite. And the reality is, he's going to have to master the sound bite. He's going to have to be able to deal with the 30- and the 60-second sound bite in the various debates. He didn't do quite well in the last debate that you moderated.

But what he's trying to do is say, look, there are some fundamental issues. Let's talk about them and dialogue about them, and not just say, hey, I have an answer for every single problem. He's very good at saying, look, I don't have all the answers. What do you think? What do you want to do?

Obama challenges Americans to step up, and holds them accountable. That's -- that's something that you often don't see from politicians running for president, who assume that, hey, they can fix every problem, when, in fact, they simply can't.

BLITZER: All right, good point. They certainly can't.

Thanks, Roland, very much.

MARTIN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Roland Martin is our contributor.

And, to our viewers, you can see Roland's interview with Senator Obama on TV One, where Roland is also a commentator. That airs on July 2, 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

Up next here in the "Strategy Session": President Bush calls for a unity on a divisive issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must meet our moral obligation to treat newcomers with decency and show compassion to the vulnerable and exploited, because we're called to answer both the demands of justice and the call for mercy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president wants people to come together, so, why is there friction between Rush Limbaugh and Trent Lott, of all people? That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."

Plus: tough talk from Rudy Giuliani about presidential leadership. Is he talking about the current commander in chief?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go to our "Strategy Session" now.

President Bush wants unity on immigration. But some of his usual allies are feuding. Plus, Rudy Giuliani has some sharp comments about White House leadership.

I'm joined now by former Republican Congressman, J.C. Watts, a CNN contributor, and, of course, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, also a CNN contributor.

Guys, thanks very much.

Let's talk about Rudy Giuliani first. He's quoted in "The New York Times" as saying this.

He says, "What we're lacking is strong, aggressive, bold leadership, like we had with Ronald Reagan."

J.C., is that a swipe at President Bush?

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, I don't know. I'm not going to try to psychoanalyze what he said.

However, I will say, if you look at the Republican candidates, and then you take the statement that he just made, look at all the Republican candidates, and I would ask, leading who?

I mean, there's not a whole lot of diversity of color within their camps, within their organization. I would think, if I was running for president, I would say, I want Donna to vote for me. I want Wolf to vote for me. I want red, yellow, brown, black, and white to vote -- red, yellow, brown, black, and white to vote for me. How do I do that?

So, it just seems to me, right now, it's pretty narrow, in terms of who he's talking about leading. And I think I could say that for all the Republican candidates.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he took an indirect swipe.

BLITZER: And he speaks as a Republican.

BRAZILE: Well, he took an indirect swipe at the president.

BLITZER: Giuliani.

BRAZILE: Absolutely. And I think...

WATTS: It's a matter of opinion.

BRAZILE: Well, and the reason why, of course, it came on a day the president's poll numbers again showed some slippage with Republicans.

And he was referring to the direction of the country. And he said, the American people would like to see bold, aggressive leadership, like Ronald Reagan. Now, I disagree with that, but that's what -- what the mayor was trying to say.

BLITZER: He's definitely taking, the president, bold, aggressive leadership on the issue of immigration reform, going against a lot of conservatives, a lot of his base, working with Ted Kennedy, among others, trying to get this legislation passed.

WATTS: Well, I think bold, aggressive leadership. I think the president's taken that position, in terms -- or taken that -- he's executed that style, in terms of immigration reform, in terms of the war.

The mayor actually has agreed with him on most things he's done in the war. So, I don't psychoanalyze and say that he was taking a shot at the president. I think he's saying, we need to be bold. We need to exert some real leadership, in terms of the issues that's facing America.

Now, his numbers could be at 30 percent as well. When you have got a Democrat opposition, then they're not going to lie down and make sure that you get everything that you want.

BRAZILE: Well, the truth of the matter is, there's a lot of Bush fatigue setting in, in the country. And the Republicans are just as tired of President Bush's leadership as the Democrats.

BLITZER: All right.

BRAZILE: And what the mayor is trying to say is that it's time for a change.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And I suspect -- I suspect some of those Republican candidates, increasingly, will want to distance themselves from the president.

WATTS: They will.

BRAZILE: That's coming.

WATTS: But, Wolf, we all know leadership means everything that's popular is not going to be right, and everything that's right is not going to be popular. So, you know, bold leadership, that's always in the eye of the beholder in politics.

BLITZER: I want to read to you what the Senate majority -- minority whip -- the minority whip -- Trent Lott, said, according to "The New York Times."

He was quoted as saying: "Talk radio is running America. We have to deal with that problem," to which Rush Limbaugh, today on his radio program, said this.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Let's listen to Rush.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: And Senator Lott's out there saying, the problem with this is talk radio, and it's a problem that's going to have to be dealt with.

Now, what does that mean? When I hear a United States senator say that what I do for a living is a problem that the government has to deal with, I mean, you can interpret it any number of ways. He says, well, we're going have to come up with your own ways to overcome them, or we're going to just have to wipe them out?

I mean, what does it -- what does it mean? The real question is, how are we going to deal with Trent Lott? What are we going to do about him? (END AUDIO CLIP)

BRAZILE: Well...

BLITZER: Those are strong words...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... you know, from guys who, on a lot of other issues -- not on immigration reform -- would necessarily -- would -- would normally agree.

BRAZILE: Well, look, talk about dumping the people that brought you to the dance.

I'm surprised that the Republicans are in this much disarray over immigration. The truth is, is that the base is still dissatisfied with this bill. They are now e-mailing each other, saying, don't support this bill. They are targeting the 22 senators. And they're going to put up a big fight to stop this immigration bill from going forward.

BLITZER: It's really dividing the Republican Party, isn't it, this whole debate over immigration? You have got McCain and Kyl on one side, Jeff Sessions and Tom Coburn, among a bunch of other senators, on the other side.

What do you see happening, J.C., to your party?

WATTS: Well, I -- I think it's Republicans being Republicans. I don't think Republicans necessarily buy into the group identity thing. They reserve the right to be individuals.

I don't think that Rush Limbaugh thinks that he should agree with Trent Lott just because they are both Republicans, or vice versa. So -- but, Wolf, I think the president, again, made a strategic mistake about two years ago, when he came out leading with guest worker, as opposed to leading with security.

You see he's kind of beefed -- beefed that up. Now, can he get the votes? That remains to be seen. But I do think that probably helps him inch toward what he's wanting, in terms of immigration.

BLITZER: Will the Democrats unite behind the president on immigration reform when all the dust settles on the Senate floor?

BRAZILE: Well, 80 percent of Democrats embrace this bill, supported this bill. The Republicans came up short. There are 22 amendments that will be offered. I suspect that some of the amendments that might be offered may poison the well.

BLITZER: Poison it. All right.

BRAZILE: Oh, absolutely.

BLITZER: We will watch it very closely. It's going to be the next two week or so.

WATTS: Ten amendments on either side -- it will be interesting to see what happens.

BRAZILE: Yes, indeed.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much, Donna and J.C.

Still to come, when it comes to Congress and pork, who can you trust? Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail.

Also ahead: my interview with Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. Are he and other Democrats resorting to complaining about Iraq, instead of taking action? John Edwards will join us live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And the upheaval in Gaza -- does the United States have any military operations to help cool down the volatile region? Find out right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: They come from all over the state and from all walks of life, and they all want to replace the late Wyoming Senator Craig Thomas in the U.S. Senate. Thirty-one people signed up before yesterday's deadline to be considered for the seat.

They included doctors, several lawyers, a feedlot owner, and a recent House candidate who ran as a libertarian. The state Republican Party will narrow the list to three. And the governor, who is a Democrat, will name one of them to serve through 2008.

One name, by the way, not on the list, Lynne Cheney -- despite rumors around Washington and elsewhere, the vice president's wife will not be headed to the Senate.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the question this hour is: when it comes to Congress and pork, who's to be trusted?

Nancy in Clinton, New Jersey: "Jack, you're kidding, right? My husband and I have modest jobs, one child just out of college, another one graduating next May. Our family budget balances every month. Members of Congress of both parties have no clue how to balance a budget."

Elliot in Ashburn, Virginia: "Is that a trick question? Once they get into office, neither Republican nor Democrat ever seems to be able to contain their voracious appetite to feed at the public trough."

Timmy in Sarasota, Florida: "One U.S. dollar is too much, especially when you consider the cure to pork-barrel spending is obvious. Quite simply, never reelect anyone."

Joe in California: "Jack, I find it quite biased and questionable that CNN and the other networks scrutinize and ridicule Congress now that the Democrats have a very slight majority. Yet, for the six years the GOP had complete control of the Congress and the White House, you guys were all silent and complicit with the all the corruption, pork-barrel spending, and misuse of power. Hypocrites is what all of you in the media are."

John in -- in College Station, Texas: "Trust? I don't trust any of them any farther than I can throw them. First, it was the Republicans with the pork, and the Democrats whined about it. Now it's the Democrats piling on the pork. Sounds like a pack of hungry brats griping at the dinner table, nothing more."

Joy in North Carolina: "Your question is like asking, which rattlesnake won't bite you if you hold your hand out?"

And David in Denton, Texas: "Does the Freedom of Information Act apply to pork projects? I'm tired. I have less hair than you do."

I don't know what that means -- back to you, Wolf.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: looting and gloating in Gaza. Hamas gunmen ransack the symbols of Palestinian -- the Palestinian Authority, toppled, and bloody fighting. Are these Islamic militants fighting a proxy war for Iran? Can the U.S. and Israel do anything about it?

Taking aim at the military for failures in Iraq -- are congressional Democrats substituting harsh words for strong action? We will speak about it with Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. He's standing by live.

And technical troubles in orbit -- astronauts and cosmonauts undertaking right now urgent repair jobs. Is there a chance the space station could be abandoned?

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