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Mixed Iraq Progress Report; Interview With Senator Jon Kyl; McCain's Money Troubles

Aired July 12, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, as the White House puts out a mixed progress report on the situation in Iraq, President Bush tells Congress not to try to do his job. He says he's in charge of running the war. He also tells Congress they should stick to funding it.
I'll ask Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona what he thinks.

Might it become a new political commandment, presidential candidates playing up their religion in their campaigns? A new poll shows what you think about that.

And a former first lady and a sitting congressman teaming up. Rosalynn Carter and Patrick Kennedy will be here to talk about personal demons that plague many people, even the congressman himself.

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

It's a mixed bag of progress. The White House releasing an interim report showing Iraq's made satisfactory progress and about eight military benchmarks, but it's lagging on political gains.

President Bush says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates will be going off to the Middle East to consult with U.S. allies on Iraq. The president says any legislation he considers a nasty retreat will be vetoed. He also says the U.S. military commanders in Iraq will guide his decision-making on when to reduce force levels. The president also talked about the importance of winning.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People aren't just going to be content with driving America out of Iraq. Al Qaeda wants to hurt us here. That's their objective. That's what they'd like to do.

They have got an ideology that they believe that the world ought to live under, and that one way to help spread that ideology is to harm the American people, harm American interests.


BLITZER: Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is joining us.

The president today at that lengthy news conference, he showed absolutely no signs of backing down, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, no signs of backing down, but this president is under incredible amount of pressure to at least show some sort of progress that his Iraq strategy is working. He submitted that Iraq progress report which shows that the Iraqi government has a long way to go, and today, President Bush, tried to explain why.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The President of the United States.

MALVEAUX (voice over): President Bush laid out plenty of reasons why his Iraq strategy must continue.

BUSH: I'm not making excuses. But it is hard.

MALVEAUX: Whatever you call them, Mr. Bush offered many, starting with the Iraqi progress report sent to Congress.

While a 50-50 report card usually constitutes a failing grade, not so for this administration.

BUSH: The bottom line is that this is a preliminary report.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush excused the Iraqi government's failure to meet key political benchmarks.

BUSH: It's hard work for them to get law passed. And it's -- sometimes it's hard work for people to get a law passed here.

MALVEAUX: Here, lawmakers, both Democrats and a growing number of Republicans, are urging Mr. Bush to change course. The president accused them of crossing into his lane.

BUSH: I don't think Congress ought to be running the war. I think they ought to be funding our troops.

MALVEAUX: The troops, Mr. Bush says, must now stay in Iraq to fight al Qaeda, the terrorist group that was largely absent there before the U.S. invaded.

BUSH: The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th.

MALVEAUX: And as for who's responsible for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq, Mr. Bush stressed several times his reliance on his military command and their belief that now is not the time to pull out forces.

BUSH: If that were to happen, we would then have to go back in with greater force in order to protect ourselves.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush offered this explanation for Americans' discontent...

BUSH: There's war fatigue in America. It's affecting our psychology.

MALVEAUX: And as for the president's own psychology?

BUSH: You know, I guess I'm like any other political figure. Everybody wants to be loved. Just sometimes the decisions you make and the consequences don't enable you to be loved.


MALVEAUX: And the president says that he can look himself -- at himself in the mirror and that he feels that he has done the right thing and continues to do the right thing, but, Wolf, of course, there's those kinds of statements that fuel the perception, at least by some people, who believe he's out of touch -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne. Thanks very much.

Suzanne's over at the White House.

Some Democrats, a lot of Democrats, in fact, say the time to change course in Iraq is now.

Our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is on Capitol Hill.

Lots of reaction to what the president and his report had to say up on the Hill -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And because this report showed mixed results, it ended up sort of like a Rorschach test.

Those who are staunchly opposed to the president's strategy continue to be opposed. They say that this report justifies that. Those who support the strategy say that this report justifies their position. And those who are just concerned, those who are in the middle, well, they're still concerned.


BASH (voice over): Democrats rushed to the cameras to declare the Iraq progress report proof it's time for troops to come home.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: President Bush is out of touch. He's out of touch with the reality of the war in Iraq. He's out of touch with the American people. This benchmark assessment report which we've received doesn't give us much hope.

BASH: Not so, said supporters of the president's policy, who jumped to defend it.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: There is nothing in this report that should justify anyone who has not already made up their minds that they want to retreat from Iraq to vote to mandate a retreat from Iraq.

BASH: In fact, only three Republicans have signed on to Democrats' demand for troops to come home by May 1st of next year. Nowhere near enough to pass.

And despite Democrats' intense lobbying, there is no sign this mixed-results Iraq report will lure any more Republicans to support their withdrawal deadline. But many GOP senators do want Congress to force a change in strategy now. The president lashed out at lawmakers for trying to meddle in his war policy.

BUSH: Congress has got all the right to appropriate money. But the idea of telling our military how to conduct operations, for example, or how to, you know, deal with troop strength is -- I don't think it makes sense.

BASH: Yet, it is now his fellow Republicans who disagree and are pushing Congress to act now.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: Republicans respect the president. We respect the office. We like this president. But -- but my feeling is that it's time for a new strategy.


BASH: And we just, Wolf, got a statement from Republican Senator John Warner, who was the author of having this report in the first place. He did not mince words with his disappointment.

He said, in fact, "I am disappointed that after great sacrifice by U.S. and Iraqi troops since the announcement of the surge in January, the Iraqi government has not met critical political benchmarks in that period. The government is simply not providing leadership worthy of the considerable sacrifice of our forces. And this has to change immediately."

He also said he does think that this will affect, he suggested, negatively the Iraq debate. He actually, Wolf, is going to introduce as early as tomorrow legislation, along with Senator Richard Lugar.

BLITZER: So it doesn't look now like the Democrats have 60 votes necessary in the Senate to get a troop withdrawal. But what about in the House of Representatives? I understand there could be a vote as early as tonight.

BASH: That's right, the House is going to vote tonight on a deadline for a troop withdrawal. That is expected to pass. The only drama there is how many Republicans potentially are going to break ranks considering the growing Republican opposition to this strategy.

BLITZER: All right, Dana. Thanks very much.

Dana's up on the Hill.

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

The House can pass the resolutions, but if it doesn't get through the Senate it's largely symbolic.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Of course, the other approach they could take down there is to attach some sort of withdrawal deadline to the funding bill and keep sending the funding bill with the troop withdrawal deadline as many times as it is takes to get the message through. That would also be a way to approach this, would it not?

BLITZER: The president promises he'd veto it every single time.

CAFFERTY: Yes, but then there's no money to conduct the war at some point, is there?

BLITZER: Well, if they get the necessary -- for 60 votes they would need. And then they'd need two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto.

CAFFERTY: No, no, the money would just run out.

BLITZER: Presumably. That's a fair point. You're right.

CAFFERTY: If you don't renew the funding, at some point there is no money to conduct the war.


CAFFERTY: Just a thought.

Anyway, the debate over the Iraq war has degenerated to name- calling now among some of the not-so-distinguished members of our Congress.

House Minority Leader John Boehner referred to Senate Republicans who favor a change of course in Iraq as "wimps". This is the same John Boehner, you may recall, who once asked that the House be adjourned so he could go to a football game.

The so-called "wimps" that Boehner refers to include some distinguished members of the U.S. Senate like Pete Domenici, Richard Lugar and George Voinovich. They've all had enough of President Bush's war, and they want to start reducing the military's role in Iraq.

As for the "wimp" comment, House Republican sources tell "The Hill" newspaper that Boehner and minority whip Roy Blunt are simply calling for solidarity among party members so they distinguish themselves from their Senate colleagues.

Boehner's spokesman says the comments "... were intended to illustrate the fact that we just recently voted to give the troops our full support, including ample time for the Petraeus plan to work, and that too much is at stake for Congress to renege on its commitment now by approving what can only be described as another partisan stunt by the Democrats."

Well, that brings us to the question, which is this: How productive is it for House Minority Leader John Boehner to call GOP senators who favor a change of course in Iraq "wimps"?

E-mail your thoughts to or go to

It's starting to resemble a schoolyard down there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Does he know that Chuck Hagel, one of those GOP senators, served in Vietnam and is certainly not a wimp?

CAFFERTY: Well, Boehner doesn't have the greatest political skills I've ever seen, I don't think.

BLITZER: All right. We'll talk -- hopefully we'll get him to join us on the show one of these days and we'll have a chance to discuss the issue with him directly.

Thanks, Jack, very much.

Coming up, President Bush says he'll run the war and Congress should stick to funding it. Up next, Republican Senator Jon Kyl, I'll ask him what he thinks. Does he think Chuck Hagel is a wimp?

Jon Kyl standing by.

Also, the former first lady, Rosalynn Carter, and Congressman Patrick Kennedy, they'll be here to talk about their crusade for mental health.

And the only Muslim in the House making a comparison, a very controversial comparison between 9/11 and Nazi Germany. Congressman Keith Ellison, we're going to tell you what he said and the uproar that has ensued.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: More now on our top story, the mixed progress report on Iraq and the ongoing war of words between President Bush and some lawmakers.

Amid some Republican criticisms of the administration's war policy, my next guest strongly supports the current troop buildup. That would be Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona. He's joining us now from Capitol Hill.

Senator, thanks for coming in.

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let me get it out of the way. You heard John Boehner, the House minority leader, call GOP senators who are deviating from the president's Iraq strategy -- he says they're wimps.

Here's the question: Is Chuck Hagel a wimp?

KYL: No, Chuck Hagel isn't a wimp. I doubt that John meant that to apply to any specific individual. But it's not appropriate for any of the colleagues who simply disagree with the president. BLITZER: All right. Let me get your reaction to Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate. He reacted to the interim progress report this way. Listen to this.


DURBIN: The problem is that while we're waiting for the Republican senators to build up their political courage, the casualties are building up in Iraq. We've lost 3,611 American soldiers. The president says we need to be patient and we need to wait.

Every day that we wait, every week that goes by, another month means more American soldiers who will be killed and injured in this war that has gone downhill for so long. It is time for to us start bringing these troops home.


BLITZER: All right. What do you say to Senator Durbin?

KYL: Well, a couple of things.

First of all, it's a little bit like the last comment you asked me about. Frankly, the more courageous position now is to support the president and the administration, because the majority of the public opinion doesn't seem to do so. So I kind of resent the comment about working up political courage to agree with Dick Durbin.

Secondly, the president isn't asking for a little more patience. It's only been about two weeks now since the last of the five brigades of the surge got into theater and the surge in its full force began.

It seems to me that the burden is on those who will call the surge short -- in other words, to say before it even gets going we want to stop it -- to explain why they're not willing to let it work out at least until September, when General Petraeus will come back and give us his first report on its success. So, it doesn't seem to me that we're asking for a little more time. We're just asking for the strategy that we sent General Petraeus to effectuate to work.

BLITZER: So much of the strategy, though, Senator, depends on the willingness of the Iraqis themselves to step up and get the job done. As you know, there's a lot of disappointment that the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, and his government simply aren't doing what they should be doing.

Do you have confidence in the prime minister?

KYL: Let me put it this way, Wolf. Certainly the marks for the achievement of the Iraqi government are not nearly as good as the marks for our military at the beginning of the surge here.

We know this: that if we do not succeed militarily, there's virtually no chance that the Iraqi government can succeed. If we do succeed militarily, there is at least a chance that it can succeed. And we want that chance, that opportunity, to be given to the Iraqis. And that's why we want to wait until September, when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker come back to report to us to see what the status is at that point.

BLITZER: I asked the question because Senator Warner just issued a statement saying that the Iraqis are not doing what they should be doing, expressing his disappointment. "They're not providing leadership worthy of the considerable sacrifice of our forces, and this has to change immediately." That's Senator John Warner.

KYL: And we all agreed to one degree or another with that statement. The question is this: Can you create the conditions for the Iraqi government to achieve what we want them to achieve by leaving now? Answer, absolutely not.

Is there a good chance that we can create those conditions if the surge continues to be successful? Answer, yes.

So, at least this gives the Iraqis a chance to do what we want them to do. Nobody's happy with their progress to date. But surely we can give this surge a chance and assess the situation in September.

BLITZER: Mitch McConnell, he's been very frustrated with the Iraqis, as you well know. He's the Republican leader in the Senate.

Listen to what he said back at the end of May.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: I think that the handwriting is on the wall that we are going in a different direction in the fall, and I expect the president to lead it.


BLITZER: Are you agreeing with him on that?

KYL: I think it's too early to tell. I really do want to wait and here from Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus in September. I think any judgments at this time one way or the other are quite premature.

BLITZER: Senator Kyl, as usual, thanks very much for coming in.

KYL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, presidential candidates playing up their religion in their campaigns. What do you think about that? We have a new poll.

And courting the African-American vote, many Democrats speaking to members of the NAACP. Hardly any Republicans, though, at that convention. Stick around, we'll tell you who was a no-show and what happened.




BLITZER: Still ahead, is enough being done to help people who have mental problems? Rosalynn Carter and Patrick Kennedy don't think so. They'll be here in THE SITUATION ROOM to tell us what they think must be done, and must be done now.

Also, faith and politics, do the two mix? Bill Schneider is standing by. He'll tell us what you think.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Happening now, an intelligence report says al Qaeda has been rebuilt, but President Bush insists the terror network remains weaker today than it would have been without the actions taken during his watch.

Dirty bomb threat. Congressional investigators revealing through a fake company they were able to buy enough radioactive material for a small bomb.

And the Chinese themselves fall prey to the country's loosely- regulated food industry. An expose by a Chinese TV station reveals the main ingredient in a Beijing company's snack dumplings is, get this, cardboard gathered from the street. MSG was added to enhance flavor. Police are investigating the unsavory ring.

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

All that coming up, but this is just coming in to CNN right now. It appears presidential candidate John McCain's money problems are a lot worse than a lot of us thought.

Ed Henry, you've got some new information. What are you picking up?


In fact, CNN has learned the already dire financial situation for Senator John McCain's campaign is getting worse. The campaign only has a paltry $250,000, even though initial reports suggested it had about $2 million.

These sources close to the campaign, two of them, tell CNN that next week the McCain campaign is going to reveal it has about $1.75 million in debt, unpaid debts. That's going to wipe out the nearly $2 million he has in cash on hand right now in the bank. Now, McCain has raised just about $11 million in the last three months. But they've been spending a lot of money. And that controversy, as you know, led to two of his top aides leaving, John Weaver and Terry Nelson.

Now, a McCain spokesman for the campaign had no comment on the latest financial trouble to CNN. But it's only going to spark a whole new round of speculation about whether his candidacy is really viable -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because, what, he raised about $13 million in the first quarter, $11 million in the second quarter, but when you wipe out the debt he's got, what, $250,000 left.

That's tiny.

HENRY: Essentially $250,000 for someone who has been the frontrunner. It's clear it's going to be very difficult for him to stay in the top tier with so little money on hand -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And his wife comes from a very, very wealthy family. But for some legal reasons he can't take that money. He can accept a very modest contribution from his own wife.

HENRY: He can only tap joint property. That's what John Kerry faced, even though his wife in the last campaign had a lot of money, obviously. John Kerry could only tap their joint property by law. John McCain could also do the same.

There are no indications McCain is going to do that. But a lot of people wonder -- in fact, one scenario being floated by someone close to his campaign is that he might lay low all summer, try to come roaring back with some sort of a speech around Labor Day and try to bring back the old McCain, the maverick McCain.

That's going to be difficult because of how close he's become to the president on Iraq and immigration -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a story. Thanks very much.

Ed's going to stay on top of this.

Ed part of the best political team on television.

Both Democratic and Republican presidential candidate have been playing up the religion card in their campaign. But is it helping or hindering? A new poll has some special insight.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Bill, what are you learning?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, religion is actually becoming a problem for both political parties, according to a new "TIME" magazine poll.


SCHNEIDER (voice over): Last November, two-thirds of voters who said they never go to church voted Democratic. That's only 15 percent of voters. Nearly half said they go to church every week. Most of them voted Republican.

Implication? Democrats better figure out a way to increase their appeal to churchgoers.

Do voters see Republican candidates as more religious than Democrats? No. Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Barack Obama top the list of candidates the public sees as having strong religious faith. Obama seems comfortable talking about faith, partly because of his African-American heritage.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My moral commitments to that vision of a -- what Dr. King called a beloved community grows out of my faith.

SCHNEIDER: Who do voters see as least religious? The two national front-runners, Democrat Hillary Clinton...

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I come from a tradition that is perhaps a little too suspicious of people who wear their faith on their sleeves, so, that a lot of the...


CLINTON: ... a lot of the talk about and advertising about faith doesn't come naturally to me.

SCHNEIDER: ... and Republican Rudy Giuliani.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, for -- for someone who went to parochial schools all his life, this is a very frightening thing...


GIULIANI: ... that's happening right now.

SCHNEIDER: Many Americans see a downside to mixing religion and politics. The number of Americans who believe President Bush has used religion more to divide the country than to unite it has grown from 27 percent in 2004 to 43 percent now.

So, it appears both parties have a religion problem.


SCHNEIDER: A third of voters and 30 percent of Republicans say they are less likely to support Mitt Romney because he's a Mormon. Now, Romney is dealing with the issue the same way John F. Kennedy dealt with the issue of his Catholic faith in 1960, head on.

Romney quotes Kennedy, who said he was not a Catholic running for president; he was an American running for president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thank you very much -- Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst.

Senator Barack Obama may be taking a cue from Oprah. Obama's presidential campaign is promoting a series of book clubs in the key primary state of New Hampshire.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

What are supporters reading at these book clubs, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, in Obama's book club, there's actually only one thing on the reading list -- his campaign in New Hampshire inviting people this summer to get together and read his first book, his 1995 memoir, "Dreams From My Father," that dealt wish issues of race and identity. And it was re-released in 2004.

Those book clubs started meeting this week. Eighty-five people across the state meeting on Tuesday night -- other events planned for later in the week. And these clubs are discussing the book for a couple of weeks, after which time they will pass along the copies that have been donated by staff and volunteers on the campaign on to new readers and start all over again.

There's an online discussion, as well, so people can follow along on the Web site. A spokeswoman for the Barack Obama campaign in New Hampshire says, this is a way to let voters get to know Barack Obama, who may not be as familiar to voters as some of the other candidates.

And there's always a chance that reading list could expand Barack Obama's second book. "The Audacity of Hope" was published last year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And I assume, one of these days, there will be a third book as well -- all those books selling very, very well. Thank you, Abbi, for that.

Abbi Tatton, Bill Schneider, Ed Henry, they are all part of the best political team on television.

And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out the Political Ticker at

And this important note: The next presidential debate will be July 23 in Charleston, South Carolina. CNN is teaming up with YouTube. It will be the first debate where all of you can submit your questions to the candidates online.

Coming up: the uproar over comments by a freshman Muslim member of the Congress, what he said about 9/11. That's coming up.

Also: champions of the cause, a former first lady and a congressman spearheading a fight to get big insurance to cover mental illness.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: A man of faith speaks to a group of atheists and reportedly compares the 9/11 attacks to a pivotal event concerning Nazi Germany -- Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim ever elected to the House of Representatives, also blasting Vice President Dick Cheney.

Our national correspondent, Keith Oppenheim, is joining us now from Chicago.

This is causing a little bit of a stir out there. What exactly did he say? What's going on?

KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Wolf, some of the themes that Keith Ellison is talking about are themes that he has been sounding off on for a while.

For example, when I interviewed Keith Ellison last fall, just a week before he was elected, he used fairly edgy rhetoric in his condemnation of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq.


REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: We're no longer fighting a war there. What we have now is an occupation. And I'm for ending the occupation.

OPPENHEIM (voice-over): Keith Ellison used similar language last Sunday, when he spoke to Atheists for Human Rights, a Minneapolis- based group that invited him to a forum. We confirmed with Ellison's office that he has recently signed onto a resolution offered by Congressman and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich calling for Vice President Dick Cheney's impeachment.

"The Minneapolis Star-Tribune" quoting Ellison at the forum as saying this about the vice president: "It is beneath his dignity in order for him to answer any questions from the citizens of the United States. That is the very definition of totalitarianism, authoritarianism, and dictatorship."

In response to a question as to whether Ellison supports a new investigation into the causes of the September 11, Ellison made a comparison to the Reichstag fire in Berlin that Adolf Hitler used to consolidate power.

Ellison said: "After the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the communists for it. And it put the leader of that country in a position where he basically have authority to do whatever he wanted. The fact is, I'm not saying September 11 was a U.S. plan or anything like that, because, you know, that's how they put you in the nut-ball box, dismiss you."


OPPENHEIM: We called the congressman's office, and his communications director did not dismiss these quotes. He said that they were accurate.

And, to be clear, Wolf, Keith Ellison is not saying that September 11 was pre-planned by the government or the Bush administration, more that the tragedy, in his view, has been used in a manipulative way to further policies and legislation.

Furthermore, the conservative columnist for "The Minneapolis Star-Tribune" Katherine Kersten blasted Ellison in a recent column, saying that any comparison between the actions of the Bush administration and the Nazis is inappropriate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of lawmakers are avoiding those kinds of comparisons. He's a freshman congressman. I guess he will learn from making those kind of comparisons.

But I just want to be precise. He's not alluding, he's not suggesting that this was all some sort of U.S. conspiracy, 9/11? I want to be clear that that's not what he's suggesting.

OPPENHEIM: No, he was not saying that. He was making the comparison to the Reichstag, in his view, because he was saying that a tragedy was used in a manipulative way. And that's where the comparison ends.

BLITZER: Yes. We're going to invite him to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Congressman Ellison. And he will elaborate and explain exactly what he meant.

Thanks very much, Keith Oppenheim, reporting for us from Chicago.

Up next: The president calls for patience in Iraq.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to wait for David to come back -- David Petraeus to come back and give us the report on what he sees.


BLITZER: But will members of his own party heed his call?

And eight Democrats and one Republican attended the NAACP's issues forum today. Which of the candidates made any headway with the all-important African-American vote? We will discuss that, a lot more. That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."

We will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back. Courting the African-American vote -- do black voters favor Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, someone else? They and the other Democratic hopefuls addressed today's NAACP Convention. We're going to talk about that in a moment, also, the Iraq progress report. Eight out of 18, is that bad, not so bad?

Joining us now in our "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts.

Listen to what the president said in the new White House briefing room earlier today.


BUSH: Congress has got all the right to appropriate money.

But the idea of telling our military how to conduct operations, for example, or how to, you know, deal with troops strength, is -- I don't think it makes sense. I don't think it makes sense today, nor do I think it's a good precedent for the future.


BLITZER: What do you think about the president's line; let the military commanders conduct the war; let the politicians do what they do in Washington?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that is a good line for him, to try to draw a bright line, and say, I trust the military.

The problem is, when you talk to the military commanders, they tell you, this is really a political problem, that -- that they have to have a political solution in Iraq, that we -- we're not going to kill everybody in Iraq, for goodness' sakes.

So, I think it's a good temporary tactic, but it's not a good long-term strategy. And where he made a bigger mistake, though, is where he said Congress shouldn't get in the middle of this.

I mean, all of the polling data that you see say the American people want Congress to take a more aggressive role. And, day by day, Congress is asserting itself. And it may well be, before Mr. Bush leaves office, Congress ends this war. And I think they will.

BLITZER: What do you think?

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Congress trying to get involved and then trying to execute from Washington, I think, is a bad idea.

I think it's the same -- I think it's -- you know, you would -- I would liken it to trying to give a haircut over the phone. You -- you can't do that. So -- so, I would say, let the generals do what they do best. Let the politicians take care of things here in Washington. General Petraeus said -- Paul, he said, look, in order to have a political solution, we have got to try and stabilize this thing. So, I don't think you can detach the two. But I think trying to -- to execute even that strategy from Washington, D.C., is -- is a little difficult.

BEGALA: It's -- it's a chicken-and-egg thing, security on the one hand and political solution on the other. And each needs the other. And the problem is, we have neither.

And it's why I saw earlier, on our air today, Joe Biden was interviewed, the senator from Delaware, who is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, a Democratic candidate for president, who has, for a long time, argued not to try to have such a strong central government, but, instead, to essentially federalize into three semi- autonomous regions, Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite.

The -- the leaks that are coming out from the CIA and Bob Woodward in "The Washington Post" today suggest that maybe Biden is on to something.

WATTS: Well, I would admit that mistakes have been made.

But I -- but I tell you, in order for the strategy to work, the president laid this thing out here several months back to say, we're going to have a surge in troops. We -- we just completed that surge about two-and-a-half, three weeks ago, that it's -- it's now fully implemented.

General Petraeus is going to come back in September, give us a report on how things are going. I think we need to be -- we admit mistakes have been made, but, at the same time, we need to be patient here in Washington and not try to get out in front of the people who are on the ground.

BLITZER: One thing you learned, and a lot of Democrats learned who served under President Clinton in the White House, that, if anything important is going to pass the Senate, you need 60 votes.

Right now, you don't have those 60 votes to stop this war. Do you believe, eventually, those 60 votes, enough votes to override a filibuster, will happen? Because, until you do, the House can pass all the legislation it wants -- and they can pass that kind of legislation -- but, until you do in the Senate, it's not going to really matter.

BEGALA: I think you're getting very close to that.

And I'm surprised, standing here in July. I would have thought, maybe in September, maybe by December. But the -- the lack of progress on the ground in Iraq is accelerating the desire for political progress here in Washington. And I think Senator Harry Reid has done a really good job of holding his Democrats together, but then, also, creating the terrain that encourages Republicans to switch. That is to say, he's increasing the pressure, making them vote, making them debate. And there are a lot of Republicans now -- you saw the president today. It was almost like the -- the old story of the little Dutch boy putting his fingers in the dike, where they say, well, what about Senator Domenici, and what about Senator warner, and what -- these are prominent -- Lugar, he mentioned -- President Bush himself mentioned Dick Lugar from Indiana -- prominent Republicans on national security who are abandoning the president.

And, once they go, I think it is inevitable. Mr. Bush is going to lose his support...


BLITZER: Let me change the subject, J.C., because I -- we don't have a lot of time to talk about the NAACP meeting that is going on right now.

The Democratic candidates all show up, and they make their presentations. One Republican candidate comes, Tom Tancredo of Colorado.

As an African-American, as an American, aren't you upset about that, that -- that -- that Republican candidates are not going and addressing this important group?

WATTS: I am, Wolf. I -- it's very disappointing.

And I know Marc Morial. I talked to Marc Morial with the Urban League about two weeks ago. He's going to have a convention in Saint Louis this -- this month as well. And he's reached out to the Republican candidates, trying to get them to come. And I suspect that only Democrat candidates will be there.

But I can say thank God for Tom Tancredo that we had some Republican representation there. I think you do -- you may not like a -- a certain constituency. You might not like how -- how they might treat you. But you -- you find out that they will probably warm up a little bit if you make your presence known a little more -- a little more frequently.

BLITZER: What do you think?

And let me rephrase the question for you. How important is the African-American vote for these Democratic candidates this time around?

BEGALA: It's absolutely critical. The Democratic Party, one of its most important constituencies is African-Americans, one of the most loyal constituencies. Eighty-nine percent of African-Americans voted for the Democratic Party in the last election.

So, Democrats have got to win. And you -- you saw today, Barack Obama got a huge ovation. But Hillary Clinton did very well as -- also. So, my party, at least, is very attuned to that vote.


BLITZER: We will continue this down the road, because we have got to go.

WATTS: But it's a huge mistake if Republicans say, we have to turn out more white voters...

BEGALA: That's right.

WATTS: ... if the Democrats are going to turn out more black voters.

BLITZER: We will continue down the road. Guys, thanks very much.


BLITZER: Still to come: Congressman Patrick Kennedy talks about his own personal struggles with addiction, and why he and former first lady Rosalynn Carter are now teaming up to help those with mental health problems.

That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And in our next hour: President Bush says he still believes the U.S. can succeed in Iraq. Does Congressman John Murtha agree? I will ask him.

And does the administration still have confidence in the government of Nouri al-Maliki? I will speak about that with the deputy secretary of state, John Negroponte -- all that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Right now, two people whose last names are very well known are teaming up. They're hoping to use their political celebrity to call attention to some personal demons that plague so many people.


BLITZER: And joining us now from Capitol Hill, the former first lady of the United States Mrs. Rosalynn Carter, and Congressman Patrick Kennedy, Democrat of Rhode Island.

Thanks to both of you for coming in.

Mrs. Carter, what has motivated you over these, what, 25 years or so to become so involved in trying to make sure that mental health gets the same treatment as other physical ailments?

ROSALYNN CARTER, FORMER FIRST LADY: Well, I became interested in mental health problems campaigning for my husband for governor a long time ago, when people were being moved out of the big institutions into the communities with no services available. And I had so many people ask me what I would do for someone who was in -- a family member or a friend, that I, one day, mentioned I might work on mental health issues. And all of the advocates in Georgia descended on me, all five of them.


CARTER: It was when nobody talked about mental illness, and nobody knew having...


BLITZER: And they're -- they're talking -- they're -- they're talking about it now.

Are you encouraged that something really different is about to happen, whereby people who have serious mental problems will be able to get the insurance, the coverage that they need on par with other problems?

CARTER: It is so exciting to me -- to me. I have been working on this issue for so many years.

And, for the last six or seven years, there has been no chance of getting it, because we couldn't get it out of committees onto the floor for a vote. We have had votes in the House and the Senate at one time or another to pass the legislation. But it's been stuck in committees.

And now there's a big signing possibility that we might be able to have parity in insurance. It's...


BLITZER: Let me -- let me bring Congressman Kennedy...


BLITZER: ... into the conversation.

We all remember the experience that you had, what, about a year or so ago. I take it you're on a new mission now, in part as a result of what you went through.


But let me thank Mrs. Carter, because it was people like her who have been on this mission for decades now, helping to break down these barriers of stigma. This really is a civil rights battle, because people who have this mental illness, like myself -- I have an addiction and an alcoholism disorder, as well as bipolar disorder.

I'm able to get my illness treated, because I'm a member of Congress, and have parity, meaning my insurance coverage is complete. Most Americans who have insurance do not have equal insurance coverage. That is what we're trying to pass, is the Paul Wellstone Mental Health Insurance Coverage Act.

And that's what I would like to ask people to call Congress to support. Call up your members of Congress and tell them to support the Paul Wellstone bill, which will guarantee equal mental health insurance for the rest of America that members of Congress currently enjoy.

BLITZER: How are you doing, Congressman?

KENNEDY: Well, it's one day at a time. It's an illness that you have to take one day at a time.

But I feel very fortunate to have survived that, and to be able to have had treatment. And I'm very fortunate to have strong support from my family and friends, and very blessed, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: And -- and strong support from your constituents as well?

KENNEDY: Well, I -- ironically, I -- I received the strongest reelection that I ever received in all my years in Congress. I went up over eight points in my election, if you can believe it, my 69 percent reelection rate.

My constituents actually wanted to talk about this issue, Wolf. My senior citizens, when I walked into the room, actually invited me to talk about my experience, because they wanted to talk about their problems with mental illness, the depression that they felt when they lost their spouse, with the -- the depression they felt when they lost their independence, because they were living alone.

BLITZER: Mrs. Carter, are you satisfied, are you -- are you happy with what you're hearing from the various -- let's talk about the Democratic presidential candidates on this -- this specific issue, dealing with mental health?

CARTER: Well, I haven't heard very much yet, but I hope to hear.

And I -- I will tell you that I will vote for the person who has the best mental health program in sight. The -- the president's New Freedom Commission reported that the mental health system in our country is in a shambles and there's no way to fix it. We have to start over and transform it.

I will vote for the one who will give me their -- their oath -- and I mean this seriously, because this is important to me -- that they will help transform the mental health system.

BLITZER: Well, let me thank you for coming to Washington and testifying here on this critically important issue, Mrs. Carter. Please give our best regards to your husband.

Patrick Kennedy, good luck to you. I know it's a struggle every single day, but you're doing very important work on this issue as well.

Thanks to both of you.

KENNEDY: Thank you, Wolf.

CARTER: Thank you, Wolf.


BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Classy lady, Rosalynn Carter.

BLITZER: Yes. Yes.

CAFFERTY: I like her.

BLITZER: It's a really important subject.


All right, the question this hour: How productive is it for House Minority Leader John Boehner to call Republican senators who favor a change of course in Iraq wimps?

Some of our viewers are just beyond bright.

Virginia writes this from Colorado: "Aside from the despair in seeing involved in seeing our political discourse revert to third- grade playground taunts, I would have to ask whether the wimps are not those who say they believe in this war fully, see it as necessary for American security, and find, in a surge of troops, some hope for securing victory, and yet refuse to impose a draft to build the military sufficiently to fight it or a war tax to invest all Americans in paying for it."

Darren in Trenton, Michigan, writes: "Seeing as how the Democratically-controlled Congress could end this war today by cutting off the purse strings, it's abundantly clear who the real wimps are."

Karl in Oklahoma: "Boehner's comment may turn out to be actually be productive, as more Americans discover what a loon he is."

Patrick writes: "I think the senator's comment" -- excuse me -- "congressman's comments, re: wimps, is too nice. I prefer unpatriotic, slimy windbags that cut and run for political gain."

William writes: "Someone should take him out back, show him what a wimp really is."

Rocky in New Orleans: "I think Boehner's comments are productive. They let his constituents know exactly what kind of person they have representing them. Do the people of Ohio pay attention to their own voice?"

Dave in Rochester, New York: "Jack, wimps? Isn't he the guy who cried on the House floor a few weeks ago?" And Jim writes: "When the other side resorts to name-calling, you know you have won the argument" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: Iraq's report card. The White House hands out mixed grades, but says there's progress in the war.