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THE SITUATION ROOM

New Clues About Israeli Strike Inside Syria; Would a Dubai Deal Threaten American Financial Security?

Aired September 20, 2007 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Kitty.
Happening now, the question President Bush dodged three times, what mystery target did Israeli warplanes strike in Syria, tonight new clues about a very tightly kept secret?

Also, the -- an Arab government's offer to buy into the heart of U.S. capitalism, would a new deal with Dubai threaten America's financial security?

And Dick Cheney is Darth Vader. Hillary Rodham Clinton makes the comparison, unleashing a new political Star War.

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

We begin with this. U.S. officials calling him a sponsor of international terrorism and New York has barred him from the 9/11 memorial site. Now, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is speaking out on his desire to visit ground zero in New York. He talked with CBS News' "60 Minutes".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (through translator): We obviously are very much against any terrorist action and any killing, and also, we're very much against any plots to sow their seeds of discord among nations. Usually, you go to these sites to pay your respects. And also, to perhaps air your views about the root causes of such incidents. I think that when I do that, I will be paying, as I said earlier, my respects to the American nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Ahmadinejad will visit the United Nations next week. Let's go live to our senior United Nations correspondent Richard Roth. He's watching all of this closely for us. What is the latest? He's coming to New York, but he's not going to go to 9/11, to the World Trade Center site. Is that right?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. He's not going into the pit, but he's headed to the Ivy League. The latest on the saga of where in the world is President Ahmadinejad going next.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ROTH (voice-over): The Iranian president created anxiety in New York City even before arriving. Local tabloids erupted in fury over the Iranian leader's request to visit ground zero to pay respects while attending the U.N. General Assembly. On the streets of New York, another suggested destination for the Iranian president?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he should go to hell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... he had something to do with the terrorist attack.

ROTH: There's no evidence of that, but in this city, people have been known to disagree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) right. That's what America was built for, right?

ROTH: At ground zero, reflection.

(SOUNDS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) it might be better for peace.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Too many complications. I don't think it's worth it. I don't think we'd get anything out of it (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

ROTH: New York rejected the Iranian request because of security fears, adding access to the site itself is impossible because construction is taking place.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can hear you.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

ROTH: President Bush who famously visited ground zero days after 9/11 supported the New York police.

BUSH: I can understand why they would not want somebody who is running the country who is a state sponsor of terror down there at the site.

ROTH: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has told the CBS "60 Minutes" program that he will not fight the city's refusal, expressing understanding of the difficulty in coordinating such a visit.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROTH: Instead, the president will go to the campus of Colombia University, Wolf, on Monday afternoon for a world leaders' forum. It's a traditional event there. Recently, Iran released a Colombia graduate social scientist professor who had been held in a prison there for three months -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Richard Roth, thank you. A secret Israeli air strike in a far off corner of Syria, both sides keeping strangely silent. So is the White House, but there are hints, hints of a nuclear angle and a North Korean connection. Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd. He's watching the story for us. The silence really is extraordinary, but what are you picking up from the whispers, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, the whispers are really about what that target actually was and if some key intelligence services know the answer to that they're not saying very much.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): The target no one is officially talking about, Israeli war planes hit something inside Syria. Was it a nuclear weapons facility? Two major newspapers cite intelligence sources as saying it was. Israeli sources are tight lipped, saying only they're pleased with the operation, a sentiment re-enforced by Israeli's top opposition leader who says he was in the loop.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I gave it my backing but it is still too early to discuss the subject.

TODD: U.S. intelligence sources won't comment on the raid. President Bush dodged it three times over the course of 15 seconds.

BUSH: I'm not going to comment on the matter. Would you like another question?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you support it?

BUSH: I'm not going to comment on the matter.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you comment about your concerns they'd come out of it at all, out of the region?

BUSH: No. Saying I'm not going to comment on the matter means I'm not going to comment on the matter.

TODD: But U.S. officials had previously told CNN the target was a remote weapons storage site. "The New York Times" and "Washington Post" report it was a nuclear weapons facility placed there with North Korea's help. A Pentagon official said U.S. intelligence had recently tracked shipments of material from North Korea to Syria.

BRUCE RIEDEL, FORMER CIA OFFICER: The target the Israelis went after had to be worthy of the attention they devoted to it, something so important that the Israelis would take the risk of sparking an Israeli/Syrian war. That means this was not just a run against Hezbollah re-supply mission.

TODD: A Syrian official tells CNN the allegation of a nuclear weapons program is ridiculous. The Syrians claim the Israeli war planes hit nothing in the raid. Experts say Syria once tried to acquire nuclear weapons but couldn't afford them. Some believe the Israeli strike may have been a smoke screen designed for someone else.

JON WOLFSTHAL, CTR. FOR STRATEGIC & INTL. STUDIES: It sends a message directly to the leadership in Iran that they haven't heard in a long time, which is that they're vulnerable and the Israelis themselves are potentially willing to act.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Another mysterious component to the story, Syria's Muslim and Arab neighbors who almost always take Syria's side against Israel have said virtually nothing about the Israeli raid. Analysts say they either secretly want any Syrian nuclear program to go away or they also don't know just what was hit that day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Syria has been the recipient of other North Korean weapons packages, isn't that right, Brian?

TODD: Yes, it's widely reported that North Korea has sold conventional missiles like scuds and other missile components to Syria and a former weapons inspector told me that much of that is legal, but it's also what is raising alarm right now about a potential nuclear facility in Syria.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reported for us. Thanks, Brian, very much. Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He has got "The Cafferty File" in New York -- hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, somebody is threatening to use their head when it comes to dealing with the millions of illegal aliens in this country. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin is an author of a bill that would offer legal status to illegal immigrants who graduate from high school and then either agree to serve in the military or attend college for at least two years.

It's meant for illegal immigrant students who came to the U.S. before they were 16. Durbin describes the proposal is narrowly tailored, could help solve a very serious recruitment crisis for our military. Supporters call it the dream act and say it could pass because it's meant to help young people who are here illegally because of the actions of their parents.

Critics call the bill a blatant deception on the part of the Senate to try to get a massive amnesty passed. They say it could leave an opening for millions of adults to use fake documents and try to get residency. So the question is this.

Should the United States offer legal status to illegal immigrant kids who graduate high school and agree to either attend college or serve in the military? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack thank you for that. Jack will be back shortly. Tonight, there is a startling change of heart on gay rights.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I couldn't look at them in the face and tell them that their relationship, their very lives were any less meaningful than the marriage I share with my wife Rana.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're going to tell you about the bombshell that prompted the San Diego Republican mayor to challenge a ban on same-sex marriage.

Also coming up, should one of America's leading financial markets be owned in part by Arab interests? Even President Bush now asking questions about the possible, possible threat to national security.

Hurricane hunters on the watch right now for what could be a major storm, tonight, the forecast and who may be in the line of fire. You'll want to see this.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A chilling new threat to a key U.S. ally in the war on terror. Osama bin Laden is back with another recording, the al Qaeda leader essentially calling on his followers to kill the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf as retaliation for this summer's assault on Islamic extremists in an Islamabad mosque. This audiotape accompanies older video images. It's the third recording from bin Laden issued this month alone.

It gives a whole new meaning to the words Wall Street sell-off. A firm run by an Arab government is due to take over a big piece of a major U.S. Stock Market Exchange, but can the deal actually go through? Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow. She is watching this story in New York.

Mary, what is going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, if this deal is approved, it would be the first of its kind. Now some call it a new chapter in globalizations. Others say this is a deal with Dubai that raises concerns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): A bastion of capitalism in the West meets its Arab counterpart. Borse Dubai, a new stock exchange controlled by the government of the United Arab Emirates is set to buy a 20 percent stake in the NASDAQ, America's largest electronic marketplace. Interesting the deal reaches far beyond the financial world into the highest ranks of Washington.

BUSH: We're going to take a good look at it, as to whether or not it has any national security implications involving the situation. SNOW: It's a flashback to the uproar over the Dubai Ports deal more than a year ago, questions were raised about risks and whether having a Dubai owned company controlling operations at six U.S. ports was in the best interest of national security. Opposition was so strong the deal was scuttled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our ports will be safer.

SNOW: One of that deal's biggest critics is again raising concerns.

SEN CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Dubai has previously been cited as a nexus for terrorist financing, money laundering, and a potential crossroads for shipping and trading for Iran in its quest for nuclear materials and technology. How will that intersect with this new acquisition?

SNOW: Not everyone agrees. New York Mayor and businessman Mike Bloomberg says all deals should be scrutinized, but he hopes that the discussion won't, quote, "devolve into the kinds of demagogic attacks that would cost jobs."

TAMARA WITTES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: This is a situation where there's no material tangible security risk. There is just the general risk that you have when you have a market open to investment and influence from around the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now in a joint statement, the government of Dubai and the NASDAQ say they'll voluntary submit the deal for a full review by the committee on foreign investment in the U.S. Now after the Dubai Ports World deal fell through, a new law was passed to improve that review process -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I know you have been speaking with a lot of people, Mary. Does it look like right now as if this deal is going to go through?

SNOW: You know officials at the NASDAQ are confident that it will go through and you know there really is some mixed reaction. Of course, the deal was just announced today, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says while it raises questions, so far, she does not think that it raises alarm bells.

BLITZER: Mary Snow watching the story for us from New York. Thanks Mary. We'll stay on top of this for us.

An answer to a question about the wisdom of invading Iraq seems to have put the defense secretary, Robert Gates, at odds with his boss, the president and efforts to try to clarify what he meant they are only raising more questions. Let's go to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre. Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, once again Defense Secretary Robert Gates is making it clear he's his own man, even if it makes him appear a little out of step with his boss.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): Part of the charm of Defense Secretary Robert Gates is he's not afraid to admit he doesn't know it all...

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I don't know the answer to that.

MCINTYRE: ... but Gates' "I don't know response" to "The New York Times" about the wisdom of invading Iraq seemed to put him directly at odds with his boss.

BUSH: I am absolutely convinced Secretary Gates knows that removing Saddam was the right thing.

MCINTYRE: After President Bush's public assertion, the Pentagon tried to put Gates' quote in a different context. In the Wednesday op-ed, columnist David Brooks wrote, I asked him whether invading Iraq was a good idea knowing what we know now. He looked at me for a bit and said, I don't know. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says Gates told him that's not what he meant to convey.

GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: He tells me he deliberately rephrased the question to get it to a point where he was comfortable answering it.

MCINTYRE: A Pentagon transcript has Brooks asking, now, do you think in retrospect, knowing about the WMDs, it was worth doing? And Gates saying after explaining he supported the invasion in 2003, quote, "if I had known then what I know now, would I have done the same? And I think the answer is, I don't know."

The Pentagon says Gates meant he would have done the same thing, just not the same way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He believed and still does believe that the right course of action was to topple Saddam Hussein.

MCINTYRE: Gates was asked the same question in his December 2006 confirmation hearing and gave a similar "I don't know" response.

UNIDENTIFIED SENATOR: Was that the benefit of hindsight, would you say that invading Iraq was the right decision or the wrong decision?

GATES: Frankly, Senator, I think that's a judgment that the historians are going to have to make.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: Gates is making it clear that he feels no responsibility for any of the past mistakes of the Bush administration. He said last week that he has no record to defend and no agenda to promote. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre reporting for us from the Pentagon. Thank you, Jamie.

Hillary Clinton taking a new swipe at the vice president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You can always tell when the Republicans are restless because the vice president's motorcade pulls into the Capitol and Darth Vader emerges.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Tonight, are Americans angry or amused at Senator Clinton's pop culture pot shot at Dick Cheney?

Also, the issue of same-sex marriage hits a big city mayor close to home. Tonight his stunning and emotional about face.

And another manufacturer is worried about lead in toys. You're going to find out if your child may be at risk. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A dramatic change of heart on a hot button issue. San Diego's Republican mayor dropping a bombshell and coming out in favor of same-sex marriage during a very emotional news conference. Let's go live to CNN's Kara Finnstrom. She is joining us from Los Angeles. Why the sudden change of heart, Kara?

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf the mayor says this has largely to do with his daughter. Lisa Sanders is 21 years old. Four years ago, she told her parents that she is gay. The timing of this have to do with the fact that San Diego just joined a list of cities that is challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriages and that's a resolution that was about to hit the mayor's desk.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FINNSTROM (voice-over): Monday, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders promises to veto a proposal endorsing marriage for same-sex couples. Tuesday, San Diego City Council passes that proposal anyway; Wednesday, a dramatic reversal from Mayor Sanders, a father choking back tears.

MAYOR JERRY SANDERS (R), SAN DIEGO: I have close family members and friends who are members of the gay and lesbian community. Those folks include my daughter, Lisa, as well as members of my personal staff. I want for them the same thing we all want for our loved ones, for each of them to find a mate whom they love deeply and who loves them back.

FINNSTROM: Sanders who had previously favored civil unions but not full marriage rights for same-sex couples now says he will not veto the resolution. He says a discussion with his daughter Lisa Sanders helped change his mind.

SANDERS: She said whatever way I went, she would be supportive. And when I thought about it, she was trying to protect me on something I should have been protecting her.

FINNSTROM: The Republican mayor is up for re-election, and his reversal may have political costs. One reader commenting online to the "San Diego Union Tribune" called the Mayor Jerry Judas Sanders saying he betrayed the voters. Others have applauded Sanders' honesty, including former San Diego Council Member Harry Mathis, who has an openly gay daughter.

HARRY MATHIS, FORMER CITY COUNCILMAN: It's hard for a parent when you love your daughter to see her and folks like her characterized in some of the ways that I heard.

SANDERS: I couldn't look any of them in the face and tell them that their relationship, their very lives were any less meaningful than the marriage I share with my wife (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FINNSTROM: Now Lisa Sanders was not at that press conference and has been unavailable for comment. We did speak with the chairman of the Republican Party down in San Diego about the impact that this could have on the mayor's re-election campaign. He said at this point it is too early to tell. He did tell us that the Republican mayor has a record of Republican values but that on this issue, most Republicans disagree with him very strongly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. What a story. Kara thank you very much for bringing it to us, Kara Finnstrom in L.A.

The latest CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll, by the way, on this issue finds 40 percent of those asked say gay marriages should be recognized as valid by law, 57 percent of those asked disagree.

Let's go back to Carol Costello. She's monitoring some other stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Have a couple of things, Wolf. The Associated Press reporting that the FBI working with an Alaska oil contractor secretly taped telephone calls involving Republican Senator Ted Stevens. Quoting sources close to the investigation, A.P. says "as the secret recording suggests, the Justice Department was eying Stevens long before June when Stevens publicly acknowledged he was under scrutiny." We'll have more on this story later.

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani is sticking up for one of his supporters, New York Republican Congressman Peter King. King is the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee and is under fire for telling an interviewer quote, "Unfortunately, we have too many mosques in the country. There are too many people who are sympathetic to radical Islam". Arab groups and now some Democrats are denouncing King's remarks. Giuliani says he understands what King meant. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he wants to get a set of what he calls "outside eyes" on an incident that's embarrassed the military. He has ordered a second investigation of how a B-52 bomber was mistakenly armed with nuclear weapons and allowed to fly from North Dakota to Louisiana last month. A retired general who once commanded the strategic bomber fleet will lead the new inquiry.

The folks behind Sesame Street say they will send auditors to China to make sure their popular toys are safe. Last month, Mattel recalled nearly a million toys including 400,000 toys licensed by Sesame Workshop because of lead paint. That's a look at the headlines right now, Wolf.

Thanks, Carol, very much -- Carol Costello reporting.

President Bush lets loose on a liberal critic of his Iraq war policy. He is sending the group MoveOn.org a piece of his mind and his words are pretty harsh.

And a fresh battle between the White House and congressional Democrats and children's health care is hanging in the balance. We're going to tell you why both sides are now digging in their heels.

And thousands of people turning out in the small racially divided town of Jena, Louisiana to raise their voices, is it the start of a new national movement? We're going to go there live.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, a U.S. dollar doesn't buy what it used to. You'll be paying more for imported goods and get less in some countries as the dollar continues to lose value against other world currency. Today, U.S. and Canadian dollars traded for equal value. That's the first time that has occurred in more than 30 years.

Attention air travelers, Congress progresses on a bill to help people left stranded cast by the House of Representatives today. It mandates plans to provide food and water and other basic amenities to stranded passengers during long delays.

And Floyd Landis is the first Tour de France winner ever to be stripped of his title. Arbitrators ruled the U.S. cyclist used synthetic testosterone on his way to winning last year. Landis says said he did nothing wrong, but a panel banned him from cycling for two years.

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

They're on a political collision course, critics continuing to drive hard against the liberal group MoveOn.org. The name calling and the attacks flying fast and furious days after MoveOn.org put out an attack ad, an ad that is attacking the top U.S. military commander in Iraq. Today, President Bush weighed in.

Let's bring back Carol Costello. She is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. This is a story that shows neither side, at least, as of now, willing to blink.

COSTELLO: No, tempers are hot. I mean it has really gotten pretty nasty and it is not likely to end in a measured bipartisan kind of way anytime soon.

If the liberal group Moveon.org meant to rile things up with its General Betray Us ad, it did. It so angered Republicans, even the president lashed out calling it disgusting.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRES., UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I felt like the ad was an attack not only on General Petraeus, but on the U.S. military.

COSTELLO: And senators were not far behind, with Republicans introducing a resolution condemning the ad while challenging Democrats.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: The Fifth Amendment gives our colleagues a chance to distance themselves from these despicable tactics, distance themselves from the notion that some group literally has them on a leash like a puppet on a string.

COSTELLO: In the end, senators voted to condemn the ad, with 21 Democrats joining in but the moves on Moveon point out how powerful this activist group has become.

Moveon.org was born in 1998, created by Internet entrepreneurs, West Boyd and Joan Blades, who invented the screen saver, the flying toasters. They were angry Congress was spending so much time trying to impeach President Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair. They wanted the government to move on.

After 9/11, recent college grad, Eli Pariser, joined them. They claimed to have recruited 3.3 million supporters online who donate on average $45 a piece.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rudy Giuliani has always been a big fan of George Bush's war in Iraq.

COSTELLO: That money buys Moveon.org plenty of clout.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wish Moveon.org would do several more commercials attacking me. Because if they do, they could get me nominated. They are not the most popular group among republicans. They have spent $200 million to $300 million assassinating the character of republican candidates.

COSTELLO: But GOP Senator John Cornyn says Moveon.org has moved beyond that into dangerous territory with its Petraeus ad.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: The reason why Moveon.org was the focus here today is because this was not a political campaign. General Petraeus is not a candidate running for office. He is merely a uniformed member of the United States military trying to do his duty.

COSTELLO: Dangerous territory for any activist group when America is at war.

And there is one more thing that ad has generated today. The American Conservative Union has filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission against Moveon.org and the "New York Times" accusing the "New York Times" of giving Moveon.org a hefty discount to run that Petraeus ad. The "New York Times" told us it does not distinguish ad rates based on political content and that the standard for such a full page black and white ad is $65,000.

BLITZER: That's not too cheap, $65,000 for a full-page ad.

I also earlier today spoke with Eli Pariser, the executive director of Moveon.org. and they said they stand by their ad. They insist it was factually accurate. They're not backing off. I asked them, would you do it again if you had to do it over again? They said, yes, they basically would do it all over again.

COSTELLO: And they said the "New York Times" didn't cut them a break.

BLITZER: And he also said as well. All right. Thanks very much, Carol, for that.

Health care for many poor children is at a new risk this hour. President Bush is threatening today to veto a bill to expand the state run federally funded insurance program. Republicans and Democrats now are pointing very angry fingers at one another and they're trying to score some political points in the process.

Our Congressional correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is joining us now.

Jessica, both sides look like they're up for a major fight on this.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A very ugly fight, Wolf, yes. Both sides showing they're willing to go to mat for the children's health care program. On the one hand, Democrats say they're just trying to help working American families. On the other side, Republicans say they're trying to be fiscally responsible and control government spending, and American children are caught in the middle.

President Bush is digging in his heels.

BUSH: Democrats in Congress have decided to pass a bill they know will be vetoed.

YELLIN: House Republicans are backing him up, calling a new plan to give health insurance to more children a massive expansion of health care. REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: This is Hillary care in a quote in expanding health care. That's what this is. That's not what most members of Congress want.

YELLIN: And Republicans are itching for a spending fight with the Democrats.

REP. ROY BLUNT (R), MINORITY WHIP: We want to have that fight. We're ready to have that fight.

YELLIN: The program created by the Republican Congress in 1987 insures more than 6 million children of the working poor. It will expire next Sunday. Congressional sources tell CNN a bipartisan agreement has been reached to extend the program to another 4 million uninsured kids and pay for it through a tobacco tax of 61 cents a pack. The president calls this an unacceptable tax increase.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: If the republicans think it's a winner to say we prefer not taxing cigarettes so we don't have to insure children, that's a fight we welcome.

YELLIN: And presidential candidate Hillary Clinton slams President Bush, saying he's out of touch with the needs of working families.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: The states in which they live want to help them. Republicans and Democrats in the Congress want to help them, and the president just says no.

YELLIN: It looks like the senate definitely has the votes to override a veto by President Bush. It's a big question. Republicans in the House could stick together and uphold that veto. In which case, Democrats vow to run ads against all those Republicans saying they just don't want to help the children of the working poor.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jessica Yellin, up on Capitol Hill.

This programming note for our viewers, Sunday morning, Senator Clinton will be among my guests on "LATE EDITION." That airs 11:00 a.m. eastern, "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

Ominous signs in the Gulf of Mexico. Right now, there's a big storm brewing out there. We're going to check in with our CNN Severe Weather Center for details.

And new developments in the racially charged case that brought thousands of protesters to a small Louisiana town. Tonight, we'll hear about the latest developments in the Jena six case.

All that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Hurricane Hunter planes are now flying around the Gulf of Mexico. They're keeping a close eye on what could become a major storm, could potentially even hit New Orleans with a serious blow.

Let's go to our severe weather expert, our meteorologist, Chad Myers. He's watching this. What is going on, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, still no number, no name. We're not looking at Jerry yet, but that will be the next name, J-E-R- R-Y, Jerry will be this thing. By the time it makes its way into the northern Gulf of Mexico and into New Orleans, that's going to be the story for the weekend, really. Maybe even by Friday night.

Right now though, it's just a spinning storm making a lot of rain. That rain is coming off Cuba, coming into Tampa, also into Orlando. Big time storms here.

Now watch this rotation. Watch it spin. There's the radar. It's getting stronger. The planes are out there. They only found a 30 mile an hour wind though right now, so they're not that concerned. It's not going to slow down, and it has its eyes set on Louisiana proper, right on New Orleans, maybe even a little farther to the east of that.

Other than that, we are watching this storm. What we're worried about, Wolf, is if this piles water back into Lake Pontchartrain. Just because it's not going to be a category 4, 5 storm, it could pile enough water into the lake that we will see how the levees are fixed after all.

BLITZER: Just what the people of New Orleans do not need. All right. We'll watch with you, Chad. Thanks very much.

Meanwhile, new developments in a racially charged case that brought tens of thousands of protesters to Jena, Louisiana, today.

A hearing has been ordered for the last of six African American students still jailed in the beating of a white student.

It all started when African American students sat under a tree at the town's high school where white students typically gathered. The next day, nooses were found hanging from the tree. Three white students were suspended.

On November 30th, an unknown arsonist set fire to the school, and on December 4th, the beating that left a white student unconscious. Six black students were initially charged with attempted murder. The charge was later reduced. Mychal Bell was convicted of battery in June. He's still in jail and could be released soon though.

Our Gulf coast correspondent, Susan Roesgen, is in Jena. She's watching all of this, the latest on the case and what happened today. How did it go, Susan?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, Mychal Bell, as you mentioned, could be released within the next 72 hours on a bond hearing, but it may only be temporary because he may face those same aggravated battery charges in juvenile court. So the future is still very uncertain here but the march, today's march, was a powerful and passionate statement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freedom.

ROESGEN: Wave after wave of marchers walked a long, hot mile to Jena High School. There, with only a handful of police to stop them, they swept past the school's chain link fence and on to the school grounds.

STEPHANIE OZENNE, MARCHER: I just needed to feel like I'm a part or just being a part of this. Something that maybe a mother can see, one of the mothers of the children going through it, maybe she'll see that we all care. We're all here for them.

ROESGEN: They came to support the Jena six, six black students who could each face more than 20 years in prison if convicted of charges stemming from the beating of a white class mate last December.

The racial trouble started earlier in the year when three white students hung nooses from a tree in the school courtyard.

The boy who was beaten, Justin Barker, told me his family has gotten hate mail and death threats and they wanted no part of the rally.

National civil rights activist, Jesse Jackson, was one of the rally organizers.

REV. JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: There's a Jena in every state, more blacks in ((inaudible)) in every state. It's like the criminal justice system has elapsed on blacks. In some sense, people are coming here to go back home to fight their own Jena, as we fight for our equal protection under the law everywhere.

ROESGEN: In some ways, the march became more of a pilgrimage than a protest. At Jena High School, the marchers crowded around a small patch of dirt, taking pictures. What was so special about the spot? This is where the tree with the nooses stood until school officials had it cut down.

KHEMARE SAFU, MARCHER: It's not a sense of revenge. It's not a sense of us getting back at anybody for this, but it's a sense of seeing the origin of what has sparked a nationwide movement.

ROESGEN: It's probably too early to say whether this was really the start of a nationwide movement, but this small town will never be the same.

And Wolf, we have just gotten the crowd estimate from the Louisiana State Police. They say now that between 15,000 and 20,000 people gathered here for that rally and the march in a town of just 3,000 residents.

Not a single report yet, Wolf, of any kind of arrest of any kind of violent incident, and only two sort of medical issues. One was a person who fainted. One person had a seizure. But nothing serious. It was remarkable to have so many people here and no injuries and no arrests.

BLITZER: Very quiet, very peaceful. That's very encouraging. Thanks very much, Susan Roesgen in Jena for us.

Let's continue this story. Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, has been monitoring support for the Jena 6 online.

Abbi, what are you seeing?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, from the forums, websites and blogs that have been organizing support over the last few weeks, online, we have seen that the support, the rallies are not just in Jena today.

In fact, the website Color of Change, which has had an online petition going, a quarter of a million signatures, a spokesman for that site said they know of 200 events that were going on around the country.

And here at CNN, we have been getting some of those pictures, what are people doing in their own communities.

Here in Atlanta, Georgia, this picture. This is Lovejoy High School. In particular, this is Mr. Eaton's (ph) fourth period biology class, says student Morgan Craven (ph) who sent in this photo, said the students there have been raising money for the Jena 6 legal defense fund.

And here, in Mobile, at the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science, students and staff have been wearing black in support, says student Katherine Abstine (ph). She says theirs is a multicultural school and everyone showed support equally today.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

Jena, Louisiana, by the way, is a classic American small town. It has just four stop lights, but surrounding LaSalle Parish has more churches per capita than any other Louisiana parish.

At the time of the 2000 census, Jena had about 2,971 residents, 85 percent of them white, 12 percent African American, fewer than 15 percent had a college degree. 52 percent were unemployed.

We'll have much more on this story coming up at the top of the hour, 8:00 p.m. eastern. Our own Kyra Phillips hosts a CNN special investigations unit a report called "Judgment in Jena."

Name calling on the campaign trail. Hillary Clinton ups the ante. Her target, the vice president, Dick Cheney and CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look at that as well.

And Jack Cafferty wants to know, should the U.S. offer legal status to illegal immigrants who graduate high school and agree to either attend college or serve in the military? Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The new French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, caught some heat for suggesting that the world should prepare for a possible war with Iran. Now he's apologizing for something else.

I sat down with Bernard Kouchner here in Washington just a short while ago.

Listen to this clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You were just in Iraq yourself. And in an interview in "Newsweek" magazine you were quoted as saying this. And I'll read it to you. "It seems President Bush is attached to Mr. Maliki, Nouri al Maliki the prime minister, but the government is not functioning," you said, "I told Condoleezza Rice, listen, he's got to be replaced." You want Nouri al Maliki gone?

BERNARD KOUCHNER, FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER: It was impossible, it was not for me to say so, so I apologize. But I receive all of that remarks and all that criticism from various people, members of the government of Mr. Maliki. So I have to say, apparently, and they're all left from -- I want -- I want I'm not an Iraqi. I'm not an American. But I think at that government must realize that stuff national unity if do, it's better. So now I apologize.

BLITZER: You apologize to whom?

KOUCHNER: To Maliki, of course.

BLITZER: Because you said he should be gone?

KOUCHNER: And I didn't say so in writing.

BLITZER: In this interview. But do you believe that this government in Baghdad is not functioning?

KOUCHNER: Don't ask me to do the same vote. It's up to you.

BLITZER: A lot of people think the government in Baghdad is not functioning. I'm trying to get your opinion?

KOUCHNER: So you're adding argument to my non-comment, very good.

BLITZER: You don't want to elaborate. You said what you said, you've apologized to the government of Iraq for saying it, now you want to move on.

KOUCHNER: I want to work with the people representing Iraqis. For the time being, this is Mr. Maliki. I'm absolutely ready to work with him if it is in the implementation of the U.N. resolutions. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Bernard Kouchner, the foreign minister of France, the full interview, you're going to want to see this, Sunday morning 11 a.m. eastern "LATE EDITION." "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty, he's in New York, with the Cafferty File.

When was the last time you hear a world leader say I apologize, I made a mistake. I shouldn't have said that. He's very blunt this guy.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How did this guy rise to the top of the French government? It's very un-French-like.

BLITZER: It's very impressive.

CAFFERTY: It is. It's very impressive. And the question is how come they can figure the stuff out in Paris, but they don't get it in Washington, D.C.?

The question we're fooling with this hour, Wolf, is should the United States offer legal status to illegal immigrant kids who graduate high school and then agree to either attend college or serve in the military?

Gina writes, "I disagree with the 'Dream Act," that's what it's being called, "And hope that U.S. senators vote 'no.' Here's an idea: let's give legal students in-state tuition and give more benefits to our current military families."

Sean writes, "No Jack, we can't even get a stupid fence built or cameras at the border to work. How will this crackpot government make sure the illegal folks keep their commitment? Until yesterday, I was all about supporting some sort of logical compromise to solve the illegal problem. But I live in Phoenix, Arizona and we're mourning the death of a damn fine cop who was shot by an illegal who was convicted, deported, returned illegally and then killed a copy."

Anthony writes, "I say it's a great thing. I went to school with plenty of other students who were brought here because their parents game. It would open up opportunity to these students. Isn't that what this country was founded on?"

Cindy writes, "No, we would just end up having to pay for their college, too. I think we should send them home."

Linda in Massachusetts, "Absolutely. The idea of giving young illegal aliens a way to serve the country while putting them in line for citizenship is a great idea."

Steven in California, "I would be for the proposal as long as the individual was responsible for the cost of his education. Your presentation didn't state who would bear the costs. I, for one, am not willing to pay for a college education of an immigrant. My government didn't pay for mine. Why should it pay for theirs?"

And John in Oklahoma, "Jack, make the illegals eligible for the draft and you'll hear another giant sucking sound from south of the border."

If you didn't see your email here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile where we post more of them online along with video clips of the Cafferty File.

BLITZER: And if you love the Cafferty File, as all of us do, you're going to simply adore Jack's new book, "It's Getting Ugly Out There," his best selling new book. I want our viewers to go out and buy a copy. They're going to enjoy it, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: The villain of Star Wars and the vice president, some democrats some love to hate. Tonight the comparison made by another political target, Senator Hillary Clinton. Stick around for this. You're going to want to see Jeanne Moos and our most unusual report.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Some of our Hot Shots, pictures often worth a thousand words.

The Vice President, Dick Cheney, is used to being roughed up by critics including being likened to Star Wars villain Darth Vader, but when the comparison is being made by Senator Hillary Clinton, our Jeanne Moos thinks it's most unusual.

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's one thing for You Tube to mock the vice president with their juvenile videos equating him with movie villain Darth Vader. Did we say juvenile? Hillary Clinton has called Vice President Cheney, Darth Vader.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't make me destroy you.

MOOS: Hillary didn't seem scared. At a fundraiser, she was making a point that Vice President Cheney had to rein in members of his own party wavering on the Iraq war.

CLINTON: You can tell with the republicans are restless, because the vice president's motorcade pulls into the capital, and Darth Vader emerges.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's harsh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is Darth Vader, but that's such an old- school old hat designation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he's worse than Darth Vader. I think she complimented him by calling him that.

MOOS: But Darth Vader is practically an endearment by celebrity name calling standards. DONALD TRUMP: Rosie O'Donnell is disgusting.

ROSIE O'DONNELL: This man is like sort of one of those snake oil salesman.

TRUMP: She's a slob.

O'DONNELL: Frankly, here is my comment to him.

MOOS: World leaders don't stick out their tongues, but remember the tongue lashing President Bush got from Venezuela's president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the devil came here yesterday. Yesterday, the devil came here.

MOOS: George Bush, Sr. didn't call Al Gore the devil.

GEORGE BUSH, SR.: This guy is so far off in the environmental extreme.

MOOS: But ozone man turned out to be an inconvenient nickname given Al Gore's documentary blockbuster, "An Inconvenient Truth."

Jon Stewart impersonated Darth Vader to give Vice President Cheney some advice.

JON STEWART: The force is with you, but you don't have to use it every time.

MOOS: Darth Vader's name has even escaped Vice President Cheney's lips.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I suppose sometimes people look at my demeanor and say he's the Darth Vader of the administration.

MOOS: But when Hillary said it, the vice president's office responded by saying Mr. Cheney doesn't want to engage in name calling because he's not focusing on the presidential campaign.

Sometimes the name calling is about what your name isn't. A member of the vice presidential debate jab at Dan Quayle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was really uncalled for, senator.

MOOS: If looks could kill, who would need Darth Vader.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

BLITZER: And this programming note, Sunday on "LATE EDITION," among my guests, senator Hillary Clinton. "LATE EDITION" airs Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. eastern.

We're here in THE SITUATION ROOM Monday through Friday, 4 to 6 p.m. eastern and back for another hour at 7 p.m. eastern.

Until tomorrow, thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Up next, CNN's special investigations unit, "Judgment in Jena."

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