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THE SITUATION ROOM
Bush Berates Congress; Mukasey Approval Not Assured; Huckabee Interview; Bill Clinton's Role in Hillary's Campaign
Aired October 30, 2007 - 1900 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.
Happening now, President Bush hammers Democrats as a bunch of do- nothing tax-hiking, time-wasting lawmakers. Is this the worst Congress in 20 years as he claimed?
Also tonight, Barack Obama's new chance to go after Hillary Clinton tooth and nail. But after weeks of promising to get tough, does Obama have it in him?
And Dick Cheney back on the hunt and under fire again. Tonight, time he spent at a New York gun club is raising some questions about racism.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Bush is going to new extremes to attack Democrats on Capitol Hill. He's making Harry Truman's stain a slap at a do-nothing Congress seem mild by comparison. And tonight majority leaders in the Congress aren't taking Mr. Bush's attack sitting down.
Let's begin our coverage with our congressional correspondent Jessica Yellin. She's up on the Hill. What's behind all the new bitterness, Jessica?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, for months the Democrats in Congress and the president have been gearing up for a big spending fight. And today we found out it is going to be ugly.
YELLIN (voice-over): Flanked by House Republican leaders, an increasingly confrontational President Bush took the latest swipe at the Democratic Congress.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They have not been able to send a single annual appropriations bill to my desk.
YELLIN: He said that's the worst record in 20 years and called on Democrats to get their spending bills to the White House quickly.
BUSH: The leadership that's on the Hill now cannot get that job done. Spending is skyrocketing under their leadership.
YELLIN: The Democrats hit back more forcefully than usual. REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MAJORITY LEADER: This president has had a disastrous six years, perhaps one of the worst six years of any president in my lifetime.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: I think the president's statement in many respects was a waste of time.
YELLIN: And they accuse the president of rewriting history saying under Mr. Bush spending increased 50 percent over President Clinton, turning a surplus into a $400 billion deficit. And when Republicans controlled Congress they regularly failed to send the president spending measures on time. Mr. Bush was not threatening to veto most of those bills.
HOYER: He no longer has a complacent, complicit conspirator in doing nothing in the Congress of the United States and so he's complaining.
YELLIN: While both sides hurl accusations in the spending fight, they remain deadlocked on other issues, including the wiretap and children's health insurance bills, neither of which is close to becoming law.
YELLIN: Now Wolf, Republicans say when they ran Congress, they didn't do things perfectly but they say Democrats promised to do things differently and get their bills in on time and they say Democrats have made it worse, bottom line, there's not a lot of compromise going on to get the work done -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And it doesn't look like it's going to happen any time soon. All right, Jessica. Thank you very much.
A prisoner is tied down immersed in water until they feel like they're drowning. It's called water-boarding but is it torture? Judge Michael Mukasey, the president's pick to become the next attorney general of the United States today gave his view, sort of.
Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's watching this story. All right, what's the latest? Because a lot's at stake on the answer that Mukasey is offering.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: A lot at stake, Wolf. This letter CNN has obtained from Judge Michael Mukasey, the Senate Democrats may in fact determine whether his nomination to the Senate rises or falls. Judge Michael Mukasey, as you know, had been considered a shoe-in to be the next attorney general. But now he's hit some turbulence in part because Democrats believe his answers were semantical (ph) to the question of whether or not water-boarding is illegal.
He tries to clear the air in this letter, saying quote, "As described in your letter, these techniques seem over the line or on a personal basis repugnant to me and would probably seem the same to many Americans. But hypotheticals are different than real life and in any legal opinion, the actual facts and circumstances are critical".
So you see, Judge Mukasey trying to split this saying on a personal basis he abhors this technique but can't make a legal judgment. White House officials explain that's because since Judge Mukasey hasn't been confirmed as attorney general, he doesn't have the appropriate security clearance to be briefed on classified matters and that they say is why he cannot make a legal judgment.
Top Democrats on the Hill though are not buying this so far. Senator Patrick Leahy declaring quote, "I remain very concerned that Judge Mukasey finds himself unable to state that unequivocally that water-boarding is illegal and below the standards and values of the United States."
The bottom line is that people in both parties privately still feel that Judge Mukasey is expected to be confirmed by the Senate but it's going to be a much, much closer vote than this White House ever expected -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And complicating matters for the White House is the fact that not only Democrats are upset about his refusal to say that water-boarding is torture but some Republicans are saying that Lindsey Graham, the Republican of South Carolina, much more important though, John McCain who himself was tortured while he was a POW, prisoner in Vietnam. He says it's a clear-cut matter of torture. There are no ifs, ands, or what's about it.
HENRY: You're right and those Republicans speaking out certainly getting the attention of this White House and also you're right to point to McCain because obviously as a presidential candidate he's elevating this issue on the campaign trail. A lot of Democrats, as you know, Chris Dodd, other Democratic presidential candidates also beating up on Michael Mukasey on this issue. I think that's more about Democrats trying to score points against this president than this nominee. That's why the bottom line is despite all the rhetoric flying around, he's still likely to be confirmed -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much -- Ed Henry watching the story, lots riding on it over at the White House.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" in New York. Yeah, you're shaking your head, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You know these old fools that defend this stuff, maybe they ought to try this water-boarding out on them and see what they think, maybe after they go through it, ask them what do you think, is that torture or not? I mean come on, you know.
Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, here is another aspect of a similar deal, Giuliani says the Patriot Act, quote, "seems to be operating pretty darn well", unquote, and he knows of no changes that he would make to that law as president. According to the "New Hampshire Union Leader", Giuliani says that the war on terror requires Americans to, quote, "take on certain burdens", unquote, although he doesn't think they're sacrificing personal rights and freedoms. The mayor of New York -- former mayor, added this. He said, "This is all a question of how much do you minimize the risk. If you have the Patriot Act, if you have electronic surveillance and if you have aggressive questioning, it doesn't mean that you're going to pick up every attack, but it does mean you give yourself a better chance of doing that", unquote.
In other words, when it comes to terrorism, the means justify the end, right your honor. He's starting to sound a lot like President Bush, isn't he? Giuliani also accused the Democrats of wanting to cut back in all of these areas, yeah like restoring the freedoms that were taken away by the Patriot Act. They seem more interested, he says, the Democrats, in the wrongs to the terrorists than the wrongs being done by the terrorists.
So here's the question. Rudy Giuliani says he knows of no changes that he'd make to the Patriot Act. Can you think of any? E- mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. You know, Wolf, there was a time in this country when we wouldn't be having discussions about stuff like water- boarding because it never occurred to anybody in this country to do stuff like that...
BLITZER: And you know right after 9/11, there was -- the Patriot Act was enacted in the U.S. Senate. There was, I believe, and I could be wrong, but I believe there was only one United States senator who voted against the Patriot Act in the weeks after 9/11. You know who that was?
CAFFERTY: I can't remember, but I think you're right, there was only one.
BLITZER: Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.
BLITZER: He's the only one who opposed it at the time, lots of people have started opposing it every since.
CAFFERTY: Well you know that was Karl Rove and his ability to capitalize on the emotion that was in this country at the time -- they called it the Patriot Act right after we'd been attacked by terrorists from another land. How could you not support something like that? I mean it was a slick bit of marketing you have to admit.
BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much. Jack Cafferty will be back shortly.
He's suddenly number two in Iowa, that's making Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee the target of some new criticism and second-guessing even from his own party. Mike Huckabee, here in THE SITUATION ROOM taking on his opponents. That's coming up.
Also Vice President Dick Cheney goes hunting. He didn't shoot anyone this time but he's caught up in a new controversy over the confederate flag. And Barack Obama taking off the gloves against the front-runner Hillary Clinton. But even before his real -- his next test, the Clinton camp is already counterpunching. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: There's new evidence tonight that Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is surging in Iowa, an American research group survey shows the former Arkansas governor now edging out Rudy Giuliani for second place in the leadoff caucus state right behind Mitt Romney. Huckabee's critics though are pouncing harder, questioning whether he's a true conservative as he claims. I sat down with Huckabee here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The poll numbers are good at least in Iowa, not so good in other states. But in Iowa, you're doing very well. But Pat Toomey who has been a critic of yours from the Club for Growth, that's a conservative organization, responding to what you told me Sunday on "LATE EDITION".
He put out a statement saying on your tax records, "Sooner or later Mike Huckabee is going to have to answer for his liberal tax- and-spend record, and humorous one-liners and half-truth won't cut it. The American people deserve honest answers, not a stand-up routine."
Then he listed a whole bunch of taxes you increased while you were the governor. I'll put them up on the screen behind you if you want to take a look at that list, although I suspect you've seen that list before. First of all, is all that true? Did you increase sales tax, gas taxes, cigarette taxes and all those other taxes as they claim?
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, not quite like that. In fact, the sales tax was a vote of the people. It was a constitutional amendment for conservation. The fuel taxes were a vote of the people. Eighty percent of the people in my state voted to improve roads. Some of the taxes I did not sign. For example, the sales tax in '02 and the income surcharge, which was later repealed. And the nursing home bed tax actually was a quality assurance fee. If people will go to my Web site, they'll discover that it was supported by the industry and by people because if we hadn't have done that, we would have had to have raised taxes to pay for nursing homes and the Medicaid and it would have shut half our nursing homes down. You know...
BLITZER: Why are they coming after you? What is your assessment?
HUCKABEE: I'm alive.
BLITZER: Why are they coming after you like this? You have got a long conservative record as the governor of Arkansas. But they're saying you raised taxes, you weren't good on a whole bunch of other issues. What's your assessment? Why is this happening?
HUCKABEE: Because I'm a threat to some folks who really want an old-fashioned establishment Republican that can be controlled by a handful of people on Wall Street and you know what Wolf, I can't. I'm going to be a person who is going to be conservative, unapologetically. I have a record of that. I'm not a guy that's been all over the board. I've never been called a liberal. That's a new one. But at the same time...
BLITZER: Who is that old-fashioned conservative Republican that would be controlled by Wall Street in this race?
HUCKABEE: Oh, I'm not going to throw stones at the other Republicans because any one of us are better than the guys on the other side and I don't want to get into this kneecapping each other because I think that's counterproductive...
BLITZER: You may not want to do it, but others are beginning to...
BLITZER: ... do it at you. Listen to Mitt Romney...
BLITZER: ... what he said on Friday on Iowa public television.
HUCKABEE: All right.
BLITZER: Listen to this.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mike Huckabee supported, for instance, special tuition breaks to the children of illegal immigrants. Those kinds of differences, I think, make a difference.
BLITZER: First of all, is that true? Did you support special tuition breaks to children of illegal immigrants?
HUCKABEE: No, it wasn't special tuition breaks. What I supported was that people who had been in our schools who had met all of the academic requirements for a very specific scholarship would be able to get the same scholarship as anybody else because they had been in our schools and part of it, they had to apply for citizenship.
Now what's better? Having a person remain a minimum wage worker and be under subsidy or is it better that they become a citizen, they get a college education, they become a significant taxpayer. They've shown their academic credentials. And you know what Wolf? You don't punish the child for the crime of a parent.
BLITZER: Are these children who were born in the United States -- if they were, they're U.S. citizens and they should get all the benefits as every citizen...
BLITZER: ... or were they children who came here with their illegal immigrant parents and as a result they just went through the system?
HUCKABEE: Some would have been both. But some of them would have had to have been in our school system through their entire school career in order to qualify for the scholarships. It wasn't that if they got them, someone else didn't because it was available to anybody. Bottom line is this country doesn't have a history of punishing the child for the sin of the parent.
Now if that causes somebody to want to vote for someone else for president, there's plenty of other people who are you know saying let's punish children. I'm sorry. But I think that you punish the crime-doer. If the parent committed the crime and came here illegally...
BLITZER: So put a finishing touch...
BLITZER: Amnesty for the children of illegal immigrants...
HUCKABEE: It is not amnesty...
BLITZER: But you said they could apply for citizenship?
HUCKABEE: Well here is the thing. It's not an amnesty because the child didn't commit a crime. The child didn't have -- when he's 5 years old and he comes here in the back of his parent's vehicle, did he commit the crime? That would be the point to be made. But you know the good news for me is if Mitt Romney is attacking me, there's a reason and that's because obviously we've moved up in some national polls...
BLITZER: The former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, a Republican presidential candidate.
On a previous hunting trip he shot someone. After his latest hunting trip there are now wounded feelings. We're going to tell you about Vice President Cheney's confederate flag controversy.
And he won a certain notoriety for saying to campus police don't tase me, bro. Now he's saying, sorry.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other stories coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- hi, Carol. CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. Hello to all of you.
The Supreme Court is staying an execution in Mississippi with less than an hour to spare. Convicted killer Earl Wesley Berry was scheduled to die by lethal injection tonight. The court agreed last month to hear a Kentucky case challenging lethal injection. This is the third time since then the justices have blocked an execution.
A Navy fighter jet bomb in Virginia, yes, but it was an accident. A 10-pound training bomb, not explosive, was dropped from an F-18 Hornet (ph) as it returned from a training mission near Virginia Beach. No one was hurt, although a warehouse suffered minimal damage. An investigation will determine whether the pilot will be punished.
This is one lucky girl. She survived a plane crash in remote British Columbia. Rescuers say thanks to her car seat, they found the 3-year-old still strapped in hanging upside down in the wreckage hours after the crash that killed her grandfather and another man. She's bumped and bruised but doctors say she's going to be just fine -- back to you.
BLITZER: Carol thanks very much. This time he didn't shoot any of his hunting buddies, but Vice President Cheney's latest hunting trip still sparked an uproar.
Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow. She is in upstate New York -- Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Vice President Dick Cheney came here to upstate New York Monday to go hunting. It's not what he did that's causing controversy but what was spotted on the hunting grounds, that's causing a stir.
SNOW (voice-over): It is this image of a confederate flag captured by a "New York Daily News" crew that has stirred controversy. The photo was taken shortly after Vice President Dick Cheney hunted here at upstate New York Monday.
JOE GOULD, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": It was inside the garage, the door was opened in the garage so it would have been visible from the road.
SNOW: The "Daily News" crew acknowledged they don't know if the door was open and the flag visible when the vice president passed by. A spokeswoman for the vice president said "The vice president didn't see a flag and neither did any of the staff traveling with him." She declined to give specifics on the vice president's view of the confederate flag. But a local leader of the NAACP says he found it disturbing.
KEVIN CROMER, PRES., NAACP DUTCHESS CO., NY: Well you know it is extremely unfortunate that an elected official who represents all of us chose to hunt within a facility that believes in obviously segregation. SNOW: The Clove Valley Rod and Gun Club (ph), a private club, declined any comment at all. One pastor of a nearby church said it's not uncommon to see confederate flag decals in the area but insists it's seen as a symbol of rebellion, not racism.
REV. JIM WICKSTEAD, VALLEY BIBLE FELLOWSHIP CHURCH: In my experience the people that display that flag are not necessarily racist. They might be. But it's more they're saying, declaring that they're rebels.
SNOW: But one U.S. historian says that explanation doesn't wash with many who see the confederate flag as a symbol representing bigotry.
PROF. JIM ROARK, EMORY UNIVERSITY: For some Americans, rightfully so, it represents tyranny, it represents racism, it represents violence.
SNOW: For Vice President Cheney, one political observer says it was a symbol he should have avoided.
LARRY SABATO, UNIV. OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: They have dozens of staff and advance people who work for days or even weeks planning a visit like this. It's difficult to believe they could have missed something like this.
SNOW: The controversy gained attention after the "Daily News" showed the photograph of the confederate flag to the black activist, Reverend Al Sharpton. He in turn called on the vice president to denounce the flag and asked for an apology for going to the club -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary Snow on the scene for us. Thank you.
The presidential campaign heating up and that means phone calls to voters. But what if you don't want to get those calls? Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is looking for a solution on the Web. How does it work? What are you finding?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, you may have registered your phone number here. This is the National Do Not Call Registry. It's got almost 150 million phone numbers on it. But if you live in one of the early primary states, this may not stop you from getting cold calls from politicians at dinnertime.
You see political calls are exempt from this registry. And if they're bugging you, well this Web site may be for you. StopPoliticalCalls.org has just launched from a Virginia man (INAUDIBLE) who says you can register one phone number for free or for a small fee you can add more details, information about exactly what calls you no longer want to get. If you do sign up though be warned, don't expect immediate results. You see the candidates themselves will have to buy this information and then pledge not to call. We'll keep you posted on how that goes -- Wolf. BLITZER: Abbi thank you.
If you want to run for president, it certainly helps to be married to a former president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You've got to say one thing. We never have bored each other. It's been interesting the whole time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Bill Clinton on how unique it is to ride along with his wife as she tries to occupy his former office. How much is he helping her, apparently a lot.
Members of Congress want to give money to an agency that helps protect all of us from unsafe products. So here's the question? Why does the head of that agency oppose getting that money?
And Barack Obama lets loose. He wants to show you he has some serious dancing skills. We showed you some of them last night. You're going to see more. Tonight Jeanne Moos with that story coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, some Democrats in Congress are asking for the head of the Consumer Products Safety Commission's resignation, this after the watchdog group's leader rejected Congress' latest efforts to give the commission more money to protect the country from unsafe products.
He's an Army doctor, a combat veteran and now President Bush's pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. The president says Lieutenant General James Peake is the right person to advocate for veterans.
And recycling, that's what New York City's Council wants large groceries to do with their plastic bags. Legislation would require those stores to create an in-store recycling program.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
They're husband and wife and because Hillary Clinton has a former president helping her get to the White House, she has one weapon none of her opponents has. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is standing by to talk a little bit about Bill Clinton's value to his wife's campaign.
First of all, Bill, what is the role he is playing?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well Wolf, he is actually playing several roles, all at the same time. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): He's Hillary's husband, of course.
B. CLINTON: We were talking about our life and I said, you know, you've got to say one thing; we never have bored each other. It's been interesting the whole time.
SCHNEIDER: But he's also a former president who can sort of be above it all.
B. CLINTON: One of the things I love about this race as a Democrat is I don't have to be against anybody.
SCHNEIDER: Oh and there's a third role -- shrewd political analyst?
B. CLINTON: They continue to say she's the most unelectable because she is so polarizing. Well they have dumped on her for 16 years. They'd all be polarizing too.
SCHNEIDER: Hillary Clinton is highly polarizing. Eighty-three percent of Democrats like her. Eighty percent of Republicans don't like her. Barack Obama and John Edwards draw less positive reactions from Democrats and less negative reactions from Republicans. National Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani draws a 68 percent response from his Republicans. But nearly half of Democrats like him, too. And the other leading Republican contenders, slightly less polarizing. But as analyst, Bill Clinton points out.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In all the surveys, she's the only one who wins and gets the majority of the electoral votes against any Republican potential nominee today.
SCHNEIDER: The three faces of Bill, advocate for his wife, analyst for his audiences and defender of his party's interests. Can he play all three roles at the same time? Maybe.
CLINTON: If we had never been married and she asked me to come here and do this for her today, I would do it in a heartbeat because she ought to be the next president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: He's sort of retired from the game but he's also in the game and he's offering commentary on the game, all at the same time. Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thanks, Bill Schneider.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is expected to be the punching bag in the big democratic presidential debate later tonight in Philadelphia.
Joining us now is our chief national correspondent John King and senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's in Philadelphia getting ready to watch this. So will Barack Obama, Candy, by all of your reporting and all the indications you're getting, will he come out swinging tonight?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's going to depend on your definition of swinging. Look, in the Barack Obama camp, they're saying there is a difference between drawing a bright line between your policies and her policies and going after her on a personal basis. So what they're trying to do is find that sweet spot where she can be aggressive towards Hillary Clinton, where they can she's not electable, that he's more electable. They have to find that place that they can do that without offending other democrats. So he's walking that line.
BLITZER: John King, the republican presidential candidates, they're heading Hillary Clinton all the time. Is that a strategy that's smart?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Of course it is, Wolf. They see the same polls we do. They think more than likely she's going to be the democratic nominee and therefore the democrat the republicans go up against next fall. But it is, of course, deeper than that. She has replaced Teddy Kennedy, even her husband, Bill Clinton, as the democratic republican's love to hate. It helps them raise money and key to the republican primaries this year is electability. Each of these republicans trying to prove not only that ideologically they belong in the Republican Party but that they are the toughest candidate to go up against, a woman all republicans concede would be a formidable nominee.
BLITZER: John King, Candy Crowley, thanks to both of you.
This note to our viewers, on November 15th, I'll be in Las Vegas, Nevada to moderate a presidential debate in that key western state among the democratic presidential candidates, November 15th in Las Vegas.
On our political ticker this Tuesday, Republican Rudy Giuliani is signing on former FEMA Director Joe Alba as a senior financial adviser to his presidential campaign. Giuliani says he'll tap Alba's what he calls significant experience in emergency management and homeland security. Alba headed the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the September 11th attacks and he left before the FEMA debacle after Hurricane Katrina.
Senator Edward Kennedy is back at work today for the first time since surgery to clear a partially blocked artery in his neck. The Massachusetts democrat tells the Associated Press he feels fine and his strength is coming back more and more every day. The 75-year-old senator has been recovering at his family's compound since his surgery a few weeks ago.
Moments before police shocked him with a stun gun, he screamed a line that became a national catch phrase, "Don't tase me, bro." That's the line. Now the University of Florida student is apologizing for his behavior at a campus event last month featuring Senator John Kerry, that according to the Florida state attorney. The student faced charges in that incident but the state attorney offered him a deal to avoid prosecution, apologize and perform some other acts.
Remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our political ticker at CNN.com/ticker.
Are members of Congress really trying to heighten your taxes as President Bush claims? He says they've got the worst record in 20 years. We'll talk about that in our political roundtable. That's coming up.
And they were involved in a shooting in Iraq that left 17 Iraqis dead. Now we're learning that actually prosecuting Blackwater guards could be very difficult.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: President Bush seems to be trading the boxing gloves he's been using to jab democrats in Congress for a sledge hammer. He's been pounding majority leaders today with a series of nasty one- liners including the charge that this Congress has the worst record in 20 years.
Let's bring in our political panel tonight; our CNN contributor, Roland Martin, our CNN political analyst, Amy Holmes and CNN's own Jack Cafferty of the Cafferty File.
Jack, let me start with you. What do you think? The president says it's the worst Congress in 20 years.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he has the republican Congress to compare it to, so I guess he's got some reference points. He was complaining about, what, the democrats want to spend $22 billion on some domestic program that Bush was saying was more money then they ought to be spending. This is a man who's ready to ask for another $200 billion for this thing that he's doing in Iraq on top of the $600 billion that he's already spent there. He has accumulated more debt than any president in the history of this country and spent more money in six years than anybody since Lyndon Johnson. It's a little bit like the pot calling the proverbial kettle.
BLITZER: He never vetoed any spending bills during his first six year, Amy, and he has increased under his watch the national death debt by some $3 trillion, almost doubling it over these past six years. All of a sudden, the democrats are the majority in Congress and he's found his veto pen.
AMY HOLMES, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we can say if it's up to democrats, they'll spend even more money, $205 billion over the next five years. But I would point out, Wolf, that in November of 2006 last year in the election, President Bush really took a drubbing that the public rejected this high spending and I think democrats should be learning that lesson from the republican failures, not trying to repeat it or make it worse.
BLITZER: Here Roland is what the president said today. Roland, listen to this little clip.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Sure, sure.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES: I haven't seen a bill they could not solve without shoving a tax hike into it. In other words, they believe in raising taxes and we don't.
BLITZER: And you know that's going to be a line that all the republican presidential candidates, whoever gets that republican nomination, will be using.
MARTIN: Sure. And I would say one thing. The prescription drug bill, remember, we were told this is under the republican administration, republican Congress, it was going to cost some $300 billion. The administration knew it was going to cost $400 billion. They withheld that information until after the vote and then all of a sudden, some things have changed and now it's going to cost $100 billion more. Look, the president is simply trying to deflect a lot of the criticism against him, how he's managed this war. Republicans have been highly critical of his spending practices. And so what he's trying to do is say, hey, it's really about Congress. And so again, he wants to take the heat off of him and put it on Congress. I doubt it's really going to stick because he has been the one in charge. And as you said, he didn't veto a single bill sent by the republicans. So if he didn't care about spending then, all of a sudden why should he care now?
BLITZER: Jack, why is Congress right now so unpopular? It's even more unpopular now with the democratic majority than it was when there was a republican majority.
CAFFERTY: Well, I don't think it matters democrat, republican, anymore, Wolf. The federal government is broken. It's dysfunctional, whether it's the executive branch or the legislative branch. Democrats and republicans are exactly the same. They're concerned with getting power, keeping power, getting a hold of enough money to make sure they get re-elected. Name, outside of raising the minimum wage and some watered down thing they did with lobby reform, name one significant piece of domestic legislation that's gone through this Congress and this White House in the last six years that has directly benefited the middle class in this country. Name one.
HOLMES: Well I can name one right now and Roland mentioned it. It's the prescription drug plan.
CAFFERTY: That's primarily for the elderly, not the middle class.
HOLMES: Well, the elderly who have middle class incomes. But if we're looking at a democratic controlled Congress, they've wasted a lot of time on legislation that they knew in advance the president was going to veto. Instead of reaching out to the republican colleagues on the other side of the aisle to try to override that veto on the SCHIP for example, they actually ran attack ads against the very republicans who said, OK, we can sit down and do a deal. So we see that instead the democratic controlled Congress has been more focused, more concerned with pleasing their liberal base and actually getting legislation pass.
CAFFERTY: They tried to pass a health bill to help some kids in this country and the republicans didn't want to hear about it. That's a big crime.
BLITZER: Hold on, Roland. We have to take a quick break. We're going to have a lot more with our roundtable coming up including this subject, the Blackwater security controversy. Has the state department promised those convoy guards' immunity?
And is Bill Clinton an asset or liability when it comes to his wife's own presidential ambitions?
Plus, watch this. Can Barack Obama waltz his way into the White House? Jeanne Moos standing by with a closer look at the candidate's dance moves.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Tonight, new questions about what the secretary of state knew about an immunity deal for those Blackwater security guards in connection with a shootout last month that left 17 Iraqi civilians including women and children dead.
Let's go back to our panel. Our CNN contributor, Roland Martin, our CNN political analyst, Amy Holmes and Jack Cafferty.
Jack, you understand what's going on here, how these guys could get this kind of what they call limited immunity?
CAFFERTY: You know what the nice thing about being in the Bush administration is, if you're the moron at FEMA that decides to hold a phony news conference and put him a FEMA employee in the role of reporter to ask questions and not tell the legitimate press what's going on, and that all comes out, don't worry be happy. Because there's another moron at the State Department that will take you off the hook in a couple of days by having it leak out that they've given immunity of some kind to murder suspects in connection with the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians. Nobody knows if Condoleezza Rice knows about it, doesn't know about it. She hasn't said anything. It's her department. Where is she? Why haven't we heard from her?
BLITZER: Hold on. Amy, Patrick Leahy, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he reacted this way. He said, "If you get caught, they will get you immunity. If you get convicted, they'll commute your sentence," referring to Scooter Libby. "They are the amnesty administration." Strong words from the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
HOLMES: Strong words from a democrat who is in the same party where Bill Clinton pardoned Mark Rich. I think this case with the Blackwater case is shameful. I think we need to investigate it, get to the bottom of it. And as Jack mentioned, we don't even know if Secretary Condoleezza Rice knows about it. But I think it's pretty rich for Pay Leahy to be attacking the Republican Party when under the Clinton administration, plenty of people got pardons that they didn't deserve.
BLITZER: Roland, go ahead.
MARTIN: Look Amy. Amy, once second. Mark Rich was not the chief of staff to the vice president. He didn't have security clearance. Please, don't even try to make a comparison between Mark Rich and Scooter Libby. Hold on a second. I don't understand why the secretary of state cannot come out and say, either I know or I don't know. Why this whole back and forth? Let's have the straight- shooting president, my good friend from Texas, come out and say, look, here's the real deal as to what's going on. Either they have limited immunity or they don't. Why are we playing games? This is a life- and-death matter. People were actually killed and we're saying, well we don't really quite know whether they have immunity or not.
HOLMES: I don't disagree with you. But I don't think it's a partisan issue and I don't think it's helpful to the investigation to make it a partisan issue. Get to the bottom of it and Secretary Condoleezza Rice should know.
CAFFERTY: Nobody offered immunity to those kids at Abu Ghraib when they posed those prisoners in all those disgusting photographs. But if you go out and kill somebody at the behest of the federal government, and you're the subject of a murder investigation, I guess you go to the State Department and you can get some immunity. I mean come on. How many standards do we have here?
BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit about Bill Clinton. Asset or liability, Amy, as far as Hillary Clinton's campaign is concerned, not only for the nomination but long-term?
HOLMES: You know I think that's an interesting question. I think he's definitely an asset in the primary. I mean he's very beloved by his party. But I think in the general campaign, it becomes a lot more complicated. Pew did a really interesting poll in May of 2005 where they asked the voter would they like to see a Bill Clinton third term, and the majority said, no. So as far as if Hillary Clinton is regarded as a third term for Bill Clinton, that could really hurt her.
MARTIN: I think it's a huge asset primarily because when President Clinton left office, his approval ratings were still very high. Not only that, you probably have Hillary Clinton or other democrats that would rather have Bill Clinton on the road campaigning for them than the republicans wanting George W. Bush campaigning for them. He is still the most popular figure in the Democratic Party. Sure, some folks aren't going to like him. But the bottom line is he's a former president who's done a good job on the international stage, bottom line, he will be an asset to her campaign.
BLITZER: Jack? CAFFERTY: Ask Al Gore if he would have been an asset to the campaign. Al Gore would have been president if he hadn't told Bill to take a walk. I think if Hillary gets into the White House, it will be because of two men. I think people long to have her husband back there for whatever the reason. He is a charismatic guy, politician extraordinaire. And the other man responsible will be George W. Bush who has poisoned the waters so dramatically for any republican that Ronald Reagan couldn't get elected next year.
BLITZER: Amy gets the last word.
HOLMES: I think George Bush will still be a significant fundraiser for a republican candidate and I don't think they'll be ashamed of George Bush being on the campaign trail with them.
BLITZER: Amy Holmes, stand by, Roland Martin, Amy Holmes, Jack Cafferty, excellent discussion, thanks very much.
Let's go to Rick Sanchez to see what's coming up at the top of the hour. Rick.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, we're going to have a conversation. In fact, he's going to join us here, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Does that sound familiar? That's the church of Martin Luther King. He's got a strong message about what's going on with voting rights in the United States. You'll want to hear what he has to say.
Also we're going to look into the Obama, great numbers in Iowa. But then there's a real serious question we have to ask, will people go in the voting booth and vote for an African-American? I mean when they really got to pull that lever. We're going to look into that.
And then also, Congress given another opportunity to deal with immigration. And guess who they do? Nothing.
Back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Rick, see you in a few moments. Thanks very much.
Rudy Giuliani says he doesn't know of any changes he'd make to the patriot act. Jack Cafferty will be back and ask if you think of any changes.
Also, could Barack Obama be dancing at his own inauguration ball one day? Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look at the candidate's moves.
BLITZER: I want to go right to Carol Costello. There's been a death that's occurred.
What are we learning, Carol?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, 74-year-old singer Robert Goulet has died. He was in Cedar Sinai Medical Center awaiting a lung transplant. Apparently he was suffering from pulmonary fibrosis which is a scarring of the lungs. It slowly kills your ability to breathe. Robert Goulet was 74 years old and he died earlier today.
BLITZER: He had a great voice, a wonderful voice. Carol, thanks very much.
Let's check back with Jack. He's got the Cafferty File in New York.
CAFFERTY: Rudy Giuliani says he knows of no changes that he would make to the Patriot Act. Can you think of any that should be made?
Jenny writes in New York, "I'd take away all provisions which allowed the president any powers that are not already stated in the Constitution."
Kaitlin, Skokie, Illinois, "How would you even think about changing the Patriot Act? Keeping track of everything I read at a public library and making sure I walk barefoot across dirty screening areas in airports are the only things keeping the terrorists from hitting us again. Jack, think of the children (but veto their healthcare)."
Vikki in Houston, "My mother brought us up to believe if we broke the law we'd go to jail, get fed bread and water three times a day and have to work on a chain gang. None of us ever went to jail. Maybe if the terrorists and other people who want to kill us knew that they might be subjected to waterboarding or other punishment, they might think twice about crossing us. Our wimpy system is emboldening those who want to hurt every American. Our system has become our own worst enemy."
Nathan writes, "Yes, I'd say throw this law into the trash can and get back to the Constitution."
Annie in Atlanta, "This is from a man who put an emergency command center at the World Trade Center after the first terrorist attack in the '90s. And his wife has been photographed wearing a tiara. Enough said."
These are tough. Cyrs, Bethesda, Maryland, "For the safety of all civilized people, I happily forego some rights in return for peace of mind."
And Robert in Houston writes, "Yes, the whole thing. There's nothing "patriotic" about the Patriot Act. It's all about the politics of fear and our corrupt, self-serving, greedy politicians using it to secure their incumbency."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. We post more of them along with video clips of the Cafferty File. Wolf.
BLITZER: See you tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Jack, thanks very much.
White House hopefuls doing their usual song and dance. But this time, at least, one of them is literally dancing. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORREPSONDENT: We're not talking break dancing. We're talking Barack dancing.
ELLEN DEGENERES, TALK SHOW HOST: Come on.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wonderful, makes me want to dance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a little stiff.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's doing this thing here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's doing all right. Ellen's doing better.
MOOS: And how's Rudy doing?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: I'm pretty sure I've got better moves than Giuliani.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rudy, get the booty back.
MOOS: We had to dig deep in our archives to unearth these moves. Tap dancing, not bad.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, Rudy!
MOOS: Disco dancing, questionable.
Rudy was shaking what he had seven years ago at an annual event where the press lampoons the mayor and the mayor lampoons the press. Sort of makes you re-evaluate Barack Obama.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great moves.
DEGENERES: You're the best dancer so far of the presidential candidates.
OBAMA: It's a low bar.
MOOS: Practically on the ground, so far the only presidential candidate to appear on the show was Hillary Clinton and she walked onstage. Hillary prefers to have some fun. At events like her husband's inauguration, the only head-to-head dance competition was an imaginary one, Jimmy Kimmel Live, a break dancing battle between an Obama look-alike and a Hillary look-alike. Apparently Hillary won. At church, Obama seems to have a natural rhythm thing going. Even busting out a few robot moves.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, everybody, let's dance!
MOOS: Rudy may well have been trying to dance badly to be funnier. As for Obama's reviews, they ranged from truly creepy to how can you pay attention to the issues when he looks like that and then shaking what his momma gave him!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think Barack has better moves than that. He's being conservative on TV.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He dances like the old folks.
MOOS: Who cares? These candidates are looking for a surge at the polls, not the pelvis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Think presidential.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York
BLITZER: Wait until I dance on the Ellen Show. Then you'll get a real treat with that.
This note, on November 15th I'll be in Las Vegas. That's in Nevada. We'll moderate a debate in that key western state among the democratic presidential candidates. This other important programming note, mark your calendars. Starting next Monday, one year from Election Day 2008, THE SITUATION ROOM will be on for three hours back- to-back from 4:00 p.m. eastern until 7:00 p.m. eastern. Lou Dobbs will start at 7:00 p.m. eastern.
Thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
Up next, Rick Sanchez with "OUT IN THE OPEN." Rick.
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