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THE SITUATION ROOM

U.S. Supreme Court Examines Right to Bear Arms; Interview With Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick

Aired November 20, 2007 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now: The U.S. Supreme Court takes up one of the most divisive issue of our time, the right to bear arms. It will decide just what that means.
Also, a war of words. Hillary Clinton slamming Barack Obama, then John Edwards chiming in as well. You are going to hear what's going on, all three of these Democratic candidates.

And the governor of Massachusetts, he worked under President Bill Clinton, but isn't endorsing Hillary Clinton. He's explaining why he is backing away from the Clintons and moving someplace else.

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

To quote Jack Cafferty, it's getting very ugly out there on the campaign trail right now, at least for Democrats, bitter barbs flying back and forth between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, John Edwards weighing in as well. She's questioning Barack Obama's experience, launching this rather low-key zinger.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With all due respect, I don't think living in a foreign country between the ages of 6 and 10 is foreign policy experience.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But Obama's not leaving that unanswered. His campaign suggests Clinton is not much different than the current and former Bush administration officials, and a spokesman saying -- and I'm quoting now -- "Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld have spent time in the White House and traveled to many countries as well. But, along with Hillary Clinton, they lead us into the worst foreign policy disaster in a generation and are now giving George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran."

Watching this, John Edwards. He's weighing in with some sarcasm. In a statement his campaign defined what it sees this way. And let me quote from the Edwards campaign: "Mudslinging, accusations, especially unjust ones, with the aim of damaging the reputation of an opponent, as in Hillary Clinton said about Barack Obama."

All this comes amid some fresh poll numbers that show Clinton's support slipping in some key polls. Let's go to our chief national correspondent, John King. He's watching all of this unfold. He's in New York.

John, this is rough and tumble on the Democratic campaign trail right now.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It sure is, Wolf.

And the Clinton campaign says it's Senator Obama who started all this by saying that he thinks the best experience for him to become the leader of the United States and in many ways the leader of the free world is the four years he lived overseas as a young boy.

So, the Clinton campaign says it began with something Obama said, but you have this aggressive and pointed point-counterpoint, point- counterpoint.

Why? It's six weeks to Iowa, and look at the numbers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice over): The Democratic race is tightening in the early states, and there's fresh evidence questions of trust are taking a toll on the front-runner.

GEOFF GARIN, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: It is far too soon for her or for anybody else to be looking past the primaries.

KING: In New Hampshire, Senator Hillary Clinton maintains a double-digit lead over closest rival Barack Obama, but her support is down seven points from the last CNN/WMUR New Hampshire presidential primary poll. And in Iowa, it is Obama with a tiny edge in a new Washington Post -ABC News poll.

GARIN: From Jimmy Carter's rise in 1976 to Howard Dean's fall in 2004, the Iowa caucuses have been the surprise package of presidential politics.

KING: The new surveys come after weeks of sharper attacks on Senator Clinton.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What the American people are looking for right now is straight answers to tough questions. And that is not what we have seen out of Senator Clinton on a host of issues.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The issue is whether we can have a president that can restore trust for the American people.

KING: And the new numbers suggest a toll. In the New Hampshire poll, only 13 percent call her the candidate most honest and trustworthy; 27 percent give Obama that label. And in Iowa, Obama again beats Clinton by 2-1 on the trust question.

GARIN: We have had a period that has really accentuated Obama's strengths and put some focus on Senator Clinton's one big area of vulnerability.

KING: Six weeks to Iowa, Republicans are a little less certain. But for the most part, still betting on Senator Clinton.

WHIT AYRES, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: I think that Hillary Clinton is not going to fold even if she does not win Iowa. This is not a family that folds once they take a punch. And I think that Hillary Clinton is still the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: So, Wolf, Republicans still think Senator Clinton the odds-on favorite. Most of them still believe she will be the Democratic nominee.

But talk to Republican strategists and talk to Democratic strategists, some involved in these campaigns, some just watching quite curiously, and they will tell you, the fact that Senator Clinton aggressively responded to Obama today is proof to them that, especially when you look at those close numbers in Iowa and Obama inching ahead, she is more than a little bit worried.

BLITZER: She should be a little worried. That's what these numbers suggest.

All right, John, we're going to talk more about this in our roundtable. You're going to be part of it later this hour. So is Jack Cafferty, Jessica Yellin.

Also, a new political showdown could take the spotlight in the race for the White House. It's over the constitutional right to bear arms.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's watching the story for us.

The U.S. Supreme Court has announced it will take up this matter of handguns right here in Washington, D.C.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They will, Wolf. They will hear the case likely in February or March, right in the middle of primary season. They will likely rule on it a few months later. So, gun control promises now to be a red-hot issue during the campaign.

But in the city where we're standing, it never cools down.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): On the streets of the nation's capital, police struggle every day against gun violence. More than 130 gun- related deaths were reported last year in Washington. And city officials are convinced it would have been worse if they didn't have a sweeping ban on handguns.

But the Supreme Court will now decide if that ban violates the Constitution.

GEORGE LYON, PLAINTIFF: I want, for myself, the right to protect my home and my family in the event of violent attack.

TODD: George Lyon sued the city to overturn the law which forbids people from keeping guns in their homes. In March, a federal appeals court ruled the law is incompatible with the Second Amendment, which says a well-regulated militia and the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

PAUL ROTHSTEIN, PROFESSOR OF LAW, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: The main question before the court is whether the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, is an individual right accruing to the individual citizens or whether it is collective right that just accrues to the states to have their own militias. If it is an individual right, it is pretty much hard to regulate. If it is a collective right, regulation of guns would be completely OK.

TODD: Shanda Smith, whose two teenage children were gunned down in D.C. 14 years ago, has this warning if the city's handgun ban is overturned.

SHANDA SMITH, MOTHER OF TWO SLAIN CHILDREN: What's going to happen to the kids? Mothers are going to be lined up in the cemeteries putting flowers on their children's graves.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: The Supreme Court could rule on this by late June, of course, a political tinge to that, just before the party conventions. But the issue is never far from the candidates' mind. A recent NRA convention attracted seven Republican candidates. And the Democratically-controlled House just passed legislation that strengthens background checks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. We will watch the Supreme Court take up this matter.

Thanks very much. The ramifications clearly very, very significant.

Another story we're falling right now. Imagine not being at work for two weeks over the holiday, but being able to say you are working. That's the case for the United States Senate. Right now, senators have left Washington for a Thanksgiving break, but the Senate is not in recess. It's actually, technically, still open for business.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent Jessica Yellin. She's up on Capitol Hill.

Pretty empty up there. Maybe you're the only person up there right now, Jessica. Explain to our viewers what they're trying to do, the Democratic majority, in the Senate?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: OK, Wolf.

Well, it is a measure of the mistrust between this Congress and President Bush. Senator Harry Reid is so frustrated with Mr. Bush, that he has taken the unusual step of blocking the president from making any appointments to top-level government jobs during the Thanksgiving break. That means a few senators have to come in and work over their vacation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning, sir.

SEN. JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA: Good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you?

WEBB: Pretty good.

YELLIN (voice-over): It is not your typical day on the job for a U.S. senator.

WEBB: This is the first time coming to work actually makes news.

YELLIN: Senator Jim Webb spent approximately 30 seconds on the clock, gaveling an empty Senate chamber into session...

WEBB: The Senate will come to order.

YELLIN: ... and then out of session.

WEBB: The Senate stands in recess until Friday, November 23, 2007, at 10:00 a.m.

YELLIN: All to block President Bush from making so-called recess appointments, which are possible when senators are on break for three consecutive days. Democrats say Mr. Bush has gone around the confirmation process too many times.

To stop him, they are technically not recessing, instead sending in a lone senator just often enough to keep business going.

WEBB: I have been enormously frustrated over the past six years at how this administration has inappropriately pushed the envelope of executive power. So, I'm really happy about this. I think that the -- the Congress needs to do more of this to -- to reassert the balance between the legislative and executive branches.

YELLIN: According to the White House, approximately 190 confirmations are pending in the Senate. And a spokesperson says, "Since senators aren't really on break, we encourage them to make the most of this time by holding hearings and votes on these nominations."

As for first-term Senator Webb...

(on camera): How did you get enlisted for this duty?

WEBB: I'm from Virginia. I'm in town. And I'm very junior.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE) YELLIN: Now, among the nominees still awaiting confirmation is surgeon general pick Dr. James Holsinger, who is a controversial figure. He came under attack for some views he has expressed on homosexuality.

We understand from the Democratic leadership here that there is a chance the Democrats could do the same thing over Christmas break -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Jessica, for that.

And with this unusual tactic, Democrats effectively are telling President Bush he got away with recess appointments in the past, but, this time, it will be different.

In 2005, the president angered Democrats by named John Bolton as his U.S. ambassador When lawmakers were in recess. The president also did that this past April when he appointed Republican fund-raiser Sam Fox as the U.S. ambassador to Belgium. Fox was a supporter of the group Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, which attacked John Kerry's military record.

And, back in 2004, President Bush used a congressional break to install Charles Pickering to a federal appeals court. Some Democrats had accused Pickering of supporting segregation as a young man.

Let's turn to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Here's another sign, Wolf, of what an explosive issue immigration will be in the 2008 election.

The House and Senate cannot agree if employers should be able to fire people who don't speak English on the job. This all goes back to a government lawsuit against the Salvation Army, of all people. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued a Salvation Army Thrift Store in Massachusetts because they fired two employees for speaking Spanish.

Since then, Republicans have been pushing hard to protect employers who require their workers to speak English. Imagine that, requiring people who work in the United States to speak English. In fact, Senate Republicans successfully attached an English in the workplace provision to a recent budget bill, but not so fast.

Democratic leaders have blocked the move, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised Latino members of Congress that the English-only measure would be killed.

So, here's the question. Should employers being able to fire people who don't speak English on the job? E-mail us at caffertyfile.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile.

I guess asking employees to speak English is off Ms. Pelosi's table -- Wolf. BLITZER: We will hear what our viewers think about this, Jack, stand by. You're standing by also not only for "The Cafferty File," for our roundtable as well. That's coming up this hour.

Lou Dobbs, his program starts at the top of the hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern. That's his new time. Just want to remind you about that.

Coming up here this hour in THE SITUATION ROOM. He has close ties to Hillary Clinton. So, why is the Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick, backing her rival Barack Obama? I will ask him.

Also, details of a lawsuit over potentially dangerous toys. Why are there so many of them still out there after all these recalls?

Plus, what is the number-one issue on the minds of a lot of Republican voters in Iowa? You might be surprised at what they're saying.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The State Department has just made it official.

They have just announced that the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, will be hosting an Israeli-Palestinian peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, on November 27. That's next Tuesday.

Leaders from the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority government , and presumably leaders from other countries in the Middle East will all be attending. The secretary of state will be hosting this meeting starting next Tuesday. We will see what, if anything, emerges from these peace talks that will be taking place at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick, is giving his support to the White House hopeful Barack Obama, even though he has some longstanding ties to Senator Obama's Democratic rival Senator Hillary Clinton. He worked in President Bill Clinton's Justice Department. And both the former president and Obama campaigned strongly for Patrick in Massachusetts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: It must have been a tough decision for you. You worked for President Bill Clinton, you worked closely with Hillary Clinton. But in the end you decided to support Barack Obama.

Why?

PATRICK: Well, we have a -- you know, as I say, a Democratic -- a wonderful, rich bench on the Democratic side, and I have relationships with a number of them and loved working in the Clinton campaign. And I think Hillary Clinton has run an almost flawless campaign herself.

But I am not interested just in friendships or, frankly, even in party. I think what we need right now is a leader. And we need a leader who is going to make a claim on our times, as great leaders have in the past, for service and for sacrifice. I think our challenges are just too big to make these kinds of judgments in the usual way.

BLITZER: And that's why...

PATRICK: And I think Barack Obama...

BLITZER: ... you endorsed Barack Obama?

PATRICK: I think he is uniquely positioned and qualified and able to bring that kind of visionary, hopeful leadership that can make a difference both at home and abroad.

BLITZER: The other day he said this. He said, "Probably the strongest experience I have in foreign relations is the fact that I spent four years living overseas when I was a child in southeast Asia." He lived in Indonesia from the ages of 6 to 10.

PATRICK: Yes.

BLITZER: To which Hillary Clinton, in a statement that's just been released, really pounded. Listen to this. This is what she says.

"Now voters will judge whether living in a foreign country at the age of 10 prepares one to face the big, complex international challenges the next president will face. I think we need a president with more experience than that."

As someone who supports Barack Obama, what do you say to Hillary Clinton?

PATRICK: Well, listen. I understand the -- I understand the point. But the fact of the matter is, is that any president has access to the best experts in foreign policy theory on the planet. And President Obama would as well.

What he brings that's unique is some life on the ground, some understanding that our actions actually have an impact not just in, you know, palaces and capital cities and so on, but in huts and villages and remote parts of countries as well. We have got to knit back together a sense of worldwide community. And I think that Senator Obama brings a unique set of strengths and experience, life experience, not just -- not just political experience, to help us do that.

BLITZER: The wife of Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, she said in a speech at South Carolina State University something intriguing, that the country really needs an African-American, a black president right now.

She says this. She says: "Imagine our family on that inaugural platform. America will look at itself differently. The world will look at America differently. There is no other candidate who is going to do that for our country."

What do you think?

PATRICK: Well, I think she's right. And frankly, I think that's something that -- you know, on a whole host of levels, beyond race, a lot of Americans sense, which is to say that if we close our eyes and try to imagine the kind of visionary leadership we want, if we -- the unifying leadership, the leadership that is willing to look out beyond his or her term in office about what decisions can be made today that will serve our long-term interests, then when you open your eyes, the image that you see, that you conjure is of Barack Obama.

But the Democratic establishment and, frankly, a lot of the political establishment, is constantly telling us we can't have what we want. That that's not electable in some sense. And I think that what is so wonderful about Senator Obama's candidacy is that he is -- he's offering something other than just the usual argument about how to win. He's offering a vision for why he should, and it can lift us all up.

And I think it's very exciting.

BLITZER: Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, thanks for coming in.

PATRICK: Great to be with you, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And we invited a surrogate from the Clinton campaign to join us as well. Unfortunately, the campaign was unable to provide someone. We do hope to have one of Senator Clinton's supporters join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM later in the week.

A new battle over the funding for the war in Iraq. You're going to find out why some leading Democrats are now accusing the White House of simply making up stories about what could happen to the U.S. military.

Plus, a major scientific breakthrough that doctors and the White House are excited about. We will tell you what's going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Carol, what's going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A couple of things, Wolf. New details out of a major breakthrough just announced that could mark the beginning of the end of the controversy over stem cell research. Scientists say they found a way to program skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells, eliminating the need to destroy embryos. But they're warning it could be years before there's practical use for the discovery. And they're urging that current embryonic stem cell research continue.

Are there more scare tactics than military tactics in the latest battle over Iraq? Two leading House Democrats say yes. John Murtha and David Obey accuse the Bush administration of trying to scare military families by saying the Pentagon may have to make big cuts if Congress doesn't OK more money from the war soon. Senate Republicans blocked a House-passed funding bill because it includes a timetable for troop pullout.

And a lawsuit over toys, it's not child's play. California is suing Mattel, Toys 'R' Us and other major companies, accusing them of knowingly exposing kids to toys with dangerous levels of lead. In the meantime,, a consumer advocacy group warns that potentially toxic toys are still on the shelves, despite massive recalls.

That's a look at the headlines right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Carol, very much.

Carol Costello is going to have more on that story that shocked a lot us. It's the sentence that shocked, in fact, the world, a rape victim ordered to be whipped and jailed. Now Saudi Arabia's justice ministry is on the defensive. Will the White House intervene?

The U.S. gears up for what could be a monumental Middle East peace summit. Will it be Condoleezza Rice's shining moment?

And the I-word in Iowa -- why voters in the Hawkeye State are getting heated over the issue of immigration.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now: There are new developments in a story that has horrified so much of the world: a rape victim ordered lashed and jailed for allegedly causing her own attack. Will the U.S. intervene with the Saudis?

Carol Costello is monitoring this story.

And the State Department announcing only a few minutes ago that there will be a Middle East peace summit. The U.S. will host the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, one week from today in Annapolis, Maryland. It's seen by some as a possible last chance for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to make headway in the very, very stalled peace process.

And Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee adds some flair to his campaign. We're going to show you the endorsement he's just picked up that could bring him a certain segment of the voters.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In news around the world tonight, a follow-up report on a story that astonished many of viewers and many of us -- the case of a young Saudi woman being blamed for her own gang rape and sentenced to be lashed and jailed.

CNN's Carol Costello is following this story for us -- Carol, you reported on it yesterday extensively, but you've got new information today -- what's the latest?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I do, Wolf.

You know, since we aired that story last night, outrage has grown. Our story seen in many parts of the world. In fact, Canada announcing it will lodge a complaint against Saudi Arabia and it's calling the sentence "barbaric."

This is not a woman's tale of woe -- it is a human rights issue.

So what are officials in the United States saying?

Not much.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): It is a rape case that's caused worldwide outrage. In Saudi Arabia, a 19-year-old woman gang raped by seven men and then punished herself by a Saudi court.

Why?

Because she was with a man who was not a male relative when they were both abducted.

Sentenced at first to 90 lashes, her attorney appealed. The court increased the punishment to 200 lashes with a bamboo reed and six months in prison.

For speaking to the media, her attorney has been stripped of his law license.

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: You have a situation that, I think most individuals, for example, in our country, just don't understand. And we don't understand how -- how something like this, you know, could happen.

COSTELLO: The Saudi justice ministry, apparently stung by the international outcry over the case, has issued what it says is a clarification. It says the charges were proven and the woman's lawyer showed a lack of respect to the judicial counsel.

But that isn't likely to silence critics, who are calling on Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah -- an ally of the Bush administration -- to void the court's verdict.

We asked the White House if it would intervene. It declined comment, directing us to the State Department.

The only White House official to comment on the case was Fran Townsend -- who is about to leave her post as homeland security adviser.

FRAN TOWNSEND, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: What I praise the Saudis for is their counterterrorism cooperation. It is unprecedented and we share information that's helped us stop attacks.

This case is separate and apart from that. And I just don't think there's any explaining it or justifying it.

COSTELLO: Suffice it to say there are no calls into King Abdullah to void the verdict.

MCCORMACK: I am not aware of any direct contact with the Saudis on this issue.

COSTELLO: As for the young Saudi woman, her government told us today, justice will prevail in the end.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

COSTELLO: Yes, we did hear briefly from the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel Al-Jubeir, who was with King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia today. He told us: "This case is working its way through the legal system. I have no doubt that justice will prevail." -- Wolf

BLITZER: Let's see.

All right, Carol, thank you very much.

Let's hope that justice, in fact, will prevail.

So, should the Bush administration be pressuring the Saudis over this rape case?

Joining us in our roundtable tonight, our CNN chief national correspondent, John King. He's in New York.

Together with our own Jack Cafferty. His new book, by the way, entitled "It's Getting Ugly Out There". If you haven't read it, you should.

Also, our Congressional correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is joining us from Capitol Hill.

You know, this is the kind of story that does outrage so many people -- especially given the very close alliance that the United States has with Saudi Arabia -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Well, and that's the crux of the problem. It's not whether or not civilized people ought to condemn this kind of barbarism. Of course, they should. But we can't.

As an e-mailer told me earlier in THE SITUATION ROOM, Saudi Arabia has us by the barrels -- as in barrels of oil. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who crashed planes into the World Trade Center -- Saudi Arabians. Now we have a situation here with the Bush family and the Saudi royal family have been friends and business associates for decades. And there is no way that you're going to get George Bush to say a single bad word about what is clearly one of the most outrageous acts that I can remember hearing in a long time.

This woman was gang raped by seven men and they're going to beat her and throw her in jail?

I mean what kind of people are we doing business with?

BLITZER: You know, it's a fair question, John. And you and I have covered this U.S.-Saudi relationship for a long time. They supply a lot of oil to the United States -- strategic allies. We hear that they have been very cooperative in terms of the war on terror.

It's a dilemma, I take it, for the Bush administration, which so far is responding with rather muted tones.

JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All the more so a dilemma, Wolf, although this particular issue has been a source of friction in the relationship forever. But it is of particular concern to this president because, remember his own second inaugural, where he stood on the steps of the United States Capitol and criticized past presidents, including his father, saying that in the interests of oil, in the interests of security, they had turned a blind eye to the repressive practices of many regimes around the world and he was going to be different.

He said he would promote democracy around the world. And those who supported human rights, if they would stand up and raise their hand, the United States would stand with them.

So it is even more difficult for this president, because of his own words, to be more active and more outspoken in this particular case.

BLITZER: Jessica, you're on Capitol Hill. I guess the Saudis are sort of lucky that Congress is not in session right now because you know there would be statements galore coming from Republicans and Democrats on this issue, if they were around.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Ostensibly, the U.S. Senate could pass a resolution condemning Saudi Arabia or even take action to try to cut off any shipments of military equipment to them. But, as you say, they're not here right now. So there's hue and cry coming from this body. Only Barack Obama -- Senator Obama has sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, calling on her to condemn this ruling from Saudi Arabia.

BLITZER: Let's talk about this Middle East peace conference, Jack, that the State Department announced will take place a week from today in Annapolis, Maryland. The secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, bringing the Israeli and Palestinian leaders -- and presumably leaders from elsewhere in the Middle East, as well, to try to get this peace process going. A lot of us who have covered the Israeli/Palestinian conflict over the years remain skeptical that much is going to go on. But this is really her big chance to show that she's done something as the secretary of state.

CAFFERTY: Right. Well, you know, based on all of her accomplishments up to this point, I wouldn't hold my breath. Now, it's a tough issue, granted. And it's been tried -- you should pardon the expression -- by bigger men than Condoleezza Rice.

If she should she pull it off, she takes a seat next to Henry Kissinger and Schultz and some of the other great diplomats that we've had in the past. But I doubt very much it's going to happen. It's the brass ring and it would be, certainly, a nice way for her to cap off her tenure as secretary of state. But outside of a partial deal with North Korea, Condoleezza Rice hasn't done very much.

Donald Trump characterized this woman at being great at shaking hands and getting her picture taken, but she can't close a deal, and I think that will still be the case after this summit meeting is over.

BLITZER: I think we have, John, a clip of what Donald Trump told me about Condoleezza Rice. He said she likes to wave and shake hands.

But listen to what Donald Trump said about her a few months back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP: What has she done?

Has she done one thing since she's been in that position?

Not ones. So, it's very, very sad. The whole thing with Condoleezza Rice is very sad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: She's under a lot of pressure right now to deliver.

KING: I'm sure she couldn't care less what Donald Trump says, Wolf. But she is under a great deal of pressure. And it's a very interesting moment. Look, you know very well, the Bush administration did not get involved in the nitty-gritty of this because they thought Bill Clinton spent so much time on it.

If he couldn't get it to the finish line, why should they go back and try it again.

Everyone knows what the map would be if you could get this to the finish line. The question is, is the political will there?

And at this moment, you have a prime minister of Israel who is weak, a president of the Palestinian Territories, Mahmoud Abbas, who only controls about half of his territories because of the split in the Palestinian politics right now, and a very weak president of the United States. Most would say not the recipe for success. But, Wolf, there are some who say out of three weak leaders perhaps will come the idea that we have nothing to lose. Let's go for it.

BLITZER: And we heard Carol Costello, Jessica, earlier in THE SITUATION ROOM suggest that perhaps one of the reasons why the Bush administration is not being tough with the Saudis, at least publicly, on the issue of this gang rape of this young woman in Saudi Arabia is because they don't want to do anything that could undermine Saudi Arabia's support for this peace conference and they want the Saudis actually to attend -- to sit eyeball to eyeball with the Israelis -- something they've refused to do in the past.

YELLIN: Well, I'll tell you, Wolf, folks here in Congress don't think much of what the Bush administration expects for this press conference. One senior Democratic aide I spoke to about this peace summit -- sorry, one senior aide told me what peace summit?

I defy anybody to reveal any details about what they plan or what they plan to accomplish there. Obviously, they're being very snarky. But even Senator Biden, who runs the Foreign Relations Committee here, has said while he supports the idea of this peace conference, if it's a one shot deal, it's not going to work. And says that if the president hasn't engaged in day to day efforts to solve this problem, that's not going to come to any resolution any time soon.

So not a lot of optimism among the Democrats here that this will really work out.

BLITZER: Well, let's hope she can deliver this time.

All right, guys stand by.

We have a lot more to talk about, including presidential politics.

Hillary Clinton taking a direct swipe at Barack Obama and what she portrays as his lack of foreign policy experience. And now John Edwards is jumping into the fray, as well. We're going to show you what they're all saying.

Stick around.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A growing war of words between the Clinton and Obama campaigns tonight over who is better qualified when it comes to foreign policy. We're back with our roundtable.

And, Jack, let me start with you.

We just heard from President Bush. He, earlier, said he doesn't want to be pundit-in-chief. But he's now sort of speaking as a pundit- in-chief. He's predicting that Hillary Clinton will, in fact, capture the Democratic presidential nomination and then go on to lose to the Republican. He says this on ABC. He says: "No question -- there is no question that Senator Clinton understands pressure better than any of the candidates, you know, in the race, because she lived in the White House and sees it first -- could see it firsthand."

What do you think about the president's prediction about his successor?

CAFFERTY: I think -- was it "The Godfather" they had the line keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer?

This is what the Republicans want. They want Hillary Clinton to be the nominee. They did a poll in Florida and she is the only candidate in either party that has a higher dislikability number than a likeability number. She's divisive and Republicans think they can run against her and they think they can beat her. So all the Republicans are going to say how about that Hillary, isn't she great?

BLITZER: He goes on to say -- the president -- "I do believe our candidate will beat her, if she happens to be the nominee."

What do you think, John?

KING: Well, I think right now the odds are against the Republicans. And Jack is right. Based on early polling, they think Hillary Clinton would be their best candidate, although even most Republicans will tell you they think she would be a formidable candidate. And as of today, they think she would win.

But they do think there's a lot of time, that she has high negatives, that in the key states that decide presidential elections -- places like Ohio and Florida -- they can peel off the white, Independent voters, who tend it swing back and forth.

So they have thought for a long time Hillary Clinton would be their best chance, because it would rally the Republican base, because she is so disliked among Republicans. But they also acknowledge, Wolf, she's a tough candidate and she would be very formidable.

BLITZER: And she went right at Barack Obama, Jessica, today in suggesting that he really doesn't have much foreign policy experience. She has a lot of foreign policy experience. You can sort of tell that she's getting nervous -- her campaign is getting nervous by the latest poll numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire -- when she, herself, rather than her campaign staff, is making such a frontal attack.

YELLIN: Well, you know, Wolf, they'd say they're just trying to sharpen the differences. But, absolutely. It's an indication that they -- the race is tightening and the candidates themselves are aware of it. Hillary Clinton herself doing what she can to really distinguish herself on this experience credential which is -- you know, cuts both ways for her. Because really what she's basing all that on is her time in the White House and it's a difficult argument to say her experience in the White House makes her an agent for change. It's a thin line to walk for her.

CAFFERTY: (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: She...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Jack.

CAFFERTY: But that's not necessarily foreign policy experience. I mean I can remember seeing pictures of Hillary traveling around Europe with Chelsea visiting all the tourist attractions. That's not foreign policy experience. She lived in the White House.

So what?

That doesn't translate being able to deal with Iraq or the Middle East or any one of a number of other issues. She might be able to. But it isn't because she lived in the White House for eight years as first lady.

BLITZER: But, John, what she is saying is that Barack Obama's foreign policy experience was when he was 10 years old and he was living in Indonesia. She's ridiculing him.

KING: Well, Senator Obama invited this dust-up by saying that he thinks his best experience to lead the country and to restore America's image around the world is those four years he spent as a young boy living overseas. So, Senator Obama, by saying that, invited this. Probably not, in the history of presidential politics, the smartest thing to say.

But you were dead right at the beginning -- the fact that Senator Clinton decided to take that and hit back and hit back herself is a sign that she believes -- especially looking at those Iowa numbers, where Barack Obama has inched ahead -- that she needs to stop him in his tracks. And she's going to have to get tough to do that.

BLITZER: And, remember, at the last debate, Hillary Clinton went after her main rivals by suggesting they're throwing mud at her.

And listen to the spokesman, Chris Kofinis, for the Edwards' campaign today after this dust-up between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama: "Now we know what Senator Clinton meant when she talked about throwing mud in the last debate. Like so many other things, when it comes to mud, Hillary Clinton says one thing and throws another."

(LAUGHTER)

They're pretty creative in their statements. CAFFERTY: It sound like the e-mails I get in THE SITUATION ROOM. It's pretty funny.

YELLIN: It sounds like we need somebody to police the school yard.

KING: Yes. And it sounds like they realized there was a big Clinton/Obama story brewing and they wanted a piece of it.

CAFFERTY: Yes, that's true. (INAUDIBLE), too.

BLITZER: Jessica and John, thanks to both of you.

You can go.

Jack Cafferty has got The Cafferty File. He needs to stay.

Thanks to both of you for coming in. Jack, stand by.

First, Walker Texas Ranger. Then, rocker Ted Nugent. Now, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is adding another celebrity endorsement to his list. We're going to show you who it is.

And find out why "G.Q." magazine is honoring another GOP White House hopeful. Yes, Ron Paul getting the honor from "G.Q."

Stick around.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In today's Political Ticker, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee rumbles with his rivals and as he does so, he could get some extra muscle. Huckabee already had the support of martial arts star Chuck Norris. Now the wrestler, Ric Flair, also known as the "Nature Boy," says he's supporting Huckabee.

CNN has learned the wrestling star will co-host a Huckabee tailgating event at the South Carolina Clemson football game Saturday in Columbia. Huckabee on "LATE EDITION" Sunday, by the way.

He's a man of the year -- that's what "G.Q." magazine says about Republican Ron Paul. The magazine has picked the presidential candidate, along with 37 others. "G.Q." calling the Republican the dark horse of the year. Paul is the only presidential candidate to be on the magazine's list. Paul's campaign says the candidate is humble and honored.

And another presidential candidate hits a milestone -- 65 years old. Today is Joe Biden's birthday. The Democratic is campaigning in Des Moines, Iowa. Supporters there gave him a birthday cake. Happy birthday, Senator Biden.

Remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our political ticker, at CNN.com/ticker. Jack Cafferty a right now in New York once again with The Cafferty File.

CAFFERTY: You know what I've decided?

I like a lot of the third or fourth tier candidates a lot better than I like the ones at the top.

BLITZER: It's funny you say that...

CAFFERTY: I like some of them...

BLITZER: ...because I get a lot of e-mail...

CAFFERTY: I like Joe Biden.

BLITZER: ...a lot of our viewers say that, as well.

CAFFERTY: I know. I like Joe Biden. I like Ron Paul. I mean a lot of them that don't get a lot of attention are pretty nifty. And some of the ones near the top aren't.

The question this hour -- should employers be able to fire people who don't speak English on the job?

Nancy Pelosi is trying to see to it that a case against a Salvation Army store in Massachusetts is upheld. They fired two employees for speaking Spanish.

Arlene in Sewell, New Jersey: "Employers should have the right to terminate employees who don't speak English. English is the primary language in this country and should be a requirement for a driver's license, voter registration, Social Security, etc."

Michael: "Don't these employers interview their employees before hiring them? What language did these people use for the interview?

How about not hiring them to begin with if they don't speak English enough to respond to the simple questions like the ones interviewees face?

Andrew in New Hampshire: "Of course business owners should be able to fire employees for not speaking English. This is not a case of equal opportunity. People can learn English if they want to. Equal opportunity applies to attributes which are unalterable, such as gender or height."

John writes: "Yes, the employer decides what he needs, not the government."

John in California: "Jack, don't go nuts. It depends on the job. If they can do the job without speaking English, what's the harm? Are they going to be telling secrets about the boss? Talking behind your back? Chill out."

Rick in Lufkin, Texas: "Why should anyone have to speak English at work when our president can't?"

And Barb in Michigan writes: "I live in Michigan, what's an employer?"

(LAUGHTER)

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, where we post more of them online, along the video clips of The Cafferty File -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Thanks very much.

Let's go right to Lou Dobbs.

He's getting ready for his show that begins at top of the hour -- Lou, what are you working on?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you.

Coming up at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, we're reporting on evidence that the federal government is doing nothing to stop dangerous toys from reaching store shelves in this country -- the federal government, in fact, giving toy brands a free pass to continue selling potentially dangerous imported toys to American consumers.

And rising hardship for an increasing number of working men and women and their families in this country. Their struggle to survive completely ignored by political leaders and corporate elites and special interests. We'll have the story and disturbing concerns that our military's most sensitive computers are vulnerable to our enemies because of the outsourcing of software jobs. We'll have that special report.

And the Supreme Court to examine Americans' constitutional right to bear arms for the first time in nearly 70 years. The executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, and the lead attorney fighting to uphold gun owner rights will be joining us to talk about something called the second amendment.

Please join us at the top of the hour for all of that, all the day's news and a lot more -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Lou, thank you.

We'll be watching.

Critics are calling it an abuse of the pardon power. Tonight, CNN investigates just why the president let this suspect off the hook.

Stay with us.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: President Bush ruffling some feathers today -- literally. He invoked the presidential powers in a case that probably won't be appealed.

Here's CNN's Kelli Arena.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president has done it again. With lawmakers out of town and the press focused on the coming election, George Bush pardoned a death row jail bird. The White House says it was an act of mercy.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You cannot take the heat and you're definitely going to stay out of the kitchen.

ARENA: Officials say the defendant was prone to heart attacks, nearly blind at night and doesn't pose a flight risk. Still, critics question the president's motives.

TERRI JEFFREY, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, CNSNEWS.COM: I think that is a Clinton-esque abuse of the pardon power. I believe that bird deserved capital punishment. He deserved to end up on a plate on Thanksgiving Day. That was the destiny and fate of that turkey.

ARENA: But others argue there is a good case for clemency here. The defendant stuck his neck out in a bid to become a national symbol, only to fall afoul by a series of brutal attacks. He was called vain, silly. He ultimately lost to an eagle.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The turkey does well in the polls, but it's sort of deceptive, you know?

He doesn't really fly, over time.

ARENA: Unless it's in first class -- to Disneyworld, where this free bird will be spending the rest of his days.

Kelli Arena, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: Now let's go to Lou Dobbs.

He's in New York -- Lou.

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