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Words of Encouragement from Secretary Rumsfeld; Calling the Troops; Santa Gives out Political Presents

Aired December 24, 2004 - 15:29   ET


ANNOUNCER: Donald Rumsfeld makes a surprise trip to visit the troops in Iraq.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I will stand here and say to each of you that in five years, in 10 years, in 15 years, when you're getting a little closer to my age, you'll look back at what you've done and you'll be proud.

ANNOUNCER: Will the holiday visit quiet the defense secretary's critics back home?

What's on President Bush's mind as his second term nears?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He feels like he went to the country with a specific governing philosophy and ideas about what direction we should take the country in. And he feels he's obligated to act on those beliefs.

ANNOUNCER: We'll speak with one of the president's top advisers.

Behind the scenes at the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's unique in that I really get to see it all. You know, you see the president in front of the lights of the camera, even in sessions with still photographers. And then when that is over, then I see the rest.

ANNOUNCER: We'll meet the man behind the camera.



JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us on this Christmas Eve. I'm John King. Judy is off today.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has always preferred the direct approach, whether he is sparring with reporters or defending his controversial decisions in the war on terrorism. Today, after weeks of criticism here in the United States, Secretary Rumsfeld delivered words of encouragement in person to U.S. troops in the combat zone.


RUMSFELD: Merry Christmas to you.

KING (voice-over): A surprise Christmas Eve visit to rally the troops in Iraq, and to rally his own spirits after weeks of political heat back in Washington. Mosul was stop one. Secretary Rumsfeld delivering a Purple Heart to one soldier wounded in this week's mess tent attack and a pep talk to troops fighting insurgents while coping with tragedy.

RUMSFELD: I think it's tough and difficult. And one has to ask the question, what's going to happen here in this country of Iraq? There is no doubt in my mind but that this is achievable.

KING: The secretary said anti-American sentiment in the Arab media complicates the task of winning over the Iraqi people and suggested the American media could broaden its focus, too.

RUMSFELD: Well, you don't hear about the schools are open and the hospitals are open and the clinics are open and the fact that the stock market is open and the Iraqi currency is steady. You don't read about that. You read about every single negative thing that anyone can find to report.

KING: From Mosul, a helicopter ride to Tikrit, coffee with some troops, posing for pictures with others.

RUMSFELD: I'm very grateful and privileged to have a chance to look in your eyes and say thank you.

KING: Falluja was next. More holiday cheer and more questions about whether there are enough troops and enough equipment. A Christmas gift, a cigar said to be from Saddam Hussein's personal stash.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not going to be smoking anymore for a while.

RUMSFELD: I love it.

KING: Baghdad was the last stop, a meeting with Iraq's interim president and a promise to press ahead with next month's elections.

RUMSFELD: Like this?




RUMSFELD: Is it big enough? It's not big enough, is it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, it's perfect. KING: Secretary Rumsfeld donned a cavalry hat and an apron at Camp Liberty, serving a Christmas Eve dinner to the troops, then sharing a sober message about the challenge of quashing the increasingly sophisticated insurgency.

RUMSFELD: Now, it's Christmas Eve. And I don't want to in any way paint a picture that's pretty. They are determined. But so are we. We are in a test of wills.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, thank you very, very much

KING: And before heading home, one last gift, a branding iron.


KING: A branding iron for the secretary.

And with us now from Los Angeles to talk more about his trip and more broadly about the situation in Iraq is the retired general Wesley Clark, the Former NATO supreme allied commander.

General Clark, thanks for joining us on this Christmas Eve.

Just first, you see the pictures, Secretary Rumsfeld. Smart public relations mood. What is your impression, sir, as a man who war the uniform, as to what the troops thinks of their...

WESLEY CLARK, FMR. NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, I'm glad he went over there, John. I think it's very important that he did go over there.

The troops always like to hear it from the leadership. And I think that these troops want to believe they are doing the right thing. They want to believe that it's going to work out all right. It's very important to their morale and wellbeing that the secretary of defense be over there. And I'm glad he went over.

KING: When the troops far away in combat, in many cases a horrible situation on the ground, as in Mosul this week, when they hear about what is going back on in Washington and the criticism of the administration policy, some calls for the secretary to resign, if not immediately soon, does that affect morale in the mission?

CLARK: Well, there is an effect, but it defends. I mean, most of the troops are out really doing their job. They're not paying any attention to what is going on in Washington.

And a lot of the troops when they joined up they knew that there were -- there were press criticisms of the president's plan to go into Iraq. So this is pretty much discounted.

There are some who take this more seriously, and maybe it will affect them. But there are others who say, look, this criticism is all part of the democratic process and it's to be expected.

KING: And when you hear the secretary at the very end of that piece, in that speech to the troops in Baghdad, he says, "Look, I don't want to try to paint a pretty picture. It's a pretty challenging job you have. It is tough."

The president in recent days also has had what I call much more sober rhetoric about the challenges ahead. Have you noticed a change in the tone from preelection, post-election?

CLARK: Yes, I have. And I think that there are a lot of questions about what is going to happen after the election.

In other words, will the United States stay? Will the United States declare that the mission is a success? They have got an election, it's up to the Iraqis to take it over. Will we immediately start a troop withdrawal?

We don't know. But what we do know is this: that the president, if he's going to keep public support, any public support behind the war, and keep the troops in there, has to start -- he's got to say the mission is succeeding. But if he's going to make changes, he's got to start saying the obvious, that this is not going quite the way it was laid out to be.

And so he's laying the groundwork publicly for making the kinds of policy pronouncements after the election that it's tough, that the fighting's not going to go away, that we may require a mission there for an extended period of time. That we may re-deploy the troop, maybe we'll even reinforce the troops. Maybe we'll have a more extended campaign against the Sunnis after the election.

We don't know exactly what the policy is going to be. But what we do know is the president is laying the groundwork for some changes.

KING: General, what does it tell you about the force protection measures in place when at least they believe so far somebody who had an Iraqi military uniform strapped a suicide bomb into a vest, walked into that camp in Mosul and killed those Americans, injured and wounded and others? What does that tell you about the force protection measures in place? Are they inadequate? Or do these things simply happen?

CLARK: Well, I mean, you have to say they are inadequate because they shouldn't happen. On the other hand, it was a very clever move by the insurgents because this is something that will further drive a wedge between our U.S. soldiers and the Iraqis we're trying to train.

If the Iraqi who had the bomb was, in fact, in uniform, as people are speculating, and got through that way, then that means that every Iraqi in uniform now becomes a special object of scrutiny and maybe a potential security threat in a way that we didn't want to have happen. Now it's happened. So this is just a further complication to the mission.

KING: And General Clark, I'm struck by the difference in what you hear from politicians and the generals. A congressional delegation recently returned from Iraq with a very familiar message in their view: you need more troops on the ground. I spoke with General Carter Ham just yesterday. It was his men attacked in Mosul. He says no, he has enough U.S. boots, he needs more Iraqi boots. Why do we hear different statements from the generals and the politicians?

CLARK: Well, because what you're hearing is you're hearing people at different levels of the chain of command giving their views. The people at the top of the chain of command are trying to wrestle with the overall tradeoffs.

If you bring more troops in, something like one out of every -- about one out of every two troops is in a support mission. So if you want to get more riflemen in there, you are going to double the number because you're going -- and the more support you have the more convoys you have, the larger the base camps and the greater the vulnerability.

So the leaders at the top are trying to weigh this off. They also know that frankly there aren't that many more troops back in the United States.

We're putting the United States Army and the Marine Corps under a lot of stress with this mission. So they are trying to do the best they can to be efficient with the troops on hand.

As you go lower down the chain of command, the leaders will tell you, sure, I mean, I'd like to have half the size of the sector, I'd like to be able to double the patrols on the streets and so forth. So that's the difference in perspective. It's really difficult from the outside to see where the truth is.

KING: General Wesley Clark, thank you today for your time, sir.

CLARK: Thank you.

KING: Take care. Have a good holiday.

CLARK: Thank you, John. You too.

KING: Now, President Bush is spending Christmas outside Washington at Camp David. And we're told he's been busy working the phones today. For more on that we turn to CNN White House correspondent Dana Bash -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the president, as he's done every year since taking office is, as you said, at Camp David. And he's been there really since Tuesday.

He left straight from Walter Reed Medical Center, where he was visiting some troops. And he's at Camp David with the first lady, his parents, most of his siblings. And he also is in touch with members of the military.

Now, the kind of surprise we saw Secretary Rumsfeld pull off showing up in Iraq is something perhaps the president can only do once. And, of course, we all remember Mr. Bush did that a year ago Thanksgiving. But the president did follow holiday tradition for commanders in chief a more traditional way.

He picked up the phone at about 8:30 this morning and called 10 servicemen and women around the world serving, six of whom were in Iraq and are in Iraq, including Navy hospitalman Roman Cruz (ph), serving in Falluja, Staff Sergeant Santiago James Fontenez (ph). He is an Air Force -- with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations in Baghdad. And also Corporal Malcolm Hedgepath (ph), the Marine also in Iraq.

Now, John, the president is going to stay in Camp David until tomorrow, Christmas Day. Then he is going to head to his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

We're told to expect a low-key week. He'll be there through the new year. But we're also not expecting, we're told, to see some of the high-profile appointments, cabinet appointments that are left.

The two, of course, are Homeland Security secretary and director of national intelligence. We thought perhaps it would happen next week. Now we're being steered away from that from White House officials.

One thing we do expect, according to White House officials, is an announcement of the president's citizen panel to look into the tax policy changes that he promises. That is something we are likely to hear next week. But that's not going to happen anytime soon. We're told they are going to have until next summer to come up with the recommendations -- John.

KING: Dana Bash at the White House. Thank you for that. And stand by. We'll bring you back a bit later in the program. Thank you.

And one more note about calls to the troops. The president's former campaign rival, Senator John Kerry, has sent an e-mail to his supporters, asking them to donate to the USO program, Operation Phone Home.

The USO uses the money to buy phone cards for troops overseas. In his e-mail, Kerry writes, "As a soldier, I remember how much it meant to hear from loved ones, especially at the holidays."

For more information, log on to

And just ahead, the man who helps to shape the president's message. Part two of my conversation with the White House communications director, Dan Bartlett.

Plus, a side of the Bush administration the public rarely sees. The official White House photographer shows us some of his most memorable shots.

And later...


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: It's been a tough year for old Santa trying to keep up with who has been naughty and nice through a grueling campaign. Now you expect him to lug a sleigh- load of presents all over the world?


KING: ... that guy there, our very own Bill Schneider. Santa, in his own mind, anyway, hands out yet another year's worth of political gifts.


KING: Earlier this week I sat down for a conversation with the White House communications director, Dan Bartlett. Yesterday, in the first of a two-part interview, we looked back at some of the high and low points of a busy campaign season. Today, in part two, we look ahead.


KING: When the president had his post-election news conference he used the term "political capital" and his willingness, his eagerness even to spend it. Where's that come from? What's the mindset of the president?

DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, it's something that he has learned as somebody that's been a governor and president that you can't store political capital. You can't put it on a shelf for a rainy day and go back to it and use it at some time in the -- in the future.

It expires. And I think he feels like he was elected not to sit back and hope for things to turn out the best. He feels like he went to the country with a specific governing philosophy and ideas about what direction we ought to take the country in. And he feels he's obligated, just as he did as governor, just as he did in his first term, to act on those beliefs.

Now, that doesn't mean that he won't reach out to members of the other party or people who may not agree with him on everything. This is an obligation of the president to do so. And he takes that responsibility seriously.

So it's just -- it's something I think he's learned through politics, through -- he's been around politics for a long time. He saw how his dad governed. He saw how and lived through these experiences of being governor of Texas. And he recognizes that when you have a moment you have to seize it.

KING: He spent some of it in getting the intel bill to the finish line. But some would look back at that and say that maybe he didn't spend enough time in the first term developing relationships, personal relationships with many of the Republicans who now say, "With all due respect, Mr. President, yes, you're the leader of the party, yes, you're the leader of the country, but I got 65 percent in my district. I've been in the majority for 10 years. I have things I want to do, too." In your view, does the president have a problem with his own caucus?

BARTLETT: I would take the intelligence reform bill as an example of how we can get things done. Everybody going in saying, oh, the president is not spending enough time. There were reports back and forth saying why isn't he putting too much pressure?

And he took a very important -- he put pressure when pressure was needed. But he also had the patience to allow -- in this case, Duncan Hunter and other members, to allow them to express their feelings, to work with both the Senate and the House and the administration to try to come to an agreement without pulling the plug on the process too soon.

And I think that shows -- and what happened was, then you had a large flock (ph) of Republicans and Democrats come together and pass the legislation. I think that's a model for the future. And I think it demonstrates that President Bush doesn't take his own party for granted.

He listens to them. He works with them. He works with the leadership. And in so doing, we've got a good product that both Republicans and Democrats can be proud of.

KING: Let me ask in closing for a Bartlett prediction of a sleeper issue for next year. We know about Social Security, we know about tax reform, we know about, you know, legal liability reforms. Is there something on your radar screen that you think that nobody is paying attention to that some point next year the country will be debating?

BARTLETT: Well, I think obviously the best part about this process and in this campaign is that the big issues of the day were put before the American people as plainly as can be. And I think people understand what they are.

Now, having been in this position for four years, one thing I have learned is that you can never predict what is going to happen the next day. So I probably would be just as surprised as you of what the issue is.

For example, I do recall the last state of the union that there are some people who raised their eyebrows at the notion of President Bush talking about getting serious about steroids. And here we are in this situation we are having a very vigorous national debate because of the situation in Major League Baseball.

There may be another issue like that that comes to the forefront, maybe put forward by the president, but maybe put forward by our leaders in our country. So we're optimistic about what the issues we are going to tackle next year. But you never know about those sleepers.

KING: Let me follow quickly on that. Do you have to restrain him from wanting to get involved more in the steroids debate? He is the president, he's also a huge baseball fan, and he's a father. And he sees a domino effect, if you will, of this issue if it's not dealt with appropriately. One sense is that part of him is saying governments stay out of this as long as it can, if it can. And one sense is another part of him would want to just charge through the gates and get involved in the debate.

BARTLETT: Well, I think if he was just a fan you may -- you may want to act on those temptations. But he's also somebody who's been a part of Major League Baseball himself in being a team owner.

He understand the delicate nature, the relationship between management and labor, what it takes to get a deal between those two entities. So I think he has actually restrained himself because he understand what it takes to get something done.

He has put pressure when he felt like it could help make a difference. He has kept very much on task of what is happening internally with Major League Baseball, as well as the players, because he thinks the issue not only for baseball, not only for the traditions and the records and how history judges the game, but also critically on this issue, the type of message it is sending to our children.

And it's something that he think as president it was important for him to step forward. He has now said publicly if they don't get their act together he will be willing to sign legislation to help them get their act together. But he has confidence that Major League Baseball and the Players Union are going to do -- do mean business this time and hopefully a deal will come forward.


KING: Many of the biggest, most dramatic moments of George W. Bush's presidency have been documented by White House photographer Eric Draper. Up next, he shows off some of his favorite photos and tells us the stories behind those images.

Stay with us.


KING: A live look here at a very joyous Christmas Eve setting. This is Jackson, Mississippi. Troops from the Mississippi Army National Guard's 185th Aviation Group, they are based there in Jackson. They have been deployed in Iraq, providing support to airborne forces as part of the coalition in Iraq.

Returning home now on Christmas Eve. As you see, quite a cheerful setting there. Husband and wife, we presume, saying hello.

Again, these pictures to us from our affiliate WJTV in Jackson, Mississippi. Troops returning home after duty in Iraq. Merry Christmas to them. And it is a much more merry Christmas in Jackson, Mississippi, tonight.

As the chief White House photographer, Eric Draper has extraordinary behind-the-scenes access to the president. He recently gave us an exclusive glimpse at some of his work and his memories.


ERIC DRAPER, WHITE HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHER: It's unique in that I really get to see it all. I mean, you know, you see the president in front of the lights and the camera, even in sessions with still photographers. And then when that is over then I see the rest.

It was a really incredible moment sitting at the desk for first time, you know, the two stories going on here. The first time in the Oval Office as president, but also a proud father watching his son as president.

I learned pretty quickly that when you want to call their attention you don't say, "Mr. President," because they both turn around.

KING: And what is his mom doing there?

DRAPER: She is an avid photographer. She's very good. She has a digital camera there, also. She makes her own prints and everything.

KING: You said you had some 9/11 stuff. I notice the picture you showed earlier, where they're looking out the window (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

DRAPER: This photo definitely captures the mood at the time. We were approaching Washington, and everyone had noticed the fighter jets that escorted Air Force One outside. And we're about to land.

This is the president aboard Marine One. We're flying over the Pentagon. And I believe this is the first time he has seen the destruction from the attacks. That stare out the window I think says a lot.

Definitely a historic moment, the moment when he replied to the people shouting at him, you know. And later on, which I didn't realize until after the photo was taken at ground zero, that they are standing on a fire truck that was flattened in the rubble.

After the photo at ground zero he cried with a lot of the families. He hugged a lot of the families. And I think this sort of captures that moment.

I didn't take very many pictures. I waited for a moment that was -- I thought was a good example of what was happening, and I stepped back. It was very -- very hard to photograph.

the day the decision was made to go to war with Iraq was a really historic day. This photo here was made literally minutes after the decision was made to go to war.

He was in the situation room when the decision was made. And he decided to go out for a walk alone which, again, it's always that gray area. You know, do I follow him, do I not follow him? But I knew that with the gravity of the situation I knew this would be an important photo. So that moment I made that picture, and he basically was -- walked up to this situation here with Vice President Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who met him at the end of his walk.

This was aboard the USS Lincoln, and these pictures are made the morning after the arrival on the deck. You know, symbolically, he's aboard the Lincoln, so there's a picture there. And the president is looking out at the sunrise.

This is a moment that was made outside the Oval Office. I think it just says a lot about being the president. You know, you have the Oval Office, you have the columns, you have the flag pin which appeared, you know, post-9/11. So I think it has a little bit of -- a little bit of everything that kind of tells a story.

KING: The glasses in his mouth, what does that tell you?

DRAPER: That he's thinking, he's serious. Obviously there are a lot of serious moments going on right now. But there's also -- there's a lot of comic relief.

He has a great sense of humor. The president keeps his staff really positive about things.

KING: I assume you also get to see him when he exhales.

DRAPER: Yes. Yes, that's a good way of saying it. Definitely that's part of -- he's the president all the time. And so part of my job is documenting the president when he's off, when he's -- during his downtime.


KING: Back in front of the lens again now to look at Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's Christmas surprise. What kind of mileage can he expect from his visit to Iraq? Coming up, we'll ask our "Reporters' Roundtable."



ANNOUNCER: It's the election that just won't end.


ANNOUNCER: After counting the votes three times, there's still no official winner in Washington state. Will this election battle drag into the new year?

ESSEX PORTER, KIRO REPORTER: To a lot of folks in Washington, it is beginning to feel like another Florida 2000.

ANNOUNCER: It's Christmas. And our Bill Schneider's playing Santa Claus.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: What does Santa have for John Kerry? How about a gift certificate to L.L. Bean where he can get himself a new duck call? We hear it may work for voters, too.

ANNOUNCER: Stay tune for more gifts.

Now, live from Washington, Judy Woodruff's INSIDE POLITICS.


JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome back. I'm John king. Judy is off today.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has spent this Christmas Eve with U.S. soldiers in Iraq, shaking hands, sharing meals and offering words of encouragement. At his stops in four Iraqi cities, Secretary Rumsfeld praised the troops for their courage and he thanked them for their sacrifices.

The defense secretary has taken his share of criticism here in the United States in recent weeks. And he went out of his way today to defend the mission in Iraq and its place in history.


DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The great sweep of human history is for freedom. People have a desire to be free, to not to be ruled, but to participate in guiding and directing the course of their countries. And we are on the side of freedom. And you are on the side of freedom. And that's the side to be on.


KING: And with us now to talk about Secretary Rumsfeld's trip, another headline as the year comes to a close, Jill Zuckman of "The Chicago Tribune," John Hendren of the "Los Angeles Times," and over at the White House, our own Dana Bash.

John, let me start with you. You cover the Pentagon full-time. Secretary Rumsfeld making this trip today. Important public relations for him personally, isn't it?

JOHN HENDREN, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Yes, it is. I've been calling this the mea culpa tour, because it comes about a month after he got in a little trouble for sounding callous in talking to troops in Kuwait over complaining that they didn't have enough armor on their Humvees.

Earlier this week, he came as close as he ever does, really, to apologizing, saying he was saddened that his remarks were taken in -- I think he said they were out of context.

KING: And Dana, Secretary Rumsfeld saying today, "I don't want to paint a pretty picture." Sober rhetoric. We heard some pretty sober rhetoric from the president earlier in the week, too. A change since the election, no?

BASH: It definitely seems that way, John. You know, during the election, the White House -- the president was criticized for giving too rosy of a picture. And now, all of a sudden, he is being strikingly candid about what it looks like over there.

And in terms of Secretary Rumsfeld, what struck me was, of course, some may look at this and say it was perhaps predictable, perhaps just a P.R. move. But these are images, as we see, that are running over and over again at a time where there's not much else going on.

So it's one thing for the secretary to say that he cares about the troops. But it's another thing for him to actually do it. And there you see it, over and over again, him actually looking like he is patting them on the back, and thanking for their service.

JILL ZUCKMAN, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: You've got, John -- you've go to think how frustrated must John Kerry at the Democrats be now? They were saying a lot of these things. You know, we need more troops in Iraq, things aren't going well. But the president was refusing to admit mistakes. Secretary Rumsfeld was saying everything was fine. And now suddenly we're getting a lot of this talk that sounds a lot like what the Democrats were saying before, that things aren't going so well.

HENDREN: Now there's speculation on Capitol Hill. I talked to some people today who were suggesting that Rumsfeld probably wouldn't make it through the summer. Obviously, he's not saying that.

KING: Well, we'll have the elections in a month. One of the ways sometimes you figure out in pop culture what the country thinks about what's going on in Washington is late-night comedy. I want you to listen quickly to this little snippet from Jay Leno, his take on Secretary Rumsfeld.


JAY LENO, COMEDIAN: It does not look good for Rumsfeld. People in the White House want him to leave, but, as you know, he doesn't have an exit strategy. So they don't know what they're going to do...



KING: Dana Bash, do people in the White House want him to leave?

BASH: They certainly aren't seeming that they are, neither publicly, John, as you know, or privately. Look, I mean, Secretary Rumsfeld is somebody who they say, even privately, is somebody who ruffles some feathers. And that's part of this charm, perhaps, to some. To others, it's something that really gets on people's nerves maybe, but that he is going to come back. He is going to not just have these pictures, but he's going to have some serious questions to answer to the folks that Jill covers up on the Hill about what is going on in Iraq.

But at this point, they're not going to say that it's time for him to go in the near future, we don't think, because of the fact that he embodies the Iraq war, he embodies the plan, the plan that, as much as they are willing to say that perhaps right now they don't have it straight on Iraqi troops, they don't have it straight on some other things, they're not willing to go as far as saying that the whole thing, perhaps, wasn't exactly the right way to go from the beginning. And that perhaps would be what they would signaling if they got rid of Secretary Rumsfeld right now.

KING: Right now, Jill Zuckman. But you have covered both the Congress and the White House. And members of Congress are home now for the holidays. When they're home, they hear from the people directly.

ZUCKMAN: That's right.

KING: We have heard from Trent Lott, we have heard from some other Republicans in recent days, well, maybe he shouldn't resign tomorrow, but they ought to be thinking about this down the road. How much do you think that dynamic will affect the debate come January?

ZUCKMAN: Every time Congress goes home for the holidays for a recess they really hear from constituents. And it's always interesting to either go with them and find out what they're hearing, or, as soon as they come back, they become very vocal.

And I think we'll find out when they come back from this Christmas break, you know, just what Secretary Rumsfeld's future is. Because right now, he is absolutely in the crosshairs from both Republicans and Democrats.

HENDRED: And that's what Rumsfeld's big problems are. I mean, this tour does him some good with the troops. It does him some good with the American public. But he still has serious problems on Capitol Hill, where he was widely disliked before the war in Afghanistan, recovered his reputation dramatically after that, and then now he's back in a spot where a lot of people in Congress feel like, you know, they've got a shot at him again.

KING: And when he gets back to Washington, he'll be handed a copy of "The Washington Post," if he wasn't on his flight, and he will see that he's not the only one giving military advice to the president. That the secretary of state, at least on one occasion, we are told, that a reporter in the "Post" and confirmed by us, has said, "You know, Mr. President, you need more troops over there."

Dana Bash, what do they make of that at the White House? Secretary Powell not perhaps giving the advice, but the American people learning about it, because it's now in the public eye.

BASH: I looked at the "Post" today and sort of thought that this was perhaps a classic example of why the president was not eager to have Secretary of State Colin Powell stay on for the few months that perhaps he had wanted to stay into the next term.

You know, looking at the front page, it's exactly what I thought. You've got Secretary Rumsfeld over in Iraq trying to boost morale, trying to perhaps protect his own image. And then you have Colin Powell perhaps trying to do the same thing about his image, his legacy, saying, it's being reported that he was saying that we need to dominate the terrain more.

Not the kind of thing we hear from the faster, leaner, meaner secretary of defense. But this is likely not going to be the kind of thing that we're going to see on Christmas Eve on a front page of a newspaper from a Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, John.

KING: And John, at the Pentagon when they read that story, it also talks about videoconferences. The president and Prime Minister Blair talking to each other, apparently having pretty spirited debates about the policy in Iraq. Will they take that at the Pentagon that maybe the guy at the White House suddenly isn't so confident in what he's being told?

HENDREN: Yes. You've already got divergent views in the Pentagon between the military leaders and the civilian leaders. This is not going to help that situation.

There's always been tension between State and the Pentagon as well, and the Pentagon generally sticks together on those issues. But here, this is not going to help unify opinion in the Pentagon.

KING: I want to shift to another subject that will come up in January. The Iraq policy debate will continue. So will this debate over Bush judicial nominees. The president had 20 judicial nominees that were not voted on in the Senate. Yesterday, despite all this recent talk of being bipartisan and reaching out to the Democrats, the said he's going to send those 20 names back up.

And here's something, Jill Zuckman -- you weigh in after I read you this -- this from Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a member of the Judiciary Committee, a Democrat who has sparred with this White House. He says this of the president's choice to ask again for votes on those 20:

"The Bush administration is ending the year as they began it, choosing confrontation over compromise, ideology over moderation, and defiance over cooperation."

ZUCKMAN: It's a big poke in the eye to the Democrats. I mean, the president always says, "Oh, I want to work with the other side." And yet, over and over again, he tends to his base. And I mean, for conservatives, this is something they can cheer about. This is very exciting to them, that, you know, they've got a strengthened majority in the Senate and more of an opportunity to get some of these people who are ideologically in concert with them on to the bench.

KING: And yet, Dana, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee presumably will be Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania. He told this to the "New York Times" when asked about these 20 names going back up: "It has been my hope that we might be able to approach this whole thing with a cooler perspective. I would have preferred some time in the 109th Congress to improve the climate, to avoid judicial gridlock and future filibusters."

So Arlen Specter, again, picking at least a mini-fight with the Republican White House. BASH: Right. Not something that perhaps they're going to be too happy to see. But, look, this is something that the president did not have to do. He was essentially serving notice that he was going to do this in the next Congress. He didn't have to do this right now. He did it at a time where there's a lull, at a time that perhaps he wanted to give a Christmas gift to his conservative base.

This, John, you know, was something that got the biggest applause lines at every stump speech that the president gave during the campaign. Activist judges, this is so incredibly important to his base. But, as Jill was saying, it's also very important to the Democratic base. And so the Democrats have been looking at this saying, OK. Here we go again. You know, you're talking about bipartisanship. You're talking about ending the zero-sum game in Washington. We don't see it.

KING: Just a few seconds left. I'll give each of you two sentences of a New Year's prediction -- Jill Zuckman?

ZUCKMAN: My new year's prediction is that the president's proposals on Capitol Hill are going to be a big, bloody battle. Social Security, taxes, judicial nominations, it's going to be rough up there.

KING: John?

HENDREN: My New Year's prediction is that the Iraqi forces will not be ready to take over by the end of 2005, as some people in the Pentagon would like to see.

KING: Dana, want to weigh in?

BASH: I think the biggest prediction I have is something that we haven't been paying that much attention to, which is that the president keeps talking about this deficit and promising to cut it in half. And that is going to mean some tremendous spending cuts. That's going to make a lot of people, Republicans and Democrats, pretty unhappy.

KING: Dana Bash at the White House, John Hendren and Jill Zuckman here, thank you all very much.

HENDREN: Thank you.

ZUCKMAN: Thanks, John.

KING: And it's almost Christmas. And Washington state residents still don't know who their next governor will be. Up next, after ignoring early calls for her to concede, Democrat Christine Gregoire now has the upper hand.

The Election Day voter challenges that never happened. A report from Florida ahead in "Political Bites."

And later, our very own political Santa, Bill Schneider, hands out the gifts to Washington bigwigs. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In the other Washington, Washington state, the Democratic candidate for governor is calling on residents to unite and move forward, this after a hand recount, the third tally of the votes cast on November 2nd, has now swung the race in her favor. But the legal twists and turns may be far from over.


CHRISTINE GREGOIRE, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE FOR WASHINGTON GOVERNOR: Well, I have to say, this has been quite the roller coaster.

KING (voice-over): She's not kidding, but that ride now gives Christine Gregoire the upper hand in the battle to be Washington state's next governor. After losing the Election Day count by 261 votes, and a machine recount by 42 votes, the Democratic candidate is now in the lead.

She's unofficially won a hand recount, thanks primarily to a state Supreme Court ruling that allowed some 730 ballots that were misplaced and uncounted in the first two rounds. Those votes were from the heavily Democratic King County, and they boosted Gregoire's statewide lead over Republican Dino Rossi from 10 votes to 130.

GREGOIRE: I am humbled, frankly, that I am where I am. Who would have ever expected this historical race in the first place and this historical result? It's national history.

KING: So what's next? Republicans could ask canvassing boards across the state to look for votes for Rossi that they say were mistakenly rejected.

CHRIS VANCE, WASH. STATE REPUBLICAN PARTY: We know of hundreds and hundreds of people around the state who say they voted for Dino Rossi and their votes weren't counted.

KING: They could ask for a rules change for those serving in the military overseas who say they never received their ballots. And they could legally contest the election.

ESSEX PORTER, KIRO REPORTER: They may be asking the court to throw the election out, and to have the election done over.

KING: Next Thursday, Washington secretary of state is expected to certify the election, making Gregoire governor-elect. After that, any registered voter has the right to file a lawsuit challenging the results of the election. Inauguration Day in Olympia is set for January 12th. Whether Washington state has a new governor by that date is anybody's guess.

PORTER: To a lot of folks in Washington, it is beginning to feel like another Florida 2000.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KING: Another Florida 2000. OK. Checking the "Political Bites" on this Christmas Eve, Florida election officials were worried about a flood of voter challenges on Election Day. But that flood never happened. The "St. Petersburg Times" reports that, out of almost 4 million votes cast in the state, there were only 63 voter challenges. State law allows party observers to challenge a voter's right to cast a ballot. And the Bush and Kerry teams posted observers across the state on Election Day. But the newspaper reports there were no voter challenges in 57 of the state's 67 counties.

Overseas in Ukraine, the final preparations are under way for Sunday's revote in the race for president. Opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko said today his top priority, if he wins, will be uniting the country. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych claimed victory in the first election last month, but the country's Supreme Court annulled the results amid evidence of vote rigging and fraud.

There is a Christmas kid in each of us, even heads of state and other political bigwigs. What might they find in their stockings on Christmas morning? Our Bill Schneider has a notion or two, coming up.


KING: It is Christmas Eve. So, of course, the country's movers and shakers are wondering just what might be under the tree when they awake in the morning, assuming they haven't been too naughty, anyway. Our Bill Schneider has been in touch with that fellow at the North Pole. He is here now to give us a sneak preview.


SCHNEIDER: Folks, it may be Christmas Eve, but Santa is tired. It's been a tough year for old Santa, trying to keep up with who's been naughty and nice through a grueling campaign. Now you expect him to lug a sleigh-load of presents all over the world?

Santa says, "Enough already." He's rented a beach house here in Malibu where he can stay nice and warm, maybe even catch a few waves.

Hey, what about the presents? Not to worry, children. Santa is giving everybody gift certificates this year. You can go out and buy your own presents, and maybe slide down your own chimney, if you like.

Let's see what we have here. A little something for Condoleezza Rice, the new secretary of state. It's a gift certificate to Berlitz for language lessons. That'll come in handy. And look at this: It includes lessons in English. She may need that after all of those years of listening to George Bush.

The current secretary of state, Colin Powell, once referred to the Pottery Barn rule, "You break it, you own it." Now, he was making a point about the U.S. in Iraq, but Pottery Barn says it has no such rule. We'll give him a gift certificate so he can find out for himself.

For Tom Ridge, a gift certificate to Home Depot. He may want to stock up on duct tape, and maybe check out some new colors in the paint department. We're getting awfully tired of yellow.

Santa hasn't forgotten the Democrats, boys and girls. Senator Hillary Clinton's going to need a new pair of running shoes from Lady Footlocker. After all, she's got to run for re-election in New York in 2006, and keep those shoes in good condition for 2008.

She's got to keep up with John Edwards, who's getting a gift certificate to Carmax for a new pickup truck. He maybe a rich lawyer, but he's got to keep up with the good old boys if he expects to be become president.

Anything for Senator Clinton's husband? Well, after writing a 900-page book, Santa thinks Bill could use a pair of scissors from Office Depot to edit it for the paperback edition. We've lost enough trees already.

What does Santa have for John Kerry? How about a gift certificate to L.L. Bean where he can get himself a new duck call? We hear it may work for voters, too.

Former CIA Director George Tenet gets a gift certificate to Champs Sports, where he can pick up a new basketball. He needs to practice those slam dunks.

Santa's here in California, so he'd better get something for the governor. How about a gift certificate to Singer Sewing Machines where Governor Schwarzenegger can pick up a mending kit. Get it? "Amending kit." A little North Pole humor there.

And finally, Santa hasn't forgotten President Bush. The president is having a little problem with his suits. Remember that unsightly bulge in his jacket at the debate? What was that? Santa's giving Mr. Bush a free ticket to the Men's Wearhouse to take care of that problem, assuming a tailor can fix it.

So, boys and girls, don't be looking for Santa tonight. After all, why bother with a sleigh when you can do your Christmas shopping on the Internet? Santa is wired.

You heard it, from Bill Schneider, CNN, Malibu.


KING: And I think we'll take up a collection here to get Bill a certificate to the Mad Hatter. He needs a new hat.

It continues to spin, but a brief stillness is falling on much of the world. Coming up, trees trimmed, halls decked and candles lit. The nation's capital wrapped in the spirit of the season.


KING: The spirit of the season is everywhere in every possible form, especially here in the nation's capital. And who better to take us on a tour than CNN national correspondent Bruce Morton?


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Holiday time. A national Christmas tree on the Ellipse, a tree inside the White House, of course, and a gingerbread house with musicians on the roof. Maybe they're gingerbread, too. The building dresses up really beautifully for the holidays.

And if there's a tree on the Ellipse and a tree in the White House, you know Congress has to have a tree. Look how big it is, getting hauled in from Virginia. Look how tall it stands when it's up.

But it isn't just Christmas, of course. This is the national menorah. Music here, too, and a dreidel. That's a top used in a game played at Hanukkah, and people dancing, and the lights get lit.

And other folks are celebrating Kwanzaa, a holiday honoring African-Americans' heritage. That's private, but a national menorah, a national Christmas tree? What about this constitutional separation of church and state? American's united for that separation are somewhat critical.

BARRY LYNN, AMERICANS UNITED FOR THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE: I'd certainly get rid of from government spaces all of these obviously religious symbols, like nativity scenes, menorahs and other religious symbols and icons of the season.

MORTON: But Christmas trees? Sure, the carols are religious and Santa was St. Nicholas before he was Santa, but, hey, it's the season.

LYNN: I think in most communities, there's enough of a secular meaning for Christmas trees, although they are called "Christmas trees," that people can put that up even if they're sponsored by government.

MORTON: Why ever not? We Americans are a diverse people. We come from all over, different heritages, different traditions. Some will worship this holiday season in a variety of faiths. Some will shop until they drop celebrating things, not faith. Some will eat too much, or spend a quiet day with family and friends. Some will be welcoming family members back from or watching them go off to a war.

Americans of all kinds, seeking all kinds of happiness, these war-time holidays. Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


KING: And that's almost it for INSIDE POLITICS. But before we leave, a bittersweet good-bye in our unit. Libby Bates (ph) is an associate producer with the show and one of the major reasons INSIDE POLITICS runs so smoothly day after day, even with an amateur like me in the chair.

But she's leaving us to head out west. Libby (ph), we'd like to thank you for all your hard work, long hours, long, long hours, good luck. We'll miss you very much. I'm John King, from all of us here at CNN and INSIDE POLITICS, have a safe and a very merry Christmas. CROSSFIRE starts right now.


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