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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Celebrating the Iraq Vote; Will Iraq Vote Boost Bush Before SOTU Speech?

Aired January 31, 2005 - 15:29   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: Celebrating the Iraq vote.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I congratulate the people of Iraq on this great and historic achievement.

ANNOUNCER: A day after the election, does President Bush have a stronger hand heading into his State of the Union Address?

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MINORITY LEADER: We need an exit strategy so that we know what victory is and how we can get there.

ANNOUNCER: Democratic leaders argue the Iraq vote should be a turning point for U.S. troops even as they deliver a preemptive strike against the president.

The first step, but Iraqis have miles to go in their quest for democracy. We'll explore what's next.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Now, live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.

Now that the new Iraq's first election is over, the Bush administration is promising to stand with the Iraqi people as they press ahead with the democratic process. But at the same time, the White House is facing new pressure from Democratic leaders to outline an exit strategy.

Suzanne Malveaux is at the White House, our Ed Henry is on Capitol Hill.

Suzanne, to you first.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, really it's seen as a vindication from the White House and for President Bush's policy, the successful Iraq elections. We saw the president earlier today publicly attending a swearing in ceremony of his secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings. This is someone he is close to, a close domestic public adviser.

Of course privately the president was making phone calls reaching out to key allies, as well as those who are some of his harshest critics when it came to the Iraq war. President Bush early this morning spoke with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as well as French President Jacques Chirac and German -- German Gerhard Schroeder -- Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, rather.

The president, of course, also reaching out to the Iraqi leadership as well. The prime minister, Allawi, as well as Yawar, the president there.

The president, of course, trying to make the case here that the international community needs to be involved, also reiterating that the United States will remain there to help train Iraqi troops, Iraqi forces. But this, of course, has reinvigorated the debate of when U.S. troops will come home. The White House insisting that now is not the time to make that commitment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: In terms of setting timetables, I think the president has previously talked about timetables send the wrong message to the terrorists because all terrorists have to do is wait, and then they can plan and coordinate and prepare attacks around those timetables.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now, the president, of course, will make the case we are told that the successful Iraq elections really will embolden the case that he is going to make for his vision of bringing democracy around the world, that he believes it is a realistic vision. And Judy, this afternoon, the president, of course, working on that State of the Union Address that he will deliver on Wednesday.

We're told it is the 13th draft. He is in the family theater going over it several times this afternoon. Pushing again for the Iraq elections, Iraq's democracy, but also as well to domestic agenda -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Suzanne, thank you very much.

And now let's quickly turn to Ed Henry, who is at the Capitol.

Hi, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Judy.

Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Henry Reid, are applauding the Iraq election. But in a speech today, Senator Reid took the gloves off a bit. He said that it's now time for the U.S. to "figure out a way to remove ourselves from there with dignity." While Reid stopped short of an actual deadline for bringing U.S. troops home, he did slam the president's handling of the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REID: Because this administration's policies have left our troops stretched too thin, and shouldering far too much the burden, we need to add to our troop levels. We need to do this by making sure that our people, our military have enough soldiers to do the job both in Iraq and around the world in our war on terror. What this means is increasing our Army and Marines by at least 40,000 troops over the next two years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Reid made those remarks in a joint appearance with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a so-called prebuttal to the president's State of the Union Address on Wednesday evening. While Reid focused on foreign policy, Pelosi hammered away at the president's domestic agenda, zeroing in on Social Security.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Social Security does face problems down the road. We need to solve them. But we have the time to do it right. We can solve the long-term challenges without dismantling Social Security and without allowing the administration's false declaration of a crisis to justify a privatization that is unnecessary, unaffordable and unwise.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: The Republican National Committee responded today by calling Pelosi and Reid the new "democratic dynamic duo of obstruction." They charge that the Democratic leaders are being pessimistic about both the war in Iraq and the future of Social Security. So, Judy, two days until the actual state of the union, but the gloves already off, both sides sharpening their rhetoric, getting ready 48 hours out -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: So, Ed, what was that? The dynamic duo of what?

HENRY: Democratic dynamic duo of obstruction.

WOODRUFF: OK. Got it. All right. Ed Henry at the Capitol. Thanks very much.

HENRY: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: And a reminder -- and I want to thank both Ed and Suzanne Malveaux. But a reminder now to stay with CNN for complete coverage of the president's State of the Union Address and the Democratic response throughout primetime on Wednesday.

More now on the aftermath of the Iraq vote. I spoke a short time ago with Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, and a frequent committee of the president's Iraq policy. I started by asking him if Mr. Bush is correct to call the Iraq election a resounding success.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: ... or not in the Middle East, and whether or not the Iraqi policy will lead to a transformation. But nonetheless, it's a positive step, it's a hopeful step. And we also are hoping that the Iraqis who are brave enough to go out and vote will continue to display that bravery when it comes to participating in their own security forces which are really lagging and falling behind where they were supposed to be by now so that they could take care of their own security needs.

WOODRUFF: At the same time, Senator John Kerry is saying it's hard to call elections legitimate when whole sections of the country couldn't vote and didn't vote. Does he have a point?

LEVIN: I would not say that this election is illegitimate because of the violence or the decision by some Sunnis not to participate, even if they could have participated. I think it was a legitimate election which had some limitations. And we'll see what the impact of those limitations are in the weeks ahead.

We're going to see whether or not the people who won -- obviously it will be a Shia majority -- are going to be wise enough to reach out to the Sunni minority, to include them in a constitutional writing so that there truly can be a nation which protects all of the minorities. But I would say that the election was a plus, it was a positive step, but that we should be very careful that we understand that there are huge challenges ahead if that success is going to lead to other successes. And the most serious challenge, of course, is whether or not the security can be created in Iraq.

WOODRUFF: So is it a validation of Bush policy in Iraq or not?

LEVIN: Well, we'll know that probably in a few decades in terms of long term as to whether or not this, again, is a transformational or a transforming event. We're not going to know for maybe decades, literally.

Short term, it is an essential step to reaching at least the prospect of a democratic society. That step had to be taken with all of its flaws. There was no alternative.

Everybody was in favor of having an election, basically, regardless of whether people supported the president's policies or were critical of those policies, as I was and am, whether or not nations supported those policies or opposed those policies, every country in the world, perhaps, but one or two. And I think that everybody in this country believes that we had to take this step of elections.

WOODRUFF: Senator, you have said it's too early to talk about withdrawing U.S. troops, but your leader, Senator Reid, said today, "The U.S. needs an exit strategy so they know what victory is, so we know what we need to do and we know when the job is done." That sounds like beginning to think about an exit strategy.

LEVIN: Well, we always should have an exit strategy. We should have an exit strategy going in, as a matter of fact. That's one of the failures here, is that there was no exit strategy, there was no planning for the period after the original invasion of Iraq. So one of the many failures was the lack of that exit strategy. But most important, I believe, in reaching an exit strategy is what do we do in the interim before the exit to lead to an exit? And I believe it is essential that we find ways to end our status as an occupying power. And that means that we should look to this new government, which is going to be formed in the next few weeks, to invite the international community, including us, to be present in Iraq during this next year or two years.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Senator Carl Levin, who's a ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

We'll get a Republican take on the Iraqi elections and what comes next when I talk to Senator John Sunni of New Hampshire ahead.

Plus, where do Iraqi voters go from here? We'll look at the next phase of the democratic process.

And CNN's exit interview with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. How well does he think he performed the job of protecting America?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: I just spoke with a Senate Democrat, Carl Levin, about the situation in Iraq. With me now from Capitol Hill to share his views is a Republican, Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, just about everybody agrees the elections were a success. But as you probably heard Senator Levin say, what needs to happen now, they say, for an election to have any meaning, is for the Iraqi people to continue to stand up to the insurgents and for the Sunnis to be brought into the process. How do you measure ongoing success?

SEN. JOHN SUNUNU (R-NH), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, the next step is to draft a constitution, and that will require an inclusive process that includes Sunni representatives because, ultimately, 16 of the 18 provinces have to ratify that constitution, and there are a number of majority Sunni provinces. I believe the parties that were successful in the elections, both the secular and the more religious Shia, the Kurds as well, understand that they need a constitution that includes all of the Iraqi people, protects their rights, is tolerant of different points of view, different religions, in order for Iraq to be strong and to survive.

WOODRUFF: How hard is that going to be to do?

SUNUNU: It will be difficult. Putting together an interim government was difficult, conducting the elections yesterday was difficult. But the Iraqi people have shown most recently in the successful elections they're determination to see this process through, their determination to make sacrifices and make choices necessary to ensure a strong, viable government moving forward.

So the next step is writing the constitution. And from the United States' perspective, I believe that the new government and a stronger, credible government chosen by the Iraqi people will help accelerate the process of training Iraqi security forces in order to deal with the insurgents and also to enable U.S. forces to over a long period to withdraw.

WOODRUFF: Senator, the Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, is saying today that above all now there needs to be an exit strategy, among other things, he said, so we know when the job is done. Do you agree with him?

SUNUNU: Well, I don't agree with the premise that there isn't an exit strategy. There's been a process for withdrawing U.S. forces in place for well over a year now.

Choose an interim government, schedule elections, stick to the timetable for those elections, which many of those partisan Democrats were opposing tooth and nail for the past several months, get a duly- elected credible Iraqi government in place, write a constitution, train security forces so that the Iraqi people themselves will have not only a government of their choosing, and a constitution that they write, but security forces necessary to protect public security and to deal with any terrorist threats that might remain.

That's the process that will allow the United States to withdraw our forces, other coalition forces to be withdrawn. And in the end, we're going to have a strong, credible Iraqi government, a government that doesn't try to develop weapons of mass destruction, that doesn't provide a haven for terrorists, and that's not a threat to their neighbors. That has been the process and the exit strategy all along.

WOODRUFF: And what -- how long do you think it is going to take for Iraqi forces to be able to stand up on their own without the support of American troops?

SUNUNU: I don't know. I was asked that question yesterday, and my honest perspective is I don't know precisely what the timetable will be.

I'm not an expert in determining what level of training, how many weeks it takes, it is a six-week course, an eight-week course, a four- week course. Do you train 5,000 at once, a thousand at once. That's what our armed forces are there to do. That's the job that they should be focused on.

There were a lot of legitimate questions raised about the pace of training and the number of forces required during the confirmation hearings of Secretary Rice. I think she recognizes that this has to be a priority, not just in diplomatic terms and providing a diplomatic and economic assistance to get this job done, but, obviously, it's got to be the priority for our armed forces on the ground in Iraq as well.

WOODRUFF: Senator John Sununu, it's always good to see you. We thank you for being with us today. SUNUNU: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

WOODRUFF: Thanks a lot.

Well, now that Iraqis have cast their votes, when will the new government begin to take shape? Our Bruce Morton takes a look at the nuts and bolts of building this democracy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They voted. So where are we now, and what happens next?

Well, the counting will take a while. Iraqis voted Sunday to choose the 275 members of a transitional national assembly. No districts, not like the U.S. Congress, just one election nationwide. And they voted not for individuals or parties, but for one of 111 lists, mostly coalitions of various political groups or interest groups.

If your list got, say, 8 percent of the vote, that would entitle you to 8 percent of the 275 members of the assembly, or 22 seats, presumably the top 22 names on your list. Iraqis also voted for provincial councils, and the country's Kurds elected a separate (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But the assembly is the big deal.

(on camera): They should meet in late February or early March. They'll elect a presidency council, a president and two vice presidents. They in turn will appoint a prime minister, and he'll pick a cabinet, defense minister, foreign minister and so on. And they'll govern.

(voice-over): But the assembly's main job is to draft a constitution. In theory, they do this by August 15th. Then by October 15, Iraqis vote to accept or reject the constitution.

If they accept it, they then vote by December 15 to elect a permanent national assembly. And it takes office December 31. If they reject it, they elect a brand new transitional assembly in January 2006 and start all over again.

It was probably easier when Washington and Madison wrote ours.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Interesting to compare.

Well, the man who led one of the largest government reorganizations in U.S. history is stepping down. Coming up next, a conversation with outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. What has worked and what remains to be done? That when INSIDE POLITICS returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge delivers his farewell to the department later today. The massive agency was formed in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

CNN's Homeland Security correspondent Jeanne Meserve sat down on Friday with the outgoing secretary. She's with me now.

Jeanne, what did he have to say?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, Ridge says he views another al Qaeda attack as inevitable and is frankly surprised al Qaeda has not conducted suicide bombings here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Right now the only plausible explanation that I could offer you is that their intent and design directed to the United States, at least at this time, is to try to operate around a much more catastrophic event, rather than a couple single, more isolated events. But that's not to say that that very plan is not under some form of operational review by sympathizers either in this country or elsewhere.

MESERVE (voice-over): Ridge has been criticized in some quarters for not doing enough to secure critical infrastructure, ports, transportation. But there have been complaints that the department was too heavy-handed in securing the recent presidential inaugural. Ridge agrees.

RIDGE: I think we did fine, but clearly there were some areas we're going to have to recalibrate as we try to preserve the same level of security, but open the door even a little further in the future. And I feel pretty confident they'll do that.

MESERVE: Ridge was a congressman and governor before stepping into the homeland job. When I asked him if he might return to the public arena perhaps as a presidential candidate, he left the door wide open.

RIDGE: I'm going to take a little time off and find a job in the private sector. And then, you know, I'm obviously going to keep my head in the homeland security in the hope to help my successor, if he looks for the assistance, and do that.

And I enjoy politics. That's been part of my life. Whether or not I get actively back into it, I don't know.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Ridge has talked several times to Michael Chertoff, who, if confirmed, will replace him, telling Chertoff that the flow of information to DHS is still not what it should be and urging him not to let other agencies supplant DHS as the conduit of information to state and local governments.

Indications, Judy, that the turf wars are still raging here in Washington.

WOODRUFF: So, Jeanne, what about Michael Chertoff? What are his chances looking like? There were some stories over the weekend about advising the CIA about various interrogation methods with terrorism suspects. What are you hearing?

MESERVE: That's right. There will be questions about that, there will be questions about the Patriot Act, about detainees in the wake of 9/11. He'll get a lot of tough questioning, but everyone I've spoken to on Capitol Hill believes he will be confirmed. Those hearings will take place on Wednesday.

WOODRUFF: All right. Jeanne Meserve, saying good-bye, at least for now, to Mr. Ridge.

MESERVE: That's right.

WOODRUFF: Thanks very much. Appreciate it.

And be sure to tune in tonight for a special "NEWSNIGHT." They'll take a look at a town in New Mexico that is being used as a terrorist response training center. Catch "Terror Town" tonight at 10:00.

The most reliable news about your security.

He is back from pushing a plan on health care to a major TV interview over the weekend. John Kerry getting a lot of air time. Is this his first step in another run for the White House? I'll ask Ron Brownstein coming up on INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: It's just before 4:00 in the East. And as the markets get set to close on Wall Street, I'm joined by Christine Romans in New York with "The Dobbs Report."

Hi, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Judy.

Solid gains on Wall Street today helped by a couple of major merger announcements. With the final trades still being counted, the Dow industrials are adding 64 points, the Nasdaq is more than 1 percent higher.

Consumer spending rose eight-tenths of a percent last month. Personal income soared a record 3.7 percent. Now, that jump was largely due to Microsoft's dividend payment of $3 a share.

A merger today could mark the end of an era. SBC Communications confirms it agreed to buy AT&T for $16 billion. Now, AT&T was founded in 1875 right after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.

Ma bell handled nearly all of the nation's telephone calls before being broken apart by antitrust regulators in the early 1980s. SBC was one of the companies created from that breakup. No word yet on whether it will retain the famed AT&T name.

That wasn't the only big merger deal today. MetLife agreed to buy Citigroup's Travelers Life Insurance unit for nearly $12 billion. Now, including these two deals, there have been six major mergers in the past six weeks with a total value of nearly $180 billion. Among those deals: Procter & Gamble and Gillette, Sprint and Nextel and Johnson & Johnson and Guidant.

The country's largest insurer is paying up for its alleged bid rigging scandal. Marcia McLennan agreed to $850 million over 4 years to end an investigation by New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer into its pricing and fees. The money will go to insurance policy holders hurt by the alleged schemes.

Now this may be the biggest improvement to auto safety since the seatbelt. General Motors is making stability control systems a standard feature in all of its cars by the end of 2010. These systems help prevent roll-overs. Some experts call the technology life- saving, especially in SUVs, which have a higher risk of roll-over. G.M. will also place its OnStar communication systems in its vehicles, which helps passengers get help during emergencies.

Coming up on CNN at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," we begin our special week-long series "Outsourcing America." Tonight, outsource at your own risk. Indian software laborers have the reputation of being just as skilled as their American counterparts, but the truth is, the world's computer programming champions are found right here in the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACK HUGHES, FOUNDER, TOPCODER: I don't think it's necessarily a knock against India, but they haven't done as well as other countries in the upper echelon programming programs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Also tonight, Congressman Don Manzullo says IBM's billion dollar deal to sell its P.C. business to China is a potential threat to our national security. He'll explain tonight. Plus Senator Christopher Dodd is angry about the government's decision to hire a group that includes a European company to build the president's helicopter fleet. He says U.S. security should not be outsourced overseas. Senator Dodd joins Lou.

And Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez continues to alienate himself from the U.S. government. His latest move, a deal to sell oil to China. That and more tonight at 6:00 Eastern.

Now back to Judy Woodruff -- Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Christine, thanks very much. We'll be watching at 6:00. INSIDE POLITICS continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In great numbers and under great risk, Iraqis have shown their commitment to democracy.

ANNOUNCER: A major victory for President Bush, but will the political fight over Iraq march on?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president needs to spell out a real and understandable plan for the unfinished work ahead.

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIR CANDIDATE: I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for, but I admire their discipline and their organization.

ANNOUNCER: He's the front runner in the race to run the Democratic party. And today, he picked up a major endorsement. Can anything stop the Howard Dean juggernaut?

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Welcome back. Even many Democrats who have criticized the Bush administration's Iraq policy couldn't help but be moved by the Iraqi people's embrace of democracy. But one day after the vote and two days before the president's State of the Union address, some of those same Democrats are asking now what?

Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider considers where the Iraq debate goes from here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): The Bush administration finally got the pictures it expected when Saddam Hussein was overthrown. Iraqis dancing in the streets. They were celebrating democracy, the chance to control their own destiny. The election instantly changes the terms of the Iraq debate in the United States.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MINORITY LEADER: With yesterday's elections in Iraq, President Bush has a golden opportunity to change course.

SCHNEIDER: What exactly does that mean?

REID: Most of all, we need an exit strategy so that we know what victory is and how we can get there.

SCHNEIDER: Exit strategy has become the Democrats' new mantra. Last week, Senator Edward Kennedy went a step further.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: President Bush had immediately announced his intention to negotiate a timetable for a draw-down of American combat forces with the Iraqi government. At least 12,000 American troops, probably more, should leave at once.

SCHNEIDER: Most Democrats are more cautious. They avoid talking about timetables. SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I wouldn't do it precipitously, obviously. My hope is that if we do a better job of training, if the training is accelerated and other countries come to the table in the effort to provide and help provide long-term security, yes, we can begin to reduce American troops.

SCHNEIDER: The change of course Democrats want is from fighting to training.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: That means changing our military focus from combat operations to training the Iraqi army.

SCHNEIDER: Two weeks ago, Americans were asked whether a successful election in Iraq would allow the U.S. to significantly reduce the number of troops there. Most Democrats were pessimistic. They said, no, not for the foreseeable future. Republicans were more hopeful about troop reductions. Now, there's been a successful election in Iraq and the party positions have reversed. Democrats are talking about exit strategies. And Republicans?

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), FOREIGN RELATIONS CMTE: There's no talk among the administration now or indeed anywhere about an exit strategy.

SCHNEIDER: President Bush does talk about training Iraqi security forces. But notice the president's timetable.

BUSH: We will continue training Iraqi security forces so this rising democracy can eventually take responsibility for its own security.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Eventually? Democrats don't want to hear eventually. Their view is, OK, the election went well, great. Now let's talk about an exit strategy -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: But Bill, does the opinion of the Democrats really matter? I mean, it's the president who sets the policy, right?

SCHNEIDER: Well, they are the minority, they don't technically matter, but they can sustain this debate, and it looks like they're going to.

WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider. Thank you very much. While U.S. politicians do debate the meaning of the Iraqi vote, as you just heard, let's consider what it meant to the Iraqi people.

I'm joined now by Laith Kubbah. He is president of the Iraq national group, a Washington-based organization of Iraqi-Americans and Iraq exiles. Mr. Kubbah, good to see you again.

LAITH KUBBAH, IRAQ NATIONAL GROUP: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: What did this election mean to the Iraqi people, do you think? KUBBAH: It meant a lot. In fact, what we saw is a mass procession of millions of people who, across a psychological barrier, after 30 years after of being conditioned, of not doing anything, not even thinking, they actually took a step out, voted, and I don't think Iraq can ever go back to where it was.

WOODRUFF: And what next, though? I mean, the people have now expressed their hopes, their wishes for the future, but the steps that lie ahead are very difficult ones.

KUBBAH: Well, what has been set is a process. Now, the first step is an assembly has been elected. That assembly is asked to form a government, maybe address the shortcomings in the elections, which is in particular the low turnout amongst the Sunnis, and making sure they reach out and include them. They need to form an (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and effective government. But most importantly, they need to draft a constitution that will be inclusive, that will more or less build consensus within the country, and based on that, there will be another election by the end of the year and hopefully we'll have a permanent government by then.

WOODRUFF: Do you believe they will do everything you just described?

KUBBAH: I think it is possible. I think they need assistance and help. I do believe if it wasn't for the intimidation of the insurgency, the turnout would have been much higher. I believe there are more forces there now that are emboldened and empowered, in particular to support this process. So, yes, this is on the upbeat and I think Iraq is better today than it was six months ago.

WOODRUFF: What about the question of bringing in the Sunnis. As you said, they did not participate in the elections in the percentage, in the numbers that the Shia and the Kurds. What do you think the prospects are for bringing more Sunnis into the government?

KUBBAH: That is the real test for Iraq, Iraqis, and in particular, of the politicians who are going to be elected to the Assembly. If they're going to think in really short-sighted terms, narrow interests, just holding on the little power they have, it will be short-lived. But I think if they were to look at the big picture, they ought to reach out to include the Sunnis.

What the Sunnis want, at the end of the day, maybe some commitment about the withdrawal of foreign troops, but I think everybody realizes this can't happen now. It will lead to civil war. The second thing, they do look at, I think, a more influential role in the drafting of the constitution.

WOODRUFF: If not the withdrawal of foreign troops now -- you said that would be very bad for the process, when would it make sense to begin thinking about the withdrawal of U.S. troops?

KUBBAH: I think the conditions under which this would be considered is when Iraq has a strong army and a strong police force and basically strong state instruments. WOODRUFF: And today Americans are asking when will that be?

KUBBAH: Well, it all depends on the performance of the Iraqi government. I think Iraq cannot rebuild itself unless the political process is inclusive. So the first task facing the new government, Ayad -- Prime Minister Allawi today called for national unity, saying we passed an important hurdle, but we need national unity to complete this course. So Iraqis and their leaders are aware of the need to build that consensus, as I said, without which, we cannot build an army and other state institutions.

WOODRUFF: How much sentiment is there in Iraq, do you believe, for the American troops to leave?

KUBBAH: I think all Iraqis know that the American troops today are holding the gates of a rising tide. If they were to leave, that tide will flood them. There are many armed groups out there without a political process. It's dangerous if American troops leave Iraq today.

WOODRUFF: Laith Kubbah, who is with the Iraq National Group. We appreciate it. It's always good to have you on the program. Thank you very much.

Well, the Bush White House is portraying the vote as a victory for a nation long under Saddam Hussein's thumb.

Up next, how big of a political victory can President Bush claim after this vote? Analyst Ron Brownstein will weigh in on that.

Also ahead, the race for Democratic party chair in this country takes a new and somewhat surprising turn.

And John Kerry back in the spotlight and getting this by a Democratic activist with deep pockets.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: People attending a speech by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton today had a little scare when she suddenly complained of feeling weak, sat down and briefly fainted. Her press secretary says the former first lady is suffering from a stomach virus. Senator Clinton received medical attention on site, resumed her noon day remarks in upstate New York and then continued with her planned schedule. These pictures you're looking at now are from Senator Clinton's second stop at a college in Buffalo. We're told she's now on her way back here to Washington.

Howard Dean has picked up another key endorsement in the race to succeed Terry McAuliffe as chairman of the Democratic party. CNN's political editor John Mercurio updates all the latest developments.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN MERCURIO, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR (voice-over): If you're with Howard Dean, it's a race about redemption. HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN CANDIDATE: I love this stuff.

MERCURIO: If you're with Donnie Fowler, it's a race about reform.

DONNIE FOWLER, DNC CHAIRMAN CANDIDATE: The same people make the same mistakes every year, year after year and we're a minority party because of that.

MERCURIO: But whoever, you are, it's a race, of course about Republicans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got to play politics at their level. They have changed the game on us, everybody.

MERCURIO: Whatever it is, the race for DNC chair touched down over the weekend in New York where six candidates positioned themselves as the best alternative to Howard Dean.

TIM ROEMER, DNC CHAIRMAN CANDIDATE: We need a chair, ladies and gentlemen, that doesn't just only represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.

MARTIN FROST, DNC CHAIRMAN CANDIDATE: We're not looking for someone who is going to bring the House down and not worry about how you build the house up.

MERCURIO: Dean had his eye on another price.

DEAN: That's the big thing because I got to get through tomorrow.

MERCURIO: That big thing came through for him, an endorsement from the Association of State Democratic Chairs.

FOWLER: I'm Donnie Fowler. I'm going to be the next chairman of the Democratic National Party.

MERCURIO: Maybe but the Democratic chairs were expected to back Fowler, they didn't.

HOWARD: Then they started sending the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

MERCURIO: So Dean remains the frontrunner as his two strongest challengers strategist Fowler and former congressman Martin Frost pray for an 11th-hour shakeup like a big show of union support. Dean's other big New York coup, support from Hillary Clinton's top adviser Harold Ickes.

So is the senator herself with Dean?

Ickes says no.

HAROLD ICKES, CLINTON ADVISER: My advise to her is not to take a position in this race and others have been advising and she has not -- I have not consulted her about this. (END VIDEOTAPE)

MERCURIO: Another shakeup just a few hours ago in the race. Former Denver mayor Wellington Webb dropping out of the campaign. Not a major development in the sense that he had never been a top candidate but he was the only African-American in the campaign. There could be some fall out from that. The final vote set for February 12 -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And The Denver Post reporting that Wellington Webb will endorse Dean for chair. One other thing. You mentioned labor. When could that shoe drop here?

MERCURIO: Everybody is waiting for a labor council endorsement, the AFL-CIO getting together trying to unite behind one candidate. Howard Dean obviously hoping for that. Martin Frost also making a big pitch for labor I think as sort of a last attempt to reclaim the frontrunner status that he was hoping for.

WOODRUFF: So and if they did endorse Frost this race is still open.

MERCURIO: Still open. Dean probably still a slight frontrunner, but, yes, Frost would still be in the race.

WOODRUFF: The vote February 12.

MERCURIO: All right. John Mercurio. Thank you very much. Our political editor.

From the battle for party chair to the race for party nominee. Up next is John Kerry ready to make another run for the White House? His answer and more in our political bytes.

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WOODRUFF: Checking the "Political Bytes" on this Monday. Acting New Jersey Governor Richard Codey said today that he will not run for a full term later this year. And instead, he endorsed U.S. Senator and fellow Democrat Jon Corzine. Codey took office after Governor Jim McGreevey resigned amid a sex scandal. Corzine remains the only Democrat in the race, seven Republicans are also running.

Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold is showing some interest in the 2008 race for the White House. The Dayton Beach News-Journal reports that Feingold told the local civic club that he will base his decision on quote, "whether I feel I'll be the best candidate to win," endquote.

Senator John Kerry, meantime, on yesterday's "MEET THE PRESS," Kerry said he had lost to President Bush in November mainly because of the nation's response to the 9/11 terror attacks. As for his future plans, Kerry said, quote, "I will keep all my options open."

Billionaire investor and political activist George Soros has a different view as to why John Kerry lost in November. Soros, of course, donated millions to groups created to defeated George W. Bush. In an interview with Bloomberg News, Soros said Kerry should have embraced his anti-war past.

The Kerry team, in his words, quote, "tried to emphasize his role as a Vietnam War hero and downplay his role as an anti-Vietnam War hero, which he was. Had he admitted up to it, I think actually the outcome could have been different," endquote.

With me now to talk more about John Kerry as well as developments in Iraq is political analyst Ron Brownstein of The Los Angeles Times.

I was going to ask you first about Iraq but because we're talking about John Kerry, what is the significance of what he said yesterday, leaving the door open, and you know there's so many interpretations out there as to why he lost?

RON BROWNSTEIN, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES: You know, when Al Gore gave his first speech criticizing George Bush after the 2000 campaign, February of 2002, and here was John Kerry, you know, before the State of the Union...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, before the State of the Union, barely days after the inaugural on "MEET THE PRESS" with sort of a full-scale indictment which followed itself a speech on health care a few days earlier. It's extraordinary I think to see the defeated presidential candidate emerge so quickly as a voice for the opposition.

I think it tells us several things. John Kerry wants to be a force within the Democratic Party. He wants to keep open the option of running in '08, whether he actually does, it's a long way to there. And third, he understands that in order to keep that glass roots base that he built in 2004 involved and active, he's got to assume a leadership role and feed it, give it something to do. That is an asset that could, of course, be very valuable to him if he decides to run again.

WOODRUFF: So this is a smart move on his part, if he's interested in keeping the options open?

BROWNSTEIN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) temperature of the Democratic Party is and you can really see a lot of things that seem disparate falling into place, Judy, which makes the answer to your question probably yes. Every Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee votes against Alberto Gonzales as attorney general. Condoleezza Rice gets the largest vote against her of any secretary of state nominee in more than a century.

Centrist Democratic groups like the Democratic Leadership Council and Third Way say they will oppose President Bush on Social Security. Max Baucus, who was key on Medicare, says he won't play with President Bush on Social Security. All the pressure in the Democratic Party now is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a confrontational posture.

It's the fruit of the politics we're in. A 90 percent approval rating among Republicans for President Bush, but among, Democrats, 15 percent or less, a lot of pressure on party leaders to be in a very oppositional mode. And look what we're talking about today, Howard Dean emerging as the frontrunner all -- in the DNC race, all points in the same direction. John Kerry, I think is just another marker in a larger trend.

WOODRUFF: Not a lot of bipartisanship out there. Ron, let's talk about Iraq. We've been spending a lot of time looking at the meaning of these elections, the fact that there was a turnout over 50 percent, what it means for the Iraqi people. What about politically, though, for President Bush, does he get credit for these elections?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think the first thing, as everybody has said, it is a good day for the people of Iraq. And that is a good thing they've not had many good days amid all the violence over the last year. In the short-term, it's clearly wind in the sails of President Bush, carrying him into the State of the Union Address. He could really not have written a better backdrop for that.

But I think the history of what we've seen in Iraq, is that the political impact of any development in the U.S. depends on its impact on the ground in Iraq, whether it was the capture of Saddam, the installation of the interim government last summer, short-term benefit for the president. But if it didn't translate into long-term security improvement, those benefits literally bleed away. And I think we're in the same situation now. If this does help stabilize the security situation, it will help the president. If it doesn't, I think we'll revert to where we have been, which is growing doubts among the American people.

WOODRUFF: And what about the talk, even pressure from Democrats to do something about getting troops out of there?

BROWNSTEIN: President Bush is not in a position of listening to Democrats very much right now. You know, he beat John Kerry in the election. Republicans have a majority in the House and the Senate. You see this -- Judy, as you know, very polarized atmosphere, public opinion with Democratic voters increasingly moving to that position. I suspect you will see that drumbeat pick up a bit as the year goes on. But the Army has said it's planning to have large scale troop deployment all the way through 2006. The president says he's not pulling out until he feels the Iraqis are ready to defend themselves, that's not coming anytime soon. And Democrats frankly don't have the leverage to really change his timetable.

WOODRUFF: So I was just talking to Bill Schneider about this very thing, talking about whether the president even has to listen. He doesn't really have to listen to the Democrats.

BROWNSTEIN: On an issue like this, not really. I mean, I think, you know, right now the Democrats will have some leverage on some of the domestic policy issues where he needs 60 votes in the Senate. But on this sort of fundamental choice of foreign policy, he's feeling very empowered. He said, we had our accountability moment in November 2004. I don't really think he's looking for a lot of advice from Harry Reid on how to proceed in Iraq. WOODRUFF: Very quickly, you write today about the Bush team citing Democrats to sell his policies, and you go on with a list, both domestic and foreign policy, is this something that can work for the president's benefit?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I mean, he's trying. I mean, they've linked him to Woodrow Wilson on Democratic internationalism, Franklin Roosevelt on Social Security, and Bill Clinton on Social Security, those latter two a reflection of the basic situation. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) he needs Democratic support on Social Security in the Senate to get 60 votes, but also to encourage Republicans to take the difficult steps that might be necessary.

He says he's going to tell us more on Wednesday night of what he's for. I think the challenge for him, the more -- the details at this point, it's hard to see how they make the plan more popular. What he's put out already is the most popular idea in the package, the individual accounts that workers can invest on their own.

If he's got to explain, A, how he's going to pay for that, either with borrowing, taxes, or budget cuts; or B, if he's going to close the long-term Social Security shortfall with reductions in the growth of future benefits, it's hard to see how either of those make the plan more popular than it is now. And the way it is now, he's got a lot of resistance among Republicans.

WOODRUFF: Hmm, so working with the Democrats but not working with the Democrats. Ron Brownstein...

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: ... thank you very much. INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: That's all the time we have for today's INSIDE POLITICS. Thank you for joining us. I'm Judy Woodruff. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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