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NEWS FROM CNN

Senate Showdown; Amber Alert; Fight for Iraq

Aired May 18, 2005 - 12:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Building the World Trade Center, the Donald's way. Today, Donald Trump unveiled his own plan to rebuild the twin towers, making them stronger and one story taller. Trump says his design trumps the proposed Freedom Tower, which he has harshly criticized as inappropriate and what he calls a skeleton.
Among the most popular stories we're watching this hour on CNN.com, CBS is shaking up its prime-time lineup. Today the network it's canceling "Judging Amy," "Joan of Arcadia," and the Wednesday edition of "60 Minutes." So what does that mean for the future of Dan Rather on CBS?

Go ahead and read the details. Go to CNN.com.

Up first, the big story here in Washington, the Republican threat to rewrite the rules of the U.S. Senate to win confirmation of a cluster of President Bush's judicial nominees. At this hour, the historic debate has begun, and reflecting the harsh tone, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy has just accused the Republicans of what he calls -- and I'm quoting now -- "religious McCarthyism."

Watching all the fireworks up on Capitol Hill, our congressional correspondent, Joe Johns -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, certainly some strong words on the floor of the United States Senate through the morning. On the floor right now, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who has been leading this fight on the Republican side. As a matter of fact, the nomination being debated right now is Priscilla Owen of Texas. She and the other nominee, Janice Rogers Brown, who have both been held up as a focus of all this were on Capitol Hill during the last 24 hours.

Now, Owen was nominated four years ago by the president. That nomination blocked, then re-nominated this time around.

Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, is demanding a simple majority vote, while Democrats want to preserve the right to block judicial nominations they oppose by filibuster.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: I rise for the principle that judicial nominees with support of the majority of senators deserve up-or-down votes on this floor.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JOHNS: Negotiations do continue behind the scenes to try to head off the so-called nuclear option or a vote on the Senate floor that would end the judicial filibuster. Meanwhile, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, for example, has also offered a proposal of his own. There's some talk that that proposal might be something some other senators want to talk about.

Meanwhile, Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, has also asked for all senators to meet in the old Senate chamber away from the cameras to try to talk this thing through.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: I would ask my distinguished friend, the Republican leader, to consider joining with me and having in the next day or so, hopefully today, to have all of us retire to the chamber. Sit down and talk through this issue, and see if there is a way that we can resolve this, short of this so- called nuclear option.

I think it would be good for the body. I think it would be good for the American public to see that we are able to sit down in the same room and work things out. And I'm not sure that we could, but I think it would be worth -- worthy of our efforts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: We do expect debate on all of this to continue throughout this day, and perhaps the whole week. Next week, very early, Tuesday or Wednesday, we're also hearing that's when the first task vote on getting rid of the filibuster for judicial nominations may come.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: I read something interesting I wasn't familiar with, Joe, in "The Washington Post" this morning, a long article on the arcane parliamentary maneuvers under way right now. One suggesting that the Senate parliamentarian says that in order to really change the rules to end the use of the filibuster to defeat the judicial nominees, 60 votes to defeat the filibuster, you really need to change the rules, you need a two-thirds majority of the Senate, 67 votes.

I'm not sure if the parliamentarian has issued such a ruling. It seems to be some sort of dispute that's going on right there. It's unlikely that the Republicans could get 60, let alone 67 votes.

JOHNS: Right, the Senate parliamentarian, of course, is not someone we've been able to interview on this. Of course, referred to by Republicans who disagree with his views as a staffer. But Democrats have pointed to the parliamentarian's apparent position on this as evidence that what Republicans are doing is going outside the existing Senate rules in order to try to change the rules. That, of course, is one of the sort of undercurrent debates going on here on Capitol Hill -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll continue to watch this debate unfold. The stakes for all of us clearly enormous, not only the circuit court judges, but potentially a Supreme Court justice or two, perhaps three down the road. We'll watch this story unfold.

There's new and disturbing information today about the president's trip abroad last week. The president and the president of Georgia addressed a huge crowd in Tbilisi's Freedom Square. The U.S. embassy in Georgia now confirms a grenade found about 100 feet from the stage was actually live, not inactive as Georgian officials previously insisted.

And the U.S. embassy says the grenade had been wrapped in cloth and thrown. The grenade apparently failed to explode because of a malfunction. We'll continue to watch this story as well.

Now the search for two children who simply vanished from a home in Idaho where a horrible crime occurred. Still no sign of Dylan and Shasta Groene or the family acquaintance authorities want to talk -- another family acquaintance, plus someone else that authorities now want to talk to.

Standing by live with the very latest, CNN's Sean Callebs. He's joining us in Idaho.

Sean, what do we know? What happened, and where the investigation stands right now?

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, basically, this is the third day that investigators have been looking into this crime. Authorities were first called to the home a couple of hundred yards behind me Monday evening local time around 6:00.

Now, some new developments overnight. They are looking for what they term a person of interest.

His name is Robert Roy Lutner, he is 33 years old. All authorities are telling us is this is somebody of interest. They're not calling him a suspect at this time. Apparently, an acquaintance of the family that lived here on the outskirts of Coeur d'Alene, and he was somebody who was apparently at the house before the crimes were committed.

Now, when authorities were called to the house they found three bodies. That of 40-year-old Brenda Groene, her 13-year-old son, Slade Groene, and Mark McKenzie, said to be the boyfriend of Brenda Groene.

Now, it was six hours later when authorities learned that the two children, 9-year-old Dylan and 8-year-old Shasta, were apparently missing after talking with friends and family of the victims. Now, an Amber Alert has been issued. The signs are up across the nation. We can tell you we've seen those on the interstate near here.

Dylan is said to be about four foot tall, 60 pounds. He has a blond crewcut and blue eyes.

Shasta a very slight child. She's about 40 pounds, a little bit under four feet tall, auburn hair and hazel eyes. The FBI is assisting the Kootenai County sheriff's office in the search for these children. They're looking in Washington State, parts of Canada, Montana, all throughout this area.

Now, the sheriff has told us it was a very brutal crime. They're not saying how the three victims were killed. Autopsies are being performed on those three, and they hope to have some information later today.

At this point, authorities say they have simply been stumped. They don't know where to look.

They say that's very rare in a case like this. Usually they have somewhere they can turn. They have talked to the biological father. They said he is someone who is not a suspect. Wolf, they say that he is simply emotionally devastated at this time.

BLITZER: Understandably so. Sean Callebs with the latest on this story. We'll continue to watch it, together with you, Sean. Thanks very much.

A senior Iraqi government official is gunned down in Baghdad, the latest victim in an escalating campaign of violence. One senior U.S. military official blames the new wave of violence on the terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. A new audiotape believed to be from al-Zarqawi was posted on several Web sites today justifying the killing of innocent Muslims.

Our Ryan Chilcote is on duty for us in Baghdad. He's joining us now live with more -- Ryan.

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Wolf.

Well, the U.S. military is increasingly concerned about the state of the insurgency and the level of violence we have seen in Iraq recently, coming out with some new figures, saying that since February -- since April 28 -- that is when Iraq's most recent government was formed -- nearly 500 Iraqis, mostly innocent civilians, have been killed. And the U.S. military is increasingly blaming Iraq's most wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, for being behind it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHILCOTE: A senior U.S. military official says Abu Musab al- Zarqawi, Iraq's most wanted terrorist, ordered insurgents associated with his terror network to increase their use of car bombings. The military, according to the official, has intelligence that Zarqawi's lieutenants spent last month in Syria. It is not clear if Zarqawi was present at the meeting, but the military believes he gave the order to his lieutenants to include car bombings in their daily operations.

Before, the official said, car bombs were used normally for spectacular attacks, like this assassination of an Iraqi government official last year filmed by insurgents. Just after the reported meeting in Syria, Baghdad was awash in bombings. On this day, 11 car bombs went off before lunch. According to new data on attacks in the Iraqi capital, there were twice as many car bombings in the last two-and-a-half months alone than there were in all of last year. The official called last month Iraq's most violent since the offensive in Falluja.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHILCOTE: Wolf, the military says there are some encouraging signs. In particular, they say that they've seen a relative lull in the violence here in Iraq over the last few days.

They are also saying that they've gotten some good intelligence from recent U.S. military offensives, including that Operation Matador that just concluded last week. But they are concerned that they are up against an enemy that has shown an ability to both learn and adapt -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A quick question on yesterday's meeting in Baghdad that you reported on. The Iranian foreign minister visited Baghdad. Iran, as many of our viewers will remember, one of the charter members of President bush's "axis of evil," together with the Saddam Hussein regime and North Korea.

Yesterday, the foreign minister of neighboring Iran meets with the Shiite-led government leadership of the new Iran. What's the relationship, what's the fallout from the Iranian rapprochement, if you will, the improved relationship between Baghdad and Tehran?

CHILCOTE: Very good question. Interestingly enough, some of the officials here in the Iraqi government believe that Iraq might be able to serve as a bridge between Iran, its new partner, if you will, thanks to that visit, and the United States.

The United States, for its part, is still expressing skepticism, still blaming Iran for not policing its border with Iraq well enough, and in some cases even encouraging fighters to come across that border into Iraq to destabilize the situation here. But some Iraqi officials, quite interestingly, yesterday saying maybe Iraq can serve as a bridge between the United States and Iran -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what the reaction is to that here in Washington. Thanks. Ryan Chilcote reporting from Baghdad. Appreciate it very much.

His freedom in exile prompted a protest of literally hundreds of thousands of people, and a call for justice from the Cuban president, Fidel Castro. Did the U.S. government cave into pressure and arrest Luis Posada Carriles? I'll take a closer look at this developing story.

Plus this...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just like it was yesterday. I close my eyes and relive it, every second of what happened. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Reliving Mount St. Helens, 25 years later. We'll go in-depth.

You're watching NEWS FROM CNN, and we're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Let's take a quick look now at some news around the world.

Negotiators from North and South Korea will meet for a fourth straight day tomorrow, and the stakes clearly very high, with concerns mounting that the north may be preparing to test a nuclear weapon, something they've never done before. South Korea is pushing Pyongyang to rejoin six-party talks, together with the U.S., Russia, China and Japan.

Seeking an apology. American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson is in Mexico City right now meeting with the Mexican president, Vicente Fox. Last week, Fox said Mexican immigrants in the U.S. take jobs -- and I'm quoting now -- "that not even blacks want to do." He's since expressed regret over those remarks.

And meeting the pope. Bob and Mary Schindler, the parents of the late Terri Schiavo, met briefly with Pope Benedict XVI today in St. Peter's Square. The Schindlers thanked the Vatican for its supports in their unsuccessful fight to prevent removal of their daughter's feeding tube.

In limbo. The Bush administration still hasn't decided what to do with Luis Posada Carriles. The elderly Cuban exiled leader was picked up by federal gents yesterday just hours after hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Havana demanding the U.S. take direct action.

CNN's Susan Candiotti picks up our story in Miami.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Weeks after sneaking across the border from Mexico and going into hiding in Miami, fugitive Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles was whisked away by U.S. Homeland Security agents. The former CIA operative is wanted in Venezuela as a suspected terrorist. He was taken into custody not long after his supporters used cloak-and-dagger techniques to drive reporters to an apparently not so secret warehouse in Miami where Posada could explain his recent request for political asylum.

"No, I am not a terrorist," he says. "They would disappear me, get rid of me," Posada says.

Cuba and Venezuela have been after Posada for decades over his alleged role in blowing up a Cuban airliner in 1976, killing 73 people. "I had nothing to do with it," Posada said, again denying any part in the terrorist attack. Yet, recently declassified material from the National Security Archives raised doubts about Posada's denial.

"Some plans regarding the bombing of Cubana Airlines were discussed in Caracas, Venezuela," says one FBI document. "Posada Carriles was present."

Posada refused to take any questions about his alleged role in a series of Havana tourist hotel bombings in 1997. One Italian tourist was killed.

Posada told an American newspaper he planned the attacks, then later claimed he lied. In 2000 Posada was convicted in Panama with two others of hatching an assassination plot against Fidel Castro. Panama's president pardoned Posada when she left office.

I'm not renouncing violence. I'm a soldier, Posada said. Cuba's Fidel Castro staged massive demonstrations in Havana Tuesday, accused the U.S. of hypocrisy for harboring a terrorist and called Posada a monster.

"Do I look like a monster?" Posada asks. After his arrest, Cuban officials question whether the Bush administration would "help an old friend or turn him over." Posada's longtime supporters in Miami call him a hero, not a terrorist, for opposing Castro. They're angry he was swept up by authorities.

SANTIAGO ALVAREZ, POSADA SUPPORTER: I am upset because they did at the moment when Castro was making a big show in Havana, and it looked like the United States is trying to appease the Cuban dictator.

CANDIOTTI: Many questions remain. Posada is said to be on a terror watch list. Why pick him up now, weeks after he admitted crossing the border illegally and filing an asylum claim? U.S. law enforcers will only say they are reviewing his immigration status. They have no arrest warrant charging Posada with any crimes.

(on camera): If Posada's asylum claim is rejected or withdrawn, is it virtually assured he would not be sent back to Cuba. Officials say he might be allowed to leave for another country that would take him in. Homeland Security officials say they have two days to decide what to do with him.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's get some perspective, further perspective now from someone who knows this story quite well. Andres Oppenheimer is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the "Miami Herald," he's the author of the book "Castro's Final Hour."

Andres, thank you very much for joining us. Give us your sense -- first of all, is Posada a terrorist? ANDRES OPPENHEIMER, COLUMNIST, "MIAMI HERALD": Wolf, at the very least, we heard it from his own voice just now. He doesn't renounce violence, he thinks violence is a -- possibly, you know, a useful means to overthrowing the Castro regime.

What we know is that FBI documents link him to a -- to the downing of a Cuban jet liner in 1976, where 73 people died. And what we know, as the "Miami Herald" found out from him earlier this week in an interview, is that he doesn't disown the bombings in 1997 in Cuba where an Italian tourist died. So he's definitely a suspected terrorist.

BLITZER: The -- he does deny any involvement in the downing of that Cubana Airline, right?

OPPENHEIMER: He does. But on the other hand, he's been saying so many things and then denying them afterwards, and then saying it was all a ploy, that he's hardly a credible person to take at his worth. So whatever he says or doesn't say has to be taken with a grain of salt, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. The Bush administration facing an enormous dilemma right now, what to do with this man. What is your sense? What should the United States government do with him?

OPPENHEIMER: Well, what I'm going to write for my column tomorrow, Wolf, is that I think if the Bush administration is smart -- and that's not always the case -- but if it were smart in this case, it could use this and turn the tables on Castro, and turn it from a propaganda-defeating to a propaganda victory.

What do I mean by this? Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, are turning this into a major propaganda bonanza. They're saying, here we have the U.S., allegedly the world champion against terrorism, harboring a terrorist. This is hypocritical, this shows the U.S. is not serious.

Now, if the Bush administration wanted to turn this into a propaganda victory, what it should do is deport Mr. Posada Carriles, perhaps not to Cuba, not to Venezuela, not a country where he would be fried by a kangaroo court, but to another country that would take him, and then turn the tables on Fidel Castro and say, now it's your turn to arrest and deport the 77 terrorists and other lawbreakers that Cuba is harboring that the FBI is looking for, and the hundreds of other international terrorists that are living a peaceful and happy life in Cuba, which by any international standard has become sort of a Club Mediterranean (ph) for international terrorists.

BLITZER: Well, what other country would be an option? If you're not going to send him back to Cuba, not send him to Venezuela, which is run by, as you say, President Hugo Chavez, who is a close ally of Fidel Castro, where do you send him? What are -- what are the options?

OPPENHEIMER: There are two options, Wolf. If he's deported on illegal entry into the U.S. charges, then he could be deported to one of the Central American countries from where he came from, and Mexico, of course.

He was pardoned in Panama, went from there to Honduras, from there to Guatemala, allegedly from there to Mexico. There could be a legal way to get any of these countries to take him and deport him there.

The other alternative, if he is charged on terrorism charges, then he could be deported to Italy. Remember the Italian tourist who died we just talked about. If Italy requests his presence in Italy, then the U.S. could theoretically deport him to Italy.

BLITZER: Any indication the Italian government is even looking for him?

OPPENHEIMER: Well, we are hearing, Wolf, that the U.S. State Department and other branches of the U.S. government are actively talking with many countries looking for somebody to take him in. They want -- they're very tight-lipped. They're not saying who will or who's even willing to talk about it, but they have until tomorrow to decide it, and I wouldn't be surprised if by tomorrow we hear from a country that voluntarily takes accepts to take him in.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens. Andres Oppenheimer of the "Miami Herald," a columnist there. Thanks, Andres, very much for your perspective.

OPPENHEIMER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Putting their heads together for a common cause, baseball and other major league sports officials join lawmakers in search of a steroid testing policy fit for all. Hearings under way on Capitol Hill right now. Our Bob Franken is watching what's going on, and we'll have details when the NEWS FROM CNN continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to NEWS FROM CNN. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Steroids in sports. As usage continues, so does the debate, especially here in Washington, on setting up a uniform drug testing policy for professional athletes around the country.

Our Bob Franken is up on Capitol Hill today, where hearings are under way.

Update our viewers, Bob, on what exactly is going on in Washington.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you know, Wolf, the steroid or anti-steroid bandwagon is one that has been rolling through Washington for the last couple of years, and certainly this year. And there is now legislation which would provide standardized anti-steroid, steroid testing for all major league sports. It would be very, very severe. It would require random testing for each athlete. It would come up with a two-year suspension the first time there was a violation and a lifetime suspension the second time.

Well, the different heads of the leagues are up here testifying today, baseball, basketball, hockey, and their players' representatives. All of them are saying that they don't believe that Congress should be dictating with a one-size-fits-all policy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUD SELIG, MLB COMMISSIONER: So I hope the forgoing makes clear Major League Baseball has demonstrated and continues to demonstrate a willingness to deal with the issue of performance-enhancing substantives, without the need for federal legislation.

At the same time, however, I would not resist federal legislation if Congress continues to believe that a uniform standard for all sports is necessary.

REP. CLIFF STEARNS (R), FLORIDA: Those with a vested interest in the performance of the players and leagues to simply police themselves. This complex in a large scale problem demands a more harmonized approach.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKEN: But even that subcommittee chairman Cliff Stearns says that his proposal is just a starting point, that if major league sports can come up with some sort of policy that satisfies a desire to police steroids, perhaps this legislation can go away.

It's an issue whose time has come, Wolf. There's been a lot of publicity about this. There's a competition, of course, that is bitter in the different sports but there's also a competition among the politicians to be the one who's the hero in this battle -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll watch it together with you, Bob Franken. Thanks very much for that report. Filibusters and so-called nuclear options, everyday catch phrases in an ongoing standoff on Capitol Hill. But what exactly do these terms mean, and what are the stakes involved? Is all the debate among angry senators little more than political posturing for public consumption? I'll go inside with our political analyst. That's coming up.

First, though, let's once again check some of the more popular stories this hour on CNN.com. A Hitchcockian tale of horror in Houston, like a scene from the birds. Large back drakels (ph) are swooping down and attacking people's heads, hair and backs. You want to know more about this scary story? Yes? Go to CNN.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Perhaps not since the Clinton impeachment has official Washington been so at odds, and the heated debate in the Senate over the future of the tool called the filibuster is spilling out across the land. From television ads to newspaper columns to blogs to talk radio, why all this noise? Is it really all that important? Here to discuss that, two political analysts. Stuart Rothenberg is the editor of "The Rothenberg Political Report" here in Washington, and in L.A. today, our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Let's start with you, Stuart. Is this all politics, inside-the- beltway gibberish, or are the stakes really significant for rank-and- file Americans across the country?

STUART ROTHENBERG, "THE ROTHENBERG REPORT" Both, Wolf. Yes, there are some inside-the-beltway politics, but I think it has significant impact beyond the beltway, to the country as a whole. I mean, this is basically about the Supreme Court, and when we get a Supreme Court nomination down the road -- over the next couple years, we could get multiple nominees -- how the Senate's going to deal with them.

BLITZER: If the Senate will confirm a supreme court nominee with 51 -- or 50 to 51 votes, as opposed to 60, which would be the rule if there was a filibuster.

ROTHENBERG: Right, this is all about process. And normally, folks in the real world, outside the beltway, don't care very much about process, but I think they do care about the result of the Supreme Court and how the Supreme Court rules on controversial issues. The process here is very important.

BLITZER: The Supreme Court is very important. We all know that decisions made, 5-4 decision among the nine justices could have enormous ramifications for 10, 20, 30 years down the road, and even longer. Having said that, the circuit court of appeals, the circuit court judges, they are very important too, because very often nowadays the Supreme Court decides not to hear arguments on specific, very sensitive issues. So the circuit court judges are very, very important, the judges for the 13 courts of appeal?

ROTHENBERG: Oh sure, you're absolutely right. Except in very particular cases that the Constitution stipulates, the Supreme Court doesn't have to hear cases. You don't have a right to a supreme court review. So the upper appellate federal courts are very critical in making some final decisions, but I think a lot of this involves the process when we do get a Supreme Court nominee.

BLITZER: Let me let Bill Schneider weigh in. There's some thought, Bill, that this is turning out to be a macho kind of fight between the Republicans and the Democrats, the Republicans, especially, the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, not wanting to show any weakness, not backing down, look down the road, not only to the Supreme Court battle or battles that might develop, but also into the 2000 presidential campaign. Give us your thoughts on that?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POL. ANALYST: Well, it certainly does look like a high-stakes poker game, where each sides claims to have the cards, but nobody knows who is bluffing here. Certainly the Majority Leader Senator Frist is proceeding as if he's got the votes. He claims it'll be just the majority of votes to set a new precedent that would not allow the filibuster of judicial nominees. There have been attempts to work out a compromise, but so far really they have been reject.

So each side is claiming they have the votes. And you know, I don't think anyone really knows, it really is a high-stakes poker game.

BLITZER: Stuart, have you done some head counting to see who's got the votes?

ROTHENBERG: Oh, I don't think anybody knows if they have the votes. I think Bill is exactly right. Everybody is bluffing here. This is not the game where you say, I don't have the votes, but I'm going to proceed anyway. I mean from the majority leader's point of view, Senator Frist's point of view, there is an element of party that wants him to move forward on this test, even if he were to lose. But he thinks he has a very decent chance of winning. But it's way too close. There are a handful of senators. We don't know about Senator Collins, and Senator Hagel and a number of others.

BLITZER: The argument that a lot of Democrats make, Bill, is that this is not just a procedural parliamentary battle that's unfolding in the Senate. At stake are issues such as abortion rights for women, prayer at schools, the Ten Commandments, lots of the social issues that could be adjudicated, if you will, by a future supreme court. Is that a fair argument?

SCHNEIDER: This that is very much a fair argument. And the issues that you mentioned, as well as same-sex marriage, are among the most divisive, the most explosive issues in American politics. Many of them have been decided by a 5-4 margin. If you want a classic 5-4 vote, how about Bush V. Gore, the vote that made George W. Bush president in 2000. Lots of decisions on hot-button issues, like the ones you've mentioned, come down by the narrowest of margins. So anything that changes the balance in U.S. Supreme Court could really change a lot of things in American life.

BLITZER: You want to weigh?

ROTHENBERG: I simply wanted to add, Wolf, that if you want to know who to blame ultimately for this confrontation that we have now, I think you can almost make the argument that can you blame court, because the court got us into these kinds of issues in the late '60s and early '70s. Before that, when you and I didn't have so much gray hair, we didn't talk about these issues. But the court decide these issues were relevant and individual rights needed to be protected. And so now they've gotten into the whole other area.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Bill, and I'll add one point. But, go ahead, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: That's exactly what's got conservatives upset, because they say the court has overreached. It's overextended. It's become a judicial activist, the court. And they say we want to curb the court they have broken the separation of power by legislating in too many areas. But Democrats say, no, we want to protect the separation, that the Congress is reaching too far. They used the Terri Schiavo case as an instance where Congress, in their view and the view of many Americans, try to cross over the lines and direct the courts to do a certain thing. And the courts refuse to go along.

BLITZER: Hasn't the Supreme Court, Stuart, always, though, been involved in shaping actual policy? Brown v. Board of Education 1954, ending segregated schools. Did the court go too far in that particular decision?

ROTHENBERG: Well, I don't know about a particular decision, Wolf. Everybody has their own opinions about the decisions. But I think you're generally right, that the court has sought to expand its role in interpreting law and interpreting the Constitution. And Americans have conceded the right to the court do that. So I don't -- the American public is, too, somewhat at fault. They looked to the court to do these kinds of things. And we're in the situation now where Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, agree that the court has such an important role in deciding what our rights are that now everything's a political fight.

BLITZER: What's at stake here for President Bush, Bill?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it's very important, because he wants to leave, as part of his legacy, a change in the direction of federal courts. Now, Republicans have appointed a majority of members to the federal courts, but they haven't gotten the decisions that a lot of conservatives want. So they want to change the directions of the courts and the president claims that part of his legacy is going to be appointing people with a sympathetic to his judicial philosophy on those courts. And this is a crucial step in enabling that to happen.

BLITZER: Stu, the Democrats argue that what they're doing to try to block confirmation of these federal judges is no different, really, than what the Republicans did during the Clinton administration. They use a little slightly different tactical maneuver, but they prevented a lot of these Clinton nominees from even coming up for a vote on the Senate floor.

The Democrats using a slightly different maneuver to prevent Republican nominees from coming up on the floor. The Republicans saying no, that's totally wrong, what the Democrats are doing now is unprecedented and they're rewriting the constitution.

ROTHENBERG: Well, I would respond that I don't think the Democratic argument is entirely unreasonable, and frankly, Wolf, if you and I and Bill were sitting here three year, five years ago, and we talked about whether or not the Senate could filibuster nominees, I'll bet you we all would say, well, of course. I mean, that's what I was taught in graduate school. That's what was generally accepted.

So the Republicans are making a more fundamental argument, but I think the conventional wisdom, until this new argument they're making, was that Democrats or anybody could filibuster nominees. So it's all very political. Both sides are arguing principle, both sides are arguing Senate rules, both sides are arguing the Constitution. That is the political part of it.

BLITZER: All right. Well, unfortunately, have to leave it there. We'll watch to see how this debate in Washington falls out. But there's no doubt, and I think all three of us agree and most people who have looked at this, that the stakes for average Americans out there for years to come could be enormous, on how this debate unfolds one way or another. Stuart Rothenbergs, thanks very much. Bill Schneider on duty for us in Los Angeles today. Thanks to you, as well.

25 years later, remembering Mount St. Helen's. How that one event reshaped more than a mountain. That's coming up next, here on NEWS FROM CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Want to update our viewers on a story we were watching for the past few hours. A moment -- an attempted bank robbery and hostage drama have come to an end outside Kansas City, Kansas. Details still sketchy, but police say the suspect was shot and wounded at an airport. The alleged robber had apparently driven six hostages from the bank to an airport two miles away for what police say may have been a planned getaway. Police say the hostages were not harmed. We'll bring you the latest details, additional details, as they become available.

A moment of silence held about an hour ago to mark the exact moment of Mount St. Helen's devastating eruption. Hard to believe, but it's been a quarter of a century.

Our Peter Viles is joining us now live from the still active volcano with more -- Peter.

PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Still active and still rumbling, Wolf. This day 25 years ago is a day that people in this area of the country remember vividly. They remember not just the date, that it was May 18th, not just that it was a Sunday morning when the volcano erupted, but exactly what time it happened. It 8:32 in the morning 25 years ago today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the spot where Roald Reitan was sure he would die 25 years ago. In fact, he asked for death.

ROALD REITAN, SURVIVED ERUPTION: If it's going to kill me, I'm saying, "Just do it." You know, "Get it over with."

VILES: It started as a romantic camping trip, 19-year-old Roald, his girlfriend, Venus Dergen (ph). It's true, Mount St. Helens was acting up, but nobody thought this area was at risk.

(on camera): How far are we right now from the mountain itself?

REITAN: Forty-six miles as you go on the highway. VILES: Forty-six miles. So you're way in the safe area.

REITAN: Oh, yes.

VILES: Yes.

REITAN: I mean, I figured...

VILES: At least you thought you were.

REITAN: Yes. I mean, so did the (INAUDIBLE) anybody else.

VILES (voice-over): But on Sunday morning, May 18, 1980, the peaceful river told violent.

REITAN: When it was rumbling around the corner, it sounded like a monster coming through the forest.

VILES: The monster was a river made of mud, ash and trees, and suddenly, two scared teenagers.

REITAN: I told Venus to jump. I said, "Jump." You know, then we jumped. And I landed on a big log like you ride a horse, just -- and she went just right in between two of them and she was gone.

VILES (on camera): She went under?

REITAN: Yes. It's like gone. Like, you know, she was next to me one second when we jumped, and when I hit a log, you know, I looked at her, and I just saw her go right in between two of them. And I thought she was dead for sure.

VILES: Right.

REITAN: You know, and I thought I was going to be dead, too.

VILES (voice-over): Somehow, Roald steadied himself. Twice he grabbed his girlfriend, but twice the river took her back.

REITAN: Fear's ebbing from me, and now I'm getting mad. I mean, I'm really getting mad because it's like, you know, I found her twice. It's like -- and it's taking it away from me. It's like, no way.

VILES: The third time he held on.

REITAN: She was freezing. And I grabbed her by her shoulders and her hair and I pulled her out of it, all the way out. You know, and I was telling myself, "There's no way I'm going to let her go."

VILES: He held on for half an hour, fighting his way out of the torrent of mud.

REITAN: When we got out of it the ordeal wasn't over. You know? I mean, basically, the worst part of it was when we got out, because we had to walk all the way back. VILES: They stumbled in the woods for hours, rescued at least by helicopter. The pilot revealing to Roald what had happened that morning at Mount St. Helens.

REITAN: He looks right over at me, you know, because the other fellow's in between us. He looked at me and he goes, "You want to see what almost killed you?" And I said, "What?" And as he was like -- I was feeling the G forces of the thing going up and he spun it right around, and that's when I saw it.

VILES (on camera): You saw the mountain?

REITAN: Oh, yes. And it was just like a surreal steam engine. I mean, just the smoke going straight up.

VILES (voice-over): In an instant, Mount St. Helens had blown apart, killing 57 people, leveling hundreds of square miles of forest, scarring the landscape and those who survived.

REITAN: It's just like it was yesterday. I can close my eyes and relive it, every second of what happened.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VILES: An important footnote to that story, Wolf. So many people who were right near this mountain, or 20, 30 miles away, did not hear the eruption of the volcano. The sound sort of went straight up in the air and bounced out sideways. So you had people literally 700 miles away in Canada who heard a very loud explosion. There was one ship, 500 miles off the Oregon coast that heard it. In this immediate area, people didn't hear, because it the sound sort of went straight up. And now there's another one of the things that people remember about that day is that they didn't hear anything when the mountain exploded -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Peter Viles on the scene for us. Thanks very much for that report. Hard to believe, 25 years ago today.

"CNN's LIVE FROM" comes our way at the top of the hour. Joining us, as she does everyday, Kyra Phillips with a little bit of a preview -- Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Wolf.

Well, her family was murdered by a man who didn't like her decision. And today U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow went before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Not a dry eye in the room. She's asking for more protection from judges. We're going to tell you what happened.

Also little Samantha Runnion, her sexual assault and murder shocked the nation. Now new legislation is being introduced to protect all of our children from pedophiles. Samantha's mother, Erin, joins us live, coming up in just a few minutes.

BLITZER: Thanks, Kyra. We'll be watching. We'll take a quick break. More NEWS FROM CNN right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: I'll be back later today, every weekday, 5:00 p.m. Eastern for "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Among other thing, much more on the historic debate that has begun here in Washington in the U.S. Senate on judicial nominees and the use of the filibuster. Among my guests, two key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah and the Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York. That's coming up later today, 5:00 p.m. Eastern. Until then, thanks very much for watching NEWS FROM CNN.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "LIVE FROM" with Kyra Phillips and Miles O'Brien, that's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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