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Aruban Judge Arrested; Rumsfeld, Military Leaders Questioned; Karl Rove Remarks; Andrew Card Interview; Evan Bayh Interview

Aired June 23, 2005 - 15:30   ET


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: And any who say that we've lost this war, or that we're losing this war are wrong.

SEN. TED KENNEDY, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: Isn't it time for you to resign?

ANNOUNCER: New skirmishes over Iraq: lawmakers and Pentagon officials clash over the timing of a pullout, administration policy and the state of the insurgency.

The president's chief political strategist lets loose.

KARL ROVE, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF POLITICAL STRATEGIST: Liberals saw the savagery of 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding to our attackers.

ANNOUNCER: Will Karl Rove take it back?

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) CALIFORNIA: For him to try to exploit 9/11 for political purposes once again, just shows you how desperate they are.

ANNOUNCER: The chief of staff responds.

ANDREW CARD, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Karl Rove's speech was a speech that I think reflected some of the rhetoric that a lot of people feel.

ANNOUNCER: An exclusive interview with Andrew Card on the many challenges facing the Bush White House.

Now, live from Washington, CNN's INSIDE POLITICS.


DANA BASH, HOST: Thanks for joining us. I'm Dana Bash. We will have the day's political news in a moment, but first a new turn in the case of Natalee Holloway, the Alabama teenager missing in Aruba. The father of the 17-year-old suspect has been arrested. And CNN's Karl Penhaul has been following that and joins us now with the latest developments from Aruba -- Karl.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dana, about an hour and-a-half ago, prosecution service officials tell us that investigators arrested Judge Paul Van Der Sloot. He's the father of Joran Van Der Sloot, a 17-year-old who has already arrested in this case of the disappearance of Natalee Holloway.

Investigators haven't said anything more about the evidence they believe they have against the judge Paul Van Der Sloot, although this arrest does come after two days of questioning.

Paul Van Der Sloot was questioned by police on Saturday and Sunday. Though at that stage police said he was being viewed as a witness not as a suspect.

We have, however, talked to other law enforcement sources close to this investigation, and they say that at the least, they believe that Paul Van Der Sloot has been helping his son, Joran, cover up some of the story about how Natalee went missing -- Dana.

BASH: Karl, thank you very much. And I am sure we will get back to you soon as we follow these developments. Thanks, Karl.

And now we turn to Capitol Hill and a pair of tense hearings. Reflections of the current state of the political debate over Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the military brass faced lawmakers and a charge that U.S. troops are getting stuck in a quagmire.

Now, let's go to our congressional correspondent Ed Henry with the day's developments on those hearings -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Dana. As you know, Democrats in recent days have been ratcheting up their attacks on the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq. And today they returned to a frequent target: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who is here testifying to the Senate Armed Services committee.

Democratic Senator Robert Byrd gave a pretty good tongue lashing to the secretary who is known for barely hiding his disdain for questions from lawmakers. Senator Byrd said it was time for the secretary to get off his high horse -- in the words of the senator -- and start leveling with the American people about what happens happening on the ground in Iraq.

Also, Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy ran through a litany of alleged failures of the secretary. And then said isn't it time for you to resign?


KENNEDY: So you basically have mismanaged the war and created an impossible situation for military recruiters and put our forces and our national security in danger. Our troops deserve better, Mr. Secretary. I think people -- the American people deserve better. They deserve competency and they deserve the facts. In baseball, it's three strikes you're out. What is it for the secretary of Defense?

(END VIDEO CLIP) HENRY: The secretary responded by repeating what he said before, that he has already offered his resignation to the president on two previous occasions. He noted the president did not accept that resignation. So he believes he has the confidence of the commander in chief. And also, in his typically sharp style, the secretary disputed Senator Kennedy's claim that Iraq has become a quagmire. Also, the secretary said, that it is not true we are losing in Iraq. A claim made by this week not by a democrat, by a Republican, Senator Chuck Hagel. Rumsfeld also grew emotional today at the hearing when he talked about sacrifice of U.S. troops.


RUMSFELD: To all U.S. military personnel and their families who sacrifice white guardsmen and reservists are deployed in battle, I offer my fullest appreciation. And one day, all those who have made sacrifices on behalf of this cause, and the American people who support their important work, will find a place of honor in our country's history. And they will have won the appreciation and respect that they have richly earned.


HENRY: But even as the secretary was honoring that sacrifice, outside the hearing room, Democratic senator Patty Murray was jumping on new information suggesting that the Bush administration is struggling to take care of military veterans returning from Iraq. The Veterans Affairs Department today disclosed to Congress publicly that federal health funds are coming up short $1 billion in this current budget year. That basically dew in part to injured veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Republicans here on the Hill say that with some shuffling of funds they can basically take care of the short fall. But Democrats lead by Murray are demanding that Congress instead pass an emergency funding bill to deal with this budget crisis -- Dana.

BASH: And I am sure we will hear a lot more about that. Thank you very much.

And still ahead, we're going to find out what Vice President Cheney thinks of testimony today that seems to contradict his contention that the Iraqi insurgency is in his last throws. Wolf Blitzer will join us with the details of his interview -- exclusive interview -- with the vice president.

But the president's uberstrategist, Karl Rove, has given Democrats and the White House even more to argue about today. At issue, Rove's characterization of the Democrats' response to the September 11 attacks. Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux has more on Rove's remarks and the Democrats demand for an apology.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Karl Rove has created a fire storm in Washington by criticizing the liberal's response to the September 11 attacks. ROVE: Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war, liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding to our attackers.

MALVEAUX: These remarks have Democrats reeling. The president's chief political adviser made them Wednesday evening before New York's conservative party just a few miles from ground zero.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) NEW YORK: When I read his remarks, it turned my stomach. To say that right after 9/11, people of one political stripe wanted to fight terror, and the other sided with the terrorists, or sympathized with the terrorists, is beyond the pale.

MALVEAUX: Democrats noted that three days after the terror attacks, members of Congress were united in giving the president the green light to use military force against those responsible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No Senator has voted in the negative.

MALVEAUX: Now Democrats are presenting a letter to Rove demanding he retract his statement and apologize within the next couple of days, otherwise they will ask Mr. Bush to seek Rove's resignation.

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG, (D) NEW JERSEY: He can only have one reaction, and that is to ask Rove to get out of his office.

MALVEAUX: White House aides readily defended his statements, and say that Rove has no intention of backing down.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Karl was pointing out the differences that exist in how we approach the war on terrorism.

MALVEAUX: During the 2004 campaign, President Bush used a line similar to Rove's to imply that he would do a better job of fighting the terrorists.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can't reason with these people. There's no need to negotiate with them. Therapy is not going to work.

MALVEAUX: But Democrats say the timing of Rove's remarks reflect a growing concern within the Bush administration over recent polls that show U.S. support over the Iraq War and the president's job performance slipping.

PELOSI: And for him to try to exploit 9/11 for political purposes once again just shows you how desperate they are.


MALVEAUX: Now, the White House is engaged in an aggressive campaign to counter those negative images that are coming out of Iraq by balancing them with positive stories of political progress in Iraq. Tomorrow, President Bush will host Iraq's prime minister here at the White House to reiterate that message -- Dana.

BASH: Suzanne, thank you very much.

And of course, the White House is also coordinating a defense of Karl Rove's comments, even agreeing with them. And up next, our exclusive interview with chief of staff Andy Card on Rove's remarks. And why the president is losing support on Iraq and much more. And we will get a Democratic response on Iraq and talk presidential politics with Senator Evan Bayh.

And later, the president portrays Iraq as part of the war on terrorism, but Americans see it differently.


BASH: Well, as we've been reporting, there were comments today on Capitol Hill that conflicted with Vice President Dick Cheney's statement that Iraqi insurgency is in its last throes. The top military commander in Iraq said that the insurgency is undiminished.

I spoke earlier today with White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and asked him about this and the fact that even some Republicans, like Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, say the White House is disconnected from reality on Iraq.


ANDREW CARD, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I disagree with Senator Hagel's observations. I actually think the path to democracy in Iraq is a path where we are making great progress. And I think that's what the vice president was talking about. You know, the insurgents are looking to have a haven, a safe haven, where they can plan attacks and do dastardly things, not just in Iraq, but outside of Iraq. And the march toward democracy in Iraq is going to prevent them from doing that.

And we know that there will be a constitutional process. And August 16th, the people in Iraq will have a constitution that they will be able to look at. They'll be able to vote on it in the fall and then they'll be able have presidential elections and constitutional elections. And I think that's what the vice president was talking about.

BASH: Secretary Card, I want to read some recent poll numbers on U.S. support for the war in Iraq. Now it is at 39 percent. In March, just a few months ago, it was at 47 percent. That's very different from 2003, when it was at 71 percent. Why do you think the American people have soured on Iraq?

CARD: Well, I see -- some of the images that they see on TV are not comforting images and we don't like those images, and we know that the work of democracy is hard and the efforts that are undertaken by our troops are met with resistance, and we're fighting that resistance. But the progress is being made, and you know, the troops that are over there in Iraq do such a great job. I'm impressed that the number of people who are serving in Iraq who say they want to sign up and serve, again, is larger than it has been in the past. So we're seeing that the people who are there fighting every day understand that they're fighting for the right reasons, for the right cause, and they're making progress. And they want to see this mission accomplished. The president wants this mission accomplished.

BASH: You talk about progress, but again, then you also say that the mission could take some time. The president is going to have a series of speeches, a big one next week, talking about the timetable, perhaps. I know you won't give a specific date on withdrawal, but will the president get more specific on talking about some of the realities on the ground and the realities in terms of the U.S. mission, how long it may take?

Well, clearly the mission is clear. We want to allow a climate to exist with the Iraqi people providing their own security as they are able to practice a democracy so that they can have a government of, by, and for the Iraqi people. And that's what we're working towards. So the mission is clear.

In terms of a timetable, there is no timetable. The timetable is the accomplishment of the mission. And we're working every day to make greater progress in helping to train the Iraqi forces so they can meet more of their security obligations, at the same time that we're helping the Iraqi government understand its responsibilities in all of the ministries that have to conduct business so that the Iraqi people have a better life. And we're making progress there, as well.

So I think that's what the president will talk about, is the progress that we are making in accomplishing those two missions, number one of helping them secure their own country and number two, of helping them to secure their own democracy.

BASH: Secretary Card, I want to turn to some comments that the president, your top political adviser Karl Rove made, speaking to the New York State Conservative Party last night just a couple of miles from Ground Zero. He said that Democrats called for moderation and restraint after 9/11. And listen to what he said.


ROVE: Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks AND prepared for war. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding to our attackers.


BASH: Secretary Card, is it appropriate for Karl Rove to apparently be politicizing 9/11?

CARD: Well, first of all, I think that all America came together to recognize how horrible that attack was on this country and that the war on terror is real and that we will the terror. So I don't think there's any doubt that Americans are united in making sure that what happened on September 11th doesn't happen again. And no one is leading that charge more than the president of the United States. After all, he has the obligation because of the oath he took to preserve, protect and defend that constitution, which means to protect us.

But I do think there is a difference of opinion on how some people respond to those kinds of terrorist acts. And there has been a long history where some have said a response should be more of an investigative and prosecutorial response than one of taking the fight to the enemy. And making sure that we fight the enemy not on our soil, but before they have a chance to attack us.

But Karl Rove's speech was a speech that I think reflected some of the rhetoric that a lot of people feel. And -- but I can tell you this, the United States is committed and unified in our effort to defeat terror and we will defeat terror.

BASH: Secretary Card, Democrats, however, say that this is quite inappropriate. Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, is calling on Karl Rove to apologize and calling on President Bush to repudiate those remarks.

CARD: Well, we have seen pretty hot rhetoric from both sides of the aisle lately. And the most important thing is that United States is united in saying that we're going to win the war on the terror. And we will win the war on terror.


BASH: And we'll have more of our conversation with the White House chief of staff in about a half hour. And you'll hear what Andrew Card has to say about the stalemate over the John Bolton nomination and possible Supreme Court vacancies.

Also coming up on INSIDE POLITICS, a well-known Democrat and possible presidential candidate opens up. Evan Bayh talks about the current situation in Iraq, its future and his own, when INSIDE POLITICS returns.


BASH: Among the lawmakers grilling the Pentagon's top guns today, Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana. After that session, he and I had a chance to talk about his views on Iraq. And I began by asking him about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld likening the sentiment about Iraq now to what it was like after World War II when critics said the U.S. was losing post war reconstruction efforts in Germany.


SEN. EVAN BAYH, (D) INDIANA: Dana, I think we need to be supportive of what it takes to get the job done. I think the analogy to the post World War II period is completely inept. Those countries in Western Europe weren't struggling with deep, religious divisions or ethnic divisions, they didn't have hostile neighbors who were infiltrating insurgents into their society. And most importantly, we had a strategy for success with clear benchmarks to measure our progress and to hold policymakers accountable.

All of those thing, unfortunately, are not in place in Iraq today. And they need to be if we are going to be successful. So, I think the American people live from patience, Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike, but there has to be a strategy with benchmarks to determine how we're doing so that we can have confidence in the leadership. That's not in place right now.

BASH: As you probably know, Democrats recently, even in the last 24 hours or so, have met and decided that it's very important as a party to have a much sharper focus -- sharper rhetoric against the White House when it comes to Iraq. Is that a smart thing to do?

BAYH: Well, I think the American people want a sharper focus upon the strategy for success. This shouldn't be a political thing. I think the American people, Democrats included, want accountability for progress in meeting the benchmarks that we need to meet in order to be successful there so that the Iraqi people can go forward and we can bring our troops home. I think that's sound public police. I don't think it's a matter of political posturing.

BASH: General Abizaid suggested that perhaps some of the rhetoric coming from Washington, talking about how Iraq isn't necessarily going that well is perhaps hurting the troops on the ground. Is there a danger in Democrats, maybe even some Republicans, overreaching in the criticism?

BAYH: Well, we all need to guard against overreaching. I think that applies to both sides. And there have been excesses on both sides. For example, when Vice President Cheney said a month ago that the insurgency was on its last legs, or in its throws, that's simply not reality.

So both sides need to stick to the facts. We need to be candid with the American people about what is going on in Iraq so that we can earn their trust and confidence and most importantly define a strategy for ultimately bringing this to a successful conclusion.

BASH: Senator Bayh, I wanted switch you to another topic, that is, comments by Karl Rove. The White House political strategist said that saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. Now, the White House is defending those comments, saying that it's simply -- he was simply illustrating a difference in philosophy. Is there something to that?

BAYH: No. That's an example of hyperbole. The kind of overheated rhetoric that exists in Washington. Sadly, Dana, that is one of the reasons why people look at this city and sometimes think it's really a part of a foreign country not their own.

Look, the administration, if we want to have a consensus and reconcile our differences so that we can go forward and be successful together in the war on terror, we can't engage -- the administration can't engage in that kind of divisive, overheated partisan rhetoric, it's just not right.

BASH: I want to ask you about -- or at least read you a quick quote from one of your colleagues, Senator Joe Biden. He said about the 2008 race, I know it's only 2005, but he was talking about it. He said, my intention is to seek the nomination. If, in fact, I think I have a clear shot at winning the nominee by this November or December, then I'm going to seek the nomination.

You have said thaw are keeping your options open. But the field is getting crowded, Senator, do you want to go further than that?

BAYH: Well, I hope I don't disappoint you, Dana. I am not going any further on the program today. Look, I have got the utmost respect for Joe Biden. He's an outstanding public servant. If he goes forward, I think he will be a tremendous candidate.

Others of us, myself included, are doing some of the practical things that you need to do to keep that open as an option if it makes sense when the time comes. But most importantly of all Dana, I think all of us need to focus on what's right moving this country forward. And if we focus on that, those substantive things that will matter to the American people, then all this politics, that will take care of itself.


BASH: When the time comes, senator, we will be here ready for you to come and tell us your plans for 2008.

But we are going to go now to the Bush administration and the fact that it often links the conflict in Iraq with the war on terror. But President Bush may want to think twice about that approach in light of recent polls. Our Bill Schneider has been going over the numbers.

And did Karl Rove just tell it like it is? Or was his comment about Democrats after 9/11 beyond the pail?

Questions for today's "Strategy Session." More INSIDE POLITICS ahead.


BASH: Well, as the markets get set to close on Wall Street, I'm joined now by Kitty Pilgrim in New York with "THE DOBBS REPORT."

Hi, Kitty.


Let's take a look at the Dow first. Dow Industrials, we had a pretty tough day here, down 168 points. NASDAQ nearly 1 percent lower. Here's the reason why: Crude oil soared more than $1 a barrel, briefly topped $60 a barrel. So that's the dynamic in the market.

A Chinese company is trying to take over a big U.S. oil and gas company. The company is known as CNOOC, and it's offering $18.5 billion to buy Unocal. That is much larger than Chevron's bid, which Unocal had already accepted. Now, this could be the largest acquisition ever by a Chinese company. Drawing fire here, it says it jeopardizes U.S. oil supplies and jobs. CNOOC is just one of several large Chinese companies that are looking to break into the U.S. market.


MICHAEL WESSEL, CHINA ECON/SECURITY COMM.: They have hundreds of billions of dollars in their banks that they're going to now use to come and buy assets from the U.S. and from other nations. In part, they want to buy U.S. brand names, as they did earlier this year with IBM, because it gives them instant access to consumers here.


PILGRIM: And we're going to have a lot more on this topic on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

But for now, some other news. There's evidence that Merck knew about the potential health risks of Vioxx years before it pulled the drug off the market. It turns out that Merck scientists tried to get a patent for another drug that would reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes in Vioxx users. And that was three years before Merck withdrew the painkiller last September. Now, Merck says it believed Vioxx was safe.

Coming up 6:00 p.m. Eastern on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," we have a special report on the growing underworld of human smuggling from China to the United States. Also, this week the House voted in favor of a constitutional amendment banning flag-burning, and Congressman Jerrold Nadler and John Hostettler will debate the issue.

Also, Senator Bob Bennett tells us about his new plan for Social Security, that and more, 6:00 Eastern, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT." But for now, back to Dana.

BASH: Kitty, thank you. And now back to INSIDE POLITICS.

And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, he's used to getting hammered by Democrats, but he also heard pointed questions today from Republicans anxious about the public's waning support for the U.S. mission in Iraq. Our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre has more on today's testimony by top military officials.

Hi, Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Dana. Well, there was a lot of fireworks on Capitol Hill today, both in the Senate and House committees, where Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his top commanders all testified about what's going on in Iraq. And one thing that was clear from the testimony is that, along with the insurgents, the U.S. now is battling a perception that it might be losing in Iraq.


GEN. GEORGE CASEY, IRAQ MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE: I sense that many view the daily snapshots of violence in Iraq in isolation and conclude that our efforts in Iraq are not progressing. That is what the terrorists and the insurgents would like you to believe.


MCINTYRE: He says that's not what's actually happening on the ground. He says good progress is being made. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld also chimed in, saying, quote, "Anyone who says we've lost this war or that we're losing this was is wrong. We are not."

As I said, flanked by all of his commanders, Donald Rumsfeld told the Congress that the worst thing the U.S. could do right now is, as some have suggested in Congress, set a deadline to get out of Iraq.


DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Some in Congress have suggested that deadlines be set. That would be a mistake, as Senator Levin has said. It would throw a lifeline to terrorists who, in recent months, have suffered significant losses and casualties, been denied havens and suffered weakened popular support.


MCINTYRE: Well, the most pessimistic outlook seemed to come from Rumsfeld's top commander, General John Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command. He failed to endorse the assessment of Vice President Dick Cheney that the insurgency is in its last throes. In fact, Abizaid testified that there are actually more foreign fighters in Iraq now than there were six months ago.


GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: In terms of the overall strength of the insurgency, I'd say it's about the same as it was.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: So you wouldn't agree with the statement that it's in its last throes?

ABIZAID: I don't know that I would make any comment about that, other than to say there's a lot of work to be done against the insurgency.


MCINTYRE: Abizaid went on to tell Senator Levin, "You'll excuse me if I don't criticize the vice president." He did, however, express concern about the slipping support for the war. He said he's seen great confidence in what the U.S. can do in the region, but he says he's never seen confidence lower back here in the United States inside the Beltway, he said.

And he said, when he starts to get questions from his troops about whether the American public truly supports the effort, he says that worries him. He did offer his assessment, though, that this was a war worth fighting, and he urged the Congress, the American people, to get behind him -- Dana?

BASH: Jamie, thank you very much.

Well, given the public's growing anxiety about Iraq, our senior political analyst Bill Schneider says the Bush administration may want to rethink its policy of linking the war to 9/11.


BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The war on terrorism and the war in Iraq, two different issues? The public seems to think so. At the time of the election last November, most Americans approved of the way President Bush was handling terrorism. His rating on Iraq was ten points lower.

The president's rating on terrorism is still positive, though it has slipped a bit. His approval rating on Iraq has tumbled to 37 percent. The White House links the two issues.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Iraq is a central front in the war on terrorism.

SCHNEIDER: Even though the 9/11 Commission found no evidence of an operational relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Nor, their report said, have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with Al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States.

Now, with increasing violence and mounting casualties in Iraq, the public has turned anti-war. Fifty-nine percent of Americans say they oppose the war in Iraq. In a statement aimed at boosting support for the war, President Bush made an explicit connection between Iraq and 9/11 in his radio address on Saturday.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We went to war because we were attacked. And we are at war today because there are still people out there who want to harm our country and hurt our citizens.

SCHNEIDER: On Wednesday, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove depicted a division in the country over 9/11.

KARL ROVE, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding to our attackers.

SCHNEIDER: Democrats are outraged. There was no division after 9/11, they argue.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: He knows full well, as do all Americans, that our country came together after 9/11. There was, except for one vote in the House, unanimous support for our going into Afghanistan to make that fight.

SCHNEIDER: The division came later over Iraq, two different issues. In the past, linking Iraq with 9/11 and the war on terrorism may have boosted support for Iraq. That could be changing.

Public satisfaction with the war on terrorism is the lowest it's been since 9/11, not because Americans feel more threatened. They don't. Discontent is being fueled by something else: Iraq.

Among people who support the war in Iraq, 84 percent are satisfied with the way things are going in the war on terrorism. Among those who oppose the war in Iraq, satisfaction with the country's terrorism policy is more than 50 points lower.

Growing anti-war sentiment is causing growing dissatisfaction with the administration's policy on terrorism, as more and more Americans seem to conclude Iraq isn't working.


SCHNEIDER: The administration is trying to boost support for the war in Iraq by linking it to the war on terrorism. Instead, the reverse is happening. Disillusionment with Iraq is causing discontent with the way the war on terrorism is going.

BASH: And the polls you had in your piece illustrate that clearly. Bill, thank you very much. Thank you.

And we're going to have more on the debate over Iraq. The vice president has a few things to say about a Republican senator who has questioned White House policy. We'll have a sneak peek of Wolf Blitzer's exclusive interview with Dick Cheney.

Plus, more backing from the White House for embattled presidential nominee John Bolton. Andrew Card speaks up for him.

And we'll talk to Natalee Holloway's aunt, Marcia Twitty, after this break on the latest in the investigation into her disappearance in Aruba.


BASH: And we now check in on our top story.

The father of a suspect in the case of a missing student in Aruba now is a suspect, too. Paul Van Der Sloot is himself an Aruban judicial official. A spokeswoman for the prosecution says he was arrested today on suspicion of involvement in Natalee Holloway's disappearance nearly a month ago. Five people now are in custody in this case, including Van Der Sloot and his son. Now we have on the phone with us Marcia Twitty. She is an aunt to Natalee Holloway, the 18-year-old who varnished in Aruba almost a month ago.

And Marcia Twitty, the first question is, what are you hearing from your brother, from your sister-in-law about their understanding of this arrest?

MARCIA TWITTY, NATALEE HOLLOWAY'S AUNT: You know, when I talked to them a little earlier, I think they just really feel like, you know, well, finally. I think they've always felt like that this father had information or knows something about where Natalee might be.

So I think they're very relieved now that we've got this guy in custody, and maybe we can get somewhere and finally get these answers that they so desperately, desperately want.

BASH: You say that they have been suspicious. I believe that they actually met with Paul Van Der Sloot and his wife recently. Is that correct? And if so, what happened?

TWITTY: Yes, they did. Well, Beth met with the Van Der Sloots a couple of days ago. And we briefly talked about that. And the only thing, when she got done with the interview, I just asked her, if, you know, her heart had changed about what she thought. And she said, "No, I still feel like that dad knows something about where Natalee is."

So she has felt this way since she got on that island, that this kid and this dad know something about where Natalee might be.

BASH: So after meeting him, she got the sense that perhaps he was covering something up for his son?

TWITTY: She just said -- well, I don't -- she really didn't say so much that she was covering up something, that the mother was covering up. More so that she felt like the dad knew something.

BASH: And was she, after that meeting, was she in touch with Aruban officials, and did she perhaps have something to do with convincing them to bring him in, not just for questioning but also to arrest him as a suspect?

TWITTY: I'm not sure exactly how that all took place, but I know that she's in very close contact with officials, both Aruban and FBI. So you know -- and I know they talk daily.

BASH: And what are they hearing, Natalee Holloway's parents, your brother and sister-in-law, what are they hearing at this point from Aruban officials about what they're getting from these suspects?

TWITTY: You know, I really don't know the answer to that. When I talked to them today, it was just very, very briefly. So I think, as the hours go on and more questioning with this father, we'll know a little bit more about what he knows. BASH: Marcia Twitty, Natalee Holloway's aunt on the phone with us from Alabama. We wish you well. Thank you very much for joining us.

TWITTY: Thank you very much.

BASH: And now we turn back to Washington and an exclusive interview with Vice President Dick Cheney. He sat down just a short time ago with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. And Wolf is here to share with us just a bit of what he learned.

Hi, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Dana. Thanks very much.

The vice president was firm in his assessment that the U.S. is winning the war in Iraq. He's not backing away at all from his earlier assertion that the insurgency is, in his words, in its last throes.

And for those who disagree, including some Republicans, he had some pretty strong words, especially for Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who's been quite critical, as you know, of the administration's policy.

Only the other day in "U.S. News and World Report," Chuck Hagel had this to say. Let me read specifically what he said. He said, "Things aren't getting better. They are getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality." And he goes on to say, that is, Chuck Hagel, that "they are just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we're losing in Iraq."

To that, the vice president minced no words.


RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As long as I've been vice president and since 9/11, we've had people like Chuck Hagel and other politicians, and we've had people in the press corps, and commentators who've said you can't do Afghanistan.

Once we got into Afghanistan, we had been there a couple of weeks. And Johnny Apple, the "New York Times," that front-page story about how we were in a, quote, "quagmire." We were going to get trapped in the mountains. Winter was going to make it impossible for to us complete our mission in Afghanistan. They were all wrong.

We were told we couldn't hold elections in Afghanistan. "You'll never be able to put it together. They've never had an election in Afghanistan in the 5,000-year history of the country. It will never work." It did work. I was at the inauguration of President Hamid Karzai who got elected.

We were told we couldn't possibly succeed as quickly as we did against Saddam Hussein, in terms of taking him down. We did. "You'll never capture Saddam Hussein." We did. We were told, "You'll never be able to go in and transfer sovereign authority to the Iraqis." We did. "You'll never hold an election." We did. The fact of the matter is, the town's got a lot of people in it who are armchair quarterbacks or who like to comment on the passing scene.


BLITZER: And he was referring to Chuck Hagel, specifically on that point. Interestingly enough, once again, Chuck Hagel, a Republican.

The vice president went on to insist that the U.S. will win, will defeat the insurgency, in his words, and that will become a huge success story. In his words, that will have a huge impact, not just in Iraq but throughout the region.

Dana, the vice president being the vice president, as we all know, not mincing any words at all.

BASH: Definitely not, Wolf. And if I didn't know better, Vice President Cheney and Chuck Hagel, I would think that maybe this would be the beginning of a 2008 debate?

BLITZER: Well, the vice president also went on to say he has no political ambitions in 2008. But you're absolutely right to point out that Chuck Hagel certainly does have some political ambitions in 2008.

And for the vice president to be slamming him like this, the vice president among a lot of Republicans, especially conservative Republicans, very popular, it sends a pretty strong signal out there against Chuck Hagel. So the intra-Republican Party political battle presumably only just beginning.

BASH: Absolutely, Wolf. Thank you very much. We look forward to the rest of your interview.

And earlier today, as you know, we had another exclusive interview with a major player in the Bush administration, Andrew Card. We pick up our conversation with the chief of staff, the White House chief of staff, over the stalemate on the president's pick for ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.

I asked Andy card about his response to some fellow Republicans calling on the administration to end the stalemate by releasing more documents concerning Bolton.


CARD: We've provided unprecedented access to the Senate and to senators. We've cooperated in an unprecedented way with the Congress. It's very important that the United States have a representative before the United Nations, especially as they consider the reforms that are so important. After all, we're the largest investor in the success of the United Nations, and we want a strong representative there. John Bolton has the votes to be confirmed. He would clearly be confirmed if we could have an up-or-down vote on John Bolton. And we should have that up-or-down vote. And he'd be a great ambassador to the United Nations.

BASH: Some senators are saying that they hear you on the desire for an up-or-down vote, but the reality is you're at a stalemate and that you're calling for an up-or-down vote without a real strategy at this point to get to one.

CARD: Well, the Democrats have not been negotiating in good faith. And I can say that because I've been the person speaking to a lot of the Democrats. And they could come to an easy recognition that an up-or-down vote is necessary and appropriate for John Bolton. And if that up-or-down vote comes, he would be confirmed overwhelmingly.

BASH: Do you have a compromise offer here?

CARD: There have been many compromises offered, and all of them in good faith from the administration. I'm not sure there's been reciprocal good faith from the Democrats.

BASH: Your administration has not ruled out giving John Bolton a recess appointment...

CARD: We think that he should be confirmed with an up-or-down vote in the floor of the United States Senate. And the votes are there to confirm him.

BASH: So are you ruling out a recess appointment?

CARD: I'm saying that he should be confirmed by an up-or-down vote in the Senate, and the United States also deserves and expects to have good representation in the United Nations. And John Bolton would be a great representative for our country.

BASH: OK. As you may or may not know, there is a lot of buzz about a potential Supreme Court vacancy. It's our understanding that either you or some of your colleagues have interviewed potential nominees.

CARD: Well, you know, the president has to meet his constitutional obligations. And he was prepared to do that from the moment he took the oath of office in January 20, 2001. And part of the constitutional obligation that a president has is be prepared to name members of the Supreme Court, should there be a vacancy.

BASH: So has the president actually...

CARD: And we've been prepared -- we've been prepared ever since the president first took office, should there be a vacancy in the Supreme Court, to be able to recommend people that the president could consider.

BASH: So has the president actually interviewed potential candidates or anybody on your staff? CARD: The president will be prepared to name a representative to serve in the Supreme Court should there be a vacancy. There is no vacancy now, so it's premature speculation.


BASH: That was White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card from the White House earlier today.

And ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, what bloggers are saying about Karl Rove's comments and their reaction to a proposed amendment against flag-burning.


BASH: A possible amendment to ban flag-burning, and the 9/11 comments made by White House adviser Karl Rove are causing a buzz in the blogosphere. We check in now with CNN political producer Abbi Tatton and Jacki Schechner, our blog reporters.

Hi, Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN BLOG REPORTER: Hi, Dana. It is not often that we see agreement in political blogs on the left and the right. But when we do, we like to tell you about it.

And one issue that seems to unite both sides again and again is that of First Amendment issue -- of the First Amendment. So the left and the right all seem to agree that the possible amendment that passed the House last night that would outlaw flag burning, lousy idea.

So what we decided to do is go to the guy in the middle, Joe Gandelman at He says it's an attempt by some to create an issue that is not an issue for most Americans. At the bottom of his post, he has a personal note saying that he thinks that the flag should not be burned. He also says it shouldn't wrapped around politicians seeking to use it for their own political purposes in perpetuation.

ABBI TATTON, CNN PRODUCER: One of the politicians that the blogs on the left and the right are also focusing on, on this issue, is the main sponsor of this proposal. That's Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a congressman from California.

His comments yesterday have a lot of people linking to him. "Ask the men and women who stood on top of the Trade Center. Ask them, and they will tell you, 'Pass this amendment.'"

Now, people are saying that's just inappropriate. What is he, psychic? And that's what you get over here at the most twisted name in news -- not the trusted -- this is And they're saying if, indeed, this congressman can channel the dead, why isn't he asking them something more important than this silly amendment, the most silly constitutional amendment ever proposed? SCHECHNER: Brian Anderson at, not surprised at the GOP talking point that 9/11 changed everything coming up once again. And then also pointing out that Randy Cunningham's name coming up once again in the blogosphere.

TATTON: Yes, and we've mentioned this congressman here before. It's the second time -- the second what they're calling Cunningham controversy that's come up in the last couple of weeks.

The first was over a controversial house sale that happened in California in San Diego that had a lot of the bloggers talking. That's been covered a lot at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall's site.

But also, this is the new one, the comments that he made. A couple of weeks ago, we were looking at right-wing news when they said, "Who is this Randy Cunningham? We don't seem to know too much about him." I think the bloggers would be hard-pressed to say that now.

SCHECHNER: We want to try to sneak this in before we lose some time here, but Karl Rove's comments last night to Manhattan conservatives have the left side of the blogosphere irate. And that is an understatement. Go over to They've got a roundup of who's talking about it and who is mad. They've also got action items. They are calling for Karl Rove's resignation.

TATTON: Yes. And over at the conservative bloggers, they've been complaining a lot about the Senate, the lack of muscle in there. And because of this, Karl Rove's statement last night, we were just interested in this one. "Ankle-biting pundits who were saying somebody clone Karl Rove and put him in the Senate. This is the kind of leadership we need from Republicans" -- Dana?

BASH: Thank you very much, Abbi and Jacki.

Well, a war of words over the war in Iraq. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld heads to the Hill with a progress report and ends up defending himself against another call to resign. Our strategy session is coming up next.


BASH: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS and our "Strategy Session" on today's hottest political topics. With us today, CNN contributor Jack Valenti, a former White House aid to Lyndon Johnson. And CNN political analyst and "Chicago Sun-Times" columnist, Robert Novak.

Today's topics, sparks fly on Capitol Hill when the nation's war makers pay a visit to give lawmakers a progress report on Iraq. Democrats see red over comments made by Bush political adviser Karl Rove about their response to 9/11. And the looming issue of a Supreme Court battle -- a potential vacancy. Should Democrats have a say in who President Bush picks?

But first, tension and contention on the Hill during today's Senate hearing on military operations in Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld took exception with Senator Edward Kennedy's characterization of the Iraq war as a quagmire. Kennedy accused Rumsfeld of mismanaging the war. In one terse exchange, the senator challenged the secretary's fitness to continue.


KENNEDY: Those were judgments that were made. And there have been a series of gross errors and mistakes. Those were on your watch. Those were on your watch. Isn't it time for you to resign?

RUMSFELD: Senator, I've offered my resignation to the president twice. And he's decided that he would prefer that he not accept it. And that's his call.


BASH: Well, the war will be remembered in a quite different way later today on Capitol Hill. The names of U.S. service personnel who have died in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will be read on the House floor. The reading was organized by Democratic representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois.

And gentlemen, we will get to that in a moment. But first I wan to turn to what we were talking about earlier with Wolf Blitzer. He had an interview with Dick Cheney. And he was asked point blank about these controversial comments saying that the insurgency is in its last throes in Iraq. And he very much defended that. Let's take a listen.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATS: If you look at what the dictionary says about throes, it can still be a violent period. The throes of a revolution. The point would be that the conflict will be intense, but it's intense because the terrorists understand that if we're successful at accomplishing our objective of standing up a democracy in Iraq, that that's a huge defeat for them. They'll do everything they can to stop it.


BASH: Bob, Dick Cheney very much defending his comments. But it really has become that phrase -- the last throe of the insurgency has become a battle cry for Democrats, even some Republicans over the rosy picture they say the White House paints.

ROBERT NOVAK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Dana, it's all semantics. The problem is, we're a democracy. We have a great deal of trouble fighting these long wars. Whether they're just or unjust, it is irrelevant. We have a hard time.

Mr. Valenti here will know that this kind of opposition and quibbling over words, whether you're going to get out, anger, ruin the end of the presidency of Lyndon Johnson, his boss. It's very difficult for us to fight -- us being the United States -- to fight this kind of war. And of course, this kind of a hearing when you have Teddy Kennedy saying, you have to quit Mr. Secretary. Why don't you quit. I thought the definition of news was something that hadn't been said before. How many times has he told him? This is all kabuki theater.

BASH: Kabuki theater. And you said semantics. But Jack Valenti, don't semantics matter when you're talking about this kind of issue? When you see the numbers really plummet on Iraq.

JACK VALENTI, FRM. ADVISER TO LYNDON JOHNSON: Well, I think facts matter more than words, but words do count. But I'm reminded when Senator Kennedy said why don't you resign. Lyndon Johnson used to tell you can tell a man to go to Hell, but getting him to do it is another proposition. So, that's the way we stand there.

I think the problem with this war is it is totally unique. We've never had a war like this in which people are willing to give up their own lives to bomb civilians, to try to kill our own troops. Suicide bombers, we never had that. And we had kamikazes in the last throes of World War II Which probably killed more people than this country knows about.

So, this is the difference. And I don't know how you defend in a long substantial way against people who rush across these borders willing to strap dynamite around them and blow themselves up. How do you defend against that? That's the problem. And I think that's why Senator Graham and others have seen this kind of little tilt in public opinion.

BASH: And I want to switch a little bit on Iraq, but to something that we talked about that a Democratic Congressman, Rahm Emanuel is going to do later tonight. He's going to read off the names of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why is that -- that's appropriate, isn't it Bob?

NOVAK: That's a very bad idea. It really enrages me. I am not a great supporter of going -- I was against going into the war. And I hope we can get out a lot sooner than these people say. But this just antagonizes me.

Rahm Emanuel is a smart young fellow. He was an aide to Clinton, President Clinton. He's the head of the campaign committee of the Democrats. He's very, very political. And this is just playing on the heart strings of America. Doesn't at all honor those people to be put into a political mode.

If the Democratic party had not given the asylum over to the inmates, somebody would say to Rahm, young fellow, this is not the right thing to do.

BASH: Is it right for the Democrats?

VALENTI: I'm little bit puzzled about it. I haven't served in a war myself. I know what these young kids are going through. And Ted Koppel already did this some months earlier, did the same thing.

I don't know that it does any good thing. But if he wants to do it, why not?

BASH: Thank you.

We will turn now from Iraq to raw politics and Karl Rove. His usual strategy is to stay behind the scenes, but not anymore. Coming up, the top White House adviser ruffles some Democratic feathers and triggers calls for him to retract or resign.


BASH: And the "Strategy Session" continues here on INSIDE POLITICS.

Still here, Jack Valenti and Robert Novak.

Well controversial White House political adviser Karl Rove is catching big heat for remarks he made about the Democrats in Washington and the 9/11 attacks. The comments came during a speaking engagement in New York last night.


ROVE: Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding to our attackers.


BASH: Well, Democratic leaders are more than bristling over Rove's comments, calling on him to either apologize or resign. And Bob, I'll started with you. What's behind this? What do you think.

NOVAK: Well, I would say one thing about Karl Rove is that when he stays out of the public limelight, he's a genius. Somebody wrote a book called "Bush's Brain" about Rove. And when he gets in front, he usually goes over the top. And I think he is a much better back room guy. Some guys are better in the back room.

BASH: He's very diplomatic, Bob.

NOVAK: I would say this, that calling the Democrats -- no Democrats said let's give therapy to the people. This is hyperbole and demagoguery and nastiness. But it's created by the kind of demagoguery and hyperbole from the Democrats. It's a very vicious climate. It creates this sort of thing.

I think he puts stuff on the fire, puts oil on the fire, but when you had Senator Durbin with his dreadful remarks the other day, it's a climate where nobody weighs their words.

BASH: And Jack Valenti, this topic came up today on Capitol Hill. While Secretary Rumsfeld was testifying, the Democratic senator from New York, Hillary Clinton took issue with these comments. Let's listen.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK: It is the kind of statement that is particularly harmful and painful. It is the kind of statement that is unnecessary. It is the kind of statement that pits Americans of good faith seeking to support the men and women in uniform, seeking to protect them, seeking to support you, despite the fact that we might have serious questions and even disagreements about strategy and tactics.


BASH: Jack Valenti.

VALENTI: I happen to be a professional admirer of Karl Rove. I called him "Merlin the Political Magician. But I do believe that after 9/11, I couldn't find one American of any stripe, complexion or political leaning who wasn't angry, fiercely antagonistic toward the people, these 19 men who brought us to our knees. And everybody was ready to join together in one unified citizenry. I didn't see that -- I didn't see the description that he applied about therapy to the other side.

So -- but I think one of the things we need to discuss is conservative and liberals. There are not enough conservatives to elect a president, and not enough liberals to elect a president on the other side. And nobody ever asks what these labels means. If I tell you I'm for civil justice and human rights am I a liberal or conservative. If I'm for strong defense, am I liberal or conservative and so forth.

And we use these labels in a casual, and I think inopportune way. Nobody ever decides what you think about an issue rather than what you think about a label.

BASH: And the definition of the labels certainly have changed over the years. Go ahead, Bob.

NOVAK: What Senator Clinton said was quite true, I believe. It was nasty and hateful.

BASH: Do you disagree with Hillary Rodham Clinton?

NOVAK: Pardon?

BASH: You disagreed with her.

NOVAK: I disagreed with her. But the thing is, exactly what she said then, it could be said about the Democrats. When they call the president a liar, the things they have said are hateful. When they say we are abusing our troops, those are hateful. So I think it's disingenuous on her part to only apply that description to the other party and not to her own party.

BASH: The president's poll numbers on his biggest asset, terrorism, have gone down. They're still the highest of anything else, but they've still gone down. Is that part of this, do you think?

VALENTI: I think it is. I saw in Vietnam the public support for that was high and after a couple years, people grow tired of the confusion whose end is not in sight. And I think that's what's happening right now.

No matter what people say, people in this country have their own views about this war. We lost 139 men in combat when the so-called war was over. We've lost a total now of over 1700. So there is a kind of a tilting toward what are we doing over there? When is this going to end?

BASH: Do you think politically, Bob, that this is -- that these comments were sort of a way to try to get back to the discussion over terrorism?

NOVAK: It is an attempt to get back at the Democrats. Democrats have been lashing out at the president. I think Karl is not an automaton. He's -- Karl Rove -- he's angry. And he thinks it's hypocritical for them not to suffer when he believes they're not as strong for the war as he is. It's a very vicious system. And it happens when the America fights unpopular wars. And it's going to get more vicious the longer we are in Iraq.

BASH: Well, speaking of vicious fights, we could potentially have one coming up. And that is over a potential Supreme Court vacancy. Can senators from the minority party still influence who rises to the Supreme Court? They're sure going to try.

When the "Strategy Session" continues, Senate Democrats seek a say in the next high court nomination.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up at the top of the hour, an exclusive one-on-one interview with the vice president of the United States. Dick Cheney talks with me about Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and much more. Also, car bombs kill at least 17 people in Baghdad as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declares it would be a terrible mistake to set a timeline for withdrawal.

And an Aruba judge is arrested in connection with the disappearance of Natalee Holloway. All those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Now back to INSIDE POLITICS.

BASH: Welcome back. And we're going to check in on our top story, the father of a suspect in the case of a missing student in Aruba now is a suspect, too. Paul Van Der Sloot is himself in an Aruban judicial official. And a spokeswoman for the prosecution says he was arrested today on suspicion of involvement in Natalee Holloway's disappearance nearly a month ago.

Anita Van Der Sloot whose husband and son are both being held by authorities spoke with CNN's Karl Penhaul a short time ago.


ANITA VAN DER SLOOT, MOTHER OF JORAN VAN DER SLOOT: We came from the prison where I could visit my son for the first time for about 40 minutes. So we were very happy. He's doing OK. And we were talking a little bit. I was doing some phone calls. And somebody called -- a neighbor called. And somebody called from the house that there was a lot of police around the house and they were there to speak to Paul.

And Paul, because in my conversation with Joran, Joran said "Mommy, I'm so afraid they're picking up daddy because that's what they're telling me, they're going to pick him up because to ask him about all kind of things. And they think he's involved in anything. And I don't want this to happen, and they should have respect for him." And I said, don't worry. Don't worry. I thought it's so ridiculous, because what sense does it make? So I told him not to worry. And we drove home. But after that phone call, Paul was worried. And he said, you know, well, we're driving to the police post in Nord to avoid all kind for the neighborhood, all kind of hectic. He called (INAUDIBLE) that we were there. And then they came, the police came. And they took my husband just to another room. And then Mr. (INAUDIBLE) came back to tell me that they were taking my husband for interrogation.


BASH: That was Anita Van Der Sloot describing her husband being arrested as a suspect in the disappearance of Nattalee Holloway.

Well, now we are going to return to our "Strategy Session" here on INSIDE POLITICS. We still have Jack Valenti and Robert Novak. And now we're going to talk about the Supreme Court, a potential vacancy, and the fact that Democrats want a say in who the next nominee might be. Forty-three of the Senate's 44 Democrats plus Independent Jim Jeffords of Vermont sent a letter to the White House today calling on him to consult them if a vacancy arises. Senator Robert Byrd didn't sign because he plans to send a letter of his own.

And Jack Valenti, I'll start with you. You've been around this town for a couple years. Is it something that President Bush should do? Should he consult with Democrats?

VALENTI: Well, I think he selects somebody, it's going to be Armageddon time. I think it might be wise to reach out. Consulting doesn't mean veto. It means that you consult and at least reach out to Democrats to see whether or not -- what their mood is. There must be 50 or 100 first-class lawyers in this country sitting on federal benches who would be not either left or right but who would be wonderful, brilliant lawyers who would uphold the Constitution. And they ought to be examined. Reaching out I think is helpful, even though you may not take some of the recommendations of the Democrats.

BASH: And Bob, Boyden Gray has told us he's done some fishing among some Republicans, some moderate Republicans about who may or may not be acceptable, but not Democrats.

NOVAK: Let me disagree as strenuously as I can with Jack on this point. There are -- let me try to explain what's going on here. There are nine -- seven of the nine Supreme Court justices were named by Republican presidents. But of those seven, only three are acceptable to the Republican base. The other four, some of them vote -- a couple of them vote -- Souter and Stevens vote all the time with the liberals. Two of them are swing voters -- O'Connor and Kennedy.

So it is -- I tell you right now that the president's -- the rest of his term will be in chaos if he listens to Chuck Schumer and Ted Kennedy and Pat Leahy as to who he's going to name to the court. He must -- absolutely must name conservatives to this court. And you say, well, that's going to create Armageddon. I would tell you this: He's got a shotgun in the closet which is either called the nuclear option or the constitutional option. And he is -- they're going to use that to avoid a filibuster, because there will be a majority of votes for a conservative judge.

But I'll tell you something else. There's a rumor around town that if there's a vacancy this weekend, after this weekend, that he's going to name Attorney General Gonzales. That will be a disaster with the Republican base because they don't trust Gonzales.

BASH: Well, stay tuned on that. Bob Novak, Jack Valenti, thank you very much both for joining us and sticking with us.

And coming up on INSIDE POLITICS, we'll take you inside the blogosphere again to see what bloggers are saying about the latest twist in the Natalee Holloway case.


BASH: Well, what's the reaction to the blogs on today's development to the Natalee Holloway case? For that, we check in with CNN Political Producer Abbi Tatton and Jacki Schechner, our blog reporter. Jacki.

SCHECHNER: Hi, Dana. The political blogs that we focus on by and large focus on political topics. But every once in a while, a story comes along that absolutely consumes a blog and takes it in a totally different direction. That story is the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, and that blog is This was a small political opinion blog that is now consumed by the story. It has become the place to go for news, views and theories.

TATTON: And with the latest developments this afternoon, right now the site's getting over 5,000 hits an hour. Now, this is -- was started by two old friends, one of whom used to live in Aruba and felt a real personal connection to the story when it first came along. That blogger, Red, started posting, but he had no idea that it would take over the site so much.

The site's become kind of a central portal for news and opinions. When they were posting, Red and Tom, on Social Security last month, they were getting 4- or 500 hits a day. Now they're up to somewhere over 50,000 hits today as they're just focusing on the Natalee Holloway story. SCHECHNER: They have commenters from Aruba, all over the United States. They tell us they have a strong teen contingent in Alabama, where Natalee's from, some of her acquaintances logging on and talking. This is a real sense of community online, because people really want to talk about this story.

TATTON: And obviously, there's a huge amount of speculation there on the site as people weigh in with their theories. But Red and Tom are really trying to make that differentiation between the rumors and the news, trying to elevate the news, source it, put it on the front page. And people that want to theorize they're pushing over to the discussion forums right now, which Red tells us are currently in meltdown with the arrest of Paul Van Der Sloot this afternoon. One of them has 52,000 comments on it right now.

SCHECHNER: We should also mention, they are not the only blog talking about this case. There are other genres of blogs, one of them being True Crime blogs, and one of the big ones for that is Steve Hough's The Dark Side, this is He make two important points. One is that bloggers are free to speculate based on the information that is swirling around. And two, that any mainstream media attention that is gained from a story like this is really something won at too great a cost.

Dana, we'll send it back to you.

BASH: Thanks, Jacki. Thanks, Abbi. Well, that's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. And "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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