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Bush Speech Preview; Afghanistan Crash

Aired June 28, 2005 - 15:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: The president's mission: can he convince the American people to stay the course in Iraq?
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D) MINORITY LEADER: It is our hope that the president will present, to the American people, a strategy for success.

ANNOUNCER: The stage is set for Mr. Bush's speech tonight.

Looking for an exit: new poll numbers drive home the pressure on the president to explain when the troops will leave Iraq.

A top gun sequel: the commander in chief is preparing for yet another military photo-op, but how many viewers will actually see tonight's made-for-tv event?

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

ED HENRY, HOST: Thank you for joining us. I'm Ed Henry.

President Bush has just arrived in North Carolina to deliver another primetime speech in Iraq, at a time when he's trying to get more control over the conflict and public opinion about it.

In the one year since Iraq regained sovereignty, more than 800 U.S. troops have died fighting the ongoing insurgent attacks. Nonetheless, the White House says Mr. Bush can and will explain why he sees a clear path to victory.

We begin our coverage with our White House correspondent, Dana Bash, at Fort Bragg, where the president delivers his speech tonight. Dana, what can we expect to hear from the president?


Well, it may be more enlightening to tell you what we are not likely to hear from the president. According to his aides, we're not going to hear a shift in strategy. They say we're not going to hear any new policy ideas. We are certainly not, even the president said earlier this week, going to hear about any timetables for withdrawal, when you're talking about U.S. troops.

So, why is he doing this? Well, we have a couple of new polls out from CNN-"USA TODAY," that certainly illustrates just why the president is giving the speech: How the president is handling Iraq.

First of all, look at now approval: 40 percent. That's down 10 points just from February, right after the elections in Iraq and a second poll maybe even paints a clearer picture about why the president is giving this speech. Does the president have a clear plan in Iraq? Now, only 37 percent of Americans think that he does. That is down from 49 percent, just in January.

Well, publicly the White House blames all that primarily on the images, the harsh and horrible images that people see, almost daily, coming from Iraq; suicide bombing, U.S. troops and Iraqis getting killed. Privately, though, Ed, Bush aides do admit there are other issues.

First of all, they do admit they made a mistake in letting the president go practically for about six months really focusing on his domestic agenda, trying to get traction on things like Social Security, While not paying enough attention, rhetorically, to what is going on in Iraq and explaining that to the American people.

Also, they have allowed mixed messages to come out of the White House. The most infamous now, the vice president saying the insurgency is in its last throws; that being contradicted by the military brass and also by growing discussion, public discussion, among lawmakers from both parties, especially those coming back from Iraq saying the insurgency is still strong and perhaps, saying the president and White House is painting too rosy a picture.

When you talk about the Iraqi troops being trained, that they simply aren't up to speed as the White House says. So, in 30 minutes tonight, the president is going to try to correct all that. We are told he's going to talk about the progress in the past, the political future going forward and also, they say he is going to give some specifics about the plan for training Iraqi troops. That, of course, is how, the White House says, they get to their end game and that is, ultimately, bringing home U.S. troops -- Ed?

HENRY: Dana, I just want to ask you, for a moment, about the setting tonight. Why did the president choose Fort Bragg?

BASH: Well, you know, Ed, it's no secret the that White House -- the president's aides, think that he does a better job, in terms of performance, when he's not alone, when he's speaking among a crowd and his comfort zone certainly is among the troops. When he gave a very similar speech a year ago, again trying to regain and get more momentum for the mission in Iraq, he did he it at the Army War College, in Pennsylvania.

But there is another reason, of course, the president is going to try to, perhaps, blur the line or at least connect the mission and the troops and by standing with the troops, he certainly wants Americans to understand that they should have patience with the mission, because it is about supporting the troops. As one senior official said, "Americans don't want to see the troops die in vain and that is something that either the president will explicitly or implicitly say tonight -- Ed?


CNN White House Correspondent Dana Bash, live from Fort Bragg. She'll be there tonight, along with the president.

In North Carolina, President Bush faces more evidence of the challenge before him tonight. A new Research 2000 poll shows 51 percent of likely voters in North Carolina say they disapprove of the way Mr. Bush is handling the situation in Iraq. That's in a state with a strong military presence that the president easily carried in the 2000 and 2004 elections.

Another problem for the president tonight, is the fact that some of the major broadcast networks have -- are not going to be carrying the speech. CNN, though, will carry Mr. Bush's speech. Our live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Eastern with Anderson Cooper. Then, join Wolf Blitzer and Paula Zahn for the president's remarks at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, followed by reaction and analysis on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE."

Many Democrats on Capitol Hill will be watching the president's speech with a skeptical eye and some are getting their licks in, even before his remarks. Let's now go live to our Congressional correspondent, Joe Johns -- Joe?.


Senate Democrats clearly see an opening here, but apparently, some of them, at least, are trying not to over do it. A few have spent the day hammering away at the idea that they think the administration essentially needs to articulate a clear strategy for Iraq. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid spoke to reporters at the Capitol, just a little while ago.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MINORITY LEADER: In his speech tonight, the president needs to give the American people and his troops at Fort Bragg more than just a pep rally. He needs to level with the American people about the sacrifices ahead and set forth a real plan for success. Iraq cannot be a failure. Our troops deserve a real plan for victory and our total support. We're ready to work with the president; every one of the Democratic senators, but he must acknowledge his mistakes and set forth a realistic course for the future.

JOHNS: On the House side, a leading Democrat on defense issues Congressman John Murtha, also had some very tough words today.

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: When the polls go south, you've got a problem. In a war, let me tell you, it's going to come to an end. I believe they are going to cut and run. I believe, and mark my words, the first of the year, because of the elections in Iraq and the elections in the United States, you're going to find a change and that change is going to come about because of the public reaction. They want us out of there.

JOHNS: Senate Democrats have not formally requested time to respond to the president's address, in part, because, we're told, they don't see any way to win going up against the president with the troops at Fort Bragg. Still, it's clear that some Democrats have been hitting this issue pretty hard, including Senator John Kerry, out on the floor earlier today. Also, issuing an op-ed in the "New York Times."

And now there is a charge that at least some Democrats at "MoveOn" PAC, have gone too far. They put out an ad and that ad has attracted the attention of Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. The ad essentially talks about Hagel's discussion of removing troops. Hagel's statement says, he says the ad is dishonest. He says he never supported immediate removal of American troops. He says in his statement, "The ad needs to be pulled down."

Some other Republicans we talked to today about the speech also said in their view, the president does need to level with the American public. There is also some real concern here, of course, Ed, about the polls, as you say.

HENRY: Now, Joe, Senator Hagel is taking issue with the fact that he says his comments are being taken out of context, but in fact, he did say last week that he believes the United States is losing the war in Iraq And that has obviously been tough for him.

JOHNS: Clearly.

It's been very tough for him. Also, you know, there has been some discussion, of course, of, perhaps, a presidential run for Senator Hagel. So, that falls into the mix as well. It's very tough for him right now, as it has been on a couple other issues, Ed.

HENRY: Thank you.

Joe Johns, CNN congressional correspondent, reporting live from the Capitol.

Iraq is take center stage today, but the prospect of a Supreme Court battle remains a hot topic on the Hill, even though there's still not even an official vacancy. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, today, told the Heritage Foundation that the Bush administration has been showing signs conciliation, reaching out to senators to solicit names of possible nominees.

And Democratic Leader Harry Reid says he's discussed a possible high court vacancy with White House counsel, Harriet Meyer, and he has suggested potential candidates. Reid says his list includes several Republican Senators: Mel Martinez of Florida, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, and Mike Crapo of Idaho.

As Washington waits to find out if Chief Justice William Rehnquist plans to return to the blench this fall or retire, our new poll shows public opinion of the high court has plummeted: 42 percent of Americans now say they approve of how the Supreme Court is handling its job. A 9 point drop from last year and an 18 point drop from 2002.

Back on the hill, Senate Republicans and Democrats, today, overwhelmingly approved new energy legislation, but the measure still faces an uncertain future. The Senate bill calls for $18 billion in energy tax breaks, expanded use of ethanol and provisions to increase natural gas imports, but it skirts some of the most contentious issues facing Congress such as drilling for oil in the national wildlife refuge in Alaska. Now, negotiators will try to work out big differences between the Senate bill and the House version, considered by many to be more favorable to the oil industry.

Here in Washington, there's no shortage of opinions about what President Bush should do and should not do tonight. Up next, White House communications director Nicolle Devenish gives us a preview of the speech and what Mr. Bush hopes to accomplish.

Plus, we'll hear from two Democrats with different political positions on Iraq, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

And later, what do Americans want to hear about the country's future in Iraq? Our new poll numbers could give the president some ideas.


HENRY: We continue our look ahead to the president's speech on Iraq just a few hours from now. Joining me from the White House is Nicolle Devenish, the president's communication director. Welcome, Nicolle.


HENRY: I want start by asking you -- for most of the day we've been told that it did not appear that all of the major television networks would be carrying the speech. But I understand that maybe you have some new information?

DEVENISH: Well, I would never pretend to speak for the other networks, but we do understand they all plan to carry the address tonight. And we're certainly heartened that there's a recognition that this is a key moment in the war on terror and that the president's address tonight is something that there is a very significant appetite for, among the American people, to add some context to what we're seeing. Some of the images coming out of Iraq we know are disturbing and we think it's an important anniversary to mark the one-year anniversary of the return of sovereignty to the Iraqis with the address tonight.

HENRY: But, Nicolle, this feels a little bit like the movie "Groundhog Day" to me. We've seen this before. The president has addressed the nation in primetime. He has tried to sharpen his message on Iraq. Yet the latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shows that 61 percent of the country believes he does not have a clear plan. Is this sort of like Social Security and how that debate is playing out? That the more the president goes out and speaks about it, the less popularity he has for his actual policy?

DEVENISH: Ed, I think you can look back throughout history. And I don't think anyone would make decisions about our nation's security or the war on terror based on anything that a poll turns up. And I also don't think that the debate about Social Security is really an accurate comparison to the importance of the commander-in-chief updating the country on the information that he receives from commanders in Iraq. You know, I know that people broadcast reports from the region.

But it has been -- we at the White House are very careful when we request time. And the request tight was because the message is very important. You know, the president will talk tonight about the stakes on the war on terror. He will talk about a strategy for victory. And he will offer new information and new details about how we plan to stand up an Iraqi security force that will allow American troops to stand down and come home, a goal that I know everybody shares.

HENRY: Let's talk a little bit about that message, because I think there is some confusion. The president is saying tonight that he thinks there's a clear path to victory. The vice president had said in recent days he thinks the insurgency is in its last throes, even though some military leaders have suggested maybe that's not true.

Then the Iraqi prime minister last week said that he thinks we need two more years for security to come to Iraq. Then over the weekend, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he doesn't have a crystal ball. It could take six, eight, ten, or even 12 years. Which one is it? Is it a clear path to victory or is it going to take 12 more years?

DEVENISH: Well, Ed, the president will clear that up for everybody tonight when he talks about artificial timetables are not part of a strategy for victory in the war on terror. The strategy for victory first comes first with an understanding of the nature of the enemy we face. Now, the enemy that we face in Iraq, the ruthless killers that are creating the scenes of senseless violence that we see every night in Iraq, share a murderous ideology with the same people who killed thousands of Americans on September 11th.

And the president will take some time tonight, really in his role as explainer and chief, helping people understand the nature of this enemy. He'll also point out, Ed, that while they are successful in carrying out violent attacks, they are not being successful in meeting their own political objectives. You know, the insurgents in Iraq are not carrying out terrorist attacks with no purpose. They're carrying out attacks to detail a political process and so far, that effort has been unsuccessful.

HENRY: Nicolle, the president will obviously be appearing with a lot of U.S. troops tonight at Fort Bragg. But over the last week, a story has come to light about the fact that the Bush administration has now found that its budget for veteran's healthcare is about a billion dollars short. And Democrats in the Senate pushed and now Senate Republicans today say that they will put $1.5 million more in the budget.

Isn't this a public embarrassment for the administration, that here's the president appearing with U.S. troops, saying he supports them, obviously, but he doesn't have enough money for their healthcare? DEVENISH: Well, the president has a record and a record that everyone can take a good long look at. A record of improving military housing, of improving healthcare for our veterans and for our troops. And it's a record we're proud of and one that we will continue. Now, something very important tonight. The president does pay tribute and honor and call on Americans to pay tribute and to honor the men and women of the military who are ensuring our freedoms here today.

HENRY: OK, we'll have to leave it there. Nicolle Devenish, White House communications director, thank you for joining us.

DEVENISH: Thanks, Ed.

HENRY: More on the president's speech and the situation in Iraq next. I'll ask Democratic senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska what he thinks the president needs to accomplish with tonight's nationwide address.


HENRY: This just into CNN. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the crash of the U.S. military helicopter in Afghanistan that we have been reporting on throughout the day. The Taliban has claimed that responsibility in a phone call to the Associated Press. As we have been reporting, a U.S. CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter crashed Tuesday while ferrying reinforcements for counter-terrorism operations in eastern Afghanistan. Military officials have told CNN about 16 U.S. troops were aboard. As of now the military is saying that they do not know fate of those U.S. troops.

We will continue to monitor this story and update it throughout the day, but the new information is that the Taliban is now claiming responsibility for that crash of the U.S. military helicopter.

Turning back to Iraq, Nebraska's Ben Nelson is among the more conservative Democrats in the U.S. Senate. A short while ago, I spoke with Senator Nelson about Iraq and other issues, including the fate of any changes in Social Security. I started by asking the senator what he thinks the president needs to say tonight to bridge the gap between those who think the U.S. is winning in Iraq and those who think the U.S. effort is failing.


SEN. BEN NELSON, (D) NEBRASKA: I think what the president needs to do tonight is make a clear statement as to what the mission is, and how it's important to stand up to the Iraqi military, stand up to special operations forces and stand up a functioning government. These are the criteria that are necessary in order to win the war.

But winning the war is not going to be done by the United States or by the coalition forces. Winning the war is going to be done by the Iraqi government, the Iraqi military, and the Iraqis. The Iraqis have to win it. I think right now progress is being made in certain areas, but it's clear also that with the number of IEDs and the number of attacks, these continue to go up. I don't think we can determine right now that we're winning or losing a war, from my standpoint.

What we have to do is discuss whether or not we're meeting those objectives. Whether we are standing up in the military, whether we are standing up sufficient special forces to overcome and defeat the insurgency, and whether we are, in fact, standing up a functioning government. That's what we have to do.

HENRY: Are you worried, though, that support for the war is slipping in the United States and we could be headed for another Vietnam situation?

NELSON: Well, I don't know about Vietnam, whether all these things are transferable from one event to another that way. What I am concerned about is losing the support of the American people in the middle of achieving those objectives. That's why I think the president needs to be able to make the sale tonight that these are the objectives, this is the mission and here's how we're doing on these objectives. If we do that, I think the talk will change from calendar timetables to whether or not how we're doing on each of those objectives. That's what I think the American people want to know.

HENRY: Let's talk about another contentious issue. That's judicial nominations. You were the leader of the gang of 14 that basically averted this nuclear showdown on filibustering judicial nominees. Do you think that, despite that deal that you've put in place, if there is one or two Supreme Court nominees, the Senate may get bogged down in just a nasty war?

NELSON: I don't think so. I think the gang of 14, as they're referred to, has had enough coordination and communication, to where, if there's a questionable nominee, we'll get together, we'll talk our way through it. I think we can work our way through it. It's one thing to continue to talk about the nuclear option. It's another thing to get enough votes on it. And I think that's what the difference. It may be on the table, but it has not been submitted and if it is, I don't believe there will be enough votes for it.

HENRY: You sound optimistic, but Senator Frist today, as you know, as you referenced, said today that the nuclear option is on the table and he may use it. And a lot of people are interpreting that as he may use it for a Supreme Court nomination. Did the gang of 14 celebrate a little too early the idea that you had basically saved the republic and prevented this big nuclear showdown? We, in fact, may have a nuclear war after all?

NELSON: I don't think so. The reason I don't think so is the gang of 14 have continued to communicate. We met a week ago. We'll continue to meet. And i think there's a common understanding that the last thing you want to do is filibuster any kind of judicial nominee in the absence of extraordinary circumstances. And I think we can work our way through as to what constitutes extraordinary circumstances among the 14. And that's all we have to do. And then the process will be able to continue and will avoid that nuclear option.

HENRY: We've talked about issues the president is having some trouble on now, like Iraq, like Guantanamo, elected judicial nominees. But also he's having difficulty on an issue you've been heavily involved in, Social Security. He's also seen the Bolton nomination stalled in the Senate. Is this an example of second-term blues? Do you think that some of your colleagues, especially on the Republican side, are looking at him now as a lame duck and are starting to push back a lot more than they did in the first term?

NELSON: Well, there's a certain inevitability of lame duck status that others will pick up on. And it's up to the person in office to avoid doing that. I remember my second term, I said, I'm not a lame duck, I'm not a dead duck, I'm not Daffy Duck, I'm not any kind of duck. We're not going to quack in this second term. We're going to get our work done. I think it's up to the person in office to dispel whether or not you're any kind of a duck.

HENRY: Making it clear he's no duck, he's Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska.

The president and the polls. Next up, we'll take a look at what you have to say about George W. Bush and the war in Iraq in our new poll.

Plus, what can the president say tonight to reassure the public? I'll bring in our senior political analyst Bill Schneider and our chief national correspondent John King, when we return.


HENRY: As the markets get set to close on Wall Street, I'm joined by Kitty Pilgrim in New York with "THE DOBBS REPORT" -- Kitty?

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ed. We have a really nice rally here today. Strong reading on consumer confidence. Now, after six days of losses, we have the Dow Industrials up about 112 points, NASDAQ adding about 1 percent. Oil prices dropped about $2 to just above $58 a barrel.

Analysts say that does not mean that prices have leveled off, however. They are expected to stay high because demand is running ahead of production.

Government prosecutors lost a big fraud case today. HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy has been found not guilty on all 36 charges, that includes fraud, money laundering. This was a big case. He was the first CEO ever charged under a new law passed after the collapse of Enron. That was designed to make top executives responsible for their financial books.

Lear, an auto-parts maker chopping 7,700 jobs moving production to countries where it is cheaper. Now, Lear already has plants in other countries like Mexico, and India, and China. The cuts will come mainly from the United States and Europe. Coming up on CNN, 6:00 p.m. Eastern on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," broken borders. Why one watchdog group had to force the government to release border patrol documents. We'll tell you why.

Plus, Nancy Grace joins us to talk about her new book, "Objection." And the first national college scholarship program for war veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, all that coming up on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

But for now, Ed, back to you.

HENRY: Thanks, Kitty. Now back to INSIDE POLITICS.

When President Bush speaks to the American public about four hours from now, he is expected to demonstrate his resolve to finish the mission in Iraq. While many Americans have little doubt about Mr. Bush's stick-to-it-iveness, they do have serious questions about his exit strategy.

Here's our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.


BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Here's the problem President Bush is facing in Iraq. When the major fighting ended in April 2003, the president's approval rating on Iraq was 76 percent. Since then, things have generally gone downhill.

The insurgency, increasing violence, mounting casualties. And so has the president's rating on Iraq. With two brief exceptions, a spike upward in January 2004 after the capture of Saddam Hussein and a smaller spike in February 2005 after the Iraqi election. The latest figure: 40 percent approval, the president's lowest rating ever two months in a row.

A few of his fellow Republicans are losing confidence. "Things aren't getting better. They're getting worse," Senator Chuck Hagel recently told a newsmagazines. "The reality is that we're losing in Iraq."

The White House response?

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It will be an enormous success story that'll have a huge impact, not just in Iraq but throughout the region. Bottom line is...


CHENEY: Wrong.

SCHNEIDER: But rosy scenarios are not what the public wants to hear from President Bush, not when more than 60 percent of Americans tell the CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup poll that Bush does not have a clear plan in Iraq.

Americans want reassurance that President Bush has a victory plan for Iraq, that there is a clear purpose behind the sacrifices Americans and Iraqis are making. David Winston, who takes polls for congressional Republicans, says the public is looking for milestones, which he defines as...

DAVID WINSTON, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: Clear identifiable achievements that represent progress toward the goal that we're trying to achieve.


WINSTON: The elections last January. For everybody in America, that was a clear milestone of progress.

SCHNEIDER: What does the president need to do in his speech? Here's what the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says he should tell the public.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Tell them the truth. Tell them what you need. Tell them how hard it will be, and they, if they believe you're leveling with them, will give you the resources to have a shot at getting it done.


SCHNEIDER: A narrow majority say they'd like to see a timetable for removing U.S. troops, but not immediate withdrawal. The public doesn't want to cut-and-run. They want to hear an end game.

HENRY: Thanks, Bill Schneider. I want to keep you in here as we also bring in CNN's chief national correspondent, John King, to talk about this, continue the discussion of the polls, as well as the president's speech tonight.

You've been sifting through these polls, Bill, and you see potentially a credibility gap for the president.

SCHNEIDER: There is evidence in today's ABC News-"Washington Post" poll. For the first time, a majority of Americans, 52 percent, told that poll that the Bush administration, in their view, intentionally misled the public in making the case for war. Now, that could be the impact of the Downing Street Memo, which was the recently released British government document suggesting that the Bush administration manipulated the facts in order to make the case for war.

HENRY: John, you've covered this president for a long time. Democrats on Capitol Hill are agitating for an investigation of the Downing Street Memo. What do you think will be the impact of this memo?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I don't think you'll get an investigation because the Democrats are in the minority. What the memo has done is brought back to life -- as Bill just noted -- not only the debate about the insurgency.

And many Americans, if you travel the country, and many Democrats and Republicans will tell you when they go home, this is the question they get. This was not the war we were sold. What about being greeted as liberators? Never mind the weapons of mass destruction. That debate is pretty much gone.

But what the memo does is it gives new life, a new vehicle to have the whole debate about, was there a really a solid plan? Did the president ask the right questions? And did they plan for the day after the bombing stopped? And that is the big question now.

And the president's not on the ballot next year, but Republicans are just as nervous as Democrats, when you get into that very uncertain environment, because the president cannot say tonight, "The troops will be home on day x." In fact, he will say he cannot say that.

HENRY: John, speaking of the ballot, you've just came back from Ohio. You spent a couple of days out in the heartland trying to take a look at this special election in the House. Give us an idea of how these polls numbers and how the Iraq policy is playing outside the beltway.

KING: We went because it's an interesting race. You have a special election in Ohio, second congressional district, because Ron Portman became the U.S. trade representative. It's a Republican district. The Republican candidate will most likely win.

If she does win, Republicans will be running for the bunker. Trust me. But it's an overwhelming Republican district. Because the Democratic candidate -- you see him here -- is Paul Hackett.

Now, what makes him unique? He's been back from Iraq for less than three months. He's a marine. He was in Fallujah. He was in Ramadi. He was involved at times in the training that the president will talk about in his speech tonight of the Iraqi forces.

He says the president has been overly optimistic in his assessments to the American people. Bill mentioned a credibility gap. Paul Hackett says he believes that goes back to "Mission Accomplished," that more than a year and a half ago the president essentially said, "We're almost done." And it's worse now, he said -- he said it was worse when he left in March than it was a year ago.

Now, he makes an interesting point. He says, to train these troops right, you need to put them in bed 24/7 with the U.S. troops. He says the Pentagon doesn't want to do that because it would put the U.S. troops at risk. Paul Hackett makes the case -- he will probably lose this race, but he's making the point at every stop that unless you change how we are training the Iraqi troops, this mission might never be done.

HENRY: Bill, look into your crystal ball. As John noted, obviously the president's not going to be on the ballot in 2006, but a lot of House and Senate Republicans will be. Talk about this Iraq policy and how it may affect them.

SCHNEIDER: We live in a system of independent political entrepreneurs. They're all in business for themselves. If the president's not popular, and he's losing popularity -- his overall approval now is the lowest we've seen, 45 percent. If he's not popular, members of his own party will go their own way, as a couple of them have begun to do, like Senator Hagel, whom I just mentioned in my piece.

They'll all give themselves political cover, because they don't want to be associated with an unpopular president. So you're going to begin seeing people sort of stray off the path. That's what the president's trying to do tonight, rallying not just the public but his own party.

HENRY: Thank you, Bill Schneider, John King.

Despite the political test he faces tonight, President Bush should feel relatively comfortable with his surroundings. After all, as our Bruce Morton reports, he's no stranger to military backdrops and photo-ops with the troops.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Commanders in chief, this one is no exception, like to campaign with troops on military bases. It's a good setting. You get a big reception. Troops like to be seen with presidents. It makes good pictures for the TV cameras.

Here's this president at the West Point graduation in 2002 welcoming the new second lieutenants to the war on terror.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge.

MORTON: Here's Bush aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003. Big reception, the president in a flight suit, and later, as the troops cheered and a banner announced "Mission Accomplished," proclaiming victory.

BUSH: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.


MORTON: It was great TV at the time, though critics later criticized the speech and the banner as the insurgency and anti- American violence continued in Iraq. In fact, there have been ten times as many U.S. combat deaths since Mr. Bush made that speech than there were during what he referred to as "major combat operations."

Another famous visit, the president surprised Thanksgiving with drop-ins on troops in Iraq in 2003. Some complained only pre-selected troops actually saw Bush. Air Force One, a 747, confused air traffic controllers by pretending it was a Gulf Stream Five and so on. But there's no doubt the troops were glad to see their commander in chief, and it really was a surprise, so much so that the recorded sound of his speech was catch as catch can, not state-of-the-art.

BUSH: We will win because our cause is just.

MORTON: Mr. Bush campaigns often, speaks at military bases, aides say, because he likes it. Lyndon Johnson, president during the very unpopular Vietnam War, made speeches on military bases because they were secure. He wouldn't run into the anti-war demonstrators who heckled him everywhere else.

Polls show U.S. opinion turning against the Iraq war, but so far it's nowhere near as unpopular as the much larger, longer Vietnam War was.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


HENRY: Be sure to stay with CNN for complete coverage of the president's speech on Iraq beginning at 7:00 p.m. Eastern through post-speech analysis on "LARRY KING LIVE" at 9:00 Eastern.

Now let's go over to the Pentagon where CNN's Barbara Starr, who just returned from Afghanistan, in fact, has some new information about this U.S. military helicopter crash we've been reporting on -- Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ed, the reality of war certainly intruding now on a day when it was supposed to be politics. A U.S. CH-47 Chinook helicopter has crashed in the remote eastern mountains of Afghanistan. Very sketchy details, but military officials saying search-and-rescue forces are trying to reach this remote mountain site.

This helicopter may have had 16 U.S. military personnel on board. Here is a picture of what this type of helicopter looks like and the very rough terrain in which it flies. It may have had 16 people on board when it went down.

This helicopter was reportedly reinforcing troops already on the ground, conducting counterinsurgency operations in eastern Afghanistan. So what we don't know is whether other troops on the ground were injured in this crash when the helicopter came down.

Now, the Associated Press out of Afghanistan is reporting at this hour that there is a call from reported Taliban members claiming responsibility for the helicopter going down. Of course, no confirmation of that yet. What we do know is an emergency beacon went off when the helicopter hit the ground. That's how they determined the location so quickly. No confirmation about any Taliban responsibility.

But, Ed, what we can tell you is U.S. commanders in Afghanistan from our trip there have been very concerned about the rise in violence there, the rise in attacks. They are predicting a very long, difficult summer in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is headed towards parliamentary elections in September. And they expect the insurgency in that country, in Afghanistan, to continue its efforts throughout the summer with attacks to try and stop the progress in that country -- Ed?

HENRY: Thank you, Barbara Starr. Good to see you safe and sound back at the Pentagon.

You can bet that some Democrats won't like what they hear from Mr. Bush tonight or what they don't hear. Up next, I'll talk to a senator who's pressing for a timetable for a troop pullout, Russ Feingold.

Also ahead, is former Senator Majority Leader Trent Lott staging a leadership comeback? And when we go inside the blogs, anticipation builds about the big speech and about Bob Geldof's big Live 8 Concert.


HENRY: Democratic Senator Russ Feingold is among those calling on President Bush to set a timetable for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. Senator Feingold now joins me live from Capitol Hill to discuss Iraq, the president's speech, and other issues.

Thank you very much, Senator Feingold, for joining us.


HENRY: I want to talk about your resolution. I spoke to one of your closest friends in the Senate last week, John McCain. And he said this is a terrible idea because he says it gives the terrorists an idea of when we'd be pulling out, and that this is great for the terrorists. What do you say to that?

FEINGOLD: Well, I love John McCain, but we don't agree on everything. You know, John and I were together in Iraq. And I asked one of the top coalition generals there, off the record, "Do you think it would be a good thing or not if we set up a timetable to let people know when the American troops would leave Iraq?"

You know what the general told me? He told me nothing would take the wind out of the sails of the insurgents better than a vision of how we complete our mission and when we'll complete it. And he meant that, in terms of not just our American and English populations, but especially the Iraqi people who need to be shown that this is not an indefinite American occupation.

So I think I do disagree with McCain on this one. I think it would help everybody if the president laid out tonight a clear view of the mission, what the different stages we have to go through to get this done, and when, over time with flexibility, the troops can come home. I think that it would be a major step forward.

HENRY: But I notice, Senator Feingold, in your resolution, you yourself -- you do not lay out a timetable for bringing the troops home, unlike the House resolution introduced by Congressman Walter Jones, a Republican from North Carolina, who actually has a timetable of 14 months to start drawing down the troops. Why do you dodge the big question of an actual timetable and just throw it in the president's lap?

FEINGOLD: Well, what Congressman Jones, of course, did was very courageous. But you stated it right at the beginning. You know, it's up to the executive and the president to execute a war like this. It is generally not something you leave up to the Congress.

So I think the first step should be, Mr. President, please do the job. Please tell us where we're going. And the president should be telling us what the time frame is here. It's very unacceptable, as a general rule, for the Congress to micromanage a war.

But what we should do is say we need clarity and we need some candor from the White House about where this thing is going. So I think it's clearly best in the first instance to have the president do his job, tell us where we're going, how long will it take, and when can we expect the brave men and women who are fighting there in Iraq so brilliantly, when can we expect them to be able to come home?

HENRY: But, Senator, doesn't that foster the idea that you and other Democrats just want to throw stones at this president on Iraq and other issues, but do not want to come up with a plan of your own?

FEINGOLD: Well, I don't think that's our job. If somebody said, "Look, Democrats come up with a plan to get out of Iraq," I suppose we'd do it. But I think the American people elected this administration. They're in charge of the war.

But this is not about Democrats. This is about Republicans and Democrats and all Americans saying, look, we have no idea what the plan is here. We have no idea about what the timeframe is. We have no idea about when our troops are coming home.

This is not like the Social Security system, where we -- where is the Democrat plan? This is a war being conducted by this administration. And they're hiding the ball. They hype up every situation, whether it be the capture of Saddam Hussein, or "Mission Accomplished," or the elections. They put a rosy scenario on everything, and don't ever really tell us the truth about what's happening there.

So they're in charge of this thing. They need to level with us because we all want to be unified with the president in trying to finish our mission, help the Iraqi people get their democracy, and especially, of course, bring our troops home. That's the right way to work with the president.

HENRY: Senator, it sounds like you want some straight talk from the president tonight on Iraq. There has been some straight talk from one of your colleagues on the Democratic side. Joe Biden, in the last week or so, has said put a plan and some ideas, at least, some principles on the table in Iraq, but has also said he's likely to run for president.

I know you're testing the waters. I want to hear some straight talk from you now. Are you planning to run for president?

FEINGOLD: I have to idea whether I would do that. I want to tell you something. What we need from George Bush is candor and clarity. Whether somebody's going to run for office in a few years doesn't compare to the tragedy of American men and women dying in Iraq right now, who are doing a brilliant job. They deserve, and their families deserve, our attention right now, not some gamesmanship about elections in the future.

I'm focused on this situation. Our number-one priority in this country is fighting the war against terrorism. I don't think this Iraq invasion fit that. But we're there now, and we have to figure a way out. And that's what we should all be focused on, not political games.

HENRY: OK, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you very much, Senator Russ Feingold.

FEINGOLD: Thank you.

HENRY: INSIDE POLITICS will be back in a moment with our political bytes.


HENRY: Checking our Tuesday "Political Bytes," Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack will soon take over as chairman of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. The DLC, of course, is a group credited with helping to launch the presidential campaign of Bill Clinton. Another pending change at the DLC, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton will take over what the group is calling a "special project."

Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, meanwhile, has confirmed what many have suspected. She plans to run for a third term in the Senate. Her announcement comes just days after she said she would not challenge incumbent governor and fellow Republican Rick Perry.

And in a follow-up to a story we told you about yesterday, Senator John McCain's office is firing back at anti-tax activist Grover Norquist following Norquist's description of McCain last week as a, quote, "nut job." In a statement to the "Washington Post," McCain's chief of staff Mark Salter said, quote, "John McCain hasn't spent five seconds in his entire life thinking about Grover Norquist. He's not going to start now."

Straight ahead, the blogosphere is keeping a close watch on tonight's presidential address. We check in with our blog reporters next to see what people are saying online.


HENRY: Just like the rest of us, bloggers are looking ahead to the president's speech just a few hours from now. And they have a lot of anticipation. And for now, we check in with CNN political producer Abbi Tatton and Jacki Schechner, our blog reporter -- Jacki?


Sure, there is a lot of anticipation online. And Bush supporters recognizing that there are some things that he needs to address in his speech tonight.

We go over to This is Lorie Byrd, who is located in North Carolina, where President Bush will be speaking at Fort Bragg. She's got a list of seven things that she thinks President Bush needs to do.

Among them, list the major accomplishments that our military has achieved so far. Talk about the need for support at home for the sake of morale of the troops, very important, she says. Praise the troops. He's done it before. Do it again. And be very, very clear that there is no timetable for withdrawal, and there is not going to be. Those sentiments echoed very widely in many of the blogs we were reading on the right today.

Over on the left, they're talking about the poll numbers and how those numbers are not looking good for President Bush at this point. There's also a list at This is the left of the things -- a list, I'm sorry, of the things that they think he's going to be talking about, saying if you've watched him with any consistency over the years, it's pretty easy to guess what he's going to say.

ABBI TATTON, CNN PRODUCER: On that issue of a timetable for withdrawal, the fact that president is not expected to give a date for withdrawal of troops in Iraq, that's being discussed a lot, and especially over at, where they've been doing a little bit of digging, pointing out that earlier on this week, President Bush says it doesn't make any sense to have a timetable. "If you do, you're conceding too much to the enemy."

Well, they started looking back at some of the other things he might have said about troop withdrawal in the past. They go back to 1999 when he's talking to President Clinton about the war in Kosovo. They find this quote from 1999: "I think it's important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long they will be involved and when they will be withdrawn." Another quote they have: "Victory means exit strategy." This is a very widely linked post in the progressive blogs today. Lots of people crying hypocrisy after reading this.

SCHECHNER: Of course, you're going to be watching the speech right here on CNN tonight. But if you've also got your laptop or computer handy, Think Progress is going to be live-blogging it, we assume with a slant to the left. And if you want the slant to the right, that would be at You can check that one out, as well.

TATTON: This is a very divisive issue in the blogosphere. One issue that seems to be uniting the blogosphere today, and has been the last couple of months, is the issue of FEC regulation of internet activity, political activity on the Web.

And two bloggers have headed to D.C. today to testify in front of the Federal Elections Commission about this. The FEC commissioners are looking into possibly extending campaign finance regulations to the Internet. And a couple of bloggers are really not happy about that. In fact, all of them aren't.

One of them is Markos of and on the right, Mike Krempasky of Why is this so important to them? Because bloggers engage in this kind of political activity all the time. We looked at Atrios earlier this month,, who was linking directly to the Democratic Web site trying to raise money for Howard Dean.

SCHECHNER: Wi-fi at the hearings, courtesy of the FEB. was live-blogging them as they were going on. Two of the issues they addressed were very important. What we've been talking about here for a long time, what is a blogger? What is a journalist? What's the difference? How can they be regulated, if they should be regulated at all? A lot of people saying "No, absolutely no regulation on the Internet."

The other thing is, what constitutes the individual exemption? And if you're a blogger with a group blog, or an incorporated blog, how do you fit into that? The hearings will continue tomorrow. We will continue to tell you what is going on and to cover them as they do -- Ed?

HENRY: Live-blogging at the FEC, a phrase I thought I'd never hear. Jackie, Abbi, we'll check back in with you in a short while.

On this first anniversary of Iraq, renewed sovereignty. The country is still far from secure, as insurgents keep up their attacks. A short time from now, President Bush takes to the airwaves to try to ease Americans' doubts about Iraq. We'll discuss the issue, straight ahead in our "Strategy Session."


HENRY: There's been a great deal of speculation and spin about what President Bush will say tonight about the mission in Iraq. But now we have actual excerpts from his speech.

BASH: Hi, Ed, well the White House did just release a few excerpts of the president's speech here at Fort Bragg. And the first is, essentially, trying to address what the White House promised, which is that, essentially, they get it. They understand that the public is very concerned. They see the polls like we all do about the mission in Iraq. And they understand the criticism that perhaps the president has been too rosy, has not really been clear with the American people that things are quite deadly and they're seeing it on their television screens.

So let me read you the first excerpt. He says, "The work in Iraq is difficult and dangerous. Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed."

(AUDIO GAP) HENRY: I'm sorry. We had some technical difficulties with Dana Bash. She's in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. We'll try to get back to her to get some more of those excerpts.

But right now, we want to turn to INSIDE POLITICS' "Strategy Session" on today's hottest topics. With us today, CNN political analyst Paul Begala and Republican strategist Rich Galen.

Today's topics: President Bush's speech tonight on the war in Iraq; and, seizing a political opportunity, Democrats call on the president to spell out a strategy for success in Iraq. On another issue, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says the Bush administration is already reaching out for names and types of people for an expected vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.

With his approval rating having some difficulty right now and the insurgency in Iraq still a potent force, President Bush is getting set to deliver this major speech, outlining his strategy on Iraq. And Mr. Bush has some reason to be concerned, based on the new CNN/"USA Today/Gallup poll. Only 40 percent of the respondents approve of the way he's handling Iraq. 58 percent disapprove. Mr. Bush will deliver his primetime address on Iraq from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as you just heard, and it's an attempt by the president to reassure Americans who are concerned about the on going bloodshed.

Rich Galen, what does the president need to do tonight? What does he need to accomplish to get this back on track?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think what you said in the intro is right. I mean, the White House, I believe, gets it. They understand that even given the summer doldrums that we're in -- by the way, the president's approval rating in "the Washington Post" poll this morning, today's poll was exactly the same as his approval rating one year ago when that poll was taken. And the president went on to win, as we know, by 3.5 million votes.

But I think what the White House is doing is recognizing that they haven't driven the story home, that people are tired of seeing the daily news. And the daily news is all bad news. That's not an indictment of the reporters. I was in Iraq for six months. Reporters are very brave. I mean, they've got to get out there and they've got to get these stories. And with somebody shooting at you, that's going to be the story of the day.

But what the president's going to do, I think, is to reassure people that the progress is slow, but steady, that where we were two and a half years ago and where we are today, I think, are two major differences and very positive differences.

HENRY: Paul, progress slow but steady?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the strategic question the president's got to face is -- what Rich is saying begins on the assumption that there's good news the American people don't know and the president should tell them. OK, I actually think the people are getting a pretty clear vision of what's going on in Iraq, from their sons and daughters who are serving, from their neighbors who are serving, from CNN and other media.

And if that's the case, then what people want is not simply the good news, of which there is some, not much lately, but some. But instead, what they will want, if they're actually getting their opinion formed accurately, and I think they are, is a new strategy. Something different.

Now I've taken a look at some of these excerpts. And each one of the three excerpts the White House put out hearkens back to September 11th. Now, of course, Iraq had nothing to do with September 11th and Senator Kerry, other Democrats, argued that the CIA is now telling us that Iraq, because of our invasion, is actually going to be more of a breeding ground for terrorists to promote another September 11th.

HENRY: Paul Begala, you just mentioned those excerpts. And in fact, we now have back CNN White House correspondent Dana Bash in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. She has some of those excerpts Paul mentioned. I want to bring you back in, Dana. Give us an idea what the president is going to say.

BASH: I think we've worked out technical gremlins here. And I was starting to read the first excerpt that we have. Essentially, it's President Bush's "I feel your pain" moment. They don't love that Clinton-ism at the White House, but, essentially, that's what this is.

And I'll read it. He says, "The work in Iraq is difficult and dangerous. Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed. Every picture is horrifying and the suffering is real. Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question -- is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it, and it is vital to the future security of our country. And tonight, I will explain the reasons why."

So that is sort of the preamble to what we expect to hear from the president, laying out generally what the plan is, politically, what the plan is, militarily. Of course, without a specific timetable when it comes to that.

The other issue that Paul was just alluding to that certainly struck me in reading the rest of these excerpts is talking about terrorism, essentially, making Iraq, again, from the perspective of the American people, part of the larger global war on terrorism.

Take a look at this excerpt: "The terrorists can kill the innocent, but they cannot stop the advance of freedom. The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September 11th, if we abandon the Iraqi people to make men like Zarqawi and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like bin Laden."

So there you hear the president not only talking about September 11th, but evoking the name of Osama bin Laden. That, as Paul was mentioning, that has been a point of controversy from the beginning of this war, the idea that the White House is, perhaps, linking 9/11 and the war in Iraq. What the White House says is that this is about the broader war on terrorism. During the campaign, you remember, Ed, the president defended going into Iraq basically because he said after September 11, I couldn't stand back and wonder if Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. But here is he talking about Osama bin Laden. I'm sure Democrats are going to have something to say about that. But he also wraps up and talks generally about the fact that Americans need to have patience.

HENRY: Thank you, Dana Bash. I said a few moments ago that you would dig out the story one way or another and you did. Technical difficulties or not, you got it. Thank you, Dana. We'll see you again tonight.

Paul Begala, you were making that point as Dana alluded to, about 9/11. And I want to bring Rich in as well, Rich Galen, a Republican strategist. As you know, last week, Karl Rove took a lot of heat for bringing the debate back to 9/11 and saying that after 9/11, liberals just wanted therapy and they really didn't want to get the terrorists. So is this a deliberate strategy to try to shift the focus from what's going on in Iraq and bring it back to 9/11?

GALEN: Well, and let me go back to what I was saying earlier, which is what is going on in Iraq, looked at in the broader scale, is positive. Let me give you an example. Just today I had lunch with a U.S. -- the ambassador to the U.S. from one of the Gulf states. And one of the issues that they're dealing with is, as we speak, preparing their infrastructure for when Iraq, and, by the way, Iran, when their economies really begin to crank up, when this period of insurgency ends.

And they have no doubt in their mind -- these are the neighbors, I'm not talking about somebody from Missouri. I'm talking someone -- you can drive there. That when the period of insurgency ends, to be ready so that they can invest heavily in Iraq.

HENRY: Let's get Paul in.

GALEN: So, obviously, some people...

BEGALA: I have no doubt whether the insurgency will end. The question is, will we be there or will we be gone?

GALEN: Depends on whether it's George Bush or John Kerry.

BEGALA: I spent the last six -- well, no, the election's over, Rich. I spent the last three days not with a wealthy Arab sheiks, but instead in real America.

GALEN: No, he was just an ambassador.

BEGALA: I was in Nebraska, the home state of Senator Chuck Hagel. I was in Omaha watching the mighty Texas Longhorns win the college world series. Biggest thing in my life this year. But you know, you go around -- Nebraska's a red a state as there is. Hagel went down -- Senator Hagel -- went down this weekend and spoke to the American legion and gave a blistering indictment of the war. He said that we're losing. He said that the president is not engaged in reality down there. He says the economy there is worse, and the infrastructure is crumbling. It was unremittingly bleak, and those legionnaires in Nebraska gave him a standing ovation.

Now, this is not a partisan deal. It's not about John Kerry anymore, or bashing the Democrats. The president has problems in the heartland, and if all he does is pull out 9/11 one more time like a handgun in a bar fight, it is not going to work. He goes to that weapon far too often.

HENRY: Quickly respond to Chuck Hagel.

GALEN: Chuck Hagel is channeling John McCain. Chuck Hagel is John McCain without one ounce of creativity. I gave a speech -- I

BEGALA: He spoke thoughtful -- He's a thoughtful, experienced guy. He's a combat veteran.

GALEN: Right. He only gets on T.V. when he says bad things about the president, so he says it all the time.

BEGALA: This is heartfelt. When you speak to legionnaires

GALEN: Nonsense.

BEGALA: And you, yourself, have been wounded twice in combat the way that Senator Hagel has, I give him more credit than that.

GALEN: Well, let me tell you, I went down and spoke at Ft. Bragg, not to the size of the crowd the that president is speaking to tonight, but two weeks ago, to the psychological operations headquarters, and I gave them my view, which is the view that you and I have been talking about, about what's going on.

Now, these are young men and women who have actually been there and are preparing to go back and are not afraid to go back and not resentful about going back, but they understand what the broader term of what's supposed to happen there is. So, these are the kids that are actually doing the work.

HENRY: Let's end that here and talk about the Democrats who are calling on President Bush to go farther than simply restating his policy on Iraq. They say Mr. Bush needs to lay out a strategy for success.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: I think it's time for the president of the United States to level with the American people and to tell them what is actually happening in Iraq, what the status of our training of the Iraqi troops are, so that we can soon turn the responsibility for the security of Iraq over to the Iraqis.

HENRY: Paul, we've talked about what points the president has to make tonight. What about the Democrats and how they respond? BEGALA: Well, there's two different branches. You had Senator Feingold on here a moment ago, speaks for what, I think, is a minority of Democrats, who want to set a timetable and want to pull out. I think substantively, that's wrong and I think politically, that's wrong, but there are people in my party -- there's some in the Republican party, you mentioned Congressman Walter Jones, conservative Republican, he represents camp Le Jeune in the Congress.

So, he's no left-winger, but I think Congresswoman Pelosi and Senator Reid, the Democratic leadership, is much less strident and I think this is the proper strategic approach for Democrats. Be respectful, be essentially supportive of the troops -- not essentially, but completely wholeheartedly supportive of the troops, but ask tough...

GALEN: The Dick Durbin view.

BEGALA: Questions. Demand that the president level with us. One of the reasons this thing is going south in popular opinion is people believe either the president's disconnected from reality or he's being deceitful.

HENRY: Rich Galen, your response. What do you think the Democrats need to do?

GALEN: I think the Democrats need -- I mean, I think what Congresswoman Pelosi and Senator...

BEGALA: Harry Reid of Nevada.

GALEN: Harry Reid learned was, that if you get too close to the edge, you get spanked pretty badly and they learned that lesson, they learned it well and they learned it pretty quickly. So, they're backing off and they're going back to the Kerry formulation, which is support the troops, don't support the war.

HENRY: Funny you mentioned John Kerry. In fact, he today has a "New York Times" op-ed on this very issue and saying what he thinks the president needs to say and then he took to the Senate floor a short while ago.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: There is still time to get it right in Iraq and I hope that for the sake of our troops, the president will do so, tonight. We're at a critical juncture in this conflict, both at home and abroad and the last thing we need, is the administration growing even more stubborn or more defensive. Today, our nation needs honest, open leadership.


HENRY: Rich Galen, how about that.

GALEN: The Democratic response, well before the speech. I think it's telling that John Kerry chose today and the "New York Times," by the way, chose today to give John Kerry a forum and he took to the floor today. He could have done this any time in the last six months. It's politics.

BEGALA: Well, the president could have given a speech on it and the networks, finally, belatedly, are giving the president the time they should. You know, I think Kerry has got it right. He seems to be in the more mainstream wing of the party, which is simply laying out the standards: Here's the tests, give us a realistic assessment of what's going on, on the ground.

Give us a real plan for victory, not just happy talk about how we're good and they're evil. My goodness, my four-year-old knows that we're good and they're evil. He's not commander in chief and then third, tell us the larger security implications. How does this make us more safe or is the CIA right that it's just breeding more terrorists? That's what people want to know.

HENRY: But, I heard John Kerry make that argument over and over on the campaign trail and it didn't work. .

BEGALA: The election is over. We're talking about a war. It's more important than election.

GALEN: But that's the same point. I mean he was trying to make that point and the American public, at that time, didn't agree with him. Maybe if the election were held today, they would.

BEGALA: What won the election on that was the president pulling out 9/11 and it may work again today, but it will not work to solve the real-world problem that men are dying over there. He's got to do better than saying: 9/11, 9/11.

GALEN: The question is: What's worse, to have terrorism on our shores or fight terrorism on their shores.

BEGALA: But that's not the choice...

HENRY: OK. We've got to move on.

Straight ahead, In our "Strategy Session," we'll focus on the expected battle over the future make up of the U.S. Supreme Court.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer, in Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour: A U.S. military helicopter crashes in Afghanistan, carrying more than a dozen troops. This is an area where the U.S. has been searching for Osama bin Laden. We'll have the latest.

President Bush gets ready to address America about the war in Iraq. What should he say? I'll ask Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, in his first national interview since his own controversial comments.

And: One year after the U.S. returned sovereignty to the Iraqi government, has anything really changed? We'll ask the former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi.

All those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."


HENRY: The "Strategy Session," continues now, on INSIDE POLITICS.

With us today, CNN Political Analyist Paul Begala and Republican Strategist Rich Galen.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist addressed the Heritage Foundation today and talked about a hot political topic here in Washington: The possibility of an upcoming vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. He says the Bush administration already is reaching out to solicit names and ideas, should a seat on the court open up. The issue has Democrats and Republicans already preparing for battle.

Rich, is this the calm before the storm.

GALEN: Yes, I don't think there's any question about it, but here's what I think is going to happen: I think they're going to do, now that we all have the Nationals here, I think the administration may do a double switch. There may be two vacancies and the president may appoint somebody on the court now as an associate justice to be chief and then, have two associate justices to appoint, making the Democrats decide who they want to fight and when.

BEGALA: Well, you'd still only have one associate justice. Anyway --but that's what president Reagan did. That's how we Rehnquist as the chief and then Justice Scalia filled the Rehnquist slot as an associate Justice.

GALEN: But no, if we have two resignations.

BEGALA: And that may well be. I think, Ed, this could -- let me take a different take. This could be the storm before the calm. Dr. Frist goes out today and he's all revving up the troops, he wants to run for president and he wants the Christian right all revved up for him.

But, the president is politically weakened right now. His chief domestic initiative, Social Security, is dead. His chief foreign initiative, Iraq, is in desperate trouble. He could move himself five, ten points up right now if he picked a consensus choice. Obviously not a liberal, but he could pick an Orrin Hatch, who's beloved and respected by both sides. Someone like that, who could be a consensus pick and he could turn the most divisive things in America, these social issues the Supreme Court deals with and these fights that we're all ready for about judges, if he turned that into a moment of national unity, it'd be enormously beneficial for the president.

HENRY: Did the Paul Begala endorsement just doom Orrin Hatch's candidacy? (LAUGHTER)

GALEN: I'm for Paul Begala. I'm behind you.

HENRY: But, in fact, Senator Harry Reid today said that there are four Republican senators -- he named, including Mel Martinez of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, that could -- that he would say the president could pick. It -- might that be the smart strategy, regardless of who it is, to pick a senator, a member of the club, to try to get past this divisiveness?

GALEN: I'm not sure how that works with the Constitution -- depends on when they got their last raise -- frankly, I mean, it sounds ridiculous, but that's true.

The -- but I was talking to some Democratic lawyers here in town today, and they gave me two or three names of Republican conservative Circuit Court judges that they thought would be fine with them.

BEGALA: Yes. There is some hope and maybe Rich and I are just, you know, blowing in the wind here. But there's some hope that there could be a consensus pick.

Now the president, at the same time that he said he wanted to be a uniter not a divider, he has enormous capacity to stick a thumb right in the eye of the Democrats and he likes to do that -- he relishes a good fight, too. So, who knows which way the man goes?

HENRY: OK. Paul Begala may be sticking an eye in the chances of Orrin Hatch being a Supreme Court justice and Rich Galen, Republican strategist, thank you both for joining us today.

GALEN: Good to be with you.

BEGALA: Thanks.

HENRY: The Live 8 concerts and G-8 summit are two hot topics on the Internet. We rejoin our blog reporters next, with details.


HENRY: A concert and a global summit are making waves in the blogoshpere today. We check in once again with CNN Political Producer Abbi Tatton and Jacki Schechner, our blog reporter -- Jacki?


Live 8 is a day of concerts this coming Saturday around the globe to help raise awareness to end global poverty. Sir Bob Geldof is the brains behind the operation and he is now teaming up with blogs and using the Internet to help forward the cause. This is a bipartisan effort and you can get more information on the basics at Live8 -- that's the number 8 --

TATTON: Bob Geldof is getting a helping hand from none other than Joe Trippi, Howard Dean's former campaign manager for the 2004 election campaign.

And he's been really getting the bloggers together left and right to talk about this. He started organizing a conference call. There was a conference call earlier this month with Bob Geldof and some prominent bloggers out there. We started seeing posts like, "I just got off the phone with Sir Bob Geldof," that at, a blogger on the right, who had his own concerns about whether to support the issue of debt relief and was able to talk directly to Bob Geldof about his concerns and the issue before posting on his site.

SCHECHNER: So, you can still be a blogger and still be a fan. Good move on Geldof's point, according to Trevor Cook (ph), an Australian blogger, making note, "this is a very smart marketing tactic. Nothing flatters a blogger like being included."

TATTON: But it's not that, not just conference calls, they're going one step further: Trippi has been working with John Hinderaker, over at Powerline blog, one of the conservative blogs, who announced yesterday that you might get an opportunity to blog the concerts. There are a limited number of credentials for bloggers to go and cover the concerts on Saturday and also, to fly on to Scotland, next week, for the G-8 summit itself.

SCHECHNER: There's not enough room on the plane for all the bloggers out there. So, if you don't get to go, you can do your part. You can put a badge on your site. It looks like that. I don't know if you can see it but go to and it talks you through how to put the badge on your site -- Ed?

HENRY: Thanks, Jacki and Abbi.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Ed Henry.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts, after a short break.




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