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THE SITUATION ROOM

Heated Debate Over Iraq War Continues

Aired November 21, 2005 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information from around the world are arriving all the time.
Happening now, pulling punches on Iraq. Vice President Dick Cheney renews his assault on some Democratic critics, but refuses to attack the veteran congressman pushing for a quick troop pullout.

No escape. It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington. President Bush is on his way back from Asia where all doors seem to lead to Iraq questions and controversy.

Also this hour, a well-connected Washington lobbyist charged with conspiracy, due to appear in court. Will Michael Scanlon cop a plea? And will he finger members of Congress as part of the bargain?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's Thanksgiving week. Congress is on break. But there's no holiday from the red-hot political feud over Iraq. Today the vice president again served as front man for attacks on Democrats who accused the administration of misleading the nation into war.

Our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield is following the story, he's standing by.

First let's get an update on what has happened today. Our chief national correspondent John King standing by here in Washington.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, an interesting mission for the vice president today. His task was to try to tone down one element of the Iraq war debate, while escalating the rhetoric in another. The vice president speaking here in Washington today. The president himself told senior aides he believed it was a mistake to be so personal in the White House rebuttal of Democratic Congressman Jack Murtha.

Last week it was Murtha who said bring the troops home from Iraq within six months. The vice president made clear today that he thinks that would be a mistake. The vice president said he believes the price of such a hasty withdrawal would be to leave Iraq in the control of al Qaeda. But the vice president did so in very polite terms, making clear he thinks of Congressman Murtha as a friend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Recently my friend and former colleague Jack Murtha called for a complete withdrawal of American forces now serving in Iraq with a drawdown to begin at once. I disagree with Jack. I believe his proposal would not serve the best interests of this nation. But he's a good man, a Marine, a patriot. He's taking a clear stand in an entirely legitimate discussion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: One reason the administration does not believe it needs to be so heated in rebutting the view of Congressman Murtha, bringing the troops home within six months, is that so few leading Democrats are standing with the Congressman.

Listen here to Senator Joseph Biden, Democrat of Delaware, he's the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In a speech in New York to the Council on Foreign Relations, he delivered a scathing indictment of the Bush Iraq policy. He said he considers just about every element of it to be a failure. But Senator Biden says you cannot rush the troops home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE) FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: The hard truth is that our large military presence in Iraq is both necessary and increasingly counter-productive. Our presence remains necessary because, right now, our troops are the only guarantor against chaos. Pulling out prematurely, in my view, would doom any chance of leaving Iraq with our core interests intact.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: As the vice president, if you will, toned down the rhetoric when it comes to Congressman Murtha's plan, he escalated the rhetoric over pre-war intelligence. A number of leading Democrats -- John Kerry among them, the Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid among them -- have suggested in recent days and weeks that the president deliberately shaded the intelligence, misled the American people into the war in Iraq. The vice president escalating his already heated rhetoric on that front in his speech this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY: A few politicians are suggesting these brave Americans were sent into battle for a deliberate falsehood. This is revisionism of the most corrupt and shameless variety. It has no place anywhere in American politics, much less in the United States Senate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Wolf, there's a reason the administration would rather have that fight over the pre-war intelligence right now. They'd rather not have it at all, but they need to have it because they are seeing, in public opinion polling, an erosion of the president's numbers when it comes to honesty and credibility. They know, the stakes in that debate go beyond the Iraq war into the president's ability to govern for the final three years of his second term. BLITZER: We're going to be speaking with Congressman Murtha live in the next hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Yesterday, the president went out of his way to praise Congressman Murtha. Today the vice president went out of his way to praise Congressman Murtha. This is in sharp contrast to the initial White House reaction -- Scott McClellan, as you remember, on Friday issuing a statement over in Asia making a comparison to the liberal filmmaker Michael Moore. Congresswoman Jean Schmidt of Ohio, a Republican, suggesting that he was a coward. What has changed? What has happened?

KING: Well, the White House for one says that it believes Congressman Schmidt was just plain wrong, that Congressman Murtha is a hero who served his country and should never be called a coward.

The White House did, as you know, issue a harshly worded statement. On the one hand, the White House said it was baffled by the position of Congressman Murtha, given his history on military matters. But it did go on to compare his position to that of the liberal filmmaker Michael Moore.

White House aides I've spoken to today, Wolf, a number of senior administration officials say that was simply a mistake. One called it inartful. One called it not terribly bright. And we are told that both the president and the vice president said end it. No more personal attacks on Congressman Murtha.

BLITZER: John King reporting for us. John, thank you very much.

President Bush is due to arrive back here in Washington soon after wrapping up his Asian tour in Mongolia. He's the first U.S. president to visit the formerly Communist country -- a thank you for its deployment of about 100 troops in Iraq. Throughout his trip, the debate over the war was never very far away from Mr. Bush's mind, whether he liked it or not.

Our White House correspondent Dana Bash is traveling with the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all very much.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Reporters on the scene immediately dubbed this the "No Exit Strategy Press Conference." Even the sheepish president couldn't ignore the obvious metaphor.

BUSH: I was trying to escape.

BASH: The hands down picture of the trip, a snapshot of its theme. A week in Asia with no escape from the escalating debate at home over Iraq. The first stop, Japan, was supposed to be the easy one. BUSH: Prime Minister Koizumi is one of my best friends.

BASH: But as the president took in ancient Kyoto sights, the Senate rejected a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq, but demanded a plan for success.

BASH (on camera): In that evidence that your party is increasingly splitting with you, sir, on Iraq...

(voice-over): Off his message, but his talking points were ready.

BUSH: That was a positive step by the United States Senate.

BASH: Next stop, South Korea. Once again Mr. Bush is distracted by red-hot Iraq rhetoric in Washington. This time, it's his vice president, ratcheting up the GOP campaign to discredit Democrats criticizing the war.

BUSH: I agree with the vice president. People are irresponsibly using their positions and playing politics.

BASH: Meanwhile, South Korea catches the visiting White House off guard, announcing plans to remove some of their 3,000 troops from Iraq. But that was nothing compared to the bombshell surprise in Washington -- influential Democrat John Murtha calling for troops to leave Iraq in six months.

With that, the White House gave up any illusion of an Asian escape, releasing a blistering statement linking Murtha to Michael Moore. And Bush aides uncharacteristically released excerpts of this speech hours before to overcome the 14-hour time difference and make the news cycle back home.

BUSH: Setting a deadline for our withdrawal from Iraq would be a - quote -- a "recipe for disaster."

BASH: Seven days in, China presented the most difficult diplomacy. But Mr. Bush felt compelled to speak about John Murtha, a fine man, but...

BUSH: I disagree with his position.

BASH: Meanwhile, tough talks on human rights and economics with unrelenting Chinese leaders produced no concrete results. And a reporter asked the question on many minds.

QUESTION: This morning with President Hu, you seemed a little off your game.

BUSH: Have you ever heard of jet lag?

BUSH: Typical jet lag, perhaps harder to shake when the bruising Iraq debate is your constant companion.

Dana Bash, CNN, Ulan Bator, Mongolia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield for a little analysis. Jeff, do you see this administration speaking with one line right now, or are we getting different kind of messages out there?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the reason you're getting two messages, one on Congressman Murtha and those who are always for either a withdrawal or against the war, and the Democrats who voted for it, is, as John King suggested -- it's relatively easy to marginalize the Murtha position, because so few people, even Democrats, embrace an immediate beginning of withdrawal.

The second reason for that, I think, and the reason why the White House backed off so quickly, is that Murtha is the last kind of Democrat the White House wants to get into a fight with. This guy is not only a Vietnam combat veteran -- two Purple Hearts and I believe a Bronze Star -- but he looks and sounds like the kind of working class Democrat that the Bush political team has always wanted to attract. He looks very comfortable in a VFW or an American Legion Hall, not the kind of guy who looks like he would be knocking back chablis and nibbling on brie, which is how the Republicans like to paint a lot of Democrats. And I think that's one of the key reasons why.

What they also, I think, really don't want is to give people in the middle any sense that yes, you know what, we were misled into this war, and it's OK now to change your mind. The erosion of support for this war has been slow but steady, and it's now reaching something approaching critical political mass.

And I think, lastly, the White House would be very happy to pick a fight with liberal Democrats like John Kerry or Harry Reid, because it will encourage their own base, which itself is beginning to show a little bit of doubt on the war.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Is that why -- and I'm anxious to hear what you think -- so much time is being devoted right now to history -- in effect, why the U.S. went to war, the pre-war intelligence -- as opposed to what should the U.S. be doing now?

GREENFIELD: I think there are two reasons for that. And here is one example. You remember we were talking last week about, is this like Vietnam?

This is one area where I think there's a proper analogy. When Vietnam began looking bloodier and costlier and more complicated, the country -- particularly the Senate, then in the hands of Democrats like Lyndon Johnson, but with a lot of anti-war people -- began looking back at the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which seemed to commit us to doing whatever we needed to do. It gave the president broad power.

And there were a lot of questions being raised, how did we get into this mess? I believe if this war in Iraq and the post-war period were going well, if the news was mostly good, we wouldn't be asking all these questions.

The second reason why Democrats want to talk about how we got there is, it relieves them of a very difficult burden -- mainly, answering the question, what would you do now? Because if the critique is, we didn't send enough troops, and if some of the military people -- as "TIME" magazine reports this week -- met with three U.S. senators and said, you know, whatever the president and secretary of Defense are saying, we've asked for more troops and we've been turned down -- if that's the basis for criticism, what Democrat besides Joe Lieberman and a handful of others, are willing to say, the answer is to send more troops? That's not what the country wants to hear.

So I think it's a lot more comfortable for critics of the war to say, we were misled, we stumbled into this. The post-war period was handled badly. All of which, even a lot of Republicans and conservatives will nod their head on, than for them to say OK, and here's our plan for what we do now.

Joe Biden tried to do that today here in New York in a speech. But I think a lot of Democrats would just as soon avoid that specific point of saying, OK, what's next.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff Greenfield, thanks very much. Good analysis. Let's check up, stay in New York.

Jack Cafferty is back. He took a day off on Friday. We missed you, Jack. But good to have you back today.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Why, thank you, Wolf. It's getting ugly out there. According to Vice President Cheney, if you question, if you dare question the use of pre-war intelligence, according to that speech this morning, you are dishonest and reprehensible.

John Murtha striking a chord, giving voice to, I suppose the growing concern over this war, that Jeff Greenfield was talking about when he called for withdrawal of the troops from Iraq last week, perhaps over the next six months.

Then there was that congresswoman, Jean Schmidt. Did she make a big enough fool of herself? Maybe. She's a Republican from Ohio. They must be very proud with the nickname "Mean Jean." Following the idiotic remarks she made last week, her nickname could be changed to really, "Dumb Jean." In reference to Murtha's call for the troop withdrawal, she went onto the floor of the House of Representatives, where she has been a member for a grand total of 75 days, and said cowards cut and run, Marines never do.

Well, of course, Murtha is a retired Marine Corps colonel. Schmidt later retracted her comments. Mercifully for all of us, Congress is away, they're on vacation for two weeks.

But the question this hour is this. What do you make of this growing war of words we're having over the war of bullets that's ongoing in Iraq? Email us your thoughts at CaffertyFile@CNN.com. We'll read some of the responses in a half hour or so.

Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, good question. Thanks very much, Jack Cafferty. Good to have you back.

Coming up, a Democrat fires back at the vice president over Iraq. Senator Barbara Boxer in the hot seat right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also ahead, a car maker's new drive to cut its losses by cutting tens of thousands of jobs. We'll ask the question, what's happening to the U.S. auto industry?

And later, if you missed it live on CNN, you won't want to miss it this time. See how a Nike corporate jet ended a three-hour crisis in the air.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A huge blow today to America's workforce -- the largest single layoff announcement in the United States in three years. General Motors says it's cutting 30,000 jobs and closing or scaling back operations at about a dozen plants in North America. The car maker is hoping to save some $7 billion a year, stem its financial losses and start making some money again.

Our Ali Velshi following GM's troubles. He's joining us now live from New York. "Bottom Line" question, Ali, what's wrong with the U.S. car industry right now?

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Well, there are a couple problems. One is that at some point, the U.S. carmakers were able to appeal to Americans about buying American. That line has become very fuzzy lately, because it's unclear where a car is made.

We know that these American carmakers like GM are based in the United States, but cars are made all over the world. Toyota, for instance, has 190,000 workers right here in the United States building cars. And the most popular car sold in the United States is a Toyota Camry.

Sure, GM has the second most popular vehicle sold, the Silverado, the "Like a Rock". And Ford has the number one, which is the F series truck. But the fact of the matter is, the American stranglehold on cars has been declining over the years.

Combine that, Wolf, with the fact that the American car makers -- GM in particular -- have all sorts of liabilities in terms of pensions and health care.

GM's supplier, chief parts supplier, Delphi, went bankrupt a couple months ago. Well, GM used to own that company and has some obligations to pay off the health care of Delphi's workers. Now, that could be billions of dollars. GM's own health care bill is coming to $5.8 billion. And in the last year, thus far this year, in 2005, GM's already lost $4 billion. So, they've got this whole structure that's draining money and they're not selling enough cars, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ali Velshi, thanks very much. Ali's going to have a lot more coming up in the next hour here, as well as 7:00 p.m. Eastern, THE SITUATION ROOM returns.

In the meantime, let's check in with CNN's Zain Verjee. She's joining us from the CNN Center in Atlanta with a closer look at other stories making news. Hi, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. After several tense hours, a Nike corporate jet landed safely at an airport near Portland, Oregon, despite landing gear problems when one of its wheels became caught part-way down. The jet circled in the area for several hours to burn off fuel for an emergency landing. The landing gear was eventually freed, allowing for an uneventful landing. Along with a flight crew, three Nike senior executives were on board the plane.

The man accused of shooting six people at a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington, yesterday scheduled to go before a judge for a preliminary hearing. That's in the next half hour. After the shooting spree, the suspect held three hostages in a music store for about four hours before surrendering to police. All the hostages were released unharmed.

There were bloody border clashes between Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah group today. Hezbollah says three of its fighters were killed in the clash with Israeli troops in the disputed Shebaa Farms area. Israel says 11 of its soldiers were wounded. The two sides later traded rockets and artillery fire across the border.

And China's reporting two new outbreaks of bird flu in poultry and warns that the risk to humans is growing. This comes a day after President Bush and the Chinese president Hu Jintao discussed strategies for containing the virus for during their talks in Beijing.

Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain, thanks very much. We'll get back with you soon.

Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a well connected Washington lobbyist in court this hour. Will he make a plea in his conspiracy case? And what does this mean potentially for his former boss, Republican Congressman, the former majority leader, Tom DeLay?

Plus, the supreme battle over Samuel Alito. A key senator now using the word -- the filibuster word. We'll explain when we get the situation online.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press -- pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow. In Baghdad, a hooded policeman secures an area in front of a burned out truck. It was carrying equipment for U.S. forces when it was attacked by a roadside bomb. No reports of casualties.

In Germany, demonstrators stood on train tracks to block a load of nuclear waste from passing through the area.

In China, an epidemic prevention worker vaccinates a duck for bird flu. One hundred thousand water fowl have been vaccinated in one city alone.

And over in Mongolia, look at this. President Bush shaking hands with a man dressed in traditional clothing. Mongolia was the last stop.

And that's our last picture in our "Hot Shots". Oftentimes, pictures that are worth a thousand words.

This hour, a Washington lobbyist and a former aide to Congressman Tom DeLay may have a court date here in Washington. And more than a few political figures may be wringing their hands about that.

Our Justice correspondent, Kelli Arena, joining us now with more on this criminal investigation aimed potentially at Congress. Kelli, what are you picking up?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Michael Scanlon, former partner of high powered lobbyist Jack Abramoff, just pled guilty in court at this hour.

That is, we're told by government officials, part of a plea deal that he worked out with the justice department. Those sources say as part of the deal, Scanlon has agreed to testify against Abramoff.

The government last week accused Scanlon of conspiring with Abramoff to defraud clients, mostly Indian tribes. And they were also accused of trying to corruptly influence a member of Congress with sports tickets, lavish trips and campaign donations.

The government source identified that congressman as Bob Ney of Ohio. Now, Ney's attorney told the Associated Press that the congressman is a victim, not part of the conspiracy. But he has yet to return calls to CNN.

Now, Wolf, as you mentioned, Scanlon is also an ex-aide of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. DeLay is also facing scrutiny for his associations with Abramoff. Both DeLay and Abramoff are facing charges in separate investigations, but they are not facing in charges in this alleged scheme.

Wolf.

BLITZER: You've been speaking with a lot of lawyers, a lot of sources. How important is this plea agreement potentially for the government? ARENA: Well, it's very important. As you know, this investigation into Abramoff has been going on for more than a year. This was his former partner. Scanlon was his former partner. We can assume that he knows many things that the government would like more information on. And, so the fact that they got Scanlon to cooperate, according to all the legal experts, does not look good for Abramoff.

BLITZER: Kelli Arena, thank you very much.

ARENA: You're welcome, Wolf.

BLITZER: Democratic Senator Joe Biden hinted yesterday at a possible filibuster of Judge Samuel Alito's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Biden told FOX NEWS SUNDAY the chances of a filibuster are increased by a 20-year-old document in which Alito expressed disagreement with the Warren Court's decision on apportionment -- also known as one man, one vote.

Biden's comments have conservative bloggers crying foul.

Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner is checking the situation online. Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Well, just the mention of the word filibuster opened up some conversation online on the conservative blogs. Just wanted to point some of that out for you.

For example, Charmaine Yost, who is the blogger at the Family Research Council, goes back to the basic numbers. She actually put together this chart. And you can see the crucial votes on the Alito confirmation are going to be that gang of 14. You can see the seven and seven in the middle.

Moving down to Confirm Them, this is a conservative blog from RedState.org. And they are committed to discussing the federal judiciary. Talking about new Democratic strategy, perhaps Roe v. Wade in their opinion, isn't going to resonate with the American public the way they might expect.

Moving down to Blogs for Bush, Mark Noonan pointing out that Arlen Specter's setting the date for January gives plenty of time for activism on both sides.

You can go over to JudgeAlito.com and sign a petition. You can raise money for People for the American Way at SavetheCourt.org. Wolf, something we're going to see a lot of, of course, over the next six weeks online.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jacki Schechner.

Up next, the drumbeat on Iraq, growing louder and more emotional every day. Senator Barbara Boxer joins the fray, responds to tough words from Vice President Dick Cheney. She is standing by live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And in our next hour, the House Democrat who took the Iraq debate to a new level -- that would be John Murtha -- on the fallout from his call for a quick troop pullout. He'll be live in THE SITUATION ROOM, as well.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. The vice president, Dick Cheney, played both the good and the bad cop roles today in another fierce defense of the Bush administration's Iraq policy. He said he has no problem with Congressman John Murtha or his right to call for a speedy troop withdrawal from Iraq. But once again, Cheney hammered away at Democrats who have accused the president of lying about Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY: What is not legitimate and what I will again say is dishonest and reprehensible is the suggestion by some U.S. senators that the president of the United States or any member of his administration purposely misled the American people on pre-war intelligence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, a high-profile Democrat and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Barbara Boxer of California, is joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CA), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Are you one of those senators who accuses the administration of lying about the intelligence leading up to the war?

BOXER: I never used that word. But I really think there was a cherry-picking of intelligence. But, Wolf, we don't know all the answers yet because there has been no investigation into what the administration did. Even though the president and the vice president seem to say there was, we explicitly did not study that. And right now...

BLITZER: The investigations that did occur, the Silberman-Robb Commission report, as well as the Senate Intelligence Committee report, both of them concluded that there was no evidence of pressure on intelligence analysts to comp with certain conclusions.

BOXER: That's very different from what you're talking about. We don't know whether the administration cherry-picked intelligence before they reported to us.

BLITZER: That's what the Intelligence Committee is investigating now.

BOXER: Exactly. And that's why Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, said we're going into private session of the Senate, closed session of the Senate -- it was very dramatic -- because we're waiting for this study. So when the president says all the studies are done, no problem, that's just not true.

BLITZER: So instead of using the word lie, what word do you use about the buildup to the war from the administration?

BOXER: Well, what I believe from what I knew as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee was that there was a big argument and debate going on right in front of the committee between the different intelligence agencies of the different departments. Energy Department had a different view than State, State Department had a different view than DOD, CIA, we weren't sure. And they were all arguing it in terms of the nuclear weapons.

So when I went into that vote where I voted "no" to go in, I believed -- I truly believed that Saddam had chemical and biological. I was wrong on that, but I believed that. But on the question of nuclear, I really doubted it. And so I think there was a cherry- picking of intelligence. But we don't know...

BLITZER: Until this investigation is...

BOXER: ... until the committee is done. And that's why -- let me just say, for the vice president to try and muzzle senators, let me just say to him if he's watching, don't do it, because it's not going to happen.

BLITZER: Do you go as far as Congressman John Murtha who says over the next six months, get those troops out of there, move them "over the horizon" to Kuwait or some other locations where they won't be targets in Iraq?

BOXER: I think Congressman Murtha has really thought this out. And I am willing to look at what he said. I voted for the Democratic alternative, which was slightly different. Although we did say by '06 we want the Iraqis to defend themselves.

But I think, Jack, anything he says, you have to look at, this is a man who got eight military accolades including, and I think you've said it, two Purple Hearts, one Bronze Star. I frankly believe he must have talked to a lot of people on the ground in Iraq before he said what he did, because he loves the military with all his heart.

BLITZER: And so at this point, though, you're not ready to vote for a resolution that would call for a withdrawal over the next six months? In other words, are you ready to support a timetable for withdrawal?

BOXER: I am ready to tell the president to come forward with what the mission is and how long it would take us to get out of there. And to start bringing the troops home as we see the Iraqis can step up to the plate. I am on the Feingold resolution, which does just that. But I'm willing to look at what Jack Murtha says. I might very well do it. I need to look at what he said.

Now a lot of people say it's an immediate withdrawal. It was over six months, number one. Number two, it was a lot of redeploying the troops so that if we saw that our friends in the Iraqi government needed us, we would be right there.

BLITZER: What if there's a civil war...

BOXER: But right now...

BLITZER: What if all-out chaos -- and as the vice president today painted this picture of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi taking over, these insurgents, taking over Iraq with all that oil and all that strategic real estate, what would happen?

BOXER: Well, let me just tell you, if Zarqawi came out of the shadows, if bin Laden came out of the shadows, assuming he's still around, and started to run the country of Iraq, they would be history in five minutes. It would be very easy for us to act.

BLITZER: Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, also a novelist. Got a hot new novel out entitled "A Time to Run." How is that book doing?

BOXER: So far, so good.

BLITZER: We'll be watching it. Thanks very much for joining us.

BOXER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

BOXER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, in this week for thanks and giving, there's little of it between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to the Iraq war. Coming up in our "Strategy Session," the continued clash of comments.

And problems with The Boss. Two Democratic senators like Bruce Springsteen's music and long career and want to honor his "Glory Days." So why is that bitter music to some Republican ears? We'll tell you what's happening on the Bruce Springsteen front.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: More now on our top story. In the clash of comments over the conflict in Iraq, there's new tension and there's new dissension from the White House and from those critical of the administration's Iraq policy. Joining us, two CNN contributors, Donna Brazile is a Democratic strategist, Bay Buchanan, president of American Cause.

Thanks very much for joining us. What do you think of the way, Bay, that the Republicans, your fellow Republicans, are handling this whole uproar over Congressman Murtha's words?

BAY BUCHANAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think the White House clearly made a mistake on Murtha when they came out and started to suggest -- and it wasn't the president or the vice president, but I believe it was a spokesperson.

BLITZER: Scott McClellan, the press secretary.

BUCHANAN: Exactly, exactly. And I think he made a mistake. And I think the White House realized it, because Congressman Murtha...

BLITZER: When the press secretary issues a written statement like that to the traveling press corps over in Asia, he doesn't just do it himself. There are top people, maybe even the president of the United States, who approve every word of that statement. They may release it in his name, though.

BUCHANAN: There's no question, whoever was behind it, they made a mistake, in my opinion, because Murtha clearly -- Congressman Murtha is a person who is a respected legislator and obviously a war hero and somebody that deserves our respect. And what he said was, listen, I differ with the president on our strategy today in Iraq. That's an honorable thing that he would take a position like that.

But I think what he did is smoked out the Democrats. He took a position -- let's come out in six months, let's get these troops out. And it caused the Democrats to have to say, look at all the criticism, all the loud noise we've been saying about the president, we don't think the direction he's going is wrong, we think we should stay in Iraq.

BLITZER: So they did smoke out the Democrats, because only three of them in that vote late Friday night on the House floor supported in effect what Murtha was saying, although the language was not consistent. The language that the Republicans put forward, clearly designed to embarrass Murtha, was an immediate withdrawal. And his is much more finessed over the next six months, redeployment and things like that.

But it did put the Democrats, you'll have to admit, in an awkward position on the House floor.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I believe the Democrats knew going in before the vote that they were not going to support this ploy by Congressman Hunter to take just a small portion of Mr. Murtha's resolution and bring it to the fore as if he was some big anti-war critic.

I think at some point, Democrats will have to define a strategy for success in Iraq and perhaps call for early troop withdrawal as some Democrats clearly have done, Senator Feingold being one, but also Senator Hagel has also called for the troops to come home.

So I think it's time to have a debate, whether it's on the House floor or in Senate committees on what is the strategy for success in Iraq.

BLITZER: Senator Hagel has been critical of the administration. I'm not so sure he has actually called for them to come home. But that's opening up another door.

We're going to be speaking with Congressman Murtha here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour, Bay. But he said over the weekend, it's clear to him no matter what your positions are right now, by this time next year, you know what, they're going to be out of there, those U.S. troops, most of them are going to be home in time for the elections next year. Do you agree with that?

BUCHANAN: I think it was a bold statement. But I do not believe he's accurate. There's no question in my mind though, when you look at everything that's going on, the president realizes that there is a window of opportunity here for him to stay the course. He's going to have to start bringing some troops home or the American people are going to feel more and more uncomfortable at what's happening there.

The key that's going to drive this debate, Wolf, whether or how many troops are coming home, is what happens in Iraq. The president has made that clear. If we can bring troops home, they will come home. Hopefully that's the case, because I think a year from now, this debate is going to be more hot if we still have 150,000 troops over in Iraq.

BLITZER: And there still is a possibility that things on the ground in Iraq, as bleak as it looks right now, could turn around if the elections December 15 work out -- there's a new democratically elected government that can really take charge of their security. That might enable the U.S. to start pulling out.

BRAZILE: That's one issue. And that's a very important issue because if the Iraqi troops are ready to take charge, that will alleviate, as Congressman Murtha said, some of the ongoing tension that's on the ground.

But also the reconstruction effort -- I mean, unemployment is up to 70 percent in Iraq. The reconstruction -- electricity is still down. All production is down. So there are a lot of things that must come together for Iraq to be on the path to success.

BUCHANAN: But, you know, Wolf, the issue here, politically speaking, what happened last week is the Democrats, after all this loud noise of criticism of the president, which was, of course, pre- war intelligence issues, they were defanged, declawed, and neutered last week. They were exposed as individuals who like to talk and criticize and do this against the president, trying to undermine his integrity. But when it comes to saying what we should do today, they showed no leadership whatsoever.

BRAZILE: I think -- there's no question that Murtha showed Democrats a direction that the party should be willing to step forward and go into. But Republicans also lost last week when the Senate itself voted on that resolution to tell the president it's time to come up with some measurable goals, and to report back, that was a signal to the White House that stay the course was not a real winning strategy.

BLITZER: We'll leave it there, guys. Thanks very much, Bay and Donna.

Up next, an 18-year-old high school senior and his major after- school activity, after class today, we'll tell you why this teenager's friends might have to call him, sir.

And the heated debate over the Iraq war. Some say the bickering over such an important issue is simply democracy at work, but others say they have simply had enough. What do you think? Jack Cafferty has been going through your email.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's head back to the CNN Center in Atlanta for a closer look at other stories making news. That means Zain Verjee is standing by. Hi, Zain.

VERJEE: Hi, Wolf. Bosnian leaders are in Washington to mark the tenth anniversary of the Dayton Accords which ended that country's the bloody civil war. State Department officials are using the occasion to call on Bosnian leaders to accept constitutional reforms aimed at essentially at further unifying the country. A ceremony marking the accord is going to be held tomorrow.

A Japanese government panel is recommending that female members of the royal family be permitted to ascend to the throne. If approved, the change could clear the way for 3-year-old Princess Aiko to one day become empress. She would be second in line to the throne behind her father, Crown Prince Naruhito.

An annual survey of crime statistics ranks Camden, New Jersey, as the country's most dangerous city for a second straight year. The murder rate in the city of 80,000 people is more than 10 times the national average. Camden was followed by Detroit, St. Louis, Flint, Michigan, as well as Richmond, Virginia. The safest city was Newton in Massachusetts. And that's a suburb of Boston.

Now if you hate feeling like you have to just monitor what you eat over the holidays, just take heart, OK? Because the government's going to do it for you. Each year, the Census Bureau tabulates dozens of facts related to the holidays, including food consumption. Among the statistics generated in years past, a typical American eats more than 13 pounds of turkey and nearly five pounds of sweet potato each year.

And, Wolf, just so you know, I love sweet potato and am looking forward to, at least, some of those pans of turkey this week.

BLITZER: I love all of the above myself. I think Jack Cafferty does, as well. Jack, your favorite Thanksgiving treat?

CAFFERTY: Getting the day off would be the top of my list of favorite things.

(LAUGHTER) VERJEE: What about spending time with your family, quality time and giving thanks for being in THE SITUATION ROOM with Wolf and myself?

CAFFERTY: Let me tell you something, Zain. That phrase, "spending time with your family" is vastly overrated.

(LAUGHTER)

VERJEE: Why, Jack?

CAFFERTY: It just is. Every time somebody gets fired, they say, I'm leaving the job in order to spend more time with my family. Somebody pointed out when they get the job, they never say, I'm accepting the position in order to spend less time with my family.

Anyway, onto the question. The political war that's developing over the war in Iraq is getting uglier by the day. The latest salvo fired by this morning by Vice President Dick Cheney, who called those who questioned the use of pre-war intelligence dishonest and reprehensible.

The question is, what do you make of the war of words over the war of bullets in Iraq?

Steven in San Antonio writes: "I think it's good that Congress is starting to stir, maybe now we can see some definitive results."

Bob in Louisville, Kentucky: "Why would anyone pay any attention to a speech by Vice President Cheney? If B.S. were dollar bills, this guy could pay off the national debt and fund Social Security for the next 100 years."

Walt in Piedmont, Missouri, writes: "Isn't it time we ask the Iraqi people if they want the United States and our allies to stay in their country? Encourage them to put the issue on the next national ballot. If they want us to leave, we can make an orderly and honorable exit. If they want us to stay, they'll need to accelerate their efforts to defend themselves."

Dan in Elgin, Illinois: "Ye brave folks of a Bushly stripe who've changed your tune since Friday night. Lo, Friday's coward praised to the skies, who now has flip-flopped? Why it's you guys."

And Phil writes: "Do you suppose there's any way that we could extend the congressional vacation until the end of their terms?"

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: What a lovely idea.

BLITZER: We have a lot of very creative viewers out there. Thanks very much, Jack.

CAFFERTY: All right, see you later. BLITZER: Still to come, tough questions for the Defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, on Iraq. Is the Pentagon doing all it can for the troops and did it tell all it knew about pre-war intelligence? That's coming up in our next hour.

Also, President Bush's run-in with a door opens the door to all sorts of comments online.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Some are calling it an earthquake in Israeli politics. The prime minister, Ariel Sharon, saying today he's breaking away from his hard-line Likud party to better pursue peace-making with the Palestinians. Sharon now plans to form what he calls a liberal party before likely elections in March.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, who's watching this story. Why did the prime minister make this move, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He wants a quick election, Wolf. He wants to do this quickly before his opponent can really regroup. And this is being called a bombshell by my sources in Israel. By the way, his victory as the leader of the Likud party, which is going to have a primary, was by no means assured. He has a lot of critics in his own party.

But think of it this way. Suppose President Bush were to announce tomorrow that he's leaving the Republican Party. I mean, it's just that kind of earthquake. Sharon expects that if he runs as a candidate of this New Center party, there will be more possibilities of forming a coalition.

So right now, Israel has three main forces. It has Sharon's old Likud party on the right, which is likely -- not certain, but likely -- to be led by Bibi Netanyahu, with whom the United States has had difficulties in the past, a very hard bargainer. The Labor party has a new leader, Amir Peretz, who is Moroccan-born and very, very dovish. And Sharon trying to hold the center.

BLITZER: So what does this mean bottom line for the peace process with the Palestinians?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Prime Minister Sharon says that he is completely committed to the Road Map, which, of course, is the Bush plan. But, you know, in a three-way race, anything can happen. The center may not hold, particularly if there is a security crisis.

And you know, today, Hezbollah launched attacks on northern Israel. That could instantly polarize the situation and Sharon's center could collapse.

You know, there are two important elections coming up in the Middle East: January 25, the Palestinian Authority is going to have a parliamentary election; March 28 is the likely date for the Israeli election. That could be good news for the United States because it could give both sides in the Middle East peace process a fresh mandate to restart the peace process and get it moving.

But the question for the United States is, can Prime Minister Sharon pull it off? No organization, no clear source of money -- can he hold the center together? A very difficult question. It's going to be a very dramatic and rocky election.

BLITZER: Politics in Israel, a contact sport as they say. Thanks very much for joining us, Bill Schneider, with that good analysis.

On our "Political Radar" this Monday, a high school senior is taking on a lot more than an after-school job. Eighteen-year-old Michael Sessions will be sworn in tonight as mayor of Hillside, Michigan, two days after the incumbent he defeated dropped his recount request. Sessions won the job in a write-in campaign.

And we don't know if Bruce Springsteen has any hard feelings, but some New Jersey Democrats still are miffed. The state's two senators pushed a resolution to honor the boss 30 years after the release of the album "Born to Run." But GOP leaders shot down the measure. Democrats suspect Republicans were protesting the fact that Springsteen lent his voice to John Kerry's presidential campaign last year.

President Bush's trip to China was full of photo ops, but bloggers are talking about one snapshot in particular.

Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner is here with more. Jacki?

SCHECHNER: Wolf, it's a series of photos from President Bush's press conference in Beijing. He had a little trouble leaving the press conference when he ran into a locked door. He woke up to the "New York Times" this morning, he saw the series of photographs.

So what we decided to do was have a little fun. We went to newseum.org. It's a Web site online where you can get all of the day's newspaper front pages, took a look to see who chose to run what photo.

I've got to say, only a handful of papers on either side, six running the goofy and six running the smiling one. "San Francisco Chronicle" went with the goofy one. And Colorado Springs went with the one of him smiling.

Online here's the reaction: "No Exit Strategy." We're seeing this making the rounds of bloggers online. And one of the things we've learned over time is definitely don't give them anymore fodder than they already need. They've got the video online as well, Wolf, at crooksandliars.com.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jacki.

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