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THE SITUATION ROOM

Alito Faced Last Day Of Questioning Before Senate Judiciary Committee; Robertson's Remark About Sharon Callous; International Disapproval Of Iranian Nuclear Moves; President Tours Hurricane- Ravaged Gulf Coast; Interview With Robert Bork

Aired January 12, 2006 - 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: Thanks very much, Ali. And to our viewers, you're now in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information from around the world are arriving all the time.
Happening now, Iran's nuclear defiance, it's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington where the secretary of state is getting behind an international call for action.

Also this hour, Judge Samuel Alito rests his case. The Supreme Court nominee's four-day job interview is finally over. Now, is there anyone or anything standing between him and the seat on the highest court in the nation?

And President Bush on the Gulf Coast, promising anew to help residents rebuild. It's 3:00 p.m. in Mississippi. Are hurricane-hit communities welcoming Mr. Bush back? I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The Bush administration is raising new red flags today about Iran's nuclear program. The Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is calling on the United Nations to confront the Tehran government for defiantly pursuing its nuclear ambitions. Let's go to the White House, our Suzanne Malveaux is standing by with details -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is really high stakes diplomacy. Today, what was announced, the United States and European allies simply saw the talks with Iran over halting its nuclear ambitions, its nuclear program essentially dead, all of this, of course, concern over what happened just days ago on Tuesday when it reopened three of its nuclear sites, specifically the Natanz facility capability of enriching uranium.

Now, Iranians, of course, are saying that they broke the seals, restarted the nuclear research, that this is for peaceful purposes, but the international community has become quite alarmed by all of this. Now the United States, along with Great Britain, Germany and France, all today calling for the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA to haul Iran before the UN Security council for possible sanctions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The removal of seals by the Iranian government in defiance of numerous IAEA board resolutions demonstrates it's chose confrontation with the international community over cooperation and negotiation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now Wolf, of course, Secretary Rice is being cautious in her statements today. She was asked about kind of this crescendo in rhetoric, saying of course it sounds like the kind of talk that led before the invasion, the U.S. invasion of Iraq. She was very specific. She says we're in a new phase of diplomacy, but still diplomacy. There are various undersecretaries that will be heading to London, to Vienna, to figure out what are the next steps.

The big question here, of course, is whether the European community, the members of the UN Security Council will take serious action again Iran, whether or not that's economic sanctions, oil sanctions. It's highly unlikely that countries like Russia and China, who have lucrative oil deals with Iran would actually good that far, but they are talking about possible other alternatives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Speaking of other alternatives, I noticed earlier today when, Suzanne, when the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld was asked about Iran's nuclear ambitions, whether a military option was being dusted off, he sort of punted. He said he's not going to get into it. He deferred to others, then Condoleezza Rice spoke up. What about the president? Do we expect to hear from him on Iran anytime soon?

MALVEAUX: Well, Wolf, it's very interesting you ask that question, because it was just yesterday the president was before a roundtable in Louisville, Kentucky, with a group of people, and it was a Q&A session, essentially they could ask him anything. He said if you want to ask about Iran, go ahead, almost prodding the audience to do just that. They did not bite. They didn't ask about Iran. Obviously the president very much anxious to get this out in pubic on the table, saying look, this is not acceptable.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House. Maybe someone later will ask the president about Iran.

MALVEAUX: Maybe tomorrow.

BLITZER: Then again, maybe he'll just make a statement on it. We'll see what he does. Suzanne Malveaux, thank you very much. And by the way, we're going to have much more on this important story coming up in the next hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour is in Iran right now, and she's going to have an exclusive report here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

This hour, the Samuel Alito hearings are going on without the star witness, the Supreme Court nominee wrapped up his marathon Q&A session with the senators less than three hours ago. By most accounts, Alito seems on track for confirmation despite a whole lot of pushing and prodding by Democrats. Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Ed Henry, he is joining us live from Capitol Hill -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, after fielding nearly 700 questions over the course of 18 hours of testimony, Judge Alito's chances of confirmation looking better than ever.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): If there was any doubt about how thrilled conservatives are about Judge Samuel Alito's prospects, arriving on Capitol Hill to a rock star's welcome set it off. And another boost about the extent of his involvement with Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a group that opposed admitting more women and minorities, Alito touted his membership in a 1985 job application, but Chairman Arlen Specter revealed that after pouring through four boxes of records ...

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R) PA: Judge Alito's name never appeared in any document, his name was not mentioned in any of the letters to or from the founder William Rusher.

HENRY: Another brick wall for frustrated Democrats.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY, (D) MA: We started these hearings seeking answers. We've come with even more questions about Judge Alito's commitment to the fairness and equality for all.

HENRY: Much ado about nothing to Republicans.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R) UT: So I think it's just wrong to keep bringing these phony issues up.

HENRY: The nominee stuck to praising the woman he hopes to replace, Sandra Day O'Connor who has been moderate on issues like abortion.

ALITO: I would try to emulate her dedication and her integrity and her dedication to the case-by-case process of adjudication.

HENRY: Democrats insist despite Alito's talk about having an open mind on abortion, the paper trail suggests otherwise

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, (D) NEW YORK: It's a record that contains evidence that you believe the constitution does not protect a woman's right to choose.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (on camera): And another boost today from Democratic Senator Ben Nelson, a key member of the Gang of 14 moderates. He says he does not see any reason for a filibuster. That follows two Democrats on this commit by, Biden and Feinstein yesterday telling CNN that they also do not see a reason for a filibuster. To state the obvious, he's speeding towards confirmation, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed, which senator spoke the most during these four days of hearings? HENRY: It's funny. Joe Biden always gets ribbed by his colleagues for being so loquacious. He actually came in third. Schumer allowed 58 minutes of speeches and talking. Edward Kennedy, a 51 minutes. Biden was 50 minutes, the top Republican, John Cornyn of Texas with 44 minutes.

There was nearly 700 questions, the top one was executive power, 120 questions, abortion 105, judicial philosophy, 86 and finally Princeton that was such a controversy, 49 questions on that, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. Good numbers, Ed Henry reporting from Capitol Hill.

Judge Alito is no longer in the witness chair, but some of his colleagues from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals are. In an unusual move, unprecedented, in fact, several current and former judges are testifying right now on Alito's behalf. Some Democrats and legal ethicists are complaining about that, questioning whether Alito should be endorsed by judges whose decisions might wind up coming before him on the Supreme Court.

Still ahead, a former judge who has been through the worst of the Supreme Court confirmation process, that would be Robert Bork. He's standing by. He'll join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And you can keep following all the Alito hearings live. Our new news resource is called "Pipeline" and is available at cnn.com. Check it out.

President Bush is on the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. His first visit there in three months and is sounding relatively upbeat about progress made since the last time he was there, but many residents still haven't forgotten the administration's slow response right after Hurricane Katrina hit. CNN's Kathleen Koch traveled with the president to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. She's joining us now live -- Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president was really preaching a message of compassion to residents, both in New Orleans and here in Bay St. Louis where I grew up. People feel like enough just hasn't been done for them, and here in Mississippi in particular where they feel they've been ignored. First the president we did go to New Orleans, met with Mayor Ray Nagin, met with five small business leaders, and did say more federal help was coming, in particular will to help reinforce those levees.

The president made the point that he felt it was so critical that any new levee system be much bigger and much stronger than the levees currently are. Then the president came here to Bay St. Louis, what was once a town of just over 8,000, now just two-thirds of that. And the president did admit to the audience of roughly 400 here that he realized federal aid hasn't always come as quickly as it was needed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Government at the federal level is capable of dealing with it, in conjunction with the state and local governments. There are going to be some lessons learned about having agencies that get overwhelmed by the size of a storm, agencies whose job it is to help people get on their feet and maybe are not able to do it quite as efficiently as others would like. Those are the lessons we're going to continually analyze. That's what you ought to expect of those who have been given the high honor of serving you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOCH: Well, while some roughly 300 angry residents gathered in Jackson Square in New Orleans to protest the visit, feel like he has not done enough. He received largely a very warm welcome here in Mississippi. He did drive past residents holding signs saying things like "We need help, lost everything."

The closest thing I saw to a negative sign was referring to a town here, Waveland, that was totally devastated. Bay St. Louis was 95 percent underwater, Waveland was just flattened. And that sign said rebuild Waveland, not Iraq. Bush? I mean, back to you.

BLITZER: Wolf.

KOCH: Wolf.

BLITZER: That would be me. Kathleen, this is your hometown, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. I remember a lot of our viewers will remember the moving reports you did right after Katrina when you went back to see firsthand what was going on. What is it like now? Some personal reflections.

KOCH: It's come a long ways, Wolf. I was just here as Thanksgiving. And the differences I've seen since then. The Catholic Church that's not far from here right on the water where I used to attend where two of my sisters were married, they've now repaired the floor. They had a Christmas Eve mass there, which was just really important to a lot of the people in the area.

One more restaurant has opened up in town. There were only five open in town when I was here. Now there are six. The debris that used to just tower over you on either side of the road when you drove down the streets, they felt line canyons and the debris gradually being removed, but only 33 percent of it has been moved from this on county. They've got a lot more work to do.

There's just such a long road ahead, Wolf. But every time I come, it's just a bit better.

BLITZER: That's good to hear. Thank you very much, Kathleen, Kathleen Koch reporting from her hometown in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. It's not hometown, but he's in New York and he's spent a lot of time there over these last few years. Jack? JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: My youngest daughter coincidentally is a student at Tulane University, and she just went back for the spring semester. She was in Europe during the fall semester when this happened and I talked to her on the phone a couple days ago and she said it's worse than she had imagined it might be.

I didn't have time to get into detail, but she and her buddies went back to school. They're going to reopen Tulane for the spring semester. And there is apparently a ton of work to be done down there. She said there is just debris everywhere, and it's much worse than she thought it might be.

BLITZER: Are the dorms opening, is the campus operating?

CAFFERTY: The campus will be operating. They are going to have school for the spring semester. In fact, classes start on Monday. My daughter's in her junior year and she and some friends rented a house off campus last year, so she's living away from campus. She did live in the dorms the first year and Katrina hit on what they call freshman move-in day.

I remember, my daughter had a room on the 12th floor of the dormitory-- freshman move-in day isn't something that should happen to a dog. And those people were told in the midst of hauling all that stuff up all those many flights of stairs, that you're going to have to not only do this, but evacuate the area, take your kid and get out, there's a hurricane coming. I can't imagine what must have done to some of those families.

And a lot of kids, you know, transferred to other schools and wound up staying away from Tulane. They're downsizing the university as a result of this storm, but they are going to be open and they're determined to get all the way back, so we wish them well.

Once in a while something in Washington DC says something that makes sense. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen once in a while. Today Senator Joe Biden said the Supreme Court confirmation hearings serve little purpose and should probably by abandoned and he's right.

Three days of sound and fury signifying nothing, mostly sound with a little fury, and a whole lot of nothing. Biden suggested sending the nomination strait to the Senate floor for a vote, which is actually the way things worked up until 1925. Here's the question -- should Supreme Court confirmation hearings be done away with? You can email us your thoughts at caffertyfile@cnn.com or cnn.com/caffertyfile.

I was getting extraneous, Wolf, so I pulled this thing out of mire ear, so I can't hear you. I'll just toss it back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much. Jack Cafferty reporting for us.

Coming up, the Alito hearings through the eyes of a man that's been in the hot seat. The failed Supreme Court nominee turned judicial scholar Robert Bork, he's standing by, he in THE SITUATION ROOM. My conversation with him, that's coming up.

Also ahead, strange but true. Now that lobbyist Jack Abramoff is presumably telling all to prosecutors, we'll investigate what the so- called K Street crowd can get away with.

And a stampede in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, the final day of Hajj pilgrimage ends with hundreds dead. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Judge Samuel Alito's interrogation by the Senate Judiciary Committee was long, sometimes grueling, sometimes even rough, but it looks like it will end very differently than the ordeal Judge Robert Bork went through some two decades ago when the Senate rejected his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Robert Bork is joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Judge Bork, thanks very much for joining us.

ROBERT BORK, FORMER SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: Glad to be here.

BLITZER: As you were watching Judge Alito answer these questions, were you thinking in your mind, you know, I wish I would not have been as blunt and as sometimes brutally honest as you were during your confirmation hearings?

BORK: I didn't think I had a lot of choice, because I had written a great deal about Roe against Wade, about Griswold against Connecticut, all the hot-button issues. So there was no way I could say I hadn't made up my mind about that, or I'll think about it, something of that sort.

BLITZER: Did that even enter your mind at that time? Is that even an option? Because since your rejection, certainly that's been the way that all of the nominees basically have addressed these issues. When they've come forward, they said, you know what? I may have a paper trail, I may have written a lot of things, but I don't want to say anything, because it could come before me if I'm confirmed.

BORK: You can't say that Roe against Wade was wrongly decided, has no basis in the Constitution, and then say I can't answer the question, because it might come before me. What I did say was, if anybody shows me a basis in the Constitution, I will consider it.

BLITZER: Is it fair to say these other nominees since your confirmation process, learned lessons from your experience and they applied them?

BORK: I think so, but I think it's also true that the White House learned a lesson, and that is don't nominate somebody with a controversial record, that is who's written about these things. Because you notice that ...

BLITZER: Let me interrupt you for a second. But Sandra Day - not Sandra Day -- Judge Ginsburg, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she had, I guess if you're a conservative, she had a controversial record, having worked at the ACLU, and even Judge Alito had written some controversial things going back to that 1985 job application.

BORK: That wasn't very controversial and it was a long time ago and as far as Ginsburg is concerned, she had the advantage of being questioned by Republicans who don't push it, who don't attack in the same way the Democrats do. Also, the fact is Democrats controlled the Senate when I was up, and they don't control it now.

BLITZER: So that was a big difference. Here's what Samuel Alito said about you, back in 1988. Let me put it up on the screen. "I think he - referring to you - was one of the most outstanding nominees of this century. He is a man of unequaled ability, understanding of constitutional history, someone who had thought deeply throughout his entire life about constitutional issues and about the Supreme Court and the role it ought to play in American society."

He was asked about those remarks on Tuesday. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAMUEL ALITO, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: When I made that statement in 1988, I was an appointee in the Reagan administration and Judge Bork had been a nominee of the administration, and I had been a supporter of the nomination. I don't think the statement goes beyond that. There are issues with respect to which I probably agree with Judge Bork, and there are a number of issues with which I -- on which I disagree with him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Very diplomatic answer, I must say. How do you think he handled himself?

BORK: Very well. He's walking away from a lot of things. That was one example.

BLITZER: Including you, right.

BORK: Yeah.

BLITZER: So why do you say he handled himself very well?

BORK: The object nowadays is to get confirmed. People will say pretty much -- or avoid saying pretty much in order to get confirmed.

BLITZER: Are these hearings a waste of time? Is it all sort of theater right now?

BORK: It's a waste of time and worse than that, it's turned the confirmation process into a political struggle. The reason for that is the Supreme Court has made itself a political institution, and if it's a political institution rather than a legal institution, the political parties, each one wants to control it. BLITZER: Arlen Specter, who is now the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he voted against you when you were before the panel, before the committee. What do you think of this man?

BORK: Of Arlen Specter? Well, I don't want to go into that too deep by, but the fact is I would have been the fifth vote to overturn Roe versus Wade and I think Arlen Specter will never confirm the fifth vote to overturn Roe against Wade. I'm not a large fan of Arlen Specter, let us say.

BLITZER: Do you think that Roe versus Wade is going to be overturned?

BORK: Not now. I think they need -- I don't know whether Alito or Roberts -- Alito and Roberts, one thing is clear, they will not invent new constitutional rights. For example, I'm sure they will not, for example, find a constitutional right to homosexual marriage, but whether they will go back and try to clear up some of the terrible decisions of the past is entirely unclear. But even if they did, there would only be four votes.

BLITZER: So you think that that's the issue waiting to happen at some point down the road? You still hope Roe versus Wade will be overturned?

BORK: Yes, but there are a number of cases I wish would be overturned because they're constitutional travesties, is the word for it.

BLITZER: All right. We'll leave it at that word. Thanks very much, Robert Bork, always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BORK: Thank you.

BLITZER: And coming up, the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton, wants to lower the price for drugs that AIDS patients depend on. We'll share his prescription when we come back into plus is it a merger between two major airlines in the works? Ali Velshi is standing by with the bottom line. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Zain Verjee is on assignment today, in fact, heading to Washington. She'll be with us tomorrow. Fredricka Whitfield is filling in though. She's standing by at the CNN Center in Atlanta with a closer look at other stories making news. Hi, Fred.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, good to see you, Wolf.

Well, it was supposed to end today but not supposed to end this way. In Saudi Arabia, at least 345 people are dead after a stampede during the last day of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. The stampede happened during a ritual at Mina. Pilgrims became bottled up at an entrance to a bridge, many had their luggage with them and the stampede began after some started tripping over the bags. We'll have much more on this story next hour.

The man who shot and wounded Pope John Paul II walked out of prison today. Officials are now they're trying to determine if Mehmet Ali Agca is fit for military service required under Turkish law. The Vatican supports the decision to free him. Agca tried to kill the pope back in 1981. The pope later publicly forgave him, even meeting with him in prison.

He had walked to his execution steadfast in his innocence. Now 14 years after Roger Coleman was put to death in Virginia, officials say new DNA tests confirm his guilt. Virginia Governor Mark Warner says the test confirm he raped and murdered his sister in-law back in 1982. Coleman spent much of him time before the execution maintaining his innocence.

Former President Clinton is brokering more deals with drug companies for more ways to fight aids. Today Clinton announced deal with nine companies to offer cheaper AIDS test and anti-AIDS drugs. The plan could have developing countries millions -- save them, rather and perhaps even save millions of lives.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: We're here today to announce - 90 percent of those living with a virus today in developing nations don't know it. They need to know their status. These HIV-rapid tests make that possible, even in the most rural areas of the world, because they're easy to use, only take a drop of blood, and most important, give results in 20 minutes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: The former president there.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred. We'll get back to you very, very soon.

There's new talk of a possible merger between two of the country's largest airlines. Ali Velshi is in New York. He has got the "Bottom Line" -- Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: The problem is the world about that possible merger isn't anywhere outside of transport Secretary Norman Mineta's thoughts. He was Shanghai and said at a gathering something along the lines of I sometimes wonder where Delta and Northwest, both of which are bankrupt, my emerge as one airline. Both of those airlines were quick to say that won't work.

A number of analysts said they both have different kinds of planes, different operations altogether. It does bring up the question about whether we have too many airlines, especially since so many of the majors are in bankruptcy, but for now, don't worry about it, they're staying separate airlines. Wolf.

BLITZER: Ali Velshi reporting for us. Thanks, Ali, very much.

The House Democratic leader today is accusing Republicans creating what she calls one of the most closed, corrupt Congresses in history. Nancy Pelosi is urging the House Ethics Committee to investigate four GOP lawmakers linked to the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, including the former majority leader Tom DeLay. At the same time, Pelosi is welcoming a Republican proposal to ban lawmakers from accepting privately funded trips.

But she says much more needs to be done to end influence peddling on Capitol Hill.

Jack Abramoff's plea bargain and decision to cooperate with prosecutors has turned Capitol Hill on its head. Let's bring in our senior political analyst Bill Schneider for more. Bill?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: What hath Jack Abramoff wrought? He hath wrought a frenzy for lobbying reform, that's what.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Columnist Michael Kinsley once wrote, "The scandal in Washington isn't what's illegal, it's what legal."

Like what lobbyists do, according to Fred Wertheimer of the nonpartisan group, Democracy 21.

FRED WERTHEIMER, PRESIDENT, DEMOCRACY 21: They hold fundraisers, which raises far more than they can give. They get their clients to pay for trips, lavish parties for members of Congress.

SCHNEIDER: Now that lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Congressman Duke Cunningham have pleaded guilty to giving and accepting gifts that really are illegal, Congress is saying, "They did that? How shocking. Let's declare more things illegal so we'll stop doing them." Speaker Dennis Hastert is considering a ban on travel paid for by lobbyists. You know, those golf tournaments. Representative John Boehner, who's running for majority leader, wants to ban earmarks in spending bills.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), OHIO: Lobbyists get members of Congress to take their special projects and bury them in bills and pass them.

SCHNEIDER: The Democrats have their own agenda.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: We must kill the K Street Project.

SCHNEIDER: The K Street Project was Tom DeLay's idea.

WERTHEIMER: It was designed to increase the responsibilities of Washington lobbyists to support Republicans and provide increased influence for those lobbyists in Congress in return.

SCHNEIDER: Everybody has a proposal, including Boehner and Roy Blunt, the two leading contenders for majority leader. But how credible are they?

WERTHEIMER: Both Representative Boehner and Representative Blunt are deeply tied into K Street and Washington lobbying community. They were principal players in this during their careers.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The problem is money. Campaigns cost money. If the money doesn't come from lobbyists, where is it going to come from? Lobbying reform without campaign finance reform may not mean a great deal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider reporting for us. Thank you, Bill, very much.

Up next, the supreme battle over Samuel Alito. Were the Democrats successful in raising questions about the nominees? Were the Republicans successful in warding off any such attacks? We'll find out in today's "Strategy Session".

And later, Pat Robertson sends a personal apology to Ariel Sharon's family. We'll tell you what he wrote, what he said, why he's doing all of this. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In our "Strategy Session" today, the Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito faced his last day of questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Did the Democrats make any progress in raising concerns about his nomination? Were Republicans successful in warding off any attacks? Is it time to change the entire process?

Joining us today, CNN political analyst, Democratic strategist Paul Begala and Republican strategist Rich Galen. Now, I want to play a sound byte from Senator Kennedy, what he said today. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: These stakes are very high. And that was reflected in the variety of questions posed over the past three days. We started these hearings seeking answers. We've come with even more questions about Judge Alito's commitment to the fairness and equality for all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Basically, what he and others, Kennedy and other Democrats are suggesting, they didn't get any answers. They didn't get any answers. And as a result, they're almost certainly going to vote against his confirmation.

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It didn't matter what answer they would have gotten, they were going to vote against him, anyway.

BLITZER: Even if he were more forth coming on Roe vs. Wade... GALEN: No, no. Biden was right. Biden said, "You know what? These hearings are stupid. We know enough about this guy. Let's go to the floor. Let's have an debate amongst the senators why we should or why we shouldn't and just go to a vote." These hearings have become ridiculous, and I agree with that.

BLITZER: What do you think?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They have become ridiculous, but they weren't always. Justice Ginsburg, who's precedent that the Republicans love to cite in this process, she came before the same panel. She was asked about abortion and Roe vs. Wade by Hank Brown, who was then a senator from Colorado.

She said, "Senator, I don't think a woman is a fully adult American unless she has a right to a legal abortion." That's as plain as it can be, and she got 96 votes. I think -- and this is a pipe dream. I think Judge Alito should have just told the truth. He's going to work to overturn Roe. Twenty-five years of his life have been spent on this proposition and other conservative legal issues. That's not dishonorable. He should just tell the truth.

GALEN: Here's what the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have done. They have made it virtually impossible for the Senate moderate Democrats to support a filibuster. They were so narrow, they were so ugly, it was so clear in their strategy that all they were trying to do was -- they were doing things that you and I would do against each other in a state Senate race. I mean, this was completely off the board in terms of...

BLITZER: Was the whole strategy of going after Samuel Alito on his membership in the concerned alumni of Princeton...

GALEN: Exactly.

BLITZER: Was that just a waste of time?

BEGALA: No. I thought it was very smart. I wholeheartedly endorse it. Because they couldn't get him on the issues. They couldn't flush him out on the issues. And so you have to look at other ways that he has expressed his passion, his commitment, his ideology.

He bragged about being associated with a group that tried to keep women and minorities out of Princeton. That's important.

GALEN: When did he do that?

BEGALA: And by the way, in 1985, he was a 35-year-old lawyer who had argued 15 cases. This is not youthful indiscretion, man. He was a senior attorney in the Justice Department when he made that boast. And I think that that gives you a window on him.

By the way, this is also for voters out there, OK? Now Democrats are seen, I think justifiably, as fighting for women and minorities. Now they stand for something, and Republicans stand against women and minorities going to Princeton.

GALEN: This is exactly what I was saying. This is the best allies that the Bush administration has in Washington today are the Senate Democrats, the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and now Paul Begala. They frame the argument so unfairly and so narrowly, and try to...

BLITZER: Why do you suppose he bragged about it? Look, Senator Byrd was in the Ku Klux Klan, but it was 70 years ago, and he disavowed it. And they still attack him for it today. Why was this guy bragging about being in this racist group?

GALEN: This is -- Paul Begala, I'm shocked to find out that there's gambling going on back there. We were going to get the look. This is a man whose every writing -- he didn't writing anything for these dopes, and didn't support it.

And as I understand it, they went through the papers at the -- and he's not even in any of these papers that Kennedy was making such a big deal about that he was going to hold up the work of the committee, the anger that he's so good at trying to pretend he's got.

BEGALA: Would you would you brag about it?

GALEN: Because this is a good man that has had a lifetime of public service, and you guys are beating him up for it, and it's wrong. And he's going to be confirmed.

BLITZER: Here's excerpt from an editorial in "USA Today": "When senator after senator focuses more on scoring snappy sound bytes than on learning a nominee's views, the public is ill-served, and the Senate's credibility is undermined." Those of you who watch virtually all of these hearings, we heard a lot of statements coming from senators. But the pointed questioning, yes, some did it, but not very often.

BEGALA: It's typical editorial pontificating. There were no snappy sound bytes. I'd have been happy if there were. There was long bloviating (ph). I would have been happy if it was snappy sound bites. But this is where Judge Alito was very smart. He slipped almost every punch.

I called a friend, I don't know if you know him, Gary Ross. He's a director in Hollywood. He made "Seabiscuit." He always sees things with a different eye. And he said, "Man, if this guy was going down 100 miles an hour down the freeway, the radar wouldn't catch him." He just was able to evade and avoid everything.

GALEN: Well, that's what you do when you know you're being faced with a purely partisan attack. No matter what you say, it's going to be used against you, then you do what you have to do, which is to evade and avoid.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Bottom line, he's going to be confirmed? GALEN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: OK, we'll leave it there. Rich Galen, Paul Begala, thanks very much.

Samuel Alito's membership in the Concerned Alumni of Princeton remained a hot-button topic in the Senate Confirmation hearings. Today, the online community was the first to learn more about this controversial organization. Let's check in with our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, all of this stems back to this document in 1985, job application from Samuel Alito, in which he touted his membership of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a group that we have heard a lot about this week.

We all know that he's since said he has no recollection of actually being amongst that group. Now, Senator Kennedy yesterday, as we've heard, was really looking for the release of some documents that he hoped would shed light on this issue of membership.

Those documents have since been reviewed, and Senator Specter said this morning that nothing was found relating to Samuel Alito in them. Had you been reading the "National Review Online," the Corner blog, even before those hearings started this morning, you would have found the details of that review of those four boxes kept at the Library of Congress.

No mention of Samuel Alito's name in correspondence, in articles, in meeting minutes contained in those boxes. A lot of the conservative blogs saying today that on this issue of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, the Democrats were beating a dead horse -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

Coming up, over the weekend, Harry Belafonte had some very tough talk about President Bush. Is he standing by his controversial words? We're going to find out.

Plus, he's a member of the GOP, but is the California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger doing better among Democrats than Republicans? That story is next in today's political radar.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The religious broadcaster pat Robertson now says he's sorry for his latest inflammatory remark aimed at the ailing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. CNN's Mary Snow has been following the story. She's joining us now from New York with more.

What's going on, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Pat Robertson's words have gotten him into hot water many times before, but his recent remark about Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon struck many people as especially callous. Robertson suggested that Sharon's stroke was punishment from God for withdrawing Israeli settlers from Gaza.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAT ROBERTSON, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTER: Ariel Sharon, who is again a very likable person, a delightful person to be with, I've prayed with him personally, but here's he at the point of death. He was dividing God's land. And I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the E.U., the United Nations, or the United States of America. God says, "This land belongs to me. You better leave it alone."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW: That comment came last week. There was outrage. Now Robertson is apologizing. Here's what he said just a short time ago in an excerpt provided by his Christian Broadcasting Network.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: Ladies and gentlemen, several days ago I made some remarks on "The 700 Club" which I realize now were totally inappropriate and insensitive in light of the situation. I have written the son of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to express my apologies and ask for his forgiveness for what I said.

And here is my letter: "Dear Mr. Sharon, I want to extend to you my profound sympathy and condolence over the tragic illness of your father. I join you in your grief and join thousands of others who are praying that the brilliant doctors attending him will bring him back to consciousness and hopefully the full restoration of his physical faculties."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW: Robertson's apology comes just one day after Israel's tourism industry cut him out of a $50 million deal to build a Christian Heritage site in northern Israel. The ministry says it has not been contacted by Robertson, and it's decision to continue the project without him still stands. Prime Minister Sharon's office has no comment on this issue -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Mary, I also read that letter. We got a copy of it. I just want to read one other sentence that he has from that letter. He says, "My zeal, my love of Israel, and my concern for the future safety of your nation led me to make remarks which I can now view in retrospect as inappropriate and insensitive in light of the national grief experienced because of your father's illness."

And he went on to say, "I ask your forgiveness and the forgiveness of the people of Israel for saying what was clearly insensitive at the time." And there's no reaction yet from the Israeli government? Because, you know, yesterday, you reported that there was this Christian evangelical facility that he's been involved in building in the Sea of Galilee in Israel. No response whether he's not going to be re-invited to participate in that? SNOW: No response yet, Wolf. And the Israeli officials had said that they were going to continue go on with this project, but without him. But you know, besides the outrage from Israeli officials, there was also some harsh words from within the evangelical community. We spoke to one leader yesterday who saw Robertson's remarks and the result of it as what he called a severe blow.

BLITZER: Mary Snow reporting for us. Thank you, Mary, very much.

On our political radar this Thursday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger won't be ticketed for driving his motorcycle without a proper license when he collided with a car last weekend that tore up his lip. Police say Schwarzenegger broke the law, but charges won't be pressed because they didn't see him driving.

Meantime, a new poll shows Governor Schwarzenegger's moves to the political center are paying off. Forty percent of California voters now say they approve of the job Schwarzenegger is doing. That's up from 36 percent in September. The governor's rating went up most among independents and Democrats. It actually went down somewhat among Republicans.

The singer Harry Belafonte is standing business his recent claim that President Bush is, quote, "the greatest terrorist in the world." Belafonte said that during an appearance with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez last weekend. That's when he said it.

At a lunch today in New York for the Children's Defense Fund, Belafonte said he meant to stir up controversy and highlight administration policies he opposes.

Up next, so many hours, so many questions, and even at one point some tears. Was the grilling of Supreme Court Nominee Samuel Alito worth it?

And with President Bush revisiting the Gulf Coast, we'll get a reality check on reconstruction there. Are conditions better or worse than what hurricane survivors hoped for? That's in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A key questioner of the Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito is wondering out loud if the confirmation hoopla is a giant waste of time. Our Bruce Morton has more on this question, and he's joining us live -- Bruce?

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, of course, they are long. As you know, very long.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

Of course, senators want to know exactly how the nominee would rule if he were on the Supreme Court. And, of course, the nominee doesn't want, as a justice, to have his hands tied of what he said here. One Senate veteran thinks the hearings just don't work.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Wolf, you've been covering these hearings a lot, and I've been engaged in them over the many years. And, you know, there's got to be a better way here to give the American people their opportunity to find out what a nominee thinks, because they're entitled to know what they think.

MORTON: Well, there are problems. This was Biden Tuesday, his first 30-minute turn at questioning Judge Samuel Alito.

BIDEN: I understand, Judge, I'm the only one standing between you and lunch, so I'll try to make this painless.

MORTON: Maybe, but Biden talked and talked, and asked just five questions in his 30 minutes. Senators do like to talk. Nominees don't want to get pinned down. Is there a better way?

THOMAS MANN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: I can't manual what alternative would work better. The problems are a consequence of the deep divisions between the parties on constitutional law and politics. And it's inevitable that we will be frustrated by the way in which those issues are raised and not answered.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MORTON: I remember Joe Biden at a hearing years ago. Senators were taking 10-minute turns questioning the witness. Biden talked for about eight minutes, no questions, then stared at the ceiling and said thoughtfully, "Of course, I have no idea what I'm talking about." Everybody, including Biden, laughed. A better way? Maybe not, but Wolf, you have to wonder.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Bruce, for that. Bruce Morton reporting.

Still to come, Jack Cafferty asking a similar question, the question that Bruce just asked. Are Supreme Court confirmation hearings even necessary? Coming up, Jack has your emails.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: How you doing, Wolf? Senator Joe Biden said today the Supreme Court confirmation hearings serve little purpose. He suggested the nominee's name should simply be sent directly to the Senate floor for a vote.

The question we're asking is, should Supreme Court confirmation hearings be simply done away with? Yes, they should. That's my letter to the editor.

Suzanne in Chicago, Illinois: "Yes. The Democrats ask the necessary tough questions. Alito doesn't give clear answers. And the Republicans excoriate the Democrats for being mean while Mrs. Alito weeps. What a nauseating production." Leanne in Frederick, Maryland: "Confirmation hearings are vital to our democracy and thus should not be done away with. However, televising them is a different story."

Jane in Santa Barbara, California: "Senate confirmation hearings should not be abolished, but made tougher by having experienced attorneys who are experts in constitutional law question the nominees on behalf of the Senate instead of the grandstanding and sometimes not always confident senators."

Don in York, Pennsylvania: "Of course they should be eliminated. Has anything been accomplished in the last three days? If there's enough time to research a candidate before a vote, then do the research and send it to the floor for a vote."

And John writes, "What purpose did the hearings serve this week? We don't know any more about Alito's views than we did before. The only interesting two minutes in the hearings was the confrontation between Senators Specter and Kennedy." They had a bit of a tiff at one point there. Some hostility.

BLITZER: They certainly did, Jack. Thank you very much.

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