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Bush Answers Questions At An Event In Kansas; Judge Samuel Alito Expected To Be Confirmed By Next Week; Ford To Cut Up To 30,000 Jobs, Close 14 North American Plants; Strong Earthquake Blasts Colombia; Mine Safety Legislation; Hillary Clinton Speaks On Health Care System

Aired January 23, 2006 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Susan. 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, the Bush administration's full-court press in defense of domestic spying. It's 3:00 p.m. in Kansas where the president addressed allegations that he broke the law, and he answered some unusual questions.

Anti-abortion activists marching to the U.S. Supreme Court, marking 33 years since Roe versus Wade. It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington. Will the man expected to become the next high court justice give abortion opponents what they want? We have some new poll numbers out this hour.

And Senator Hillary Clinton revisits an issue that hurt her husband in the White House. Does she think health care might be her ticket back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

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

President Bush is flatly rejecting critic's claims that he broke the law by authorizing wiretaps without warrants. But our new poll out this hour suggests many Americans are not convinced. More than half, 51 percent, now say the eavesdropping program is wrong. That's up five points from two weeks ago.

That helps explain why Mr. Bush and his allies are now stepping up their defense of his terror fighting tactics just days after new taped threats from Osama bin Laden. But in his remarks today in Kansas, the president took several detours from the message of the day.

Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux has more on the style and the substance of what the president had to say. Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're told it was for ticket holders, only. But, of course, they also said that they're insisting that these questions were not prescreened. Now, while President Bush was not on script, he certainly was on message.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MALVEAUX (voice-over): Oprah, he's not.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hate to cut you off, you're on a roll, but, what's the question?

MALVEAUX: But President Bush is admittedly reaching out and getting personal.

BUSH: My knees are like tires, you know, and they're bald.

MALVEAUX: For nearly an hour and 40 minutes Mr. Bush meandered from topic to topic, taking questions from the audience and offering personal and political nuggets rarely made public.

BUSH: First of all, Laura pays attention to what's going on. I appreciate very much when she does give me her advice, which, you know, is -- is -- can be too frequent sometimes.

MALVEAUX: Working without a script before 9,000 people, most of them students, the Kansas State University event, aides say, was designed to shake up the traditional lecture series by giving the president a format where he could be himself to plainly explain to Americans why they should support his Iraq policy, and his controversial domestic spying program, which he referred to as his terrorist surveillance program.

BUSH: We have ways to determine whether or not someone can be an al Qaeda affiliate or al Qaeda. And if they're making a phone call in the United States, it seems like to me we want to know why.


MALVEAUX (on camera): Wolf, the reason they're using this format is because it worked so well during the campaign. Obviously a chance for him to be himself, to express himself, and to counter what they believe the critics are harshest about, and that is whether or not he is trustworthy and honest. Wolf?

BLITZER: On some substantive issues the president spoke very directly, for example on Iraq and Iran. What was the thrust of his message?

MALVEAUX: Certainly it came to Iran and the White House administration quite disappointed that the International Atomic Energy Agency is not issuing a full report for the February 2 meeting. They really want to move these diplomatic moves along faster.

But they're trying to be patient, essentially warning Iran, saying that we should not be blackmailed by a power such as Iran, and that we are with the Iranian people, that we have no beef, the president said, with the Iranian people, but rather the regime.

When it comes to Iraq, very interesting. A Kurdish woman asked a question, of course, saying she was appreciative of toppling Saddam Hussein's regime. The president reiterating, however, he wants to see a government made up not only of Kurds and Shiites but Sunnis. Those to bring them into the fold, hopefully to undercut the insurgency.

BLITZER: He really wants a government of national unity as it's called in Iraq. Suzanne Malveaux at the White House.

More now on our new poll numbers on the president, on the war on terror, other issues. Just days after a new audiotape warning from Osama bin Laden. Most Americans say they believe the al Qaeda leader is currently planning an attack against the United States.

Thirty percent think he will succeed. Forty percent don't think so. Twenty-four percent don't believe an attack is in the works at all.

The public's rating of President Bush's handling of the war on terror is holding steady at 52 percent. And Mr. Bush's overall approval rating also hasn't budged. It's still at 43 percent in this CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll.

His approval rating has been holding at 43 percent for about a month.

This hour, thousands of abortion rights opponents are marching to the U.S. Supreme Court 33 years and a day after the Roe versus Wade decision that legalized abortion in the United States. Earlier, President Bush spoke to the marchers by phone, calling their cause, and I'm quoting now, a noble one, and predicting they will prevail.

Anti-abortion activists may be more hopeful than ever that they'll get what they want because Mr. Bush's second Supreme Court nominee apparently is on track to be confirmed as early as this week.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent Ed Henry who's covering the upcoming votes on the Samuel Alito hearings -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's right. Senior Democrats are privately admitting the obvious, that it's clear they do not have the votes to sustain a filibuster and they're really not going to stop this nomination.

All Democrats hope to do now is to keep it maybe in the high 50s in the final vote total to maybe make this a tainted victory for the president. Basically make it look like a polarizing nomination and make sure this is not a sound victory for Republicans up here.

Tomorrow, really, just a formality. He has the votes, Judge Alito does, to get the through the Senate Judiciary Committee, likely on a party line vote of 10-8. Then it goes to the Senate floor where it's also likely to be a party line vote. But it's clear the Republicans have more than the 51 votes they need to get him confirmed. They my be short of the 60 they would need to break off a filibuster.

I can tell you, Democrats up here privately admit they really don't have much political hope of sustaining a filibuster anyway. Even if they had the votes for it, there's not a national mandate to launch and maintain one. They haven't really been able to get much traction against Judge Alito.

All they really want to do is keep him under 60 symbolically. Keep him far under the 78 votes, for example, that Chief Justice John Roberts got last year. As you remember, he had 22 Senate Democrats on board. So far, only one Senate Democrat, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, is publicly supporting Alito.

The Republicans are basically saying this is just posturing from the Democrats, a victory is a victory. They're going to get that either later this week or maybe next Tuesday if it's held over the weekend. Just in time to get Judge Alito sworn in for the State of the Union address where maybe they can officially unveil him to the public.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Ed Henry reporting for us from Capitol Hill. Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst, is going over these poll numbers very carefully. Let's bring Bill Schneider in. He's joining us here in Washington.

On the Alito nomination, what are our poll numbers show, Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: As Ed reported, this week or next, the Senate is supposed to vote on whether to confirm Samuel Alito to The Supreme Court.

How do the American people vote?


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The hearings are over. How did Samuel Alito do? Just before the hearings opened early this month, the public was inclined to favor Alito's confirmation, 49 to 30 percent. After the hearings, support for Alito's confirmation increased slightly to 54 percent.

Opposition to Alito remains unchanged at 30. Looks like the hearings helped Alito some. Didn't hurt him. Which leaves Alito in not quite as strong a position as John Roberts was in September, after his confirmation hearings. Sixty percent supported Roberts' confirmation.

One thing is clear in the poll, the public does not want The Supreme Court to overturn it's 1973 Roe versus Wade decision concerning abortion. The big question at the hearings was, how would Alito vote. The nominee would not answer.

JUDGE SAMUEL ALITO, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: The Supreme Court has said that this is a question that calls for the exercise of judgment. They've said there has to be a special justification for overruling a precedent. There is a presumption that precedents will be followed.

SCHNEIDER: That presumption seems to apply to Alito. Just over a third of the public believes Alito would vote to overturn Roe. While 44 percent believe he would not. That's what shapes opinion on Alito's confirmation. People who favor Alito's confirmation overwhelmingly believe he would not vote to overturn Roe. Those who oppose Alito believe even more strongly that he would vote to overturn Row. But the number of people who believe that is not large enough to turn public sentiment against him.


(on camera): Is there public support for filibuster of Alito's confirmation? By 48 percent to 38 percent the public says a filibuster is not justified -- Wolf.

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

Metropolitan Police in Washington, D.C., by the way, are using some high-tech surveillance to monitor that anti-abortion march here today. Police will use 19 closed-circuit cameras to keep a watchful eye. You too can get a glimpse into the protest online. Let's bring in our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton for more on that -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, police all day in Washington have been monitoring closed circuit television cameras around the city as the marchers descend on us today, cameras like this that you can watch at home. This from the D.C. Department of Transportation here. But also these have been recording pictures of the marches around the city all day.

But in addition, police have a network of 19 closed circuit television cameras that are activated just for specific events: marches, inaugurations, times of heightened security in the nation's capital. Those pictures, unlike these, are available only to the police.

They've been monitoring them all day, just a network of 19 of them, targeted selection for certain events rather than the whole time. They're not switched on the whole time because of privacy concerns. Other cities have many more cameras than this. Chicago recently upped its number to around 2,000, Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you very much.

Let's turn now to a rumor that's been swirling for weeks that's now been laid to rest. Today the chairman and CEO of the Ford Motor Company, Bill Ford, confirmed his company will close 14 manufacturing plants in North America, cut up to 30,000 jobs. That's at least 18 percent of its workers in North America.

For now, the nation's number two automaker says it will close three U.S. assembly plants. The one in Atlanta has about 2,000 workers. Ford's plant in Wixom, Michigan has some 1,600 employees and the plant in St. Louis about 1,500 workers. It's part of a larger cost-cutting plan Ford is calming "the way forward." But some critics say it's not the right way forward.

Let's bring in our Ali Velshi. He's on the story. He's joining us now from that plant in Wixom.

Ali, as you take a look at this whole announcement by Ford, do they believe this is going to turn this company around?

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Well, you know, Wolf, I got to say, I think Bill Ford probably does. This is -- he is the great-grandson of Henry Ford. He's been thought, even by workers, to be remarkably passionate and connected to this company and taking a long-term view of it.

One of the things that Ford did is a few years ago they kind of got off track. And that was before Bill Ford took the reins as chairman and CEO in 2001. But as soon as he got on the job in 2002, they laid off 30,000 people, last year another 10,000 people and, of course, just over a month ago, 30,000 people at GM. The U.S. auto industry is suffering.

Now today, 30,000 people, but Ford has got to fix its problems. Along with 18 percent of its workforce, they're going to have 25 percent fewer cars, a million less cars manufactured per year in 2008. They're going to have to put it somewhere and they're going to have to figure out how to make cars that the American people want. Some people think that's happening, Wolf, and I'll have more on it later.

BLITZER: All right, Ali, thanks very much. I was going to say, Ali, you're going to have a lot more coming up at the top of the hour, 5:00 p.m. Eastern here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's joining us from New York with "The Cafferty File." Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: There's a rumor you were in New York City on Friday. Is that true?

BLITZER: More to come on this. But give us your question, because I have a surprise for you, Jack, on that very subject.

CAFFERTY: You don't write, you don't call.

BLITZER: You're going to see something.

CAFFERTY: President Bush has renamed the NSA wiretapping program. In his speech out there at K State today, he called eavesdropping on Americans without a court order the terrorist surveillance program. And he said he was not breaking the law by authorizing it. Congress is scheduled to begin hearings on Spygate on February 6th.

There have been cries from members of both parties, including Republican Senator John McCain, who said yesterday he doesn't think President Bush has the authority to spy on Americans without a warrant. And congressional hearings could just be the beginning.

According to a new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup, 58 percent of Americans think a special prosecutor should be appointed to investigate this matter, 39 percent are opposed. So that's the question this hour.

Should a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate the NSA spying on Americans? You can e-mail us your thoughts at CAFFERTYFILE@CNN.COM or you can go to Now back to Washington, D.C., where Wolf Blitzer is holding for us.

BLITZER: I was in New York over the weekend. I took Friday off -- our astute viewers some of them probably would have noticed that.

CAFFERTY: Of course.

BLITZER: And I went to see a new musical Saturday night on Broadway. And I was thinking of you because it's entitled "Jersey Boys." I want -- it's a hot ticket on Broadway, Jack. Listen to this song, see if you can name the group, it's all about "Jersey Boys." Listen to this, Jack lives in Jersey.


CAFFERTY: Isn't that awful? I know the group, and I can't remember the name. That's a record I used to play on the radio a thousand years ago.

BLITZER: Jack, come on, you're a Jersey boy. What's the matter of you?

CAFFERTY: I'm not a Jersey boy. I'm from Reno, Nevada.

BLITZER: Frankie Valli ...

CAFFERTY: Oh, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

BLITZER: Frank Valli and the Four Seasons. It's all about the Four Seasons and Frankie Valli. I want you to go see it -- "Jersey Boys" -- and I want your review. I loved it.

CAFFERTY: How come you didn't call me when you came up to New York City?

BLITZER: Because I went to see "Jersey Boys."

CAFFERTY: That was Saturday night. You were here Friday.

BLITZER: I know, you know, next time.

CAFFERTY: That's a lie.

BLITZER: Jack, "Jersey Boys."

Coming up, is Senator Hillary Clinton looking for the right prescription to return to the White House? We're on the trail of the Democrat from New York.

Also ahead, mine safety under scrutiny after a second deadly disaster in West Virginia. With Congress holding hearings, we'll take a closer look at what could be done to save miners' lives right now. And a building under construction collapses with fatal consequences. We'll tell you where it happened and if there's any clue as to what went wrong. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's go right to CNN Global Headquarters in Atlanta, Zain Verjee standing by with a closer look at other stories making news. Hi, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. Welcome back. We missed you. The family of the first female journalist kidnapped in Iraq are continuing their calls for her release. Jill Carroll's fate is unknown.

Last Tuesday, her captors had threatened to kill her within 72 hours unless all female Iraqi prisoners were released. In an exclusive interview with CNN, Carol's father made a direct statement to his daughter's kidnappers. She would be more helpful to their cause if they let her live.


JIM CARROLL, FATHER OF KIDNAPPED JOURNALIST: I hope that you heard the conviction in Jill's voice when she spoke of your country. That was real. She is not your enemy. When you release her alive, she will tell your story with that same conviction. Alive, my daughter will not be silenced. Your story is one that can be told by Jill to the whole world.


VERJEE: The U.S. military says that at least three people are dead after a suicide car bomber blew up in Baghdad today. At least one police officer is among the dead. It happened at an Iraqi police checkpoint near Baghdad's heavily fortified green zone. About seven other people were hurt.

A five-story building came crashing to the ground in a busy commercial district in eastern Nairobi. At least nine people are dead and dozens more injured. The streets turned chaotic as thousands of people turned out to help or to watch. Police had to beat back onlookers, and just forcefully hold them back so rescue crews could reach those that were trapped under the debris.

One person lay under a concrete slab, waving his hand, or her hand, frantically for help. Bystanders formed human chains to carry away chunks of concrete. Kenyans used everything from bulldozers to their bare hands to cut through the debris.

Construction workers were adding more levels to the building when it came down. Some officials are blaming poor construction for the disaster, and Wolf, casualty numbers are expected to rise as the rubble is eventually cleared.

BLITZER: Zain, do you know where this building is in Nairobi? You're from there.

VERJEE: Yes, it's in an area known as River Road, and the street coming off of that is Ronald Ngala Street. It's a highly densely populated area. It's much more of an impoverished area. There are many commercial businesses there.

A lot of people live above the houses there. Excuse me, above the buildings there. It's very congested all the time. And when this happened, tens of thousands of people just flooded in and made it really difficult for rescue workers to do their job.

BLITZER: Oh, my God. All right, Zain, thank you very much. We'll check back with you, Zain Verjee reporting. There's a developing story happening right now. An earthquake, let's bring in our Abbi Tatton, our Internet reporter. Abbi, I take it's in Colombia, South America?

TATTON: Just off the coast, the west coast of Colombia, South America, Wolf, that's right. This bulletin just in from the U.S. Geological Survey. A strong earthquake 6.0 magnitude here. The map shows you the location there. Happened about half an hour ago at 3:50 Eastern Time, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll get some more information on that, see what the destruction, what the damage is. Abbi, thank you very much.

The West Virginia state Senate today unanimously approved legislation aimed at making mines safer after 14 coal mine deaths in three weeks. The measure would require mines to use electronic devices to track trapped miners and to stockpile oxygen to keep them alive until help arrives.

The State House is expected to take up the measure later today. Meantime here in Washington, similar measures were discussed during a Senate hearing. Our correspondent Brian Todd is watching the story for us. He's joining us live from the newsroom -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just days after a second fatal mine tragedy in West Virginia, just about everyone involved in overseeing mine safety was on the hot seat. The testimony opened up some old wounds between the mining industry, the unions that lost clout in the '80s and '90s, and the government.

The president of the United Mine Workers of America had some harsh words about what he implied was cronyism within the Mining Safety and Health Administration. That's the federal agency that's supposed to act as a industry watchdog.


CECIL ROBERTS, UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA: In 2001, we put the coal industry in charge of this agency and we have submitted 17 rules that were withdrawn. In 2001 or later, that would have protected coal miners.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: Government regulators defended their work, saying they're doing their best given the laws and the funding Congress has given them. And a representative of the mining industry warned the blame game will not improve miner safety.


BRUCE WATZMAN, NATIONAL MINING ASSOCIATION: I urge that we not create an atmosphere in which the parties feel the need to retreat to their respective corners of the ring and defend themselves. Since 1970, coal production has increased 83 percent and mine fatalities have decreased 92 percent.


TODD: Asked if the Sago tragedy resulted from one of the 208 violations cited by inspectors there last year, an official from MSHA, the federal agency, said all of those violations were either for unrelated issues like roof conditions or had been corrected by the time of the accident. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd is going to have a more in the next hour on this story, as well. Brian, thank you very much.

Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Senator Hillary Clinton heads out on the campaign trail to give her prognosis on health care. The senator's up for re-election in New York state this year. But does she have designs on the presidency two years from now?

Plus, every picture tells a story. Will unseen pictures of President Bush and Jack Abramoff hurt the White House? Stay with us.


BLITZER: Senator Hillary Clinton is taking aim at the Bush administration once again today, after sharpening her attacks on the president last week. This time she's zeroing in on the new Medicare prescription drug plan, and as usual, her words are being examined for hints about a possible run for the White House. Our Mary Snow is on the road with the senator today. She's joining us from Rochester, New York. What's the latest, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, not only was Senator Hillary Clinton taking aim at the Medicare drug plan, but also the nation's healthcare system. She came here to Rochester for the first in a series of roundtables on health care, and this comes just 12 years after she made a failed attempt to overhaul the nation's health care system, then as first lady, under her president's administration.

Today, she said 12 years ago we tried too much, too fast, but said under this current administration, and I'm quoting here, "health care's policy is one of deliberate neglect and failed policy (ph)."


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: The response in Washington to our health care crisis has been to cut Medicaid, erode patient protections, and promote strategies that increase costs and reduce access to care. We already know what kinds of proposals we will hear from the president in the State of the Union in about 10 days. I would sum up this message to American families in three words, "on your own.:


SNOW: Now, the junior senator from New York also visited pharmacies to talk with seniors about the Medicare drug plan problems with it since it went into effect at the beginning of the year, and ways to fix it. Not only here in Rochester, but in Buffalo and Syracuse, three major cities in upstate New York that are traditionally Republican.

She is running for re-election in 2006 for the U.S. Senate, but here in Rochester, when she visited a pharmacy, talk shifted to her plans for 2008. And keeping in true form, she said that her job right now is just to get re-elected in 2006, giving no hints about her future plans. Wolf?

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit, Mary, about her future plans. Hillary Clinton talking about health care, reminds a lot of viewers, a lot of people, what happened during the first term of her husband's administration. What is this new tour talking about health care, say about a possible run in 2008?

SNOW: Certainly one of the major issues that's going to be coming up in the next couple of years. And you know Wolf, this is a two-tiered campaign.

She's trying at the state level to address these issues clearly as in today's speech, taking a swipe at the White House, as well. And as we've seen in the past week, she has sharpened some of her attacks on the Bush administration.

Last week saying that the Bush administration would go down as the worst in history and also shifting to foreign policy, being critical of the White House on Iran, as well.

So, in the past week, really kind of sharpening those attacks, and with about 40 million uninsured Americans, health care clearly being one big issue.

BLITZER: All right, Mary, thanks very much. Mary Snow is on the story for us today in Rochester, New York. On our political radar this Monday, media outlets are scrambling to get a hold of photos of President Bush and Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist at the center of an influence peddling scandal.

"Time" magazine reports it has seen five photos of Mr. Bush and Abramoff, but its sources refuse to provide the pictures for publication. The White House says it wouldn't be surprised if such pictures exist since the president takes photos with a lot of people. And press security Scott McClellan says Mr. Bush did not have a personal relationship with Jack Abramoff. Rising democratic star Barack Obama is just saying no. The senator from Illinois was pressed yesterday on whether he would fulfill a pledge to serve his six-year term. He told NBC's Tim Russert that he would and that he would not seek or accept a spot on the Democratic presidential ticket in 2008.

Whatever Al Gore may or may not be doing in 2008, we know he is campaigning now. The former vice president has been making the rounds at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. Gore is promoting a documentary that he stars in. It's called "An Inconvenient Truth," and it focusing in on Al Gore's warnings about the environment and global warming. The screening of the film is sold out at Sundance.

And in Canada, voters are going to the polls today. And they may be ready to end more than a decade of rule by the Liberal Party. Today's vote is a rematch of the neck and neck race that Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberal Party won in 2004. This time, the Conservative Party and its leader Stephen Harper are expected to prevail after Martin's government was toppled by a kickback scandal.

Up next, Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of Louisiana. Will it also destroy the political career of the state's governor? We're going to go live to New Orleans. See what's going on.

Plus, he's called President Bush the greatest terrorist in the world. I'll speak with entertainer Harry Belafonte about his explosive and controversial comments. That's coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco says she's still working on the agenda for a special legislative session next month on rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. But Blanco may be feeling somewhat distracted. Critics of her response to the Katrina disaster are moving ahead with a campaign to try to recall the governor. Our Gulf Coast correspondent Susan Rodgen is joining us now live from New Orleans with more -- Susan?

SUSAN ROESGEN, GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's a lot of finger pointing going on these days. A lot of people in this state blame the politicians for their misery. But the question is, are voters in this state mad enough at Governor Blanco to vote her out of office?


ROESGEN: She's a former schoolteacher, a grandmother, and the governor of Louisiana for the last two years. But since the hurricane, Kathleen Blanco has been blasted as an indecisive, ineffective leader at a time when Louisiana needed her most.

KAT LANDRY, RECALL ORGANIZER: We do not have a governor who can serve this public. So we need to take that governor out of office.

ROESGEN: Kat Landry isn't just complaining, she's crisscrossing the state with a recall petition to take the governor out. Landry's a Republican who admits she didn't think much of the Democratic governor before the hurricane. She says her grassroots effort is picking up steam, but she won't say how many people she signed up. And Louisiana political analyst Jeff Crouere says booting Blanco will be just about impossible.

JEFF CROUERE, POLITICAL ANALYST: For our little state, we need almost 1 million signatures. And I don't think Governor Blanco's approval rating is low enough for this thing to be accomplished.

ROESGEN: But Kat Landry is undaunted.

LANDRY: I have no doubt that the people of Louisiana will get those signatures. And I have no doubt that we will send a message to all our elected officials that we demand accountability, and we're going to do everything we can to ensure that we have competent government in the state.


ROESGEN: Governor Blanco's office gave us a no comment on the recall drive. But, Wolf, lately she's been getting praise for trying to cut some of the red tape around the FEMA trailers and for talking about consolidating the various levy boards in this state. So as long as she doesn't say anything about God or chocolate in the next few months, most political analysts believe she will keep her job.

BLITZER: All right, Susan, thanks very much. Susan Roesgen reporting from New Orleans for us.

The woman leading the charge to recall Governor Blanco is taking her battle online. Our Jacki Schechner has more now on what's being described as this digital campaign -- Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, think about it this way. All these residents of the state of Louisiana are now scattered all across the country. So this is a really good way to try to get in touch with these people.

Now, Kat Landry, who you saw in Susan's piece, has had this website up for four months. She told me today that since January 10th when she submitted the petition to recall Governor Blanco, from what she told me, her site has had 800,000 visitors.

You can't sign the petition online. What you can do is go online and download the petition. There are some very specific rules about how this has to be done. The kind of paper you have to print it out on, who needs to witness this. But you can go online and get all of that information Kat has seriously researched. All of this stuff for you.

One thing I want to make note is the Internet makes the world seem very, very small. This is only for Louisiana voters. If you are eligible to vote in Louisiana, you can sign this petition. Otherwise, you want to just send support, something like that, you can e-mail Kat through the site. So available online, the petition to recall Governor Blanco.

BLITZER: All right, Jacki, thanks very much. Jacki Schechner reporting.

Coming up, President Bush says it's not a warrantless secret domestic spying program. Instead, he's calling it a terrorist surveillance program. A simple change of words, but a major change in meaning. We'll ponder the differences.

And in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM, our Susan Candiotti has been looking into rear-end fires involving some Ford cars. Many safety experts say deaths could be avoided. We're going to have the details. That's coming up, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back. In our strategy session today, has the Bush administration made its case that it had the authority to conduct warrantless eavesdropping as part of the war on terror? Will critics of the program be able to prove the president was acting above the law?

Joining us now are CNN political analyst Democratic strategist Paul Begala, Bay Buchanan, president of American Cause. The poll that we took, the CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup, Bush wiretaps without court order, 46 percent say it's right, 51 percent say it's wrong. Bay, a lot of Americans think that the president is not on solid legal ground.

BAY BUCHANAN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CAUSE: You have to watch how you ask a question, Wolf. I'm sure if the question was he was wiretapping Al Qaeda members talking on the phone to people in this country, those numbers would shoot right up.

Clearly what has been happening is this issue has not been properly defined with respect to the media sending the word out there and the Democrats. They're all acting as if this is a terrible spying of Americans among Americans. It has never been the case, Wolf. What he's doing is known terrorists talking to people in this country. And this is something at a time of war that is always done, intercepting foreign intelligence.

BLITZER: What do you think? The president, the way he's defining it, seems to generate a lot of support.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's about 50-50 split. Let's watch that number and see if he moves a needle. The president's putting a mighty effort forward to try to move that needle. But essentially, his message is what Bay just said, which is, "Trust me. We're not listening to anybody but Al Qaeda."

Well, maybe. I hope so. I hope they are listening to Al Qaeda. So why not then get a warrant from a judge? It's very easy to do, 99 percent plus of the applications are always granted. I think the Democrats' response ought to be to link this up with in other news story this week, which is Google.

The federal government, the Bush administration, wants to get a hold of all of Google's search records of all of Americans for a week. Just to see what we're doing. This has nothing to do with the war on terror, even the Bush administration admits. But they want us to trust them to spy on us without a warrant or checking in with a judge, and now to go rummaging through everybody's Google search.

BLITZER: That's related to child pornography, which they're investigating, and they want to look into that. But go ahead and respond because I want to move on.

BUCHANAN: Listen to what Paul just said, and he's a reasonable person. He said, "If he's listening to Al Qaeda, to our enemy at a time of war, I hope he is." That's what America is going to say, "We hope he is." And this is what commanders-in-chiefs do during wars. All the wars we've been in, you try to intercept the enemy's communication.

BLITZER: But Bay, if he wants to do that, why not go to the Congress and get the additional authorization, make the case, and let the Republican majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives approve some new rules of the game?

BUCHANAN: Wolf, I'm all for that. He should do it in the future. But during a time of war, we do not announce...

BLITZER: But it's been announced now.


BUCHANAN: I'd recommend (ph) the Republicans the first week put it up, just like they did last November. Put it right up there. Should be the president be allowed to listen into enemy communications?

BEGALA: Without a warrant?

BUCHANAN: Without a warrant, absolutely.

BEGALA: Therein lies the path to dictatorship. You cannot allow --

BUCHANAN: It's been done in every war. The courts have always upheld this. This is already precedent historically, and legally, he's on sound ground.

BEGALA: He's actually not. We cannot -- I think most Americans believe we cannot allow the executive, with the best of intentions, to spy on people without getting a check or a balance. It's the heart of the Constitution.

BLITZER: Here's how the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts, put it yesterday. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R-KS), CHAIRMAN OF INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The key is agility to respond to a possible terrorist attack. And I might add that all the people who are worried about civil liberties, you don't have any when you're dead. And I don't think anybody who would receive a terrorist call from an Al Qaeda cell planning to attack America would consider that, that he would be or she would be protected by any kind of a civil liberty or the Fourth Amendment.


BLITZER: What do you think about that?

BEGALA: That's an argument for repealing the whole Bill of Rights. He's right. You have no civil liberties if you're dead. And yet, we Americans prize our freedom even more than our lives. We can (ph) strike a balance here.

And I frankly think that the statute, which was passed 30 years ago, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, says the president can spy on anybody he wants if they're a foreign agent or they're talking to an American. But he has to go to a judge first. And I think that's perfectly reasonable. If there's no time to do it, they can do it first and go to the judge later. It's an incredibly permissive law, and I'm curious why the president saw fit to break that law. Why didn't he just follow the law?

BUCHANAN: The law says, "Unless authorized elsewhere by Congress or statute." And the president of the United States got the authority from Congress to take necessary and appropriate force against the enemy.

BEGALA: In Afghanistan, not to wiretap me or you.

BUCHANAN: An Al Qaeda -- no, not me or you. Unless you are having conversation with an Al Qaeda member, you are safe.

BEGALA: How do you know, Bay? How do you know? Make them go to a judge.

BUCHANAN: No, because that is -- he has authority to bomb homes. Surely, he has authority to listen to their phone conversations.

BLITZER: Here's an argument that was made today in a major speech by General Michael Hayden. The former director of the National Security Agency for a long time, he's now the deputy national intelligence director.

And he says this line that jumped out at me as I read his speech: "Had this program been in effect prior to 9/11, it is my professional judgment that we would have detected some of the 9/11 Al Qaeda operatives in the United States, and we would have identified them as such." That's a strong statement that General Hayden makes.

BEGALA: But he doesn't back it up. I listened to part of that speech today on the radio, and I was struck when he said that because he doesn't make the case as to how or why. We've had the authority, you just have to go to a judge. It's been done tens of thousands of times.

So it's not like they didn't have the authority. They just had to go to a judge. But also, look, we had lots of warning signs. The intelligence community went to the president on August 6th of 2001. They said, "bin Laden has an a plan to attack America, Mr. President." And he went on vacation and played golf. He did nothing. So there's no reason to believe that if General Hayden had the authority that President Bush would have done anything different.

BLITZER: Let me get back to this fundamental -- now that the program has been announced, now the program has confirmed it, now that Senator Specter is going to be joining us in the next hour, he's going to have hearings in February on this whole program, what's wrong with the White House seeking legislative authority to expand the FISA program, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, to include this massive eavesdropping that the NSA is now engaged?

BUCHANAN: I would have no problem with that whatsoever. And you know, I think the president is doing absolutely the proper thing this week to explain the issue, because I think the Democrats and the media have not framed it appropriately. Frame it, let them know what we're doing. The American people are going to support it. And let the Republican Congress pass it and say, "He is doing the right thing."

BLITZER: Bay Buchanan, Paul Begala, a good discussion. Thanks very much.

Up next, you could call it blackberry in a jam. The Supreme Court refusing to hear an appeal on a patent infringement case. Could that leave millions of users of the wireless devices just twiddling our thumbs?

And in our next hour, an American icon loses its way. Ford Motor Company put Americans behind the wheel. Now it's putting a lot of Americans out of work. Stay with us.


BLITZER: There's a developing story we're following. Zain Verjee is joining us once again from the CNN Global Headquarters in Atlanta with more. What's going on in Kuwait, Zain?

VERJEE: Wolf, a Kuwaiti diplomat has told CNN that the ailing emir of Kuwait has agreed to abdicate following an agreement within the family. Now, essentially, that abdication paves the way for the prime minister, who's also the longtime de facto ruler, to become the country's new emir.

It's apparently so also that the emir will sign the abdication papers tomorrow. Basically, there's been a constitutional crisis brewing for a while in Kuwait. There's been a debate in parliament on whether they should depose the ailing emir.

And cabinet wanted parliament to transfer power to the prime minister from the emir, and the emir had said, "No way, you know. I want to take the oath of office." So it really exposed a rift within the al Sabah ruling family of Kuwait that appears to have been resolved.

Wolf, it's also in the United States, a case of millions of Americans having a personal interest in this. Today, the Supreme Court refused to hear a case against the company that makes blackberries. It involves claims of patent infringement against research in motion.

The court sent the case back to the trial judge, where an injunction could take the handheld wireless email devices off the market. Research in Motion has challenged a lower court ruling that the company infringed on patents held by a small Virginia firm.

In California, flowing traffic amid a traffic jam nightmare. Three left lanes of Interstate 805 are open again, finally. That's after an 18-ton freeway sign just collapsed in San Diego. The accident backed up traffic for several miles. Officials say a recycling truck was heading north on the interstate when it struck a sign 20 feet above the road that spanned all five lanes. At least one person's hurt after being hit by the wreckage.

And old man winter isn't quite done with New England yet. Snow, slush, and a cold snap are once again visiting the region. Parts of Massachusetts are being pounded by a snowstorm that's dumping over half a foot of snow. It's slowing traffic to a crawl and delaying flights. Just over the weekend, temperatures in parts of Massachusetts climbed to 60 degrees -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Zain, thank you very much. Zain Verjee reporting.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, should a special prosecutor be put on the case? That would be the case of the NSA spying controversy. Your opinions coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM. Jack Cafferty standing by.

And later, on the hunt for Al Qaeda leaders. CNN's Barbara Starr is with U.S. forces in Somalia. Her exclusive report. That's also ahead.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack in New York with "The Cafferty File."

Hi, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Thanks, Wolf. The question this hour, should a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate NSA spying on Americans? In a national poll, 58 percent of the people answering the question said yes.

Steve in Vancouver, British Columbia: "President Bush should defend his position that secret wiretapping is permissible within the constitutional framework by encouraging and welcoming an independent investigation into this very important issue." Kay in Memphis writes, "No, let Congress do the job they're supposed to do. Are we going to have to have special prosecutors for every Bush outrage? Is the system of checks and balances totally broken? Kenneth Starr put me off those critters forever."

Eva in Charleston, West Virginia: "If we want to save our democracy, we better start investigations. We're in perilous times. Our Constitution is in shambles, and it seems we the people are comatose. I fear we don't have much time left."

Steve in Adina (ph), Missouri: "No. Congress must have hearings to be sure that proper procedures are followed. A special prosecutor would only further politicize this issue. Wiretaps are an important tool in the war against terrorists."

Bertha in Central Square, New York: "Yes, appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the illegal wiretapping. If there's a loophole in the present law that makes it legal, the law should be changed to protect the American people from snoopers. And if, indeed, the president's breaking the law, impeach him."

Rod in Brandford, Connecticut: "I'm answering this question using my ex-wife's step-father's butcher's cousin's computer. I'm not paranoid, I'm just becoming more and more realistic about my government's technical expertise in spying on its citizens, such as myself, and their willingness to brazenly and unapologetically do so. By the time you read this, Jack, I'll have thrown this laptop from a bridge at an undisclosed location" -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Good question, Jack. Senator Specter is going to be on this program the next hour to talk about this issue, NSA domestic spying. Any question you want me to ask him?

CAFFERTY: Well, I wonder if he's being considered a pariah within his party. It seems that this has become a bit of a partisan issue, although John McCain came out yesterday and suggested that perhaps this activity is not legal. But I'd be curious to see what kind of feedback Arlen Specter's getting from his fellow Republicans. He's the one who said this was a good idea to have these hearings. And that's a bit of a traitorous position.


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