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THE SITUATION ROOM

John Kerry Calls for Filibuster of Alito; President Bush Says Hamas Must Renounce Violence; Bill Bennett Discusses Meeting With Bush; Benjamin Netanyahu Reacts to Hamas Victory; Jimmy Carter Demands Hamas Renounce Violence

Aired January 26, 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: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information from all around the world are arriving all the time, including a late-breaking development right here in Washington. Only moments ago, we learned Senator John Kerry will call for a filibuster of the nomination of Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court. We'll tell you what that means.
Also happening now, a challenge by President Bush to the Palestinians' new ruling party. It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington, where Mr. Bush held his first news conference of the year. Can he work with Hamas after branding it a terrorist organization?

It's 11:00 p.m. in the Middle East, where two international figures are weighing in on the Hamas victory and what it means for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The former president Jimmy Carter, the former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- my interviews with them. That's coming up.

And the Democrats hammer the president on domestic spying and Republican ethics. We'll take a closer look at the politics behind the attacks and we'll tell you what the president is saying now about those red-hot topics.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up first this hour, a developing story and a surprising new twist in the Samuel Alito confirmation fight. Just when we thought that Democrats had about given up their talk of a filibuster of the Supreme Court nominee, Senator John Kerry apparently has some other ideas.

Our congressional correspondent Ed Henry is following this story. He broke it here on CNN only moments ago.

Ed, explain what's going on.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Democratic sources tell CNN that yesterday in the Capitol, at a Democratic caucus of his fellow senators, John Kerry stood up and said that it was time for Democrats to filibuster Alito. We understand he got some encouraging words, as well, from Senator Edward Kennedy. Kennedy is not officially saying he'll join this filibuster, but he also spoke out in favor of it.

Right after that, Senator Kerry headed to Davos for the World Economic Forum. I'm told he has been burning up the phone lines from Switzerland all day today back to Washington, urging colleagues back here to get behind the filibuster. He's telling liberal activists that he can't do this alone. He needs them to whip up support, call other Democratic senators, get them on board, as well.

We're being told that an official statement from Kerry himself will be coming out at some point in the next couple of hours. Republicans would need 60 votes to cut off this filibuster. And as you know, right now it appears Republicans only have about 57, maybe 58 votes. They're a little bit short of reaching that 60.

But there could be a public outcry. There could be a backlash against Kerry. There are some Democrats like Mary Landrieu, moderates like Landrieu, who have said that may vote against Alito, but they would be against the filibuster, that they want an up or down vote as President Bush has called for.

I can tell you the politics of all this. Kerry allies think this is an golden opportunity for him that the left has whipped up. They're concerned that the high court is moving far to the right, with Chief Justice John Roberts, as long with Samuel Alito apparently poised to join the Supreme Court, as well.

But I can tell you some other very senior Democrats here in Washington are saying this is a bad idea. Democratic leaders like Harry Reid have been very cagey. They do not think a filibuster is a good idea or wise politically. Senator Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat, today saying it's very unlikely. They think this could really backfire on Democrats -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So there could be a real split within the Democrat -- the Democratic party in the U.S. Senate. Forty-four Democrats, one Independent. There are a couple of specific questions that jump out at me.

The so-called gang of 14, the moderate Democrats and Republicans -- seven Democrats, seven Republicans -- they said they would only support a filibuster in extraordinary circumstances that would prevent the so-called nuclear option from being triggered by Bill Frist, the Senate Republican leader. All this has complicated Washington talk, if you will, but there are some serious ramifications, potentially, across the board.

HENRY: Absolutely. First after all, you're right to point out that the gang of 14 moderates, most of their senior members -- like Ben Nelson of Nebraska, a Democrat -- he has said he's going to vote for Alito, doesn't think there are extraordinary circumstances. Just in the last hour, Democrat Robert Byrd came out and said he's voting for Alito. He has said he does not think a filibuster would be wise at this point.

What you're talking about with the nuclear option -- if Kerry does now push ahead and other Democrats support him, the Republican majority leader, Bill Frist, has talked about changing the Senate rules to block filibusters of judicial nominations. The so-called nuclear option, as you mentioned. So he could change the rule so you would not need 60 votes to cut off a filibuster, you would just need 51. That would obviously turn the Senate into a little bit of chaos here.

But I think that the politics are such that this could be very dangerous for Kerry. It's not clear-cut that he's going to be able to stop Alito. And we'll just have to see where the public is on this. But as you know from the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup polls, this week it's suggested the public is behind Alito, not by a wide margin. But they're behind Alito and they do not think a filibuster is wise -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ed, stand by. I want to bring in our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, who's trying to digest, together with all of us, what's going on. Jeff, it sounds like Kerry really wants to position himself right now with the Democratic base, potentially looking ahead to 2008?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Yes. I just, unfortunately, lost you, Wolf. But if you're asking about the politics of this, if you look at the liberal left blogosphere, at the core activists in the party, on Web sites like Daily Kos and Media Matters, they have been extremely angry at the apparent unwillingness of the Democratic party centrists and moderates to engage in all-out filibuster.

For them, Alito is a bridge too far. They see him as -- they believe he's committed to overturning Roe. They see him as part and parcel of the Bush attempt to move the court to the right. And they want an all-out fight.

You have had people even who are going to vote against Alito, people on the Judiciary Committee, I believe like Dianne Feinstein, suggesting it's very skeptical -- that she's very skeptical about the idea of a filibuster. Not to mention the fact that I believe we now have three Democratic senators who affirmatively are going to vote for Alito.

But if you want to look at this -- and I guess it's almost inevitable -- in terms of future presidential politics, I'd have to say that if you're John Kerry, the thing you want to most want to avoid is being considered as irrelevant to 2008. You know, this is somebody who blew the chance to beat George Bush.

And I think the idea of rallying the Democratic base behind a fight that they regard as substantively and politically critical, to try to block Judge Alito -- which I don't see how it's going to happen -- if that's how it's analyzed, I think that whether or not John Kerry succeeds in mobilizing a filibuster may be the least relevant part of the situation. It positions him as the man carrying the banner behind the core of the Democratic party, which used to march in terms of trying to stop Sam Alito -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Stand by for a moment, Jeff.

Our White House correspondent Dana Bash is getting some reaction already from the White House. What are you picking up, Dana? DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I talked -- just talked to a senior administration official who might confirm the politics of this, that Ed was saying that some of the Democrats are fearful of. Probably not surprising that the senior official said that they think that this makes the Democrats, from their perspective, look worse than they think they did during the hearings, the Alito hearings.

And they also say -- just in terms of the nuts and bolts of this -- this official said that they actually feel that they have 60 firm commitments, 60 firm commitments to vote in favor of Judge Alito. And that would block a filibuster.

So that's what they think. That is obviously why Senator Kerry is, perhaps, burning up the phone lines, as Ed Henry reported, trying to get support for this idea. But certainly they say here at the White House that from the perspective of the politics, they think this is, perhaps, is not the best idea. But they feel confident that this couldn't pass.

Now that, Wolf, was one of the things that President Bush talked about today in his wide-ranging news conference. The Alito confirmation, saying that he does want that to be done and done soon.

But another issue, Wolf, was what happened not here but overseas. A stunning development, that is the Palestinian parliament, Hamas, winning an overwhelming victory. The president came out and was quite careful with his words. But he did urge the Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, to stay in office as long as the Palestinians are forming a new government.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Just hours after Palestinians overwhelmingly elected a group he calls terrorists, President Bush insisted the prospect of Middle East peace is not dead, but Hamas must renounce violence.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A political party that articulates the destruction of Israel as part of its platform is a party with which we will not deal.

BASH: Spreading democracy is a key Bush goal, so he tried to put the best face on unwelcome results, deeming them "a wake-up call to the Palestinian leadership."

BUSH: When you give people the vote, you give people a chance to express themselves at the polls, they -- and if they're unhappy with the status quo, they'll let you know.

BASH: The Hamas gains are the latest challenge to a president starting his sixth year in office, facing questions about his political strength and looking to regain his footing with next week's State of the Union address.

BUSH: The program's legal. It's designed to protect civil liberties. And it's necessary.

BASH: But the primary goal of this spirited, 46-minute news conference was to continue defending his controversial program, allowing domestic spying without a warrant. And for the first time, he suggested he might fight growing calls from Congress to formally approve or modify the program.

BUSH: My concern has always been that in an attempt to try to pass the law on something that's already legal, we'll show the enemy what we're doing.

BASH: The fear of disclosing sensitive information was one reason Mr. Bush gave for why he did not go to Congress for the power in the first place, after 9/11 when, he revealed, the idea came to him from the eavesdropping agency itself.

BUSH: This wasn't designed in the White House, it was designed where you expect it to be designed, in the NSA.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: For the second day in a row, Wolf, unprompted the president invoked the name of Osama bin Laden, saying that his threatening tape last week was another reason why the surveillance program should stay in place.

BLITZER: And, Dana, on another sensitive subject, the whole Jack Abramoff scandal, you asked the president at that news conference today about the picture.

Supposedly, the White House has pictures of the president and Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist who's now pleaded guilty to these charges. The president acknowledged that he was in these pictures, but he had this explanation. I want to play this exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I had my picture taken with him, evidently. I've had my picture taken with a lot of people. Having my picture taken with someone doesn't mean that, you know, I'm a friend with hi or know him very well. I've had my picture taken with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What else did he say about this whole Jack Abramoff affair, Dana?

BASH: Well, Wolf, you can tell from that carefully scripted answer, that quip, that he and his staff prepared, they were ready for the Abramoff question. But the question is more than about pictures, and that's all the president would talk about, really.

The question is whether or not -- or who, I should say, met with Jack Abramoff here at the White House, and under what circumstances. What did they talk about, all of those issues? The president essentially punted, said it was an ongoing investigation. But he did, in terms of the broader issue of lobbying, said that he tries not to meet with lobbyists, but he said he can't rule out the fact that he has met with a few here at the White House.

BLITZER: And the president also said he's not going to release those pictures because he knows his political adversaries would try to use them, exploit them against him. Dana Bash at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's go up to New York, now. Jack Cafferty is standing by with "The Cafferty File." What a day already, Jack, and it's not even over with yet.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You're down there where all the fun is, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're having a few laughs.

CAFFERTY: Nothing ever happens here in New York. At his news conference today, President Bush was asked about several of the storms that are swirling around his administration. He was asked about the NSA spying on Americans without a warrant, which the White House has conveniently relabeled the terrorist surveillance program. I love that.

He was asked about the response, or lack thereof, to Hurricane Katrina. The White House is denying Congressional requests for e-mail and other correspondence from top presidential aids.

And he was asked about the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, which promises to be a future source of embarrassment for many in the nation's capital. It's not pretty, and Americans are noticing. According to a new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, 58 percent of Americans say the president's second term in office has been a failure.

And the public's perception of the president could affect who they wind up voting for come November. Fifty-one percent of the people in the survey said they are more likely to vote for someone who opposes Mr. Bush. Here's the question. Will Congressional Republicans up for reelection try to distance themselves from the president as that election gets closer?

E-mail us at caffertyfile@cnn.com, or you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile, and we'll read some of the answers later.

BLITZER: Good question, Jack. Thanks very much. Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a leading conservative's reaction to the president's defense of wiretaps without warrants. Our new CNN contributor, the former education secretary, William Bennett, has plenty to say on that subject and a lot of other subjects as well.

Also ahead, will Hamas renounce violence after its upset victory in the Palestinian elections? I have many questions for the former Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. He'll be joining us.

And later, a major discovery in the crackdown in illegal immigration. We'll tell you what federal officials found and what they're doing about it. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. At the White House today, President Bush has been meeting with security experts about the USA Patriot Act and his push for a long-term extension of the anti-terror law. The former education secretary, Bill Bennett, was in that meeting in his current role as chairman of the Americans for Victory Over Terrorism.

Bill Bennett is with us now. He's wearing yet another new hat. We're happy to welcome him here at CNN as a regular CNN contributor, a participant in our "Strategy Sessions" here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Bill Bennett, welcome to CNN.

WILLIAM BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Glad to be here. Good to be aboard.

BLITZER: Before we talk about what happened at the White House, what's your reaction to this decision that John Kerry has made to go ahead and try to filibuster the nomination of Samuel Alito to become a justice on the Supreme Court?

BENNETT: I just heard it, trying to absorb it, trying to think of what the motivations could be. And the only thing I can think of is this is positioning for the Democratic nomination down the road, in '08. And I think he's trying to step to the front of the line.

I'm the most earnest of them all. You know, who's the fairest of us all, the most earnest of us all? He's saying I'm the most in opposition. I think this is the wrong way to go, because I think most of the American people think Alito ought to be confirmed, seems like a reasonable guy. He's conservative, sure, but, you know, we elected a conservative president.

BLITZER: So it shouldn't be a huge surprise. If the Democrats though are ...

BENNETT: Though a critical act here ...

BLITZER: If the Democrats though are divided on this idea of a filibuster, that could embarrass the party, albeit, as you say, it might strengthen Kerry with the base of the party that's very much opposed to Alito.

BENNETT: It might strengthen him with the base, but if he calls for it and nothing happens, it could weaken him.

BLITZER: Because it shows ...

BENNETT: Yes, it shows he's not powerful enough. He's not potent. He's not a leader. BLITZER: Let's talk about your meeting with the president. You were there with others who were invited in. What was that about?

BENNETT: It was about national security. It was about the Patriot Act. It was about the NSA. The president spoke. He was very, very earnest, very serious. He talked about the lethality -- he used that word several times -- the lethality of the enemy and his pledge to defend the American people, that he, the president, will defend the American people.

BLITZER: Did you learn anything that you hadn't seen before?

BENNETT: Yes.

BLITZER: Did you emerge smarter in any way?

BENNETT: Yes, I did. And I can't tell you all the stuff -- some of the stuff I learned, but -- because he wanted it to be off the record. He was speaking very, very freely. But what was clear to me was the president's clear sense of conviction about this. He said there are a lot of issues, and this is the most important one, the protection of the American people.

It was put very well. One thing I can repeat. He said, you know, nothing has changed since 9/11, in terms of people's interest in attacking this country, except they haven't succeeded in going it again. And there's no reason that we should back off on the measures that have kept us safe. He said, I am deadly serious about this. And I will take this all the way.

BLITZER: Are you completely comfortable with these wiretaps without warrants?

BENNETT: I am. I am because of presidential power, presidential authority. My own view here is that people have tended to think that because it is a legal issue, that only the courts have legal authority. People forget because of the teaching of Constitutional law, the way it's taught today, Wolf, that the president is an officer of the Constitution. He has a responsibility to execute the law. He is to take the law and execute the law in many occasions.

BLITZER: Listen to what Republican Senator Arlen Specter, who is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- they're going to hold hearings starting February 6th on this -- what he said the other day. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The initial claim to authority, from the resolution to authorize the use of force, I think is very, very thin. If the president had asked for authority in the Patriot Act, we would have had a determination, as to whether Congress wanted to give it to him. But to say that there was congressional intent in the resolution for force, I think is a stretch.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BENNETT: That -- is he done?

BLITZER: Yes.

BENNETT: That's an issue of whether the president has that authority statutorily from that statute. My argument is that the president has it constitutionally. It's not Congress' to give him.

Under his Article II powers, the president has the authority, indeed, the responsibility to defend the people of the United States. I don't think he needs to get that from Congress. What's interesting is that although a number of critics, mostly Democrats, but as you point out, a few Republicans, who they said they're not sure about it, they don't agree with the president's use of it.

No one has moved to curtail his authority. People have been jumping all over themselves, Wolf, saying "If the president needs this, fine, we'll give it to him." And it is interesting, why hasn't anybody stepped forward and said, "Well, if he needs it and we don't think he has it now, we'll introduce legislation to give it to him," because they'd lose the political advantage.

BLITZER: The big story of the day, at least one of the big stories of the day, Hamas wins the Palestinian elections. Did that come up?

BENNETT: It sure did. And the president's frustration. He talked about frustration of the Palestinians and that this was a vote for something different.

Let's try something that works. Unfortunately though, as he said, it put in place a government which he cannot work, which he cannot deal with. And that was the unfortunate thing, you could see his frustration. He said maybe democracy will work some things that are positive. And we can see some positive changes. But he cannot work with the leader of a government who thinks that Israel should be extinct.

BLITZER: Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for, at least that's what some people are saying.

BENNETT: That's right, that's absolutely right, it's a terrible situation.

BLITZER: This is your first time in THE SITUATION ROOM, since you joined us here at CNN. I have to ask you about those controversial comments you made a few months back, that some suggested were seen as racist, when you said in a hypothetical discussion that if you go ahead, you can repeat what you said.

BENNETT: I don't think I will.

BLITZER: If you go ahead and abort all black babies, there will be a reduction in crime. It caused a huge stir. Since this is the first time you're joining me here on CNN, I want you to explain to our viewers what you were thinking because I've known you were many years. I know you're not a racist. And I just want our viewers to have an understanding of what you were saying.

BENNETT: Well this was -- first, I want to thank CNN for looking past this canard, or through this canard and taking me on. But I've had a number of controversies in my life and some of them, frankly deserved. This one was not deserved.

I was dealing with a hypothetical, talking about lowering crime rate by aborting babies in the black community. And that this was a hypothetical. Obviously it was a matter that had been under discussion in articles and newspapers and in some discussions and books.

But I brought it up as a hypothetical to point out how noxious it was. After having brought up the hypothetical, I said of course that would be a reprehensible and impossible thing to do, direct quote.

Well some of the media that replayed it played the hypothetical, but they didn't play my condemnation of the hypothetical. I'm a college professor, old college professor, I use hypotheticals.

And sometimes you bring up an extreme or ridiculous position in order to show how absurd it is. That was the point of it. So, it was based on a distortion. But more than that, Wolf, it was the whole thing, as it went on, was based on a distortion of my life.

I appreciate what you say about me. I went to Mississippi in 1997, I taught, I taught Martin Luther King letter from a Birmingham jail. I've been committed to civil rights and all anybody has to do is look at my life, my record and the work that we still do.

BLITZER: Bill Bennett, welcome to CNN and you'll be spending a lot of time here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BENNETT: Thank you very much, great place to be.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

And up next, a landmark election in the Middle East, but what does the Hamas victory mean to you? Up next, I'll speak among others, my interview with the former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, that's going to be coming up later.

But in the short term, I'll be speaking with Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister of Israel, who hopes to be Israel's next prime minister as well.

And the tragic school bus accident. We broke that story to you yesterday. Today so many questions about how it happened, what happened. We're going to go to Florida. All that, coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. In the Middle East, the Islamic militant group, Hamas, is celebrating its unexpected and sweeping victory in the Palestinian elections. And many proponents of the Middle East peace process are wringing their hands.

President Bush is warning Hamas that it cannot be a partner in the peace process, without renouncing violence.

Now, a key figure in Israeli politics and the debate over the peace process with the Palestinians is joining us. The former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joining us from Tel Aviv. Mr. Prime Minister, thanks very much for joining us. Hamas wins 76 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian legislature. Does this mean the peace process is dead?

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I think it means that it's a great setback for peace. I mean, everybody was saying, wants peace for Palestinian and the Israelis for our children and theirs.

But Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel, and the pursuit of terror and it's effectively a subordinate regime of Iran. So I think that's a great blow to peace. I think we have to understand that in the face of the rise of the forces of terror, we have to change the policies that Israel has had of unilaterally withdrawing in the face of terror because all that does is put people like Hamas in power.

It makes them the winners. They use terror, Israel retreats, and therefore they get all the credit in the Palestinian streets and in the Palestinian elections. For peace to be restored, we have to resume and restore the policy of standing up to terror, not fleeing from it.

BLITZER: Is it your sense that if the Hamas forms the next government of the Palestinian authority, that -- is there anyway that Israel can deal with this Palestinian authority?

NETANYAHU: I don't think we can negotiate with a regime that is committed to our destruction. I mean, that's just -- it's just almost an oxymoron. It's a contradiction in terms.

What do you negotiate about? The method of your suicide? This is not something you can do. I think we have to understand that Hamas may engage in all sorts of cosmetics and may put makeup on its face and may use double-talk, but it is constitutionally committed.

Indeed, I would say it is -- Hamas exists for the elimination of Israel's existence. Of course, a lot of people will tell you, well government will restrain them. They will become domesticated. This leopard will change its spots.

But remember, they said the same thing about the Taliban when they took over of Afghanistan. That didn't happen. They said the same thing about the ayatollahs over two decades ago, when they took over Iran. That didn't happen, either.

And in fact, this is a subset of Iran. Iran has been funding Hamas now for a couple of years. It's been sending directives for Hamas terror attacks, for a couple of years. So this is a subsidiary of Iran and it's bad news, however they dress it up. I think we have to adopt a very firm policy of not negotiating politically with Hamas, standing up to them, and stopping, above all, the unilateral retreats that catapulted Hamas to such a winning position.

BLITZER: Listen to what the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said earlier today in reacting to the stunning Hamas victory. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The Palestinian people have apparently voted for change. But we believe that their aspirations for peace and a peaceful life remain unchanged.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: If Hamas changes its public declarations and support of the destruction of Israel, accepts a two-state solution, Israel living along side a new Palestinian state, will you change your attitude towards Hamas?

NETANYAHU: I think what is required is not a change of a word here or a word there in their platform. I think what is required is a revolution. In fact, a revolution away from terror, towards peace, and not towards terror, which Hamas signifies.

That means that you want to see that they change the sermons in the mosques. They have to change the textbooks, which call for the annihilation of Israel. They have to dismantle the kindergarten suicide camps that they have for 3-year-old girls and boys, teaching them to become suicide bombers. That's Hamas.

They have to dismantle the terrorist organizations. They'd have to jail the terrorists. That including a lot of their own people. And certainly make sure that these organizations are dismantled. Now, that's something that will be tested over time. But what you see when I talk about it is that what is required is not a word or a change of text, but a real change, a complete change. And in the opposite direction of where the Palestinians have moved.

Now, it is true that the corroborating element to the rise of Hamas was the endemic corruption in the Palestinian authority. But what really put them over the top was the perception, in the Palestinian street, that they're the ones who, using terror, drove Israel out.

Israel to them showed weakness. Terror works. Therefore, we get more terror. And let's get reward, the forces of terror. That's a mistaken policy anywhere, in Iraq or in the west bank or anywhere else. And I think we have to come back to the right policy. That's what we need right now because the right policy's the only chance for restoring any possibilities for moving towards peace.

BLITZER: You're running for prime minister. The Israeli elections scheduled for the end of March. You're leading the opposition right now against Ehud Olmert, who's the acting prime minister of Israel. There are a lot of commentators today suggesting this Hamas win helps you politically. Do you agree with that?

NETANYAHU: I don't know. I don't know what it will do, politically. I think there's always a gap between developments on the ground and the shift of public opinion. I've been, many times, ahead of public opinion. I've often said that things would happen, and they end up happening. It takes some times for things to realize.

But there's undoubtedly a big shock in Israel. Indeed, in the world, I'm sure. Because people who vested their hopes and peace using the technique of unilateral withdrawals are seeing that this thing punches us back in the face. And I think it takes time, I don't know how much time, for people to understand that they have to shift policies.

That's been something that we've seen in history, too. So, I think it's -- I can't tell you. I can't tell you how quickly the polls will move. But I have no doubt that people will reassess our position and will understand that the three years that I served as prime minister, that were the quietest and the most peaceful in the last decade, were not the result of this or that personality but because of the policy that I put forward of peace through strength, of rewarding peacemaking, and punishing the abrogation of peace and terror.

That policy produced a dramatic reduction in terror and allowed us to negotiate deals, if you will, agreements with the Palestinians, in Hebron and Y (ph). Those policies were possible because they demanded complete retraction from terror and from the culture of hate that Hamas, in fact, propagates.

So I think what we need now is tremendous international pressure on the Palestinians and the Palestinian government to say, "You cannot continue these policies." And in Israel, what we need defensible borders and to stop retreating to the indefensible 1967 lines. That's what we need to stabilize our situation, restore security, and bring back a semblance of hope for peace.

BLITZER: Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister of Israel, currently the leader of the Likud opposition in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, running for office, running for prime minister in the elections. Thanks very much, Mr. Prime Minister, for joining us.

And former president Jimmy Carter is backing up President Bush's demand that Hamas cannot be a partner in the peace process without renouncing violence. Carter's words carry weight not only as a former president, but also as a pioneer of the peace process, as a monitor of the Palestinian election.

I spoke with the former president earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Mr. President, do you see evidence that Hamas is ready to abandon its bottom-line commitment to a one-state solution, namely, Palestine in all of the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, and all of pre-'67 Israel as well?

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't know what they will do. I certainly can't disagree with what President Bush said about dealing with an organization, including the Palestinian government, that continues to advocate the destruction of Israel by violence.

But if the Hamas new government, which is going to be formed in the near future, will just accept a two-state solution, and acknowledge the fact that Israel is a nation, deserving of recognition, provided they live within the '67 borders, that would be a major step in the right direction, and that's all we can possibly expect from them.

If, for instance, Hamas takes over responsibility for the interior ministry, which would mean that Hamas, for a change, would be responsible for peace and security and safety for the Palestinian people, and to -- it's their responsibility to eliminate violence rather than to be outsiders causing violence, that would be another step forward. So I think those are the two things that still have to be decided by Hamas leadership.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And you can see the full interview with the former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, on CNN's "Late Edition." That will air this Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

The Hamas victory is giving the Bush White House headaches in more ways than one. Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Bill, what a day in the Middle East.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It certainly was. The Palestinian election raises serious questions about the Bush doctrine, the defining issue of George W. Bush's presidency.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Here's the Bush doctrine as President Bush stated it a year ago in his second inaugural address.

BUSH: So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture.

SCHNEIDER: So what does President Bush make of Wednesday's Palestinian election?

BUSH: Democracy can open up the world's eyes to reality by listening to people.

SCHNEIDER: The reality is that the Palestinians voted for a radical Islamist political movement that the United States, Europe and Israel have labeled a terrorist organization. President Bush has to argue that Palestinians were not actually voting for terrorism. They were voting for change.

BUSH: I'm not surprised if people say, "Let's get rid of corruption." If government hasn't been responsive, I'm not the least bit surprised that people say, " I want government to be responsive."

SCHNEIDER: Americans vote the status quo all the time. Apparently, so do Palestinians.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A Hamas government should first of all put an to end unemployment, and then do something about the high prices of food and fuel.

SCHNEIDER: Are Palestinians really willing to destroy the peace process and provoke the United States in order to get better government? The way out, President Bush insists, is for Hamas to renounce extremism. We expect that to happen when a radical party assumes the responsibility of civil government.

BUSH: Well, I made it very clear that the United States does not support political parties that want to destroy our ally, Israel, and that people must renounce that part of their platform.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: For the Bush doctrine to work, it's not enough just to hold an election. The winners must accept the rules of democracy and abandon extremism. That's true for the Palestinian authority and for Iraq, as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Reporting for us, Bill. Thank you very much.

And we're just getting this statement in, a lengthy statement, prepared by acting Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert's office following a top-level meeting of the Israeli cabinet meeting. Among other things, the Olmert statement says this, and I'll read it precisely: "The state of Israel will not negotiate with the Palestinian administration is its members include an armed terrorist organization that calls for the destruction for the state of Israel. In any case, Israel will continue to fight terrorism with a heavy hand everywhere."

That statement from Ehud Olmert's office in Jerusalem. Goes on to say that the Israeli government will call on the rest of the world to follow suit, as well. The Internet is offering a rare glimpse into exactly how ordinary Israelis and Palestinians feel about the Hamas victory. Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner has more -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, you've seen the pictures, you've heard from the experts. But you can go online, via the Internet, and find out what the people really think, unfiltered, in their own words.

We start with a Palestinian blogger Leila al-Hadad (ph). She's well known for her blog, Raising Youssef (ph), who she named after her young son. Calls what happened with Hamas democracy 101. Admits that there is, in fact, a political earthquake taking place right now in Palestine. But says this is the will of the people. And it is, in fact, very much so. 1.3 million people registered to vote in Palestine, and more than 1 million showed up at the polls.

Another Palestinian blogger not as optimistic, calling it back to nowhere. Saying, yes, Hamas does, in fact, have an agenda. But they have no experience running to actually run a government. As for Israeli bloggers, the headlines really say it all, Wolf. Things like, "The earthquake that we didn't need Richter to predict." "Hamas wins, oh, crud."

There's also a blogger who is a cartoonist in Israel. Went back to a cartoon that he wrote in 1989. Pulled it up about the Palestinian youth movement, saying those who are angry back then have now just forced their will in the polls. And that's where this is coming from -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jacki, thank you very much. Jacki Schechner reporting.

Up next, check out what federal officials discovered underneath the United States-Mexico border. We'll uncover the details when we return.

Plus, protecting your identification. The government weighs in. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go to Zain Verjee in the CNN global headquarters in Atlanta for a closer look at some other stories making news.

Hi, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. Federal officials have uncovered a tunnel apparently used to transport drugs from Mexico into the U.S. They say the nearly mile-long passage near San Diego is the longest and the most sophisticated they've ever seen, complete with lighting, electricity, and ventilation. They also found two tons of marijuana stacked inside. We're going to bring you a live report from the scene at the top of the hour.

After a litany of complaints over its plan to distribute border maps to potential illegal immigrants, the Mexican government now says it will not distribute those maps. An official says the decision is not based on the complaints, but based on concerns from human rights officials in border states. The maps would show anti-immigrant groups where migrants are likely to gather.

One day after a Pentagon-sponsored report suggesting the U.S. military is overextended, a top commander in Iraq suggests that he agrees with that assessment. General George Casey acknowledges the U.S. Army is stretched by the conflict in Iraq and in Afghanistan. But Casey insists that decisions over any troop reductions should be based on the situation on the ground -- Wolf.

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

Up next, President Bush gets ready to deliver the State of the Union address. But what's your take on how things are going? Our new poll numbers may surprise you.

Plus, will 2006 be a better year for Arnold Schwarzenegger than 2005? Find out in today's political radar. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the hot shots coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press. Baghdad, a fuel tanker burns after being hit by gunfire. Tehran, police graduation day. This woman shoots her rifle in a demonstration of skill.

Oklahoma, mine workers learn how to use safety gear during a training exercise. And in Davos, Switzerland, United Nations high commissioner Angelina Jolie and her companion, Brad Pitt, chat on their way to the World Economic Forum. Some of today's hot shots, pictures often worth 1,000 words.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, thanks to Senator John Kerry, the supreme battle over Samuel Alito heats up again. There are new developments coming up in our political radar.

And coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, the president of the New York Knicks is hit with a sexual harassment lawsuit. Isiah Thomas is accused of unwanted advances and repulsive behavior. We'll tell you what he has to say. That's coming up in our 7:00 p.m. hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our political radar, as we reported earlier, Senator John Kerry says he's decided to support a Democratic filibuster of the Supreme Court nominee, Samuel Alito. He's been trying to get support for that move, making phone calls from Switzerland, where he's attending the World Economic Forum in Davos.

But that's not the only interesting thing Kerry's been saying. The former presidential candidate is once again keeping his campaign options open, telling the Associated Press he hasn't ruled out a White House bid in 2008.

Now, on our new poll on the state of the nation, we asked Americans if conditions in the United States have gotten better or worse during the past five years in the Bush administration. Twenty- eight percent say they've gotten better, but most, 64 percent, say things have gotten worse.

And when asked if they're satisfied with the way things are going in the United States, about a third say yes, but more than half, 62 percent, say no.

In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's efforts to stake out more of a middle ground appears to be paying off. The Republican's job approval rating climbed 45 percent in a new statewide poll. That's up from 38 percent in October, still far below the 60 percent approval rating he had a year ago.

Still to come, are Republicans on Capitol Hill running with or running away from the president this election year?

And move over Angelina Jolie. Nicole Kidman is the latest movie star to go global on behalf of the United Nations. We'll bring you an interview with Nicole Kidman in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

CAFFERTY: Thanks, Wolf. A new CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup poll shows that 58 percent of Americans consider President Bush's second term a failure. And 51 percent of them say they're likely to vote for someone who opposes President Bush. So the question is, will congressional Republicans up for re-election distance themselves from the president?

Lois in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma: "My congressman can distance himself from Bush all he wants and I will still do all in my power to see him out of office. As far as I'm concerned, the entire mess of them should go." I like that. Mess of them.

Kevin in Springfield, Massachusetts: "If the Republicans want any chance of winning their elections, they will distance themselves from the president. Bush tried stepping into the Virginia governor's race, and only helped the Democratic Party in taking over a traditionally red state. I wouldn't help from Bush if I was running for junior high class president."

Paula in Albuquerque, New Mexico: "One of the first things newly elected Congress members learn is to find which way the wind is blowing at all times. Right about now, Republicans on the Hill are upwind from somebody resembling the Amarillo stockyards after a heavy rain. My guess is yes."

Michael in Lynchburg, Virginia: "Of course not. If Republican congressional candidates want the campaign money controlled by the Republican National Committee, they will cozy up to Commander Chimpy McFlightsuit. Bush has shown that he punishes his critics."

Doris in Austin, Texas: "I don't think they can distance themselves from Bush without distancing themselves from the Republican Party, the religious right, and the financing by lobbyists. I think that's a package that you either accept all or reject all."

And Phyllis in Seattle writes, "Distance themselves? I imagine they're shredding their personal collection of Bush grip-and-grin photos as I type this. By the way, Jack, have you ever had your photo taken with the president?"

BLITZER: Have you?

CAFFERTY: No, ma'am, not this one.

BLITZER: All right. Just wanted to make sure. Did you see the top of the news conference when that little robo-camera began to fall off the ceiling in the White House briefing room?

CAFFERTY: No.

BLITZER: Take a look at this. I want to show our viewers. I think we have some of that tape. Let's roll that if we do have that tape. There it is. Now, watch this. You see the president -- listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: ... some of your questions here in minute. I'm also looking forward to go up to Capitol Hill next Tuesday to give my state of the union address. Thought it probably best not to practice my speech in front of you hear so you'll pay attention to it when I deliver it. But I do want to give you some thoughts about what I'm thinking about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Well, where's the -- I'm waiting for the shot, and they decide to end it. Can we roll that shot to show our viewers what happened when that camera began to come down?

CAFFERTY: Oh, there it is.

BLITZER: There it is right there. Then they go wide. Watch it go wide. Look at that, the president's reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: ... live in a momentous time. For those of you watching, we seem to have a mechanical flaw. Are you wearing your helmets?

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH: Yes, exactly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Jack, did you see? I used to sit underneath - - when I was a White House correspondent, I used to sit right underneath that camera all the time. He should've stopped the whole thing and let them fix that camera before it could hurt someone.

CAFFERTY: Yes, but I thought it was pretty good the way he handled it, you know? He's a little light on his feet when the unexpected came up there. I've been in that briefing room, but I've never had the experience of the equipment beginning to come down on your head before.

BLITZER: Yes, well, it's always something. Jack, thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: Sure.

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