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THE SITUATION ROOM

Al-Jazeera Airs Footage of Captive Journalist Jill Carroll; Democratic Filibuster Attempt Expected to Fail; More FEMA Controversy

Aired January 30, 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 around the world are arriving all the time.
Happening now, tearful pictures of the American journalist Jill Carroll, who's being held hostage in Iraq. We're going to go live to Baghdad for a developing story. It's happening right now.

A final and probably futile battle to keep Samuel Alito off the Supreme Court. It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington. A make-or-break vote on a Democratic filibuster is scheduled this hour. We'll go live to Capitol Hill for the debate, the votes and what comes next.

Also this hour, the state of the president's speech. On the eve of his big address, is Mr. Bush preparing a laundry list, or will he deliver a pep talk for Americans who think the country is on the wrong track?

And Women of the Storm. Dozens of Louisiana mothers and daughters here in Washington. They're crying out for help for Katrina victims and they're making lawmakers an offer they hope they can't refuse.

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

Breaking news this hour. Let's go right to Baghdad. CNN's Aneesh Raman is standing by. Aneesh, some very, very dramatic images of Jill Carroll just airing moments ago on Al-Jazeera. What have we learned?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN BAGHDAD CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, Wolf. CNN is not going to air the video that Al-Jazeera aired, as you say, just moments ago. We will show you a still frame, a freeze frame, of the video.

You see Jill Carroll. She is wearing a veil. She is clearly distraught in the video itself. She is sobbing. The video that did air on Al-Jazeera, they actually covered up her audio. An Al-Jazeera anchor relayed what Jill Carroll in the video. According to Al- Jazeera, she called upon the world and Americans to interfere in her situation. She also beseeched U.S. forces and Iraqi officials to release all Iraqi women that are currently in custody.

Now, on the tape is the date January 28th. There is no way, of course, for CNN to authenticate whether that is, in fact, when this tape was made. It will provide first new hope for the family of Jill Carroll and her supporters here that she still is, in fact, alive.

To give you a timeline, Wolf, Jill Carroll was abducted in Iraq on January 7th. She was first seen on a video on January 17th. In that video, the group holding her, Brigades of Vengeance, made the demand for the first time for the release of all Iraqi women prisoners, and they set a deadline for January 20th. Well, that deadline came and went, and there was no word on the fate of Jill Carroll. There has been no word until this very moment, until this tape aired on Al-Jazeera, as we say, just moments ago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I just want to be precise with the viewers, Aneesh. This is the still photo that we're showing. She's wearing the white scarf. She looks very, very sad. But those who have actually seen the video say she's weeping, she's distraught, she's clearly upset. This is quite an image. And we're not going to show the actual pictures right now, the actual video. We want to digest it, assess it, make sure it's authentic. But she clearly looks very, very distraught.

Is there anything we should take from this, the scarf, the white scarf that she's wearing, as opposed to the darker scarf we've seen her in in images in the past?

BLITZER: Well, as far as that goes, it's unclear at the moment. It is notable that she's wearing a scarf. And it is notable, if you look at that still image, that it is pinned beneath her chin. That is the more traditional way for the veil to be worn in the Muslim world.

Now, it's tough to say exactly, if any, message is being conveyed. The group holding her, Brigades of Vengeance, clearly, though, trying to not only at one level provide the news that Jill Carroll is alive -- this tape again has the date of January 28th burned into it. But, again, using her in this distraught sense.

And again, as you say, CNN has viewed the video. About 30 seconds aired on Al-Jazeera. We are only at the moment showing a still frame. But in that video, she is sobbing, she is distraught and these hostage takers, again, using her to make their demands, a release of all female prisoners in Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: She was kidnapped outside of Baghdad. The working assumption has always been she's being held someplace in Iraq. Is that right?

RAMAN: That is. Although the search has taken place within the capital city, it has also taken place outside. There is very little information that we, as journalists, are given due to the sensitivity of these sort of cases. We do know from past kidnappings that Iraqi authorities are usually the first to try and get in touch with the hostage takers to open some line of communication to see if there's any way, at least in that way, to resolve the situation.

Meantime, we know from previous situations that U.S. officials and U.S. military on the ground have, based on any intelligence that they can get, tried to go and physically rescue those that have been taken hostage by the insurgency. So it's tough to say exactly where she might be. You hear any number of rumors on the ground. It's tough to verify which of those might be more verifiable than others.

But, again, the search has been going on, and we know, despite the fact that there has been absolute silence -- publicly, at least -- since that deadline passed on January 17th -- on January 20th, sorry -- we do know there have been feverish efforts behind the scenes. There are infrastructures in place, Wolf, both at the U.S. embassy, but also in the Iraqi government, to deal with these exact situations. They've been -- there have been kidnappings before. Over 250, if I recall correctly, foreigners in have been kidnapped in Iraq since the start of this war. And they so feverishly work behind the scenes, but very little is known publicly, Wolf, for the sensitivity of this case.

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman, stand by. Aneesh is in Baghdad. We're going to get back to you.

Jill Carroll is 28 years old. She's from Ann Arbor, Michigan. She was a freelancer in Iraq since the start of the war, most recently on assignment for "The Christian Science Monitor."

Let's head over to the Pentagon. Our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre is following the story. What are you picking up, Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Wolf, U.S. military officials are very circumspect about what they're saying, but they do admit there is a team of people on the ground in Iraq, including some U.S. military personnel, working to try to secure the freedom, is about I think the best we can say of Jill Carroll.

At the same time that they're insisting that the recent release of female prisoners was completely unrelated to the demands of the terrorists. There are still a small number of female detainees in custody, in Iraq. The U.S. military insists that they're being held for valid reasons. They won't release the exact number. They say it's a handful, less than five. Some reports put the number at two.

But the fact that the deadline came and passed and now there's a tape indicating that Jill Carroll is still alive is seen as a positive sign. But, you know, there's just very little that the U.S. military can say publicly about this except that they're not going to negotiate with hostage takers and they're not going to pay any ransom or meet any demands.

BLITZER: Jamie, we'll get back to you as we get more information on this story.

And once again, to our viewers, a videotape of Jill Carroll sobbing, just moments ago on Al-Jazeera. We're watching this story. We'll continue to make sure we bring you all the information that we collect.

Another videotape also surfaced today. This one from al Qaeda's number man, and that's in our security watch. Ayman al-Zawahiri is railing against the United States' air strike in Pakistan. That was an attempt to kill him. On the video, that also aired on Al-Jazeera earlier today, al- Zawahiri calls President Bush, and I'm quoting now, "a butcher and a failure" for launching the attack. He also spoke of the recent video message from Osama bin Laden, saying the United States has ignored al Qaeda, the al Qaeda leader's call for a truce.

Let's bring in our national security correspondent David Ensor, who is watching this story.

What does it say, first of all, David, that this videotape, which we assume is authentic, of Ayman al-Zawahiri -- only, what a couple weeks or so ago after that failed attempt to kill him along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan -- the fact that al Qaeda has now managed to turn this videotape around as quickly as they have?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, it took about 17 days, Wolf. That is a pretty quick turnaround when you assume that Ayman al-Zawahiri is probably in a fairly distant corner of northeast Pakistan, up in the mountains there somewhere. Obviously, the leadership of al Qaeda, we've just -- we heard from Osama bin Laden not but a few days back. Now we've heard from his number two.

They clearly want to assert, after this attempt to kill Zawahiri, that they're still there, they're still capable of putting out pronouncements, they are still defiant of the United States and the international community. So in that sense, there's a propaganda victory for al Qaeda -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What else are you picking up from your sources in the intelligence community and elsewhere?

ENSOR: Well, they are -- their sense is that Zawahiri is rather agitated on this tape, that he seems upset. Perhaps one would be if you were -- people were trying to shoot missiles at you. But that he obviously is trying also to quickly take propaganda advantage, to rally the rank and file of al Qaeda, to say we're still here, we're still relevant, and to try and grab the media's attention, if you will, with videotape. And of course, he's not the only person doing that today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: David, thank you very much. David Ensor is our national security correspondent.

And to our viewers, please stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.

We'll get back to those stories later, but let's move over to Capitol Hill right now. The U.S. Senate right now on the brink of a climactic showdown over Judge Samuel Alito. The outcome may not be in doubt, but the anger is palpable right now, as some Democrats want to support a filibuster that seems all but certain to fail. As one Republican senator put it, this is turning into a war.

Our congressional correspondent Ed Henry is joining us now live from the Hill with more. Ed, what is happening right now?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Senator Edward Kennedy is on the floor right now. He is pretty agitated. As you know, he is leading this filibuster along with John Kerry. A war perhaps, but the final shots are being fired this hour.

And the Kerry Kennedy filibuster is ending with a whimper, not a bang, and that's in part because of what is happening right now behind closed doors in the office of Democratic Senator Ben Nelson.

The so-called gang of 14 moderates are meeting, and they are basically saying they do not see the extraordinary circumstances needed to justify a filibuster.

The challenge for Kennedy and Kerry also illustrated today by one of the gang members. Republican Lincoln Chafee coming out today becoming the first Republican to say he will vote against Alito for confirmation but will also vote against a filibuster.

So the votes are just not there for Kennedy and Kerry, and nevertheless, they are plowing ahead this hour. A vote coming shortly. And the Republicans are pushing back hard. Take a listen to the flavor of this debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PETE DOMENICI (R), NEW MEXICO: This has turned into nothing more than a political war. Those who are going to vote to continue debate, many of them, know that this man is as qualified as anyone we're going to get.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It's not just the vote of an afternoon to rush on to the next business or provide for the symbolic victory before the State of the Union message. The vote is really about fundamental freedoms and fundamental vigilance and fundamental enforcement and the rights that we have fought for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now, the vote starts in about 20 minutes. The filibuster will fail. That will basically pave the way for an up-or-down vote tomorrow morning on the confirmation of Judge Alito, who is poised to become the 110th justice of the Supreme Court--Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry on Capitol Hill. Stand by, we are going to get back to you.

And to our viewers, we're going to find out how this filibuster drama actually ends. We'll go back to Ed. We'll head over to Senate live for the results of the vote on whether to end debate on the Samuel Alito nomination. We're watching this story closely.

If all goes as expected, Judge Alito has quite a day in store for himself tomorrow. A full Senate vote on his confirmation now scheduled for 11:00 a.m. Eastern. When and if he's confirmed, he's likely to be sworn in later that afternoon.

And he could very well put on his black robe and attend the president's State-of-the-Union address tomorrow night as a United States Supreme Court justice with the other members of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the meantime, the president is offering something of a viewer's guide to a State of the Union address. At his first cabinet meeting of the year, he telegraphed the topics he will discuss tomorrow night.

Our White House correspondent Dana Bash is standing by.

Dana, tell us a little bit of what the president previewed.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president actually, as we speak, is either about to or going into what could be his final formal run through of this speech.

But, you know, he's going to go before Congress and the American people at a time where more than six in 10 Americans do not think the country is heading in the right direction and actually think it has gotten worse since Mr. Bush has been in office.

And that is a very, very dire thing for this president in terms of shaping his legacy and more immediately, for his party in this year's election. So that is really the thing tonally, if you will, thematically that he is going to have to turn around his aides and other allies of the White House say.

Now, on that theme, he's going to try to be optimistic. The president himself said there in the cabinet room, he's going to try to be upbeat. But he does have one major new theme that Bush aides are telling us about, that is to talk about the idea of being competitive, still being a leader in the world economically and in terms of foreign policy.

Dan Bartlett, the counselor to the president, previewed that for us earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: To really explain how our aggressive posture in the world, whether it be in pursuing the terrorists or spreading freedom and liberty, helps protect our country, and also what we need to do as a country to maintain our economic leadership in the world.

So it's something that often times people look at these challenges and only see that challenges. What the president sees is opportunities, and the history of our country shows that America always does best when we are shaping events in the world, not being shaped by them.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: Now, in addition to that, the White House says that the president is going to try to connect with Americans on what one senior official calls kitchen-table issues, issues that Americans actually care about and are involved and they worry about in their every day lives.

Things like their gas prices, their home heating bills. The president is going to talk about energy, long-term ideas for alternative energy, and also, health care, Wolf.

Bush aides say that health care is going to be a big theme. Many critics say the president has not addressed major health care problems like the cost of health care enough over the past five years.

He is going to do that but it in a very sort of vintage Bush, Republican way, focus on the idea that it is the individual who should have perhaps tax breaks, more control over their particular health care. They insist here, the president's senior aides involved in health policy, that will eventually bring down the cost of health care--Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana is going to be very busy over the next few days.

Dana, thank you very much.

Dana Bash reporting from the White House.

Let's go up to New York. Jack Cafferty is standing by with "The Cafferty File."

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Good afternoon. I forgot I'm not on that other show anymore. Good afternoon, Wolf.

The Republicans keep trying to give it to them. The Democrats don't want to take it. Going into his sixth year in office, President Bush's approval ratings are hovering at their lowest point of his presidency, down in the low 40's.

President Clinton's approval rating was 68 percent entering his sixth year. President Reagan's was 65 percent, and it's not just President Bush. Look at all the other stuff swirling around the Republicans, Tom DeLay under indictment, the Abramoff stuff, the Katrina scandal, spying on Americans without a warrant, the CIA leak investigation, the war in Iraq, the deficits and on and on and on.

So where are the Democrats? Where are the Democrats? Look at these numbers. This is just mind boggling. According to a poll taken by "The Los Angeles Times" last week, only 36 percent of Americans have a favorable view of congressional Democrats. That's fewer than the 38 percent who say they have a favorable view of congressional Republicans.

More people have a disagreeable view of the Democrats, in spite of all that stuff I just talked about, than have a disagreeable view of the Republicans. When opportunity knocks, the Democrats can't even find the door, let alone answer it.

Last week, their big idea was to call for a filibuster of the Alito nomination to the Supreme Court. That's just -- that's the dumbest thing I ever heard of, and it isn't going to work.

Here's the question. Why can't Democrats capitalize on all the Republican troubles? You can e-mail us your thoughts, and I'm looking forward to reading some of this caffertyfile@CNN.com or you go to CNN.com/caffertyfile.

It's like getting in a fight on the schoolyard and the guy you are going to fight comes out for the thing with his hands tied behind his back and his leg in a cast, and you say, well, I'm going to surrender to this guy, because I just don't think I can handle it.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

Jack, thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Coming up, Hillary Clinton gets heckled on what should be friendly turf. What does it say about Democrat's divisions and about the power of the blogs?

Also ahead, the Republicans have their own problems, including the heated battle to be house majority leader. We'll tell you about the big pitches before the big vote.

And we'll bring you an update on the condition of ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff and his cameraman, Doug Vogt, victims of a roadside bomb attack in Iraq. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A lot of news going on today in THE SITUATION ROOM. Let's check in with Zain Verjee at the CNN global headquarters in Atlanta, with a closer look at some of the stories we're following.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, ABC news anchor Bob Woodruff, and his cameraman Doug Vogt are said to be slowly improving and could return to the U.S. tomorrow. That's according to the ABC news president, David Westin. Right now Woodruff and Vogt are at a military hospital in Germany. On Saturday both men sustained serious head wounds in a roadside bombing in Iraq.

Meanwhile, we're getting more insight into exactly what happened. Former "NBC Nightly News" anchor Tom Brokaw spoke with Woodruff's family upon their arrival in Germany.

On the "Today Show" Brokaw spoke about Woodruff's reaction. He said, quote, "Immediately after the explosions he turned to his producer and said, am I alive, and don't tell Lee," his wife. "And then he began to cry out in excruciating pain. But he was able to walk to the helicopter." We're going to bring you more details on this story in our next hour. And in Texas, some are calling it the trial of the century, concerning the largest bankruptcy in corporate history. The Enron trial. Jury selection began today in Houston in the trial of former Enron chiefs Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling.

Four years ago, the company's collapse cost employees and investors billions of dollars. We're going to bring you a live report, also from Houston coming up in our next hour. Wolf?

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

In the meantime, the Internet is giving an unprecedented access into what happened behind closed doors at Enron and what might be used at the trial. Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, has been checking that out. Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, hundreds of thousands of e-mails and audio tapes of Enron employs are available online. Take a listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello, it's Bob.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bob, Ken Lay has a question just for you, that I'm -- I'm the messenger.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TATTON: That available at this site of a Washington State utility company, in their section, our fight against Enron. This is group that did trading with Enron. A lot more information here at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. A huge database in 2003, of e- mails and audio tapes, you can go online and check it out.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you very much.

Up next, a new push under the dome to make sure lawmakers know how hard Katrina hit. We'll hear from the women of the storm.

Plus, will they or won't they? We'll have much more on our top political story at this hour. The showdown happening in the U.S. Senate right now over Samuel Alito. Will a filibuster fail? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Let's go to Capitol Hill today. Senators are reviewing new evidence that the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA never accepted a critical and early offer of help. Documents obtained by CNN show the Interior Department offered resources to FEMA right after Katrina hit, including boats, water- rescue personnel and helicopters. But the Interior Department says it wasn't called upon to help FEMA until late in September. That's a month after it hit. In the meantime, a different kind of offer is being made today by survivors of Katrina to members of the U.S. Congress. Kathleen Koch is standing by. She has the story on some remarkable women. Kathleen?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it really is the case that you cannot begin to comprehend just what happened on the Gulf Coast until you are there, surrounded by the destruction stretching as far as the eye can see, and that it's precisely what a determined group of Louisiana women is inviting members of Congress to do.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Teachers, businesswomen, mothers, socialites, women of the storm. They made the trip from Louisiana to Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Making a difference, guys.

KOCH: To insist a visit to the hurricane zone is the only way lawmakers will understand the huge loss, and the need for more federal aid.

ANNE MILLING, FOUNDER, WOMEN OF THE STORM: They must see the devastation, block by block, mile by mile. Then, and only then, will they understand the magnitude of the destruction.

KOCH: Just 13 percent of House members and 30 percent of Senators have been to the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina hit. Senator Mary Landrieu pointed out that demonstrators are like so many women in Louisiana and Mississippi, who want nothing more than to rebuild their lives and their families in the cities they love.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D) LOUISIANA: That great dream that these women share is at risk because we can't seem to find anywhere in this great capital the political will to get the job done.

KOCH: Cheryl Teamer lost her home in New Orleans. It was not far from the 17th Street levee.

CHERYL TEAMER, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: It's now five months since the levees were breached, and we really want to see progress. I mean, people now are making the decision to rebuild. It's a hard decision, and --

KOCH (on camera): And you're going back.

TEAMER: And we're going back, so once you make that decision, you're ready to jump in and get started.

KOCH (voice-over): Besides inviting lawmakers to visit New Orleans, Teamer and the others want Congress to redirect half of federal oil and gas revenues to restoring coastal wetlands.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera): They also want a redevelopment corporation set up to help rebuild neighborhoods in hurricane-ravaged areas, otherwise the Women of the Storm fear some of their communities could be lost forever.

BLITZER: Kathleen Koch for us, thank you, Kathleen, very much.

Some liberal activists are on the warpath trying to yank high- profile Democrats like Hillary Clinton farther to the left. They are driven by anger at President Bush and the conflict in Iraq, and they are fueled, to a large degree, by the power of the Internet.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter Jackie Schechner.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, no one is being spared by criticism by liberal Web sites, including Senator Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Senator Hillary Clinton under fire for refusing to call for an immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq. It happened at an American Bar Association fund raiser in San Francisco over the weekend, presumably friendly turf for a Democrat often pegged as a liberal darling.

The possible presidential contender has been famously tacking to the center, while still trying to feed red meat to the Democratic base.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Amazed, even shocked, at the combination of arrogance and incompetence that marks this particular administration.

SCHECHNER: Top Democrats are getting more and more heat from the left to go for the jugular, against the war and against President Bush. But the party's biggest stars aren't the only ones taking hits from the left. Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan is threatening to run against Senator Dianne Feinstein to protest what she calls the California Democrat's support for the Iraq war.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHECHNER: Two other conversations to still about online today. First, a discussion of Tim Kaine and whether or not he's the right choice to give the rebuttal to the State of the Union address. Here's the threat. Essentially, some people don't like his ideology and say they doesn't speak for the Democratic Party.

Other people saying that Jack Murtha would have been a better choice. He would have been stronger, especially on the Iraq war policy. And other liberal bloggers saying, "You know what? This isn't even worth a conversation at all."

And we're still continuing online to see conversation about Kerry and the filibuster. We told you on Friday that people were initially supportive of the fact that he came spoke. But now there is a lot of conversation that this is nothing more than a speed bump put in front of a speeding train. BLITZER: Jacki Schechner reporting for us. Jacki, thanks very much.

In this congressional election year, the blogs are the front lines for liberal Democrats fighting for the heart and soul of their party and to raise money for their favorite causes. Some compare it to the talk radio phenomenon that took off in the 1980s that helped foster a conservative revolution. Liberal bloggers are trying to find ways to be equally effective in influencing the national debate right now.

We're keeping a close eye on the U.S. Senate this hour. A vote on Judge Alito's Supreme Court nomination is about to begin at any moment. We're watching what's going on.

Plus, he's about to give the first rebuttal to a State of the Union address in Spanish. I'll speak live with the Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villagairosa. He's getting ready to make history. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're watching what's happening on the Senate floor right now. We're going to go there shortly. Will a filibuster work or not? We're monitoring that situation. And when the voting starts, we'll go there. The fate of the nomination of Samuel Alito right now on the line, although not too many surprises expected.

Let's turn to the mayor of Los Angeles right now. He'll be delivering a response to the president's State of the Union address tomorrow night in Spanish. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is joining us now live from Los Angeles.

Is this the first time, Mayor, that any party has decided to deliver a response to the president's State of the Union address in Spanish?

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, MAYOR OF LOS ANGELES: Actually, it's not, Wolf. And it's good to be on the show. The Democratic Party has done this. This is the third time running. I believe the first time was Governor Richardson. The second time was Congressmember Bob Melendez. And this is the first time that a mayor has had the opportunity and the honor to do this.

BLITZER: What's the single most important point you want to drive home tomorrow night in your response to the president?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, one of the things that I -- one of the criticisms I think of politicians in the beltway is that they're too negative, on both sides of the aisle, by the way. And so I think it's very important that this response be aspirational and hopeful, that it give an alternative view of the state of the union.

But also, that we point out some of the weaknesses, some of the criticisms that we have of the current state affairs in the nation. So I'm going to do both, but with a basic overdrop of hope, and aspiration.

BLITZER: Listen to what Democratic Senator Barack Obama of Illinois said yesterday. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: There is an over-reliance on the part of Democrats for procedural maneuvers and mechanisms to block the president, instead of proactively going out to the American people and talking about the values that we care about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you agree with that criticism?

VILLARAIGOSA: Yes, I think that's very important. I think it's very important, Wolf. And I'm getting a little bit of interference, and a little garbled here, but I think it's very important that we affirmively (ph) go out and share our values with the American people.

You know, it's interesting, because oftentimes, what politicians in the beltway do is they speak to America's head and not to her heart. And people want to know about the real issues that affect their families, about values, about the everyday, common challenges that they face.

And so one of the things we're going to be talking about is what people in cities are facing, the challenges of working people. The fact that many of them are losing ground in this economy, that they are not getting the kind of support from the federal government that they need.

BLITZER: Here's a question our own Jack Cafferty is asking this hour. Why is it, Mayor, with this president, his job approval numbers in the low 40s, about as bad as since modern polling going into a sixth year of a presidency of any president, maybe with the exception of Richard Nixon back in the 1970s, why can't the Democrats capitalize on that political weakness that the Republicans and this president are showing? What's wrong, in short, with the Democratic Party?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, you compared him to Richard Nixon. I didn't. But let me just say this -- I think that you're on to something. I think it's very important for us, as I said earlier, not just to attack the president, not just to criticize him, but to offer an alternative vision for the nation.

This is a great country. A country of great opportunity. That resonates with the people of America. But they also want to make sure that we keep that dream alive. They want to know that we're going to focus on the public schools, that we're going to have a strong national security, but be honest with both our troops and with our people here at home.

They want to know what we're going to do with our economy, how we're going to be able to take on the challenges of a global economy, what we're going to do about the environment, what we're going to do about the fact that, you know, nearly 50 million people don't have healthcare. These are important issues. They're issues that go to the very heart of what families care about.

BLITZER: One final question, Mayor, before I let you go. On the Hispanic vote, in 2000, it's estimate by CNN exit polling, the president got 35 percent of the Hispanic vote. In 2004, 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. Do you see a hemorrhaging of the Democratic Party of your fellow Hispanic voters?

VILLARAIGOSA: No, I don't. Because by your own count, there's still a majority of Latinos and Hispanic voters who are voting Democratic. But, very importantly, we're going to have to learn how to speak to all Americans, but to Latinos in particular.

I think one way to do that is to focus on the issues, but in a way that, again, that speaks to America's heart, that speaks to her values. To speak about what families care about.

BLITZER: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is the mayor of Los Angeles. Welcome to THE SITUATION ROOM. Good to have you here. Good luck tomorrow night.

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, thank you. And it's good to be on the show.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

And coming up, will a filibuster over Samuel Alito fail? A crucial vote over the Supreme Court nominee expected to begin any moment now. We're watching the situation. We'll have much more on that coming up next. Also with James Carville, Terry Jeffrey. That's in today's strategy session. Plus.

Get this. Janet Reno singing. You won't want to miss the complete version of what she's singing. Stick around, because you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In today's strategy session, will Democrats come out as political winners or losers for mounting a final stand against Samuel Alito.

Plus, what's at stake for President Bush in his State of the Union address tomorrow night? Joining us are CNN political analyst James Carville. He's the coauthor with Paul Begala of a new book, "Take it Back." There's the cover right there. "Take it Back."

Also, Terry Jeffrey. He's the editor of Human Events. Not the author of any book right now. But when he is, we'll put your book cover on the cover as well. The Senate has just started voting right now on the filibuster. Listen to what John Kerry said earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: History is really not going to care what we say after the courthouse door is slammed in the faces of women and minorities, the elderly, the disabled and the poor. History will wonder why we didn't do more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is it smart politics on the part of John Kerry?

(CROSSTALK)

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's important sometimes to take a stand. I'll tell you, you could say in the committee we could have been better organized and had better strategy during the hearings. But absolutely. I think even if you're going to lose, you have to take a stand.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... put some moderate Democrats in so-called red states who are up for reelection in a politically awkward situation?

CARVILLE: You know what? You run for the United States Senate, sometimes you've got to take awkward votes. It won't get all 45 Democrats to vote for this, but to people that feel this way, it's fine. And I think, you know, it's important to take a stand. And we're going to lose it, but I think it's very important.

And if you are, as Bill Frist said, Alito is the Democrats' worst nightmare. He is going to make the world safe for corporate greed and government power, and that's a fact. And I think it's important that the party take a stand on it.

BLITZER: Those are strong words. Terry?

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, HUMAN EVENTS ONLINE: Wolf, I think this futile filibuster of Alito really represents a central dilemma to the national Democratic Party. Here in Washington in the Senate, you have John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, prospective presidential candidates in 2008, appeasing the left wing of the party and activist groups like People for the American Way, who want a filibuster of Alito.

But look at Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania's a state that went blue in 2000 and 2004. But you got Bob Casey Jr., son of the late, great governor Bob Casey, James's former client. Governor Rendell both coming out for Alito. Why? Because Casey is going up against pro- life conservative Rick Santorum.

Rendell is going up against Lynn Swann, the Hall of Fame former Pittsburgh wide receiver, a pro-life conservative. They know that in the marginal states in this country, even in the north, the social liberalism represented by the left wing Supreme Court does not play.

CARVILLE: Alito happens to be from Pennsylvania. And Lincoln Chafee, who's a Republican from Rhode Island, has come out against it. So this is a little bit of a -- if you're going to be honest, tell people Alito is from Pennsylvania.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: I interviewed Senator Joe Biden of Delaware yesterday. And even though he's going to support this filibuster, he's not enthusiastic. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: I think this is an exercise we could have done without. If I thought it would work, if I thought it would keep Judge Alito off the bench, there was that kind of consensus, then I would support it.

BLITZER: He's going to support it, but really reluctantly.

CARVILLE: Again, they are going to lose. But again, if you say that the Democrats don't take a stand, all right. Sometimes you have to be willing to take a stand. It's not the worst thing in the world is to lose a vote. They're going to lose the vote, but they're going to take the stand.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit about the State of the Union address. Republicans under Chuck Hagel spoke out yesterday, and had some strong words. I want to play what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: A president's State of the Union address is always important for a country, regardless of an election. I think this one will be particularly important because by any measurement, the president's poll numbers are down. The Republican Party poll numbers are down. The Republican-controlled Congress' job approval is down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's pretty blunt, Terry, Chuck Hagel, in criticizing his own party.

JEFFREY: Well, I think it's right. There's no doubt that President Bush had a very bad 2005. His poll numbers are down, and the Republicans are looking at a tough mid-term election in Congress. And tomorrow night, President Bush has to position the Republican Party to hold its majority through the elections.

Wolf, I think you're going to see him hit hard on two things: national security, where the Republicans have a clear advantage over Democrats. He's going to give you an unapologetic response for his war on terror, including the NSA intercept of Al Qaeda communications in and out of the United States.

And the other thing he's going to do, which is a place where he's alienated the conservative base of his party, is talk about fiscal restraint and controlling government spending. Those are two big issues, I think, going into November.

BLITZER: Why can't the Democrats capitalize on the president's weakness? CARVILLE: First of all, I don't think they haven't. There have been two gubernatorial elections they won in landslides. I thought it was interesting that in one of the polls, I think it was ABC- "Washington Post", they asked what direction do you prefer, the direction the Democrats want to take the country, or President Bush? It was 51-31. That's a big number.

And the other thing is, in our poll, which I thought was stunning, is that a majority -- not a plurality -- a majority of the Americans described this administration as, quote, "failed." So when he stands up there tomorrow night, over 50 percent of the people in the country view his entire administration as a failure. I think it was something like 56 or 57 percent that view his second term.

So he's got a big task. And the problem with the country is not the Democrats. The problem with the country is that the Republicans and this president, they've consistently led us down the wrong path.

BLITZER: James Carville, Terry Jeffrey, in our strategy session. Thanks to both of you.

JEFFREY: Good to be here.

CARVILLE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, filibuster fallout. Coming up, I'll speak were our own Jeff Greenfield about the political reverberations form the supreme battle over Samuel Alito.

Also, today in court, Saddam Hussein screams at the new judge, walks out. Hussein's attorneys are demanding an apology, threatening to boycott the entire trial. We're going to have details on the case. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: They're voting on the Senate floor right now on whether to go ahead with the filibuster of Judge Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court. We're going give you the final tally as soon as it happens. But you're looking at these live pictures right now.

Joining us, our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield. What is this filibuster failure? I think it's fair to say it's going to be a failure. They're not going to manage to extend debate, as they say. What does it say about the Democratic Party right now, Jeff?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's are two Democratic parties. There's a national base, the core of which is essentially liberal and very much opposed to Judge Alito. And then you have a lot of the senators up for re-election in 2006 and others all from red states, states that Bush carried very handily, who saw what happened to Tom Daschle in 2004, who led the filibuster against lower-court judges, and was voted out of office.

You've got people like Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and Robert Byrd, big opponent of Bush, big constitutional defender, West Virginia, an increasingly red state. We'll see what Kent Conrad does. I think of North Dakota. He suggested he may be voting for Alito. Not just voting against the filibuster, but affirmatively voting for confirmation.

The Democrats may see him as outside of the mainstream, but in these red states, they don't. And it also tells you, by the way, that Republicans, who for 25 years, since Reagan became president, have been working to change the federal judiciary, that they regarded as overly liberal, are beginning to really succeed in that hope.

BLITZER: They had a long-term strategy, and it's beginning to pay off. So let's go down the road. What do you see happening?

GREENFIELD: OK. If you assume Alito's confirmed, and you assume he and Roberts line up with Scalia and Rehnquist...

BLITZER: Scalia and Thomas.

GREENFIELD: Scalia, I'm sorry. I beg your pardon. I'm thinking of Rehnquist, who was one of the -- right. Thomas, Scalia, and the two new ones, You've got four conservative, four reliable liberals, with Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, as the man in the middle, maybe taking Sandra Day O'Connor's place.

And that means that the next justice up, the next fight, particularly if it's one of the four liberals who leaves, will be the tipping point. And at that point, I think you are going to see the Democrats digging in if it's an appointment anything like Judge Alito. Because that's going to be the one that will tip the court fundamentally to the right.

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield is going to be with us for the duration, now, throughout this entire buildup to the State of the Union address and beyond. Jeff, thanks very much. Stay with us, though. Don't leave yet.

We're watching what's happening on the Senate floor. There you see, they're wrapping up this vote. As soon as the final tally is announced, we'll tell you what it is. But, those Democrats, like Kennedy and Kerry, who wanted to extend debate, continue a filibuster, that is not going to happen.

When we come back, also, indictments and improprieties, controversies, confessions. Recent scandals have swirled around the Republican party. Jack Cafferty is asking, why can't the Democrats capitalize on the Republicans' misfortunes? Jack has your email.

And in our 7:00 p.m. hour, the condition of ABC news anchor Bob Woodruff, his cameraman Doug Vogt. They were hurt badly in Iraq over the weekend. We're going to talk to our senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. We'll get his medical assessment. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: On our political radar this Monday, the candidates for House majority leader are duking it out for last-minute support before a critical leadership vote Thursday. Roy Blunt, John Boehner, and John Shadegg are lobbying lawmakers behind closed doors at a meeting in Maryland. One of them will replace indicted Congressman Tom DeLay as the number two Republican in the House. That decision will have big implications for their party, presumably, this election year.

BLITZER: And you've got to listen to this --

Yes, that's the former attorney general of the United States, Janet Reno, doing her best Aretha Franklin impersonation at a recent fundraiser against poverty in Miami.

Jack Cafferty, what do you think of Janet Reno?

CAFFERTY: Got a nice beat, and it's probably easier to dance to. It's just a little tough to look at.

When opportunity knocks, the Democrats don't seem to be able to even find the door, let alone answer it. Despite the many issues that are swirling around the Republican Party, a recent poll shows that Americans have a less favorable opinion of congressional Democrats than of congressional Republicans. So here's the question, why can't Democrats capitalize on all the Republican problems?

Steve in Edina, Missouri -- I think it's Edina, Minnesota: "The Democrats need to do more than point and complain about Republican mistakes and miscalculations. They have to develop an American agenda. Jobs, immigration, national security, border security, education, healthcare, Social Security, and many more. An American agenda. The Chinese have a national agenda. Why can't we have one?"

Laurie writes, "Too many Democrats want what the Republicans have, power and money. If they made a stand for progressive values, values that support the majority of people in this country, they fear they would lose their corporate backers. They are Republican-light."

Don writes, "The problems with Democrats -- and by the way, I am one -- is the people they have speaking for them are idiots. People like Clinton, Kennedy, and Kerry, should just shut up and fade into the background. People like Mark Warner and other red-state Democrats should start speaking out."

Frank in New York: "The congressional Democrats can't capitalize on GOP blunders because as much as they try to cast themselves as very different from the guys on the other side of the aisle, they're not. House and Senate members are mostly super-rich, super-separated from the problems real Americans face every day."

And Vicki in Newport Beach writes, "The Democrats are whiny wimps playing a political game with no plans, no programs, no platform. I'm a Democrat desperate for leadership. Given the current crop of candidates, I'm not hopeful."

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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