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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Bush And Congress On Verge Of Showdown Over Immigration; Is The Media Too Negative?; President Bush Goes 1,889 Days In Office Without Using Veto Power; Political War Over Iraq Intensifying; Auto Unions May Have Political Effects

Aired March 23, 2006 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Ali.
And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.

Happening now, President Bush and Congress on the border of another showdown. It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington where Mr. Bush is trying to turn down the heat over illegal immigration. But at the same time, his guest worker proposal is fanning the flames.

Also this hour, the news media targeted in the debate over Iraq. Does the president have a point when he complains about coverage that focuses in on the violence? Or is he in search of a scapegoat?

And look out, Thomas Jefferson. President Bush is gaining on you. Will Mr. Bush match Jefferson's record of zero vetoes in two terms?

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

Right now President Bush and Congress are on the verge of a potentially bitter fight over illegal immigration. And Mr. Bush already is getting jabbed from all sides. Today he met with leaders in the immigration debate which is pitting him against members of his own party, as well as against Democrats.

The Senate is just days away from taking on some tough and politically charged questions. How should the United States tighten its borders? And what should it do about illegal immigrants who are already here? Our Congressional Correspondent Ed Henry is standing by live. Let's go to the White House first. Dana Bash has the latest from there -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Well, the president invited representatives from labor, from the business community, and also from the farm community, all leaders on his side of the red hot immigration debate. But his message to everybody was "cool it."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BASH, (voice-over): Knowing how divisive the immigration issue is, the president tried to lower the already intensely heated rhetoric in advance of next week's Senate debate. Make it civil, he said.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It must be done in a way that brings dignity to the process. It must be done in a way that doesn't pit one group of people against another.

BASH: But Mr. Bush also used his short statement to advocate the very position that many in his own party say is akin to amnesty for illegal immigrants and vowed to defeat.

BUSH: Part of enforcing our borders is to have a guest worker program that encourages people to register their presence so that we know who they are.

BASH: The president's support for allowing illegal workers the chance to obtain temporary visas and stay in the U.S. has always pitted him against many Republicans. Yet, not long after his 2004 re- election, a visibly confident president argued he could use his self- described political capital to fight GOP opponents on the issue.

BUSH: Legislation and I look forward to working. You asked me what my tactics are. I'm going to find supporters on The Hill and move it.

BASH: But back then he had a 55 percent approval rating. Now it is nearly 20 points lower. The ports controversy showed many Republicans are now not afraid of challenging the struggling president. Immigration threatens to be another internal GOP mine field.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Difficult as the immigration bill is to bring up at any time, this is not a good time for the president. His leverage is at its low point probably in his presidency with his own party. He's got a group of nervous Republicans looking ahead to a possibly disastrous election.

BASH: A senior official said the president had been eager to fight conservatives for a measure he's pushed since coming to office. But now that aide admits the White House is in no position to "agitate."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now politically, one big concern here and at the Republican National Committee is that GOP opposition to the president's guest worker program and the often heated rhetoric that goes along with that, can anger Hispanic voters that the Bush team has worked so hard to court and also, Wolf, made significant gains with in 2004.

BLITZER: Is there a sense, Dana, that the president has bigger political problems on this immigration issue with his own fellow Republicans as opposed to Democrats? BASH: Certainly it could be. And, you know, when you talk to the Democratic leader, Harry Reid, yesterday, it seemed to be that the stars were aligning in an unusual way, that perhaps one of the president's best advocates won't be a top Republican, but it could be some Democrats on this guest worker program, Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much.

Let's go from the White House to Capitol Hill. Our Congressional correspondent Ed Henry is standing by.

What's the latest from there, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, on Monday, when the Senate returns to work, the Judiciary Committee, led by Arlen Specter, is headed for a major showdown over whether this immigration reform bill will also include provisions dealing with the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants already in this country.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has said and vowed that if the committee does not work out a deal on Monday, by the close of business, he's pushing ahead on Tuesday with a bill of his own that will only focus on border security issues and not include what to deal with those 11 million to 12 million illegals already in the country, so-called guest worker provisions. Others criticize and call it amnesty.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, as Dana noted, yesterday, throughout this filibuster threat over that very issue. He sees a real issue here but also a political opportunity of splitting the Republican Party. Because again, today, you heard the president saying he does want some sort of guest worker provisions in this final bill.

That's against what a lot of Republicans on The Hill are saying. And after the White House event today, powerful Republican Senator Richard Lugar said, given all this division, there may not even be a bill that emerges from this Senate debate. He was asked whether he was confident that they would finish a bill. Here's what Senator Lugar said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: No, I'm not. I would say that it will take enormous skill on the part of the majority leader, or Senator Specter, if he is guiding the debate, or whoever is guiding the debate. Because, as I've suggested, very critical points may require 60 votes to overcome filibusters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now Democrats are doing everything they can to exploit this divide within the Republican Party. Senator Edward Kennedy today, after the president's speech, put out a statement applauding the president, a rare move by Kennedy, applauding him for talking about the guest worker provisions. And Kennedy charging that if, in fact, there are no guest worker provisions in the final product, this will be hollow reform - Wolf.

BLITZER: Yesterday the Senate Democratic leader said on this show that he's going to use every parliamentary maneuver in his quiver, if you will, to make sure that what passed in the House doesn't pass in the Senate. I assume that means a filibuster and everything else.

HENRY: Absolutely. Basically a lot of words that lead to one quick word -- filibuster. And that's because that House Republican bill you mentioned is much more stringent than what the Democrats and even some moderate Republicans want -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed, thank you very much.

Thousands of people took to the streets in Milwaukee today. They're protesting some of the toughest efforts to crackdown on illegal immigrants. About 90 Hispanic-owned businesses closed for all or part of the day to support the protest called "A Day Without Latinos." The demonstrators oppose a House bill passed last year that would, among other things, make it a felony to be in the United States illegally.

Now to the situation in Iraq. Three Christian aide workers held hostage were rescued today in western Baghdad. U.S. and British forces found them with their hands tied behind their backs in an otherwise empty house.

The operation was conducted just hours after coalition forces were tipped off about their whereabouts. Just a few weeks ago, another Christian aide worker was found dead. Tom Fox of Virginia was seized at gunpoint, along with his three colleagues in Baghdad back in November.

Also in Iraq today, 33 people were killed, 60 others wounded in three car bombings. Two of them were suicide attacks. Amid the bloodshed and dwindling public support for the Iraq mission, the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked today about the latest calls for him to resign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Those kinds of calls have been going on for five-plus years and the president has asked me not to get involved in politics. And that's politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Some members of the Bush administration say support for the Iraq mission has plummeted because of what news organizations are doing or not doing. The president says the media focuses too much on violence and the insurgency, not enough on progress being made in Iraq. He found support for his view during a visit to West Virginia yesterday. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It seems that our major media networks don't want to portray the good. They just want to focus -- they just want to focus on another car bomb, or they just want to focus on some more bloodshed, or they just want to focus on how they don't agree with you and what they're doing when they don't even probably know how you're doing what you're doing anyway.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're joined now by Howard Kurtz of CNN's "Reliable Sources," and "The Washington Post." He's joining us from the newsroom of "The Washington Post."

Howie, is it true, based on your observation of the news media, as the president, the vice president continue to maintain that the negative -- all of our mainstream media reporting has tended to be on the negative?

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN'S RELIABLE SOURCES: Well, certainly not all of it, Wolf, and I don't agree with that woman in West Virginia who said that journalists are doing this because they don't agree with the Bush policy.

But I've look very carefully in recent weeks from the time of those mosque bombings through the third year anniversary stories of the U.S.-led invasion, and the tone of a whole lot of this coverage has been negative, has been downbeat, has been pessimistic, in part that's because a lot of the news out of Iraq has not been good. But I think we may be reaching kind of a tipping point here that we saw in Vietnam where the press coverage seems to tilt against this war effort.

BLITZER: So you've seen a change in recent weeks? Is that what you're saying?

KURTZ: Absolutely compared to say a year ago or two years ago. I think it's not unconnected to the public opinion polls. I think journalists are finding it easier to ask aggressive questions of President Bush, to frame the stories more negatively in terms of the American presence there because they know a majority of the country now questions or disagrees with that war effort.

I do think, however, that a lot of journalists make an effort to talk to ordinary Iraqis and to report on signs of progress. But, let's face it, in our business, the car bombing, the suicide attack, the attack on a police station, those tend to be top of the newscast, top of the front page kinds of stories. The other reconstruction efforts are less dramatic and tend to get pushed back.

BLITZER: It's the same basically covering any story. Here in Washington, D.C., if there's a major incident, let's say a shooting incident, whatever. We don't report, you know what, 99.99 percent of the kids went to school today, businesses were open, things were flourishing. But if there's a horrible shooting incident, we're going to report that in local media as well.

KURTZ: There certainly is a bad news bias in that sense. We cover plane crashes. We don't cover safe plane landings.

But the additional complicating factor here, Wolf, as I know you know, is that it's very dangerous for journalists in Baghdad. We've seen that with some of the deaths and injuries of journalists there. Most recently ABC's Bob Woodruff. And so journalists are frustrated that they can't tell more of the story of ordinary Iraqis and what they think about the U.S. presence there because they have to curtail their travels or travel with security details.

So when you add that to the natural tendency to play up violence, the dramatic pictures that television, of course, loves, I do think we are seeing more negative coverage now. And, obviously, it's in the political self-interest of George Bush and Dick Cheney to highlight that because they are trying to make the case that things are not as bad as they seem in Iraq and the media are a handy target.

BLITZER: Very briefly, is there any sign of a backlash against the mainstream media because of our coverage of what's happening in Iraq?

KURTZ: Yes, among conservatives, among military family members and others. A lot of people, as we saw that woman from West Virginia, blaming us for the situation there.

BLITZER: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" which airs Sunday mornings here on CNN, 10:00 a.m. Eastern. Also writes for "The Washington Post." Thanks, Howie, very much.

KURTZ: Thanks.

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

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You know, I just have a question. I mean, part of the coverage, they don't like the coverage, maybe because we were sold a different ending to this story three years ago. We were told that we'd be embraced as conquering heroes, flower pedals strewn in the soldiers' paths, a unity government would be formed, everything would be rosy this -- three years after the fact, the troops would be home.

Well, it's not turning out that way. And if somebody came into New York City and blew up St. Patrick's Cathedral and in the resulting days they were finding 50 and 60 dead bodies a day on the streets of New York, you suppose the news media would cover it? You're damn right they would.

This is nonsense, it's the media's fault and the news isn't good in Iraq. The news isn't good in Iraq. There's violence in Iraq. People are found dead every day in the streets of Baghdad. This didn't turn out the way the politicians told us it would. And it's our fault? I beg to differ.

That's not what I'm going to talk about though today. It's the hottest thing in Washington since the Dubai ports deal. It's called immigration reform, another subject near and dear to my heart.

The debate about what to do with the flood of illegal immigrants, 12 million of them in this country, is a complex one. The president wants a guest worker program. That would make big business happy. The public wants the border closed, the present laws enforced and the illegals deported.

But politicians who support getting tough on illegals could pay a big price at the polls because there are a lot of Latino voters. And don't kid yourself, like everything else in this country, politics will eventually decide who wins. In the meantime, the country's in this mess because we have virtually ignored the laws that are already on the books against illegal immigration, and that adds the requisite hypocrisy to the hand-wringing in Washington about what to do now.

Here's the question. What needs to be debated when it comes to immigration reform? E-mail us at CaffertyFile@CNN.com -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I love it, Jack, when you tell our viewers how you really feel about an issue and you just did. Thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: It's all your fault, Wolf.

BLITZER: No, but I think it's . . .

CAFFERTY: That whole thing in Iraq is your fault. It's -- you're to blame for all of this stuff.

BLITZER: I am the mainstream media. Is that what you're saying? All right, Jack, thanks very much. Jack Cafferty will be back soon.

Coming up, President Bush making history. He's gone nearly five- and-a-half years without a veto. How has he done it? John King standing by with some answers.

Plus, he likes what he likes, but is the vice president a demanding traveler? We're going to get the situation online. We'll find out what the vice president really likes when he's on the road.

And later, the price of corruption. A crooked congressman's lavish, largess is auctioned off. We're going to tell you what's on the block. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here she is, Fredricka Whitfield. She's filling in for Zain Verjee this week. She's joining us from the CNN global headquarters in Atlanta with a quick look at some other stories making news. Just filling in today and tomorrow, is that right, Fred?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, just today and tomorrow.

All right, thanks a lot, Wolf.

Well, two Americans are being treated for broken bones after yesterday's deadly tour bus crash in Chile. Twelve other Americans died when the bus plunged down a steep ravine. Authorities are investigating whether the driver fell asleep at the wheel.

The Americans were part of a retirement group traveling on Celebrities Millennium cruise ship. They were returning from an excursion to a national park when the accident happened. Chilean officials say the tour bus was unregistered and was not authorized to transport passengers. Celebrity Cruises says the excursion was organized privately.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN HANRAHAN, PRESIDENT, CELEBRITY CRUISES: We encourage our guests to take our shore excursions because we have thoroughly checked out the providers and we have a lot of confidence in the providers. What we cannot do is tell guests what to do on their own time. So our guests do oftentimes go off on their own excursions, but we encourage them to take ours because they've been so thoroughly check out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Jamaican authorities are looking at whether a cigarette may have started a cruise ship fire that killed one person. The Star Princess was going to Montego Bay, Jamaica, from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, when the fire raced through passenger cabins earlier today. Cruise line officials say one American died of a heart attack. Eleven other people suffered smoke inhalation.

The state of Wisconsin and two private companies are offering $17,000 for information in the case of two missing Milwaukee boys. Police say there is still no sign of the 11 and 12-year-old friends. They were last seen Sunday afternoon playing basketball. Divers are searching a city lagoon today. Tracking dogs will also be brought in.

And bouncer Darryl Littlejohn is pleading not guilty to the murder of graduate student Imette St. Guillen. Littlejohn was arraigned in New York City today. Authorities say he is also a person of interest in some other unsolved cases. Authorities say cell phone records and forensic evidence tie Littlejohn to St. Guillen's rape and killing last month. The murdered student's mother and sister attended today's arraignment. And it was very emotional for them, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure it was, Fred, thank you very much. We'll check back with you soon.

This is a landmark day for President Bush. He's now gone 1,889 days in office without using his veto power. He's surpassed President James Monroe's vetoless streak by a single day, and he may be going for Thomas Jefferson's record. The third president of the United States never vetoed legislation during his entire two terms. President Bush has had a GOP-led House and Senate for most of his five-plus years in office. That helps account for the fact that he signed all 1,091 bills sent to his desk.

By way of comparison, by the way, President Clinton had a Democratic-controlled Congress during the first two years of his term, his first term, that is. Clinton did not cast any vetoes during that period. He had used the veto 37 times by the end of his second term, though, and he used the line item veto 82 times during the two years he had that power. That was eventually struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Let's bring in our Chief National Correspondent John King. He's here to explain why President Bush has never actually vetoed a piece of legislation.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House would tell you he's never vetoed a piece of legislation because his party, the Republicans, have controlled the Congress so far the five-and-a-half years of his presidency and he doesn't want to have a breakdown, if you will, in relations with the Republican Congress.

There are some conservatives, though, in that Republican Congress who sure wish he had, Wolf. The president has threatened vetoes 134 times. Most recently over the Dubai ports deal. That, of course, the compromise took that off the table.

Some conservatives say Mr. President, you sure would have helped us control spending if you would have vetoed a highway bill, vetoed an appropriation bill. But this president says, I'd rather work it out. My party and Congress will try to make a deal.

BLITZER: Because the national debt, spending, has gone, what, from about $5 trillion to more than $8 trillion over these years. And there are a lot of angry rank and file conservatives who say the president allowed this huge deficit to continue.

KING: You heard Dana and Ed at the top of the show talking about immigration. That is the most emotional debate with Republicans at the moment. But the spending debate is probably second to that.

And again, the president last year said $256 billion, that is the most I will accept on a highway bill. If you send me any more, I will veto that legislation. Well, they sent him quite a bit more and he eventually compromised at $286 billion. The White House says, $30 billion, that's reasonable. Conservatives say, not so reasonable, Mr. President, we need more discipline.

There is an interesting twist, though. He hasn't issued any vetoes. What he often does is you'll see a signing statement from the president. Usually they're one paragraph. The president signed Senate Bill 132 that designates the Wolf Blitzer Post Office in Buffalo, New York. What this president has done in some legislation, is he has these signing statements. He says, I signed this into law but I disagree with this provision, that provision and this provision.

Usually when it comes to executive authority, his war powers authority, his foreign relations authority. So he says, I'm signing this into law but I'm going to ignore these provisions of the bill. Congress doesn't like that but many presidents have done it. This one does it a lot.

BLITZER: What do you think looking ahead? He's under enormous pressure to start vetoing especially some of those spending bills. Is he going to do it?

KING: I would not look for a veto from this president before the election. They have realized, because of the ports debate, and it will be tested sorely in the immigration debate, that Republicans fighting Republicans may depress Republican turnout in November. If the Democrats are to take control of either the House or the Senate or both in November, then look, as you saw in the Clinton days, then look for the president maybe to decide, got to use that red pen.

BLITZER: If there's a Wolf Blitzer Post Office in Buffalo, there will be a John King Post Office in Boston for sure. John, thanks very much.

In case you wondering, Franklin Delano Roosevelt holds the record for the most presidential vetoes. Get this, 635. Of course, that was over the course of more than 13 years in office. Grover Cleveland from Buffalo, New York, by the way, comes in second with 584 votes over the course of his two terms in the White House.

Ever want to know what happens behind the scenes when the president and the vice president travel? Well, today we're learning a little bit more about what the vice president, Dick Cheney, likes when he travels. His office had some very specific requests of the advance team, particularly when it comes to the setup of the vice president's hotel rooms. From the temperature of the rooms, to exactly what television channels he likes to watch. Our Internet Reporter Abbi Tatton is joining us with details -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, diet Sprite and Fox News. Those are two of the requirements, according to this document posted on The Smoking Gun. Vice presidential downtime requirements for a hotel stay.

This was posted online. And we've spoken to the vice president's office and got some more information for you. Some of the specifics in here aren't maybe that particular. For example, a private bathroom may not be too much to ask for, for the vice president of the United States.

But some of the particulars are pretty interesting. What drinks should be in the room? Diet caffeine-free Sprite. If Mrs. Cheney is there, sparkling water, Calistoga or Perrier. And then there's the temperature, 68 degrees. And all televisions tuned to Fox News.

Now we spoke today to a spokesperson for the vice president who could not verify this exact document. However, what we were told was that the requirements within the document are consistent with the guidance relayed by the advance office to the volunteers in the field. And it's on The Smoking Gun -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I like to have a private bath when I travel as well. Not a big deal. Thanks very much for that.

Coming up, impeachment talk here in Washington. Is this a smart strategy for Republicans to spotlight the issue? I'll ask two of our experts, Donna Brazile, Bay Buchanan. Plus, the political battle over the war in Iraq. Is the White House strategy working? Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Actually, it's Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett, not Bay Buchanan. Still in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Look at our "Strategy Session." The political war over Iraq intensifying. Which party will be better able to convince the voters that they have a plan for success? And is it a good strategy for Republicans to use the threat of impeachment as a fund raising tool? Joining us now are CNN political analysts, Democratic Strategist Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett. He's the host of the radio program "Morning in America."

Let's listen to what the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today on all of these questions surrounding him. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUMSFELD: The question of our time is whether we face this enemy on their terms or on our terms, on their territory or on our territory, where they are on offense or where they are on defense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Bill Bennett, some conservatives -- and you know which ones I'm talking about -- are themselves becoming increasingly irritated with the defense secretary. Are you among those?

BILL BENNETT, CLAREMONT INSTITUTE: No.

BLITZER: Do you think his strategy is right on or he's way off?

BENNETT: No, I think there have been mistakes. Clearly there have been mistakes. But there have been mistakes in every war. And this stampede against Rumsfeld, the media, this incredible criticism of him for comparing Saddam to Nazism when, in fact, the Baathist regime was inspired by Nazism, direct line of decent. But these conservatives -- now George Will has been critical. He's been critical all along of the war. But others have turned against Rumsfeld. He will stick it out, as will the president.

Of all this stuff, the impeachment stuff, abandoned course is all just a lot of talk. The president has made it clear where he stands. Rumsfeld is staying as part of his cabinet. And, you know, I dare the Democrats to do this, impeachment, censure, whatever it is these game they're playing.

BLITZER: You want to weight in on Donald Rumsfeld?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, the president must decide whether or not he should stay or go. But, Bill says, "I dare the Democrats." Democrats don't have the votes to censure the president or to impeach the president. What Democrats are demanding is a full investigation over whether or not the president had the authority to wiretap.

Now when it comes to Iraq, the Democrats are saying that they voted in 2005 for this year to be a year of transition. And thus far, they haven't seen that. What they're hearing is more PR, but not a clear strategy for victory.

BLITZER: But you're not suggesting -- Bill, I don't want to put words in your mouth -- that the media is to blame for the horrible images that are coming out of Iraq?

BENNETT: No. But I think you and Jack earlier kind of missed what the American people are saying and making fun of the American people, as if they were castigating the media for being responsible for this war in Iraq isn't the point. The American people are saying the mainstream media does not properly represent in a full and fair perspective the goods with the bads.

And Howie Kurtz backs that up. Howie Kurtz, who studies this, backs it up. If you watch, the mainstream media -- a lot of it and I do a lot as much as I can -- you clearly get the sense of negativity. It's not analogous to saying, "We only report crimes and not peace in Washington, D.C."

When you're trying to make an assessment of where you should go and are you prevailing, are some things going well, almost all you get is negative, then that is leading to people's assessment that the war is going badly, when, in fact, I think the war is going pretty well.

It's not going well, though, in the mainstream media, and certainly public has been affected.

BLITZER: Certainly, if you think the war is going well, most Americans don't think it's going well.

BENNETT: I understand that.

BLITZER: Do you think the media has been responsible in the way we've covered the situation in Iraq these past several months?

BRAZILE: Look. I think the media has been very balanced in their coverage. First, they ignored all of the signs that most Americans felt over in Iraq because we didn't find weapons of mass destruction. There were all kinds of lies that were told. The media didn't take the administration to task for almost a year into the war.

So I think right now what you have is the media is trying to cover this objectively, knowing that it's not easy to get around Iraq. And they're trying to find ways to bring the truth to the American people.

BLITZER: The chairman of the Democratic Party, Howard Dean, was on "American Morning" here on CNN earlier today. I want you to listen to what he said, Bill. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: This is not something we're going to leave to 2009. I was shocked when the president said that. Just shows a total disconnection from what's real in Iraq. You know, we've been lied to about what's going on in Iraq for a long time. This reminds me of Vietnam and President Nixon and Vice President Agnew.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Strong words from Howard Dean. He's referring to the president's comments at the news conference earlier in the week that it's up to future presidents to decide when they're going to have to pull troops out of Iraq. But he's making that direct analogy with Vietnam, a period you and I lived through.

BENNETT: Exactly right. Again, interesting. People jump all over Rumsfeld when he compared Saddam or the al Qaeda regime now to Nazism. People don't jump on Dean when he talks about Vietnam. What is he saying in Vietnam?

BLITZER: Let me interrupt you on that. This is dangerous territory you're walking under. Saddam Hussein, as bad as he was -- you're not saying he was Hitler?

BENNETT: He was Hitler to the people. He slaughtered and massacred. The Baathist philosophy, Wolf, was inspired by Nazism. I agree with what you said earlier this week when you said most of the time it's a mistake for politicians to compare. I don't think it is in this case. A million people, the torture chambers, the shredders where human beings go. Tell me what that difference is.

And again, that Baathist philosophy was directly inspired. Read Paul Berman's book, "Liberalism and Terrorism." It shows the connection between Nazism and what these al Qaeda guys practice. Now with Dean, he wants to argue that every single thing the president said is a lie, and they want to go this impeachment and censure route.

This is deadly serious stuff. I mean, they need to be careful where they're going because it's not going to go anywhere. The American people are upset about what they're hearing and what they're reading. They obviously don't like casualties. But I do not think, when it comes to it, they will abandon the president.

BLITZER: Let's move on, talk a little bit about one strategy that the Republicans apparently have, which is to slam the Democrats for even raising the idea of possibly impeaching the president of the United States.

Ken Mehlman, in a fund raising email, the chairman of the Republican Party, writing this. He said, "The Democrats' plan for 2006? Take the house and Senate and impeach the president. With our nation at war, is this the kind of Congress you want? If your answer is a resounding no, I need you to make an urgent contribution to help us win this fight."

This whole impeachment argument supposedly going to galvanize and solidify the Republican base against the Democrats.

BRAZILE: Well, many of the Republicans have a real problem right now. They're having problems within their own house, their base is fractured. They're divided. And what Ken is trying to do in this fundraising appeal is put the blame on the Democrats.

Once again, what Democrats are saying, they want clean, honest, open government, a government that's held accountable to the people. And if the Republicans have a problem with clean, honest, and open government, then Ken should spell that out in his email as well.

BLITZER: I want to bring Bill in. But listen to the Democratic Congressman Jim Moran from Virginia, who said this. "Every time we get in a great strategic position, we manage to energize the Republican base. Everything is going well for the Democrats and President Bush is tanking in the polls." And then Russ Feingold comes up with the idea of censure, which is going to go nowhere. And it is not just quixotic, but is somewhat self-serving.

BRAZILE: I disagree with the Democrats. For them to think that when the wheels come off the Republican Party, somehow or another we're going to win office is wrong. Democrats must show leadership, Democrats must tell the American people what they would do differently. And Democrats must show the American people in a very clear way in November that they can run the government much differently than Republicans. Otherwise, we're going to have more of the same in 2006.

BLITZER: I hear more Republicans talking about the Democrats talking about impeachment than I hear Democrats talking about impeachment, if you understand what I'm saying.

BENNETT: Absolutely. If I had been too disagreeable, let me say I agree with Jim Moran. Democrat Moran is absolutely right. Yes, I think fundraising is not the redoubt of high principle, as you know. Fundraising letters is not where high principles tend to lay.

But there is an issue about when you are engaged in war, whether you should even be talking about things like the censure and impeachment of the president unless are you on absolutely solid ground. And there are law cases, legal cases, court decisions on these surveillance -- on these surveillance decisions.

But most of what the Democrats have to prop them up is public opinion polls. Now, I admit, public opinion polls are everywhere. And the mainstream media lives by them. But great presidents have not lived by them. No great funeralation (ph) of any great president ever included a public opinion poll.

BRAZILE: But if the president broke the law he should be held accountable. And that's one thing that's being missed in this whole debate over whether or not we should impeach the president. It's whether or not the president broke the law. That's the bottom line.

BENNETT: We can certainly have that debate.

BRAZILE: That's the debate that Russ Feingold would like to have.

BLITZER: That debate will, I'm sure, be made. Thanks very much, Donna and Bill. I appreciate it.

Up next, General Motors decides to downsize. But will the massive worker buyout make it more difficult for Democrats -- yes, Democrats -- to win back the White House? There may be a direct connection, and our Jeff Greenfield has been investigating.

And later, a lighter moment today over at the Pentagon. We're going to show you what happened when our own Jamie McIntyre took on the defense secretary, that would be Donald Rumsfeld. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: At this moment, hourly workers over at General Motors have a major decision they have to make. Do they accept buyout offers worth up to $140,000 each that GM announced yesterday? Here is something for them to think about in addition to the money. What they do just might affect the next election.

And here to explain how that works is our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield. It's a little complicated, but you're going to make it easily understandable, Jeff.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it is a big economic story, the once-mighty General Motors, battered by losses that exceeded $10 billion last year, is offering a buyout to all of its unionized workers in North America. But it is also potentially a huge political story, and one that has been decades in the making.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: Back around mid-century when General Motors dominated the auto industry, unions were a powerful presence in U.S. manufacturing. More than 30 percent of all such workers were unionized. That made an enormous difference to our politics. John Kennedy, for example, never would have been elected without strong union support.

In the decades since, union influence has sharply diminished. Industry moved south to states where laws made it much harder to organize. Other jobs went overseas. The result? Today, only 12.5 percent of all wage and salary workers are unionized. The United Auto Workers, which had 1.5 million members a quarter century ago, now has fewer than 650,000.

And here's why it matters so much politically. Voters, in what is called the white working class, those without college educations who make less than $50,000 a year, have been voting more and more Republican, drawn by issues such as national security and by values.

In 2004, Bush crushed Kerry among such voters 61-38 percent. But union members were much more likely to vote Democratic. Why? Because they received mail and phone calls about the vote. Union get-out-the- vote operations were particularly effective among their members.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: Now, the GM buyout offer is another sign that the traditional American manufacturing base is shrinking. And so, inevitably, will union membership in such industries. And the smaller the base of union members among the white working class, the tougher it will be for Democrats to win those votes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield making this subject understandable, as he always does. Thanks, Jeff, very much.

Coming up, in California, a black day for the governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. We're going to tell you why that's a good thing.

And from "Sex in the City" to politics in the city. We'll find out why actress Sarah Jessica Parker may be downing a cosmopolitan or two tonight. It's all part of our political radar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our "Political Radar" this Thursday, Arnold Schwarzenegger is in the black. Newly released campaign finance reports show the California governor has wiped out his campaign debt. His political finances had been drained by his losing battle for special election ballot measures.

But he's raised more than $5 million since the beginning of the year. The two leading Democrats in the race to challenge him this fall raised $3.5 million in that same period combined.

Congressman Harold Ford is due to add some star power to his U.S. Senate campaign tonight. The Tennessee Democrat has a $1,000 a plate fundraising dinner in New York City. Later in the evening, he'll rub elbows with "Sex in the City" star Sarah Jessica Parker. She's scheduled to attend a nightclub event in honor of Ford that costs from $100 to $300 a ticket.

And former President Bill Clinton is taking his fight against childhood obesity to Pennsylvania. He'll take part in a public health forum in Philadelphia tonight, along with CNN's own senior medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay will have a live report on the event. That's coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Randy "Duke" Cunningham admitted he could be bought, but it appears he didn't come cheap. The former congressman and Navy top gun pilot is now serving eight years in prison for taking bribes. Today in San Diego, some of his pricey possessions are being auctioned off by the government. Listen to some of the auction. Check it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The more you pay, the more you're worth. 17, 1,800. 18, 1,900. 19, 19, now. Now you get both of them. 19, now 2,000. 21.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That guy talks fast. Much more on the auction right now, just what's on the block, from our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton -- Abbi.

TATTON: Wolf, over $94,000. That's how much the former congressman's commodes and armoires and lingerie cabinets brought in today. The details of the auction were at this treasury Web site with all the lots there, and now the results are in.

For these candlesticks, $1,150. These nightstands here sold for $3,400. This pair of items right here, over $6,000. All the winning bids are going to be listed at the treasury Web site here. All the proceeds are going to be split between the FBI and the IRS -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks.

Coming up, President Bush and congressional Republicans don't see eye to eye on immigration. But where do the Democrats really stand? And can they capitalize on the Republican division? Our Bill Schneider is investigating.

Plus, will big brother soon be watching you in the streets of New York City? Is it smart to move -- is it a smart move to combat crime and terror? Or is it an invasion of your privacy? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go right back to Fred. She's got a developing story we're watching right now. What's going on, Fred?

WHITFIELD: Well, beginning with concerns about Afghanistan, Washington is increasing the pressure on that country to end the prosecution of a Christian convert. Abdul Rahman could face execution for converting to Christianity from Islam. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Afghanistan's president today and told him that the U.S. wants Afghanistan to show it respects religious freedom and to resolve the case quickly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There is no more fundamental issue for the United States than freedom of religion and religious conscience. This country was founded on that basis, and it is at the heart of democracy. People must have a right to conscience and religious conscience.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: There were violent protests again today in Paris and in other cities across France. Demonstrators set trash bins on fire and threw chunks of concrete at police, who then responded with tear gas. The protestors are angry over a new jobs law that would make it easier to fire younger workers. But there could be a break in the standoff. France's prime minister and union leaders plan to meet tomorrow.

Pope Benedict XVI convened the College of Cardinals at the Vatican today for the first time since he became the head of the Roman Catholic Church. He asked the cardinals to share their concerns with him about the challenges facing the church. Fifteen new cardinals will take an oath and receive their red hats at a ceremony tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fred, thank you very much.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, in the battle over illegal immigration, are lawmakers asking the right questions? Jack Cafferty's back with your email.

And will U.S. troops still be in Iraq after President Bush leaves the White House? Our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre will have the latest word on a possible timetable. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here is a look at some of the hot shots coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow. Baghdad, an Iraqi man uses a bucket of water to try to put out a fire in a shop. A car bomb outside a Shiite mosque started the blaze.

Kuwait, a woman gives a speech at a rally for women's rights. Women in Kuwait are allowed to run for office in parliamentary elections and vote for the first time. New York City. Two circus clowns pretend to take a nap after getting their oversized shoes shined at a Grand Central Station.

Boston. A 13-month-old crawls to the finish line in a warm-up for an upcoming baby race. Those are some of today's hot shots, pictures often worth a thousand words.

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

CAFFERTY: Wolf, Congress is getting ready to have a big discussion about immigration reform. Today, President Bush urged lawmakers to have a civil debate that respects people of all backgrounds. The question we're asking is, what needs to be debated when it comes to immigration reform? Got a lot of mail.

Paul in Utah writes, "We should debate whether the United States of America is a country, i.e., geographical and political entity with internationally defended and respected borders, or a bordello that's open 24/7, 365 days a year where anyone can sneak in as they please, and once thrown out the door, can simply come back in through the window."

Manuel in San Jose, California: "Why American workers get paid many times more than anybody else in the world for the same work."

Greg in Grainger, Iowa: "The Senate Judiciary Committee should put the enforcement-only immigration bill on hold. The committee should first update our broken immigration system by implementing real reform that includes a path to citizenship for the undocumented population." Greg, that path exists in the current immigration laws, if you enter the country illegally.

W.B. in Las Vegas, Nevada: "Nothing needs to be debated. What needs to be done is one, build a fence. Two, round up the illegals, ship them home. And three, throw those that hire them in jail. And I might remind those congressional weasels of both parties that illegals don't vote. We citizens do.

Otto in Lakeland, Florida: "Why doesn't anyone consider the real cost of illegal immigration? Contractors hire them because they work for next to nothing, which drives down the wages of legal workers, which fattens the wallets of the contractors, which grease the wheels of the political machines. Oh, never mind. I answered my own question" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, see you in a few moments.

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