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THE SITUATION ROOM

Severe Weather Hits Nashville; Bush's Plummeting Popularity and Leak Questions; Vicious Baghdad Attack; Interview With Sen. John Edwards

Aired April 7, 2006 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer, and we're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where news and information is 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, it's 5:00 p.m. at the White House. Bombarded with questions about the president's authorizing a leak of classified information, do the answers add up? And what will this latest revelation mean for a president whose popularity is plummeting?

It's 5:00 p.m. on Capitol Hill, where former vice presidential candidate John Edwards may be contemplating his own White House run. I'll ask him about that and the war in Iraq and lots more. John Edwards standing by in THE SITUATION ROOM this hour.

And it's 10:00 p.m. in London, where the closely-watched "Da Vinci Code" trial is now over. But the hype over the upcoming movie only just beginning, riding a wave of popularity that started with "The Passion of the Christ." Why has Jesus become such a hot commodity?

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

We'll have all those stories coming up, lots more this hour.

First, the latest on the developing story we're following today, severe weather, including tornadoes moving through Tennessee right now.

LaCheryl Tucker of CNN affiliate WTVF is in Nashville. She's been watching the hardest-hit areas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LACHERYL TUCKER, REPORTER, WTVF: Well, you know something, rescue crews are still searching through this home right here, which is actually a home and a mobile home. Standing right next to me is the sister of the person who was inside.

Melissa, is that correct?

Melissa, your sister and her children were inside?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, ma'am. TUCKER: How are they doing?

They're doing fine. They all just are suffering a few bumps and bruises and really shook up. My nephew has a cut on his head and his arm, and it's possible that my -- that my niece could have a broken leg. They haven't confirmed that yet. But everything and everybody is OK, except for this here.

But, you know, this material things. This can be replaced. They cannot. And thank god for that. Thank god they're OK and everybody's doing great.

TUCKER: And Melissa, it is correct that this -- your sister lived here, and a home, a mobile home across the street when the storm blew through, it just blew the mobile home over?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, ma'am. Yes, ma'am.

As a matter of fact, the trailer that was across the street my brother just moved out of less than a week ago. And it was empty. No one lived there, so there was no one there.

But it did actually blow the mobile home across the street into this one. And she had just called me and said, "I'm leaving, I'm going for shelter. Are you coming?"

And I thought I was going to ride it out. And then two minutes later she called and said, "Everything is gone." And I could not understand what she was saying. You know, it just didn't hit. And then you come here.

TUCKER: She was taken away by ambulance, is that correct?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

TUCKER: OK. Well, along with Melissa -- Melissa, thank you so much for joining us -- we do know that other people were injured, but they did receive minor injuries, some bumps and bruises.

We are along Maple Valley Road in Charlotte. This is in Dickson County. We're also told some other areas, some other streets, some other roads and homes and businesses -- I would stay a store named Duke (ph) store was also damaged. So, we are going to try to bring you all of that much later on, but again, we're along Maple Valley Road, where crews remain on the scene trying to search through the rubble just to see if everyone made it out OK.

Back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: That was LaCheryl Tucker of our CNN affiliate WTVF in Nashville.

Check out these clouds. Pretty ominous. This is tape we just got in. Tape of some of the tornado area, some of the severe weather that's afflicting so many different parts of the country.

Our meteorologist, Reynolds Wolf, is at the CNN Center watching all of this.

That tape, check that out, Reynolds. It is pretty scary.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: There's no question about it.

(WEATHER REPORT)

BLITZER: Thanks, Reynolds, very much.

WOLF: You bet.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

You're watching this. We've got live pictures coming in from Nashville, from other hard-hit areas. What are you seeing?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm seeing the situation I've seen many times before, a community going into the evening, waiting for dark to come, and there's no relief in sight.

Look at this. If we move into the area that we're talking about, the warnings in this area are amazing. All of this is area -- this where the storms are hitting today. Those are all the tornadoes clustered there in Tennessee. This is where all the hail has hit.

And look at this. All of these tornado warnings are going to be in place until 1:00 in the morning. And if you think that's bad enough, further to the east, this one, a great big one, until 3:00 a.m. in the morning.

That's how much of this area is under intense pressure right now, let alone all the ancillary storms that are out on the edges of all of this. That's why this is part of what we've always called the tornado belt, tornado alley, because of all that activity there, which, as you can see, is going to go on for quite some time into the night -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll continue to watch together with you, Tom. Thank you very much.

Let's go to our Carol Lin at the CNN Center. She's watching a developing story in California, also involving weather.

What's going on, Carol?

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, Wolf. We're going to bring you some pictures that we're looking at right now of the San Joaquin Valley. This is central California.

As you know by now, they have been getting a record amount of rain in that state. And you're looking at what appears to be a reservoir, but that is a town. In fact, right in the middle of there, there is a mobile home park, the Fisherman's Bend RV Park. And they're thinking they may have to evacuate some 65 residents down there. There are more than two dozen recreational vehicles in that park right now.

What happened is that the Stanislaus River overflowed, but for a short time, Wolf, they thought that a levee might have broken, obviously raising a lot of questions about how much more flooding there would be. But this is an area that grows much of the nation's tomatoes and lettuce, and they're getting more rain than they bargained for this year.

BLITZER: What a situation that is, Carol. Thank you very much for that.

We will continue to watch all the severe weather all over the country. But there's other important news unfolding right now here in Washington.

The questions concerning declassified and classified information about the buildup to the war in Iraq, those questions growing increasingly more intense today. The Bush administration trying very hard to answer some of those questions.

Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Ed Henry is standing by with the latest -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, one of the raging controversies in the Clinton administration centered around what the meaning of "is" is. Now it seems like we're engaged in a bit of a semantical debate about what the definition of a "leak" is. And this was triggered, of course, by the revelation yesterday that Scooter Libby, the former top aide to the vice president who's now been indicted, has basically testified that the president himself authorized the release of highly- sensitive information related to the war in Iraq to try to push back against some war critics.

Democrats charge that this contradict what the president has been saying throughout the CIA leak case, that he is against classified leaks. And faced with a barrage of questions today at his daily briefing, White House spokesman Scott McClellan basically said that since the president has the legal right to declassified information, it's not really a leak.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president of the United States has the authority to declassify information. I also indicated to some reporters earlier today that the president would never authorize the disclosure of information that he felt could compromise our nation's security.

Now, the National Intelligence Estimate was declassified, portions of it were declassified. We made sure that we did not -- that we continue to protect sensitive sources and methods within the National Intelligence Estimate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now, Democrats insist that the president did, in fact, engage in selective leaking, in their words, for political purposes, not in the public's interesting by declassifying some of this information. It's important to note that there's no evidence that the president authorized releasing the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame-Wilson, but this new information does put him right at the center of that campaign to discredit her husband, war critic Joe Wilson -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed, thank you very much for that.

Administration leaks may not necessarily have been illegal, but with the president so strongly against leaking, is the White House practicing what it preaches?

Joining us now from New York, our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield -- Jeff.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it seems logical enough that a president can decide that classified information can be made public, but the key issue here may be a little different. What happens if an administration lets out only information that supports its views but not information that challenges them?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD (voice over): One of the issues here is whether the Bush administration let Lewis "Scooter" Libby leak intelligence information that backed the idea that Iraq was seeking nuclear materials, but not a CIA conclusion that challenged this idea?

But that's only one example of the selected use of information, classified or otherwise. For instance, before the war, Pentagon sources were estimating the war's cost at between $60 and $95 billion. The cost of Iraq now, according to Pentagon estimates, is heading steadily toward $400 billion. Nor were the prewar estimates of the critical post-war needs for stability and reconstruction, prepared by State Department and other sources, a matter of public information.

Further, the desire to keep potentially unpleasant information quiet is very powerful. For instance, when longtime Medicare actuary Richard Foster estimated the cost of the prescription drug program at $100 billion more than the Bush administration said it was going to be, his superior threatened to fire Foster if he revealed that estimate to the Congress.

This is hardly a new phenomenon. Back in the Vietnam era, everyone from the president on down would happily share statistics on body counts and kill ratios to prove the U.S. would prevail. The more pessimistic estimates from the CIA, among others, were unsurprisingly kept quiet.

Indeed, it is a very rare leader who will stand before his country and declare, as Winston Churchill did in June of 1940, that an attempt to stem invading German armies was a colossal military disaster.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: And no one seriously suggests that a government, no matter how open, reveal all its secrets to the public. But when secrets are revealed or concealed, according to how that information might serve political ends, that can wind up leaving the public more misinformed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeff, thanks very much. Have a great weekend.

Jeff Greenfield's our senior analyst.

Jeff Cafferty is standing by with "The Cafferty File" once again -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It could leave them more steamed, too, couldn't it?

BLITZER: Correct.

CAFFERTY: The do-nothing Congress, Wolf, down there in your city is at it again. The Senate and the House of Representatives are adjourning so that the overworked members could head home for a two- week break for Easter and Passover. As usual, they leave behind a mountain of unfinished business.

Senators failed to pass immigration reform, which is pretty much all we've heard out of them for the last few weeks. And over in the House, the 2007 budget plan collapsed. Then they also failed to put the finishing touches on $70 billion in tax cuts.

But for our Congress, nothing stands in the way of spring break.

So here's the question: Should Congress be taking a two-week vacation?

E-mail us at caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile.

There is a school of thought, Wolf, that if they are out of town, they can't hurt us.

BLITZER: Well, that's what a lot of people have come to say over the years. You know what? Maybe the country is better off if they are not necessarily passing legislation that may or may not be all that good.

CAFFERTY: Yes. I just wonder what they tell their constituents when they get home about -- you know, when they say, well, so, what have you been doing? I mean, what's the answer to that question?

BLITZER: Working very, very hard.

CAFFERTY: OK.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. Up ahead, my interview with the former senator John Edwards. I'll ask him about his White House ambitions right now, the war in Iraq, lots more.

John Edwards coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, Jesus sells from books, to movies, to lots more. We're going to show you what's behind the growing marketing of Jesus.

And coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, a controversial plan to move thousands of L.A. homeless off of skid row. It's the most ambition effort of its kind, but can it work?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: John Edwards, the former Democratic vice president nominee, he'll be speaking with me shortly. We'll speak about Iraq. I will ask him if he agrees with John Kerry that there should be a deadline imposed May 15th to get all U.S. troops out of Iraq unless there's a national unity government there.

John Edwards standing by to talk about Iraq, other issues, including a possible run for the White House. That's coming up.

In Iraq today, a worrying scene of chaos and carnage. The United States ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, calling it a vicious attack perpetrated -- and I'm quoting now -- "by enemies of all faiths and of all humanity." Dozens of people are dead after another suicide bombing in the Iraqi capital.

Our Aneesh Raman standing by with details -- Aneesh.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for the second time in as many days, an attack on a Shia religious site that will undoubtedly ratchet up sectarian tensions in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAMAN (voice over): Just hours after noon prayers as people were heading home, a day of worship destroyed by Iraq's deadliest attack in months.

Outside one of Baghdad's most prominent Shia mosques, heavily guarded to prevent against attacks like this, a suicide bomber detonated a vest of explosives amid guards. At least two other suicide bombers then used the ensuing chaos to move closer and detonate their vests, killing more.

Survivors loaded bodies on to trucks. Some seething with pain, others with anger. Anger that Shia leaders fear could soon lead to actions beyond their control.

ABDELAZIZ HAKIM, SCIRI DEPUTY HEAD (through translator): For three years we have baring the slaughtering, killing and attacking of our innocents. We are always talking to our people to restrain themselves, but gradually people will start not to obey, and revenge actions are a danger.

RAMAN: This attack is the second in as many days against prominent Shia religious sites. Thursday, meters from Iraq's holiest Shia shrine in the country's holiest Shia city of Najaf, 10 worshippers were killed by a car bomb. Amid scenes like this, Shia militia leaders argue that if Iraq's security forces cannot protect their sites or their people, they will do it themselves.

But the same militias are thought to be behind reprisal attacks against Sunnis that in recent weeks have left hundreds dead in those areas and why senior U.S. military officials say they are now Iraq's biggest threat.

MAJ. GEN. RICK LYNCH, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ: The militias are wrong. The militias are bad for the people of Iraq, and the militias have to be disbanded.

RAMAN: But the only people who can disarm Iraq's Shia militias are Iraqi leaders, who four months after election day are embroiled in political wrangling and yet to form a government.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAMAN: This attack will likely embolden and enrage Shia militias, but the hope is that it will also add urgency among Iraq's political leaders as they attempt to form a unity government -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman in Baghdad.

Another horrible, horrible day in the Iraqi capital. I will speak, by the way, with Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador in Iraq, Sunday on "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

Coming up, Senator John Edwards joins us in THE SITUATION ROOM. Is the former vice presidential candidate contemplating his own run for the White House? I will ask him.

Plus, Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney in a very, very hot spotlight all of this week. It's not, though, the first time she's been facing that kind of spotlight. We are going to show you some of her past controversies.

All that coming up. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We've been following the severe weather in major parts of the country, including some tornadoes in Tennessee. We have now learned from The Associated Press two confirmed deaths near Nashville, northeast of Nashville, Sumner County.

We're watching this story for you. Get some more information as it develops. But two deaths now as a result of tornadoes in Tennessee. Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She has some other real-time resources online for those of you following this severe weather -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, all these sites that I'm going to show you, all the pages right now, are from noaa.gov. They are constantly updated to give you the most immediate information.

First of all, the general outlook. You can zero in on the watches in effect right now. This is at the Storm Prediction Center.

If you go across to the National Weather Service, you can zero in on the states as risk right now from tornadoes. The tornado warnings, the tornado watches.

If we go here to Tennessee, first of all, the west of the state, the yellow area, that's all under a tornado watch. The red area is the tornado warning. Go across there to Nashville, you can see the dangerous situation there right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you very much.

Once again, two confirmed deaths now, according to The Associated Press, in Tennessee. as a result of these tornadoes. We will continue to watch this story for you.

Meanwhile, other stories we are watching.

The controversy dogging Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney this week over her scuffle with a Capitol Hill Police officer apparently dying down, at least today. But it certainly isn't her first time under a very, very hot spotlight.

Let's bring in our Brian Todd. He's here with more on this story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, throughout her career, Cynthia McKinney has confronted some very sensitive issues with a style that has made some people uncomfortable but rallied others to her side.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. CYNTHIA MCKINNEY (D), GEORGIA: I was not elected to remain silent, to sit down or to shut up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right.

TODD (voice over): The hairdo might have changed, but has the defiance? Critics say Cynthia McKinney overplays the race card. Supporters say she's passionate and misunderstood.

Before her latest brush with law enforcement, the documentary "American Blackout" caught this scene last year. A Capitol Hill Police officer does not recognize McKinney at a checkpoint. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I'm sorry. I was...

MCKINNEY: That's just the typical kind of treatment that I receive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry.

MCKINNEY: It's typical, so I'm not surprised and I'm not offended.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't know. I'm sorry, ma'am.

MCKINNEY: OK. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please forgive me.

MCKINNEY: Some things never change. That's what Tupac said.

TODD: This, coincidentally, is the daughter of one of Atlanta's first African-American policemen, Billy McKinney, who was also a civil rights activist and served in the Georgia state legislature.

MERLE BLACK, EMORY UNIVERSITY: It was a style of very aggressive civil rights activity. She grew up in that family, and I think a lot of her style is reminiscent of that of her father.

TODD: But that style led to McKinney's loss in 2002. When asked to spell out the reason for his daughter's tough re-election campaign, Billy McKinney said, "J-E-W-S." And at another point, accused the country's largest Jewish lobby, APAC, of supporting her opponent.

BILLY MCKINNEY, CYNTHIA MCKINNEY'S FATHER: They need to stay out of the black community. They don't live in the black community.

TODD: Contacted by CNN, an APAC official said the group doesn't get involved in campaigns. But some observers believe Cynthia may have lost with this comment.

MCKINNEY: We know there were numerous warnings of the events to come on September 11th. What did this administration know, and when did it know it?

TODD: McKinney implied that the president ignored those warnings. But her spokesman says it was all taken out of context, that she was simply questioning how he responded to the intelligence he had.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And will McKinney's latest controversy cost her this year's election? Political observers in Atlanta say she remains very popular in her predominantly African-American district. One commentator saying she has "a hypnotic effect" on voters there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Brian, the grand jury is still meeting to determine whether any charges should be filed against her?

TODD: That's correct. Now, the two congressional aides testified, possibly yesterday, one of them may have testified today. We are also told that the police officer in question was going to testify either today or early next week. No decision yet on charges.

BLITZER: We'll continue to watch this story. Brian, thank you very much.

Brian Todd reporting.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, if he had it his way, he'd be running things right now, at least helping to run things from the White House. What does the former vice presidential nominee John Edwards think about how things are going right now in Iraq and elsewhere? I'll ask the former North Carolina senator.

And the life of Jesus making many people rich. We'll tell you about the growing fascination with all things religious.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Should the United States issue an ultimatum to Iraqi leaders? Yesterday, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we heard Democratic Senator John Kerry spell out his demand for a deadline in Iraq. Now it's his former running mate's turn to weigh in.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joining us now, Senator John Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina and vice presidential nominee.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, (D) NC: Glad to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little about Iraq. I want to get to a lot of issues, but Iraq -- Your running mate, John Kerry, wrote a piece in the "New York Times" the other day in which he said this. "Iraqi politicians should be told that they have until May 15th," a little bit more than a month from now, "to put together an effective unity government or we will immediately withdraw our military." You agree with your former running mate?

EDWARDS: I completely agree with the notion we can't do this for them. They have to do it and they have to take responsibility. Not just for formation of the government but providing their own security. And I think what John is suggesting is that we do everything in our power to put pressure on them to accept that responsibility and take the burden on themselves instead of counting on America to do it.

And on that issue, he's right about it. Without getting into the details of specifically about how you go about it, there is a number of mechanisms by how to accomplish that. BLITZER: Because that sounds pretty drastic. That you have until May 15th. You put together your national unity government, including the Shia, the Kurd, the Sunni if you don't, 130 or so U.S. troops, they are out of there.

EDWARDS: What I have been saying for months, we ought to be right now withdrawing at least 40,000 troops. So that we can send a clear signal, the Iraqis, to that part of the world, that we're not going to keep doing this for them and they're going to actually have to do it for themselves. John is just talking about a different way of accomplishing the same thing.

BLITZER: He also says, that even if they put together a national unity government by May 15th, by the end of the year, he wants U.S. troops out of Iraq, redeployed over the horizon, as he calls it, because that's plenty of time for the Iraqis to get their act together and to protect themselves.

EDWARDS: He's completely right that we need to reduce our presence. That needs to continue as they take up and take responsibility, which they have to do. And if they don't do it, ultimately, America can't do this for them. So he's right about that. I don't know I agree about the dates and his deadlines, but what he is trying to accomplish, he is dead right about. And the underlying premise about everything that John said in this piece in "The New York Times" is they have to do this for themselves. We can't keep doing it for them.

BLITZER: Listen to what the president says. I want you to listen to this clip of what he said in Charlotte, North Carolina. Listen to this.

EDWARDS: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: Removing Saddam Hussein was the right thing for world peace and the security of our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Was it the right thing?

EDWARDS: You know I've written myself, about six months ago in "The Washington Post" that I voted for this resolution on the Iraq War, I was wrong. I believe that I was wrong. I didn't know that this president was going to make such an incredible mess out of this, which is exactly what he's done. Is Saddam being gone good? Of course it is a good thing. But for the reason us going in was not because Saddam Hussein was a bad man. We went in on the basis that we believed they mad weapons of mass destruction. We were wrong about that. And it's important for us to tell the truth about that.

BLITZER: And you, in your heart at the time, when you voted for that resolution, you firmly believed that he had stockpiles of chemical, biological weapons and was working, even potentially, on a nuclear device?

EDWARDS: I along with a lot of other people. What I didn't know was that George Bush would make such an incredible mess out of this, which is what he's done.

BLITZER: The secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, wrote an article in "The Washington Post" on March 19th in which he said, "Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis."

EDWARDS: Well, Don Rumsfeld is the architect, along with George Bush and Dick Cheney, of this incredible mess that we are faced with right now. And the last thing I or anybody in America is interesting in hearing what Don Rumsfeld thinks about this. The truth of the matter is they credited this mess, they made the situation much worse than it had to be, and at least so far, I have not heard a single one of them take any responsibility for that.

BLITZER: As we are speaking, there are indications in a paper, in a motion that was filed by Scooter Libby, the vice president's former chief of staff, saying he was authorized by the vice president, in effect, by the president, who authorized the vice president to tell him to leak classified information from a national intelligence estimate, involving Iraq, in order to make the administration's case. What do you make of that disclosure?

EDWARDS: Troublesome, you know, what is the president of the United States doing, directing people to leak classified information? The president has the authority, as you well know, to declassify information. But for him to do it in this fashion, in leaking to the press, it's just worrisome. It's consistent with the pattern that we have seen from this president.

BLITZER: Is it justified to think about articles of impeachment, as some Democrats have floated?

EDWARDS: Well, what I believe is, this president has engaged in behavior that certainly justifies censure.

BLITZER: You support Russ Feingold's motion for censure?

EDWARDS: But -- I want to add to that, because it's important. I believe that the most important thing is to hold the president accountable. Because what matters is not some censure motion in the United States Senate. What matters is what's going to happen going forward. Which means Congress needs to take its responsibility both for the oversight of the war in Iraq, for the oversight of what's happening here domestically. We have huge issues here in this country and most of America are interested in the things that affect their day to day lives, including the war in Iraq.

BLITZER: A lot of the Republicans, Tom DeLay was here in THE SITUATION ROOM the other day, and others have suggested that if there becomes a Democratic majority in the House and/or the Senate, the first thing the Democrats are going to do is push impeachment of the president, and that's obviously designed to generate their base, if you will. But is it true?

EDWARDS: I think the first thing that will happen if the Democrats take control of the House and Senate is we're going to address the problems that people face in their lives. The war in Iraq, health care crisis in America, raising the minimum wage. Democrats are about affecting people's lives. They are not about process.

BLITZER: Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican Party recently said, "He," referring to you, "He definitely looks and feels and sounds like a presidential aspirant." Are you?

EDWARDS: Thinking about it. But haven't made a decision about it yet.

BLITZER: When will you make a decision?

EDWARDS: Sometime in the future. I'm spending most of my time these days working on what I think is the cause of my life now, which is doing something about poverty in America. And somewhere down the road, we will make sure Elizabeth is OK and right now she's doing great, and we will see where I am.

BLITZER: Elizabeth is your wife.

EDWARDS: My wife, yes.

BLITZER: Who's had cancer. She is doing all right?

EDWARDS: She's doing great.

BLITZER: OK. Great. You are this weekend, though, going to Iowa.

EDWARDS: I am.

BLITZER: And that -- A lot of people who read the tea leaves say, you know, John Edwards going to Iowa, going to New Hampshire, that's almost a sure sign he's thinking very seriously of running for the presidency.

EDWARDS: Oh, I am thinking about it. There's no question about that.

BLITZER: You haven't made a decision yet.

EDWARDS: I have not. And I wouldn't read too much into going to Iowa. Every place I go, whether it's Iowa or Florida or Texas, any place I go in the country, and I'm all over the place, I talk about the issue of poverty and trying to raise awareness about it.

BLITZER: I want to get to the minimum wage in a moment. But our recent, February, not that recent, but recent enough, CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll, among registered Democrats, had Hillary Clinton at 39 percent, John Kerry at 15, Al Gore at 13, John Edwards at 12. Al Gore says he's not inclined to run. He's sort of made that statement. Although a lot of people think he still might run. What about Hillary? She seems like a formidable potential Democratic nominee.

EDWARDS: What I would say is there is no way to know at this point whether any of these people are going to run for president. What I hope, whoever runs, whether I have anything to do with it or not, that it's a battle of vision and leadership and ideas. That's what it should be about, not about personality.

BLITZER: Your big issue is poverty right now. We all remember the campaign, the two Americas. Minimum wage is an issue you've come to Washington to deal with. Right now minimum wage is what, $5.15 an hour? But it's been at that level now for nine years. The reason you want to increase it is obviously trying to help poorer people. The argument against it is that people say, you know what, you are going to hurt poor people because you are going to get those inner city jobs, for example, at McDonalds, fast food chains, harder for them to employ young people, young black males, for example, teenagers, if the minimum wage goes up.

EDWARDS: But the facts don't bare it out. It's just rhetoric that's not supported by what's happened. In places, for example, Wolf, where the minimum wage has been raised above the federal minimum wage, in municipalities and in states. In fact, their economies have done better, not worse. They have not lost jobs. You have got people, you help lift people out of poverty. Number one. Number two, these folks are able to support themselves. So they are less dependent on the government for their support. And number three, because they are making more money, they can put more money back in the economy.

The minimum wage is a winner. And I'll just add, the country's for this. You know, I hear it everywhere I go. Every poll I've ever seen says the vast majority of Americans are for raising the minimum wage. But it's being stopped by politicians in Washington.

BLITZER: You raise the minimum wage and in effect you raise all wages, because there will be an accordion effect, as a result of raising ...

EDWARDS: Rising tide lifts all boats.

BLITZER: The other argument that has been made, and I want you to respond to this one is in effect, you are promoting outsourcing. If the wages get too high here in the United States, people are going to take their work to India or China or Korea or Mexico, where labor is cheaper. And as a result you are going to increase unemployment in the United States.

EDWARDS: Largely untrue. Because, most of the jobs that are minimum wage jobs are service economy jobs. You just mentioned. Working in McDonalds, working uin restaurants, working in hotels. Providing home health services. Those kind of jobs. They can't go anywhere else. Those are jobs that have to be done in the United States. And we have sort of a basic question. Whether people in these jobs, and there are probably 50 million of them in the United States, and maybe as many as 10 million more over the next decade, we have real growth in the creation of jobs in America. The question is, are those folks who are working hard, supporting their families, are we actually going to value their work and allow them to have a decent income and support themselves, or, are people working full time going to live in poverty. It's not right.

BLITZER: We are almost out of time, but are you missing Washington now that you are no longer a U.S. senator or are you happy to be outside of Washington?

EDWARDS: I love it where I am now. I enjoyed serving in the Senate. I have to be honest with you. I don't miss Washington a lot. I have some good friends here. But we love living in North Carolina.

BLITZER: If you are elected president of the United States, you know you are going to have to come back to live inside the Beltway.

EDWARDS: We'll deal with that when and if it ever happens.

BLITZER: And Elizabeth is on board, she's ready for the challenge if you decide to make that jump to the presidential race again?

EDWARDS: I think Elizabeth cares as much about this country as anybody I've ever known.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for joining us.

EDWARDS: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And remember, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where political news is arriving all the time. CNN, America's campaign headquarters.

Still to come. As immigration reform hangs in the balance, senators heading off for a break. I'll talk about the breakdown in the efforts to reach a deal on immigration with our own Lou Dobbs. He's standing by live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And what do you think about Congress going on that two-week vacation? Is it a vacation? Jack Cafferty has your emails. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're going to speak with Lou Dobbs in a moment. Let's check in the "Bottom Line." Ali Velshi standing by. Ali?

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Wolf. President Bush was really quick to pat his policies on the back this morning as we heard earlier. That 211,000 new jobs added in March were the reason. Unemployment rate at 4.7 percent which is the lowest level in about four years.

Now the help wanted signs are going up in the service sector, in hospitality and the retail industry last month but the economy did lose another 5,000 factory jobs and they keep disappearing. Where are the jobs that are open to people? A lot of them are in the warm weather spots like Florida and Arizona, Nevada. Those have been strong areas for a while.

But as you would expect, in the Katrina battered states like Louisiana and Mississippi, still jobs going the wrong way. Leaving.

The strong jobs report didn't bring out the bulls today on the market. The Dow lost 96 points to 11,120 with a lot of people worried about inflation, because of low unemployment. The NASDAQ lost 22 points. Oil prices slipped a little bit because of a report from the Congressional Budget Office warning that demand from China could boost oil prices by $14 a barrel over the next five years but that's not coming any time soon. Just something to look out for. Wolf?

BLITZER: Ali, thank you very much. At this time yesterday, senators were celebrating a breakthrough in immigration reform, a compromise, they thought, which would have let millions of illegal immigrants eventually become American citizens. Today that bipartisan breakthrough went bust. And now the Senate goes on a two-week recess.

What happened? What should happen next. Joining us, our own Lou Dobbs. He's in THE SITUATION ROOM.

What do you make of this collapse of this deal that so many people thought was certain?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we know that a certain number of people thought it was a breakthrough. Bill Frist and the leadership of the Senate, Democrats and Republicans ...

BLITZER: They were high fiving each other.

DOBBS: They were quick to congratulate and pat each other on the back. They just left out a few things. Like policy, basic principles. I have said, as you know, Wolf, for some time, we cannot reform immigration in this country, and it is in desperate need of reform. And we have to do something about the illegal alien population in this country. But we can do nothing until we can control immigration. And we control immigration until we control our borders. It's that straight forward. There isn't a U.S. senator who does not understand that truism.

BLITZER: And the president says it has got to be a comprehensive deal.

DOBBS: It is utter obfuscation. Comprehensive. Four and a half years after September 11th, there should not even be a debate in the United States Senate or the U.S. House or at 1600 Pennsylvania, as to securing borders and our ports. And it is a sham, this thing we call the Homeland Security Department. If we are to have real substantive immigration reform in this country, we have got to take control of the borders, and move to, yes, the critical issue of our illegal alien population and how we are going to reform that policy and those laws, and which we're going to enforce.

BLITZER: You are going to have a lot more on this coming up at the top of the hour.

DOBBS: Absolutely. Absolutely.

BLITZER: We'll be watching. Lou is in Washington today, you'll want to stick around and see LOU DOBBS TONIGHT as well. Thanks Lou, very much.

DOBBS: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up ahead, the lines were down the block for the hit film "The Passion Of The Christ." Will the "Da Vinci Code" get the same reception? We are looking into why Jesus is becoming a hot commodity in Hollywood and on Madison Avenue.

And immigration reform didn't get done. At least not yet. Should lawmaker be staying at work instead of going on vacation? Jack Cafferty going through your emails.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Severe weather in many parts of the country, including tornados. Carol Lin standing by at the CNN Center with the latest. Carol?

LIN: That's right, Wolf.

You've been talking about the tornados and the two deaths in the State of Tennessee. But take a look at the pictures that just came into the CNN Center. You're looking at a suburb of Nashville. There are cars overturned in Gallatin, Tennessee. And the Volunteer State Community College there, right now, rescue workers are going through the buildings on that college campus to make sure all the students are accounted for and that everyone is OK. Reports of abrasions and cuts so far. No deaths in Gallatin.

But take a look at this. This is the power of Mother Nature at work. The roof top of that car dealership was sheered off the side. Look at that. And cars turned over right in the middle of the street. This is what is going on right now in Gallatin, Tennessee. Wolf?

BLITZER: We will continue to watch this story. Carol, thank you very much. Other stories we are watching. It started with "The Passion of the Christ." Now the upcoming movie version of the "Da Vinci Code" promises to be another blockbuster with the life of Jesus its central focus.

CNN's Mary Snow is standing by in New York with more on this growing trend. Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a British court today dismissed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the author of "The Da Vinci Code." And this, of course, paves the way for the movie. And promoters, as you might be able to see right behind me, here in New York City, wasting no time in promoting that movie that's coming out next month.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): With millions at stake, at the heart of the lawsuit, a fight over the rights to a theory that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children. The fiction book has sold more than 40 million copies. Authors of the 1982 "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" lost their copyright infringement claim but saw sales of their book increase during the trial. And that's just the warm-up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Witness the biggest cover-up in human history.

SNOW: Next month in theaters worldwide, "The Da Vinci Code" movie.

MARVIN MEYER, CHAPMAN UNIVERSITY: I would have to say it is an incredible time, who could have imagined that Jesus would be as hot as Jesus is.

SNOW: Religion professor Marvin Meyer just helped unearth documents being called the Gospel of Judas. The National Geographic Society is publishing them and they reexamine the relationship between Jesus and the disciple Judas.

Since the 2004 movie "The Passion of the Christ," which made $370 million in the United States alone, some see a growing fascination with stories based on the life of Jesus. Paul Lauer helped market the movie.

PAUL LAUER, MOTIVE MARKETING: Post "Passion" there is certainly more of an awareness, there is an interest. And we have been approached by a lot of people asking if we can essentially do that "Passion" thing.

SNOW: However popular these Jesus themed projects may be, they don't come without controversy. Critics saw "The Passion of the Christ" having anti-Semitic themes. Many Catholic Church leaders are not happy about "The Da Vinci Code" and some frown on what's being touted as secret writings about Christ, much like the Gospel of Judas. But some see a collective soul searching at the route of the appeal.

MEYER: People are trying to find something there, to find some kind of guidance, some kind of leadership, I believe.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (on camera): And many say that they see this religious based theme not only in pop culture but also in politics. Wolf?

BLITZER: Excellent report, Mary. Thank you very much. Mary Snow on the streets of Manhattan. The surge in Jesus related films and books is being felt online as well. Let's get more from our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner. Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, on line bookseller barnesandnoble.com says they continue to see Jesus-themed booked in their top 10. For example, Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" at number two right now and "The Gospel of Judas" weighing in at number seven.

Also, over at Amazon.com, "The Da Vinci Code" still at number 10. And they tell me that this book and the approach of Easter are sparking interest in other Jesus-related and religion related books, like "American Theocracy," "American Gospel," and "The Jesus Papers." This is spilling over into movies, too. The new release of the "Chronicles of Narnia" obviously very popular, but they are also seeing an interest because of Easter and "The Da Vinci Code" in things like the Veggie Tales, the Christian movie series or the classic Bible Tales.

And over at Blockbuster.com they are saying "The Passion of the Christ" is spurring related documentaries, like "The Impact of the Passion of the Christ" and those are popular too, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jacki. Thanks very much.

Up next, should Congress be taking a two week vacation? Jack Cafferty with your emails. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack. He's in New York. Jack?

CAFFERTY: Spring break. Visualize that, you lose your appetite. They'll be gone for two weeks. They are going to leave behind a mountain of unfinished stuff. The Senate didn't pass immigration reform. The House didn't pass a budget. Those plans collapsed for next year. So the question is, should they be taking a two week vacation?

Dave in Kansas City has it figured out. "They just got back from vacation, now they're taking another one, not to mention they'll be off the whole month of August. How much vacation do these idiots think they need? Ridiculous!" writes Dave.

Chip in Clarkston, Michigan. "If the public does its job they should be going back to Washington in two weeks with their tails between their legs and a healthy appreciate of the fact that the southern border needs to be fixed before anything else. They can whine about illegal status later."

James in Alliance, Ohio. "A two week vacation? No one even told me they were back yet."

Christine in Illinois. "Come on, Jack. They serve as much purpose sitting on their couches at home as they do in Congress. The only benefit is, at least when they're home they don't have those phony press conferences, so we don't have to look at them."

Linda in Mountain View, Arkansas, "Jack, hopefully, come November, about 95 percent of these fools will be on a permanent break. Maybe they can apply for one of those jobs Americans won't do."

And Susan writes from Fresno, California. "Congress' two-week vacation reminds me of a doctor from the late 1800s. Each year he took time off to go hunting. The editor of the local newspaper would write that it was the only time of the year the doctor didn't kill anything."

Wolf?

BLITZER: As we said earlier, there is some potentially positive news when the law makers are not in Washington.

CAFFERTY: That's right. They can't hurt us.

BLITZER: That's what we were talking about earlier, Jack.

CAFFERTY: That's right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. See you in an hour back here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Lot's more coming up. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Lou Dobbs getting ready to begin LOU DOBBS TONIGHT and that begins from Washington right now. Lou?

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