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THE SITUATION ROOM

People Join Nationwide Boycott of Immigrants; New Poll Numbers on Future of Iraq Mission; Will Immigration Demonstrations Hurt The Cause?

Aired May 1, 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 are 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 declares Iraq at a turning point exactly three years after his famous mission accomplished speech. It's 4 p.m. in Washington, will the Iraq mission ever be accomplished? We have some brand new poll numbers on that.

Also this hour, off the job and on the streets, hundreds of thousands of people join a nationwide boycott designed to show the academic power of immigrants. It's 1 p.m. in Los Angeles, one of the cities at the center of the immigration wars. We'll have live reports.

And crisis at the pumps, now that a top administration official has called it a crisis, the stakes are even higher in the partisan battle over gas prices.

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

It's happening right now from coast to coast, hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their supporters are pouring into the streets of American cities. We'll have live reports on the boycott dubbed a day without immigrants and whether it's having the political and economic impact organizers want.

But first, President Bush and his national security team are looking ahead right now to the future in Iraq, offering some words of caution and optimism. But on this day many Americans are looking back at what has become a symbol of mistakes made in Iraq. Exactly three years ago to the day the president stood on an aircraft carrier under a mission accomplished banner and declared major combat operations in Iraq over.

Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is standing by. He's got new poll numbers.

Let's go to the White House first. Suzanne Malveaux has the latest from there -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, really that speech, President Bush never said mission accomplished. As a matter of fact, he gave a warning, saying that there were more difficult times ahead. But this speech, as you know, of course, continues to haunt this president and this administration because it has come to symbolize failure in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice over): President Bush tried to project a new, more hopeful phase in Iraq and perhaps a shift in his own presidency.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We believe this is a turning point for the Iraqi citizens, and it's a new chapter in our partnership.

MALVEAUX: It was three years ago when Mr. Bush stood in front of a mission accomplished banner and declared...

BUSH: My fellow Americans, major combat operations in Iraq have ended and the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.

MALVEAUX: That photo-op meant to draw a clear battle line for the American people has embattled President Bush ever since.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: That speech will always be remembered as a symbol of the mistakes and misjudgments that have characterized this war.

VIN WEBER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: We've been in Iraq a lot longer than people thought we would be, it's cost a lot more money and it's cost more lives. And we still can't quite see the end.

MALVEAUX: Since Mr. Bush's victory speech three years ago there have been accomplishments.

KEN POLLACK, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: The markets are full of food. Lots of people have cell phones. There are certainly children going back to schools.

MALVEAUX: And Iraqis have gone to the polls three times to form their first Democratically-elected government.

POLLACK: Many Iraqis cling to the hope that tomorrow will be better.

MALVEAUX: But Americans are not so optimistic. Polls show most don't feel any safer, have greater doubts about the U.S.-Iraq mission and regret going to war. Since Mr. Bush's mission accomplished moment, close to 2,400 Americans have lost their lives in Iraq and more than 30,000 Iraqis, and the insurgency has strengthened dramatically.

POLLACK: We've, unfortunately, replaced the problems of Saddam Hussein with the problems of a budding civil war in Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MALVEAUX: Now, Iraq continues to define this president as well as, of course, his legacy. Administration officials continue to say that that mission accomplished moment was really just a snapshot in really a long-term effort to bring Democratic reform to that country. And, Wolf, they believe ultimately that it will succeed.

BLITZER: What are they saying, Suzanne, at the White House about Colin Powell, the former secretary of state, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying on British television over the weekend that he always felt the U.S. was not going into Iraq with enough forces? He recommended more, but he apparently was overruled.

MALVEAUX: Well, the White House isn't denying that. Scott McClellan, the press secretary, as well as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this weekend both addressed that, saying that Colin Powell essentially was a view among many top officials and administrators that were giving their sound advice to the president.

But that ultimately when it came down to who was going make the decision, the president turned to his military command. They said they had what they needed to go into war with Iraq, and that is the advice that ultimately he went with.

BLITZER: The Powell doctrine clearly not used. Overwhelming force, that's what he recommended during the first Gulf War.

Suzanne, thanks very much.

Many Democrats are eager to remind voters what happened three years ago today and how the Iraq conflict has dragged on since then. On the Senate floor, the Minority Leader Harry Reid showed a photograph of the president under the mission accomplished banner, and Reid had some sharp words about Mr. Bush's Iraq policy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MINORITY LEADER: Since President Bush rendered his judgment of mission accomplished more than 2,200 Americans are now dead, our military dead. About 20,000 have since been wounded. Many hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayers' money expended, and now Iraq is engaged in a civil war to the degree of which is unknown and debatable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On this date in 2003, some people thought the president's top gun aircraft carrier landing was a great P.R. stunt, but you sure don't hear anyone saying that right now.

Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is joining us. He has got some brand new poll numbers -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, the debate over mission accomplished in Iraq has changed fundamentally over the last three years. It's now a very different question.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice over): Mission accomplished in Iraq? There's no debate anymore. Only 9 percent of Americans believe the United States has accomplished its mission in Iraq, 84 percent say it has not.

The debate now is over whether the U.S. can accomplish its mission in Iraq. On that question the public is split; 49 percent believe it can or already has, 44 percent say it cannot. Americans do not like to fight unwinnable wars.

So President Bush insists the U.S. can still succeed in Iraq and must succeed because Iraq is part of the war on terror.

BUSH: This nation of ours and our coalition partners are going to work with the new leadership to strengthen our mutual efforts to achieve success, victory in this war on terror.

SCHNEIDER: But Americans are increasingly hearing that what the Bush administration did in Iraq was take a bad situation and make it worse, at least for the United States. Bad situation?

RICHARD FALKENRATH, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Saddam Hussein did have links with international terrorism.

SCHNEIDER: But...

FALKENRATH: He held it under control to a certain extent.

SCHNEIDER: Worse situation with respect to terrorists.

FALKENRATH: They will have been trained and hardened through combat in Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: And...

FALKENRATH: It makes them far more dangerous for the world.

SCHNEIDER: So what do Americans want to do in Iraq? Only 38 percent want to stay the course and try to achieve the administration's current objectives. Most Americans say change the course and scale back those objectives.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: In other words, redefine the mission in Iraq to something that looks winnable -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider with those numbers.

And thanks to Bill and Suzanne Malveaux, part of the best political team on television, CNN, America's campaign headquarters.

And after more than three years in Iraq, there's still serious debate over whether the U.S. had enough troops on the ground to secure the peace after the fall of Saddam Hussein. As we just heard a few moments ago, the Bush administration trying to downplay weekend comments by the former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

In an interview broadcast in London, Powell again said he made the case for more troops. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I had raised directly with General Franks and with Secretary Rumsfeld and in front of the president the size of the force that was going in, but I'm the secretary of state, not the secretary of the defense or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

And the president's military advisers felt that the size of the force was adequate. They may still feel that years later. Some of us don't. I don't, and I have said that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I asked the current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about her predecessor's comments. She was a guest on CNN's "Late Edition." Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't remember specifically what Secretary Powell may be referring to, but I'm quite certain that there were lots of discussions about how best to fulfill the mission when we went into Iraq. And I have no doubt that all of this was taken into consideration, but that when it came down to it, the president listened to his military advisers who were to execute the plan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And we are going to have lots more on the situation in Iraq later this hour. Torie Clarke, Donna Brazile, they are standing by in today's "Strategy Session."

Now to the political war over illegal immigration playing out at this moment on the streets of numerous American cities. Organizers say millions of people are turning out for a nationwide boycott. It is billed as a day without immigrants and is the latest in a series of protests against the proposed crackdown on illegal immigration.

And it is also an attempt to try to prove that immigrants are a driving force behind the U.S. economy.

Look at this scene right now in Chicago. At least 100,000 people, perhaps as many as many as half a million marching downtown. The Chicago Public Schools say attendance is down 10 to 33 percent lower at schools with mostly Hispanic students.

And check this out in Denver, tens of thousands of demonstrators are also on the march. Many are dressed in white. Some are waving U.S. flags. One group carrying a big banner that reads, today we march, tomorrow we vote. Protests also underway right now in the nation's two largest cities.

Our Chris Lawrence is standing by live in Los Angeles.

Let's go to New York, Mary Snow with the demonstrators there -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just a few moment ago the Reverend Jesse Jackson kicking off this rally here in Union Square. No official numbers on just how many people are here, but there are estimates of a few thousand. And people continue to pack in. There are people here, immigrants from all over, but predominantly we're seeing Mexican flags, El Salvador. Also we're seeing Ecuador.

In terms of the business, some people saying they're taking the day off from work, but some others said that they did fear some backlash in terms of businesses being closed down. Just a quick check in this area and other parts of New York City, no major businesses being shut down.

Some protesters earlier today in the five boroughs, forming a human chain, one of the biggest ones in Queens. And at exactly 12:16, they are commemorating December 16, the day the Sensenbrenner bill was passed. And that is what they are protesting here. This rally is expected to continue for several more hours -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's James Sensenbrenner, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He's got tough legislation in the House of Representatives.

Mary, stand by. I want to go to Los Angeles.

Chris Lawrence is watching the scene unfold there. What are you seeing -- Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there's just a tremendous amount of people down here. When all is said and done, this will probably be the largest turnout of anywhere in the country. On the surface you hear helicopters going on overhead. You hear horns blowing. There is a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and energy here. Sometimes chanting in English, sometimes Spanish, si se puede. Every so often you will just hear a roar from the crowd go up.

Looking at things on the surface, you see a ton of American flags, probably 20 to 30 American flags for every flag of a different nation. Some see that as a growing sophistication in the immigrant's rights movement. Earlier you saw a lot of Mexican flags. Now people say the leaders are figuring out how to play to middle America, how to get that message out, how to convince people to come over to their side of looking at this immigration issue.

Looking at other things, the mayor and some top officials urge students not to attend some of these rallies during the day, urge them to go to school. Just walking around today, I can tell you there are a tremendous amount of students. A lot of people disregarding what Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had to say about that issue.

And the difference, I think, overall here in L.A. is this comes amid a political group that already is very developed politically. This is where a tremendous Latino political movement is already very, very strong.

I talked to one political analyst who said if you're running for statewide office here in California, you have to get 35 percent of the Latino vote or you can't even have a hope of getting elected.

What they're hoping to do is to increase that power and then translate it to areas around the country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There's huge demonstrations in Los Angeles, and we're going to be speaking with the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll get a different perspective from our own Lou Dobbs as well. That's coming up in the next hour in THE SITUATION ROOM. We are going to check back with you and Mary.

Let's go to New York right now. Once again, Jack Cafferty is standing by with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Not everyone who is participating in today's boycott walked off a job to get there. Some are walking out of the classroom. It's not clear how many student are skipping school to attend immigration protests, but early reports in Chicago suggested attendance at the heavily Latino schools was down anywhere from 10 to 33 percent.

In California, state and local officials called on students to stay in class and protest at the end of day. The school's superintendent says students should exercise their right of free speech, but not at the expense of their education.

The Los Angeles school district asked students to stay in school as well. But they also said they'll do everything they can to make sure that any who leave school are supervised.

Meanwhile, teachers' unions in major cities have said kids should not be punished for walking out of class. Here is the question, what should happen to student who skip school to attend today's immigration protests? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile.

BLITZER: And we will check back with you very shortly. And this note to our viewers, if you want a sneak preview of Jack's questions plus an early read on the day's political news, what is ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM, sign up for our daily e-mail alert. You can do that, simply go to CNN.com/SITUATIONROOM.

So how much of an impact are today's protests having on the U.S. economy? Our Ali Velshi is standing by. He's crunching the numbers. He has the facts and the figures, some of which may surprise you.

Plus, will today's demonstrations make an impact in Congress, where lawmakers are working on immigration reform bills. We'll go live to Capitol Hill to find out.

And later, we're all paying more and more and more at pumps, but are the soaring gas prices a crisis? We're going to look at the controversy. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Immigrants and their supporters are on the march across the nation right now. They're hoping to show, as one protester put it, that immigrants are the backbone of the U.S. economy.

Our Ali Velshi has been looking at "The Bottom Line." And he's joining us now live from New York -- Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, if you do the math, if you took all of the immigrant workers who are undocumented in the United States and just sort of removed them entirely from the economy, took away all their spending and all the work that they do, take out their contribution to the economy, you come out with a number of one and a quarter billion dollars a day.

Now that assumes that everybody took part in this and everybody really withheld both their work and their spending, which we know didn't entirely happen. But there were a number of companies affected by this today. Goya, which is the country's biggest Hispanic-owned business, suspended all deliveries across the United States today in recognition of this day.

Perdue farms, Tyson Foods, Gallo Wines, Fresh Direct, which is a delivery service for groceries here in New York, all of those have either shut down operations or cut back on some operations in some of their facilities. Some of them out of respect for the day. Others, because they can't get the work done.

We have spoken to individual businesses, who would otherwise have been open, said they can't be open. We have noticed that there has been -- I mean, it is clear from all of those pictures that you see that there have been fewer people shopping, doing business and working in major centers across the United States.

So it's unclear what the absolute financial impact will be long term, but if there's a message to be sent about the financial impact that's been heard loud and clear -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Ali is going to be checking the economic impact for the rest of today as well.

Ali, thanks for that.

BLITZER: Here in Washington, officials are trying to gauge the economic impact of this so-called day without immigrants. They're also keeping close watch at the politics that play in all of this as well.

Our congressional correspondent Dana Bash is joining us now live from Capitol Hill. A beautiful day here in Washington -- Dana. DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Beautiful, indeed, Wolf. And, you know, a lot of folks here on Capitol Hill have said that the immigration issue is like the Civil Rights Movement was, where massive demonstrations really forced the government to change policy and to act.

Well, when it comes to today's demonstrations, specifically the boycotts, a lot of lawmakers here who support immigration reform are worried that it will hurt their cause, not help it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice over): Just a few miles from the Capitol, this car wash is always humming, powered seven days a week by more than 20 immigrant workers. A boycott here would have shut the place down, but supervisor Javier Molena says they thought that was the wrong way to support immigration legislation.

JAVIER MOLENA, CAR WASH SUPERVISOR: I think that the best way for us to show them is like what you see right now. Everybody's working.

BASH: Not all immigrants agree. In D.C.'s Hispanic areas many store owners, like Julio Pinto, closed in support.

JULIO PINTO, GROCERY STORE OWNER: A lot of people come here to work, so I don't think they should be treated as criminals. And so that's why we closed.

BASH: Yet, on Capitol Hill it was hard to find a lawmaker who felt that a boycott could help the immigrants' cause. At a demonstration three weeks ago, Senator Ted Kennedy took center stage.

SEN. TED KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: And I stand with you and you and you.

BASH: Today the Massachusetts Democrat is out of sight, issuing only a written statement saying, "Instead of boycotting on Monday, people should go to work or school and then join together to keep up the drumbeat and help us enact real reform."

Senate negotiators say they're making progress toward breaking the deadlock on an immigration bill and worry a backlash to the boycotts could knock it off track.

SEN. MEL MARTINEZ (R), FLORIDA: I'll be quite honest with you. We have a little bit of momentum going in the Congress. The thing we don't need is for there to be anything that sets us back. I'm very concerned that the tenor of the demonstrations is not being very well received.

BASH: Republican supporters like Senator Mel Martinez are most concerned the boycott will put off some GOP colleagues he's trying hard to convince and with good reason.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: The big demonstrations are counterproductive, and they hurt with a guy like me, who is trying look at this in a way that's responsible.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now it is too early to tell, what if any, real impact those boycotts and the demonstrations are going to have, where they want to have an impact, which of course is right here in Congress and on legislation, which right now is still deadlocked in the Senate.

But one thing is very clear. No matter what, it is yet another reminder, Wolf, especially for Republicans, many of whom had been courting the Hispanic community for some time, of the absolute power and clout of the Hispanic community when it comes to politics.

BLITZER: And on top of all of this, Dana, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee came out with his own proposal today, specifically today. What's going on?

BASH: Wolf, its -- you and I talked about it on Friday. Senator Alexander saw, not on this issue, but on a related issue perhaps, that there was a song out, the national anthem, being sung in Spanish and that forced him from his perspective to put a resolution on the Senate floor. And he did that this afternoon.

It's just a symbolic resolution, but, as we talked about on Friday, it does say that the national anthem should not be sung in any language except English. It is not clear though yet, Wolf, when or if that will come up for an actual vote before the Senate.

BLITZER: If it does, you'll bring that to us. Dana, thanks for that.

The Internet is also playing an extraordinary role in organizing today's rallies. Our Abbi Tatton is standing by with more on this part of the story -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, but there's no one group behind all of these rallies today. It's clear when you look around online for all of the web sites and all of the people organizing there, national labor unions, local immigrants rights groups.

Many individuals as well looking around on MySpace.com, a popular social networking site. You see people posting on their blogs, trying to -- rallying around their friends and cities.

And also going on the highly-trafficked Spanish language music sites, lots of people look at these postings, like this one in Los Angeles, posting about the rally. Many of the other flyers that we are seeing online come in a range of different languages. All of these here for the rally in New York.

Also religious sites like the archdiocese of Los Angeles. Here the message is clear on the boycott, go to work or go to school and then attend a rally -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A good way to organize online. Abbi, thanks for that. And up next, the president says we're at a turning point in Iraq. Do you agree? I'll ask our political analysts Torie Clarke and Donna Brazile.

Plus, was the president's speech aboard the aircraft carrier three years ago today a blunder? And if so, how big of a blunder? Stick around, today's "Strategy Session" just moments away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Today in our "Strategy Session," three years after President Bush stood below the mission accomplished banner, our new poll shows many questioning what has been achieved. Is Iraq right now at a turning point? What should the U.S. role be right now?

Joining us, our political analysts, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and former Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke.

The new CNN poll, has the U.S. accomplished this mission in Iraq?; 9 percent say yes, 84 percent say no.

The second question, will the U.S. eventually accomplish its mission in Iraq?; 49 percent say yes, 44 percent say no.

Torie, whose idea was it for the president to land on the Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier under that mission accomplished banner?

TORIE CLARKE, FORMER PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: I will tell you what, I will take some responsibility for this.

BLITZER: You were the Pentagon spokesman.

CLARKE: I was at the Pentagon at the time. And I was very eager to have lots of senior officials greet the troops as they were coming home from various missions, and that aircraft carrier had been out for over six months. So I was all for that. I think it is still a matter of debate who actually printed the banner and who actually put it up.

BLITZER: Did you know that there was that mission accomplished banner?

CLARKE: I did not know ahead of time. But I should have dug into it deeper. It was a defense-related event. I should have been dug into it much more than I was. In fairness, the banner mistake, absolutely, but if you go back and look at the whole speech, the president did say in that same speech, we have much more difficult work ahead.

I will fully grant that the impression was this is all over and it wasn't. But he said major combat operations are over, we have got a lot of tougher work ahead. But the more important point three years later, is where are we now? How much work is left?

I agree with the first part of the poll. I don't think the mission is over. I think we still have a lot of things to accomplish there. I am more optimistic than some of those people who are polled.

BLITZER: You agree that in the second part of the question that the whole speech, the president did say in that same speech, we have much more difficult work ahead.

I will fully grant that the impression was, this is all over. And it wasn't. But he said, major combat operations are over. We have got a lot tougher work ahead.

But, you know, the more important point three years later, is, where are we now? How much work is left? I agree with the -- the first part of the poll. I -- I don't think the mission is over. I think we still have a lot of things to accomplish there. I'm more optimistic than some of those people who were polled.

BLITZER: You -- you're -- you agree that, in the second part of the question, that, eventually, the mission will be accomplished.

CLARKE: Yes.

BLITZER: What do you think, Donna?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, the American people would like to see the mission accomplished, so our troops can come home victoriously, and we can celebrate.

But I'm glad that Torie will admit that she had some small part. Perhaps the White House should admit more. But it was misleading, because our mission was not complete at that time. Since that moment, we have lost more than 2,200 troops. We have spent well over to $300 million. We are...

BLITZER: Billion dollars.

BRAZILE: Billion dollars. Thank you. There's a big difference.

And, of course, we -- we all know that the Iraqi government right now is at a critical phase, because they have to form a new cabinet.

BLITZER: Yes.

The president on this day, today, meeting with the secretary of defense, the -- the secretary of state, both of whom are just back from Iraq, said this. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: This nation of ours and our coalition -- coalition partners are going to work with the new leadership to strengthen our mutual efforts to achieve success, victory in this war on terror.

This is a -- we -- we believe this is a turning point for the Iraqi citizens, and it's a new chapter in our partnership.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, some are probably wondering, is the president being overly optimistic right now, saying it's a -- a turning point?

CLARKE: I think he has been talking to a lot of people who are over there on the ground.

General Casey, who is the master of understatement, thinks that the latest step in forming this government, having Maliki in charge, is very, very important.

I try to draw back and have some perspective and say, OK, I will fully agree grant you, there are still some terrible things happening. It's not going to be easy. But look at what has happened in a relatively short period of time. Look at how long it took us, from 1776 to 1787, to form a government. Look at what the Iraqis have done in a relatively short period of time. They are forming their government in less time than we pick a Supreme Court nominee -- or pick a Supreme Court justice.

So, I -- you know, I'm -- I am always the happy optimist. But I recognize there are challenges. I just think we should look at the positives and -- and look at the minuses, and say, OK, what's it going take to keep moving forward?

BLITZER: The president using the phrase turning point. Six months down the road, a year from now, if it doesn't turn positively, people are going throw that back at him, as they threw the "Mission Accomplished" banner back at him today.

BRAZILE: Because they're measuring not just how many hospital are coming into fruition, how many bridges are being built. But they are measuring how many insurgent attacks are taking place every day. And they are measuring whether or not the Iraqi people are really coming together to form their government, and how many -- how many troops are being trained on the Iraqi side that can, you know, augment or supplement the United States.

So, look, we -- we have a long way to go, but let's hope that we get there before 2008 and lead it -- leave it to the president, you know, successor.

BLITZER: Now, the Democrats, as you know, Donna, are in the opposition. And, as a result, they don't, by any means, speak with one voice when it comes to the situation in Iraq. I don't know if Democrats ever speak with only one voice.

But Joe Biden, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, himself a presidential contender for 2008, came -- came out with the idea today that maybe it would be a good idea to effectively divide up Iraq into three separate autonomous zones, a Kurdish zone, Shia zone, a Sunni zone.

This is what he said in this op-ed piece with Les Gelb, formerly of -- of -- the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations: "The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group, Kurd, Sunni Arab, and Shiite Arab, room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests." Is that a good idea?

BRAZILE: Well, look, Joe Biden is putting forward an interesting proposal. And that's one thing that Democrats will do. We may not all stand together on the issues, but we have great, interesting ideas.

Perhaps the Republicans should take a look at this proposal. I don't know if it will fly. I don't know if Turkey will allow an independent Kurd -- Kurd...

BLITZER: An autonomous, not independent.

BRAZILE: Autonomous -- autonomous Kurdish region.

So, this is an interesting idea, to have a centralized federal government in Baghdad, give the Sunnis 20 percent of all revenue. But, again, let's see if this is something the -- the Republicans are interested in talking about. We know that more of the same is not a strategy. And more of the same will not get our troops home any time soon.

BLITZER: The White House reacted by saying, no serious politician in Iraq is talking along these lines.

CLARKE: Well, I got to say, I will give Senator Biden credit, because he's one of the few Democrats who -- who doesn't just criticize. He offers up his ideas. Whether or not they will work or they are viable is another matter.

But, so far, the Iraqis themselves have said: We want one country. We want one government that represents these various groups.

And I think, at end of the day, it's really their decision, not Senator Biden's.

BLITZER: We will leave it there. Torie, Donna, thanks to both of you for coming in.

CLARKE: Thanks, Wolf.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

BLITZER: And Donna Brazile, Torie Clarke, part of the best political team on television -- CNN, America's campaign headquarters.

Up next, are we in a crisis when it comes to gas prices? It depends on whom you ask. We are going to tell what the White House is saying when we come back.

Plus, two very different voices in the arguments over immigration in the next hour, I will speak with the Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, and CNN's own Lou Dobbs.

Stick around for that, because you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: With gas prices soaring to new heights, the Bush administration now appears to have shifted into crisis mode.

Our White House correspondent Ed Henry is joining us now with the latest on -- on the whole energy issue and the word crisis -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

A second senior Bush official has now used the word crisis to describe the nation's energy problem, the White House appearing to try to prepare consumers for the worse.

Today, it was White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who was pressed on the fact that, yesterday, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman used the word crisis, and added that, in fact, it may take up to three years for gas prices to come back down substantially.

Asked if the president agrees with his energy secretary, McClellan danced a little bit. He added a caveat, but he used the word crisis. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: For many families trying to live within a budget and make ends meet, it is a crisis, and I think that's the way I would describe it. Thankfully, though, as I mentioned at the beginning of the briefing, thankfully, our economy is strong and is continuing to really surge ahead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: And the White House is now facing new pressure from a surprising source, Republican Senator Trent Lott, about this Democratic proposal to tax the windfall profits of oil companies.

It's important to point out, of course, Lott has been sparring a bit with the White House in the last couple of years, but he's a conservative center, normally opposed to any tax increase. But, yesterday, on CNN's "LATE EDITION," he has made clear he now has an open mind about supporting this tax increase.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE EDITION")

LOTT: This may come as a shock to you, but I'm going to keep my options open. The message to the oil companies is, hold down your price of gasoline, and it better start sliding back the other way.

If they don't control it, and if they continue to have prices go up, profits go up, and salaries go up, Congress will do something.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now, the president has already shot down the idea of a windfall profits tax, and the White House was less than enthused today about a new Democratic proposal potentially to break up the oil giants -- Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer saying that he believes a lack of competition is further driving up the price of gas.

He said he thinks, in his words, there needs to be some -- quote -- "good old-fashioned trust-busting" of these oil companies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed, thanks for that.

And, coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Rush Limbaugh speaks out about his problems with the law. We are going to tell you what the conservative radio talk show host had to say.

Plus, much more on today's immigration protests from coast to coast. Our Jeff Greenfield weighs in on some interesting analysis.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Zain is off today.

Betty Nguyen joining us from the CNN Global Headquarters with a closer look at some other stories making news.

Hi, Betty.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.

Rush Limbaugh says his settlement with Florida prosecutors shows that the case is over and that he's not guilty. The talk show host reportedly will undergo random drug tests as part of this agreement. Limbaugh says he has already been taking drug tests for the past couple of years. He pleaded not guilty Friday to a charge of prescription fraud.

Now, the charge will be dismissed after 18 months if Limbaugh passes the drug tests and completes a treatment program.

A major victory for former "Playboy" playmate Anna Nicole Smith. The Supreme Court says she can pursue a federal court battle for her part of her late husband's estate. Oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall's youngest son claims he's the sole heir.

The Supreme Court also granted a reprieve to a convicted murderer. The first high court opinion by Justice Samuel Alito says Bobby Lee Holmes can try to show someone else committed the killing for which Holmes is on death row.

Well, jury selection is under way in the Maryland trial of convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad. He's accused of killing six people in a three-week sniper shooting spree in Maryland back in 2002. Muhammad is defending himself. He's already on death row in Virginia, after being convicted of murder there. His alleged accomplice is serving a life sentence.

And Iran says the U.S. refusal to rule out a military strike on Iranian sites violates the United Nations charter and international law. In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Iran's U.N. ambassador accuses the Bush administration of making -- quote -- "illegal and impudent threats." Now, President Bush has said Washington will focus on diplomacy to resolve Iran's nuclear program, but, he adds, all options are on the table -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Betty, thanks for that.

And, as we have been reporting, right now, those nationwide protests are continuing, marches and boycotts aimed at trying to show that immigrants are critical contributors to America's economy.

This so-called day without immigrants is a what-if scenario that our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, has seen before.

Jeff, tell us what you have seen.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Wolf, the central argument of today's demonstrations is clear: Immigrants, legal or illegal, are essential to the American economy. Without us, they say, the machine stops.

This is a real-life version of a 40-year-old fantasy, with some very different implications.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: All of the Negroes. I don't see no Negroes.

GREENFIELD (voice-over): The fantasy is "Day of Absence," a 1965 play by Douglas Turner Ward. This is from a Cornell University production with the racial stereotypes flipped. And it's a play that imagines what would happen if all the blacks, who did all the hard labor and menial jobs in a Southern town, suddenly just disappeared.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Just evaporate like this. Poof.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Why, 75 percent of production is paralyzed. And with the Negro absence, men are waiting for machines to be cleaned, floors swept, equipment delivered, crates lifted, and bathrooms deodorized.

GREENFIELD: That's what today's demonstrations are designed to argue, that, from the glitzy casinos in Las Vegas, to meat-packing plants across the Midwest, to the farms of California, to construction sites across the country, the absence of immigrants, even illegal immigrants, would bring the economy to its knees.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: But here is the key question: Will most Americans see a parallel between the days of the civil rights struggle and today's controversies?

The black victims of segregation were descended from slaves, the one group of Americans brought here involuntarily, and were denied their most basic rights as citizens. Millions of today's immigrants clearly broke the law to get here. So, will the demonstration of their economic clout win them sympathy or resentment? -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, what do you think? Because there is concern among a lot of immigrants and their supporters that these kind of demonstrations, the boycotts today, could backfire and undermine their cause.

GREENFIELD: It was interesting that, unlike the earlier demonstrations, which were -- which had pretty much unanimous support among immigrants and their sympathizers, there were a number of people -- I believe Governor Richardson weighed in, saying this might not be the right way to go.

He also weighed in and said he felt, for instance, the national anthem should be sung in English. So, there is some concern, clearly, even among those who want illegal immigrants to be put on a path to citizenship, that demonstrating by pulling out their economic clout and subjecting some people to some kind of inconvenience may not be politically sound.

BLITZER: Jeff, thanks for that -- Jeff Greenfield in New York.

So, what should happen to students who skip school to march in today's immigration protests? That's Jack Cafferty's question this hour. He's standing by with your answers.

And we are one month away from hurricane season. Can you believe it? Is this year expected to be as bad as last year? We will get the situation online -- all that coming up.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow.

In Bolivia, the president, Evo Morales, signs a declaration to nationalize the natural gas industry there. He ordered soldiers to immediately occupy the gas fields and threatened foreign companies with eviction unless they sign new contracts giving Bolivia majority control.

In Russia, mayday -- communist youths burn a picture of President Vladimir Putin to mark the annual workers holiday.

In Austria, chopper crash -- this helicopter went down while airlifting a patient to a clinic. All five people on board were injured, but survived.

And, in China, duck dash -- it's a new twist on the traditional dragon boat competition. Teams are scored both for their speed in rowing and their ability to catch ducks with their bare hands. Check that out -- some of today's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth 1,000 words.

Speaking of 1,000 words, Jack Cafferty standing by in New York.

You got 1,000, Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I can't compete with catching ducks with your bare hands.

BLITZER: No. Nobody can.

CAFFERTY: That's a tough act to follow.

The question, however, is, what should happen to students who skip school today to attend these immigration protests around the country?

Jim in British Columbia writes: "They should receive extra credit for life experience. The learning experience goes well beyond the classroom walls. And for those students who are properly guided through this day, the lessons learn will lead to informed, well- founded and valuable debates."

Richard in East Syracuse, New York: "If I were a teacher, I would have scheduled a pop quiz today on what it means to be an American citizen. And those who didn't take the test would get an F for the quiz. A great number of the students are not going skip school to show support. They just to get a day off school."

Janice in Ramona, California: "Students that skip class today should receive an F on report cards for last quarter and, in addition, be sentenced to a day's community service, cleaning up their respective communities."

Vivian in Pontotoc, Mississippi: "I'm a teacher. I would ask these students to report to the class about their experiences at the rally. Many of my students never have an opportunity to exercise their right to free speech and assembly. These students will be able to speak from firsthand experience."

Patricia in Lockport, New York: "At the very least, detention. Children who are receiving a public education, at the public expense, should be in school, learning, especially English."

And Jim in Ann Arbor, Michigan: "They're getting a firsthand education on how free speech, freedom of assembly and freedom to petition all work. This is a more powerful lesson than they can learn from any textbook or teacher. It's worth missing a day of school to participate in democracy. I would be proud to have a child out there in the streets" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks for that.

Still to come, the Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, and our own Lou Dobbs, are they on opposite sides of the immigration debate on this day of nationwide protests, or are they finding some common ground? I will speak with both men live. That's coming up in the next hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. And you're not seeing double -- why President Bush and his look- alike had the audience in stitches at a black-tie shindig -- all that coming up, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our "Political Radar," a double-take from the Bush twins -- the Bush twins, but not Jenna and Barbara. We're talking about President Bush and the look-alike comic Jeff (sic) Bridges. They provided a one-two punch of humor at the White House Correspondents Dinner this weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH: Ladies and gentlemen, I'm feeling chipper tonight. I survived the White House shake-up.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BUSH: So, I want to talk about some serious issues, such as...

STEVE BRIDGES, PRESIDENT BUSH IMPERSONATOR: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

BRIDGES: Here it comes.

(LAUGHTER)

BRIDGES: Nuclear proliferation.

(LAUGHTER)

BRIDGES: Nuclear proliferation.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: Nucear proliberation.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Steve Bridges, not Jeff Bridges.

It was very, very funny. Stole the evening.

Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central was billed as the highlight of this weekend's White House Correspondents Association Dinner. But did President Bush steal the show? A lot of people thought he did.

Let's find out what they're saying online.

Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, has been reading the reviews -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, those who couldn't be at the dinner could catch a live broadcast, courtesy of C-SPAN. And the video has been making the rounds online.

And the reaction has been pretty politically divided, conservatives saying that Bush rocked and Stephen Colbert bombed, others saying comedy best left to the amateurs.

But go over to the left, and you will see people who are happy with Colbert's what they call incredible roast, others blaming the mainstream media for not broadcasting more of what they say was a brave and shocking performance. Colbert was very frank in the way he spoke in front of the president.

This Web site popping up today: "Thank you, Stephen Colbert," people weighing in with their kudos and their thank-you's, things like, "Thank you for speaking the truth."

And I just want to say that this has been growing so rapidly today. In the course of a few hours, it went from 500, 700 and it's now over 11,000 people saying thank you online. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jacki, thanks to you.

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

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