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THE SITUATION ROOM

Bush Visits Mexican Border; Is Taliban Making Comeback in Afghanistan?

Aired May 18, 2006 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
Standing by, CNN reporters across the U.S. and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.

Happening now, it's 4:00 p.m. in Arizona. President Bush visits the Mexican border and beats the drum for more security. But Governor Schwarzenegger marches to a different drummer and doesn't want his National Guard troops marching anywhere.

It's 3:30 a.m. in Afghanistan, where just five years after the U.S. went to war to root out the Taliban, are they making a surprise comeback?

Here in Washington, senators put the CIA nominee on the defensive.

And big autos -- big bosses drive up to Capitol Hill in hybrids.

What can they do for your pain at the pump?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, President Bush is heading back to Washington from Arizona with another pitch for immigration reform under his belt. And in a CNN interview, he's firing back at critics within his own party who dismiss his new border security measures as a political stunt.

In California tonight, the California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is one of the most high profile Republicans now at odds with Mr. Bush over immigration. But across the nation, our new poll shows President Bush's approval rating has inched up a little bit, to 36 percent, since he gave his Oval Office address on immigration Monday night.

Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is standing by in Arizona. She interviewed the president today. That interview coming up.

Let's go to our Senate committee, John Roberts, first, though.

He's got some new information on our brand new poll -- John.

JOHN ROBERTS, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good evening to you, Wolf.

It's a slight bit of good news for President Bush, a modest up tick in his overall approval rating. The question is, is this the beginning of a trend or just a brief flirtation with resurrection?

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

ROBERTS (voice-over): As he toured the border in Arizona, the president's new focus on immigration, it seems, was the springboard for his bounce, a 2 point rise in his approval ratings, up to 36 percent now, from 34 percent two weeks ago. Following Monday night's speech, his numbers on immigration shot up 11 points, to 36 percent, with just half the country now feeling negative about it. That's a huge improvement since we last asked in January.

AMY WALTER, "COOK POLITICAL REPORT": The fact that the president went on national television, told voters what he wanted to see, put himself sort of on the line there on an issue that he's felt very strongly about, I think that voters were responding to that.

ROBERTS: But he's still in trouble with conservatives, who feel Monday's speech was a net loss for them. If they keep up the drumbeat of negativity on immigration, the president's bump could bottom back out. And the big issues that voters really care about continue to hold the president down. Terrorism languishes below majority approval. Iraq remains in the low 30s doldrums.

on the economy, the president's down another 6 points since March, to 34 percent, a product, Republicans say, of high gas prices clouding the whole economy. And Americans don't seem to give the president much credit for handling that problem.

The slight increase in President Bush's overall approval has bolstered hopes among Republicans that he could crawl back above 40 percent by the November election. One Republican strategist said, "We may have seen the bottom."

But could it also be the dreaded dead cat bounce?

WALTER: So he would have to lose even more support among Republicans right now to dip even lower. I don't see that happening right now. He may have stabilized for the time being.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ROBERTS: The NSA wiretapping program produced some interesting answers in our poll. About half of Americans think that listening in to suspected terrorists without a court order is wrong. And while two thirds of respondents don't think that they have personally been wiretapped, about the same number don't think that the NSA has listened in on U.S. citizens who are not suspected of terrorism.

And, Wolf, just before we go, I should tell you, we've got some interesting numbers on approval of the president's plan to deploy National Guard along the border that they'll be premiering tonight on "ANDERSON COOPER" at 10:00.

BLITZER: We'll be watching that.

John, thank you very much.

Let's go to Suzanne Malveaux, our White House correspondent.

She's on the border with Mexico.

She had an opportunity earlier today to sit down with the president -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this really is ground zero when it comes to the immigration debate, so it is no surprise the president chose this place to talk about his comprehensive immigration reform plan. This is a place where they arrest or at least stop up to 450 illegal immigrants crossing the border. The temperatures get up to 120 degrees or so, really, one of the busiest border crossings in the country.

The president, of course, taking time to visit with the Border Patrol. He also took a joy ride in a dune buggy. And then he took some time to basically answer some questions, taking on the hard challenges of immigration reform and Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MALVEAUX: Thank you so much for joining us, Mr. President.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Suzanne, thanks.

MALVEAUX: I know, of course, we're at the border to focus on your comprehensive immigration reform plan. Your critics, and particularly those of your own party, however, call this a publicity stunt. They say that the plan to move forward some 6,000 National Guard troops is really a political ploy to get them to sign on to the guest worker program and they're not buying it.

What can you offer members of your own party to convince them this is the right way to go?

BUSH: I can offer them a comprehensive strategy to get the job done. And when we add 6,000 Border Patrol agents to the Border Patrol that are patrolling up and down this vast border, we will double the Border Patrol by -- since I've been the president of the United States.

But until we get those additional 6,000 agents on, they've got to have help. And that's why the National Guard is necessary, to help the Border Patrol do its job.

Secondly, anything to secure this border is going to require a comprehensive approach. I mean, you know, comprehensive means more agents, more technology. You see lighting along here and fencing in certain parts of the border will help, ending catch and release. But also a temporary worker program.

We've got people coming here to work and they're doing jobs Americans aren't doing. And instead of sneaking across, it seems like it would make sense to me, in order to help our Border Patrol do their job, there's a rational way for them to come, a temporary basis, provided they pass a criminal background check.

MALVEAUX: Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner said earlier today, however -- and he's, of course, going to be ushering this process through the House -- that he simply says you don't get it, that they believe this is amnesty, that ultimately they're not going to be able to sign off on this.

Is this designed in a way to provide political cover for you to say, at least to the American people, I tried?

BUSH: No, I want to get it done. I mean I'm one of these kind of people that ran for office in the first place to get things done. You know, this is an issue I've been living with a long period of time as the governor of Texas. I understand immigration. And I know we've got to enforce our border. But I'm also realistic. There are some -- look, amnesty, to me, means you're an automatic citizen and I'm not advocating that. There's some in -- some in the Democratic Party might be advocating that, but I'm certainly not.

On the other hand, I recognize there have been people here for a long period of time and it doesn't make any sense to try to deport millions of people.

And so there ought to be a way for people to pay a fine, to learn the English language and then get in the citizenship line, but at the back, not at the front.

MALVEAUX: A lot of American people see their top priority as Iraq.

BUSH: Yes.

MALVEAUX: And the majority of Americans have lost faith in that mission.

How do you expect them to stay the course when there are Americans who are killed everyday -- 45 this month -- and there is no clear end in sight?

BUSH: Well, you know, no question Iraq has unsettled the American people. I understand that. You know, people don't like war. And war -- this war is as brutal as other wars because we face an enemy that will kill, you know, innocent people in order to achieve an objective. And, you know, I'm also -- I don't believe Americans want us to cut and run-either.

MALVEAUX: But...

BUSH: I think they want us to succeed. And what Americans will see is a new government, the unity government, emerging. What they saw last December -- and, admittedly, it seems like an eternity ago -- were 12 million people saying we want to live in a free society.

MALVEAUX: When can we say U.S. troops leave?

BUSH: Hold on a second, please.

And so -- and so what they're seeing is a political track taking place, as well as more Iraqis taking the lead in providing security for themselves.

And -- what was the next question you were asking?

MALVEAUX: When can we see U.S. troops leave?

BUSH: When the commanders...

MALVEAUX: Obviously just yesterday...

BUSH: When the commanders on the ground say that the Iraqis are more prepared to take over more of the security needs. This, you know, the temptation, of course, is to do things for political purposes in America. I don't want to fight a war based upon politics or polls or focus groups. I want to win this war based upon a strategy that's working, but also based upon -- and the military decisions being based upon the advice of General Casey, who is the leader on the ground.

MALVEAUX: But your own secretary of defense yesterday actually backtracked from what the Pentagon had hoped to say earlier, that many troops, U.S. troops, a significant amount, would be out this year.

I mean how can the American people trust the assessment of this administration?

BUSH: That depends upon what the generals say, Suzanne. If the generals say that we're able to fight with fewer troops, we'll fight with fewer troops. The point the American people have got to know is we're going to succeed. And we're not going to succeed by listening to the advice of some in Washington who say let's just pull out now.

The Iraqi people want a democracy. They've got a unity government in place. And it's in our national interests that we defeat al Qaeda in Iraq and at the same time help this country become a democracy.

MALVEAUX: Let's go back to immigration. There are a lot of people who listen to this debate and the fact that we focus on the southern border, Mexican immigrants, they believe that there are racial, if not racist, overtones in this debate.

There were a couple of days ago when you said, I'm quoting here, "We are not just going to discriminate against people."

What do you mean by that, discriminate?

Do you get a sense that there is racism that is creeping into this debate? BUSH: No, I think it would be too harsh a judgment to say that somebody who doesn't support a comprehensive immigration plan that they're racist. I don't believe that.

I do believe legitimate -- I mean, citizens have got legitimate concerns, realizing that parts of this border have been open for anybody who wants to come across and we've got to stop that. I mean we must enforce our border.

I saw -- for those who call for border enforcement, I think it would be -- it's certainly not a racist statement. But what I don't want is I don't want people condemned, ever condemned, based upon their personal beliefs or based upon their religion or based upon their background.

And I truly believe the genius of American has been one where we welcome people, we help them assimilate into society and we become, you know, one nation under god.

MALVEAUX: I've got just a little bit of time, so let me just wrap this up, if you would.

You came into the second term with a lot of confidence and political capital. Clearly, it is your lowest approval ratings at this point and congressional Republicans are going in their own direction.

What do you do to become -- at least not risk -- becoming irrelevant?

BUSH: Look, yesterday I signed a bill extending capital gains and dividends. We're making -- we've had a very strong legislative record. I will continue to sign good law because I'm working with members of the House and the Senate. I, you know, we're going to win the war on terror. I'm doing my job, what the American people want me to do.

MALVEAUX: Thank you very much, Mr. President.

BUSH: Suzanne, always a pleasure.

MALVEAUX: Thanks.

I appreciate it.

BUSH: Thank you.

Thank you.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

(AUDIO GAP)

MALVEAUX: ... trying to reach, he's trying to reach, really, the public, of course, and hopefully that the public will influence members of Congress, particularly his own party, to follow the lead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He said it was always a pleasure, Suzanne.

I'm not so sure that interview was such a much -- so much of a pleasure for him.

Good work, Suzanne Malveaux, on the Mexican border.

Jack Cafferty is not on the Mexican border, he is in New York. He is watching all of this unfold -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, today's lesson in hypocrisy comes to us courtesy of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

They met in a different, private room, behind closed doors today, and approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. At one point, the thing got pretty ugly -- a shouting match between the Republican chairman, Senator Arlen Specter, and Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, who said he was against the amendment, as well as Specter's decision to hold the vote in a private room out of the public's view.

These guys are shameless.

Feingold eventually stormed out, telling Specter: "I've enjoyed your lecture, Mr. Chairman. See you."

Senator Specter, in a real show of courage, says that he is: "Totally opposed to the amendment, but he voted for it anyway, saying it deserves a debate in the Senate."

Majority Leader Bill Frist says the full Senate will now debate a constitutional amendment which has absolutely no chance of passing.

Frist hopes to have a vote by June 5th. This is all being done by the Republican majority in an effort to appeal to right-wing nuts in the Republican Party ahead of the upcoming midterm elections. Ignore all the pressing issues facing the country and instead go grovel at the feet of the lunatic fringe.

Senator Frist should be very proud of himself. That's leadership.

Here's the question -- is now the time for the Senate to consider a constitutional amendment on gay marriage?

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

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Jack.

Coming up, forgotten war -- is the Taliban right now making a comeback in Afghanistan? We're going to take a closer look. Some very surprising, worrying developments. Lots of death today.

And giving your phone records to the government -- Bell South is making a demand of the newspaper "USA Today." We're going to tell you why the telecom giant is so upset.

Arnold Schwarzenegger -- he's refusing to fall in line with the president's plan to send National Guard troops to the border.

We're going to tell you why.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The president's pick to head the CIA was in the hot seat today. But few doubt his qualifications. After all, General Michael Hayden used to lead the top secret National Security Agency.

That's exactly, though, why some senators are giving him the third degree.

Let's go live to our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel.

She watched these hearings unfold all day -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for about seven-and-a- half hours, the hearing room behind me had become a battleground, primarily as senators questioned Hayden about his role as the director of the NSA. But the battle lines were drawn even before the questioning began.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

KOPPEL (voice-over): Under friendly questioning by Republicans, General Hayden defended the program without apology.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER BOND (R-MO), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Did you believe that your primary responsibility as director of NSA was to execute a program that your NSA lawyers, that Justice Department lawyers and White House officials all told you was legal and that you were ordered to carry it out by the president of the United States?

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE: Sir, when I had to make this personal decision in early October of 2001, and it was a personal decision, the math was pretty straightforward. I could not not do this.

KOPPEL: Democrats, on the other hand, bluntly questioned whether the general had misled Congress and the public.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D-OR), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Now, General, having evaluated your words, I now have a difficult time with your credibility.

KOPPEL: Senator Ron Wyden also claimed that only briefing a few select senators and representatives fell far short of sufficient congressional oversight. WYDEN: Despite yesterday's last minute briefing, for years, years, General, you and the Bush administration have not kept the committee fully and currently informed of all appropriate intelligence activities.

KOPPEL: This brought a sharp rebuke from the committee chairman, one of those who had been briefed from the beginning.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R-MS), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: And you might think we're not independent. I am independent. And I ask very tough questions. And they were answered to my satisfaction by the General and other members of the briefing team.

KOPPEL: General Hayden said that in all his briefings, he had never gotten any indication from Congress that the NSA programs had crossed the line.

HAYDEN: I never left the room thinking I had to do anything differently.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

KOPPEL: Between firefights and questions over his old job at the NSA, Wolf, he was also asked how he would handle the new job, if he gets it, at the CIA. Hayden promised to maintain independence and to step up aggressive intelligence gathering. They expect a vote in the committee some time early next week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Andrea, thank you for that.

Let's head up to New York.

Ali Velshi is standing by with the bottom line.

He's got a developing story -- what are you working on, Ali?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're following the story of Bell South, which is fighting back. It's now been a week since that "USA Today" story, Wolf, about Bell South, Verizon and AT&T allegedly providing a massive telephone call database to the National Security Administration.

Now, Bell South confirms to us that it has demanded a retraction of the "false and unsubstantiated comments that were outlined in the article."

Now, earlier this week, Bell South denied turning over those calling records. The carrier, already named in at least three privacy lawsuits, added that the NSA never contacted it about providing the data.

A spokesman for "USA Today" tells us that it stands by the story, but it would investigate the denials from Bell South and from Verizon.

AT&T, for its part, has been pretty quiet on the issue. The company did say it wouldn't provide records without legal authorization.

And over to the markets, Wolf, the selling continued today. The damage doesn't hold a candle to what we saw yesterday. The Dow dropped 77 points today, 11,128 is the closing number there, this after posting its biggest drop in more than three years on Wednesday. The Nasdaq gave up 15 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ali, thanks for that.

Still to come tonight in the SITUATION ROOM, it's their biggest and most coordinated offensive since being ousted.

Are the Taliban starting to make a comeback in Afghanistan? How vulnerable are U.S. troops there?

Our Zain Verjee takes a closer look.

Plus, we heard from the president just a little while ago. Now we're going to hear live from one of his sharpest critics.

We'll also begin to understand why Governor Schwarzenegger is breaking ranks with the president on the National Guard.

Also, we'll speak to that congressman.

All that coming up.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In Afghanistan, ferocious fighting, bloody bombings, scores of casualties, all in the span of only a couple of days.

Are the Taliban making a comeback?

Let's go live to our Zain Verjee.

She's joining us from the CNN Center -- what's going on, Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they've been out of power for five years, but this week, the Taliban have launched their most deadly and coordinated offensive since being overthrown.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): They had threatened a spring offensive. Now, they're delivering. Across Afghanistan, a sequence of suicide bombings and ambushes that claimed 100 lives in little over 24 hours, the most violent day since the Taliban fled Kabul in 2001.

In the western city of Herat, a suicide bomber attacked a convoy of troops, killing a U.S. civilian contractor.

In volatile Kandahar, the target was the United Nations. There was no deaths in this incident, but elsewhere in Kandahar, a female captain in the Canadian force was killed on Wednesday, the first Canadian woman to die in combat.

Taliban insurgents also attacked a remote village close to the border with Pakistan, an area where U.S. forces believe Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar may be hiding. The attackers were driven off, but two police officers were killed.

The attacks come as more NATO peacekeepers arrive in the country. The international force in Afghanistan is being boosted from 9,000 to 16,000, to take over more duties from the U.S. force.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has again claimed that the insurgents are being trained at religious schools in neighboring Pakistan. Pakistan called his allegation baseless.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

VERJEE: In all, 31 foreign soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan this year, 23 of them Americans. And, Wolf, it's really interesting, also disturbing, to note that Taliban insurgents appear to be increasingly adopting the suicide bombing tactics of Iraqi insurgents -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks for that disturbing report.

Just ahead, border battle. Many people staunchly opposed to the president's plan for immigration reform are actually some of the president's staunchest supporters. In a minute, I'll speak with one of them, Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa.

And Pat Roberts says god has been talking to him again. We're going to tell you what Robertson says the Almighty has in store for the U.S. this year.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're getting word of a shooting along California's border with Mexico. CNN affiliate KG-TV is reporting that one man is now dead. He was reportedly in a van and allegedly tried to run-down Customs agents along the border. The agents then reportedly shot the man in the head.

The shooting shut down the border in San Ysidro.

We're going to follow this story and get more as it becomes available.

President Bush is on the front line in the immigration debate today. He toured a hot spot for illegal border crossings in Arizona. When it comes to the president's plan for border security, though, the California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is drawing the line.

CNN's Chris Lawrence is joining us now live from Los Angeles with more -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, California has a Republican governor in a state dominated by Democrats. But he's been showing an independent streak when it comes to immigration.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is refusing to fall in line with some parts of President Bush's plan to protect the border.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: I think that what we should do is press the federal government.

LAWRENCE: Even a 40-minute phone call from the secretary of Homeland Security didn't completely change his view that federal agents should secure the border.

SCHWARZENEGGER: It's their responsibility, not the state's responsibility.

LAWRENCE: Schwarzenegger opposes putting California's National Guardsmen on the border in two week rotations.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Because they're already, you know, overloaded and they should go back to their families and/or they should make money again and go back to their normal careers.

LAWRENCE: The governor has to appeal to a conservative base without alienating immigration supporters.

ALLAN HOFFENBLUM, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Here in California, the Latino community has enormous political power.

LAWRENCE: Republican political strategist Allan Hoffenblum says you cannot get elected statewide in California with anything less than a third of the Latino volcano.

HOFFENBLUM: Because Republicans perceive that being anti- Mexican, anti-immigrant, the Latinos ceased to vote for them. And the one that turned it around was Arnold Schwarzenegger, who got 35 percent of the Latino volcano.

LAWRENCE: He's faced a lot of challenges since that election three years ago. Voters roundly rejected many of his most important proposals. Schwarzenegger sank in the polls.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: May 12th, Steve Westly begins running negative ads.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAWRENCE: Now, the governor's Democratic challengers are attacking each other and on Wednesday, the State of California's credit rating rose for the first time in nearly two years.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

LAWRENCE: In other words, with less than six months to go until the election, Arnold Schwarzenegger may be on his way back -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Chris, for that report.

Many of the president's toughest critics on immigration reform are actually conservative Republicans that are up for reelection in the House in November. We're joined now by one of them. Congressman Steve King is a Republican of Iowa. He's an outspoken critic of many of these immigration reform proposals. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: Glad to be aboard, Wolf. Thanks.

BLITZER: You caused a lot of stir in March, March 30th, when you said that "Anybody that votes for an amnesty bill deserves to be branded with a scarlet letter A." Does the president of the United States deserve to be branded with the scarlet letter A?

KING: Well, I would say that he hasn't voted for one yet, Wolf, so I won't make that statement, but I'm preparing my branding iron for those senators over there, and maybe we'll get an opportunity to actually mark them accordingly.

But I think it's actually the American people that will do that. They understand that amnesty means what the dictionary says what it means, and if you reduce or eliminate a penalty for an existing crime, and grant the very prize that was sought by the people who entered the United States illegally, which is permanent residency and a path to citizenship, I don't think how you can better define amnesty.

BLITZER: Here's how the president described his stance on this issue in this interview he did earlier with our Suzanne Malveaux. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I recognize there have been people here for a long period of time, and it just doesn't make any sense to try to deport millions of people. And so there ought to be a way for people to pay a fine or learn the English language and then get in the citizenship line, but at the back, not at the front.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He says that is not amnesty.

KING: Well, I would argue that he really has two lines. There's a lineup outside the country with millions of people lined up to come into the United States legally, and then we have 11 or 12 million people -- and I think it's actually substantially more than that -- who would stay in the United States. It would not be the same line. They would get their guest worker card and they would get a path to citizenship on the conditions that are the same conditions, essentially, that we require of someone who is naturalized as an American citizen, except they would pay a fine. So that says to me that citizenship is for sale under this proposal. Whether it's $1,000 or $2,000 or a dollar, it's still for sale and it's still amnesty.

BLITZER: Arizona Republican Senator John McCain who, as you know, has teamed up with Senator Kennedy for some compromise language in the Senate, he says there's a different issue at stake here that's motivating many of the critics of the president's proposals, perhaps even including you, although he didn't mention any names. He was extremely blunt earlier today. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This debate, my dear friends, has gone -- has been gone through a number of times in American history. The first people that really experienced it were the Irish. The discrimination against them was quite remarkable.

And then the same thing happened to the Poles, and the Jews, and when the Eastern Europeans came. And you know what? And you know what, my friends? America is a greater nation, a greater nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's suggesting there may be some racist overtones in this debate, this coming from a Republican senator.

KING: My response to Senator McCain would be that when you make implications or call names, that's a pretty good indication that you don't have much substance left, and you are likely to have already lost the debate when you get to that point.

This -- you know, if we are always going to be intimidated with being called those kinds of names, that backs off some people. It's never backed me off. I don't think John McCain could imply or call me a name I haven't been called in public life. I used to laminate those and put them in my desk drawer to remind me how weak the argument was on the other side.

But I would say to Senator McCain and others who have declared -- and Senator Hagel, as well, who declare this is not amnesty that it is amnesty, and no matter how much lipstick you put on a pig, it's still a pig.

BLITZER: If he's the Republican nominee for president -- a lot of the polls show that he's the front runner for the Republican nomination -- could you support John McCain, knowing his views on immigration?

KING: If he's nomination for president, I would say yes, without hesitation. BLITZER: We have to leave it there. Representative Steve King of Iowa, thanks for spending a few moments with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

KING: Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

At the center of the immigration debate now raging across the country is this: Are illegal immigrants reaching for the American dream or are they threatening it? Let's bring in our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield -- Jeff.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Wolf, there is little doubt that most Americans want their government to secure the borders. These illegal immigrants are seen by many as a drain on resources, a drag on wages, and, for some, a threat on American culture and traditions.

But whatever the obstacles that may be erected, that drive to reach American shores remains powerful enough for millions, whatever their legal status, to have risked hardship and even death to get here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD (voice-over): Consider the forbearers of the man who is now America's chief law enforcement general, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

BLITZER: They came here. I don't know if they came here legally or illegally ...

GREENFIELD: He talked about them earlier this week on THE SITUATION ROOM.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, three of my grandparents were born in Mexico. They came to Texas. My parents -- both my parents were born in Texas, extremely poor. My mother had ...

BLITZER: But when they came to Texas, were they legally documented? Were the illegally documented?

GONZALES: You know, it's unclear. It's unclear.

GREENFIELD: Or listen to New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, describing what happened to his mother, an illegal immigrant from Italy, back during the second World War.

SEN. PETE DOMENICI (R), NEW MEXICO: So, they set about to see who among us were illegal aliens, and there she was, my mother, Alda (ph) Domenici. So, they decided she had to be arrested, because she was an illegal alien.

GREENFIELD: Or, think about the millions who came here a century or more ago. There were no legal barriers to entry. They did have to be disease free, but consider what they endured: a journey across an ocean to a land whose language they did not speak and whose customs they did not know. Is that a story from the distant past?

Think about the Cubans who came to the United States in the last four decades. Our law says if they can make it to U.S. soil, they can stay as refugees from persecution. But the laws say nothing about the dangers, about the hardships of that journey.

Or, consider the Vietnamese, some one million of them, who have uprooted their lives, or the Chinese who have paid impossible sums of money to be smuggled in cargo holds, or the Africans who have hidden in the wheel wells of jumbo jets, or the Mexicans left to die in the heat by the coyotes who promised them entry into the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: So, much of the emotion that surrounds the debate depends on how you see these immigrants. Are they lawbreakers who seek special privileges and who would drain our resources? Or are they more like the forbearers of some of the most prominent and successful Americans whose achievements turned that old American dream into reality? Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield, solid report. Thank you for that.

Up ahead tonight, a new vaccine that protects young women against a cancer, and it's taking a giant step toward approval. We're going to have details.

Plus, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson claims God told him something big and bad is about to happen to the United States, and we're going to tell you what it is. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We want to go back to that story that's just coming into CNN. A reported border shooting in California along the border with Mexico, involving customs agents that's left one man dead. Salvador Rivera, of CNN affiliate KGTV is in a helicopter over San Ysidro. Salvador, what happened?

SALVADOR RIVERA, KGTV (on phone): Well, we still don't know what happened for sure. We know the investigation is just getting going. We understand that a team from the San Diego police department is here investigating this homicide.

Procedure calls for them to do it, in conjunction with federal authorities. This investigation again just getting started. As you mention, one person dead inside this black SUV. We understand there might be others wounded in this shooting.

Again, not sure what led up to this shooting. The vehicle's about 50 yards from the Mexican point of entry in the southbound lanes, heading into Mexico. This is creating a big tie up here because this is a time of day when thousands of people who work in San Diego legally head home into Mexico. Two freeways that lead into this border crossing have been shut down because of this investigation. So it's just a big problem for investigators as they try and figure out what happened and for people who are stuck in traffic now ready to go home.

BLITZER: Salvador Rivera of our affiliate KGTV. Thanks, Salvador. We'll check back with you.

There's other important news we're watching. In fact, a major piece of medical news. An FDA committee is now recommending approval for the very first cervical cancer vaccine. The vaccine is made by the pharmaceutical company Merck. The vaccine protects young women from a sexually-transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.

Let's get some significance on what is going on. Our senior national correspondent, once again, John Roberts. You're tracking this story too, John.

ROBERTS: This is really significant from the standpoint, Wolf, that this is the very first effective vaccine against cancer. Cervical cancer is caused by a couple of viruses, very common in humans, called human papilloma or warts virus. This vaccine blocks formation of warts on the woman's cervix and therefore can reduce the death rate from cervical cancer by two thirds.

Now it's big in this country because about 3,700 women per year die from cancer. But it's even bigger on a global scale. Globally it's No. 2 cancer killer among women, some almost 300,000 women die from it each year. Fifty percent of women that develop this cancer between the ages of 35 and 55, the only drawbacks are, it's kind of expensive. It's three shots over a course of six months, $300-to- $500. It may not be that affordable in the global market.

And there's a thorny social issue, as well. There may be determination, made by the government, as to whether or not this should be a mandatory vaccine. But because HPV this is a sexually transmitted disease, some people are worried that you might be giving young women a green light to engage in sexual activities. So while this looks like it's headed for approval in June, those other issues may be a little more difficult.

BLITZER: John, thank you very much. Potentially very, very significant.

There are growing signs that the high price of gas is taking a toll on the U.S. economy. But are U.S. automakers doing anything to help the out situation? CNN's Brian Todd is joining us with the story. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, today we got our chance to ask leaders of the so-called big three automakers that very question when they came to Washington to press their own agenda.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Five separate photo ops within about five and a half hours. The CEOs of Ford, Chrysler and G.M. make the rounds on Capitol Hill, arriving in hybrid cars that scream we feel your gas price pain, pressing lawmakers to give more incentives to buy fuel- efficient cars and help provide more pumps for gas-like ethanol. But are automakers doing their part in tackling America's addiction to gasoline?

JIM LINKOV, CONSUMER REPORTS: Right now they just say they're building what they want to build and customers are buying large SUVs. But what we've seen in sales numbers and such is that smaller vehicles, people are gravitating towards them, because they give a good mix of both fuel economy as well as cargo space and usability.

TODD: At the end of the day, the CEOs found time to answer our questions.

(on camera): We speak to a lot of oil and auto industry analysts who say that the big three could be doing a lot more to make cheaper fuel efficient cars or flex fuel cars, that you should be doing more to develop hybrids in technology. What do any of you gentlemen say to those criticism?

RICK WAGONER, CEO, GENERAL MOTORS: I think it's -- we need to pursue all options. We're moving quite rapidly in advancing the technology on fuel. So any criticism of that really is out of place.

TODD: Would any of your companies be willing to foot the bill to make ethanol more available at these gas stations? You want them in more gas stations, the blends, the E-85. Would you be willing to pay for it?

WAGONER: We're footing the bill right now on equipping, up to now, five million vehicles and a million more this year.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: The CEOS believe gas distributors should pay the cost of getting ethanol to more pumps. Bottom line, Wolf, with all this public concern, we are still going to pay about $3 a gallon at the pump.

BLITZER: Brian, thank you for that. Up ahead a tsunami hitting the United States West Coast? Pat Robertson said God told him it might happen. Is he right? Our Internet reporters will show you what's going on online. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's new data out tonight on the net worth of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. CNN's Mary Snow has been looking into this. Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, both the president and vice president reported millions in assets in their annual financial disclosure reports required by law. It's a glimpse of their wealth and gifts they receive from private citizens and corporations. And there were some colorful contributions on that list. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): So what do you give the most powerful man in the world? U2's Bono gave President Bush an iPod and book, value $440. Vice President and Mrs. Cheney gave the president a $400 pair of binoculars. As the president has been known to like bike riding, the company Trek gave him a bike worth over $5,000.

In case that chainsaw used back in 2001 wore out, Home Depot CEO gave the president a new one, with accessories totaling $331. Might come in handy for a timber company he co-owns, mentioned during the 2004 presidential debates.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The president got $84 from a timber company that he owns, and he's counted as a small business.

BUSH: I own a timber company? That's news to me.

Need some wood?

SNOW: Someone does. The company is valued at roughly $700,000. His Crawford ranch and his trust are his most lucrative possessions, putting his estimated assets worth as much as $21.4 million.

STEPHEN HESS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Of 20th century presidents, in terms of wealth, he's in the middle.

SNOW: Vice President Dick Cheney outranks his boss when it comes to financial assets. The vice president lists nearly $7 million in Halliburton stock options, where he was once CEO. Among almost $40,000 in gifts received, inaugural designer clothes for him and Mrs. Cheney, a leatherbound edition of the Warren Commission Report, signed by President Ford, and historic Colt 45 revolver valued at more than $6,000.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And from his boss, the vice president received a $338 hammock on a steel frame. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, very interesting, Mary. Thanks very much.

Former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson is having more conversations with God. Robertson says God has tipped him off about a tsunami hitting the United States. Abbi Tatton has the details -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, Pat Robertson has repeated this warning from God several times in the last month on his show, "The 700 Club." Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. PAT ROBERTSON, HOST, 700 CLUB: And there's a very real possibility of a tsunami or a serious flooding and storming in the West Coast, as well, so, and -- I'm sure those in New Orleans are praying that...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: Robertson reportedly specified the Pacific Northwest on another show, and said 2006. But a quick look around online, and you will find that it's not just the Lord warning about this possibility.

This is a tsunami map from the National Weather Service, a model of a tsunami hitting Seattle, Washington. Paul Whitmore, the director of the West Coast Tsunami Warning Center, confirmed that this is indeed a tsunami-threatened region. It's in an active fault zone. The center, he tells me, though, does not have the technology to predict when a tsunami might hit. It seems that Robertson has some information that they don't -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi, thanks very much. Let's hope it doesn't hit.

Jack Cafferty is in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Thanks, Wolf. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. It happened during a closed-door vote, which turned into a shouting match between the chairman, Republican Senator Arlen Specter, and Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, who was not happy that the vote was held out of the public's view. He eventually stormed out. The question is -- is now the time for the Senate to consider a constitutional amendment on gay marriage?

Joe in Omaha, Nebraska: "We have real problems in this country that the latest do-nothing Congress ought to be addressing. The radical right forcing their outdated prejudices on the rest of us is unconscionable."

Ted in San Diego: "What could be more important than two boys kissing? Gay marriage is as much an obvious threat to America, right up there with terrorism, political corruption and the lack of border security."

Brian Rice from Folsom, California: "Sounds like you're the nut. Get a hold of yourself, Cafferty. The majority of this country doesn't want gay marriage. Deal with it."

Travis in New York writes: "Perhaps it was just Feingold and Specter having a little lovers quarrel. I predict a messy divorce in their future."

And finally, Sean in Oakdale, Connecticut: "Jack, every time the Republican-controlled Senate has their approval ratings in the toilet, they whip out their ruby red slippers and play the gay card. The Senate should be much more concerned with getting us out of Iraq, securing our borders, and getting the NSA the hell off my telephone. P.S., my life partner and I think you are simply adorable."

BLITZER: Jack, we all think you're simply adorable. Go home. See you here tomorrow. Let's find out what's coming up right at the top of the hour. Paula Zahn, she is adorable, as well. Hi, Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Why is it that adorable is not the first word that comes to mind when I think of Jack Cafferty, a man that I spent many mornings with when we were working the morning shift together? Thanks, Wolf.

Coming up at the top of the hour, we're going to have more on President Bush's visit to the U.S./Mexican border. I'm going to be talking with a prominent Republican congressman who is calling that trip a publicity stunt. We'll find out why.

And one of America's most notorious cold cases is finally heating up again. Is Jimmy Hoffa's body really hidden on this horse farm?

Plus, a rare and fascinating disorder that makes you very tall, very thin. So what's wrong with that? Well, it happens to be deadly. We'll introduce you to that, as well. Coming up at the top of the hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Paula, for that.

Still ahead, London get a look at the world's largest airliner, and so does our Richard Quest. You'll see this. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Clearly, some airlines think bigger is better. But is the world ready for the Airbus 380? Not every airport can accommodate an airliner built to carry more than 500 passengers, but some will in the not-too-distant future.

London got its first look today after a massive airport renovation. CNN's Richard Quest has our "Welcome to the Future" report -- Richard.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the A-380 has already visited many other international airports, like Singapore and Dubai, but there was always going to be more interest in its arrival at London's Heathrow: For one simple reason, the busiest international airport in the world, but (inaudible) and congested. Many say Heathrow is the very airport for which this plane has been designed.

So it was; a lot of people came to watch the landing -- a slightly bumpy landing, it has to be admitted -- but over the next few hours, they've been testing, watching and monitoring. For instance, the strengthened runways, the widened taxiways, the new (inaudible) that was built at seven hundred million dollar cost, allows (inaudible) that come to the plane at different levels to accommodate the hundreds of passengers that will get off the giant double-decker.

So far, both Heathrow and the 380 have passed with flying colors. It will be some months yet, though, Wolf, before passengers get to fly on the plane. The first commercial flight goes from Singapore to Sydney in December. And there's one thing of which we hope to be sure: I'll be on board, Wolf.

BLITZER: We know you will. Richard Quest, no doubt about that.

To our viewers, thanks very much. We're here in THE SITUATION ROOM weekday afternoons 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, back for another hour at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Until tomorrow, thanks very much. Let's go to New York and Paula Zahn. Hi, Paula.

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