Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Can President Bush Recover?; FBI Raids Congressman's Office
Aired May 22, 2006 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST (voice-over): Tonight, can the president catch a break on Iraq or immigration and bounce back in the polls? Will Republicans run away from the president in the midterms?
Do Democrats have a campaign slogan besides, "We're not the GOP"? Plus, the FBI raids a congressman's office and finds a big stash of cold cash at his home. Is there a culture of corruption on Capitol Hill?
That and more with the inside scoop on Washington's hot-button headlines from the best political team on TV -- next on LARRY KING LIVE.
L. KING: Good evening.
We're in Washington with quite an assemblage tonight, as we say, the best political team on television.
Let's meet them.
John Roberts is CNN's senior national correspondent. Wolf Blitzer is the anchor of CNN's "THE SITUATION ROOM" and host and moderator of "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER." John King is CNN's chief national correspondent. Candy Crowley is CNN's senior political correspondent. J.C. Watts, a prominent CNN contributor, former congressman, Republican of Oklahoma, founder and chairman of the J.C. Watts Companies, an ordained minister, and a former star collegiate quarterback, and James Carville, CNN political contributor, formerly one of the co-hosts of "CROSSFIRE," Democratic strategist, married to GOP strategist Mary Matalin.
And we had to get that in, James.
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, you did.
L. KING: Later, we will be joined by Ed Henry and Suzanne Malveaux at the White House and Dana Bash at -- on Capitol Hill.
All right, we will start with the Bush story. That's what we led with in the open.
And we will start with John King. How bad is it?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's pretty bad.
You have an incumbent president who's at 30-something percent in the polls. Republicans are trying to keep their majorities in Congress, and they're resigned to the fact that the president is probably going to be below 40 for the rest of the year. Their only hope of getting him up above is a dramatic turnaround in Iraq. And nobody thinks it will happen that fast.
They think this is the environment they're going to be in. So, they're going to have to fight it out. And they will fight it out with Karl Rove now in a new role at the White House getting much more involved in day-to-day campaigning. In fact, he's out this week raising money in Nevada, in California, in Illinois, not only raising money, Larry, but meeting with endangered Republicans, and saying, this is what I think you need to do to get your campaign on track.
L. KING: What does this do, Candy, to the congressional races, if the Bush levels stay low?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it help -- I mean, it's the tide that lifts Democrats up and pushes Republicans down.
I mean, you know, what Republicans are trying to do is say, look, this is about the district. This is about my district.
They're trying to make this a non-national race. And what Democrats want to do is say, this is about change. This is about, you know, a party that's in power of every arm of the government. We need to get them out in the House or get them out in the Senate.
So, the -- the Democrats are pushing change under whatever umbrella they want to use, be it, you know, a change in immigration or a change in the culture of corruption, whatever fits in their district. And Republicans are saying, this is just about district issues. All politics is local.
L. KING: Wolf, what went wrong?
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": I think the big problem the president has is Iraq. That's the number-one problem, that, over the past three years-plus, it didn't go as he and his advisers thought it was going to go.
They thought they would go in, speedily get rid of Saddam Hussein, have a transition to a new regime, a new government in Iraq that would be democratic, pro-Western, and serve as a symbol for the rest of the Middle East, for the Arab world, for the Muslim world. And, as we all know, things did not go the way they had hoped they would go. And I think that's the single biggest problem that's plagued the president.
L. KING: John, they say, the Republicans, the administration, Iraq is doing well; the media's doing poor -- poorly in covering it.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, because we're showing all of the bad stories, only the bad things that happen in Iraq.
L. KING: Yes.
ROBERTS: I mean, you look at the average day of news coverage, you're going to find more bad things that happen in the country, or around the world, than more good things.
We -- we don't report on the fact that Mrs. Smith's cat was successfully rescued from the tree. We do report on dozens of Iraqis being killed, dozens of people being killed in Afghanistan in firefights. News naturally gravitates toward the bad. And there has been no shortage of bad news in Iraq.
And the thing is, with Iraq, is that the bad news is the underpinning of the whole situation there, because if you do not have security, if you do not have stability, if you have internecine warfare between the various religious factions there, you're not going to have stability.
And, until you have stability, you can't have a functioning democracy.
L. KING: By the way, anybody can jump at any time.
J.C. Watts, is your -- do you fear for your party this fall?
J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I -- I don't, Larry. I think there are some challenges. I think there are some problems. But I don't think they're insurmountable.
In 1994, when I was elected, we had 53 Republicans elected, and we became the majority for the first time in over 40 years. And I think what happened in that election, we nationalized it and said, vote for us and we will pass -- we will vote on these 10 items in the first 100 days. And incumbents thought, well, you know, hey, they like us. You know, Candy's my -- my congresswoman. I like her.
But I like those 10 things the Republicans are doing, or that they're proposing. I like that better.
L. KING: So, are you giving the Democrats a strategy?
WATTS: No, no. Well, but I'm saying, when you say change, I don't think Democrats, they have offered change.
What can they offer that's better, I think, than what the president's talked about, in terms of tax relief, securing our country, securing our borders, the war against terror? I mean, those things are things that the American people, I think, are talking about. And the Democrats...
L. KING: You're saying you're going to do well? WATTS: I think those things -- I don't think the election can be nationalized the way we did in 1994, because the Democrats don't offer an alternative.
L. KING: Jim Carville, are you happy about things?
CARVILLE: You know, I guess to the extent that I'm happy that the president is not doing well.
I look at fund-raising today. The RNC has a 4-1 advantage over the DNC. I know that these Republicans are going to savage these candidates out here. They're going to have them, you know, say they got illegitimate children, that they cheated on this, and God knows whatnot.
And if Democrats get lulled into thinking -- and Ken Mehlman said in the paper today, is, we're going to go after the Democrats. We can -- they're not going to run on a record or anything.
And I think that there's way, way too much Democratic optimism. And I have been urging people. And I think the good news is, people like Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer understand this. Our committees are raising money hand over foot.
We have got to prepare people, embrace people for the onslaught that's coming. We know what's coming. And I don't think this is a time for Democrats to be overly optimistic. You're right. These Republicans are not going to run on national anything. They're not going to run on any record.
They're going right after these people with a meat cleaver. And I'm -- I'm worried, to tell you the truth.
L. KING: Can Iraq get better, John?
J. KING: Can Iraq get better? Well, the president today was out...
L. KING: You know, good -- good day yesterday, except people killed.
J. KING: Yes. He was out making the case that, you have a new government that is going to get better.
But he has made that case two or three times before, Larry. And that is the question. Will there finally be a new government that stays in place for several months? Will the religious sects, as John Roberts was noting, will they finally rest their differences? And will they, then, have a new government that actually starts to deliver for the people of Iraq? Because that is the big question.
When the Iraqi people have faith that they have a government that works, then there will be less popular support for the insurgency. And then the U.S. troops might be able to come home. The plan is still to bring home a significant number of U.S. troops by the end of the year. But there's that big giant question mark. They will not do it unless this government is stable. So, that question will be answered two or three months from now.
L. KING: When the situation is like this and the country is so divided, is it difficult, from a reporting standpoint, to cover?
CROWLEY: Oh, no. It's the best. I mean, you know, just...
L. KING: You like...
CROWLEY: ... strictly from a -- you know, frankly, from a reporting standpoint, you love an election that holds a promise of something big happening.
You know, like, OK, this is -- all the incumbents are going to get reelected and we're all going to go back to status quo, that's no fun, frankly.
They agree with me.
You know, when you have...
L. KING: So, you media folk want bad?
CROWLEY: Well, we always a good -- I mean, we always want a good struggle.
ROBERTS: We don't want bad, Larry. But, if it comes along, well, that's fine.
J. KING: We want interesting.
CROWLEY: You know, we want interesting.
L. KING: I'm kidding.
CROWLEY: Yes, right.
WATTS: Well, Larry, John made a good point about what you report on.
There's a lot of truth to that. I mean, you know, bad stuff that happens automatically goes to the forefront. You know, trying to get the good things out, hospitals being built, schools being built, commerce thriving, all the consternation being in about a 35-, 40-mile -- man, I hear James breathing hard over my ear here.
WATTS: You know, consternation goes to the front of the pack.
L. KING: News is what's bad, isn't it, Wolf?
BLITZER: ... 25 -- almost 2,500 U.S. troops have died since the start of the war, a little bit more than three years ago. And that's, unfortunately, a huge number. And thousands more have been severely injured.
And if you take a look at the treasure that the U.S. has spent, hundreds of billions of dollars have gone into trying to build up this new Iraq. And -- and there's a lot of frustration, Congressman, as you well know.
L. KING: Do we know how many...
L. KING: Do we know how many Iraqis have died?
BLITZER: We have no idea. But it's in the tens of thousands, I'm sure.
J. KING: You also judge everything by your expectations.
Ferraris are supposed to be fast. The Red Sox are supposed to beat the Yankees.
I may be outvoted here.
J. L. KING: But this -- the Bush administration presented this in a way that we would be greeted as liberators; the Iraqi oil would be paying for it pretty quickly. And that is not happening.
L. KING: Let me get a break. We will come back, talk about immigration with the best political team on television.
Don't go away.
L. KING: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE on a beautiful spring night in Washington, D.C., great town, great weather, and a great panel, the best political team on television.
We will start this go-around with John Roberts.
Immigration, does it key into a significant election figure?
ROBERTS: I think it does.
I think the president is trying to make it a national issue with this idea of a guest-worker program, and as well the move toward amnesty. And it's surprising, the number of Americans who support this idea of amnesty. Our poll that we had out on Thursday night showed 79 percent of Americans like the idea, which would seem to...
L. KING: Calling it amnesty?
ROBERTS: No. They call it a path to citizenship.
But it is. It's in effect. It's nothing else other than amnesty, because you're forgiving these people transgressions. And that's what amnesty is all about.
For -- that would seem to play and put some conservative House members in a difficult position, because they're saying, we're not going to accept this. But don't forget, as John was saying, all politics is local. And people like Congresswoman Blackburn, who was with us in that panel on Thursday night, in her home district, it's: Nothing -- no path to citizenship; this is nothing that we're going to accept.
And, so, there's going to be a real divide here. And the immigration debate could actually fuel more partisan rancor, intraparty rancor in the -- in the House than -- than it may solve.
L. KING: Candy, where does the Latino vote go?
CROWLEY: Well, you know, I actually think, in '06, that's not something they need to worry about. I think that's more of an '08 concern than it is an '06 concern.
Look, I think that, you know, John's right. Overwhelming numbers of Americans believe there ought to be some pathway to citizenship. The problem here is that the very voters that George Bush needs to come out and vote are turned off by this. So, it's -- it's reverse politics. I mean, you have got to believe that this is something George Bush really does believe in his heart of hearts is the right thing to do, because it hurts him politically, because the conservatives are upset about it. And those are the people that come out and vote in midterms.
L. KING: This -- the -- the Senate bill, is that the bill the president supports...
BLITZER: Yes. The president basically...
L. KING: That's his bill, the Kennedy... BLITZER: He's basically -- he's basically with Kennedy, with McCain, with Senator Hagel, Mel Martinez. He's basically with the bipartisan bill, the compromise that's been worked out in the Senate.
And he's probably going to get his way in the Senate. The question is the House version, which has already passed, is very different. It's basically just a, you know, protect the border. There's no real guest-worker program, no path toward citizenship.
So, what they have to do is then go into a conference in the House and the Senate, see if they can forge some sort of common ground, which is not going to be easy, given where the conservatives are in the Congress.
L. KING: John, this is nothing new for the president. This has been always the way he's believed...
J. KING: Larry, they were having meetings on September 10, 2001, to try to move this issue forward as soon as possible.
And then September 11 came, and this debate, immigration debate, became hostage to the post-9/11 fallout and the changing political climate in the country. As for what happens right now, Candy's dead right. This is what the president believes. He believes this issue.
L. KING: And always has.
J. KING: He has since his days as governor of Texas. And, so, he's doing this despite the political risks in his own party.
I spoke to Senator Larry Craig today on another issue, but he's about as conservative as you get. And he thinks, because of the changes in the Senate bill, the president's proposal on the National Guard, more money to build a fence along some parts of the border, more security measures, he thinks they're moving enough of the House conservatives to get this done.
The question then becomes, let's assume they get the legislation, not easy. But if they get a majority of the Republicans in the House, they will get the legislation. The president will have a signing ceremony. He gets a victory there. The question is, do a lot of those conservatives Candy is talking about, do they stay home in November?
L. KING: James Carville, what do the Democrats do with this?
CARVILLE: I have been holding my breath over here. I guess I can breathe now.
CARVILLE: Look, the Kennedy-Bush bill, I think, is something Democrats can support. And I think that if -- if we have the Kennedy-Bush approach, it will be something that a lot of Democrats will be there. I suspect they will be at the bill signing, because it will probably pass with a lot of Democratic votes. And I just -- I think this is something Democrats will be able to live with.
L. KING: And what's that do vis-a-vis the president?
CARVILLE: Well, I don't know.
It's a 79 percent thing that people want this amnesty program, OK?
ROBERTS: That's national numbers.
ROBERTS: How does that play in the local districts?
CARVILLE: I don't know what -- probably, the right-wing Republicans are going to not like this Kennedy-Bush approach, but it's probably what the -- the thing that can pass.
L. KING: J.C., where are you?
WATTS: Well, Larry, Wolf made a good point.
Trying to get this out of conference I think is going to be really tough, you know, when you go and the House and the Senate kind of, you know, rally and say, let's get something done. I think it's going to be tough.
I talked to some members today that thought it was going to be extremely tough. However, consider this. We're talking about securing the border. We have got eight to twenty million illegals in the United States. After we have secured the border, how do we deal with them? How do we document them? And the president says, let's get a guest-worker program. The Senate bill said, let's -- let's get something that we can put people on track to citizenship.
If you say to 12 million people, you all come, so I can send you home, they're not coming. So, how do you -- how do you get people to register or to send them home? If you want to go out and gather everybody up and send them home, local law enforcement don't have the resources to do it. So, how do we do it? And nobody -- nobody wants to address that.
L. KING: Insolvable?
WATTS: I don't think it's insolvable. I think we have to be realistic and understand that, in order to document 12 million people -- and probably 75 percent, 80 percent of them have no trust in the government -- we have legal citizens that don't trust the government.
BLITZER: You know, Larry -- and I think Congressman J.C. Watts will agree -- the president, in his heart, I think he really believes that the country and the economy, they need these people, because they fill a role that a lot of Americans don't necessarily want to play.
WATTS: If they are illegal. I mean, but how do we document illegal citizens to get them...
L. KING: Let me get a break.
We will come back and we will check with our great team at the White House.
You're looking at CNN's LARRY KING LIVE. And this is the best political team on television. I'm proud to just be near them.
L. KING: We will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Citizens have got legitimate concerns, realizing that parts of this border have been open for anybody who wants to come across.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: USA! USA!
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: We must have an earned path to legalization. That is absolutely key to any kind of comprehensive immigration reform.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Eleven million people are here. You can't round them up. You don't want the status quo. And, so, we are trying to make them pay very heavy penalties and fines and earn their citizenship in this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
L. KING: Let's spend some moments at the White House with Suzanne Malveaux, the CNN White House correspondent. Along with her is Ed Henry, the other CNN White House correspondent. They're both terrific at what they do.
Suzanne, has the good news out of Iraq helped this president poll wise this quickly?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, really Larry, it's much too soon to say whether or not this is really going to give the bump the president needs.
I mean, clearly, the American people, this is really the one issue that he has tied his legacy to. And, you know, this is something that Americans really have lost faith in, quite frankly, in this mission.
I asked the president just last week along the Texas -- along the Arizona border, that is, about this mission, and said, look, point blank here, your own secretary of defense had to backpedal here, when he talked about pulling out U.S. troops in significant numbers.
This is something the president is going to continue to struggle with over the next couple of months and certainly up to the midterm elections.
L. KING: Ed Henry, therefore, what -- for want of a better term, what's the mood in the White House?
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think they're feeling a little bit better at the staff level.
You know, when I first moved over to the White House, about two months ago, my second day on the job, Andy Card stepped down, and this place had kind of a sour mood. And, all of a sudden, they were worried about who's going to be next. And there were some changes.
But now that those are out of the way, the new chaff of staff, Josh Bolten, joked that he wanted the White House to get its mojo back. They're still not sure if it's quite there yet, but I think there's a bit of a fresh start. And there are new faces like Tony Snow.
But the bottom line, as Suzanne pointed out, this is all going to come down to one man, George W. Bush. His credibility is the one that's on the line. He won reelection in part because the American people trusted him more than John Kerry, at the end of the day. That credibility has now been challenged, mostly because of the issue of Iraq that you have been talking about with the panel.
And I think regardless of any of the fresh faces, it's ultimately going to be all about the president.
L. KING: And, Suzanne, what is the national strategy, if they have a national strategy, for the midterms?
MALVEAUX: Well, you know, Larry, it simply is that they do not want to lose their conservative base. They have been trying very, very hard to win them back.
And there are so many different social issues, you know, that Karl Rove and some of the Senate Republicans are throwing out, the ban against same-sex marriage, as really a campaign tool, a political tool, something the first lady and Mary Cheney said they did not agree with. But, clearly, it worked for President Bush in his reelection campaign. It is something that they're rolling out again this time.
And, again, this immigration reform debate, this is something that has been a big problem for this president because of the conservative Republicans. Any bone that they can throw that group, that's what they're hoping to do to win this over.
L. KING: And, Ed, the recent shake-ups, new people in new positions, what has that affected?
HENRY: I think the biggest change we have seen is Tony Snow. I mean, Josh Bolten, as the chief of staff, has -- has the most power out of all the new faces.
But Tony Snow is the face of this administration now. He's the person that we see. From people all around the world, through him, they get to -- to take a look at the administration. And, on his first day, when he broke down, talking about his own personal battle with cancer, that humanized him immediately with the press corps. It doesn't mean he's going to have a good relationship. He's going to have his rocky days.
But the previous press secretary, Scott McClellan, had a hard time with credibility himself, not just the president, but Scott McClellan, particularly regarding the CIA leak case. And I think Tony Snow has given them a fresh start in a key position. Time will tell how it works out with the press corps.
But there has been a lot of criticism that they haven't reached out enough with the press corps; they have shunned the press corps. As you saw with the president's interview with Suzanne and others, they're starting to reach out more, because I think they have finally gotten the signal that they need to work with the press a little bit more for their own good, to get their own message out, in advance of the midterm elections.
L. KING: Thanks, Suzanne Malveaux and Ed Henry, our White House correspondents, on the scene tonight at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Three of our panelists have been White House correspondents, John Roberts, John King, and Wolf Blitzer.
ROBERTS: Lived to tell the tale.
L. KING: What do you make, John, of the appointment of Mr. Snow?
ROBERTS: I think that -- I think, actually, the trifecta of Snow, Bolten, and Rob Portman has been good for the White House.
You will notice that -- and, you know, touch wood for them -- the news hasn't been as bad in the last couple of weeks for the White House as it -- as it was previous to that small little bit of a change. I think that members of Congress appreciate Rob Portman, who is of Congress, now taking over for OMB. They like the idea that Josh Bolten knows how the entire administrative branch and executive branch works, and he's able to translate that up to Congress. And I think that Tony Snow is doing a very good job with the press.
L. KING: Tough place to cover, John?
J. KING: Sure, it's a tough place to cover. It's especially a tough place to cover at a time of war.
It was tough right after 9/11, when the country was trying to rally around the president. There is a lot of second-guessing in the news media now that Iraq has gone so contrary to what was presented, not as quickly, not as painlessly, if you will, both in terms of lives and money. But if you want a snapshot of the political toll of the Iraq war, you will get it here in Washington later this week. Tony Blair is coming to town. You're going to have the president of the United States and the prime minister of Great Britain, two men who were very high in the polls and very popular in their countries when the Iraq war started, who have been devastated by it.
L. KING: Does the White House journalist have to be an antagonist?
BLITZER: No, but you have to be a tough, tough guy. You got to make sure that, you know, you're there. You're asking serious, important questions. You're not just a stenographer, reporting on what some press secretary or some other official is saying.
You have got to represent your constituency, the viewers, the listeners, the readers of your publications. You have got to make sure that, you know, you're -- you're there doing your job. You're reporting the news. I spent seven years covering the Clinton White House. And, as you remember, Larry, those were long, long years.
L. KING: I have heard.
L. KING: Candy Crowley, separating truth from fiction when you're covering a city like Washington, the other day, the big rumor that Karl Rove was going to be indicted, do you all jump over that?
WATTS: The other day? That's been going on for...
CROWLEY: I mean, do you jump...
L. KING: Like, yesterday, there was a -- like, he was -- they're serving the papers.
I mean, but, I mean, look, you have to check it out. I mean, that's the way you separate truth from fiction is that -- look, we get rumors constantly, because, sooner or later, some of those rumors come true. And, so -- and you -- you know, you something's going to happen one way or the other in a lot of things.
So, I mean, it's not that tough to separate truth from fiction. You have just got to check it out. L. KING: Mr. Carville, you are no small change as a strategist. What makes Mr. Rove so special?
CARVILLE: Well, he wins elections.
CARVILLE: I mean, you know...
L. KING: Yes, but what does he do?
CARVILLE: That -- that -- well, again, 2002 and 2004, they won. They were able to -- and I think they're going to do it -- they were able to, if you look at -- savage the Democrats.
The Democrats are thinking and -- and didn't run the best campaign against them. They were able to rally the base.
Look, there's one question that political Washington is consumed with, every political operative, every political consultant, that, is he mildew? In other words, does it really matter what Bush says anymore? Or have people just said, you know what -- and they can bring in Tony Snow -- if he is. They can bring in anybody they want to. Once a politician because mildew -- that's -- the furniture gets wet...
L. KING: Irrelevant.
CARVILLE: That's irrelevant.
Now, my guess is, is -- and you don't -- we -- every -- and everybody fears that -- everybody in the White House fears that. Every Democrat to some extent hopes that. Nobody knows for sure. And I think what we want to look for here in the next month to six weeks is, are these things, are they able to produce some sustainable things?
I don't think the -- the point made -- I don't think anybody thinks, they catch bin Laden or something really dramatic happens, that the president's numbers are going to be any good. But they would certainly rather run this congressional election at 40 than at 32, a big difference.
CARVILLE: If he's mildew, he might get to 35, and that's it. So, we don't -- and we don't know the answer to that. But that is the number-one question that political Washington asks itself constantly.
L. KING: I have got to get a break. We will have J.C. Watts comment when we come back.
I will reintroduce the panel as well. Don't go away.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) L. KING: We're in Washington for this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE with the best political team on television. A couple of program reminders. On Wednesday night, Senator John McCain will be our guest for the full hour. And on Thursday night Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Our panel is John Roberts, CNN senior national correspondent; Wolf Blitzer, the anchor of "THE SITUATION ROOM" and host and moderator of "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER." John King is CNN's chief national correspondent. Candy Crowley, CNN's senior political correspondent. And our two political contributors, J.C. Watts, the former congressman, and James Carville, the famed political contributor who masterminded the successful first Clinton campaign. All right, J.C.
WATTS: Two things John Roberts and James talked about. John talked about the litany of changes at the White House. Rob Portman helps with congressional relationships. That's been very shaky for some time. Rob helps with that. Josh Bolten and Joel Kaplan coming over helps with policy.
But the one move that everybody's kind of high-fiving about is the fact that Karl Rove has gone from policy to politics because as James said, he wins elections. And if you all will recall, we've talked many times over the last six or eight months about how the president's numbers have been so good because his base stuck with him.
These 32, 33 percent approval ratings, Republicans are driving those numbers. So they've got to do things that's going to get Republicans back in the fold, get Republicans excited again. So Karl going into politics, let me tell you, there's a new energy in the Republican conference.
L. KING: All right, let's get to some other bases. Hillary Clinton, how formidable a figure will she be in 2008?
BLITZER: Very formidable. I think she's got...
L. KING: ... Favored to win the nomination?
BLITZER: I think right now all the polls show she's far and away the leading Democratic candidate. There's still an enormous amount of time to go between now and 2008, but she's proven herself as a U.S. senator. She's a formidable political figure.
J. KING: There's a funny flip side to this. Remember when Bill Clinton ran in 1992, he was not a traditional Democrat but he said "I'm electable, I can win in the fall. I can carry Arkansas, Louisiana, some places in the South." The argument against his wife now, Hillary Clinton, will be, don't give her the nomination because she's not electable. They will say she has a huge problem with male voters and they will say she has trouble winning the competitive presidential states.
L. KING: Do you see anyone on the horizon other than her? Governor Warner? CROWLEY: You know, possibly. I think the way everybody right now is looking at this, and this is a snapshot, is it will be on the Republican side John McCain and somebody else. And they will battle that out until it -- you know, Michigan or wherever it gets done. And it will be Hillary Clinton and somebody else. So right now everybody looks at this race as who's going to be the somebody else? And certainly Mark Warner is in that group.
WATTS: Hillary Clinton -- Senator Clinton getting the nomination, she gets the nomination, I think she can win.
L. KING: Can win?
WATTS: She can win. What states did Kerry win that she couldn't win? And you flip Iowa, Nevada and New Mexico and Senator Clinton is now president-elect Clinton. But I do believe that Mark Warner -- I'm going to go on a limb and say that Mark Warner is a dark horse...
L. KING: Red state governor.
WATTS: And I think will get lighter.
ROBERTS: He's presenting himself as the Hillary alternative. The problem is that she's wrapped up all of the fund-raisers so he doesn't have access to the cash that she does.
L. KING: And he's not known at all.
ROBERTS: No. Certainly not on the level that she is. But the thing that he has going for him is that he's a former southern governor. He has the respect of a lot of governors in the south. He is a son of the south. And that carries a lot of weight in a presidential election.
KING: McCain a lock?
CARVILLE: No. Nobody's a lock. And I think Senator Clinton, who I happen to know pretty well, she doesn't think that she's a lock. There are going to be a lot of Democrats running for this. I wouldn't be surprised if you have six or seven top-tier candidates...
L. KING: ... Gore too?
CARVILLE: Very well could. I have a theory, but it's a theory like evolution's a theory, OK? It's been proven a thousand times. Anybody that has ever run for president or vice president wants to run again. He may be. But -- I won't get into that. He wants to run for president.
L. KING: He does?
CARVILLE: It's like - running for president is like having sex. You don't do it once and say, "Well, I've already done that, I'll move on to something else."
And so there's going to be a lot of Democrats and a lot of Republicans that are going to get that -- who have run before are going to get out there. A lot of Democrats -- a lot of Democrats are saying, "You know, I should have gone in '04, and I'm not going to sit this out."
I think Senator Clinton -- and I think she'll win because I think the world of her. I think she's very smart, very tough and I think she understands that. And I know for a fact she doesn't look at these polls and say I'm the front-runner. I don't think she's going to run a classic front-runner campaign.
But it's going to be tough. Governor Warner, Russ Feingold's going to be a big factor in this. Senator Biden may run. Senator Dodd may run.
ROBERTS: Edwards is out there.
CARVILE: Edwards is out there. Senator Bayh's raising money hand over foot.
CARVILLE: I'm getting the thing if I don't mention someone I'll get 100 calls. But they're going to be out there.
ROBERTS: At the last Republican convention I talked with Zell Miller and he said there's no Democrat out there who I could vote for because there's no Democrat out there that shares my conservative values. I said, "Well, what Democrat could you vote for president?" He said Evan Bayh.
CARVILLE: He's endorsed Ralph Reed, so there's not many Ralph Reed Democrats out there.
ROBERTS: But he did tell me though, he said Evan Bayh is a Democrat he could vote for. But he represents a certain point of view.
CARVILLE: You know what, the Democrats probably are going to pick up two congressional seats in Indiana. Evan Bayh is a hardworking guy. He's raised $10 million, $11 million and he's a very serious man.
L. KING: Let me get a break, and then we'll find out who the gang thinks will -- or might be the Republican nominee. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Frist insists he hasn't yet decided to run.
SEN. BILL FRIST (R), TENNESSEE: We'll have to make a big, big decision.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next great president of the United States of America, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR, NEW YORK: It's a great honor to even have anybody consider that you could be a candidate for president of the United States.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It is time for a realistic plan for success.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: My intention now is to seek the nomination.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
L. KING: Before we get back with the panel on this, as we said, glorious night in Washington, on Capitol Hill is Dana Bash. She is CNN's congressional correspondent. Always good to see her. What's the fallout from the raid on Democratic -- on Democrat William Jefferson's setup and the taking of all that money by the FBI?
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Larry, it's an amazing story. And to answer your question, the fallout I think is really just beginning. You know, if you would have asked what the big story was going to be here last week, I would have said immigration. But this has completely knocked everything off the map, at least for today.
The fact that his office actually was raided by the FBI, which is an unprecedented move, is one thing. But only in the movies, the storylines that went along with it, which is, as you mentioned, that they found, we now know, $90,000 in cash that the congressman allegedly got from an FBI informant stuffed in his freezer wrapped in containers, food containers and aluminum foil.
So he came back to the Hill today, Larry, he insisted he is not going to resign, but I can tell you Democrats are very, very concerned about this. They really wish he would. And I've learned tonight that they're already talking to people who could potentially -- two people who could potentially run for his seat in the New Orleans district that he serves in.
L. KING: How about John Roberts telling me that Speaker Hastert spoke up for him?
BASH: Well, he spoke up for him, but actually it's even more specific than that. He didn't speak up for him in terms of the allegations against him but there's -- one of the subplots here is that members of Congress are very unhappy about the fact that his office here on Capitol Hill was raided.
As I said, that we believe is unprecedented. And you're right. The speaker issued a lengthy statement saying, essentially, a slap at the White House and at the Justice Department, saying how can you let this happen? There is a separation of powers and there's a fine line there. And even what he knows which he made clear he doesn't know a lot, he wished he knew more, it really wasn't enough to rise to the level of doing this. There were talks going on, there were talks going on tonight about just how to react to this breach Republicans say of the separation of powers.
L. KING: Are the Democrats feeling their oats up there? Are they feeling they can take the House?
BASH: They're hoping so. They're trying to be very careful when you talk to those who are really in charge of taking the Democrats back, control of the House. They're trying to be very careful of wishing too hard.
But you know, it's interesting in watching the way they are trying to learn the lessons, Larry, from 1994 when the Republicans swept Congress, they are trying to figure out just when it's appropriate to strike in terms of coming up with their own plan, how would they run Congress.
Right now they basically see that the Republicans are basically flailing in and of themselves and they don't want to really change the subject to what would they do. So right now they're sort of sitting back and watching and waiting to see if that continues. Probably this summer you'll see them actually put forward some kind of agenda.
L. KING: Thanks, Dana. Dana Bash, CNN's congressional correspondent. Candy Crowley, who do you think is the Republican nominee?
CROWLEY: Well, you know, assuming John McCain runs, I think you have did --
L. KING: Beginning to look like a duck.
CROWLEY: Well, no, it looks like he's going to run. It's so hard this far out. I mean, I don't think it's a given that Hillary Clinton's going to run. I think probably she will. I think probably John McCain will. So I think he right now is who I'd put my money on, but right now is 2006.
L. KING: Giuliani have any chance, John?
J. KING: Very tough. He is pro guy rights, pro abortion rights, from New York City. That is a very tough message to sell in the Republican primary. If we had a viable independent party in this country I think he'd have a pretty good chance. But boy, that's a tough one. And he knows it. He's moving around the country.
Larry, remember, though, governors tend to win these things. The governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney is working very hard as Candy noted earlier. This could change a lot depending what happens in November. If the Republicans do better, Democrats do better, that will change the move. But Mitt Romney, the governor of Massachusetts is working hard right now to be that conservative alternative to John McCain.
BLITZER: George Allen is a formidable senator from Virginia, a formidable potential candidate, very bright, very smart.
L. KING: Tough race against him though, in the senate.
BLITZER: He's always going to have some tough races but I think he's got a lot of supporters out there who have been impressed by the job he's done. Former governor of Virginia as well. Bill Frist, he's the majority leader. He's got a lot of problems, though. Going in. He's also got this legal issue hovering over, some stocks his family --
L. KING: Why are you smiling, Jim?
CARVILLE: I was listening to what Wolf said. Look, Frist is not going to be the Republican nominee. They're not going to nominate someone who's in charge of the Senate given the ratings that the Senate and everything that's happened and - I just think --
L. KING: Who's the Republican? J.C., who do you favor?
WATTS: Well, I'm kind of sizing everybody up like every other Republican out there -- --
L. KING: Are you leaning anywhere?
WATTS: Well, Larry, I'm going to say what Maximus on the movie "The Gladiator" was told when his manager told him if you want to be successful. He said win the crowd. McCain wins the crowd. Hillary on her side wins the crowd. And so I do think Allen will be a competitor.
BLITZER: George Allen.
WATTS: George Allen, right. Mitt Romney, it was interesting, when we were in Memphis two months ago, they had the cattle call, I spoke down there, and I talked about 15, 16 states. And McCain, it was interesting what they said. They said, you know, we went in, some of them said, who I thought would hate him, we went in predisposed not to like him, but we got a little different view. So McCain's a person to watch. But I do think George Allen, Mitt Romney, those people who were talking about it, who were mumbling about it, I think you keep your eyes on them.
L. KING: Let me get a break and we'll get John Roberts' thoughts. But first let's check in with Anderson Cooper. The host of "AC 360" at the top of the hour. Where are you tonight?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Back in New York, Larry. Thanks very much. We're going to take an inside look at the bribery allegations you've been talking about. Allegations of cold cash, literally 90,000 bucks wrapped up in tin foil hidden in his freezer. Just when you think you've seen it all.
We'll also bring you the new hurricane forecast released just today. The news not good. Another season of bad storms is expected. We'll show you why. And Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby Winner who broke his leg this weekend. If you saw The Preakness, you saw that awful moment, his surgery was successful. We actually have some x-rays of the leg. We'll show you that. And show you the hurdles that he has ahead of him. All that and more, Larry, at the top of the hour.
L. KING: Thanks, Anderson. A.C Cooper. A.C. At the top of the hour. "A.C. 360." We'll be back with our panel, the best political team on television, right after this.
L. KING: We are going to squeeze a call in, but I want John Roberts's thoughts on the Republican nominee.
ROBERTS: Well, I am going to join in with Candy Crowley and say for now it looks like McCain, Romney -- you know, I was at the southern Republican Leadership Convention with J.C. Watts, who went over tremendously. You should run my friend. But Mitt Romney went over very well.
The question is, can a Mormon win the nomination? I don't know if the country is ready for that just yet, but they are both proving themselves to be very good candidates, good money raisers. And we will see how it goes.
L. KING: Let's squeeze in a call.
Ormond Beach, Florida, hello.
CALLER: Hello. This is for James Carville. Karl Rove is a brilliant strategist. He once said to his political opponents, when you think you have us figured out, we change direction. In this election year, the Republican Congress seemed to be playing good cops to the president's bad cop policies. Could this be a clever plan orchestrated by Karl Rove to keep Republicans in power?
CARVILLE: It could be, but I doubt it. I don't think that this was to set up this kind of immigration debate, where the president would have a kind of different position, my sense is it was forced on him. But you make a very good point. He is a very smart guy. I point out again as to Republicans at the committee, at the RNC and the DNC, have a four to one cash advantage.
A lot of these districts are in suburban Philadelphia and New Hampshire and the Boston media market and are going to be quite extensive. And I caution Democrats against over optimism. They're going to have to raise a lot more money. There is a lot of things that can happen.
And Karl Rove -- and they're going to savage these candidates. We have to be ready for it. Thank God we've got people like Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer in our own Senate and House committee.
L. KING: Quickly, J.C.
WATTS: Trust me, man. Political people are not that smart.
L. KING: Candy, how bad is Iran going to get? CROWLEY: I don't know. It always seems like it can't get much worse. I mean, bringing it back to Iraq and Iran, I mean -- you know, everyone's now -- the president's working at such a deficit in the truth department because people look at him, and they don't believe him. So if he has to do something in Iran, the sales job is enormous because the one thing that he has lost that he has to get back if he's going to do anything, is the trust of the American people.
And that's what won him those elections. He can't do anything without it. And it's going to be very difficult to move aggressively in Iraq without that trust.
L. KING: John?
ROBERTS: Iraq is his legacy, and one subplot of that legacy is the multi-nationalist George W. Bush. He knows he can't -- not only the American people might not support an invasion of Iran, he can't get the world support for that. He could not get world support for his initial policy in North Korea. So this is a president who now says diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy. And he's hamstrung in some ways by that.
CARVILLE: You know, I think John and Candy both make a good point. Tom Friedman, the award-winning columnist for "The New York Times," who was an Iraq war supporter, said that he thought...
L. KING: Was an Iraq war supporter.
L. KING: He was an Iraq war supporter.
CARVILLE: He supported the Iraq war. He did. He said that the thought of Bush actually trying to do something about Iran having a nuclear bomb was more frightening than Iran actually having a nuclear bomb, which is a pretty scary thing for somebody like that to make a point. I don't know if that's true.
But the point is do people here or around the world believe him? When you lose credibility like that, the danger is, is that your own people don't believe you and the allies don't. That's a dangerous point.
ROBERTS: It seems to be one of the reasons why he's leaning so heavily on the EU3, France, Germany and Britain. It's because the credibility meter is so low on the Iran issue that he's got to have somebody else out there in the lead.
L. KING: We have got to get another break.
By the way, we wanted to clear up something, Jim. We have may been a misconception in the report about the congressman. It was his home that money was taken from, not the office.
L. KING: In his house, not the office.
We'll be back with our remaining moments. We will squeeze another call in too. Don't go away.
L. KING: Only have a couple of minutes left.
Candy, is Michael Hayden going to be confirmed?
L. KING: Anybody -- all agree on that?
ROBERTS: Is Hayden going to be confirmed? Yes. I believe so. And I think that the Republicans will turn it into a pretty effective fight against the Democrats on the issue of national security.
L. KING: Let's get in one more quick call.
San Jose, California. Hello.
CALLER: Yes. This question is for Wolf. I just wondered why the media does not report more on the very positive accomplishments that we have achieved in Iraq?
L. KING: Wolf?
BLITZER: Well, we discussed this a little bit earlier. There have been some positive achievements. There's a new Democratically elected government. Millions of people went to the polls, and they voted for this government. And now there's a government that's led by a Shiite prime minister. There's a Sunni representation in the government, Kurdish representative. The president of Iraq is a Kurd, President Jalal Talabani.
That in and of itself is a dramatic improvement clearly over the past three-plus years. The problem is there's still a lot of sectarian strife, a lot of the insurgency continuing along the way, and there's no guarantee that in the end this experiment is going to succeed. So it's a mixed bag so far. Although, all of us of course hope that a Democratic, free and stable Iraq eventually materializes.
L. KING: We're going to have to do this a lot more. I thank you all very much for coming. My honor to be in your company. John Roberts, Wolf Blitzer, John King, Candy Crowley, J.C. Watts and James Carville. And also with us from the White House, Ed Henry and Suzanne Malveaux, and from Capitol Hill Dana Bash.
Couple of program reminders. Tomorrow night Tim Russert is our special guest, and later in the program Wolf Blitzer will join us. We'll control Sunday morning. And Wednesday night an hour with the oft-mentioned tonight Senator John McCain. And Thursday night, Don Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense. And Anderson Cooper will be with us on Friday night. And speaking of Anderson -- before I go to Anderson, on May 31, Wednesday night, May 31, our special guest, her only appearance in a long time, Elizabeth Taylor will be with us on Wednesday night, May 31.
Right now let's head to Anderson Cooper, the host of "AC 360." And what is up tonight?
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com