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Search Under Way in Iraq for 2 Missing U.S. Soldiers; White House Efforts To Help Republicans Win Midterm Elections; Polls Show Bush Winning More Support For Iraq War; House Votes to Support War in Iraq; Suicide Bomber Kills 11; House Removes Jefferson from Ways and Means Committee; The National Association of Hispanic Journalists Holds Yearly Convention; Mike Pence Interview

Aired June 16, 2006 - 18:00   ET


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, a new opinion poll shows President Bush is winning more support for his conduct in the war in Iraq. That, as Congress gives the president a political victory on his policies.
ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Friday, June 16th.

Sitting in for Lou Dobbs is Kitty Pilgrim.

PILGRIM: Good evening, everybody.

In a moment, we'll have complete coverage of the politics of the war in Iraq. But first, we go to the Pentagon for a developing story about an insurgent attack on a U.S. checkpoint in Iraq.

Jamie McIntyre is at the Pentagon with the story -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kitty, one U.S. soldier is dead, two others are missing after an attack by insurgents at a checkpoint in a town called Yusufiya, southwest of Baghdad. U.S. military officials say it happened just before 8:00 at night Baghdad time.

A patrol nearby heard gunfire coming from the checkpoint location, radioed in that they thought the soldiers there might be under attack. A quick reaction force responded. When they got to the scene, they found one U.S. soldier dead and no sign of the other two soldiers.

They are now listed as "Duty status: whereabouts unknown," which is the military phrase for missing. They could either have been captured, killed or perhaps are even hiding out nearby. It's dark. This checkpoint was near a river. There's a search under way, and that includes the river nearby -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: All right. Thanks very much, Jamie.

And we'll be following this story throughout the broadcast.

But turning to the politics of the war, the House of Representatives today voted against setting a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq. Congressmen also voted to link the war in Iraq with the global war on terror. The vote was 256-153.

Now, at the same time, a new opinion poll shows the president's ratings on Iraq have risen by 5 percent to 37 percent. But more than half of voters still do not support the president's conduct of the war.

Andrea Koppel reports from Capitol Hill on today's vote in Congress to back the war.

Bill Schneider reports from Washington on the new poll numbers on the war and the president.

And Ed Henry is traveling with the president in New Mexico. And Ed reports on White House efforts to help Republicans win the midterm elections.

We turn first to Andrea Koppel -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, it was a war of words, a mostly partisan divide.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Some of my friends on the other side of the aisle often refer to Iraq as a distraction. They've called the Operation Iraqi Freedom a war of choice and that isn't part of the real war on terror. Someone should tell that to al Qaeda.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: The war in Iraq has been a mistake. I say a grotesque mistake. It must be our resolve to end the war as soon as possible and to resolve to not make similar mistakes in the future.

KOPPEL (voice-over): The main focus for lawmakers in their immediate political future, how this debate on Iraq could play out in midterm elections, now less than five months away. Democrats are within 15 seats of winning back the House.

Some Republicans, like Pennsylvania Congressman Jim Gerlach in tight races, faced a tough choice on whether to support the resolution to stay the course in Iraq. In the end, he did, but warned, voters' patience is running out.

REP. JIM GERLACH (R), PENNSYLVANIA: The American people are looking to us to answer their questions on how much progress is being made, what are Iraqis themselves willing to do to fight for their freedom, and when will our men and women come home.

KOPPEL: Five-term New Mexico Republican Heather Wilson is also in a close race. Before heading home to campaign with President Bush, Wilson cast her vote with her party.

REP. HEATHER WILSON (R), NEW MEXICO: It is a choice between resolve and retreat. And for me and my family, I choose resolve. KOPPEL: Forty-two Democrats crossed party lines to support the resolution. Among them, Vietnam veteran Leonard Boswell from Iowa, in a competitive race to win a sixth term. Boswell said U.S. troops needed to stay in Iraq to ensure the new government succeeds.

REP. LEONARD BOSWELL (D), IOWA: Well, they had a great election. We all understand that. They had to establish a government. And, you know, it's pretty tough.

They got it done, I'm told. You know, it's kind of like putting the team on the field. You haven't seen them play yet together, maybe they'll do well. Maybe they won't.


KOPPEL: Within just hours of the vote, Democrats' fears were realized. The Republican Campaign Committee quickly released press releases slamming at least two Democrats, Harold Ford of Tennessee and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who both had voted against the resolution, saying, in effect, these two lawmakers had voted to cut and run -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much.

Andrea Koppel.

Thanks, Andrea.

Well, the first nationwide opinion poll since the president's visit to Iraq shows President Bush is winning more support for the war. The poll also contains new information about public attitudes to the war, and that's after today's vote in Congress.

Bill Schneider has the report.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Here is how the House of Representatives voted on Iraq: 37 percent voted in favor of setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, 63 percent voted against it.

Was that vote representative of public opinion on the war? No, it wasn't. Fifty-three percent of the public favors setting a timetable for U.S. withdrawal, 41 percent are opposed.

Most Democrats voted with their leader.

PELOSI: It's time for us to come home and meet the needs of the American people.

SCHNEIDER: The vote among house Democrats? Seventy-eight percent for a timetable, 22 percent against.

How well did they represent the views of Democratic voters? Pretty well, actually. Among Democrats nationwide, 73 percent support a timetable for withdrawal, 23 percent are opposed. The Republican vote in the House was nearly unanimous in favor of the leadership and White House position.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We must renew our resolve that the actions of evil-doers will not dictate American policy.

SCHNEIDER: Ninety-nine percent of House Republicans voted against setting a timetable. Only three lonely Republicans voted for a timetable, including John Duncan of Tennessee, who pointed out that he's been rated the sixth most conservative House member.

REP. JOHN DUNCAN, JR. (R), TENNESSEE: And yet, I am steadfastly opposed to this war, and I have been since the beginning.

Mr. Speaker, we need to start putting our own people first, once again, and bring our troops home.

SCHNEIDER: But Duncan's position is not so lonely. Nearly a third of Republicans nationwide favor a timetable for withdrawal.


SCHNEIDER: This is our first poll taken since President Bush went to Baghdad. Did the trip help the president politically? Well, a little.

President Bush's job rating is now 37 percent. Not much change. The president's rating on Iraq did go up five points since last month to 39 percent. But most Americans continue to disapprove of the way he's handling Iraq.

Opinion of the war itself has hardly changed. Fifty-four percent of Americans continue to call Iraq a mistake -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much.

Bill Schneider.

Thanks, Bill.

President Bush today traveled to Washington State and then on to New Mexico to support Republican candidates. The White House hopes the president's growing momentum on Iraq will help Republicans in the midterm elections.

Ed Henry is traveling with the president, and he reports from Albuquerque, New Mexico -- Ed.


That's right, the president actually just arrived moments ago here in New Mexico. In a little while he'll be attending and headlining a fund-raiser for Republican Heather Wilson, one of the Democrats' top targets in the midterm elections.

Earlier today, the president was, as you noted, in Seattle, also going to bat for Republican Dave Reichert, a freshman Republican congressman from Washington State.

As you know, the president is on a collision course with Democrats in these upcoming midterm elections. A couple weeks ago it looked like many Republican candidates would not want to be with the president because he was so low in the polls, but now he's trying to get a head of steam, coming out of some of the good news coming out of Iraq, and that's why you're seeing some Republican candidates standing with him.

But the latest CNN poll has some data suggesting that perhaps that could backfire on Republican candidates. When you look closely at the numbers, only 27 percent of registered voters said they would be more likely to support a candidate that the president stumps for. And, in fact, 47 percent say they'd be less likely to support a Bush candidate. Twenty percent say it would make no difference in their decision in November whatsoever.

That's not stopping Republicans, though. This fund-raiser in New Mexico tonight will be the 39th that the president will headline for Republican candidates this year. That puts him ahead of the pace that he kept in the 2002 midterm elections.

And since this is a border state, obviously a lot of focus also on immigration reform. A lot of questions about whether Heather Wilson, in a tough race, will split with the president. She's actually pretty much with the president on comprehensive immigration reform, supports enhanced border security, plus the president's controversial guest worker program.

Right now, the president believing he's increasing his political capital. The next big test for him, of course, will be to see whether or not he can get Congress to come to terms on some sort of an immigration reform deal. There is still a stalemate right now -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: All right. Thanks very much.

Ed Henry.

Well, in Iraq, a suicide bomber today attacked a mosque in Baghdad, and nearly 30 people were killed or wounded. Now, this attack came despite a huge security crackdown in the Iraqi capital.

Cal Perry reports from Baghdad.


CAL PERRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At a Shia mosque in northwestern Baghdad, a suicide bomber slips past security and into the mosque itself. The explosion killing at least 11, wounding more than 25 others. It's the second time in 10 weeks that the Buratha mosque has been attacked. In April, more than 80 people were killed when three suicide bombers got inside the mosque. That attack, one of the bloodiest to date, led Shia politicians to accuse Sunni extremists of trying to drag Iraq into civil war.

After this latest attack, Shia-owned Al-Thura (ph) TV took calls from enraged viewers. "How could this happen?" the viewer cries. "How could he manage to get inside the mosque? Where are the people who are responsible for searching people?"

Another caller predicted dark days ahead. "The fight will not happen this year," he says. "It will happen next year. They want to eliminate us. They want to destroy us."

(on camera): As the tit-for-tat violence along sectarian lines continues, the question remains, will the prime minister's security plan for Baghdad stop revenge attacks and bridge the growing divide between Sunni and Shia?

Cal Perry, CNN, Baghdad.


PILGRIM: There's heavy fighting in southeast Afghanistan tonight as U.S. and coalition troops step up their offensive against radical Islamists. More than 10,000 U.S., British, Canadian and Afghan troops are taking part in the offensive.

And one American soldier has been killed in the latest fighting. Two hundred and thirty-two of our troops have been killed in Afghanistan since the war began.

American and coalition troops are killing a rising number of insurgents. At least 40 insurgents were killed in southern Afghanistan in the past two days.

Still to come, a high school tries to silence a student who opposes illegal immigration. We'll have a special report.

And new developments tonight in the case of a leading congressman accused of taking bribes. We'll have that story.

And can President Bush seize the political initiative on Iraq? Three of this country's top political analysts will join me.

Stay with us.


PILGRIM: The House of Representatives today voted to remove Congressman William Jefferson from the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Congressman Jefferson is the subject of an ongoing federal bribery investigation. Well, he's far from the only elected official whose conduct is being questioned tonight.

Louise Schiavone reports. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: House Resolution 872 resolved that Mr. Jefferson is hereby removed from the Committee on Ways and Means.

LOUISE SCHIAVONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Democratic Congressman William Jefferson, the 59-year-old sharecropper's son, Harvard Law School graduate, and eight-term lawmaker from Louisiana, was basically busted and ranked to private.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without objection, the resolution is adopted.

SCHIAVONE: Stripped of his seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Jefferson is the congressman known nationally for FBI charges that he took $100,000 in a setup bribe, $90,000 of which agents discovered wrapped in foil and stashed in his freezer.

Jefferson protested that he had been singled out.

REP. WILLIAM JEFFERSON (D), LOUISIANA: This never happened before. And the first time it's happening, it's happening to an African-American. And it does raise issues.

SCHIAVONE: But his alleged actions are a burden for his party, rendering virtually useless an earlier Democratic plan to paint Republicans as the party of corruption with the ethics case of former House majority leader Tom DeLay and the bribery scandal that sent Congressman Randall "Duke" Cunningham to jail.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has attacked the Jefferson case aggressively.

PELOSI: Any member of Congress who has $90,000 in his freezer can be sure that he's going to hear from me that he or she should step aside.

SCHIAVONE: At the same time, the ethics battle is not over for Republicans. Eyebrows have been raised about Speaker Dennis Hastert's reported real estate profits of $3 million on property near a new federally-funded highway project in Illinois.

And prosecutors are investigating ties between House Appropriations Committee Jerry Lewis of California and a former staffer-turned-high-powered lobbyist.

MASSIE RITSCH, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: The good news in all of these corruption cases is that they appear to be getting investigated in a non-partisan manner. The bad news is that there are so many of them, and that the public, which already has a very low impression of Congress, will lower its impression even further.


SCHIAVONE: Will the fact that Republicans still have their ethics troubles take the curse off the Jefferson case for Democrats? Kitty, it all goes back to the what your mother told you, two wrongs don't make a right -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: I'm glad we got that sorted out. Thanks very much.

Louise Schiavone.

Thanks, Louise.

A grand jury in Washington has decided not to indict Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. Now, the congresswoman admitted hitting a Capitol Hill police officer who tried to stop her from entering a congressional office building on March 29th.

Let's take a look at some of your e-mails.

David in Connecticut writes, "I don't trust electronic voting machines. That's why when we get them here I will be voting with a write-in absentee ballot."

And Richard in California writes, "For Pete's sake, this is a no- brainer. How many people do you know who would use a Diebold ATM that didn't give a paper receipt?"

Brian in Colorado, he says, "Let me get this straight. You have to know English to be a citizen, and then you have to be a citizen to be able to vote. Then why is there a problem with English-only ballots?"

And Leonid in New York says, "Soon we are going to have 'Press uno for Espanol, press two for English."

Send us your thoughts, We love hearing from you. And we'll have more thoughts later in the broadcast.

Coming up, the Association of Hispanic Journalists takes on illegal immigration reform, and how the media is covering it, including this program. We'll have a report from their conference.

And also, Congressman Mike Pence explains his plan for illegal immigration reform. Is it amnesty by another name? Well, he's our guest.

And President Bush's approval ratings on the rise. Three of the sharpest political analysts look at what this could mean for the midterm elections.


PILGRIM: The National Association of Hispanic Journalists is holding its yearly convention this week in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Now, these journalists are discussing their coverage of the illegal alien crisis and other issues important to the Hispanic community.

Today, they heard from a distinguished panel on illegal immigration, including our very own Lou Dobbs.

Lisa Sylvester reports. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was called the Great American Immigration Debate. CNN's Lou Dobbs addressed 900 Hispanic journalists, a crowd that doesn't necessarily see eye to eye with him.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: How can we reform immigration if we cannot control immigration? How can we control immigration if we cannot control our borders and our ports?

SYLVESTER: Joining the discussion, New Mexico's Governor Bill Richardson and Mexico's foreign former minister, Jorge Castaneda. On the no-show list, Emilio Gonzalez, the head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He dropped out at the last minute, citing scheduling problems. "Newshour's" Ray Suarez moderated the debate.

RAY SUAREZ, MODERATOR: Why do we in these conversations talk so much more about employees than we do about employers?

DOBBS: Ray, you need to be watching my broadcast.

SYLVESTER: Governor Richardson pushed for citizenship for illegal aliens.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: A lot of these workers, they do work that Americans don't want to do. It's in construction. It's in sanitation.

SYLVESTER: But critics charge Americans do those jobs, and amnesty comes with a cost: Falling wages.

DOBBS: Twenty-five years ago, the average meat-packing -- meat- packing employee in this country made $19 an hour. $19 hour. Do you know what it is today? It's $9 an hour.

SYLVESTER: Mexico's role was also considered. Is the country doing enough to raise the standard of living for its people, or merely exporting poverty? Castaneda admitted there needs to be more cooperation, but says walls don't work.

JORGE CASTANEDA, FORMER MEXICAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We come up with sensible immigration reform in the United States, that the Mexican government can cooperate with.


SYLVESTER: And the panelists disagreed on just about every subject, including what to do with the 12 million plus illegal aliens living in the United States. But there was consensus in one area, and that is that corporate America is fueling the illegal immigration crisis -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Lisa Sylvester. Thanks, Lisa.

Congressman Mike Pence has written compromise immigration legislation that he says could break the deadlock on immigration reform in Congress. His legislation includes an illegal alien guest- worker program, but he says it strictly rules out amnesty. Now, Lou spoke with Congressman Pence and asked him to outline his proposed compromise.


REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: Basically, most of my bill, Lou, is everything that we passed out of the House of Representatives last December, about 280 pages, includes virtually everything in the border security measures, all of the tough enforcement sanctions.

DOBBS: Let's put that up, if we may, Congressman.

PENCE: Thank you.

DOBBS: You say that you would secure the border.

PENCE: That's right. Well, we do everything in the House bill to secure the border.

DOBBS: I'm sorry, Congressman, I spoke over you. I apologize. Say again.

PENCE: Thank you. Well, we do everything that the House legislation adopted last December does to secure the border. And my proposal is, Lou, that for the first two years after enactment, all we do is secure the border and build the fence and deploy the UAV and build the additional capacity and have additional border patrols. A nation without borders is not a nation that has to come first, but we also do employer sanctions.

And then the nuance here is that as someone who strongly rejects amnesty, I think like most Americans, I propose that we work with the private sector to establish what we call Ellis Island Centers outside the United States, where people outside the country or people in this country illegally could apply for a legal right to be here from outside America. And that means it's not amnesty.

DOBBS: Congressman, my reaction on a couple of points here is -- the guest worker part of this program, we are witnessing right now wages falling in the lowest wage scales in this country, suggesting definitively by any economic theory, even -- even Washington economists, that we have a surplus of labor, not a shortage of it. The idea of a guest worker program, what -- what is driving that?

PENCE: I'm someone who believes that creating a new guest worker program outside the country, not with amnesty, Lou, would be a way of meeting the needs of our marketplace, without undermining the law and achieving -- here's the big deal -- and finding a way with the situation we have in the Senate today, to get this border secured and get new, enforceable sanctions on the books.

DOBBS: When you say "marketplace," Congressman, I get really nervous, because I don't hear enough, frankly, of you all in Washington, Democrat or Republican, Senate or the House, talk about this nation. This is not a marketplace. This is not an economy. We're not consumers. We're not just workers. We're citizens. And Congress has moved so far away from the idea that this is a nation, a country, and looking upon all of us as either consumers or workers rather than citizens. I get very nervous about that.

Let me -- let me say one thing to you, Congressman, if I may, and I've just been given this quote from Congressman Tom Tancredo, one of the leading anti-illegal immigration advocates, as you know. He says of your plan, quote, "it gives the administration exactly what it wants -- unlimited workers first, enforcement later or never. Pence's plan is the '86 amnesty with a trip home tacked on."

PENCE: And that's, you know, Lou, that's actually not a very fair reflection of my proposal. In my proposal, we actually do border security first, the whole first two years are all security. And it's not a trip tacked on home. We would require people who are illegal in this country to go to an Ellis Island Center outside the United States, submit to a background check...

DOBBS: But that would be a privately owned outfit, right ...


PENCE: ... health screening.

DOBBS: That would be a privately owned outfit, though, right?

PENCE: No, I want -- you know, we've got a lot of companies in this country that do private placement every day of the week, the people that manage your credit card and do data management. We certainly don't want to look to a failed government bureaucracy to manage this new guest worker program, or, quite frankly, it will fail as much as the bureaucracy failed us last time, Lou.

DOBBS: I'm with you on the bureaucracy. There's not a dime being put forward in the Senate legislation, according to Senator Judd Gregg, that will move to border security. The fact is we've got failed bureaucracies because we're not managing this government. But to put the idea putting our immigration law in the hands of private enterprise, I'm...


PENCE: ... private enterprise, Lou, it would be...

DOBBS: This country is being eaten alive from the left and the right, the Democratic and the Republican side, by this libertarian fatalism that doesn't recognize we've got a role for government.

PENCE: Lou, if I may...

DOBBS: You may.

PENCE: The Department of Homeland Security would manage the new guest worker program. The FBI would do all of the background check. The State Department would issue the visas. What I'm talking about, really, is using the people in America, the companies that do data management and data tracking and employment placement and tracking every day of the week, to do it, because, frankly, the government bureaucracy got us into this mess. We ought to look to the private sector to help us get out of it.

DOBBS: I would just disagree with you on one small point. It's the elected representatives we've sent to Washington and the White House, Congress and the Senate that have gotten us into this mess, and apparently don't have the guts or the innovation to understand there's a role for government and a role for U.S. citizens, and hard-working men and women in this country who demand their government serve them.

PENCE: Yeah, I'll tell you, Lou, I really want to agree with you. I think to date the Congress and this government has failed to address this issue.

DOBBS: Right.

PENCE: What I want to suggest is that we can get control of our borders, we can have tough sanctions, and we can meet the needs of our country for labor without amnesty, and we can bring innovation and new ideas to doing that. And I hope people will go to my Web site and check out the Pence plan, and, Lou, I hope you do, too.

DOBBS: All right. I already have, partner.

PENCE: Thank you.

DOBBS: I appreciate it, Congressman. Thank you.

PENCE: Thank you.


PILGRIM: Still ahead, President Bush says his record will carry congressional Republicans to victory in November. Three of the nation's leading analysts discuss this week's political developments.

And "Heroes," the story of a soldier who earned a Purple Heart and the seventh greater who changed his life.


PILGRIM: The House adopted a resolution supporting the war in Iraq and the latest poll shows a rise in President Bush's approval ratings. Joining me now to discuss the weeks political developments we have Ed Rollins, former White House political director under Ronald Reagan, Robert Zimmerman, Democratic strategist and Joe Klein, "Time Magazine" columnist. Thank you all for being here.

Let's start with the week, and by some accounts a good week. We had a surprise trip to Baghdad from President Bush, we had the death of Zarqawi, good news on the terrorism front, Karl Rove won't be indicted. We have Congress rallying around saying that we're going to stay the course. And we have some poll numbers to take a look at first that we can use to talk about this.

The latest CNN poll taken after the president's trip, here we are, shows that the, Bush's approval rating is up one percentage point to 37 percent. His disapproval, 53 percent, but the president's up 5 percent since April. Let's hash the numbers and, Joe, what do you think about that?

JOE KLEIN, COLUMNIST "TIME MAGAZINE": Well, you know, things are mildly better, in terms of the perception. It's a very mild movement. I don't think it's that big a deal. You know, the big deal in Iraq this week is that there really were substantive things that happened to the good.

The Zarqawi death opened up a whole bunch of opportunities for us in rolling up al Qaeda cells. And, also, the security operation in Baghdad now. Finally they are going to try and secure Baghdad. But military people tell me that that is a really big deal, and its success is going to be the way to judge whether or not Iraq is tenable.

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think Joe's points are very valid. On a policy level there were achievements that should be noted, but on a political level, one percent increase on his approval rating, nobody got indicted this week. I don't think that really spells to any great confidence in this administration.

And the real irony of it is, despite those policy achievements Joe speaks to, there is such an underlying mistrust and suspicion and distrust of this administration that, at the end of the day, it's really not impacting his polling numbers and of course the Republicans having a ten-hour debate celebrating their victory in the war on terrorism, really brings back to mind the issue of the mission accomplished.

It was about the most offensive display, not to just to those of us, all of us were worried about the war on terrorism and take it seriously, but a real offense to our soldiers. We can't even get ten hours of congressional hearings about properly arming our soldiers for battle.

PILGRIM: And the lack of a negative doesn't make a positive, I guess is your main point.

ED ROLLINS, FMR. WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL DIR.: But momentum is important. Since Katrina this president has been on a downward spiral and the people are coming back. Obviously the Republicans who have started this effect. And I think he's shown a little bit of leadership to them and I think it's a step forward, which is positive.

A long hard battle ahead, to maintain any of that and the war is clearly the driving force. But I think what's become very clear in the last several weeks and months, this president is not backing away from this war and the country is not backing away from this war and whether it's a political issue or not a political issue, he's doing the right thing and I think it's very important. PILGRIM: Let's take a listen. He held a news conference right after he came back from Iraq. We have a sound bite from the president that we can play right now and work off of that.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The challenges that remain are serious. And they will require more sacrifice and patience. And our efforts are well worth it. By helping this new government succeed, we'll be closer to completing our mission.

PILGRIM: Alright, completing our mission. Let's look at our poll. We asked people how the president is handling Iraq, and his approval has gone from 34 percent to 39 percent today and his disapproval is at 54 percent. Joe, you were saying?

KLEIN: I think Zarqawi's death is worth a good five points. But I also think that there's an interesting thing going on here, in the chemistry between this government and the Iraqi government. They like this guy Maliki, he's a tough guy, and when you talk to leaders of our government, people in the State Department, National Security, and the White House, they are really getting along better with him than they were with the prior governments. So there is some legitimate optimism on their part.

Of course, Iraq is still a total mess and nobody knows how to fix it in the end, but that's part of the reason for the president's jauntiness this week. This is his most jaunty week since he landed on the aircraft carrier.

PILGRIM: And he did go and look him in the eye and it says something about the connection between this new government and our support.

ZIMMERMAN: Look, it's our hope and it's all of our hope, bipartisanly that this administration can get its act together and be effective. In fact, give us a set of standards for achieving and give us a set of goals and objectives for achievement. We haven't gotten that.

And I think the greatest concern is even though we saw after Saddam Hussein was captured, a bump in the polls and you saw one after the elections, a bump in the polls and of course with Zarqawi. But, they are not long lasting because at the end of the day the American people have been not been sold and still believe this war was a mistake and don't believe it's an effective means of fighting terrorism.

PILGRIM: I guess what you're asking is, is it a pivotal week or a fluke?

ZIMMERMAN: It's a momentary aberration.

ROLLINS: The good part, from the Republican perspective, is there's been still a total lack of Democratic leadership. They've rolled out their new proposal that they're going to run on, in the fall. It's weak. Clearly today, even though I totally disagree with bringing this resolution up at this point in time, probably every Republican in the country disagrees with it, but I think it's politics at its worst.

But even still, the Democrats could not basically have a coherent message or stood out above those that are sort of screaming about it, and until they have someone that they can rally around, they're going to be in a weekend position.

KLEIN: They also have to decide whether they are going to make a leap and say we're going to run the election on the proposition that we have to pull out of Iraq. And the Democrats aren't ...

PILGRIM: ... Hang on a second, guys. We do have some of the debate. Let's listen to that, give our viewer the chance of hearing some of that. This was the Senate and House this week voting not to set a timetable. Let's listen to the debate.


REP. PATRICK MCHENRY (R), NORTH CAROLINA: They are advocating a policy called cut and run. They are advocating a policy of waving the white flag to our enemies.

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: When I hear somebody standing here sanctimoniously saying we're going to fight this out, we're not fighting at all. It's the troops that are doing the fighting. The families are doing the sacrificing.


PILGRIM: OK, a little heated, huh?

ZIMMERMAN: Very heated. The Democrats have to do two things that are critical this year. One is to read Joe Klein's book, "Politics Lost," which is absolutely a great read.


ZIMMERMAN: It's an important book for both parties to read, because it does deal with the issue of finding your political soul and a real message. The other issue is not falling for these false choices that the administration is trying to get. Whether it was debating the gay marriage issue or flag burning, no one is advocating cut and run.

But, the most effective message that the Democrats have, in response to Ed's point, is the fact that you need a Democratic Congress to provide the proper check and balances to hold this administration in check and to get the real answers as to how we're doing over there so we can have an exit strategy.

ROLLINS: Yes, but Bob, you do have people like John Kerry calling for the near total withdrawal of all troops by the end of the year and that just isn't good policy. You know, you were asking for metrics before. There is one real test.

And it's going to be, and this is the test that no one in the administration will talk about, but it's the real one. Are they going to be able to secure Baghdad in the next six months? If they can't, the war's over. It's lost. If they can, then there might be a hope to be able to succeed.

ZIMMERMAN: Kerry's point is a very valid one though. The only time the Iraqi government ever responds is when they are given deadlines and that has proven time and time again. That's the strategy of John Kerry's statement. But the point is the Democratic party, through different proposals, is at least trying to advocate change and the Republicans are advocating status quo.

ROLLINS: Unfortunately Robert, for you John Kerry is not the messenger you want. You tried that.

ZIMMERMAN: I'm proud of John Kerry.

ROLLINS: I'm glad you are. And you could have a rerun all over again and I think it would end up with the same result.

KLEIN: Are you really proud of the way he handled Abu Ghraib and the torture issue?

ZIMMERMAN: I'm proud of the fact that he stood up there and spoke clearly.

PILGRIM: Alright, gentlemen we have to call it quits. Happy Friday, Joe Klein, Robert Zimmerman and Ed Rollins. Thank you very much gentlemen.

All right, here's the reminder now to vote in tonight's poll. Do you believe it's appropriate for your tax dollars to fund day labor centers? Yes or no? Cast your vote at We'll bring you the results in just a few minutes.

And coming up, "Heroes." We'll have the story of an army staff sergeant who earned a Purple Heart in Iraq and won another heart when he came home. Stay with us.


PILGRIM: Well, coming up at the top of the hour here on CNN, we have "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer. Wolf, what do you have?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Kitty.

Happening right now in Iraq, a frantic search underway for two American soldiers missing after an attack at a checkpoint. We're going to have the latest.

Also, we have some new poll numbers on how the president is doing as far as Iraq is concerned. Has he gotten any bounce at all out of his surprise trip to Baghdad?

The grand jury has reached a decision in the case of Cynthia McKinney and the Capitol Hill Police officer.

And there's an ominous new look at how prepared the United States is to deal with another terror attack on the homeland. Jeanne Meserve will have highlights.

All that, Kitty, coming up, right here in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

We look forward to it, Wolf, thanks.

Now, "Heroes." It's our weekly tribute to the brave men and women serving our country in uniform around the world. And tonight, we have the story of Sergeant Phillip Trackey, the Purple Heart he earned in Iraq, and what he did with it.


PILGRIM (voice-over): On October 9th, 2004, Army Staff Sergeant Phillip Trackey was on patrol in western Baghdad when a bomb exploded near his vehicle, blasting shrapnel into his head and shoulders, and tearing off part of his ear.

STAFF SGT. PHILLIP TRACKEY, U.S. ARMY: The first thing that I saw was a bright flash and then a bang. And then I thought, oh, my God. Is everybody in the vehicle OK? That was my first concern. I wasn't even worried about himself.

PILGRIM: Sergeant Trackey says he was lucky no one in his team died that day. The Army awarded him a Purple Heart and Trackey went on to serve another seven months in Iraq.

TRACKEY: Not everybody comes home in one piece, but honestly, I'd rather come home missing parts and pieces than come home in a box.

PILGRIM: What helped him get by was support from home.

TRACKEY: Stuff that we got from the heart of people back here and it just meant so much to not only me but every guy that's over there, just taking a break to read those letters, and you get away from it for awhile.

PILGRIM: He carried those memories back with him to Fort Drum, where he's now working in community relations, until his next assignment overseas. In that role, he met Fatima Faisal, a seventh grader from nearby Camillus, who wrote a regional contest for writing the best letter to a soldier.

FATIMA FAISAL, CONTEST WINNER: I really wanted to show the troops that, you know, we do care and we do appreciate them putting their lives on the line for us every day, just for our safety, not only our safety but the on safety of others.

PILGRIM: Touched by her words and her commitment to U.S. troops, Trackey surprised her with the best award he could think of -- his own Purple Heart medal.

TRACKEY: For a 13-year-old to have an understanding of what's going on in the world, on that high of a level, political and personal, it is very, very impressive.

PILGRIM: As he prepares to move out for a second deployment to Iraq this fall, Trackey says support from people like Fatima is critical.

TRACKEY: I'm very proud of her, and I think I expressed that in the best way that I knew how, with thanks and gratitude from not only myself but from probably ever service member that is overseas now and who has served.


PILGRIM: If you want to show your support for U.S. troops overseas, the Pentagon has set up a Web site, You can send an e-mail message or learn how to set up support groups of your own.

Still ahead, more of your thoughts and the results of tonight's poll. Stay with us.


PILGRIM: Now, the results of tonight's poll. Ninety-six percent of you do not believe it's appropriate for your tax dollars to fund day labor centers.

Let's have some more of your thoughts.

Now, Tom in Alabama wrote in about the flag-burning debate in Congress. And he writes, "Congress just never gets it right. With all the very important issues, they debate this, and many other equally cutting-edge subjects. After watching them work, I think their approval ratings are much too high. They may discover the same thing at election time."

And John in South Carolina writes, "It has become obvious to me that we now have a clear and present danger threatening our country's sovereignty. It is called the United States Federal Government."

Terry in California writes, "Maybe when we finish bringing democracy to Iraq, they will do us a favor and bring democracy back to us" -- or "back to the United States."

And Donald in Georgia writes, "An undocumented workers is a high school kid who has yet to get working papers from their school guidance counselor. An illegal alien is a criminal who crossed our border without a visa. Sneaking in is not immigration, just as shoplifting is not an undocumented purchase."

And Kevin in California, "Headline: Nationwide operations nets 2,100 illegal immigrations. Woo-hoo. Just 11,997,900 to go."

And Kara in Arizona writes, "The more I listen to our esteemed lawmakers and politicians, the more I'm more immigration. I just can't figure out which country to emigrate to."

We love hearing from you. Do send us your thoughts, And each of you whose e-mail is read on this broadcast will receive a copy of Lou's book, "Exporting America." Thanks for being with us tonight. Please join us Monday. For all of us here, have a great weekend. Good night from New York. "THE SITUATION ROOM" starts right now with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.


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