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THE SITUATION ROOM

Joe Lieberman Will Run As Petitioning Democrat If He Loses Democratic Primary in August; Decision on Discovery Launch Expected by Tonight; The Role of Religion in Elections

Aired July 3, 2006 - 16:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Betty, and those are great fireworks.
And to our viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.

Happening now, a senator's dramatic act of election year survival. It's 4:00 p.m. in Hartford, Connecticut, where Democrat Joe Lieberman just made a big announcement. I will ask him about Senator Lieberman about his plans, and what it means for Iraq politics and party politics in 2006.

Also this hour, a hot question in the culture wars. Can a Mormon win the White House? New poll numbers shed new light on religion at the ballot box and Governor Mitt Romney's presidential prospects.

And a troubling discovery aboard the Shuttle Discovery. It's 4:00 p.m. at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. We'll have the very latest on the shuttle, and whether it's on track for liftoff. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

First this hour, a dramatic political story. He was the Democrats' vice presidential nominee in 2000, but now three-term Senator Joe Lieberman is in danger of getting the boot from members of his own party in his home state.

Just a short while ago in Connecticut, Lieberman revealed his back up plan to get on the November ballot if he loses the August Democratic primary. It's a sign how of serious a challenge he's facing from fellow Democrat and political newcomer Ned Lamont. The anti-war millionaire has helped fuel liberal outrage over Lieberman's support for the Iraq war.

Our congressional correspondent Dana Bash is looking into the fallout for the Democratic Party, and my interview with Senator Lieberman is just ahead.

First though, let's go to CNN's Mary Snow in Hartford, where Lieberman made that announcement -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on phone): Well, John, it is raining and thunderstorms here in Hartford, which is why we are joining you by phone. But call it plan B, Senator Joseph Lieberman saying it's his insurance policy, an idea that he said he decided on within the last couple of days.

And what he's decided to do is run as a petitioning Democrat if he does not win the Democratic primary in August. And this pretty much now rules out that he will not run as an independent. Now, this is noteworthy in two ways. Some political analysts I spoke with said really this is unprecedented, in their view, that they cannot remember someone doing this in a major race like this.

And also, as you mentioned, because Lieberman has served in the U.S. Senate for 18 years, a veteran Democrat, being challenged by a political novice, Ned Lamont, a wealthy businessman, who decided a few months ago to challenge Lieberman. Now this race has been gaining momentum in terms of Lamont's support, and political analysts say it's taken some of them by surprise.

Now, the biggest challenge, as you mentioned, the war in Iraq. Lamont has been making an issue of Lieberman's support of that war, and of the Bush administration's policy in terms of troop withdrawal and not siding with fellow Democrats who want to withdraw troops. And Senator Lieberman says he admits that his decision and policies have cost him politically.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: My opponent is running more against George Bush and the Iraq war than he's running against me and my record, because he can't run against me and the rest of my record because it's a proud record of delivering for the state of Connecticut.

George Bush and the Iraq war are not very popular among Democrats, have you noticed? And it doesn't take a lot of courage to run that kind of campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW: Now, simultaneously, Ned Lamont's campaign speaking out today, and we're expecting to hear from the candidate, but his campaign manager Tom Swan said this in a statement, saying, quote, "It is a sad statement that Senator Lieberman has resorted to taking out petition in order to hedge his bets and game the system because he saw he was not going to win in August."

Lieberman saying that he is confident he will win that primary. What he has to do now is gain 7,500 signatures on a petition in time for the August 8th primary -- John.

Mary Snow on the ground for us in Hartford, Connecticut, a dramatic, developing political story. Thank you, Mary, and continue your reporting and we will be back to you.

And now let's bring in our Congressional correspondent Dana Bash on the Lieberman announcement and the Democratic Party's very much big dilemma -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Big dilemma, that's an understatement, certainly, John. Democratic leaders have been scrambling to figure out exactly how to play this. They're in a very tough position, because they say it's their instinct and even priority to protect the Democratic incumbent, but it's also their responsibility to follow the regular rules of the road. And that usually means when there is a primary, and the party supports a winner, then the national leadership supports that winner.

So, in the meantime, what we are seeing today from Democrats on the national level is, that they have decided on the political equivalent of kick the can. Senate Minority leader Harry Reid, through spokesman Jim Manley, would only confirm that the senator spoke with Senator Lieberman and he says that he respects his decision.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the spokesman there, Phil Singer, said, quote, "Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer and the DSCC are supporting Joe Lieberman in the primary. We aren't going to speculate about what happens next, because that would undermine our candidate."

But John, despite their refusal to speculate publicly, a senior Democratic strategist tells CNN the DSCC will likely back the winner of the Democratic primary in Connecticut, but one of the many open questions they are grappling with is, what does that mean?

Does that mean that they actually have Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid go and campaign for Ned Lamont if he does win the Democratic primary against Joe Lieberman? Will he support him in a general election, actually go up to Connecticut? Unclear.

A source close to Senator Reid, John, says that is unlikely, but, frankly they are just afraid to even go there right now. They're holding their breath waiting for that August 8th Democratic primary.

KING: And, Dana, help us understand a bit better why they are holding their breath, as you put it. This isn't just about Lieberman, right? Democrats in the party essentially are opposed to him because they want to make opposition to the Iraq war a litmus test in the party. Is that right?

DANA: A litmus test in the party, and there's no place, as you heard Senator Lieberman talking about during Mary Snow's report -- no place that they are focusing that more than in the state of Connecticut and on Senator Lieberman's race, the fact that Senator Lieberman has been a supporter of President Bush and the war, and that has really enraged the Democratic base, especially those who are focused on the war.

You just have to actually look at the statement of Senator Lieberman's long-time Democratic colleague from Connecticut to get the sense of how tough this is for the Democrats, especially those of national ambition.

Senator Chris Dodd is considering a bid for president and certainly does not want the Democratic base's anger at Joe Lieberman directed at him. He was very cautious in a statement he released just this afternoon about Senator Lieberman's decision.

He said, quote, "That decision does not in any way change the fact that Joe Lieberman remains a candidate for the Democratic nomination. I continue to support his candidacy for the nomination, and continue to believe that he will be the Democratic nominee of our party."

So even that statement saying that he supports Senator Lieberman is going to make the anti-war Democrats who have made Lieberman's race a rallying cry for their cause, will make them angry, John.

KING: Dana Bash, fascinating reporting on a fascinating development for the Democrats would like to make this election about the Republicans, but I suspect we're going to be talking about this for a little bit. Dana Bash, thank you very much.

And Dana Bash and Mary Snow, part of the best political team on television. CNN, of course, America's campaign headquarters.

And let's bring in our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner now. She has the latest on what liberal Web sites are saying about Senator Lieberman's dramatic decision -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, John, we are getting reaction on both the local and national levels. Let's look at some local Connecticut blogs right now. They are seeing this move as a cut and run, a lot of headlines like this one, another Connecticut blog, saying "Joe Jumps Ship."

They're wondering here over at Connecticut Blog, why a voter would vote for someone who doesn't respect the wishes of the Democratic voter in the Democratic primary, and that's what we're seeing a lot of on the local level.

On the national level, they are calling it "Sore Loserman," wondering what, again, what Senator Chuck Schumer is going to do as the head of the DSCC, wondering what the next move is going to be, as Dana was talking about.

Also MoveOn, the large political action committee online, sending out an e-mail today, saying that Lieberman's move, quote, "reeks of arrogance." That they're word.

Now, we're also taking a look at some of the big blogs that have been pushing Lieberman's opponent in the Democratic primary, Ned Lamont, Daily Kos one of the big liberal blogs who has been on this for sometime. Markos Moulitsas, who runs this blog, actually appeared in an ad for Lamont earlier this month and they are now asking people to donate more money to Lamont's campaign in reaction to this.

And the numbers online really do tell the story. Take a look at ActBlue. This is the clearinghouse for Democratic money on-line. You can see they have a page both for Lieberman and Lamont. If you take a look at Lieberman's numbers, who is supporting him, they have got nine individual donors with a total of $360. Look at this in comparison. If you go over to Ned Lamont's page, they've got close to 5,500 donors with a total of almost a quarter of a million dollars -- John.

KING: Pretty remarkable activity, Jacki Schechner keeping track of it. Thank you, Jacki.

And now let's hear from the man in the middle of it all, the target of all this bashing on this blogs, the democrat whose political future is now very much on the line.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Senator Joseph Lieberman, thank you for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM today. Sir, as you know, you have created quite a stir, not only in your home state of Connecticut, but across the Democratic Party with this announcement today.

How would you answer critics, especially from the left of the party, who are accusing you of blind arrogance, saying you are putting self-preservation over your loyalty to a Democratic Party that has not only supported you in Connecticut, but supported you nationally as its vice presidential nominee just six years ago?

LIEBERMAN: Well, John, I would definitely put my loyalty to the Democratic Party and my service to the Democratic Party up against most of those who are saying those things. I am a loyal Democrat and I am going to work my heart out to get the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate this year and the primary on August 8th.

KING: Senator, let me jump in -- these critics are saying if you are a loyal Democrat and you're running in the Democratic primary, then why won't you be bound by the results? Why won't you honor the votes of the Democrats if you lose and just support your opponent?

LIEBERMAN: Let me give you two reasons. The first is I am very loyal to the Democratic Party, but I have a loyalty higher than that to my party. That is to my state and my country. And I feel so deeply that I can do a better job for my state and my country than either the Democratic or Republican opponents against me that I'm prepared, if necessary, to take my fight to November as a petitioning Democratic candidate.

KING: You say a petitioning Democratic candidate, but as you know, you would be on the ballot as unaffiliated. I want you to help me through the positions you have put some of your friends in. The leadership, Chuck Schumer, who runs the Democratic senatorial committee, Harry Reid, who of course is the Democratic leader -- they are supporting you in the primary.

Should you lose that primary, they won't answer the question right now, they say we will get there if that happens. But sources are telling our Dana Bash that they would feel most likely that they would have no choice but to support your opponent as the Democratic nominee in the primary.

Would you expect that to happen? And have they told you they would have to do that, sir?

LIEBERMAN: No. John, let me make clear that I am a Democrat and I will remain a Democrat. I am not going to be unaffiliated if I have to petition my way onto the ballot. I'm going to be a Democrat and I will caucus with the Democrats and look forward to caucusing with the Senate Democratic majority.

I spoke to Harry Reid this morning, I told him about it. I spoke to Chuck Schumer yesterday. They expected this, they understand. I am doing it early to get it out of the way and then I hope I never have to file these petitions, which are due the day after the primary. And they are working their heart out, as are all my colleagues in the Senate Democratic caucus to return me as the Democratic nominee to the Senate next year.

KING: But I assume you are going this petition route as a backup option because you have a fairly decent sense that you might lose this primary?

LIEBERMAN: Well here's what I feel. I'm in a competitive race and I'm running against a person who by his own calculation is worth as much as $300 million.

One, who knows who will turn out on a hot August day in a primary here? Second, who knows how many big checks my opponent will write between now and then. So I am saying that I want to win the Democratic primary. I am working my heart out for it. I am actually upping my commitment to the primary in every way.

But if I don't, I want to put my case before all the voters of Connecticut in November because they are the ones who have served for 18 years, and they are the ones who have elected me on three previous Novembers.

KING: Senator, put yourself in the shoes of Harry Reid or Chuck Schumer, should you lose this primary. Do you expect them to give money to the Democratic nominee? Do you expect them to come up into Connecticut and campaign with the Democratic nominee or have they promised you they would not do those things?

LIEBERMAN: I haven't -- these are all hypotheticals, and I think all the leaders of the Democratic Party here in Connecticut and in the Senate who I have spoken to before I made this decision, have made clear to me that they're going to redouble their efforts to make sure I win the Democratic primary.

I expect to win the Democratic primary, but I know that nothing is guaranteed in politics or elections. And so I'm essentially taking out an insurance policy. I'm opening up an option that will guarantee me that I will be able to make my case to all the voters in Connecticut in November because I am so confident that I can do a better job for them, I want them to have the final say.

So what I'm saying is the Democratic leaders in the state of Connecticut and in the Senate are supporting me in the primary and they hope and I hope and believe that I will win the primary and we won't have to think about what to do the day after.

KING: But why have parties and why have primaries if the candidates who may be backed by the establishment, but perhaps not win the votes of the people who turn out on primary day can just take out insurance policies and stay on the ballot even if they lose the primary? Why have a party then?

LIEBERMAN: Right this is a very important question. And I would answer it this way, John. This challenge to me is obviously a challenge to my record of serving the state of Connecticut and the United States of America, and it asks the voters of Connecticut to decide which one of us, my challenger or I, could do a better job for them in the six years ahead.

But it also raises questions about what do we mean by political parties? And what kind of politics do we want to have? And when I say that, here's what I mean. The Democratic Party has always been at its strongest when it welcomed a diversity of opinions.

My opponent is campaigning against me on one issue: Iraq. I have the support of a host of progressive groups: the labor movement, the environmental movement, the human rights political action fund, which is the advocacy group for gay and lesbian Americans, Planned Parenthood. I could go on and on.

I am a committed, loyal Democrat. And the question that is being asked of the Democrats here in Connecticut is: will we impose a litmus test? The same kind of litmus test that we criticized the Republicans for imposing, particularly on one issue on which I have taken a principal stand, clearly not one that is to my political advantage, which is the war against terrorism.

And I'm taking it because I believe that it is best for the safety and security of our country and our families. So that's what's on the line here. The other thing to say is this: we don't know how many people are going to turn out in this Democratic primary. Most people -- I said this morning when I made this announcement, John, that I know that if all the Democrats in Connecticut came out to vote or even half of them came out to vote, that I would win renomination in the primary by a comfortable margin.

Most of the people here think that at best, there will be 25 or 30 percent of the Democrats who come out. That means about five percent of all the registered voters in Connecticut might have the final say as to whether I continue to serve Connecticut and my country in the U.S. Senate. I think all the voters of the state ought to be able to make that decision. That's why I've done what I've done today.

KING: But if that's your position, sir, let me ask you in closing. I was going to ask about other things, but you make an interesting point. There are low turnouts in primaries all the time, especially in midterm elections.

If you feel that way and you knew going in that one part of your party might oppose you because of your support of the war, your support of the president, on these issues, why not leave the Democratic Party at the beginning or announce you were going to run as an Independent or unaffiliated but caucus with the Democrats at the beginning? If this primary is not representative but it was the last time you ran and the time before, and the time before that, why not just get out of the party?

LIEBERMAN: Well first, I never had primaries before, but the reason I have made the decision to stay in the primary is that I am a Democrat. And I believe in the principles of the Democratic Party, I was inspired into public service by President Kennedy and his vision on what it meant to be a Democrat: socially progressive on domestic policy, strong and idealistic on foreign policy.

That's the vision of the Democratic Party, I think we need to adopt as party to regain the confidence of the American people, so that we can elect a majority in both houses of Congress and a president in 2008.

And I want to give my fellow Democrats here in Connecticut the opportunity to affirm my service and accept the diversity that I am part of in this party. If not, I am so deeply committed to the well- being of my state and so believe that I can do a better job than either my Republican or Democratic opponents, that I am going to give the final choice to all the voters in the state in November.

And that's what I am saying, one way or another I am going to be on the ballot in November. I want it to be as a Democratic, as the nominee of the Democratic Party. If for some reason that doesn't work out, I'm going to be there as Senator Joe Lieberman, individual Democrat asking for their support for reelection.

KING: Senator Lieberman of Connecticut, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, I could go on for another hour sir, but we are out of time. I suspect this debate that you have started in your state and across the Democratic Party will continue in the weeks to come. Sir, thank you very much for your time today.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you John, happy Fourth.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Much more on this developing dramatic political story later with Bay Buchanan and Donna Brazile in our "Strategy Sessions," but time now for "The Cafferty File." Jack joins us for New York, hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: John, a government shutdown is slowing things considerably in the Garden State of New Jersey. The courts are closed, road construction, lottery ticket sales have stopped, and the same could soon happen to the racetracks, Atlantic City casinos, the state parks and the beaches.

All in all, more than half of the state work force, about 45,000 employees are not working. And those who are on the job might not get paid. The reason: lawmakers missed a July 1st deadline to adopt a new state budget. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JON CORZINE (D), NEW JERSEY: I would welcome the assembly actually coming in, staying in Trenton, working on the budget hour after hour, 24 hours a day until we come up with a budget. I can't veto a budget, I can't sign a budget until it's actually presented by the legislature. It hasn't been.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAFFERTY: Corzine wants to raise the state's sales tax from six percent to seven percent to help overcome a $4.5 billion budget deficit. But a lot of his fellow Democrats are opposed to that idea. They are afraid of a backlash from the voters come November.

So the question: is shutting down the government the best way to resolve budget problems? E-mail us at CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- John.

KING: They tried that once here in Washington, Jack, my memory is it didn't go all that well for the Republicans.

CAFFERTY: No that -- actually I think it happened more than once in Washington. There is a school of thought that if you shut the government down and left it that way it might benefit all of us.

KING: We'll see what the e-mails say. Jack Cafferty raising a provocative question, thank you Jack.

And coming up, will Americans celebrate a space shuttle takeoff on July 4th? We'll go live to the Kennedy Space Center, where NASA officials are deciding whether to launch Discovery tomorrow.

Plus, is he up or is he down? We'll crunch the latest presidential polls and then Bay Buchanan and Donna Brazile will take on those numbers and one another.

Also in our "Strategy Session," Senator Joe Lieberman's campaign contingency plan. Will he save himself politically at the expense of his party? Stay right here, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In Florida right now, a big question mark hangs over space shuttle Discovery and whether it will lift of tomorrow as planned. NASA teams now are examining a crack found in the Discovery's foam insulation. They're hoping to make a decision in the hours ahead. Let's check in now with CNN's John Zarrella at the Kennedy Space Center -- John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. And the decision- making process going on right now, NASA engineers are trying to work through a couple of issues to decide whether a piece of foam like this, a lot smaller than this, but this is foam insulation -- but a piece on the external tank, a bracket of the external tank had fallen of and there is a crack that they found during an overnight inspection of that bracket on that portion of the external tank.

You can see the shuttle out there on the launch pad right there now. The question is: will it go tomorrow? The engineers, again, going through the issues right now, working through the problem. There will be a mission management meeting at about 6:00 this evening. It may take an hour or two, at which point NASA will have to make some decisions on whether they are going to try to fix this crack or whether they are going to fly as is.

Now there are some up close and personal graphics that we had that take a look and show you exactly where that crack is on the vehicle. We can look at those graphics and the crack is up in the liquid oxygen area of the external tank.

Now that there is animation that shows just flying over one of the satellites flying over the earth. There you go. There's that crack. You can see there it shows the foam insulation and where the crack is on that oxygen feed line on the bracket.

Now, what caused that? Well they had to tank and then de-tank a couple of times with the scrubs over the weekend. So during that process you've got expansion and contraction of the vehicle because of the super-cooled liquid oxygen and the gases that are in the external tank. And that may have caused -- the separation may have caused the cracking.

So NASA now has to go back and decide, again, John, whether they can fly as is or whether they are going to need to try and go up there and fix that, which would require them to put some sort of a scaffolding up around the shuttle area there and around that tank so they can get at it and work at it to try and fix that -- John.

KING: There are already, John, were questions. Some NASA scientists saying they didn't approve of this launch. Does that internal political debate, if you will, and the fact that there were two weather-related scrubs over the weekend, does that factor into this at all, or is it simply a question of whether they think it's safe to fly with that foam the way it is?

ZARRELLA: I don't think for the engineers that it makes much difference, all of the politics that go on, external to what they have to do. For them, it's a job. Is it safe to fly? Should it fly the way it is? Can it fly the way it is? And once it's signed off on, that's fine.

The political pressures though, clearly, on NASA. You want to fly with a pristine vehicle. That's the question they have to decide. Is it pristine if they fly as is, or do they need to make this fix? John?

KING: John Zarrella at the space center. We will check in as the afternoon develops. John, thank you very much.

And next up, the election is over but there's still no winner. No, this isn't the 2000 Florida recount, it's another presidential cliff-hanger. This time in Mexico. And in the countdown to congressional elections, one party has a clear advantage in the polls. But will it last until November? New numbers and new clashes in the battle for Capitol Hill.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: You are in THE SITUATION ROOM. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King.

Our Zain Verjee joins us now with a closer look at other stories making news.

Hi, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, John.

A government spokesman in Spain says today's deadly crash of a subway train in Valencia does not appear to be the work of terrorists. More than 30 people died when the train derailed in a tunnel along a curve in the track. Officials believe a combination of speed and a broken wheel caused the accident.

Ruling party candidate Felipe Calderon is claiming victory. But election officials say Mexico's presidential race is too close to call, so close, they say, that they will manually review every single ballot box, starting on Wednesday, and won't declare a winner until they're done.

Calderon's opponent, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is in seclusion in his apartment with aides. And they are planning their next move.

A 21-year-old former U.S. soldier is in military custody in North Carolina, charged with murdering an Iraqi family back in March. The Army said today that Steven D. Green was arrested Friday evening. Federal officials say, Green, accompanied by three other soldiers, entered a home in Mahmoudiya in Iraq, raped and killed one woman, killed another woman, a man, and a girl. If convicted, Green could face the death penalty.

A mortar struck a popular market in northeastern Baghdad, wounding nine people. At another market south of the Iraqi capital, five people died when bombs detonated there about four hours apart. And to the north in Mosul, a car bomb targeting a police patrol exploded in a shopping district. At least seven people died in that blast.

Iraq's government calls on its neighbors to turn over its most notorious fugitives on the run or -- or run the risk of letting terrorism devour the region. Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, released Baghdad's list of 41 most-wanted yesterday.

He spoke to CNN today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MOWAFFAK AL-RUBAIE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We, the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government, we will spare no effort, we will leave no stone unturned, to bring these people to justice inside Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERJEE: The former deputy commander of Saddam Hussein's armed forces tops the list. Saddam's eldest daughter and first wife are numbers 16 and 17. Both are outside Iraq.

Israel continues its assault in Gaza, despite the latest ultimatum from militants holding a young Israeli soldier. The ultimatum gave Israel 24 hours to meet their demands for the release of Palestinian prisoners. It threatens unspecified consequences if refused. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says Israel will not yield. And he's warning that defense forces will reach everyone responsible, if Corporal Gilad Shalit is harmed. Shalit was abducted on the 25th of June -- John.

KING: Zain Verjee -- Zain, thank you very much.

Now, back here on the home front, let's get a quick check of the latest presidential poll numbers. A new "TIME" magazine survey shows President Bush's approval rating now stands at 35 percent. That's down a bit from 37 percent in a "TIME" poll back in March.

In the most recent polls, the president's job approval ratings are up slightly, but still in a political danger zone, with an average rating of 38 percent. Congress, though, gets even worse marks in the new "TIME" poll. Thirty-one percent of those questioned say they approve of the way Congress is doing its job. That's down from 39 percent back in March.

And if the November election were held today, the survey shows Democrats with a double-digit advantage. Forty-seven percent of registered voters say they would vote Democrat for Congress. Thirty- five percent say they would choose a Republican.

Up next: Those poll numbers are giving Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan something new to argue about. They will go head to head in our "Strategy Session."

And does Governor Mitt Romney have a political problem because of his religion? Bill Schneider will take on that question and dive into the "Culture Wars."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In our "Strategy Session": Senator Joe Lieberman is going to somewhat extreme lengths to try to keep his job, if he loses the Democratic primary next month.

Let's talk about his backup plan to get on the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate. And we will chew on some of the latest poll numbers as well.

Joining us now, our political analyst Bay Buchanan, president of the American Cause, and Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist.

Donna, I'm going to start with you, because you were manager of the campaign in which Joe Lieberman was the Democratic -- emphasis on Democratic -- vice presidential nominee. He now says, if he loses the Democratic primary: Well, forget about that. I am going to get on the ballot anyway.

Should the Democrats embrace this man? Democratic leaders are still saying they hope he wins the primary; he's still their guy. Shouldn't they be saying, if you are a Democrat, abide by the rules?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, the mission of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is to elect Democrats. If Democratic voters decide in August to support his opponent, Ned Lamont, the Democratic National Committee will have to honor the voters of that state.

Look, I support...

KING: Let me stop you on that point. Let's say honor the voters of that state.

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

KING: This is a state, if Senator Lieberman is the nominee, they think they will win. They won't put any national money in there. They will save it for other races.

But what if Ned Lamont wins? Should Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer go to Connecticut and campaign for the Democrat? Should they give him millions of dollars to campaign against a Joe Lieberman on the ballot? Do they have an obligation to support the Democratic candidate that way, not just with a piece of paper that says, "He's our nominee"?

BRAZILE: I believe they do have an obligation.

I believe, as a Democrat and somebody who supports Joe Lieberman -- I would like to Joe Lieberman him win on August 8 for all of the right reasons. He's been a good Democrat. He's good on many of the issues that Democrats care about. There's a division within the party on Iraq. Joe has been on the other side of that division. But, still, I respect his principled views on Iraq.

He was a hawk long before George Bush launched the war on terror. That said, Joe would have helped himself today, I believe, if he would have announced that he was going to run as a Democrat and he was going to win as a Democrat in August. This complicate situations for Mr. Reid and Mr. Schumer and others.

I am not complicated. I am a Democrat.

KING: Well...

BRAZILE: And I am going to support the Democratic nominee.

KING: Well, Bay Buchanan... (CROSSTALK)

KING: ... you have some experience in having a tug-of-war...

BAY BUCHANAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I sure do.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: ... with your party -- when your brother was running for president, not always welcome in the Republican tent, if you will.

BUCHANAN: Absolutely.

KING: What do you make of this?

BUCHANAN: You know, first of all, Joe Lieberman has every right -- there's a -- to go as an independent.

I mean, the rules of the state allow any member of that state to run as an independent, if they do certain things. He has the right of anyone else to use the tools of the state to become -- to be reelected as the senator. But the point here is, you say, well, will the Democrats give money?

This guy he's running against is a multi-multi-millionaire. He's poured money into this campaign. He's trying to buy the primary. And, so, I think that gives even Joe Lieberman even more right to run as an independent. Plus, the polls show he will win as -- running as an independent. And that's where practicality will come in. Democrats will make certain it's a Democrat that wins that seat.

KING: But, in a campaign year where, as you both know well, a midterm election year, everything comes down to turnout in November, let's move beyond Connecticut to the ramifications nationally, if the Democrats are having a civil war in the party over whether support for the war, opposition to the war, is a litmus test.

As you know, Donna, liberal activists are saying, the party cannot support this senator because he backed the president on the war. He's not the only one. There are not many, but he's not the only one.

BRAZILE: Well, look, the party rallied behind John Kerry in 2004, after John Kerry embraced the war.

KING: But he says it was a mistake now. Is that what Democrats...

BRAZILE: Well, absolutely.

KING: ... have to do, stand up and say, "I made a mistake"?

BRAZILE: No, Democrats have to, you know, speak with their own voice. And they have to talk about the Iraq war in ways that the voters will connect with them. Look, I believe that Democrats are more unified on Iraq than ever before. We believe that this must be a year of significant transition. On the other hand, Ned Lamont has every right to run in a Democratic primary against Joe Lieberman.

But I wish Joe would have stayed in a Democratic primary and said, "I am running as a Democrat; I am going to win as a Democrat."

KING: Yes.

BRAZILE: "I have stood up for Democratic values, and I am taking my votes -- I'm taking my campaign to the Democratic Party."

KING: And maybe lose as a Democrat, then, in that scenario.

BRAZILE: I don't think so.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: I'm going to let...

(LAUGHTER)

KING: But if your -- to follow that consistently, he would have to add that clause at the end.

Are you enjoying this a bit, given, as you know...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: ... Democrats always say, you know, those crazy Republicans, they have litmus tests on taxes; they have litmus tests on abortion?

BUCHANAN: And -- and the problem here is, the Democrats are so desperate, John, to get this nationalized -- Iraq war nationalized, so it's an issue. And, yet, they can't themselves come up with the best position.

We are now four or five weeks -- four or five months ahead of the general election. And they are fighting over what is the proper position. The interesting point is, I think they will fail to nationalize because of this, and nationalize this issue in 2006, but it becomes even a bigger issue in 2008, in the primary of the Democrats for the presidential run.

And that's where it is going to be most interesting.

KING: Well, let's look at the other guy who might help shape the 2006 elections. That would be the president of the United States.

I want to show you some new polling numbers. "TIME" poll, June 27-29: Do you approve of the president's job performance? Now 35 percent say they do. In, March it was 37 percent, so essentially steady, statistically insignificant. Since we have a short time, I want to bring up another graphic as well. This is essentially the poll of polls, several recent polls about Bush approval ratings. The average is 38 percent. If you see, he goes as high as 41, as low as 35.

Donna, for the Democrats, obviously, the president is not coming up in the polls. How does the Democratic Party take advantage of that?

BRAZILE: Well, look, he's stuck right now. And the reason why he's stuck is that he won't change his policies and he won't change his policies on Iraq. And most voters don't give him credit for the economy.

So, I think, right now, Republicans are going to have to run against this president, so that they can get some traction with the voters. And Democrats will have to put George Bush on the ballot, although he's not on it this fall.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Do Republicans have to run against him?

BUCHANAN: Donna is absolutely right, what Democrats have to do, tie everyone as close to Bush as possible.

I disagree with the reason why he's not getting his numbers up. It's not the issues anymore. He lost trust. He lost the trust of the American people. And, so, issues no longer matter. Whatever the issue is, they are not trusting him with it.

And, so, that's his problem. But what do Republicans do? They have to break from him on an issue or two. They have break with him, so they can define themselves as the party that will do what America wants.

And, as I say many times, I believe it's immigration. But they have to make certain that they are distinguishing themselves from the president on one or two issues, and then run. And, hopefully, in their own districts, the issue of Iraq is not nationalized.

KING: A very interesting day in politics.

BUCHANAN: It sure is.

KING: We are lucky to have Bay Buchanan and Donna Brazile with us to help break it down.

Thank you, ladies, both.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: And coming up: a matter of faith -- does Republican Mitt Romney know what he's getting into if he runs for president? New poll numbers raise questions about his church and the state of his would-be campaign. And what options are out there to ease your pain at the pump? And are automakers part of the solution or the problem? CNN received unprecedented access to one carmaker's testing facilities -- my special report coming up in the next hour of THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In the "Culture Wars" today: religion and presidential politics. Would voters reject a White House hopeful based on his or her faith? That may depend on which candidate and which church.

Here's our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: John, Mitt Romney is a hot candidate, according to political insiders. But a new poll points to a possible problem if runs for president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Just thinking about a candidate's religion, the new "Los Angeles Times"/Bloomberg poll asks, do you think you could vote for a Catholic candidate for president? Only 10 percent of Americans say no. Just 15 percent say they would not vote for a Jewish candidate.

But 37 percent say they would not vote for a Mormon candidate. That could be a problem for Mitt Romney, who may run for the Republican nomination in 2008. Romney is a conservative and a Mormon. Evangelicals and Mormons agree on most social issues, but evangelicals have a big problem with Mormonism, according to this writer, who grew up in a conservative evangelical church.

AMY SULLIVAN, EDITOR, "WASHINGTON MONTHLY": Many, many conservative evangelicals are actively taught by their pastors that Mormonism is a cult religion, and that people who belong to the Mormon Church are, in fact, cult members. They're going to think twice before they put somebody into the White House who they believe is a cult member.

SCHNEIDER: According to the poll, resistance to a Mormon candidate increases with higher church attendance. While evangelical leaders may not criticize Romney's religion publicly, evangelical voters may be reluctant to support him. That's what happened to Matt Salmon, a conservative Republican Mormon candidate for governor of Arizona a few years ago.

SULLIVAN: The largest amount of opposition to him was in those districts that were filled with conservative evangelicals.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The highest level of opposition came when the poll asked about a Muslim candidate for president. Fifty-four percent of Americans said they did not think they could vote for a Muslim candidate -- John.

KING: Bill, fascinating numbers.

I want to turn your attention, though, to this dramatic announcement by Senator Joe Lieberman today in Connecticut that, if he doesn't win the Democratic primary, he will get on the ballot in November anyway. What's your sense of the ramifications of that for the party?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it certainly puts the Democratic Party establishment on the spot, because they say they're supporting him the primary. We don't know what they are going to do if he loses in the primary. That has enraged liberals in the party, not just at Lieberman, because of the war, but because of the Democratic establishment.

There's the question, will it split the Democratic vote, if you have both Lieberman and, presumably, Ned Lamont on the ballot? Well, there's a minor Republican candidate, but, most likely, in the fall, we would see another race between Lieberman and Lamont.

KING: Bill Schneider, it's a fascinating story. And we will keep on top of it.

Bill, thank you very much.

And Bill, as you saw earlier, Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan, part of the best political team on television -- CNN, America's campaign headquarters.

Up next: one-stop search for registered sex offenders. Our Internet team will show you how you can find them.

And later: reports North Korea is preparing to launch a long- range ballistic missile. Could the communist north be laying the groundwork for a new nuclear standoff? We will have a live report in our next hour at 5:00 p.m., 2:00 Pacific. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: On our "Political Radar" this Monday: Perhaps the most famous mother who opposed the Iraq war is on the march today with anti-war grandmas and dozens of other protesters.

Members of so-called Granny Peace Brigade from New York are here in Washington. And anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan is with them. Sheehan and others plan to launch a hunger strike outside the White House as part of an Independence Day protest of the Iraq mission.

President Bush today signed legislation designed to encourage states to quickly place foster children in safe homes. It's a parting nod to now former Congressman Tom DeLay. The ex-House majority leader sponsored the bill before giving up his seat last month. He's a longtime advocate for foster children.

President Bush is working to seal his own political legacy. He and first lady Laura Bush will sit down for an extended interview with our Larry -- our own Larry King. You can see it right here on CNN Thursday evening at 9:00 Eastern. That happens to be the president's 60th birthday.

The Justice Department is using the Internet to crack down on sexual predators. Now, for the first time, information for convicted sex offenders from all 50 states is available on one Web site.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, has that story -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: John, with the recent addition of South Dakota and Oregon to this Web site, the public registry, the national public registry, is now complete.

Now, this registry was started last year. It was in the late 90s that many states began their own individual online registries. The one in Connecticut was briefly taken offline due to a court challenge. That went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that photos of convicted sex offenders may be posted online.

Since then, the states have been getting increasingly creative and high-tech with what they are doing. Indiana is one of many that allows you to map where these registered sex offenders are, and also sends you e-mail notifications if something changes.

Now, all these states are linking to this Department of Justice- sponsored site. One of the most recent to go online is in the state of Oregon. They say, in the first 24 hours, they had more than one million page views -- John.

KING: Thank you, Abbi.

And still to come, Jack Cafferty mulls the actions of New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine. Is shutting down the government the best way to resolve budget problems? Your e-mails just ahead.

And, later, whether you stay home for the holiday or hit the road, you can't escape the pain at the pump -- that and the prospect of another alternative in our next hour.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your newspaper tomorrow.

Kirkuk, Iraq: An Iraqi security officer secures the scene of an insurgent attack on an oil pipeline.

Mumbai, India: Commuters struggle to walk through flooded streets after heavy rains.

Carson City, Nevada: A single-engine tanker plane drops flame retardant on a wildfire.

Olathe, Kansas: Rick Lunchford (ph) takes a nap with his steer, Levi (ph).

And that's today's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth 1,000 words.

And Jack Cafferty is back now with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Well, thank you, John, I think.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Our government -- how do you follow Levi the steer, and -- never mind.

A government shutdown is slowing things considerably in the state of New Jersey. Governor Jon Corzine imposed the shutdown after the legislature missed a July 1 deadline to adopt a state budget.

He says that lawmakers should work 24 hours a day until they come up with a budget. It should be pointed out that his idea of solving the crisis is to raise taxes.

The question is: Is shutting down the government the best way to resolve budget problems?

Chuck writes: "We all have deadlines. If the New Jersey legislature can't get its work done on time, maybe the good people of New Jersey should fire them and get people who can. There is simply no excuse for this."

Stanley in Aiken, South Carolina: "In New Jersey, it's the only way to get the worthless legislature to wake up. I used to live in New Jersey, but I fled south because of the ungodly property taxes."

Ray in Lubbock, Texas: "Like war and labor strikes, sometimes, shutting down government is a necessary evil."

David in Athens, Texas: "Shutting down the government reduces government spending. Shutting down Congress could save us trillions."

Vin in Freehold, New Jersey: "Jon Corzine owes the people of New Jersey a balanced budget without a sales tax increase. With this budget, we are about to begin taxing people for entering hospitals, taxing people for drinking water, and taxing people for getting healthy going to the gym. Assembly Democrats need to hold their own and continue to reject Corzine's budget."

Jim writes: "There used to be a very effective method for resolving conflicts that always worked: pistols at 30 paces. Bringing back that idea seems preferable to shutting down the government."

Or just take a nap with Levi the steer John.

KING: Not with pistols at 30 paces -- no pistols near the steer.

CAFFERTY: No.

(LAUGHTER) KING: Jack Cafferty, thank you very much.

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