Skip to main content
Search
Services


 

Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

White House Reacts to War on Terror; New Poll Shows Congress Fares Poorly in Job Performance; Democrats Heat Up Battle on National Security; Tony Snow Interview; Iraq and Terrorism May Frame Midterm Elections; Some Candidates Making Immigration an Issue on Campaign Trail; Katherine Harris Hopes To Win Senate Seat

Aired September 5, 2006 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Ali, thanks very much. Welcome back and to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories. Happening now, five years after 9/11, the White House sums up the war on terror, saying we are safer but not safe enough. Democrats say that's not good enough. It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington where the battle lines are drawn for a national security showdown.

Maybe they should be called disapproval ratings. Congress fares poorly in our new poll on job performance. Is that any way to kick off the crucial midterm election campaign?

And the last moments of Steve Irwin. It's 6:00 a.m. in Brisbane, Australia. We have new details on the Crocodile Hunter's fatal struggle with a stingray. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In the run-up to the 9/11 anniversary and the midterm elections, President Bush today offered a counter-terror scorecard. He claims success saying the terror network is being kept off balance. But is al Qaeda staying a step ahead. Citing chilling quotes from the terrorists themselves, the president concedes that America is, quote "not yet safe."

Democrats claim that America is less safe than it was five years ago and they count more failures than successes in the Bush administration's national security strategy. Topping their list and their campaign agenda, the war in Iraq. Our Congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel is standing by on Capitol Hill. Let's go to the White House first. Ed Henry is standing by with the latest from there -- Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, nearly five years after vowing he'd get Osama bin Laden dead or alive, President Bush today acknowledged the terrorist is a major threat all around the world, taking the extraordinary step of quoting bin Laden's own words in letters to followers as well as what he called grizzly al Qaeda manuals to dramatize just how potent the terror group is right now, a delicate balancing act for this president. On one hand, this may help shake Americans out of any complacency they may feel almost five years after 9/11. And politically it's almost like a page ripped right out of the Karl Rove playbook that worked in 2002 and 2004, but this also on the other hand could play into the Democrats' hands because it's a mixed bag.

The administration releasing today an updated national strategy for combating terrorism that says al Qaeda may be degraded, but it is still quote, "dangerous." And also then in his speech, the president saying al Qaeda has been weakened, but then seeming to elevate bin Laden by comparing him to Adolf Hitler.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them. The question is, will we listen? Will we pay attention to what these evil men say?

America and our coalition partners have made our choice. We are taking the words of the enemy seriously. We are on the offensive. We will not rest. We will not retreat and we will withdraw from the fight until this threat to civilization has been removed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: The president adding that for al Qaeda, Iraq is not a distraction from its war on America, contending once again as he's done many times before that Iraq is the central battlefield, central front in the war on terror. But a new CNN opinion/research poll suggests the public is no longer necessarily buying that notion from the president.

Only 45 percent of Americans saying Iraq is part of the war on terror, an astounding 53 percent saying it is not. It's just a sign of the uphill climb the president is facing now two months ahead of the midterm elections -- Wolf?

BLITZER: When you speak to White House officials, Ed, how embarrassed are they, if they are embarrassed, that five years after 911, the man responsible for those 3,000 deaths, Osama bin Laden, is still a free man.

HENRY: As you can imagine, it's a sore subject for White House officials. They insist they still have al Qaeda on the run. And you heard from the president himself today almost goating bin Laden by saying that he has to remain in hiding and that he won't come out and show his face. But you can bet, it's an embarrassment for them five years later, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right Ed, thanks very much -- Ed Henry at the White House.

Democrats were ready with a quick counter to the White House counter-terrorism strategy. They say it's a familiar refrain and they're offering their own assessment of America's security. Let's turn to our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel. She's on Capitol Hill -- Andrea?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, rule one when you are fighting a war, even a political war is attack, attack, attack. The theme of the Democrats September offensive, what is still one of the Republicans strengthens, national security.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: Today, thanks to the efforts of the Third Way organization, Senate Democrats are releasing a report that examines by the numbers, Bush national security failures.

KOPPEL (voice-over): The Democrats' battle plan focus on Iraq and terrorism, issues voters care about most this election year and force Republicans to play defense.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY WHIP: If we are not in a civil war in Iraq, we are so perilously close, it's hard to imagine the difference.

KOPPEL: It doesn't hurt when one of those Democrats delivering the message...

REID: I'm honored to have former supreme allied commander General Wesley Clark with us today.

KOPPEL: ... is a decorated war veteran.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, U.S. ARMY (RET.): This administration and the Republican leadership in the Congress have weakened our country and made Americans less safe.

KOPPEL: In rapid fire succession, Democrats hit Republicans hard, releasing a 27-page report entitled "The Neocon," highlighting previous Democratic claims of President Bush's national security failures. While on the Senate floor, another Democrat offered an amendment to try to force the Pentagon to admit Iraq has descended into civil war.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: In the September 1st report, prepared by the Department of Defense on stability and security in Iraq, reaffirms what the American people already understand. The conditions of civil war exist, violence in Iraq is spiraling out of control and staying the course is not a viable option.

KOPPEL: But Republicans punch back, calling Democrats obstructionists.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: Democrats have blocks expediting our national missile defense system, attempting to cut funding by $50 billion this year.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KOPPEL: Now even though Congress is only in session for the next several weeks, both sides intend to use that time to hit the other side, where they think it will hurt most. Democrats say tomorrow they intend to offer up a no-confidence resolution on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

That's going to be in the Senate, while for the rest of the next several weeks, Republicans are going to be pushing their agenda, military tribunals, warrantless wiretaps, funding for homeland security and defense appropriations, Wolf. The common denominator in all this legislation: national security -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll see how that resolution on Donald Rumsfeld fares this week. Thanks very much Andrea for that.

Lawmakers are only back in Washington for a few weeks before they break to head out on the campaign trail. There's a lot on their agenda and precious little time to act, so it may seem. Odd that one of the first votes for the House is a bill that would outlaw the slaughter of horses for human consumption.

And check this out. Our new poll shows that only 12 percent of Americans are satisfied with the work Congress has done so far this year, 84 percent say they wish Congress had done a lot more.

With Labor Day behind us, the campaign season is now officially in full swing and Republicans are working furiously just to hold their ground. Let's turn to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley -- Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. The economy, Iraq, the war on terror, they are off to the races, a race Democrats have been looking forward to. And Republicans -- not so much.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Want to know how much trouble Republicans are in? Go deep into the heartland, to Ruby Red, Indiana, to a Republican-leaning district, and you can hear this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were always Republican and there's so many things going on now, I'm just kind of backing off and not knowing more or less going independent.

CROWLEY: Welcome to the second district of Indiana represented by two-term Republican Chris Chocola.

REP. CHRIS CHOCOLA (R), INDIANA: I think it's much like the rest of the country. There's a challenging environment for Republicans.

CROWLEY: Ah, yes. Begin with this. The latest numbers from CNN and Opinion Research Corporation. An unpopular president, an unpopular war and $3 a gallon gas is a trifecta. Democrats are looking for a big payoff and Republicans are looking at a big problem. Depending on who you talk to, nationwide there are about 46 competitive House seats. Thirty-six of which are now held by Republicans. With 62 days until the election, there's no time to pretty this up. The Republican Congressional Committee called it "a desperate situation nationwide." Appealing for money the committee warned, "our candidates in targeted districts are in very serious danger of losing."

The Senate worries Republicans less, but it is worrisome enough. To be in charge of the Senate, Democrats need to hold on to what they've got and pick up six seats. As it happens, six Republican seats look vulnerable.

The truth is, Democrats had little to do with their catbird seat. Nationally, the new poll shows most people don't approve of either party.

JENNIFER DUFFY, THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT: In this cycle, voters don't like either party. They just dislike Democrats a little less.

CROWLEY: Which is to say, Democrats' biggest asset is, they are not Republicans.

Back in Indiana, too, Democrat Joe Donnelly wants Chercola's (ph) job.

JOE DONNELLY (D), INDIANA HOUSE CANDIDATE: People feel instead of standing up for them, the government has stood up for special interest. They want new representation and change.

CROWLEY: With voters clearly soured on the status quo and Democrats selling change, what's a Republican to do?

AMY WALTER, THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT: They say to voters, essentially, here's your choice: I know you are mad at me, I know you don't like what's going on in Washington, but do you really want to elect this person? Can you really trust this person?

CROWLEY: It's not over, but the prospects are dire enough that even Republicans don't talk about gaining seats, but about holding onto enough to keep control of Congress.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Not that the Democrats are resting on their poll numbers; they remember too well plenty of Septembers where they looked good and the following Novembers when they lost -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of people are looking at the House, thinking the Democrats can take the majority, but -- very much like the Republicans did back in '94, but there's a sense out there that '94 there may have been 80 or 100 seats at play, and now there may be at most 40 seats at play. Is that an accurate assessment?

CROWLEY: It is. That's just one of the differences between '94 and 2006 -- remember, since '94, Republicans have been very busy redistricting, so some of those endangered seats have been mitigated the possibility of loss, because there are now more Republicans in those districts, thanks to redistricting.

Then, too, you'll remember in '94, Wolf, a lot of those House members that were thrown out were freshman, they weren't all that well known in their district after two years. Some of these people we are talking about now are veterans. This is not their first time at the rodeo. They know how to play this game. And then, too, Democrats were caught by surprise in 1994; Republicans in this year have been warned as early as January that they were in trouble.

BLITZER: They know what they have to do. Candy, thanks very much. Candy Crowley.

Ed Henry, Andrea Koppel, they are all part of the best political team on television. CNN -- America's campaign headquarters.

Jack Cafferty is off today -- his file -- the Cafferty File, that is -- will return next week.

Coming up this hour, Donald Rumsfeld under attack by Democrats and even some Republicans. But President Bush is sticking by his man at the Pentagon. The White House press secretary, Tony Snow, standing by live to tell us why.

Plus a new threat from the sea. We're going to tell you about Tropical Storm Florence and where it's heading.

And later, new details on Steve Irwin's last moments. Stick around, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today underwent elective surgery for a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder. Pentagon officials say Rumsfeld is resting comfortably at Walter Reed Medical Center here in Washington. But Democrats are not resting in their efforts to have Rumsfeld replaced. As we noted, they have called on the President to fire his defense chief and tomorrow they will offer a no confidence measure in the U.S. Senate. The White House Press Secretary Tony Snow is strongly defending the defense secretary.

Tony Snow is now joining us live from the White House briefing room. Tony thanks very much for coming in.

Tony, why are you going out and defending Rumsfeld so strongly right now? Is it a sense that the pres is usually known for his loyalty to his aides or does he really believe that Rumsfeld has done a good job.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He believes that Rumsfeld has been a terrific defense secretary. You know, as Don Rumsfeld pointed out in his speech last week, Wolf, that Clemenceau once said that that war is a series of tragic mistakes that result in victory. What's happened is that some of the political opposition have decided that they'll try to accuse Donald Rumsfeld of being responsible for things that have gone wrong in the war such as Abu Ghraib, which the Pentagon prosecuted very vigorously.

Another thing -- what's interesting is that Don Rumsfeld has been trying to transform the defense establishment. He's done so more rapidly and effectively than any defense secretary in history. He has been asking withering and honest questions about what's succeeding and what is failing, going back to the early days in the war. You may remember when he passed out the memo asking are we creating for enemies than we're killing on the battlefield?

The fact is that Rumsfeld is tireless, he is innovative. He is somebody who is committed to the task. And what's interesting to me is when I read the critiques, it's sort of like, well, things are going wrong, fire Rumsfeld. Well, Donald Rumsfeld is not the enemy here. Al Qaeda and the terror network are the enemy, and he has been fighting them.

BLITZER: But there have been so many criticisms of Rumsfeld, going back to before the war, when his own army chief of staff said this -- General Eric Shinseki -- in assessing how many soldiers would be needed to get the job done. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. ERIC SHINSEKI, ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: I would say that what's been mobilized to this point -- something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, as you know, General Shinseki was rebuked, in effect, for saying that, and Rumsfeld was accused of wanting to go to war, to topple Saddam Hussein, but not to win the peace, because he didn't have enough troops in place.

SNOW: OK.

BLITZER: What do you make of that criticism, which I know you've heard?

SNOW: I've heard it many times. First, the idea that Rick Shinseki was punished for that is just flat wrong. He served his time as the army chief of staff, and he served this country well and nobly.

BLITZER: But you remember that Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, rebuked him orally for saying that that many troops would be needed.

SNOW: Well, and as you will recall, Wolf, when it came to the act of combat, as I recall, what Rick Shinseki was talking about at the time is what was required to go in and take Baghdad. And it turns out that that was the most effective military operation in history. As a matter of fact, I think what -- it was -- I think the phrase that Tommy Franks used was catastrophic victory. It was so swift and more rapid than anybody perceived it at the time.

BLITZER: But I remember, I was in Kuwait, Tony, at the time, and if someone would have said at the time when Saddam Hussein's statue went down, three-and-a-half years later, 2,600 U.S. troops would be dead, the U.S. taxpayers would have to spend $350 billion and continue with it with no end in sight, everybody would have thought that was ridiculous.

SNOW: Well, yes, but guess what. No one of us is armed with perfect foresight. And keep in mind, again, what we've done is we've sort of circled around this Shinseki critique. Again, I don't want to be getting into a military argument with Eric Shinseki, a four-star army general.

BLITZER: Well, but the argument -- the argument was...

SNOW: But...

BLITZER: ... that Rumsfeld went to war. This is the argument his critics make. He wanted to do it on the cheap, he wanted to show that he could do it with a leaner military machine, and he wasn't listening to the sort of Powell Doctrine that you go to war with overwhelming military might.

SNOW: It's hard for me to believe that what we saw, as you were just pointing out, Wolf, in those three and a half weeks in 2003, that that wasn't, in fact, lethal and overwhelming military might.

BLITZER: No, that was lethal, but the post-war, the winning the peace...

SNOW: But that's the -- but what you've done is change the topic. Because that's not what the original debate was about. But look, here's what's interesting about this, is we're getting a lot of people playing backseat general about something that happened three years ago. Look. Nobody had perfect foresight about what was going to happen, and I don't recall a lot of members of Congress getting up and getting into a debate at that time about what was likely to happen.

What Don Rumsfeld has tried to do is to transform the military at a time when -- keep in mind, after the Clinton years, the military had been cut black to its leanest levels in a considerable period of time to try to make the most effective use of the assets available to meet the security needs and demands on the United States, and to do so in such a way that would achieve the desired military result. The early result was to get rid of Saddam Hussein. We also had help from a large coalition.

But I'm not going to sit around and engage in the game of gosh, what would we have thought back in April of 2003? Because none of us quite knew exactly what to expect next. And I'm not going to hold Donald Rumsfeld accountable when neither you nor I would have been able to figure out exactly what was going to happen.

See, the nature of the war on terror and what the president was talking about today is that you've got an enemy that is determined -- that demonstrated that on September 11th, 2001. But furthermore, constantly adjusts in response to what we do. So we have a war on terror that constantly changes. And it requires people who are going to be inventive enough to try to change doctrine accordingly.

BLITZER: We don't have a lot of time, Tony. I want to give you a chance to respond to some of the criticism that you've been facing regarding remarks you made on August 9th, involving the president's father and the first Gulf War.

At the time, you said this, a few weeks ago. You said, "Now when the United States walked away, in the opinion of Osama bin Laden, in 1991, bin Laden drew from that conclusion that Americans were weak and wouldn't stay the course and that led to September 11th."

SNOW: Yes.

BLITZER: You've heard the criticism being leveled at you, that, in effect, you're blaming the president's father, the first President Bush, for creating a situation that ultimately led to 9/11, by not finishing the job back in '91, getting rid of Saddam Hussein.

SNOW: You know what I did, Wolf? I screwed up. What I should have done is -- I inaccurately phrased what bin Laden had said. What he said, actually, is that in getting out of Somalia, we demonstrated that we didn't have what it took to stay the course. So what I did is I got the history wrong. And frankly, I blew it. And I have apologized both to President Bush and to Vice President Cheney -- that is, the first President Bush and to then the chairman of joint chiefs, Colin Powell. So that was one where the press secretary just flat got it wrong, Wolf.

BLITZER: And when you make a mistake, as all of us do, you admit it...

SNOW: You fess up.

BLITZER: And I think you fessed up and you did the right thing. Tony, thanks very much.

SNOW: Thank you.

BLITZER: Tony Snow, joining us from the White House.

We're getting a story just coming in -- let's check in with Zain Verjee, she's got details -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.

This is just coming in, as you say to CNN, Bill Ford is stepping down as chief executive of the Ford Motor Company. He's going to be replaced by Alan Mulally formerly of Boeing. Bill Ford will stay on as chairman. We'll bring you more details when we get them.

It took two months of protests and controversy but Felipe Calderon is now Mexico's president elect. Mexico's top electoral court today unanimously rejected fraud allegations in July's election. Calderon plans to hold to a nationally televised address tonight. His opponent Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador refuses to recognize today's ruling. His supporters society off fireworks and threw trash at the courthouse in Mexico City.

Iraq's Parliament extending a state of emergency for another month. This comes as gunmen shot dead three Shia pilgrims in Baghdad today. North of the capitol, gunmen killed seven people, including three police officers. There have been more U.S. deaths, too, in Iraq. The U.S. military says two Marines and a sailor died in combat yesterday. The number killed now is 2,654.

There is a new tropical storm churning in the Atlantic Ocean. Tropical Storm Florence is about 900 miles east of the Lesser Antilles. This hurricane season's sixth named storm has top winds near 40 miles per hour. The National Hurricane Center warns Florence could threaten land sometime early next week, and it's moving west at 12 miles and hour.

So far the weather looks good for the launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis from Kennedy Space Center. The Atlantis crew will resume building the international space center during the 11 day mission and also go on three space walks. You can watch CNN for live coverage of the shuttle launch. Now Atlantis is set to lift off at 12:28 p.m. Eastern -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thank you. Zain Verjee reporting.

Still ahead, Republicans from the president on down say terror is the number one issue in the coming election. But what do the polls say? Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider standing by with that.

Plus, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld facing a chorus of criticism. Is the White House about to back down? We just heard from Tony Snow. He says the answer, absolutely, positively no. But here's a question, will that help or hurt the party? We will talk about that in our "Strategy Session" with Paul Begala and Torie Clarke, stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. There are two violent and very tough subjects that could become rallying cries in the midterm elections. But it depends on who's doing the rallying. Let's bring in our senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, which issue will frame this campaign, Iraq or terrorism? It makes a big difference.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): For Democrats and Republicans, the midterm election is framed around different issues. At the top of the Democrats' list, Iraq. Terrorism ranks lower, not because Democrats are unconcerned about terrorism, but because they believe the war in Iraq is a dangerous distraction.

LANNY DAVIS, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: We want the focus to be on terrorism, not on being involved in a civil war in Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: For Republicans terrorism is at the top of the list, Iraq at the bottom, not because Republicans downplay the importance of Iraq, but because they see it as part of the war on terror, we are fighting an enemy that threatens us.

BUSH: For al Qaeda, Iraq is not a distraction from their war on America. It is the central battlefield where the outcome of the struggle will be decided.

SCHNEIDER: The Democrats prefer to depict Iraq as a civil war.

DURBIN: Our soldiers, those brave men and women, have been caught in the crossfire of that civil war.

SCHNEIDER: The Democrats' argument is, if Iraq is a local conflict between Shiites and Sunnis, it does not threaten us; it distracts us.

The election outcome could turn on which issue has higher priority to voters. Right now, that's the war in Iraq. Democrats are leading nationwide, because voters concerned about Iraq are voting overwhelmingly Democratic. Voters who say terrorism is the top priority give Republicans a wide lead.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: President Bush argues that leaving Iraq prematurely would increase the threat to the United States, because the terrorists might take over. Democrats argue that staying in Iraq increases the threat to the United States, because it generates resentment, and it helps recruit more terrorists. That is the debate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, thank you.

In our "Strategy Session" today: Democrats hoping to turn up the heat on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. And will President Bush's latest terrorism speech find favor with voters?

Joining us now, CNN contributor and Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and CNN political analyst and former Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke.

Is this a start -- smart strategy, for Tony Snow and the White House to come out, as aggressively as they are, in defense of the defense secretary?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, they don't have a choice. The smarter strategy would be to fire Secretary Rumsfeld, I think, on the merits and also the politics, put someone in there who had the trust of the American people, the trust of the generals, the trust of the troops.

But once the decider, as the president likes to call himself, makes that decision, a loyal soldier like Tony has no choice but to defend the indefensible secretary of defense. And I thought he did a heroic job with you. They ought to raise Tony's pay for getting through that interview with you with a straight face, trying to defend Don Rumsfeld. But God bless him. Good luck to him.

He's an enormous political liability to the Republicans. That's for sure, Secretary Rumsfeld is.

BLITZER: You used to work for him. You used to go out there and defend him all the time. What do you think? Is this -- put on your political hat. In terms of looking down to November, Rumsfeld, an asset or a deficit for the Republicans?

TORIE CLARKE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think you have to look at it the way the president looks at it.

And, quite honestly -- I know this is a shock in this town -- he's not thinking about the politics of it. He's not thinking about the voters on Election Day. He's thinking about what's good for the country. He's thinking about what's good for our friends and allies around the world.

And he's saying, I need a secretary of defense who is very, very tough, because he has to -- as you were talking about earlier -- he has to transform the military, a very, very tough battle at the best of times. Simultaneously, he has to help wage this very, very unconventional war on terror -- incredibly difficult job. You are not going to win a popularity contest.

So, what he is really focused on, with all due respect to the polls and the voters and -- and political strategies, what he's focused on is what he thinks is right for the country. So, I absolutely think it's right for him to be out there, for Tony to be out there, for everyone to be out there talking about the kind of secretary of defense we have and talking about the issues and what is at stake.

BLITZER: You want -- you want to respond to that?

BEGALA: Well, yes.

I mean, the president has gone through two secretaries of state, two attorney generals, three secretaries of the treasury, you know, a couple of FBI -- FBI directors, a couple of czars for terrorism. I mean, the team on big issues always turns over.

And there's no reason he couldn't replace Secretary Rumsfeld, and have a more -- I think more successful strategy, frankly. I did promise Torie earlier -- the secretary, as you have reported, is having rotator cuff surgery. Thank goodness it's elective. It's fine. It's arthroscopic.

(CROSSTALK)

CLARKE: The first person I thought of when I heard about the rotator cuff surgery was Paul. I thought...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I did promise a rotator cuff joke, though, which is, you know, he needed it from patting himself on the back so much...

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: ... because he's the only guy left who thinks he's doing a good job over there.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let's talk about the president's...

CLARKE: Moving on.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

CLARKE: Moving on.

BLITZER: The second leg...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: ... if you will, of his strategy today, going out, making a very important speech, at least from his perspective, on the -- in this war on terror.

What do you make of this strategy of sort of breaking it down, every few days, delivering another major address, as the White House bills it, on terrorism?

CLARKE: I think it's great. I want more of it.

And I said this when I was in the administration. I said it almost every single day since I have been out. In these times, really, really difficult issues -- look, we can't even agree on the vocabulary, war on terror, terrorism, Iraq, Afghanistan.

In these incredibly difficult times, the president and his senior team ought to be out there every single day, talking about what is at stake, what we are trying to get done, how we are dealing with these challenges. So, I think it's great. I would like to see more of it. BLITZER: It worked well for the Republicans in 2002, in 2004.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And they are going back to that playbook right now.

BEGALA: Right. And that's the problem. As we say in Texas, that old dog don't hunt no more. It worked great before.

BLITZER: How do you know...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Because I am smart, and I do polls, and I talk to voters. I run campaigns. This is what I do for a living.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: No, I mean...

CLARKE: But you weren't right about it in 2002 and 2004.

BEGALA: No. Back then...

CLARKE: So, what is making you right about it now?

BEGALA: No. Back then, in '02 -- and we can go look -- I said, the Democrats were wrong for not challenging the president on security. I thought he was blowing it then. I think he's blowing it now.

But the Democrats, back then, cut and run from the fight over national security. Now they are engaging the fight. They want a no- confidence vote on Secretary Rumsfeld. Many Democrats are calling for doubling of special forces. I think they will -- they will applaud the president today for remembering the name of Osama bin Laden, who they have been needling him as him "Osama bin forgotten."

But the fact that he walks the Earth, five years after murdering 3,000 of our country men and women, is an obscenity. And it's an obscenity that is, I think, laid at the doorstep of George W. Bush and his team.

BLITZER: Here's a number that should be very worrying to Republicans seeking reelection in the House and in the Senate, and Republicans in general, in our new CNN poll.

What Congress has done so far this year. Twelve percent of the American public say they are satisfied. Eighty-four percent wish Congress had done more.

And this is a Republican-led House and a Republican-led Senate.

CLARKE: I agree.

Look, the -- you know, a lot of things come along with leadership. And responsibility and accountability is one of them. So, the Republicans have been in charge, and they are going to be taken to task for quite a few things.

And I got to tell you, I have got real problems, when they come back this week, at this stage, with all these things going on, and the legislation they are dealing with is about the slaughter of horses.

BEGALA: Right.

CLARKE: I love horses. I do. But that's not what they ought to be focused on. So, I think they should be held accountable for things like that.

BLITZER: On that note, we will leave it alone.

Paul, Torie, thank you very much.

CLARKE: Thanks, Wolf.

BEGALA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Paul Begala and Torie Clarke, and, as you saw earlier, Bill Schneider, they are all part of the best political team on television -- CNN, America's campaign headquarters.

Up next: It's dead in Congress for now, but the border battle is alive and well on the campaign trail. We are going to show you who is trying to make it a top issue, and why.

Plus: new information about death of crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, including details of the videotape that captured his final moments.

Stay with us. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

We have been seeing nearly daily demonstrations by people on both sides of the border battle. Despite that, efforts at immigration reform are all but dead in the current U.S. Congress.

Some candidates, though, are trying to make it a major issue on the campaign trail.

Let's turn to our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She is joining us now live from Capitol Hill -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Republican leaders are going to meet later this week, likely on Thursday, to make a final decision on whether or not to formally abandon that immigration reform legislation.

And, if you are a Republican running for Congress this year, chances are, that's exactly what you want your leaders to do. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER ROSKAM (R), ILLINOIS CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Hey, I am Senator Peter Roskam, running for Congress. This is my wife, Elizabeth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, Peter.

BASH (voice-over): Ask Republican Peter Roskam what voters in his hotly contested congressional race want to talk to him about, and here's what he says.

ROSKAM: The first thing that tends to come up on doorsteps is: What's going on with my taxes? What's going on with spending? And what's going on with immigration?

BASH: It's no surprise that residents in a mostly upper-middle- class area just outside Chicago want candidates to talk about their taxes and spending. But heightened interest in immigration here is new. This quintessential suburban Republican stronghold is becoming increasingly Hispanic.

ERIC KROL, "THE DAILY HERALD": I think the immigration argument will be -- could be particularly effective in the 6th Congressional District, which has a -- a lot of longtime conservative Republicans. And they see their -- the demographics in the district changing.

BASH: So, Roskam is playing up immigration in his campaign, saying he opposes a bipartisan Senate measure giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, which Democratic opponent Tammy Duckworth supports.

And he's getting help from the Republican Campaign Committee in Washington. They spent $120,000 sending these fliers to voters, saying Tammy Duckworth supports amnesty for illegal aliens.

ROSKAM: I am in favor of securing the border. My opponent, by contrast, is in favor of the Senate bill, which, when you are out and about in the 6th District, I don't think is -- is the majority view.

BASH: Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran, was forced to respond with her own mailer, insisting she does want to secure the borders, and does not support amnesty.

TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D), ILLINOIS CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: They have been saying that I support amnesty, which is absolutely a lie.

BASH: She accuses Roskam of manufacturing immigration as an issue.

DUCKWORTH: I don't think it's one of the top issues. But my opponent, you know, doesn't know where he can attack me. And he has gone negative. And, so, he is choosing this.

BASH: But Republicans think opposing what they call amnesty is the best way to energize disgruntled GOP voters here and in other races across the country, and why, despite months of debate and pressure from the president, comprehensive immigration reform is all but dead for the year in Congress.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Instead, GOP aides tell us, Republicans will likely focus only on the aspect of immigration that appeals to their base and falls into their main focus this fall. And that is, of course, security.

So, that means they are going to try to get more money for things like border agents for surveillance, and money for a wall that they -- many want to build between the border of the United States and Mexico -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thank you.

Can Democrats improve their image in faith-based communities? That's the issue we examine in today's "Culture Wars." Americans perceive Republicans far more -- quote -- "friendly to religion" -- that according to a recent Pew study. But is a new Democrat-based Web site enough to help shift the tide?

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, standing by with details -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the post at this new Web site today, FaithfulDemocrats.com, reads, "I am tired of politicians, partisans, and preachers spelling God G-O-P."

This site is aiming to reach out to Christian Democrats. It's not affiliated with the Democratic National Committee, but it has lined up prominent Democrats to contribute posts. And it also aims to have an impact in the November elections.

Now, polling shows that faithful and Democrat did not go hand in hand in recent elections. In 2004, white evangelicals made up nearly a quarter of the electorate and voted overwhelmingly for President Bush. In a recent interview that DNC Chair Howard Dean gave with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Dean emphasized that Democrats should be reaching out to faith-based communities.

And he -- and, also, the DNC is putting together a faith advisory team that should be ready this month. A spokesperson for the Republican National Committee's voter outreach said -- suggested that these efforts by the Democrats might be too little, too late in this area -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi, thank you.

Coming up: mourning an Australian icon. Tearful tributes are pouring in for crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, as details emerge of a possible state funeral. We will have the latest.

And coming up in our next hour, we're going to show you a new study that links a father's age to a serious disability in children. Our senior medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is standing by with details.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're learning new details about the surprising death of Australia's crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin.

Zain Verjee is watching the story for us. She is joining us now with the latest -- Zain.

VERJEE: Wolf, we now know that Irwin's final moments were recorded on a videotape that is now in the hands of Australian authorities. And those who have seen it say that it's really difficult to watch.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): They are the details the world has been waiting to hear. But, for Steve Irwin's friend and producer, John Stainton, they were, at times, simply too painful to recount.

Stainton was with Irwin, filming on Australia's Great Barrier Reef on Monday, when the wildlife expert's heart was pierced by a stingray.

JOHN STAINTON, BUSINESS MANAGER OF STEVE IRWIN: I did see the footage. And it's shocking. It's a very hard thing to watch, because you are actually witnessing somebody die. And it's terrible.

QUESTION: What does it show, John?

STAINTON: It shows the -- Steve come over the top of the ray, and then the tail came up and spiked him here, and he pulled it out. And, the next minute, he's gone.

VERJEE: Irwin's body is now back on Australia's Sunshine Coast, where his wife and two children are in seclusion. And, at the nearby Australia Zoo, where Irwin was the director, a makeshift memorial has risen, attracting a stream of heartbroken fans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just sad to see him gone. It really is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, it's like I have lost a son.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have never met the man personally, but I just feel gutted. As I read on his shirt, I just said crikey. He will missed, man.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: There's no word yet on plans for Irwin's funeral. But Queensland officials say that they will give him a state funeral, if his family chooses -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much -- Zain Verjee reporting. And we're going to have more on this story coming up in the next hour.

Stingrays are not considered aggressive. So, why did one fatally sting the crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin? And what should you do if you get stung by one? That's coming up in the next hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But, up next: Senator Joe Lieberman is taking an Internet page from his Democratic opponent. We're going to tell you how he hopes to use the Web to win victory at the ballot box in November.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: White House comings and goings top our "Political Radar" today -- President Bush nominating Mary Peters as the new transportation secretary. Peters is the former chief of the Federal Highway Administration. Before that, she ran the Arizona Department of Transportation. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Peters would succeed Norm Mineta, who resigned in July. Mineta was the lone Democrat in the president's Cabinet, by the way.

In the going category is Mark McClellan. The White House announced today that McClellan will be leaving his job at the Department of Health and Human Services, where he runs Medicare and Medicaid services. McClellan is the brother of the recently departed White House press secretary, Scott McClellan.

Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut returned to Capitol Hill today, his first day back since he lost the Democratic primary last month. Lieberman is now running as an independent. And he may be hoping some new online tactics will make the difference in his campaign.

Let's bring back our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi.

TATTON: Wolf, we are waiting for Joe Lieberman's new re-launched Web site to come online. The campaign says it's coming soon.

It promises to have a new blog from members of the campaign team. And, also, they are trying to recruit volunteers online -- all these, new tactics for Senator Lieberman, but not new tactics in this Senate race, where a cadre of anti-war bloggers have been mobilizing and organizing for Ned Lamont since the early days.

Now, you may recall that, on the day of the primary, Senator Lieberman's campaign Web site was down. The Lieberman -- at the time, the Lieberman campaign suggested the site was attacked by supporters of the Lamont campaign, charges that Ned Lamont called scurrilous, and the campaign demanded an apology.

The Connecticut attorney general is still investigating all that, wouldn't comment today, because the investigation is ongoing.

The site for Senator Lieberman, when it arrives, will be open to comments from everyone. Pro-Lamont bloggers saying -- wondering today how their potential comments might be used. But a spokeswoman for the Senator Lieberman said it will not be moderated or censored online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi, thank you.

Up next: She presided over Florida's presidential vote recount in the 2000 cliffhanger, and parlayed that into a congressional seat. Everyone in Florida seemingly knows her name. But will that help or hurt Katherine Harris in a race for the U.S. Senate?

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: She first came under the political spotlight nationally back in 2000. Katherine Harris then oversaw President Bush's controversial win in the state of Florida. Now the congresswoman hopes to win a seat in the United States Senate.

Let's go to CNN's John Zarrella. He's standing by with the latest on that situation -- John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Wolf, the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate certainly has, with Katherine Harris, a very familiar face in it. The problem is, her campaign so far has had very little to do with the issues, and just about everything to do with her.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Do you recognize this woman?

REP. KATHERINE HARRIS (R-FL), FLORIDA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Gracias, senor.

ZARRELLA: In 2000, she was revered by Republicans and reviled by Democrats. Then Florida's secretary of state, Katherine Harris certified the state's bitterly contested vote for George Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 2000)

HARRIS: I hereby declare Governor George W. Bush the winner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZARRELLA: Now a two-term Republican congresswoman, Harris is going after a much larger prize, a U.S. Senate seat.

HARRIS: We are confident that we will turn out our base. And, when we turn out the base, all the data says we will be victorious in November.

ZARRELLA: Harris is expected to win her primary. She has got charm and huge name recognition. Her showdown in the general election with Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson should be a heavyweight fight. There's just one big problem. GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: I just don't believe she can win.

ZARRELLA: Jeb Bush, Florida's Republican governor, isn't the only one who thinks that way. Harris' support from the party isn't lukewarm; it's the cold shoulder.

A party source told CNN -- quote -- "We have some we can win, some we can't. This is not winnable, if it's Katherine Harris" -- end quote.

HARRIS: These party elites have never been with me.

ZARRELLA: There's virtually no way Harris can beat Bill Nelson, says political analyst Jim Kane.

JIM KANE, THE FLORIDA VOTER: He would have to do something so horrific, that people had no other choice but to vote for Katherine Harris.

ZARRELLA: Republicans fear Harris will bring Democrats out in droves, in reprisal for 2000.

And there are other issues. She told a Baptist weekly publication that, if you are not electing Christians, you are going to -- quote -- "legislate sin."

HARRIS: It's so taken out of context. When I speak in temples, I say, make certain that you are electing people who will stand by Israel.

ZARRELLA: Since she entered the race, Harris has gone through two dozen staffers and three campaign mangers.

Chris Ingram, once her communications director, left to run the campaign of LeRoy Collins, one of Harris' primary challengers.

CHRIS INGRAM, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR CONGRESSWOMAN KATHERINE HARRIS: As her spokesperson, I was no longer willing to put my name and my credibility on the line for her, given that I didn't believe that the things she was telling me were true.

ZARRELLA: But Harris doesn't care what anyone thinks. She has invested $10 million of her own family money in the campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA: Harris says she has come from way back in the polls before, and she fully intends to do it again, proving everyone, including those in her own party, wrong -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John, thank you.

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

Search
© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by CNN.com
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines