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THE SITUATION ROOM

Bush Administration Clarifies Iraq Position; Michael J. Fox Political Ad Stirs Controversy

Aired October 26, 2006 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou. 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 tonight's top stories.
Happening now, Donald Rumsfeld tells reporters to back off and the White House says reports of the U.S./Iraqi split got lost in translation. It's 7:00 p.m. here in Washington where the Bush administration is explaining itself on Iraq again.

Also this hour, deadly and deliberate, a wildfire is raging out West and officials say it's a case of arson. It's 4:00 p.m. in Southern California. We're tracking the blaze and who's to blame.

And Michael J. Fox at the center of a storm over embryonic stem cell research. The actor speaks out tonight about his role in a political commercial and the backlash.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

As criticism of the Iraq's strategy shift touched a nerve in Bush administration, even Iraq's prime minister seems to giving bad marks to the idea of so-called benchmarks for progress. And it all happened, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld very much on offensive today. Is there trouble over that timeline?

Let's begin our coverage this hour with our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, both of these leaders really have a lot at stake and appearing united, but they also face these competing interests as well. President Bush needs to appear flexible, cooperative. The Iraqi prime minister needs to appear strong and independent, so was it a case of lost in translation or lost in politics. You decide.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): The Bush administration is slamming media reports that there's any disagreement between the president and Iraq's prime minister. It was a full-court press to set the record set.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: None of it was lost in translation. It was taken out of context.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: It ought to just back off. Take a look at it. Relax. Understand that's complicated.

MALVEAUX: Indeed it is. Two leaders, two languages, talking to two different audiences, but both invested in singing from the same song sheet. It began Tuesday in Baghdad when American officials announced that the U.S. and Iraq had reached an agreement on security and political benchmarks to quell the violence in Iraq.

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMB. TO IRAQ: Iraqi leaders have agreed to a timeline for making the hard decision needed to resolve these issues.

MALVEAUX: But Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki gave his own news conference in Arabic. The U.S. media picked up on a comment he made, which seemed to contradict the U.S. deal.

NOURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I affirm that everyone is aware that this government represents the will of the Iraqi people and their national will. And no has the right to impose timetables on it.

MALVEAUX: Hours later President Bush was confronted with Maliki's statement.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's right. This is a sovereign government.

MALVEAUX: But when papers hit the newsstands with headlines suggesting a split between Mr. Bush and Mr. Maliki, the White House press machine grabbed into high gear, issuing talking points and sending out its spokesman to dispute the claim.

SNOW: Somebody took a question about whether the U.S. would withdraw and somehow twisted into something entirely different.

MALVEAUX: Translations by the White House and by CNN show the position of the two leaders closer than initially reported. But Maliki also criticized the U.S. for raiding Baghdad Sadr City, which he originally said occurred without his authority.

He later pulled back from that accusation, but said the raid was conducted in a heavy-handed way that could undermine his political deal with the influential militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr. The White House acknowledged there were problems.

SNOW: Prime Minister Maliki described it as a miscommunication problem and we're going to fix it.

MALVEAUX: But fixing the bad publicity is also a priority for an administration that needs to appear in lock-step with the Iraqi government. Iraq is the number one issue for American voters in the upcoming midterm elections. And President Bush needs to convince them that a victory for his party will bring victory in Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And Wolf, Maliki also made news today in a Reuters interview. He said that he was -- if he was in charge of Iraqi forces that it would only take some six months to bring security to his country as opposed to 12 to 18 months that's predicted by American officials. He also went on to say that if anyone is responsible for the poor security situation in Iraq, it is the international coalition. Well While White House Press Secretary Tony Snow tried to downplay those comments today, saying we like a guy of action, one who wants to be in charge -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House, thank you.

The U.S. military today announced the deaths of five more Americans in Iraq. As this very bloody month nears an end, is the change in strategy bringing any changes on the ground for American troops?

Joining us now from Baghdad our correspondent Michael Ware. Michael, we heard the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, today make the case that the U.S. military is in fact adjusting, has been adjusting as needed throughout this entire process. Is this adjustment visible based on what you have seen?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, not yet, Wolf. I think it would be too soon to expect to see tangible differences marking a shift in strategy. I mean, turning this boat around literally is like turning an oil tanker at full steam. It really will take some doing. So no, there's nothing playing out here on the ground. Although, it's clear that there's a mood for change in the air just as I suspect there is domestically back home in the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Are there enough troops on the ground right now, 140 -- 150,000 troops realistically to get the job done?

WARE: Well, this is the thing, Wolf. I mean I think a decision needs to be made by the administration and the American people by extension, does America want to fight this war or not. Because, the commitment it's made so far, as substantive and as painful as it may have been, simply isn't enough. It amounts to a half measure, so to speak. All it's doing is offering opportunity to inflame. It's not a robust enough presence with a robust enough mandate perhaps to implant the kind of order and security and stability that America is looking for here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: October's been the deadliest month for the U.S. military in Iraq. Now in more than a year, the argument against introducing more troops is you send another 20, 30, 50,000 troops in, then the insurgents, the terrorists, the al Qaeda operatives, the others they have a greater target capability. In other words, more Americans to kill and the numbers would even go up higher.

WARE: Well, absolutely. I mean it increases the exposure of U.S. troops simply by the volume of numbers, Wolf. However, I mean even 10, 20, 30, 50, I'm not sure would be enough to make the impact. The point is perhaps the people who would be supportive of an influx of troops, would say better a short term pain now to cauterize this wound within President Bush's global war on terror than let it drag on and continue seeing, you know, the enemies of America as the administration has identified them becoming stronger and more robust -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Why isn't the Iraqi army, the Iraqi police force, capable three and a half years after the downfall of Saddam Hussein? Hundreds of billions of dollars spent by the United States, all this training going on, why are they simply incapable of doing this at this point?

WARE: Well, Wolf, I mean the fundamental dynamic is back to the building blocks of power here in this country. And those building blocks haven't been addressed. So the army, like all other government institutions, are ridden with militias, insurgent interests, competing influence, external and internal, so there was much talk early on in the mission about achieving set numbers for the Iraq security force. Expecting to train and equip 300-plus thousand would be able to handle the situation. Well we're now within a whisper of achieving that number. And the situation remains a disaster. So, until the fundamental issues are addressed no the army, the police nor anything else will change -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michael Ware reporting for us from Baghdad -- Michael, thanks very much.

WARE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And coming up, we'll have much more on the situation in Iraq and the U.S. election. We'll hear from a serious critic of the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. Former U.S. Senator Max Cleland, a Vietnam War veteran, he'll join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But up next, Jack Cafferty. He's standing by with "The Cafferty File". Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. They might well be the worst Congress in our illustrious history. One national poll puts their approval rating at 18 percent. I think that might be a little high.

They fail to pass any meaningful legislation on a lot of important issues. Things like Social Security, immigration, ethics reform, you name it. It may also be one of the most corrupt Congresses ever, members in rehab, being investigated, being under indictment, being in prison, you name it.

Despite all of these black marks, a majority of Americans would want their children to become members of Congress. Say what? According to a new CNN poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation, 56 percent of those surveyed would want their child to grow up to be a member of Congress. Far few or just 21 percent say they'd want their son or daughter to become president.

So here's the question. Would you want your child to grow up to be a member of Congress? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. Maybe you would like them to just go out and get honest work -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good question, Jack. Thanks very much. Jack Cafferty, we'll be back to you.

Fire officials in Southern California right now, they're saying that the blaze that's already kill four firefighters today is a result of arson and those deaths will be treated as murder.

CNN's Chris Lawrence's joining us live now. He's near the front lines of this fire in Beaumont. You're only what, about 15 miles or so, this fire from Palm Springs in Southern California, Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And the fire chief said this is a very difficult day for the Forest Service and this is a very difficult fire. Only one member of that five-men firefighting crew is still alive tonight. And he has been severely burned and is in critical condition.

A fourth member died in the hospital of his injuries. Three others were killed on the scene. That five-man crew was trying to evacuate people and save homes earlier this morning in a town west of Palm Springs. As some point, the wind shifted and I can tell you the winds are ferocious out here at times. The wind shifted and literally blew the fire right on top of them. Now those Santa Ana winds are natural for this time of year. But the cause of this fire may not be.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF JOHN R. HAWKINS, RIVERSIDE FIRE DEPARTMENT: I'm going to tell you right up front, this is an arson fire; this is a deliberately set arson fire. A deliberately set arson fire that leads to the death of anyone constitutes murder.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAWRENCE: They're offing $100,000 reward for any information. And the ATF has arrived here on the scent to help with the investigation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, we'll get back to you. Thank you very much.

Coming up, sex in the city -- single female voters, find out why some candidates are betting those women can help swing the election. It's coming up.

Also, in her husband's defense, the first lady, Laura Bush, hits the campaign trail and fires back at the press.

And Googler in chief, President Bush on the Internet -- yes, the Internet -- that's a quote from the president.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Only a dozen days until the midterm elections and some extremely tight races are producing a commercial controversy. Nasty ads deemed by some, a lot of people out there are simply outrageous and offensive. We'll go to Brian Todd in a moment on the predictions for this year's midterm elections.

But first let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's joining us now live from Hoboken, New Jersey -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here in New Jersey the Senate race has been so fierce it's gained national attention. But some are calling this a new low. Not only has it offended the candidates, but it's offended Italian Americans who make up the largest ethnic population of the state.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

SNOW (voice-over): Call it politics soprano-style.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. Start looking at these fixed contracts. Bada-bing, we're in it but deep and worst, this guy, Tom Kean, he wants to clean things up.

SNOW: A conservative group spent $200,000 to run these cable ads mimicking mobsters and targeting Democratic Senator Bob Menendez. Menendez has denounced the commercials and called on his Republican challenger, Tom Kean, Jr., to have them pulled.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, an ad that's being run on his behalf. Smears Italian Americans in this state as it tries to smear me at the same time.

SNOW: Kean says his campaign had nothing to do with the ad.

TOM KEAN, JR. (R), N.J. SENATE CANDIDATE: This is one of those independent expenditures, those 527 groups and it's wrong. I'm outrage by this ad and I said that last week.

SNOW: It's independent political group, say observers that go where candidates don't want to tread in advertisements that are seemingly negative each season.

EVAN TRACEY, TNS MEDIA INTELLIGENCE: These groups can really engage on issues that sometimes the campaigns just have to stay away from because they're too hot to handle.

SNOW: Case in point this ad in New York's 24th district.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, sexy, you have reached the live one-on- one fantasy line.

SNOW: The National Republican Congressional Committee stands by its $10,000 ad that targets Democrat Michael Arcuri, claiming he billed taxpayers for a call to a phone sex hotline. Arcuri says the number was on a phone bill because an aide called a sex hotline by mistake that had similar digits to a government office. Arcuri's office says he hasn't ruled out filing a lawsuit over the ad and his Republican challenger, Raymond Meier, has distanced himself from the NRCC and the ad. With such loud protest over these ads, why are thousands of dollars being spent to make them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they didn't work, campaigns wouldn't use them. This is the time that every campaign that's trailing or every campaign that's trying to put an opponent away, will generally try and get one ad out there on the air that they think is the silver bullet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, as for that phone sex ad, the last we can tell, several stations refused to air it. Two did. And from what we can tell it last aired on Monday. The big question though Wolf is whether or not these ads could backfire, especially in places like New Jersey where people say that they are fed up with negative campaign ads -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They say that, but a lot of people suggest they really do work. Thanks, Mary, for that. Political analysts are weighing in with their predictions and they range from a Republican route to an unexpected Democratic defeat. Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. He's picking up this part of the story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lots of projections, Wolf, many of them point to a nail biter when you talk about who wins control of the Senate, but with the House, the handicappers don't have a consensus.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): The magic number for Democrats to win the House, a gain of 15 seats. But with less than two weeks left, predictions are all over the map. From political analyst Stuart Rothenberg, who says the Republicans could lose as few as 20 seats and as many as 30, possibly more because the environment for Republicans now is worst than it was for Democrats in 1994.

The Cook Political Report says Republicans could lose at least 20 seats. But the financial magazine, "Barron's", predicts the Republicans will lose only eight to 14 seats and hold on to the majority because their candidates have the money advantage. And listen to Karl Rove, the man who helped President Bush win two close elections when a reporter with "NPR" implied Rove was too optimistic.

ROBERT SIEGEL: I'm looking at all the same polls that you're looking at every day.

KARL ROVE: No, you're not. No, you're not.

(CROSSTALK)

ROVE: I'm looking at 68 polls a week. You may be looking at four or five public polls a week that talk about attitudes nationally, but that do not impact the outcome of individual races.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: The Senate could be tighter. Eight close races, seven of those seats held by Republicans. The Democrats need six to win the majority and the knockdown drag out boils down to three.

AMY WALTER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia, this is the firewall for Republicans right now, their -- and their ability to keep hold of their majority in the Senate. For Democrats to win the majority, they need two out of those three seats.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: That analysts say is why so much national attention and money is being spent by both parties on those three seats as we head into November -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you very much -- Brian Todd reporting.

Still to come tonight right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, fired up over Iraq firing back at the press. And former U.S. Senator Max Cleland, he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM to respond to what Rumsfeld is saying.

Also, Laura Bush, the first lady, she gets tough as well. Ed Henry spoke with the first lady. We'll have that interview. That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In the run up to Election Day some voting advocates are thinking of young single women and the sex and the city program. Let's go to our congressional correspondent Dana Bash. What's going on, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we are all being bombarded with political news, ads, mail. But there's a huge segment of the population that's simply tuning it out, not planning to vote, single women.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Maryanne Randazzo is 27 years old. She's never voted before and won't vote this year either.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't feel like it's going to change my life.

BASH: She's just too busy working at her father's pizza parlor in suburban Philadelphia.

MARYANNE RANDAZZO, WAITRESS:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just because I'm stuck in this place, I work six days a week, 60-hours plus. So (INAUDIBLE) because I really don't have time.

BASH: And politics turns her off especially the negative campaign ads.

RANDAZZO: Yes, it bores me. I flip the channels to be honest with you.

BASH: Maryanne is one of the jaw dropping 20 million unmarried women who didn't vote in 2004. Now a nonpartisan group is hoping these ads will get their attention.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want to me tell you about the first time I did it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the best time is in the fall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like to do it in the morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's cool. Pretty. Sexy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a beautiful thing.

PAGE GARDNER, WOMEN'S VOICES, WOMEN VOTE: Even though 20 million didn't vote, 27 million did. So, they are a potent political force and they're the fastest growing demographic we have in this country.

BASH: In 2004 they were dubbed "Sex in the City" voters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what district do you vote in?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whichever one is near Barney.

BASH: But most single women are nothing like Carrie Bradshaw.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Half of them make $30,000 or less. Thirty- six percent move every two years. So they have very difficult lives.

BASH: Nonpartisan, grassroots group are working to get out the single female vote, going door to door with information.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So I said November 2...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: November 7...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, November 7...

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm probably not a good candidate (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, you're the perfect candidate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)

BASH: Phone banking targeting unmarried women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're just calling (INAUDIBLE) go out and vote.

BASH: The biggest beneficiaries would likely be Democrats if more single females did vote.

ANNA GREENBERG, POLLSTER: Most likely to say the country is going in the wrong direction. They hate the war in Iraq. They feel like the economy hasn't helped them over the last five or six years. So I think you can expect unmarried women, if they vote, to vote pretty Democratic.

BASH: Back at the pizza parlor, Maryanne says she would vote Democratic because of the war and...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Health insurance (INAUDIBLE) I want my own health insurance. It's so expensive for just a single female.

BASH: But she's not even registered to vote and the deadline has passed, maybe next time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Both the Republican and Democratic National Committees have groups to micro target these women, but what focus groups and studies show is the best way to reach them is not to have partisan lingo, not to have mudslinging, but to have just the facts, ma'am, straight objective information about the candidates. Not easy, Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash thanks very much, good reporting.

Just ahead, to those calling for a staged withdrawal from Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld says quote, "Just back off." We're going to have reaction to what he said from war hero Max Cleland.

Also, the actor Michael J. Fox, he's responding now to suggestions he faked symptoms of his Parkinson's disease in a political commercial.

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

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, bloody October in Iraq. This is the deadliest month for American troops in a year. Ninety-six American troops have died in just the past 26 days.

Also, President Bush signs an immigration bill into law, authorizing the building of a fence across almost 700 miles along the U.S./Mexican border. The president says the law will make U.S. borders more secure.

And it's ferocious and fatal and now said to be an act of arson. In California, official say an out of control wildfire near Palm Strings was deliberately set. Four firefighters are dead and the fire has burned at least 10,000 acres already. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in the SITUATION ROOM.

From check marks to benchmarks to timelines to deadlines. As the Bush administration wrestles with a strategy shift in Iraq, the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was in rare form at the Pentagon today. And he made one thing very clear to the reporters: it's complicated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: That's a complicated issue.

RUMSFELD: It's going to be complicated.

RUMSFELD: We're looking out in the future. No one can predict the future with absolute certainty. So you ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it's complicated, it's difficult.

QUESTION: To step into the Sunni/Shia violence, is that the job of the U.S. soldier?

RUMSFELD: That's a very complicated question. The president addressed it yesterday. And I'd suggest you get the transcript of his remarks if you didn't see it.

QUESTION: I'd be interested in your views as secretary of defense.

RUMSFELD: I agree with the president.

QUESTION: Sir?

General Casey left open the door for adding more troops if he sees that...

RUMSFELD: You know, that is, I think, that's unfortunate, to characterize it that way. If you ask me the question, is it possible there could be more forces, yes. Is it possible there could be fewer forces, yes. The headline is, "Casey Thinks There May Be More Forces". Now is that -- no, he didn't say it that way.

QUESTION: He'd consider it and he may be...

RUMSFELD: Listen, we're in the political season. You know that. And that's what's happening. I didn't just fall off a turnip truck.

I remember going up the Hill and people saying to me, oh, what's the October surprise going to be? Are you going to reduce a whole bunch of troops? Or produce Osama or something?

And, well, the October surprise was we increased the troop levels. Why? Because it was the right thing to do.

RUMSFELD: It's tough, complicated stuff. QUESTION: General Casey and the ambassador said the Iraqis had agreed that they would go through this exercise. Are you saying they haven't agreed on the need to do it?

RUMSFELD: The problem is the word "it".

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a combative news conference at the Pentagon earlier today.

Let's get a different perspective. Joining us, the former U.S. senator from the state of Georgia, Max Cleland.

Senator, thank very much for coming in.

MAX CLELAND, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Wolf, are we really down to the definition of what "it" is? What is "it"? I mean, you know, this reminds me of the waning days of the Vietnam War, when it was so massively unpopular, and the commander in Vietnam, Westmoreland, General Westmoreland, held a briefing for reporters. And the reporters called it the "Afternoon Follies".

I mean, this is where we are here. As Iraq spins more and more out of control, both the president and Secretary Rumsfeld are spinning this war, but they're looking more and more foolish. This is deadly serious business. I'm sure that the 96 soldiers that died this month -- and this month is not even over yet -- would like to have told the insurgents to back off.

I'm sure that they would have liked to have told the secretary of defense that it's time to go home. Because he's kept them there for almost four years. This is foolishness. This is not serious. This is spin at its worst level as Iraq continues to spin out of control.

BLITZER: Senator, what do you say, though, to Donald Rumsfeld when he says, politics, right now -- even though it is the election season, only 12 days before an election, and clearly Iraq being a major issue out there for many American voters right now -- what do you say, that this is so serious, the U.S. involvement, and what's going on in Iraq, and the ramifications for the entire the Middle East, that politics should have no role to play in how many troops are involved and what the U.S. strategy should be?

CLELAND: Come on, these are the people that went to war after 9/11 because of politics, with no justification whatsoever. And four years into the war now, after President Bush said, major combat over, mission accomplished, bring them on, and almost 3,000 dead, 20,000 wounded, many of them maimed for life. This is the president and the secretary of defense, saying, well -- four years into the war -- it's complicated, critics should back off, I don't know whether there's going to be more troops or less troops.

They have no idea what they're doing. And the American people see this. And yes, the American people are going to go to polls November 7th, and I think they're going to change leadership as best as they can, particularly in House and maybe in the U.S. Senate to make sense out of Iraq. Particularly, quite frankly, in my opinion, to redeploy our forces out of Iraq, out of harm's way, out of this chaos and this spin into hell that the Iraqis are into, and at least take care of our troops...

BLITZER: You know...

CLELAND: I think that's what we ought to do.

BLITZER: Sorry for interrupting. But yesterday the president was in the East Room delivering a speech on Iraq, defending his strategy and just before he started to take questions from reporters, today the defense secretary goes out there, at the Pentagon -- clearly some Republicans think this could be a winning strategy in trying to mobilize their conservative base.

Put on your political hat for a moment. Is this is winning strategy for them?

CLELAND: Iraq is a disaster. It's a losing strategy politically. But this war should not been fought on the basis of what's good for politics back here in America. But is has been for almost four years.

And the truth of the matter is, it's blowing up in the Republicans' faces. You got the president going out one day, then the secretary of defense go out to cover it up the next day. I mean -- and they don't know whether they're going to add more forces or less forces. You got the top military man in the Iraq saying, we need more forces, and then the secretary of defense says, well, we may need more or we may not.

What in the world are they doing? They're totally confused. There is a total lack of strategy to win, a total lack of strategy to get out. The American people see that. They're not going to put up with this. And so I think the Democrats -- and Iraq is the prime reason -- are going to take the House on November 7th and maybe elements of the Senate. Maybe not all the Senate, but certainly elements of the Senate, and hopefully, redeploy our forces, bring our Guard and Reserve home to guard our own country, and refocus our American military on killing or capturing Osama bin Laden and his terrorist cadre. We should have been doing that for five years.

BLITZER: Senator, I want you to listen to this exchange that the president's top political strategist Karl Rove had with Robert Siegel of NPR, National Public Radio. Listen to this.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ROBERT SIEGEL, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I'm looking at all the same polls that you're looking at every day.

KARL ROVE, WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL STRATEGIST: No you're not. No you're not. I'm looking at 68 polls a week. You may be looking at four or five public polls a week that talk about attitudes nationally, but that do not impact the outcome of these races. (END AUDIO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. What do you say to Karl Rove, who insists that the Republicans are going to hold not only the Senate but the House of Representatives as well, based on what he calls as the inside information he's getting?

CLELAND: Karl Rove can look at all of the polls he wants to. But the American people are looking at the numbers of killed and wounded and maimed in Iraq. And that's what's coming across clearly every night, unfortunately.

And we're moving up on 100 dead this month alone, the most of any month since the war began. This war is getting worse. It is spinning out of control, and the more it spins out of control, the more this administration, from the president to the secretary of defense to Karl Rove, try to spin it as something in control. It's out of control and the American people know it.

BLITZER: We got to leave it right there.

Senator Cleland, thanks very much for joining us.

CLELAND: Thank you.

BLITZER: This Internet it offering some unprecedented firsthand accounts from American troops on the front lines in Iraq. But exactly what they say online is closely watched by the Pentagon. Is the military cracking down on free speech?

Jacki Schechner is joining us with this report -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, they say they aren't. But here's story. The Multinational Force Command in Iraq laid out guidelines for "milbloggers", or military bloggers, in April of 2005. And among those blogging policies is that milbloggers couldn't post any classified information.

But the Army says that's not really the problem. The problem is that a lot of times bloggers don't know that information or photographs that they're posting could possibly be detrimental. In 2002, the Army set up a team to monitor official Army web sites. And they decided to expand that team in 2005 to include unofficial Army web sites, including blogs. They say they have monitored 500 blogs between July and September of 2006. They say they just monitor and offer advice. They're not shutting anybody down.

But Matt Burton (ph), who runs blackfive.net, one of the top military blogs, says he sees something recently to the contrary, that a lot of the milbloggers, especially those on the frontlines, are feeling pressure to shut down their blogs. They don't want to run afoul of their commanders in the field. Now CentCom and the Army both tell me there is no crackdown they know of, but they both did say that commanders in the field do have the right to restrict blogs and blogging as they see fit -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jacki, thank you.

And still ahead tonight, a visible response by Michael J. Fox to questions about his role in a political commercial. Did he not take his medicine to better make his case for embryonic stem cell research? The actor is speaking out tonight.

And Laura Bush gets defensive about her husband and Donald Rumsfeld and the war in Iraq. The popular first lady gets tough and political.

Stay with us. You in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The first lady Laura Bush is the darling on the Republican campaign trail in these final days before the election. But she's also proving she's tough as nails defending her husband against charges that he's simply in a state of denial when it comes to the war in Iraq.

Let's bring in CNN's White House correspondent Ed Henry -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the first lady is in heavy demand on the campaign trail because of her high favorability rating and her softer image. But she's also showing some sharp elbows as she defends her husband, including her very first comments on that controversial Bob Woodward book.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (on camera): Big day on the trail?

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: Big day on the trail. Three stops.

HENRY (voice-over): Morning in Minnesota. The first lady is wildly popular in swing states. And it's easy to see why.

MICHELE BAUCHMANN, (R-MN), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Mrs. Bush could literally be a Minnesotan, because Minnesotans are nice.

HENRY: But ask about Bob Woodward's book claiming the president has not being straight with the American people about the level of violence in Iraq, and you see another side of Mrs. Bush.

L. BUSH: Well, absolutely, I think that's wrong. Of course the president has been frank from the very, very first speech he gave to the Congress in September, after the September 11th attack, talking about this as a long war. The enemy can make a big show on TV, like they did for the last month, for the bloody last month that we had in Iraq.

HENRY: The first lady bristles when pressed on Woodward's suggestion that she backed then-White House Chief of Staff Andy Card's push to remove Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

L. BUSH: Those quotes of mine were in quotes, and the author didn't call me and fact-check. And it just didn't happen.

HENRY (on camera): You wanted Rumsfeld out.

L. BUSH: Are you just trying to continue to give the quotes that I said I didn't say?

HENRY: OK, without any quotes, just in general, the book claims that you wanted to push Rumsfeld out.

L. BUSH: No, absolutely not. That's absolutely not true.

HENRY: The first lady is treated like a rock star on the road, smoothing out the administration's rough edges, a soothing voice in a time of tumult that may help with female and independent voters. But Mrs. Bush is not just out here stumping for candidates. She's also stumping for her husband's legacy.

(voice-over): That's why she even feels an unlikely kinship with her predecessor, Hillary Clinton, who recently weighed in on the spat over which of their husbands did a better job fighting Osama bin Laden.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: If my husband and his national security team had been shown a classified report entitled, "bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States," he would have taken it more seriously.

L. BUSH: Well, she's just trying to defend her husband. And that's what I'm trying to do too, as I go around here. I know what kind of job my husband does. And I know it's a great job.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: The first lady's schedule is literally evolving by the day as Republican officials look at polls in various key races and decide where to redeploy Mrs. Bush. On Friday, it will be Florida. On Saturday, it will be the trifecta of New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry reporting for us. Thank you, Ed.

In this anti-terror era, is President Bush wielding too much power? In our latest poll about restrictions on civil liberties, check this out: 39 percent say the Bush administration has gone too far.

Let's bring in our chief national correspondent John King. He has got a special coming up at the top of the hour. John, give our viewers a little flavor of what we can expect to learn.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Quick preview, Wolf. We try to explore a very complicated issue: Has the president crossed the line, violated laws passed by Congress, perhaps violated things in the Constitution, in doing, as he puts it, whatever it takes to prosecute the war on terror? So we look at his treatment of government detainees. We profile one man who spent more than 2.5 years in U.S. custody. He was then released.

We also go up to Glastonbury, Connecticut, to look at the Patriot Act, and what some are calling an infringement on civil liberties here at home. We look at the vice president's role in pushing for a much more powerful executive, and the more recent pushback from the courts and the Congress, both of whom have said, Mr. President, we think you've gone a bit too far. So it's a look at what has become a defining issue for the president post-9/11. We also spend a little bit of time looking, though, at some efforts to expand executive authority even before 9/11.

BLITZER: We'll be watching, coming up in only a few moments, right at the top of the hour. John, thank you very much. Good work.

Remember, "Broken Government: Power Play" comes up 8:00 p.m. Eastern in a few minutes right here on CNN. You're going to want to stick around and watch that.

Also ahead, Michael J. Fox now responding to critics after a political ad sparks controversy.

And get this -- the Googler in chief. Jeanne Moos standing by with a story you will see only here on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: ... and the demise of the brutal terrorist Zarqawi.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: All right, Wolf, a new poll -- I don't know why this surprised me, but it did. Fifty-six percent of Americans say they would want their son or daughter to grow up to be a member of Congress. So that was the question. Is that what you'd like for your child?

Sandy in Norwalk, Ohio writes, "Congress as it is today? Are you kidding? I raised my children to stay away from people like that. Scream, run away, and quickly find a policeman for safety."

Richard in East Syracuse, New York: "Either a member Congress, or a drug dealer, or a pimp, or maybe a bank robber. There really isn't much difference."

Robin in Weston, Florida: "Jack, Congress could certainly use more members with the sensibility and morals of my children."

Here's something a bit different. We got this from Jorge in Houston, Texas: "Yes, I want my daughter, Maria Traconis, to be a member of Congress." Can we see Maria's picture? We have it. There she is. "She's in Iraq right now and she will be a congresswoman one day."

That's a fine-looking soldier right there.

Michele writes from Delaware writes: "If my kid had to go to Congress, better as a congressman than as a congressional page!"

And Jeanie writes, "Sure, why not? I've got a teenage son who's already in training for the job. He talks a friend into cleaning his room, has a ton of excuses for why he doesn't work around the house, blames everything on his sister, and is always campaigning for a raise in his allowance. He would be a natural."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and read more of these online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. See you tomorrow.

Right now, there's a brewing controversy between a conservative radio talk show host and a well-known actor. It concerns the debate over embryonic stem cell research. Michael J. Fox is responding to comments from the radio host Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh recently suggested Fox was faking the effects of his Parkinson's Disease in a political commercial.

Within the past hour, Michael J. Fox appeared in his first televised appearance since the controversy began. Fox was interviewed by Katie Couric of CBS News and the effects of his disease -- check this out -- were clearly visible.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR: It's funny that -- the notion that you could calculate it for a fact is -- and, you know, people with Parkinson's out there were just kind of going -- you know, what we could.

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: Could you have waited to do that ad when you had less dyskinesia, for example?

FOX: Well, when do you know that's going to be? It's funny. My mother was visiting me that day and was in back room, and she was saying throughout the filming of it, she was talking to my friends back there and she was saying he's trying so hard to be still.

And so was the one that actually -- when the comments were made, she was the only one that I talked to that was really angry. And she said, I can't even see straight. I said, mom, just relax. It's OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Shortly after his initial comments blasting Michael J. Fox for supposedly faking the ramifications of Parkinson's, Rush Limbaugh said this on his radio show.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: All I'm saying is I have never seen him the way he appears in this commercial for Claire McCaskill. So I will bigly, hugely admit that I was wrong, and I will apologize to Michael J. Fox if I am wrong in characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act, especially since people are telling me they have seen him this way on other interviews and in other television appearances.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BLITZER: The controversy clearly continues.

Still ahead tonight, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a slip of the tongue leads to a leader's new nickname. Jeanne Moos standing by. She'll tell us about the Googler-in-chief. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush well known for occasionally misspeaking. And one of his latest verbal gaffes has earned him the nickname Googler-in-chief.

CNN's video columnist Jeanne Moos explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He can handle a power saw, but when it comes to power of the Internet ...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hear there's rumors on the Internets.

MOOS: Not once, but at least twice, President Bush has inexplicably added an S.

BUSH: We can have filters on Internets.

MOOS: Leading young whippersnappers to mock him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody's on the Internets. Yes, that's our fearless leader.

MOOS: And now the leader dubbed Googler-in-chief by the "Wall Street Journal" has struck again. During a CNBC interview, the president was asked if he ever Googles.

BUSH: Occasionally, and one of the things that I've used on the Google is to pull up maps.

MOOS: The Google? It may be petty, but the Google had techno geeks agog.

"I wonder on which one of the Internets he uses the Google," posted one.

JACOB WEISBERG, EDITOR, SLATE: He was referring to it as the Google, like the Donald.

MOOS: Forget the Donald.

BUSH: But I'm the decider.

MOOS: And the when decider says the Google, the editor who's working on a sixth edition of "Bushisms" is the man to call. Jacob Weisberg e-mailed back that was eating "the lunch" when we called for an interview.

WEISBERG: It's a little bit the way my mom talks about technology. It's sort of sweet. It's sort of endearing. She calls to tell you that she got an e-mail.

MOOS: President Bush said he uses the Google to look at satellite maps of his ranch in Crawford, Texas. It reminds me of where I want to be sometimes. But who are we to talk? I had to get my producer to help.

(on camera): So we're downloading Google Earth. We're not sure if the president did this or knows how to do this. I don't know how to do this.

(voice-over): Next thing you know, we were zooming in on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

(on camera): You practically can see him in there. He's on the Internets.

STEPHEN COLBERT, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Now, I'm no fan of the Internets.

MOOS (voice-over): Comedians and Internet wags have immortalized the Internets.

BUSH: I hear there's rumors on the Internets.

MOOS: As for the Google, the company says it's flattered. "He can call it whatever the heck he wants to call it." Besides, he's technically correct. There's more than one Internet. Internet II is a better, faster network used by universities and others.

The president is not the only politician to get tripped up by the Internet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a series of tubes.

JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": The Internet is a series of tubes through which goods and services travel.

MOOS: Better to have those tubes tied than the president's tongue.

BUSH: ... on the Google.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, the CNN, New York. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thanks, Jeanne.

And don't forget, next week we have an expended edition of THE SITUATION ROOM, 7:00-9:00 p.m. Eastern. Paula Zahn will be with me.

Thanks very much for joining us. Let's go to our special right now. "CNN PRESENTS, AMERICA VOTES 2006: BROKEN GOVERNMENT."

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

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