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THE SITUATION ROOM

Missouri One Of Nine Battlegrounds States Being Watched Closely; Democrats Must Gain Five Seats To Win Control Of Senate; Polls Say 53 Percent Of Likely Voters Will Vote Democratic; Charles Rangel Interview; Eric Cantor Interview; North Korea Returns to Six- Party Talks, U.S. Abandons Sadr City Checkpoints

Aired October 31, 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.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And standing by we've got CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.

BLITZER: Happening right now, one week away and too close for comfort, we have some new state polls in the battle for Congress. Who's gaining? Who's losing in these pivotal races?

ZAHN: And look who is wrangling now. Congressman Charlie Rangel fires back at Vice President Cheney using a word that rhymes with rich, yes, you probably know what that word is. Is this a taste of the bitterness to come if Democrats take back the House?

BLITZER: And there's another partisan brawl unfolding right now, this one over Iraq. Senator John Kerry and President Bush trade some very furious attacks, tonight no apologies -- plenty of anger between the two former White House rivals.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

ZAHN: And I'm Paula Zahn. From the CNN Election Headquarters in New York, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight we have some new snapshots of an intense and ugly fight for control of Congress. This is just seven days before America votes. CNN has new Senate polls in five critical battlegrounds. They show Democrats leading in three states, Republicans in one and another is dead even.

BLITZER: Very, very close. But we begin with the close as they come Senate race in Missouri, the so called "Show Me" state. Look at this, Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill and Republican incumbent Jim Talent are tied right now in our new poll, getting 49 percent each among likely voters.

Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is in Missouri tonight with more -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf and Paula, I can tell you, when you listen to 49/49 and all of that tension, you would expect that these candidates would be out slugging one another. There is some of that on the air waves, but very little of that on the ground. This is a pretty mellow campaign, perhaps because both of them have been through campaigns in the state before.

And both of them have lost by tiny, tiny percentages. Talent once won by one percent and lost by one percent. So they're kind of taking this in stride. None of the real nastiness that you're seeing in these other races in Virginia and Tennessee. And right now what they're focused on, as you would imagine, when you're seeing a race that's 49/49 they are looking at turnout. Now the Talent people say they have a turnout machine on steroids.

They're very confident about their ability to get those voters to the poll. But McCaskill thinks that she has passion on her side. She says she feels a real sense that people in Missouri do want a change. And not just in the places where Democrats generally win. She believes that in rural areas, where usually Republicans are king, that she is making headway. She says she went in there and talked about kitchen table issues.

She heard from people who said we're no longer in the middle class because of health care. So she's tried to make real inroads into what has been standard Republican territory that's been pretty much ignored by Democrats, so it now all about turnout, turnout, turnout with both candidates crisscrossing the state, going to their core to try to get them out.

Jim Talent bringing in some big guns this Friday, President Bush is going to come, help him campaign, going directly to the heart of Republicanville and that's in the southwestern part of this state. So, right now, it's no longer about the policy, speeches, no longer about the advertisements, it's about the on the ground war and it's that part is very intense. Wolf?

BLITZER: Candy, a quick question -- who seems to be more energized right now the Republican base or the Democratic base in Missouri based on your sort of unscientific assessment out there.

CROWLEY: Very unscientific. They both draw, you know, crowds that you would generally get in a state where, today people are working, you know, they go to your standard diners. People seem to -- they have been campaigning while we have been here, in friendly territories. It's hard to really predict. Talent talks about how he got a good turnout here and there.

McCaskill talks about the same thing, so it's hard to kind of measure it. But I think McCaskill is right. And Talent does admit that at this point he knows particularly with the stem cell initiative that it might hurt him in some portions of the state and might help him in others. So he's you know trying to sort of walk between those two positions and still get his people out to vote. But the passion, the anger, which is a very big vote motivator that's on the side of Claire McCaskill.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley in St. Louis, Candy, thanks very much -- Paula.

ZAHN: Another state that could lead to an historic shift in power next week, the race for the Senate in Tennessee where Chattanooga mayor, Republican Bob Corker is fighting up against Democratic Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. Our chief national correspondent John King joins us from Chattanooga tonight with all the latest -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Paula, good evening to you from Chattanooga. This is a race for the seat now held by the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist. Harold Ford campaigning in this state like Democrats all across the country, saying it's time for a change in Washington. To bring that about and to win this seat, he not only needs a big African American turnout, he also needs to convince white voters in an increasingly conservative, increasingly Republican state to join him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): The 36-year-old congressman is a tireless and charismatic campaigner. But a new CNN poll shows him trailing former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker in the final week.

Corker led 52 percent to 44 percent among likely voters in the Opinion Research Corporation survey, an edge anchored by a big lead among white voters and among those who identify themselves as conservatives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of us know the strength that comes from prayer. It's at least 10 or 12 times a day that on this campaign trail, that I pray to hopefully carry myself in a manner that will make people in this state proud.

KING: Both candidates support a state ballot initiative that would outlaw same-sex marriage and knowing question one will motivate social conservatives to vote, Ford takes every opportunity to make clear he's no liberal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know I voted for parental notification. I'm against partial birth abortion.

KING: The first lady late campaign visit came as Corker joined some other Republicans in seeking more distance from the White House on Iraq. For months he said it was up to the president who serves as defense secretary. Now though as the bloodiest month in Iraq this year comes to close, Corker is more critical and more open in pushing for a change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe with this change, hopefully a change in strategy that will fix our strategy and cause us to really move ahead and causing Iraq to be able to secure itself, maybe it's time for someone else to lead that effort.

KING: Congressman Ford calls it a convergence of convenience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just can't trust them. One day he's for Rumsfeld staying. The next day when the polls say it's not popular, he's against that. We have had that kind of leadership in Washington now for six years.

KING: In a year when all Democrats are selling change, Ford's asking for a lot, for Tennessee to put him in the Senate and in the history books. And ignoring polls or anything else that suggests he won't get there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: The Corker campaign obviously happy with our poll numbers tonight. Wolf and Paula, I'll tell you the Ford campaign disputes them. They say their private polls shows a closer race. And the Corker campaigning concedes that their own poll show it a bit closer than the eight points CNN has it at now. Harold Ford saying he's confident he can pull this out in the last week, Wolf and Paula, but he also knows if it doesn't win this seat, the chances of Democrats winning the Senate go down quite significant.

ZAHN: But nevertheless, John, you can't completely counter those statistics, can you? I mean Corker is clearly ahead with the white voters and conservatives, right?

KING: Well Harold Ford, we're here in here in Chattanooga today, which is the town where Bob Corker was mayor and I met a number of the labor activists who were out in the rural communities and they say When you stand outside these factories that they're surprised that the number of the white voters who say they are prepared to vote for Harold Ford.

The Ford campaign disputing our numbers and again, the Corker campaign saying it's closer than we say it, but it will be the one thing to watch. Can Harold Ford get a big black turnout especially in the Memphis area and what do white voters do in this state. Harold Ford expressing confidence in an interview with me today that he will get a very significant portion of the white vote that is the race in the campaign's final week, Paula.

ZAHN: All right, John King, thanks so much. And with so many races so tied, both Republicans and Democrats are desperate to win over some of those undecided voters out there.

That means Jack Cafferty is here to give us "The Cafferty File". Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: As polarized as the country is, it's probably a fairly safe bet with a week to go now that most people have figured out who they're going to vote for. You're either for the war or you're not. You either think 12 million illegal aliens in the country is a good idea or you don't.

You're either convinced the Bush administration is protecting us from terrorists or you're not. Not a lot of gray area in many of the issues that will drive this election. Nevertheless, it's probably a safe bet that some people haven't yet made up their minds. The undecided voters traditionally don't do that until the very last minute. And given that there are a number of very tight races across the country, the decisions of a relatively few undecided could tip the balance of power in Washington.

So the question is this. With a week to go, what can the Republicans and Democrats do to win over the undecided voter? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile.

BLITZER: That swing voter is going to be really critical on a lot of these very, very close races like Missouri.

CAFFERTY: Well, you know, it depends on how many of them there are. One estimate is there's only about three percent undecided. If none of them decide to go out and vote, it doesn't matter.

BLITZER: Then it doesn't make a difference...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: If they stay home and don't show up.

CAFFERTY: Right.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. We got a lot more coming up here, Paula, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ZAHN: And I was going to say the midterm elections, you never see much more than in some cases 39 to 42 percent turnout.

BLITZER: Which is sort of sad.

ZAHN: Let's see. Rallying the GOP, John Kerry gives Republicans plenty of fodder days before a very important election. Find out how he ended up in a war of words with the White House.

BLITZER: That was surprising today. Plus, dead men voting, we'll find out how tens of thousands of voters -- votes that is -- could be cast by folks who aren't even alive. This is a strange story. You're going to want to see it.

ZAHN: And this one is kind of weird, too, and mystery eyeballs, a Halloween prank that ended up on the White House podium during talk of a nuclear North Korea.

This is CNN's Election Headquarters. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our expanded edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. Only seven days left until Americans decides who will win control of Congress.

ZAHN: And tonight, you got a 2004 presidential contender out there giving the GOP a red-hot talking point. Senator John Kerry botched what he said was supposed to be a joke about President Bush and troops in Iraq. It certainly has the Republicans piling on in spite of a strong counter punch from the senator.

Brian Todd is keeping track of the angry back-and-forth comments.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, this escalating fight between John Kerry and top Republicans seems to carry over a lot of the bitterness from the 2004 campaign. But it may very well affect this one.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Not even running for office this year, John Kerry pulls a late October surprise.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq.

TODD: Those comments at a California campaign event Monday set off a chain reaction that could only be this hot days before an election. From the president...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The senator's suggestion that men and women of our military are somehow uneducated is insulting and it is shameful.

TODD: Kerry rejects the criticism.

KERRY: I'm sick and tired of a whole bunch of Republican attacks, the most of which come from people who never wore the uniform and never had the courage to stand up and go to war themselves.

TODD: But Republican Senator John McCain also calls it an insult to Americans in combat, calls for Kerry to apology. All this about a comment Kerry's camp says he didn't even mean. A Kerry aide tells CNN he really meant students should learn their history or they might end up like President Bush getting their country stuck in a place like Iraq. In a news conference nearly 24 hours later, Kerry calls his remarks a botched joke.

KERRY: If anybody would thinks that a veteran would somehow criticize more than 140,000 troops serving in Iraq and not the president and his people who put them there they're crazy.

TODD: But could the Democrats' 2004 presidential torchbearer have hurt his party's momentum heading into next week? Analyst Stuart Rothenberg says he doesn't think so generally, but...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Democratic point of view, they want everything to be about George Bush and the situation on the ground in Iraq. And anything that draws attention away from that can't be ideal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Also not ideal now, according to analysts, John Kerry's chances for the presidency in 2008, if he decides to run again. That's an eternity in politics. But some analyst believe the fact that this got so nasty so quickly with some of the more slashing remarks coming from Kerry's camp, doesn't make him look very thoughtful or presidential -- Paula.

ZAHN: Brian Todd, thanks so much -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Paula.

Still to come, Congressman Charlie Rangel calls Dick Cheney an SOB after the vice president hits him hard on possible tax hikes, the verbal wrestling match. Plus, Charlie Rangel and Republican Congressman Eric Cantor here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And dead voters, find out how thousands of people who don't exist are still registered to cast their ballots in the state of New York. We're live from CNN Election Headquarters in New York and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This just coming in to CNN, a disturbing incident on the runway at Newark airport in New Jersey. Let's turn to CNN's Zain Verjee. She's got details -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, we're just learning this information now. A Lufthansa 747 plane bumped essentially into a Continental flight on the ground, on the runway at Newark airport. We're hearing that the Lufthansa plane has got some wing damage. There are no reports, fortunately, of fuel leaks. As you know, that could be extremely dangerous.

As you can see right now from this live picture, emergency services are on the scene -- many trying to respond to try to get the passengers off the plane. Many of them -- most of them in fact are still sitting onboard the Lufthansa plane. There are no injuries that have been reported and we don't quite know exactly what went wrong here. We'll bring you more details when we have them, though -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much. Paula, to you.

ZAHN: And we're going to go back to politics now, Wolf. As we count down to the election, we all know that the key, or at least we're taught the key to American democracy is the notion of one person, one vote. But what if people can't make it to the polls because they're dead? Well apparently that could be an issue this time around. Seems ridiculous, but there are actually dead people voting?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And perhaps...

(CROSSTALK)

SNOW: ... fitting Paula that we're talking about ghosts on Halloween. It is not a new worry though on election. But what is new is a voter database here in New York. The state has lagged behind the rest of the country and its voter registration list is coming under the microscope.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): It's a suspicious that's haunted elections past, but could the names of dead people potentially be used in present elections. That's a question posed by the "Poughkeepsie Journal" of New York. It did its own analysis of the state's new database of 11 million plus registered voters.

JOHN FERRO, "POUGHKEEPSIE JOURNAL": We found that in New York State, in its voter registration database, there are as many as 77,000 people who were deceased but were still registered to vote.

SNOW: Reporter John Ferro says make no mistake, the analysis is not an exact science. And he says he did not find any fraud, but says his investigation points to the possibility of it.

FERRO: Our report quantifies, if you will, or gives an estimate for the first time of the potential for fraud involving deceased registered voters in this brand new database.

SNOW: That database is only three months old. A spokesman for the Board of Elections was unable to appear on camera for an interview, but told us that he was concerned by the paper's results. He added that the board will complete its own analysis by May of 2007. Doug Chapin of the nonpartisan group ElectionLine.org said he's not all that surprised by the findings.

DOUG CHAPIN, DIRECTOR, ELECTIONLINE.ORG: It's worth looking carefully at. But I don't think all 77,000 of those people are going to rise from the dead and descend on the polls on Election Day.

SNOW: Chapin says suspicions about dead people voting are nothing new. It swirled in Chicago following the election of John F. Kennedy. Chapin says more often than not, it's more fiction than fact.

CHAPIN: When you hear stories about perhaps in the 1960 election, whether or not there were some dead voters who turned out to vote on Election Day, rarely proven, often repeated.

SNOW: And it's being repeated again in an election year with so many tight races where everything's coming under scrutiny. To illustrate the point that every vote counts, analysts look to the 2004 governor's race in Washington State that had two recounts. Democrat Christine Greg Waugh (ph) was ultimately named the winner with a 133- vote victory.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now the voting expert we spoke with says it can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to remove the name of someone who died from the voter registration list, stressing the importance of modernized voting systems to update those lists -- Paula.

ZAHN: Oh, that must be some small comfort to many of these candidates in these razor-thin margin races.

SNOW: And as we have seen, every vote will count.

ZAHN: All right, Mary snow, interesting and outrageous as well. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thank you, Paula.

Just ahead, is it partisan banter or a political smack down. I'll ask Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel about his war of words with the vice president, Dick Cheney.

Plus, the eyes have it in the White House briefing room. We're going to show you the Halloween prank that caught the press secretary, Tony Snow, off guard.

We're live from CNN Election Headquarters in New York and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's take a closer look now at Ohio where the 2004 election was marred by long lines that often discouraged voters and plenty of charges of dirty tricks at the polls. Ohio is very critical this year as well. But there is still worry about what lurks at the polls next Tuesday.

Here's our justice correspondent Kelli Arena.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's still a lot of resentment here in Cleveland left over from the 2004 election when there were very long lines and a lot of complaints over how those votes were eventually counted. Well here we are two years later, and if critics are right, this election will be riddled with just as many problems.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARENA (voice-over): There's only a week to go before the election. And here in Ohio, people are confused.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

ARENA: A Cleveland TV station is hosting election officials who are taking voters questions and the switchboard is lighting up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether they need to have a driver's license, whether driver's license has to have their current address on it.

ARENA: Ohio has a new law that says voters have to bring I.D. to the polls. The critics say it's too complex and it's being applied differently from county to county.

NORMAN ROBBINS, GREATER CLEVELAND VOTER COALITION: It's not equal who gets affected by these laws and by this confusion. It will be people who move a lot, so their registration has to be updated. There will be problems with the updating. Who moves a lot? Census data tells us youth, low-income people and minorities.

ARENA: The young, the poor, minorities, they all tend to vote Democratic and that makes the new law politically controversial. Inevitably lawyers are involved challenging the I.D. law in court. A ruling won't come before Wednesday. That's just six days before the polls open and time is running out.

CANDICE HOKE, CENTER FOR ELECTION INTEGRITY: The poll workers have to have possibly retraining, new materials. We don't know what the standards are for Election Day right now. But certainly the law that we have is confused, so something has to happen.

ARENA: And that from the woman appointed by Cuyahoga County, Ohio's most populous, to monitor the elections. What about those electronic voting machines we've heard so much about? Well all of Ohio's counties now have them. And poll workers in some places couldn't get them to work during the primaries in May.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I've seen you done this...

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... the last election.

ARENA: There's a lot more training this time around.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, like I said, there's many different ways.

ARENA: Poll workers are more confident.

BARBARA SIMMONS, POLL WORKER: We'll get through it. We'll make it.

ARENA: Michael Vu, who runs Cuyahoga County's Board of Elections, insists that he's optimistic.

MICHAEL VU, DIR., CUYAHOGA CO. ELECTION BOARD: We have a plan in place to making sure that things go -- run smoothly.

ARENA: Whatever happens, a lot of people will be watching, state officials, independent observers, even citizens.

SHARON LETTMAN, PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY: We're not going to leave it up just to the government to do their part. We're citizen advocates. We're advocating for democracy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ARENA: And of course both political parties have their lawyers ready to pounce at the first hint of any trouble -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kelli, thank you. And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. ZAHN: And happening right now, verbal sparring and some dirty words, the vice president blast the Democrat as not understanding the economy. Well now that same congressman responds with some choice words we won't repeat during the dinner hour, even in primetime, even though we have used some pretty salty language...

BLITZER: Very strong words indeed, also an attempt at humor that for many is no joke. Senator John Kerry says his words about the troops in Iraq were really just a joke gone wrong. The Republicans say it's not a laughing matter. We'll ask HuffingtonPost.com editor Arianna Huffington what she thinks.

ZAHN: And apparently North Korea says it's ready to talk things over again. Pyongyang is agreeing to return to six-party talks on its nuclear weapons program. What might that mean? Well, our own Zain Verjee has an exclusive interview with an assistance secretary of state, the top U.S.-North Korean negotiator, Christopher Hill. I'm Paula Zahn.

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer. From the CNN election headquarters in New York, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ZAHN: Well the countdown is on and with only a week to go and so much at stake, the election has some politicians firing some pretty heated rhetoric at the opposition. It's like a food fight. That's the polite way to put it. The latest, a New York Congressman with surprisingly blunt words about the vice president.

Here's Deborah Feyerick with more.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, Congressman Rangel's camp says Republicans are trying to scare the country by lying about what might happen to current tax cuts. But the vice president's people say they're simply talking about a tax policy that has helped the economy, one which could be threatened if the Democrats win.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK (voice-over): They are two Washington veterans -- one staunchly conservative, the other staunchly liberal. And both are determined to sway voters with their differing views on the future of the economy.

Making the TV rounds yesterday on CNBC's "Kudlow & Company," Vice President Dick Cheney warned that Democrats would raise taxes and that Congressman Charles Rangel, as head of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, would destroy the economy.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He doesn't believe there's a single one of the Bush tax cuts that ought to be extended, and I think that would be bad for the economy. I don't know if the stock market would like it. I don't think they would.

FEYERICK: The vice president has repeatedly accused Rangel of not understanding Wall Street. It appears the congressman reached his limit yesterday, calling Mr. Cheney an "SOB" and suggesting the vice president get psychiatric help for, quote, "whatever personality deficit he may have suffered."

Stronger words than he has publicly used before.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: Once again, the vice president hasn't the slightest clue about what he's talking about. He's never talked with me -- and neither has anyone in the administration -- about taxes.

FEYERICK: Rangel's spokespeople did not deny the comment, which first appeared in a New York paper. When CNN asked about the strong language, the White House said this.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I asked the vice president about it today and he had a big, hearty laugh. I mean, he knows Charlie.

FEYERICK: Congress will have to decide whether to continue President Bush's current tax cuts, which expire in 2011. Congressman Rangel has said any decision would have to be bipartisan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK: The vice president's spokeswoman would not comment specifically on Rangel's strong language, saying they were talking about tax policy and what is a substantive issue -- Paula, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Deb.

So what's the feud over the economy all about? Is it escalating? And what happens if the Democrats do take over the House of Representatives after next week's election?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joining us now, two key members of the House Ways and Means Committee: the New York Congressman, Charlie Rangel, who would likely become the chairman if the Democrats take over; and Republican Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia. He's in the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives.

Congressmen, thanks very much for coming in.

And let me start off with you, Charlie Rangel.

What do you make of the latest comments that the vice president is making and your quotes in the "New York Post" today, in which you lashed right back?

RANGEL: Listen, Dick and I are old friends and I'm certain that he's not offended by that language. Remember, not too long ago he asked one of my colleagues in the Senate to commit a sexual act upon himself.

But I was really surprised he would single me out as one that could destroy the economy. But I know one thing, that after the election, Democrats and Republicans are going to have to sit down and work these things out. It's good for the Congress. It's good for the country. But all of this is campaign rhetoric.

BLITZER: Well, let's listen to this other quote from the vice president directly going after you, Congressman.

I want to play it for our viewers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Charlie Rangel were chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Charlie said there's not a single one of the Bush tax cuts he thinks should be extended and he could achieve that objective simply by not acting. I think Charlie doesn't understand how the economy works.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, a strong accusation. You don't understand how the economy works. And American's taxes are going to go up if you are chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for taxes in the Congress.

RANGEL: That's absolutely ridiculous. As a matter of fact, the one thing that I have been advocating and hoping we can reach some bipartisan agreement is to remove this heavy tax, or the alternative minimum tax that's on middle income people.

What he is talking about is taxes that's going to expire in 2010. Well if the president wants to simplify the tax system, and I think the members of the committee in the Congress would want to do it, everything has to be on the table. He knows that, and all the members of the committee know it.

BLITZER: Does Congressman Rangel, Congressman Cantor understand how the U.S. economy works? Does he understand tax policy?

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), VIRGINIA: Well, you know, good to be on, Wolf, and with my friend Charlie.

I think that certainly he is a veteran on the Ways and Means Committee. But I would tell you, I love to hear the bipartisan talk from Charlie Rangel today because, you know, it is my understanding, Charlie, that you haven't committed one way or the other on renewing any of the Bush tax cuts.

And given that and given the fact that you and your colleagues on the other side of the aisle refuse to help in any way to pass the Bush tax cuts, when they have been largely responsible for the prosperity that we have seen across the board, including middle America here, I question really where you are, too, Charlie.

RANGEL: Eric, these -- you know as well as I do that these tax cuts do not expire until 2010. And we have so many -- and the alternative minimum tax, that's on the taxpayers now.

So don't you really think it makes good economic sense to see what the economy looks like before we get to 2010? I think it's irresponsible to say that you are going to have tax cuts in 2010 without dealing with the problems that we have today.

CANTOR: Well, surely, everything was on the table prior when you worked with Chairman Thomas to try and craft a tax package that would inure to the benefit of Middle America. And in fact, Middle America, the average American family, actually does receive a benefit on these tax cuts.

And there are about 15 million Americans that will receive a $2,100 tax increase if we don't act affirmatively to extend these tax cuts, Charlie. You know that.

RANGEL: But this is not the time -- you are talking about 2010. We've got problems that we have to take care of perhaps before then. We have the Social Security system, the Medicare system, the tax reform system.

And so I'm 76 years old. You're a young man, you can talk about 2010 and 2020. But what we should be talking about in this election is how we've got to work together with a common agenda.

CANTOR: Well, listen, I'm all about that kind of talk from you, Charlie. I mean, look, we've had a lot of discussion on all of these issues. And, frankly, your side of the aisle has been absent. When we talk about entitlement reform, we talk about Social Security reform, we talk about tax reform, there's been absolutely no willingness nor any record to point to by you and your colleagues.

RANGEL: This may shock you, because you and I have always gotten along, but listen carefully. Chairman Bill Thomas has never discussed with me any tax policy or any trade policy.

BLITZER: Charlie Rangel and Eric Cantor, thanks to both of you for coming in with one week to go before Election Day. Appreciate it very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And coming up next -- Iraq. What happens there could affect the very important midterm vote next Tuesday. We're going to take you to Baghdad where our own Michael Ware gives us a look at what's going on the ground at this hour live from the CNN election headquarters, right here smack dab in the middle of New York. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Many voters here in the United States are keeping a very close and wary eye on the situation in Iraq. Right now, U.S. and Iraqi officials no longer are stopping and checking cars going into Sadr City and other parts of Baghdad. The Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordering military check points to be lifted in that Shiite militant stronghold. It's seen as another move by al- Maliki to assert his authority with the United States and to appeal to his Shiite support base.

Also in Baghdad today, at least 22 people were killed in various attacks, 15 of a them victims of a car bomb that exploded near a wedding party convoy. The dead included women and children.

And the Pentagon is now reporting the deaths of two more U.S. troops in Iraq. One hundred and three Americans have been killed this month alone. And the total death total since the war began now stands at 2,816.

The search for an American soldier missing in Iraq continues. But now, just days before the U.S. elections, there are these new and disturbing developments in the search for the soldier.

And joining us now, our correspondent in Baghdad, Michael Ware.

Michael, a week before the U.S. elections, Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, says the U.S. can't inspect, can't go through these security checkpoints outside of Sadr City in Baghdad. What's going on?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, these checkpoints, some of them are temporary, some of them are permanent checkpoints, but all of them at the moment are focused on trying to find the missing U.S. soldier.

Now, that soldier went missing about eight days ago. And we've seen a lot happen in that time. It's really put a strain on the U.S. and Iraqi bilateral relations. In the period of about an hour, hour and a half, less than two hours, we saw a meeting take place between the U.S. commander, General Casey, the ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Iraqi prime minister.

The Iraqi prime minister then immediately issued a press statement and these checkpoints were removed. All the permanent ones were opened up. So this really happened on the fly. And perhaps it does affect the hunt for the U.S. soldier.

MATTHEWS: Well, it comes on the heels of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, complaining that the U.S. isn't doing enough to strengthen Iraqi security, complaining about all sorts of other issues. It looks like there's a real serious problem right now between Washington and this Iraqi government.

WARE: Well, U.S. officials here on the ground, obviously, are trying to play that down, as we saw last Friday with a read joint statement between U.S. officials and Prime Minister al-Maliki. But the reality is, Wolf, that there certainly is tension, if not an increasing divide.

I mean, Maliki has to play to two audiences. One is a domestic audience, a constituency, normal people, in this case, who were tired of traffic logjams caused by these checkpoints. But he also needs to play to those who have put him in power. And in one way or another, that's a very powerful militia of Muqtada al-Sadr, the militia U.S. intelligence believes took this soldier, almost in a copy-cat of Hezbollah's tactics.

And there's a known connection between Jaish al Mahdi (ph) and Hezbollah. When they captured the two Israeli Defense Force soldiers, they provoked the Lebanese War.

BLITZER: Michael, as you know, the elections here in the United States next Tuesday. On Sunday, there's supposed to be a verdict in the first Saddam Hussein trial. And some are suggesting that verdict, the announcement of a verdict, presumably the death penalty, is timed to coincide to help Republicans in the elections back here in the States. What are you hearing over there?

WARE: Well, again, officials here on the ground dispute that notion. They say that this was a preordained date chosen by the court itself, that this was independent of any political consideration. That may or may not be so. It's very, very hard to tell. Nonetheless, the timing certainly is coincidental.

BLITZER: Michael Ware is our correspondent in Baghdad.

Michael, thanks very much.

WARE: Thank you, Wolf.

ZAHN: And we have a CNN exclusive interview coming your way, a breakthrough with nuclear North Korea. We'll talk with the man in charge of the negotiations.

Plus, eyeballs on the podium, scary. Halloween comes to the White House and Tony Snow, the president's spokesperson, gets quite a surprise during some very serious talk at the White House. Let's find out who put those eyeballs there.

This is CNN Election Headquarters in New York.

You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Just a week before the midterm election, there's a major new development in the crisis sparked by North Korea's nuclear test this month. That country now says after almost a year, it will, repeat, will return to the six-party talks on its nuclear program.

CNN's Zain Verjee just spoke exclusively to the Bush administration's pointman on this crisis -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, The U.S. and North Korea sitting down for secret talks with China really holding its hand. The results, as you know, after seven hours of major breakthrough, North Korea did a major U-turn and agreed to come back to six-party talks on its nuclear program.

As you said just moments ago, we spoke exclusively to Chris Hill, the U.S. envoy in the region, who is in China. And we asked him what is it that the U.S. can bring to the table that is new and meaningful, and here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRISTOPHER HILL, ASST. SECRETARY OF STATE: There's a lot on the table. There's especially a lot on the table for the North Koreans. And I think they realize that. You know, we've made it very clear that if they go down this route to nuclear weapons, they don't have a future, because, I'm telling you, nobody accepts them as a nuclear power.

On the other hand, if they would get off that road, and onto the road of implementing this September '05 agreement, I think there's a lot there. So I think the real trick is to get that stuff implemented, to make it real. And in making it real, I think we could make some progress.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: He also says that North Korea had placed new conditions on coming back to talks. North Korea had said before that it wasn't going to be coming back to the talks until the U.S. lifted financial sanctions that had been slapped on North Korea for illicit activities like alleged money laundering and drug smuggling.

Chris Hill also says that talks should happen by the end of the year, by December, hopefully in China. He described the talks really as being all business. He just got straight to heart of the matter. There was a declaration back in September of 2005, Wolf, where North Korea agreed to end its nuclear program in exchange for security and economic guarantees. And that's really going to be something that will be the basis of starting talks.

At the same time, the U.S. has made it very clear that it will continue to push ahead with enforcing a U.N. Security Council resolution that basically hits North Korea for sanctions with its nuclear tests.

Chris Hill earlier today was sounded a note of caution as well, saying that it's not time yet to break out the cigars or the champagne. Wolf?

BLITZER: Good advice from Chris Hill, dealing with North Korea is never easy and I wouldn't a anticipate this is necessarily going to be the breakthrough all of us would like.

ZAHN: But it is time to break out Jack Cafferty. And he is here, back with more of "The Cafferty File."

CAFFERTY: There you go, thanks Paula.

The question this hour is with a week to go, what can the Republicans and Democrats do to win over the undecided voters?

Some of what you have written us is as follows.

Joel from Vancouver, Washington writes: "What Democrats can do between now and the election is shut John Kerry up. Every time he opens his mouth, he drags the party down another notch or two. Is he on Karl Rove's payroll or is he just tactless?" Elizabeth in Raleigh, North Carolina: "Jack, the Democrats are going to win over the undecideds because Republicans and this president have nothing to offer the voters. Case in point, Bush's comments about Kerry today. A blind man could tell Bush is desperately trying to change the subject from his failures to John Kerry's stupid jokes."

Mary in Tennessee: "The Democrats would be wise to remind everyone those wonderful tax cuts that the Republicans love to chant on and on about have been financed by China."

Nice to know we had to borrow the money so we could save the richest people in this country so much money in taxes.

Mary in Duluth, Georgia writes: "Being a real estate broker, I have learned when it's time to just be quiet. The Democrats should do just that."

And Jack writes, from Pennsylvania: "The Democrats would have to intercept an incoming ICBM with their teeth. And the Republicans would have to be seen helping a little old lady cross the street without taking her Medicare card away from her."

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

BLITZER: Now some of our viewers think, Jack, that what John Kerry should have simply said, you know what, I made a mistake. I screwed up the joke. I wanted to have the joke at the expense of the president. It came out at the expense of the U.S. military. Apologize for that. Let's move on, instead of letting this situation sort of escalate this quickly.

CAFFERTY: Well, we're probably helping it escalate. We're probably making a little more out of it than was actually there to begin with.

ZAHN: But, it's interesting to me that John Kerry didn't even mention his own military record in great detail until the second time he came out today, the news conference wasn't as detailed, and say, hey, look, I served and fought for my country.

BLITZER: He was really stung by the Swift Boaters last time. I think he really wanted to come out swinging this time.

CAFFERTY: Well, it seems to have backfired on him, didn't it?

ZAHN: ... a couple of opportunities...

CAFFERTY: Well, listen, it's tailor-made for the media. We get so sick and tired of, you know, running sound bytes of the candidates that when somebody comes along and does something that's even this much out of ordinary, we pounce on it like cats on a mouse and drag it around until it's dismembered on the living room floor.

ZAHN: Will it be dismembered by election night is the question, Jack Cafferty.

CAFFERTY: If we have our way with it, it will be.

BLITZER: I'm sure there'll be something else that will pop up between and probably an hour from now.

CAFFERTY: One can only hope.

ZAHN: Thanks, Jack.

Still ahead, it's Halloween. Did you know that?

CAFFERTY: I've been told.

ZAHN: Are you soaping windows tonight?

CAFFERTY: Somebody asked if my costume was death warmed over in one of the earlier hours.

ZAHN: That's not nice.

Well, I spy with my little eye a Halloween prank at the White House briefing room. Jeanne Moos will have the details live from CNN Election Headquarters in New York.

You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The eyes have it, or had it. Today at the White House press briefing. CNN's Jeanne Moos has details of the Halloween prank that took center stage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Better dust off the White House podium in time for the briefing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two-minute warning for the briefing. Two- minute warning for the briefing.

MOOS: Apparently the guy dusting missed a few rather large specks. Moments later, spokesman Tony Snow was in the middle of an answer about North Korea when something caught his eye.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: But it would not have been possible for the additional unity and...

I just saw these.

MOOS: All eyes on the podium, and we do mean, all eyes.

SNOW: I'm sorry, I just saw these. Here I am talking about war and peace and I'm looking at these things.

MOOS: It was that wacky White House Press Corps' idea of a Halloween joke. At least no one was harmed in the commission of this prank, unlike the eye-plucking scene from "Kill Bill II".

But who planted the mystery White House eyeballs? Was it the mascaraed NBC correspondent, or the CNN correspondent? Or Helen Thomas to blame? Sure looked like her eyeballs were bothering her.

A clue perhaps? There was a matching eyeballs attached to one of the cameras in the back. It turns out someone was handing out eyeballs. Edible eyeballs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are they really?

MOOS: Finger-lickin' eyeballs, bought in bulk from Costco.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not bad.

MOOS: But CNN's Ed Henry didn't plant the mystery eyeballs. The real culprit, a TV crew member, was caught on tape retrieving them from the podium after the briefing. We've concealed his identity to protect the guilty. After all, the press is supposed to keep an eye on the White House, an eye or two.

SNOW: OK, I'll eat this eyeball.

MOOS: Jeanne moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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