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THE SITUATION ROOM

Gen. Abizaid Testifies Before Unsatisfied Senate; Sen. Trent Lott Wins Number Two GOP Senate Position; Tight Races for Republican And Democratic House Leadership Positions; John Shadegg Interview

Aired November 15, 2006 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much Susan and to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, searching for bright spots in a bleak situation. It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington, where the general in charge of the Iraq war talks about what's right, what's worrisome and what's needed to win a stable Iraq.

Also, Republican redemption, a senator haunted by words from his past makes a daring attempt to step out of the Senate's shadows. But was Trent Lott able to exorcise his political ghosts?

And speaking of souls, a fight for the heart and soul of the Republican party. Might the future of the GOP swing toward the moderate conservatism that so many among the Republicans apparently want? I'll ask one man at the center of one symbolic battle, Republican Congressman John Shadegg of Arizona.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

On Capitol Hill, finding Iraq's silver lining in dark clouds of death and devastation. That was the challenge today for the general leading the charge in Iraq. General John Abizaid just finished testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, blasting back at some criticisms over the pace of progress in Iraq. But attempting -- accepting the assessment that the violence is still unacceptably high.

Abizaid says he's optimistic Iraq can be stabilized eventually and that one way to hasten the peace is to hasten the ability of Iraqi troops to defend their country. And the general said more U.S. troops may be needed temporarily to speed the training of those Iraqi forces.

Meanwhile, there's more urgency for solutions as more American troops died. Two died in Iraq yesterday, upping the number of U.S. fatalities to 2,859 since the war began three and a half years ago. We have two reports. Bill Schneider standing by to talk about how Americans feel about this war. Let's begin with our congressional correspondent Dana Bash. Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq came here to Capitol Hill, and a lot of what he did was reject the ideas coming from both sides of the aisle.

First and foremost, he said once again that the idea that Democrats are proposing for a timetable for withdrawal, even starting in four to six months, is a non-starter. He says that that would hurt the effort there. He said no to another Democratic idea of partitioning of the country Iraq into three separate sections, and he even said no to the idea, floated for some time now by Republican Senator John McCain, to put more troops into Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: So we have sufficient number of forces to clear insurgent sanctuaries, hold the territory, with a combination of coalition and Iraqi forces, provide sufficient security in Iraq, so that economic reconstruction and political activity can take place, to arrest the momentum of sectarian death squads, disarm militias, to train the Iraqi army and keep an American presence in Iraqi units, and place U.S. personnel and Iraqi police units? We have sufficient troops to carry out all those tasks?

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, CMDR., U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: We have sufficient troop strength, Iraqi and American, to make those tasks become effective.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, John McCain who is, of course, in the middle of, or about to likely formally announce his bid for president in 2008, did agree with another potential 2008 contender, the Democrat Hillary Clinton, on one thing. And that is that the answers that they were getting from the commander there and from the administration in general are not sufficient.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Hope is not a strategy. Hortatory talk about what the Iraqi government must do is getting old. I mean, I have heard over and over again the government must do this. The Iraqi army must do that. Nobody disagrees with that. The brutal fact is it is not happening.

ABIZAID: Senator, I agree with you. And I would also say that despair is not a method. And when I come to Washington, I feel despair. When I'm in Iraq with my commanders, when I talk to our soldiers, when I talk to the Iraqi leadership, they are not despairing. They believe that they can move the country towards stability with our help, and I believe that.

This has been a very hard and difficult process and over the length of time we have learned some hard lessons. We haven't misled people. We have learned some hard lessons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, I should note that Senator McCain may have felt a little bit vindicated because General Abizaid did concede that perhaps if troops -- more troops were sent in, in May, June and July, that could have made a difference.

But, by and large, the tone of this hearing was noteworthy because it may have been the first time, Wolf, that there was a hearing on Iraq since the Democrats won control of Congress, but it was definitely the Republicans who seemed the toughest, the most frustrated, even exasperated by what is going on in Iraq. John Warner, the out-going Republican chairman, making this point very clearly, that Iraq is almost -- the mission there has almost lasted as long as World War II without very much progress, Wolf.

BLITZER: Warner, the chairman, the out-going chairman, was very blunt in his opening statement earlier today. Dana, thank you for that.

The bombings, the bloodshed, the body snatchings, the general referred to were clearly on display once again today. Seventeen people died in vicious attacks across Baghdad. Twelve of them after a car bomb blast next to a gas station right in the center of the capital. And officials found 55 bullet riddled bodies across other parts of the city.

Meanwhile, Iraq's higher education minister hands in his resignation in frustration over yesterday's mass kidnappings of dozen of Iraqi academics. The education minister says he cannot stay in his post if he can not protect his own people. Officials say some 70 employees, who have been kidnapped, are now free. But another 40 of those kidnapped remain missing.

Not missing in the debate over Iraq's future is what Americans want going forward. Here with some details on public sentiment over the war is our senior political analyst Bill Schneider, Bill.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, we've been hearing from generals, politicians and soon from a bipartisan study group. But what do the voters want to do in Iraq?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Democrats got the message on Iraq.

SEN. HARRY REID, DEMOCRATIC LEADER: We have said for a long time that we must change course in Iraq, and we must.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to change course in Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: Et tu, Senator Lieberman?

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I'm not happy with what's happening in Iraq today. I don't think anybody is.

SCHNEIDER: How big a factor in the election was dissatisfaction with the Bush administration's Iraq policy? Eighty five percent call it a major reason the Democrats won. But do the Democrats have a plan for Iraq? Two to one say they don't.

What are the choices? When Americans feel bogged down in a war they generally want to do one of two things. Win or get out. For a year now, President Bush has been promoting the strategy for victory.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're winning and we will win.

SCHNEIDER: Most Americans no longer believe the U.S. can win. Some politicians do.

MCCAIN: Victory is still attainable in Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: To do that, Senator McCain wants to send more troops to Iraq. Only 17 percent of voters said they would be willing to do that.

President Bush now talks about a slightly more modest goal, success rather than victory.

BUSH: To reach our goal, which is success, a government which can sustain, govern and defend itself and will serve as an ally in this war on terror.

SCHNEIDER: So does the public want to get out? Only 29 percent of voters endorse the view that the U.S. should withdraw all its troops from Iraq. Most Americans are ready to withdraw at least some troops. And that's exactly what the public feels the new Democratic Congress will try to do.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: The phased redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq in four to six months, to begin that phased redeployment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: Many Democrats define the goal in Iraq now as stability. Senator Levin, whom we just saw, who will be the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says the U.S. has to make it clear to the Iraqis that the U.S. presence in Iraq is not open-ended and that they have to make political compromises that will preserve their country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider reporting for us. Bill, thank you for that.

Meanwhile, out of the wilderness, back into the fold. Right now, some are calling one Republican senator the "Comeback Kid" after he won a bid to regain some power he lost in a controversy over race.

CNN's senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with details, Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, whoever said, what goes around comes around, must have had some political experience.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): The political world loves them, yet another comeback kid.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: It is my great pleasure to present to you our newly elected assistant majority leader, Trent Lott.

CROWLEY: Lott, who used to be the Senate's top cat, was downright demure in his first moments as number two.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: I'm going to shock you by starting off with the right frame of mind. I defer on this occasion to our leader.

CROWLEY: A Mississippi senator for 18 years, Lott was Republican leader for six and a half. Then he was drummed out of the corps for his salute at a birthday party for the late Senator Strom Thurmond, a one-time segregationist.

LOTT: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years either.

CROWLEY: It caused quite a blog-driven storm. Lott was accused of embracing Thurmond's past. He attempted to explain. He apologized, but it was too big and his Republican colleagues pushed him out of the leadership.

Lott resented it. He re-emerged as a maverick, a critic. But here he stands now, number two on the team. And if Lott has neither forgiven nor forgotten, he's not talking. Comeback doesn't mean look back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, do you feel vindicated by the outcome of today...

MCCONNELL: Why don't we -- unless you want to...

LOTT: No, no.

MCCONNELL: Yes, thanks. Talk to you later.

CROWLEY: Lott beat Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander for the job. Alexander told reporters he thinks it's the comeback thing. But it is more.

LOTT: I'm honored to be a part of this leadership team, to support Mitch McConnell and all of my colleagues, to do a job that I've always really loved the most, count the votes.

CROWLEY: Republicans now have fewer votes to count, but the strength of a Senate minority is in making things not happen. And Lott is a brass knuckled player, who wields power with precision. They need him.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CROWLEY: An excellent vote counter and arm twister, Lott also has years of experience as a deal maker, something a minority party needs if it is to claim any accomplishment say in the next election.

BLITZER: How is he going to get along with Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, the minority leader-to-be in the Senate. There's been a little tension over the years, hasn't there?

CROWLEY: There has, but now they have, sort of, this outside tension that's larger than the two of them are. And that is that they're a minority party. So, what they have in common, regardless of what's happened in the past, regardless of their relationship, is the need to try and put the Republican party back in the majority. And if they're going to do that, they're going to have to find some common ground.

BLITZER: There was a lot of tension between Trent Lott and Bill Frist, but guess what...

CROWLEY: He's gone.

BLITZER: Bill Frist is leaving the United States Senate. Thanks very much for that Candy. Candy Crowley, Bill Schneider and Dana Bash, they are all part of the best political team on television.

The fight for the majority leader's job in the new Democratic controlled House is getting a bit ugly. Congressman John Murtha is blasting what he calls swift boat style attacks stemming from his fight with Steny Hoyer. A watchdog group has raised some questions about Murtha's ethics record, including allegations linked to the 1980 Abscam bribery scandal. Murtha was never charged and he calls the allegations unfounded.

In the meantime Murtha is taking aim directly at Hoyer, accusing him of signing with President Bush on Iraq, which Hoyer's camp denies. Murtha has the backing of House speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi. The leadership vote behind closed doors in secret session tomorrow.

And there's a battle brewing among House Republicans, who are about to become the minority. The current House Majority Leader John Boehner is fighting to stay on as House Republican leader. The Congressman from Ohio is being challenged by Representative Mike Pence from Indiana. Pence appears to be the favorite among conservatives. Representative Joe Barton of Texas is also in the running. House Republicans, once again, vote in secret on Friday.

Meanwhile, Republican Whip Roy Blunt is running to keep his position as the number two Republican in the House. Blunt's being challenged seriously by Congressman John Shadegg. I spoke with Blunt yesterday, Shadegg joins me here in THE SITUATION ROOM in a few minutes. And remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our political ticker. Go to CNN.com/Ticker.

Time now for Jack Cafferty with the Cafferty File. Hi Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: John Boehner, isn't he the one who said Don Rumsfeld was the best thing to happen to the Pentagon in the last 25 years?

BLITZER: Something like that. He also suggested, in that interview here in THE SITUATION ROOM, that maybe the generals have something to do with the calamity in Iraq, not just the political leadership.

CAFFERTY: Whatever happened to Don Rumsfeld? Oh, yes, he got fired. Osama bin Laden has been the top target in the war on terror since it started. A new study, done at the United States military Academy at West Point, finds that bin Laden, along with Ayman al- Zawahiri, and other well known leaders of al Qaeda, may be losing their influence over the jihadist movement.

The study suggests that the death or capture of bin Laden or other high ranking al Qaeda leaders would do little at this point to slow the terrorist movement and that radical Islamist texts on the Internet may fuel a new generation of terrorists and attacks. The report, all 382 pages of it, looks at how smaller, more localized terror cells have formed since the war on terror began and how these groups are using this radical literature, obtained online, to shape their ideology.

So here's the question, is the capture or death of Osama bin Laden still key to winning the war on terror? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack, for that.

Coming up, much more on the battle among House Republicans. Yesterday I spoke with Roy Blunt, now John Shadegg, his challenger for House minority whip, he'll join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. And he's very angry at some of his fellow Republicans.

Also, Howard Dean helped the Democrats make major gains in midterm elections, but could he have done a better job? James Carville and Bay Buchanan weigh in directly in today's Strategy Session.

And major airline news happening today. Will U.S. airways be able to take over a much bigger Delta Airlines? Details coming up. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's the fight for the soul of the Republican party. Now that Republicans in the Senate have picked their new leaders, Republicans in House are battling to pick theirs. And who wins may determine whether the face of the GOP will be more moderate or more conservative.

Joining us now, Republican Congressman John Shadegg of Arizona. He wants to be the minority whip. He's challenging Roy Blunt, who was on this program yesterday. What do you bring to the table that Roy Blunt doesn't bring, Congressman?

REP. JOHN SHADEGG (R), ARIZONA: I think basically a fresh face. We got shellacked in this election. The American people, I think, are trying to send us a message. If we re-elect the exact same two top leaders that we had going into the election, when we come out of the election, I think we will have said to the American people, we don't really care about the fact that you want change.

And I think we will have said to them, yes, we've become Washington focused and we want to stay Washington focused. I don't think we can stay Washington focused if we want the majority back. I think we have to stay focused on the American people and their agenda, what they would like to see us doing.

BLITZER: You don't want John Boehner to be the minority leader either, you're supporting Mike Pence?

SHADEGG: No, very careful about that. I said if we re-elect both of our existing leaders. I think that Mr. Boehner has probably the inside track. And I think if we re-elect him -- mind you, he's only been there eight months. My opponent has been there eight years. My opponent has been in this job for two-thirds of the years, one job or the other, chief deputy whip or whip, two-thirds of the time that we've been in the majority. Eight of the 12 years he's been either chief deputy whip or whip.

I think it is time for change. And if we're not going to change at the majority leader's level, to minority leader, then I think it is vital that we change at least one of the top two offices and tell the American people we got the message, we understand we lost focus on what they want us to be doing.

BLITZER: But let me press you on this. Are you going to support personally Boehner or Pence?

SHADEGG: I'm not supporting anybody in that race. I believe that race needs to be decided on its merits. I'm not running as a ticket with anybody on that race. And like about everybody else that's in one of these races, if you're in a race, you take care of your race. I am not endorsing or publicly supporting...

BLITZER: But you will vote for one of them in that secret ballot, I assume.

SHADEGG: I guess I'll have to vote for one of them in that secret ballot.

BLITZER: But you are not announcing who you are going to support.

SHADEGG: No.

BLITZER: Let me read to you what you said and one of the reasons why you want to be the minority whip, federal spending and government expansion increased at an alarming rate. More importantly, we became the party of secret backroom dealing that was sadly reminiscent of the scandal-plagued Democratic Congress we once railed against.

That's a damning indictment of Dennis Hastert and John Boehner and Roy Blunt.

SHADEGG: It is a damning indictment of us. I don't think you can blame just our leaders. I think we said in 1994 that we would be different. We would not be politics as usual, we would not allow, for example, powerful members to pull the levers of power in their benefit. And yet we did. We allowed the Cunningham scandal to happen, the Abramoff scandal to happen Nay get involved in it and didn't do much about Nay even after we learned of him.

We have allowed an explosion in earmarks. And earmarks aren't even fair, Wolf. We allow powerful members to get huge earmarks and other members to get tiny earmarks. That's not what we told the American people we would do. We told them that we were going to be different. It was not going to be politics as usual in Washington.

We were going to change the way Washington works. And then we got Washington focused, Washington centered, cozy with lobbyists, quite frankly, and lost our focus. And I think if you're not willing to look backward in the face of this kind of defeat and assess why it happened, well then you're going to do it over again.

I suppose one of the definitions of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. I think we need new leaders and we need a new focus. And that focus has to be not on a cozy Washington life for ourselves, but the concerns of the average American.

BLITZER: One final question Congressman, before I let you go, how much of the blame is on the Republicans in Congress as you say, how much of the blame for the thumping you took lies directly with the president of the United States and his policies?

SHADEGG: I think it's both there. I was frustrated on the war that we didn't more aggressively pursue victory. But it's important to understand that Congress is a separate branch of government. And I think, as a Congress, we should have stood up to the president on some of these issues and said, look, this isn't enough. On just stay the course, the Congress had an opportunity and a chance and an obligation to say, Mr. President, stay the course is not something the American people will be satisfied with.

They will support a policy that's win or a policy that's something other than win, but they don't want to just see us in a stagnant war, where we're not winning, but American kids are losing their lives. and we could have stood up to the White House and made that point. One of the things I criticize about our current leadership is we should have been more aggressively standing for the House Republicans and fighting for our position in these issues.

BLITZER: John Shadegg wants to be the minority whip in the United States Congress. We'll know on Friday. It's a secret ballot. You never know what those Congressmen are going to do once they get into that closed door room. Thanks very much Congressman for coming in.

SHADEGG: Thank you. BLITZER: And up next, deadly severe weather strafing southern states this afternoon. There's extensive damage in some areas. We'll have late details for you.

Also, the head of the U.S. military central command not making Democrats or Republicans happy with his testimony on Iraq. We'll talk about it in our strategy session. James Carville and Bay Buchanan standing by live for that. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: What a story. Thanks, Fred, for that.

Let's pick it up with CNN's Reynolds Wolf. He's at the CNN Weather Center for the latest on the severe weather and where it is heading next. What do we see out there Reynolds?

(WEATHER REPORT)

BLITZER: All right, Reynolds, thanks very much. We will stay on top of this story.

In today's "Strategy Session": the top U.S. military commander in the Middle East in the hot seat on Capitol Hill. And General John Abizaid may not have made Democrats or some Republicans very happy with his testimony.

Joining us now, our political analysts, Democratic strategist James Carville, and Bay Buchanan, the president of American Cause.

He was outspoken. He rejected the notion of a timetable, which is what Carl Levin, a lot of other Democrats, want to see happen over the next four to six months, the start of a withdrawal. He rejected McCain's assertion that more troops are needed right now. He also was upbeat that, eventually, the U.S. can stabilize the situation there, still has confidence in the government of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad.

What do you make of this?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I make that he knows that this Baker commission is coming in, and didn't want to say anything that would get in the way of their recommendations, which, as I understand it, are coming out in December. I...

BLITZER: This is the James Baker-Lee Hamilton Iraq Study Group.

CARVILLE: The James Baker-Lee Hamilton Iraq Study Group, right.

And that's the kind of next big event. And I'm sure that the civilians in the Defense Department said, General, just play this thing down the middle, and let's see what these guys come up with in December. BLITZER: Here's how Senator McCain, who presumably wants to be president of the United States, reacted to what he heard from General Abizaid.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I respect you enormously. I appreciate your service. I regret deeply that you seem to think that the status quo and the rate of progress we're making is acceptable. I think most Americans do not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He was diplomatic, but you could tell he was irritated.

BAY BUCHANAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He was, without question, testy.

But I thought the general's response to that comment was excellent. He said: This is not the status quo. What I'm suggesting is not to increase troops, but to move more troops into working with the Iraqi people.

He said: Look, you can increase the troops -- which is what John McCain does -- and we can stabilize Baghdad, but that doesn't put the pressure on the Iraqi people to solve this problem. And that's the only way we're going to win the war.

I think -- and he said: All the generals on the ground are in agreement with me.

The man gave a very honest and forthright testimony.

BLITZER: McCain is going out on a limb right now. The American public doesn't want to hear that more troops are being sent -- about 145,000...

CARVILLE: Right.

BLITZER: ... on the ground in Iraq right now.

Yet, he is being very firm, like Lindsey Graham, his friend from South Carolina, saying, if you want to win, that's what you are going to have to do.

CARVILLE: Right. And, again, I think what General Abizaid is trying to do is buy -- buy time between now and December, not come out and say, no, not more troops, not less troops; let's stay the -- let's stay the course.

Then, when the Baker commission comes -- and I assume it will be something that he won't be caught out there. Neither will the new -- neither will the new secretary of defense coming in.

I don't think he wants to do anything, until he gets a new secretary.

BUCHANAN: It's ridiculous, though.

CARVILLE: And I think it was a status-quo -- I think it was a status-quo testimony.

BUCHANAN: It's ridiculous to assume that this commissioner of Baker's is going to somehow come up with solutions that the generals on the ground have not considered and either dismissed or are pursuing. It's just ridiculous to think that some bunch of guys back here in Washington are going to solve this war.

It's the commander in chief working with the generals...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let's get into raw politics right now.

CARVILLE: Thank God.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: When I say saw, I mean really raw politics...

BUCHANAN: Unlike Iraq.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: ... cutting a raw nerve out there.

You have been outspoken...

CARVILLE: Right.

BLITZER: ... James Carville...

CARVILLE: Yes.

BLITZER: ... over the past few days in going after the chairman of the DNC...

CARVILLE: That's right.

BLITZER: ... the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean. A lot of people are saying, why is James Carville criticizing Howard Dean...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... after this spectacular Democratic victory in the Senate and the House?

CARVILLE: We had 14 candidates that, a 1 percent change in the vote, they would have won.

BLITZER: In the House of Representatives. CARVILLE: In the House of Representatives.

The DNC had a credit line of $10 million. They only drew down $4 million. That's $6 million. I campaigned with Lois Murphy in Pennsylvania. I campaigned with Christine Jennings in Sarasota, Florida. I campaigned with Tessa Hafen in Nevada.

And the DNC needs -- it is a cult of the DNC, not the candidates. I think this party ought to be focused. It is the candidates whose hearts are broken out there. It is the candidates and their families and their staffs who have been let down, because we left -- we left them hanging out there.

Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer recruited these candidates, funded them, lived with them, died with them. And, then, after this happened, and to leave this money on the table, and they exercise this kind of timidity, when we could have picked up another 10 seats, and, then, they come in and they say, the state party chairmen agree with this.

This party, the highest person in the Democratic Party are these candidates that go out and risk everything, who work their hearts out, who try to get elected. And they deserve every bit of support, financial and otherwise, that they can get. They got it from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. They got it from the Democratic Senatorial campaign Committee.

They did not get from it the DNC. And we need to have...

BLITZER: So, I want...

CARVILLE: ... the cult of the candidate.

BLITZER: I want Bay to weigh in.

But, basically, what I hear you saying is, you have lost confidence -- I don't know if you ever had much confidence -- in...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... in Howard Dean.

But what do you want? Do you want him to step down? You want somebody else to be chairman of the party?

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: I want a change of culture. I -- of culture.

I want the change -- and, if it's him, if he stays, fine. I want him to say, we are not going to be talking about parties and state chairmen. We're going to talk about candidates. We're going to let these good people know, when they come out and run under the Democratic line, that we are going to do everything we can to fund them, to stand by them, to honor them, and don't get -- to -- have the Alaska state party chair tell me what a great job Howard Dean is doing.

I want these candidates to be funded. I -- my heart breaks for Tessa. My heart breaks for Lois Murphy. My heart -- I hope Christine -- Christine, I'm pulling for you down there in Sarasota...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: ... because I know you won that.

BLITZER: A lot of our viewers are listening to this, Bay, and they're saying, you know, the Democrats picked up 30 seats or so...

BUCHANAN: Yes.

BLITZER: ... in the House of Representatives, but James Carville thinks they should have picked up 40 seats, or maybe 45 seats. And they're saying, he's getting a little greedy right now.

BUCHANAN: Listen, you tell me that any party that was winning that kind of races, that many close races, left money on the table, I would say they got -- James has a very good point. I mean, that's just basic 101. You throw everything at it when you got -- you're on a roll. The nation -- here, this was a nationalized campaign. It was going against Republicans. There was every reason to believe that a little bit of money could have made a difference.

CARVILLE: Wolf, I don't know one political professional that disagrees with me.

And I don't know anybody -- and the Republicans think there was 20 seats that we left on the table by not funding these races. And Democrats out there need to know that Congressman Emanuel and Senator Schumer, they borrowed to the hilt. They did get everything they needed.

And that's my point. We got to get out of this cult of state party chairmen and get into this cult where candidates are central and what this party is about.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by for one moment.

Candy Crowley, our senior political correspondent, has just come into THE SITUATION ROOM with news.

Candy, what are you hearing?

CROWLEY: Well, it's not going to surprise you all, but John McCain will, tomorrow, file his papers to form an exploratory committee. He's got a Web site up now that looks at his presidential ambitions, ExploreMcCain.com. So, they are prepared to go. I think now we just lack the official announcement.

BLITZER: So, he's basically doing what Rudy Giuliani did earlier in the week.

Candy, take this microphone. CROWLEY: Oh...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: I want to make sure...

CROWLEY: ... you want me to have a microphone.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: ... our viewers can hear you a little bit better. They heard what you said.

John McCain tomorrow, you have learned, will file the formal paperwork to start an exploratory committee that will allow him to start raising money for a presidential bid.

CROWLEY: Well, and it keeps him outside the campaign funding laws. It -- which is what everybody does, because they need money to fly around to these places.

And it is not really exploring so much, as you all know, as going there and getting your staff in line, beginning to look to donors, beginning to do all kinds of things in the early states. So...

BLITZER: And, if you turn around, Candy, and you look at that Web -- the other way -- you see that's the Web site, John McCain 2008.

The exploratory committee, James Carville, not a huge surprise -- Rudy Giuliani did it earlier in the week, created -- did the paperwork to create these exploratory committees. Tom Vilsack, on the Democratic side, the governor of Iowa, did it.

It's all designed, as your friend and colleague Paul Begala said the other day, when the news of Rudy Giuliani doing this, money.

CARVILLE: Right. It is.

And, you know, it -- that's exactly what it is. And the lawyers will tell you that you are allowed to do certain things when you have this exploratory committee that you can't do otherwise. I think it makes perfect sense.

And it -- you know, it allows you to get two bites at the apple, too. You announce the exploratory committee. And then, you know, in January, he will say, gee, guess what? We have explored, and we decided that the country really wants me.

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: And I'm going to run for president.

BUCHANAN: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Then, we will have the same discussion again. We will get to it have twice. But...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: That's right.

There's no exploring here. They have done it. They made their decision. They're going to for the full thing. This is just to allow their staff to get things organized, so, when they do make their official announcement, things are in place, and they look like they have a very strong team, and aren't just kind of running around without...

CARVILLE: And they -- there's one more thing, too, Bay, if I can make this point, is, if somebody might be thinking about telling Giuliani, I will support you, but when they see McCain form the exploratory committee...

BUCHANAN: Yes, that's right.

CARVILLE: ... they are going to have to call him. And it freezes some people..

BLITZER: It puts a lot of pressure...

CARVILLE: Yes.

BLITZER: ... Candy, on other Republicans who may be thinking about this to follow suit very, very quickly.

And, also, I want James pick it up on the Democratic side.

But go ahead, Candy.

CARVILLE: Right.

CROWLEY: Absolutely.

I mean, what it does, and what someone close to McCain said to me was, it will be interesting to see who else now sort of follows suit, because James is exactly right. What this is, is a huge signal: Wait. Don't decide yet. You know, I'm coming in.

So, it just places markers down, saying, you know, keep your mind open. I'm on my way.

BLITZER: And, partially, to get the staff, the people in, this helps them on that regard.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But your friend Hillary Rodham Clinton, the junior senator from New York...

CARVILLE: The junior...

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: She hasn't filed the paperwork yet for an exploratory committee.

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: I wouldn't read too much into that one way or the other.

The one thing, that she has an enormous ability to raise money. I think she has a lot of money on hand. I suspect that they're going to chew over this. If I know Senator Clinton -- and I do know her quite well -- they are very deliberate. They are going to consider this thing very closely.

And, if they decide to do it, they are going to consider the timing. But you have other people out there, I mean, Senator Obama, Vice President Gore. You have got -- yes, I am not going to go through the...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Tom Vilsack is already out there with his...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: I will go through from, you know...

BLITZER: Joe Biden has, for all practical purposes...

CARVILLE: Joe.

BLITZER: ... said he's running.

CARVILLE: He said he's going to run.

John Edwards...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Yes.

CARVILLE: Chris Dodd, I mean, Senator Evan Bayh.

BUCHANAN: Yes.

CARVILLE: So, there will be a lot of -- there will be a lot of exploring going on here in the...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Yes, like Christopher Columbus.

BUCHANAN: But, you know, Hillary is clearly -- Hillary is clearly an exception to the rule. I mean, she's got a massive organization and she's got a national organization. She's got huge money already in the bank, and incredible lists. Everything is already ready to go. She doesn't need an exploratory committee for four months to get things going. She's fine.

CROWLEY: Nor she does need us to talk about her, because we already do that.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: So, it is not like she needs to get her name out there.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: You know, in this Republican...

CARVILLE: Good point.

BLITZER: Right now, the two front-runners on the Republican side is probably in part due to name recognition...

BUCHANAN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, Bay, talk a little bit about who Republicans right now really would like to see emerge as their presidential nominee.

BUCHANAN: Well, it depends on which Republican you're talking to.

BLITZER: Who do you want to see?

BUCHANAN: If you're talking to my friends, it is not McCain, and it is absolutely not Giuliani. In fact...

BLITZER: So, who is the candidate that would represent your wing of the Republican Party?

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: Well, the candidate -- I will tell you, what many of us are thinking is, we have got to find somebody that can beat these other two, mostly McCain. McCain -- I don't think Giuliani is going to be a strong opponent.

And that's Mitt Romney. Lots of talk about Mitt Romney. He's a governor coming from outside of Washington, a huge benefit there. And he's got a little Reaganesque to him. He's a very upbeat, positive kind of a fellow.

And he's done a fine job up there, working with Democrats, if you think that that's a plus, if you can reach across party lines and work with people.

(CROSSTALK) CARVILLE: ... like the way you were trying to -- you see that?

BUCHANAN: What you were telling me earlier. You see?

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: But Mitt Romney can raise the $100 million, along with the others. He will be a top-tier candidate.

BLITZER: We did a poll a couple of weeks ago, asking registered Republicans their favorites.

We will put it up on the screen. You can see Giuliani ahead, followed by McCain, Newt Gingrich with 12 percent, Mitt Romney down at 7 percent, Bill Frist, 6 percent -- very, very early, but, certainly, lots of fun.

CARVILLE: I had lunch with Speaker Gingrich today. And he's observing these things very carefully. He didn't say whether he was going to run.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: ... exploring...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Is he exploring? That's the question.

CARVILLE: He didn't say whether he was going to explore.

But let's say this. He's activity engaged. He's mentally engaged in restoring on -- in American politics. I had a delightful lunch with the speaker.

BLITZER: James Carville, Newt Gingrich, having lunch -- good story.

CARVILLE: It was...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

James Carville and Bay Buchanan and Candy Crowley, they are part of the best political team on television. And you know that.

Up next: It has been more than a week since Election Day, but the race for control of Congress continues. We will have the latest results in today's "Political Radar."

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following the news that's just coming in. Tomorrow, Senator John McCain will formally step into the presidential ring. He's going to be filing the necessary paperwork to create a presidential exploratory committee to explore about the possibility of running for the White House. Clearly, he's making up his mind right now -- very, very apparent -- John McCain following in the footsteps of Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, who filed similar paperwork earlier this week -- this battle for 2008 and the White House clearly under way -- much more of this story coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The never-ending election also topping today's "Political Radar": One week after Election Day, and the race is finally over, the House race in eastern Connecticut. After a recount, Democrat Joe Courtney has ousted incumbent Republican Congressman Rob Simmons. Courtney won -- get this -- by only 90 -- 90 -- votes.

With the race in Connecticut's 2nd District now over, here's how the balance of power in the House stands. Democrats right now control 231 seats, Republicans 196 -- eight races, though -- eight races -- still undecided.

And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker, CNN.com/ticker.

Coming up: What are the opportunities for African-Americans in leadership posts in the Republican Party? I will ask one African- American Republican who is on the rise in his party, Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele. He may have lost the Senate race in Maryland, but he's got a huge future ahead of him. We're going to be talking to him live.

That's coming up, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Up next: less influence? Is Osama bin Laden becoming obsolete, amid a new wave of terrorists? Our Jack Cafferty is asking. He is going to be back with your thoughts.

And the man expected to be the next chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin, what does he think of General Abizaid's testimony today to keep troop levels as they are. I will ask him. He will be joining us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, more on John McCain formally -- formally -- announcing. Tomorrow, he sets up an exploratory committee to run for the White House.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour is: Is the capture or death of Osama bin Laden still the key to winning the war on terror?

They did a study at the U.S. military academy at West Point, suggesting that it's not the priority that it once was.

Maxine wrote from Kansas City, Missouri: "Osama who? I have heard so much about Iraq and how horrible things are going there, I almost forgot that he was the true reason president what's his name started this war. Have they found him yet?"

Bob in Florida: "Capturing, torturing or killing Osama bin Laden was never key to win winning the war on terror. Those of us who fought the insurgents in Vietnam know what this kind of war is, and the -- and it -- that it cannot be won. You win or lose firefights, battles or encounters, but you don't win a war on terror, any more than you win a war on drugs. It is asinine. And good leaders know that."

Aaron in Providence Forge, Virginia: "Yes, Mr. Cafferty, it is important to show that, if you're a terrorist who has killed American citizens, you will be punished. It is vital to not send the message, if you kill Americans, and go out and hide for five years, the U.S. will forget all about you."

This from New York City: "If it's not, it should be. He was responsible for 9/11. If we didn't take our eyes off the mission, and invade Iraq, under false intelligence and for the oil, we would have gotten him by now."

Steve in Wisconsin: "The capture or death of bin Laden would make a splash on the news for a few days. Beyond that, this war has grown, like a malignant cancer. And I really don't think there's any simple solution available to us. It will take more than the lucky capture of a grubby terrorist hiding in a cave."

And Ray in Texas writes: "Winning the goodwill of all of the more than one billion Muslims in the world is far more important than capturing or killing bin Laden" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thanks very much.

And this just coming in from the Associated Press: The former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson telling the AP's Mike Glover in Des Moines, Iowa, that he intends to create an exploratory committee to run for the White House himself.

"I intend to do so after the 1st of the year," the former secretary of health and human services is telling the Associated Press. He says he thinks he brings some appeal, a Midwesterner, to the potential Republican ticket. He was in Iowa meeting with about 100 members of a group called Iowans for Wellness and Prevention -- Tommy Thompson announcing today, at least telling the Associated Press, he is going to create that exploratory committee to run for the presidency shortly after the new year.

This comes right only minutes after we learn that John McCain, the Arizona senator, will be formally doing the paperwork for an exploratory committee tomorrow -- John McCain following in Rudy Giuliani's footsteps -- footsteps -- Rudy Giuliani doing so earlier in this week -- the race for the White House in 2008 clearly on.

Much more of our coverage, a lot more on this, plus Senator Carl Levin, the incoming chairman of the Armed Services Committee -- all that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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