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Sen. Tim Johnson's Illness Puts Democrats' Majority Of Senate At Risk; Senator John McCain And Other Senators Say U.S. Should Send More Troops To Iraq To Ease Killing And Chaos; Official Investigation Says Princess Diana's Death An Accident
Aired December 14, 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: 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, a senator's health crisis. Democrat Tim Johnson is fighting to recover after brain surgery. We'll bring you the latest word on his condition and the enormous political implications of his illness -- control of the next Senate is at stake.
Also this hour, House Democrats make big plans for their first 100 hours in power. Incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a jam-packed to-do list. But there's a big issue that's conspicuously not on it.
And Senator John McCain's mission -- he's sending a message from Iraq that more troops are needed, and he may be giving President Bush political cover along the way.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Right now, Senator Tim Johnson is in critical condition and his colleagues say they're praying for him. His spokeswoman says the South Dakota Democrat suffered a brain hemorrhage caused by pressure from blood vessels that are too close together.
Doctors at George Washington University Hospital here in the nation's campaign say the 59-year-old Johnson underwent successful surgery to repair a problem he's likely had since birth. But they say it's too early to give a prognosis for his recovery.
There's high anxiety on Capitol Hill right now about Johnson's health. That's for obvious personal reasons and for political reasons, as well. His illness puts the Democrats' one seat majority control of the new Senate at risk.
Our national correspondent, John Roberts, is standing by.
Let's turn to our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, for the latest on his condition -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's a very small community here, so when folks here got the news, got word of Senator Johnson's condition, for the last few hours, there really has been a buzz here of major concern because there -- he's only one of 100 senators, and a young one, somebody who seemed rather healthy. So many here of both parties are taking his condition and what's happened to him pretty hard.
But the concern -- it may seem crass -- is not just about his health, which is -- there is a lot of concern about his health -- but it's also about a political reality, and that is that it is possible, possible, that the Senate could be looking at another dramatic turn in the balance of power.
BASH (voice-over): After spending most of the night at the hospital with his colleague, the incoming Senate majority leader tried to sound optimistic.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY-LEADER DESIGNATE: We're all praying for a full recovery. We're confident that will be the case.
BASH: The Capitol physician announced surgery to remove blood from Senator Tim Johnson's brain was successful and by the afternoon, former Senator Tom Daschle emerged from the hospital voicing confidence his friend would be able to return to work.
QUESTION: Did you see him?
TOM DASCHLE (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: It looks encouraging, yes.
QUESTION: There's no way he's going to give up his seat, I guess.
DASCHLE: No need to.
BASH: But there is still no information about the South Dakota Democrats' prognosis, so no relief from the uncertainty gripping the Capitol as to whether Senate Democrats will be able to hold onto the narrow majority they won in November.
The what ifs are unavoidable. If Johnson's Democratic seat were to become vacant, South Dakota's governor, a Republican, would pick a replacement. If that seat turned Republican, the Democrats would lose their 51-49 majority. The Senate would become evenly split, 50-50. And since the vice president casts tie-breaking votes in the Senate, Republicans would then be in control.
The Senate's Democratic leader dismissed any talk his party could lose power.
REID: There isn't a thing that's changed. The Republicans selected their committees yesterday. We have completed ours. The -- I have a very busy succeed today, going ahead and getting ready for the next year.
BASH: The fact is the only way a governor can replace a sitting senator is if he dies or if he resigns. JAMES THURBER, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Senators can serve indefinitely, even though they're gravely ill. We've had lots of examples of that. There's no way to legally remove them unless they're convicted of high crimes and treason.
BASH: In 1969, another South Dakota senator, Carl Mundt, suffered a stroke and refused to resign. He ended up serving four years without casting a vote. The incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden, had surgery for a brain aneurysm in 1988 and did not come to work for seven months.
BASH: Now, for all their optimism in public, privately Democrats are worried, primarily because there is relatively little to no medical information that they're getting that is becoming public.
Now, as for Republicans, Wolf, one GOP senator told CNN he thought any talk of replacing Senator Johnson or shifting the balance of power to his party, to Republicans, is "ghoulish on the one hand and irresponsible on the other" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dana, thanks for that.
Let's take a closer look at South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds, the Republican who would appoint a replacement for Senator Johnson if it comes down to that.
Rounds was first elected in 2002 and then reelected this year. He was thrust into the national spotlight back in March when he signed a bill that would have banned most abortions in the state. That ban was rejected by South Dakota voters last month.
The type of malformation that's been hidden in Senator Johnson's brain is said to kill about 3,000 people a year.
Let's talk a little bit more about the conditions and the prospect for recovery.
Our senior national correspondent, John Roberts, is here. He's been a -- you were a long time medical correspondent. You've been speaking to doctors about this.
Give our viewers a sense, in layman terms, what happened?
JOHN ROBERTS, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, this is a condition that, at any given time in America, 200,000 to 300,000 people are living with. It's called arteriovenous malformation. Essentially what it is, is it's a tangle of blood vessels. If it occurs -- it can occur anywhere in the body, but typically it occurs in the brain.
Here's a look at an angiogram of an arteriovenous malformation. And you can see that you've got an artery coming in there and then there is this tangle of blood vessels. Typically, this occurs, actually, while a fetus is still in the womb, while a person is growing inside the mother. Let's say -- come back on camera here and I'll give you just a quick layman's explanation for it.
Let's say that my left arm here is an artery. Typically an artery will branch off into capillaries, which are then met on the venous side or the vein side by other capillaries, which then draw the blood back and up into the heart.
In arteriovenous malformation, the artery very often connects directly with the vein. And because of the blood flow, the extra blood flow and the extra pressure in there, it creates a tangle of small blood vessels around it, all of which have very thin walls.
And because you've got that increased pressure, that increased speed of blood flowing through there, you can often get bleeds. And sometimes you can get entire ruptures of certain blood vessels, which cause a hemorrhage inside the brain.
And that would appear that that's what Senator Johnson was suffering.
BLITZER: And there's really no symptoms, are there, until, god forbid, it really -- it erupts?
ROBERTS: Well, there can be. They can cause headaches. They can cause seizures depending on their size and their location. The location of Senator Johnson's was in the temporal lobe, which is a strip of brain that runs right about there, just behind the ear to just about to the temple, about that wide. And his was deep inside what looks like a speech center, because immediately when it started to bleed, he couldn't find the words that he was trying to use to talk to these reporters in South Dakota.
His prognosis for recovery unclear at this point. It all depends on how long and how much he was bleeding, because once these let go and you start to hemorrhage, you start to bleed into the brain, that puts pressure on the surrounding brain tissue, which cuts off the supply of oxygen by compressing other capillaries bringing that life sustaining oxygen to those areas of the brain.
So depending on how long and how much he was bleeding -- and it seems like he was for at least a few hours -- that could have a big effect on the outcome and the prognosis for recovery.
BLITZER: They say he's in critical but stable condition and...
ROBERTS: As anybody would be after having that type of surgery.
BLITZER: ... they insist the surgery was successful.
ROBERTS: They -- yes, they stopped the bleeding. They evacuated the blood. Now it's just a sense of -- or that gives a sense, at least, of how much damage was done during that bleed and whether or not the recovery is going to be complete, whether it will be partial. None of this we know.
BLITZER: I think I speak for all of us when I say we wish him a really speedy recovery.
ROBERTS: Yes. Absolutely. I mean, politics is obviously a part of this. But he's a human being in dire circumstances now and our thoughts and prayers are with him.
BLITZER: And, by all accounts, everyone says a really, really nice guy. So we wish him a speedy recovery.
John, thanks very much for that.
Let's turn now to the crisis in Iraq and a mass kidnapping in the capital. About 20 or 30 Iraqis were abducted today by armed men wearing outdated Iraqi National Police uniforms. An Iraqi official says the kidnappers rounded up shop owners, street vendors and bystanders in a shopping area in central Baghdad. And police found another 45 bullet-riddled bodies. They found them dumped across the city today. They seem to be finding those bodies every day.
The U.S. Army's top general is warning that his forces in Iraq and around the world "will break" -- that's a direct quote -- unless thousands more active duty troops are recruited and more Reservists are called up.
General Peter Schumacher makes the point that he wants the Army's ranks to grow beyond a half a million members, perhaps by as many as 7,000 soldiers a year.
The outgoing defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, today delivered a taped farewell message to the troops and Pentagon officials. His replacement, Robert Gates, takes over formally, officially, on Monday. That's when he's sworn in.
On the ground in Iraq, Senator John McCain and some other U.S. senators say the U.S. should send more troops there to try to ease the killing and the chaos.
Let's turn to our chief national correspondent, John King.
He's here with what this could mean for the president -- John.
JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting, Wolf, because Senator McCain has been a critic of the administration since the very beginning, for more than three years, saying the president made a mistake, he should have sent more troops from the beginning and the chaos you see in Iraq now is a direct result of not having enough troops to stabilize the country.
But there are some now who believe, as the senator repeats this message, and repeats it while standing in Iraq, that perhaps it could actually help Mr. Bush at this delicate moment.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KING (voice-over): The message is hardly new.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I believe that there's still a compelling reason to have an increase in the troops here in Baghdad and in Anbar Province in order to bring the sectarian violence under control.
KING: But by delivering it now and while in Baghdad's fortified green zone, Senator McCain guaranteed it would ripple in both the policy and political debates back home.
SCOTT REED, GOP STRATEGIST: I think having folks like McCain out there that have incredible credentials for having been in a war and been a leader in the Senate, in a way, can give the president some cover to ultimately make his decision. He's not there out alone on this one.
KING: In fact, administration officials say the president's new Iraq strategy is all but certain to reject calls from the Iraq Study Group and most Democrats to set timelines for bringing troops home.
But just last month, the top U.S. commander in the region rejected McCain's call for more troops.
UNIDENTIFIED GENERAL: No, I do not believe that more American troops right now is the solution to the problem.
KING: Still, sources tell CNN Mr. Bush now is considering a short-term increase, an idea many analysts say would only help if the mission also changes.
KEN POLLACK, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Even an increase of 20,000 or 30,000 troops could be meaningful if that increase comes with a real change in tactics. If the U.S. shifts from mostly chasing insurgents to mostly trying to protect the Iraqi population.
KING: Politically, McCain's call for more troops puts the early 2008 Republican presidential frontrunner at odds with overwhelming public support for draw down troop levels.
REED: McCain's been in a risky position on the war since the beginning. But, again, I think most folks that run-for president have a defining moment. This may turn out to have been McCain's defining moment. This may -- this may turn out to have been McCain's defining moment, when he really stood for principles and success, as opposed to the public opinion polls.
KING: Interesting to watch all of this play out, not only as the president makes his decision about how to change strategy in Iraq, but, also, Wolf, as the 2008 Republican race takes shape.
Senator McCain is out of step with overall public opinion. But most Republicans think he should leave the troops in there, should try to win the war in Iraq or at least achieve stability in Iraq. And his chief opponent right now, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, quoted in the "National Review" online today saying he, too, disagrees with the Iraq Study Group. He, too, disagrees with any idea, any call to bring the troops home.
BLITZER: You know, this relationship between John McCain and George W. Bush, it's a fascinating relationship. A lot of us remember their political battles over the years. But give us a sense where it stands right now.
KING: I think both men respect each other. The senator has been an enormous critic of the administration's Iraq policy. He thinks the president has made bad decisions, but he thinks the president has gotten bad advice.
Politically, though, he has tried to help the president by standing up in Congress, by saying no, things have gone wrong, but we need to fix it, we need to stay the course and we need to increase troop levels. Change strategy, but stay the course in Iraq to get victory in Iraq.
It's a very complicated political relationship. They don't have much of a personal relationship, but Senator McCain has gone out of his way -- look at the roster of people supporting him, fundraisers, campaign organizers and the like. He has gone out of his way to get all those Bush people who worked against him in 2000, as much as possible, to join the McCain team now.
BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I have the impression that their respective staffs don't like each other.
KING: They didn't like each other. There has been detente. I wouldn't call it peace. But their chief strategists, John Weaver, Karl Rove, used to be like this. There's at least detente right now -- respect, maybe not peace.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
KING: All right.
BLITZER: John King reporting for us.
Several senators are making moves to get serious help in solving the Iraq problem, despite White House objections. Democrats John Kerry and Chris Dodd plan to meet with President Bashar al-Assad in Syria later this month. And there are reports that Republican Senator Arlen Specter will do the same thing.
Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida met yesterday with Bashar al-Assad and that has prompted a sharp reaction from the Bush administration.
Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano.
What has been the reaction -- Elaine.
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow has called these meetings with Syria's president inappropriate. He says that Syria has worked against the causes of democracy in Iraq and Lebanon and he reasserted today U.S. policy that Syria must stop supporting terrorism in those countries and elsewhere.
Now, interestingly, Snow was also asked about something else President Bush said yesterday at the Pentagon after those consultations with his top generals.
Snow was asked about this comment that the president made a point to say that nearly
5,900 enemy forces have been either killed or captured, something that really has not been pointed out by the administration in the past.
Snow was asked whether this sort of enemy body count was a new kind of metric, perhaps, for the American people. And he said that at a time when there's been a lot of attention on the number of U.S. forces being killed, that this was, perhaps, a way of providing a fuller picture of what is taking place in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It probably is worth at least giving a general impression of -- of the relative battlefield success of what's going on, which is a great many members of al Qaeda in Anbar and also people who are committing acts of violence in Baghdad and elsewhere are dying or being captured as a result of these military activities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
QUIJANO: And, as the president continues to weigh the various Iraq options, Snow again emphasized today that no final decisions have been made. And, of course, Wolf, we do expect to hear an announcement on changes to U.S. Iraq policy early next month -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Elaine, thanks very much.
And I just want to point out, as our viewers know, Elaine Quijano, John King, John Roberts, Dana Bash -- they are all part of the best political team on television.
And remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker. Simply go to CNN.com/ticker.
It's usually time for "The Cafferty File." Jack Cafferty, though, has the day off. He will be back.
Coming up, the incoming speaker of the House lays out her agenda for the first 100 hours.
So how come the war in Iraq isn't on Nancy Pelosi's to-do list?
That's coming up. Also, John McCain in Iraq calling for more U.S. troops.
Is that a smart strategy?
James Carville and J.C. Watts in today's Strategy Session.
And later, the long-awaited report on Princess Diana's death is now made public.
But is everybody happy with the findings?
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Today, the incoming House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is setting goals and laying down markers for the Democrats' take over only weeks from now.
Was there anything, though, missing from her message?
Let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, today, Speaker-To-Be Nancy Pelosi talked about an ambitious agenda for House Democrats. But there was one subject she didn't talk about.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): When it comes to New Year's resolutions, it's hard to match the House Democrats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER ELECT: Raising the minimum wage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: Cut in half the interest rates paid on student loans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: Rolling back subsidies to big oil.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: Advancing stem cell research.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: Cut the link between lobbyists and legislation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: Passing the 9/11 Commission recommendations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: Some things, like ethics reform, they can do on their own. Everything else has to be passed by the Senate, where the Democratic majority is hanging by a single vote, and signed into law by President Bush. The toughest pledge to keep may be this one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: No new deficit spending. That will be a part of the rules of the House and we'll also introduce it as a statute.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: Democrats will have to square that with the pledge to cut the interest rate on student loans.
What about the issue that brought Democrats to power?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: Nowhere was the call for a new direction more clear from the American people than in the war in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: It's by far the highest priority to voters. But the new speaker did not mention Iraq once at her press conference.
The House has little control over Iraq policy. It gave the president the authority to use force in October 2002 and spent very little time debating the war since then. The House does control spending, but Democratic leaders are reluctant to cut funding for the troops.
One House Democrat is running for president to protest that policy.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What does it say if only one month after the voters gave us control of Congress on the issue of Iraq that we turn around and say we'll keep funding the war?
SCHNEIDER: It says that Democrats are being cautious. Every item on their agenda has strong public support -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Explain to our viewers what they mean by the first 100 hours of the new Congress.
SCHNEIDER: Well, don't start looking at your watch when they convene, because it doesn't mean 100 on the watch. That would be about four days. It's 100 legislative hours, and that could take weeks, because it means only the hours that Congress is in session and working on legislation.
But, keep this in mind -- they pledged, the Democratic majority has pledged they are actually going to work a full five day week. Imagine that.
BLITZER: Can you imagine?
Thanks very much, Bill Schneider, reporting on the first 100 hours, which are not really the first 100, legislative hours, which could take weeks.
Carol Costello is joining us here in Washington once again for a closer look at some other important stories making news -- Carol, you work in THE SITUATION ROOM, you learn something every day.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: It's true.
Hello to all of you.
In the news today, a radical Muslim cleric imprisoned in the United States is said to be seriously ill and the FBI is warning of possible terror attacks if he dies. Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman reportedly has a tumor on his liver. He's serving a life sentence in connection to an attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. He has previously called for attacks if he dies in prison.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff defending a computerized terrorist screening program of international travelers. A group of travel industry associations joined other critics of the program, calling it "invasive." But Chertoff says it's a legal way for authorities to focus more effectively on travelers who might pose a threat.
And the widow of former Beatle John Lennon is accusing a former chauffeur of trying to extort $2 million from her. Yoko Ono says the chauffeur threatened to publicize embarrassing personal photos and audio recordings of her. He was arrested last night and arraigned in a New York court just a short time ago. He entered a not guilty plea and he told reporters Ono sexually harassed him.
We'll keep you up to date on this one -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Carol, for that. Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, anxious moments under the Capitol Dome, with the possibility that the Senate might once again be divided 50-50. We're going to take a closer look at the possible -- possible implications.
Plus, Senator John McCain in Baghdad calling for mutt in Iraq.
Is the presidential hopeful helping the man he'd like to succeed?
I'll ask James Carville and J.C. Watts. They're standing by live in today's Strategy Session. That's coming up.
BLITZER: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
Happening now, Senator Tim Johnson is in critical condition after surgery to repair bleeding inside his brain. Doctors say the South Dakota Democrat suffered from a rare malformation that tangles blood vessels.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid says Johnson looked very, very good when he saw him this morning. Reid is dismissing any talk that Johnson's illness could cost the Democrats their one seat margin of control in the new Senate.
And Republican Senator John McCain sends a message from Baghdad that the U.S. needs more troops to turn things around in Iraq. McCain's new call comes as President Bush is said to be seriously considering increasing troop levels in Iraq.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Senator Tim Johnson's illness has left many lawmakers on Capitol Hill on edge. If Johnson isn't able to serve out his term, South Dakota's governor likely would name a fellow Republican to replace him and that would split the Senate down the middle, putting it back in GOP hands, since the vice president of the United States is the president of the Senate.
Our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, has been sorting things out, and he's done it before, as well -- Jeff.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Wolf, it is a lesson we learn over and over again in politics, how so much can turn on a twist of fate. A ballot designed in a single Florida county can shape a presidential election. A bad moment in front of a single video camera can determine who controls Congress. Now, the illness of a single senator might do the same.
Let's take a step back and see why and how.
GREENFIELD (voice-over): There are 29 states where there's a governor of one party and at least one senator of another. In Kansas, for example, Democrat Kathleen Sebelius is governor. Republicans Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback are the senators.
In Hawaii, Republican Linda Lingle is governor, while two 82- year-old Democrats, Inouye and Akaka, are the senators.
When a Senate seat becomes vacant, in 48 of the 50 states, the governor appoints a replacement, either until a special election or until the next election year. In the past, just about all the governors chose members of their own party, no matter who the voters had chosen.
So when Georgia Senator Paul Coverdale, a Republican, died in 2000, the governor appointed a Democrat.
In New York in 1968, after Robert Kennedy was assassinated, Republican Governor Rockefeller appointed a Republican congressman to replace Kennedy.
But in five states, the law requires the governor to appoint a replacement who's of the same party as the departing senator.
Wyoming is one of those states where there's a Democratic governor, Dave Freudenthal, and where Republican Senator Craig Thomas is being treated for leukemia. But it's important to note that Senator Thomas has been tending to his official duties.
More broadly, no one can tell senators when they're incapacitated. A generation ago, South Dakota Senator Carl Mundt spent more than three years disabled by a stroke, unable to even travel to Washington, but he still held his seat.
In more recent years, many senators, Joe Biden, David Pryor among them, have spent weeks or months recuperating from illnesses before they returned to work.
But what about the notion that a single appointment could shift the whole balance of power? Is that fair? There is no one answer to this. Back in 1953, when the Senate was tied, and when Republican Vice President Richard Nixon broke that tie in favor of the Republicans, maverick Wayne Morse left the GOP and declared himself an independent.
But he refused to caucus with the Democrats. And, in fact, he threatened to caucus again with the Republicans if Democrats tried to use his defection to take control of the Senate. Morse became a one- man independent caucus.
By contrast, in 2001, Vermont's Jim Jeffords, reelected just months earlier as a Republican, left the party, caucused with the Democrats, and, thus, gave Democrats control of the Senate for the next year-and-a-half.
GREENFIELD: All this is another reminder of how fragile the balance of power has become in recent years. Five hundred and thirty- seven Florida votes, or a one-vote Supreme Court majority, determined the presidency.
Three thousand votes in Montana determines control of the Senate. And, today, the human concerns over the health of a single public official are accompanied by the cold political calculations of power -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield reporting for us -- Jeff, thank you.
Let's get some more now on the possible -- possible shift of power in the Senate, if Senator Johnson were to resign.
I'm joined in today's "Strategy Session" by CNN political analyst, Democratic strategist James Carville, and Republican -- former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts.
What do you make of all this, James?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, what I make of it is -- I mean, obviously, I -- every smart Republican that I spoke to today is not very nifty on the idea that, God forbid, that, you know, Senator Johnson, anything should happen to him, on a governor having a -- having a 50/50 Senate. I don't think they think that's great.
I'm sure some Republican senators and committee -- committee chairmen that would enhance their power -- you would have the vice president down at the Senate all the time, who is not particularly popular right now, being a kind of symbol for the Republican Party.
The country felt like they made a change in the election. And this would just sort of go back to the things that they didn't like before. And I -- you know, first and foremost, I think Senator Johnson is well liked, obviously. But I think -- I don't think the Republicans are all that keen on having a 50/50 Senate, I really don't. That's my sense.
BLITZER: Let's ask a Republican.
J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, first of all, 60 votes, I mean, that's kind of the magic number in the Senate.
BLITZER: To break a filibuster.
WATTS: Right, to break a filibuster. And I think that's the thing that would give Republicans or Democrats both some comfort level that they could govern.
But, you know, I think my advice to Republicans and Democrats both would be, you know, these circumstances are very difficult for families, and especially during this time of the year, the holiday season. You know, you have got a wife. You have got kids. You have got family that's worried about Senator Johnson. And -- and I think, you know, Republicans, Democrats both, especially Republicans, keep your powder dry. Let this man get over his illness, if that is going to be the case. And then we can talk about this thing.
CARVILLE: Yes. I think -- in defense of the politicians, I think it's actually we in the media that are talking about this a lot more.
I don't think any Republican or Democratic politician has really talked about these kind of...
BLITZER: But they're thinking about it.
CARVILLE: Well, you know, everybody thinks about everything.
But, I mean, we actually are the people that are talking about this, more than the politicians are, to be fair to both the Republican and the Democratic senators.
WATTS: Well, but as Jeff said, you know, the calculated political, you know, whims of politics, that's the way it works.
But, again, I am not comfortable talking about it. We are, but I'm not, because I know how this family, what they're going through, especially during this holiday season, having to go through this.
BLITZER: What do you think, switching gears to Iraq, about these senators, including several who want to be president of the United States, showing up in Baghdad right now, and some of them actually toying with the idea of going to Syria, Damascus, as well?
CARVILLE: Well, first of all, let's talk about Senator McCain and the more troops. As General Casey, General Abizaid said, we don't need more troops.
So, we read in the paper this morning, the Joint Chiefs of Staff say, we don't need more troops. The generals keep saying, to no effect at all, we can't win this militarily. There has to be a political solution.
Somehow or another, Senator McCain -- and there's some evidence -- we will wait and see, as the president keeps thinking that, in spite of the best military advice there is, that they want to send more troops. I think this is -- if the president goes along with this, I think it's going to cause a great deal of consternation within the military and on the Hill.
BLITZER: What do you think, J.C.?
WATTS: Well, Wolf, I'm no political expert, but let's go back to when this thing first started, when this war first started.
Colin Powell said, General Powell said, you know, if you go in to take on the enemy, you should overwhelm them. He talked about more troops. General Shinseki, he talked about more troops. John Keane has talked about more troops. Joe Biden, early on, was talking about more troops.
So, I'm not saying that it's good or bad policy, but I'm saying that it's something that the president needs to consider, in terms of getting us over this hump, or getting over this ordeal, this stumbling block that we're in.
BLITZER: And, by all accounts, he is seriously considering a -- a surge, if you will.
CARVILLE: But every general says, we don't want this. And the commandant of the Marine Corps has said, the Marine Corps is at a -- well, because of rotations, is about at a breaking point.
So, at one point, the president can't say, I'm listening to my commanders, and, at the second point, when every commander is saying, we don't want more troops, he's going to send more troops. It is going to cause enormous stress in the military, and enormous stress on the Hill.
BLITZER: All right.
What about this decision by several of these senators to go to Damascus right now?
We have a statement from Senator Chris Dodd, who is on his way: "Congress is a separate and co-equal branch of government. And, as a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, where oversight is a critical component, members need to go to hot spots, not just guard the spots.
I can't think of a more critical part of the world than the Middle East. And I can't think of a more critical player in affecting events in the region, for good or for bad, than Syria. That is why I have decided to include a stop in Syria during my seven-day fact- finding trip to the region."
Senator Kerry is going. And Senator Bill Nelson of Florida has been there. We hear that Senator Arlen Specter might be on his way, as well.
What do you think about this?
CARVILLE: Well, I mean, first...
BLITZER: Because the White House, as you know, isn't happy.
CARVILLE: But the White House is losing a lot of power.
(LAUGHTER) CARVILLE: And, you know, people are not that -- not really -- they think that they have messed this thing up.
You have the Baker-Hamilton commission saying that we should sit down and talk to Syria. There are a lot of people in a diplomatic geopolitical game, whatever we're calling it, saying, this is a good idea.
I think these senators are going to -- to -- to feel this thing out. They are a separate and co-equal branch of the government. They do have a role. And ask Senator Dodd, for instance -- I know knows more about Latin America than maybe anybody in -- in the Congress or the administration.
Senator Nelson of Florida is a very cautious man. He wouldn't be doing this unless he thought there was something to be gained about it. And people are getting quite frustrated with the fact that things are not getting better in Iraq. And if there's some diplomatic avenues to open, I think they want to open them.
CARVILLE: You got a problem with these guys showing up in Damascus?
WATTS: Well, Wolf, you are not going to be able to tell any senator that they can't go somewhere around the world to talk, or to fact-find, and do whatever it is they say they're going to do.
But I do have some concerns in this sense. I do believe the facts show that Syria, Iraq, that they are a part of the problem -- I mean, Syria and Iran, they are a part of the problem in Iraq. They have made it known that they -- especially Iran, that they would love to do bad things to the United States.
I'm not so sure we gain anything by talking to them. But, at the same time, I -- just like sending more troops, talking to Iran, Syria, as the study group said, these are options.
WATTS: And I think the president needs to weigh it all.
BLITZER: And Baker and Hamilton did meet with Syrians...
BLITZER: ... and Iranians before they released their report.
BLITZER: Hold on.
BLITZER: I want to get to another sensitive issue...
CARVILLE: OK. (LAUGHTER)
BLITZER: ... Nancy Pelosi, the speaker-to-be, explaining in detail her first 100 legislative hours, what is on their priority list, among those, raising the minimum wage, affordable health care, implementing more of the 9/11 Commission recommendations, conspicuously missing any talk of Iraq.
CARVILLE: Well, I think it was absolutely smart, because the president said, I'm coming with a new strategy in Iraq.
And they are getting ready to submit the appropriations. They're going to submit the request, the budget request. And I guarantee you, had the speaker come out and say that we're going to do this and that, then, somebody in the administration would have jumped up, and the whole right-wing, FOX News, talk radio would have been saying, she is already out there trying to undermine the president, can't give the man a chance to come up with his new strategy.
So, I think that the speaker did the right thing to say, OK, the president is going to give a speech the week after the new year. Allow him to give the speech.
They are going to send the appropriations up, the request. That's the point in time for the Congress to get involved in that. Nancy Pelosi is not the commander in chief. President Bush is. And I think she has every right to respond to what he says. But I think what she did...
BLITZER: All right.
CARVILLE: ... was very, very smart.
WATTS: Well, Wolf, if the left wing can comment on those things, the right wing can comment as well.
I don't think there was any downside to the speaker not saying anything about Iraq. She's going to have plenty of opportunities to comment on the Iraq issue. And the American people will get some sense, in a big hurry, on where she stands on all of the issues concerning Iraq.
BLITZER: Good discussion, guys. Thanks for coming in.
CARVILLE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: And, just to remind our viewers, James Carville and J.C. Watts are part of the best political team on television.
Up next: the long-awaited report on Princess Diana's death is out. But not everyone is happy with the findings. We will go to London to find out why. And later: Some top names in the next race for the White House are making headlines. We will find out in today's "Political Radar."
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The death of Princess Diana, nearly a decade ago, is, in many ways, the British equivalent of the Kennedy assassination in this country, a feeding ground for conspiracy theories. But now an official investigation says Diana's death was simply and certainly an accident.
CNN's Paula Newton reports from London.
PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's meant to be the final word on Diana's death. But the report's author says, he knows it won't be, even though he categorically concludes, the princess was not murdered.
LORD JOHN STEVENS, FORMER METROPOLITAN POLICE CHIEF: On the evidence available now, there was no conspiracy to murder any occupants of that car. This was a tragic accident.
NEWTON: Scotland Yard concluded, there was no murder, no cover- up, and no baby. Diana wasn't pregnant, and had no immediate plans to marry boyfriend Dodi Al Fayed.
The report says, forensic evidence proves that their chauffeur that night in Paris, Henri Paul, was drunk and speeding, and no one in the Mercedes was wearing a seat belt.
The report's bottom line: There is no evidence British intelligence or the royal family had anything to do with the accident.
STEVENS: I have always said that the direction of the investigation would be governed by the evidence. And I have seen nothing that would justify further inquiries with any member of the royal family.
NEWTON: As expected, the findings did not satisfy Dodi's father, Mohamed Al Fayed.
MOHAMED AL FAYED, FATHER OF DODI FAYED: I am certain, 100 percent, that a leading member of the royal family have planned that and the whole plot being executed in his order.
NEWTON (on camera): Here at Buckingham Palace there is a measure of relief, but very little closure. Princes William and Harry have been poring over the report for more than a day now, but they are not expected to make any kind of public comment.
(voice-over): But, in a written statement, the princes say, they "trust that these conclusive findings will end the speculation surrounding the death of their mother Diana, Princess of Wales."
Paula Newton, CNN, London.
BLITZER: And we have posted the Scotland Yard report into the death of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed online. You can check it out, if you want. Go to CNN.com/situationroomblog.
Coming up, we will check our "Political Radar." It's a 2008 road-to-the-White-House edition -- New Mexico Governor bill Richardson working on his foreign policy credentials. And Iowa voters seem to have a thing, that is, for the former Senator John Edwards. We will tell you what's going on.
And, on the Republican side, Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, takes another crack at his position on gay marriage.
Stay tuned. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: On our "Political Radar" this Thursday: New Mexico Governor and possible presidential contender Bill Richardson adding another line to his diplomatic credentials. The Democrats plans to meet tomorrow in Santa Fe with two North Korean envoys -- his ambitious goal, to persuade North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons.
What does Richardson plan for an encore? He is scheduled to meet with Democrats in New Hampshire this weekend.
A new survey shows John Edwards on top among Iowa Democrats. Thirty-six percent of those questioned in a Harstad Strategic Research poll say Edwards is their first choice for the Democratic presidential nomination. That's the second straight survey this year that puts the former vice presidential nominee in the lead, both times far ahead of Senator Hillary Clinton. The poll out today was conducted back in October. Iowa, of course, holds the first-in-the-nation caucuses.
New examples today of Governor Mitt Romney's efforts to reach out to conservatives, as he mulls a presidential race -- the Massachusetts Republican today reaffirmed his opposition to gay marriage and abortion. In an interview with "The National Review," Romney also dismissed charges that he has flip-flopped on both issues.
Romney also is taking a tough line on immigration. Yesterday, he signed a controversial agreement with federal authorities. It will allow specifically trained Massachusetts State Troopers to arrest and charge suspected illegal immigrants.
But incoming Democratic Governor Deval Patrick says he will move to scrap the agreement when he takes office on January 4.
Chalk one up for the record books. Two-point-one billion dollars was spent on television ads in the battle for Congress and other 2006 races. That's more money spent on political TV commercials than any midterm or -- get this -- any presidential election cycle ever. That eye-popping figure comes to us from CNN's consultant on political ad spending.
And, remember, for all the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.
Up next: the search continuing for those missing climbers in the mountains of Oregon. We will have the latest.
And, in our next hour, our medical expert, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who is also a brain surgeon, assesses Senator Johnson's condition.
That's coming up, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's check in with Carol once again for some other important stories making news -- Carol.
COSTELLO: Hi, Wolf.
Hello to all of you.
One of three mountain climbers lost on Oregon's Mount Hood may be trying to use his cell phone to call for help. Authorities say they picked up signals from the phone on two occasions earlier this week. A brother of one of the climbers says that that is giving family members hope that the three are still alive. Right now, severe weather is preventing search teams from reaching higher altitudes on the mountains.
Of course, we will keep following this for you.
Two astronauts stepped out of the International Space Station and into space a short time ago. The American astronaut and his European partner are right now on their second space walk in less than a week. Their mission is to hook up two solar arrays that will serve as the station's new power source.
Just hours ago, President Bush expanded his initiative aimed at combating malaria in Africa. The president is adding eight countries to the list of those receiving aid, and says the disease can be wiped out. Last year, Bush announced a $1.2 billion anti-malaria initiative. And he's calling on European countries in the private sector to chip in, too. Malaria kills a million people every year in Africa -- back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Carol, for that.
We're getting important information in from the office of Senator Tim Johnson. He is the South Dakota Democrat who has had surgery for a brain hemorrhage. According to the statement, the attending physician for the United States Capitol, Admiral John Eisold, says this. And let me read it precisely to you: "Senator Tim Johnson has continued to have an uncomplicated post-operative course. Specifically, he has been appropriately responsive to both word and touch. No further surgical intervention has been required."
That sounds very encouraging for Senator Tim Johnson. We're going to stay on top of this story, bring you much more, coming up at the top of the hour.
Jack Cafferty has the day off. He will be back here on Monday.
Still to come: a draft-Barack-Obama movement is under way, while the Senate -- senator pads his potential campaign coffers.
And, in our next hour, one of the world's wise men on international affairs comes right here, into THE SITUATION ROOM, with words of advice for President Bush. That could be Dr. Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state. That's coming up in a few minutes.
Stay with us. We will be right back.
BLITZER: Barack Obama has yet to announce he will run for president in '08, but one of the senator's political action committees has already raise -- get this -- more than $2.5 million this year. And you may be surprised to learn who makes up the bulk of his donors.
Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner -- Jacki.
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, more than $1 million of that money comes from small donors, people who gave $200 or less.
And that's important. George Washington University's Institute For Politics, Democracy and the Internet did a study of the 2004 election, small donors and the Internet. And they found that small donors tend to be more partisan and more Internet-savvy, and that small donors tend to indicate a broad grassroots appeal.
They point to Howard Dean as an example. When he ran for president in 2004, he raised more money than any other candidate from small donors. You might remember that huge online push.
Could Obama be next, in 2008? Well, there are some indications. There are tools online that can help you fund-raise really easily and give a lot of small donation money. For example, ActBlue, the online clearinghouse for Democratic candidates, already has the 2008 pages up for potential candidates. Barack Obama is only second to General Wesley Clark right now.
There's also this Web site, DraftObama.org. It's a volunteer organization. They have created a Web ad that is online now called "Believe Again." And they are hoping to get it on television in New Hampshire and Washington, D.C. -- Wolf. BLITZER: Jacki, thank you.
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