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THE SITUATION ROOM
President Bush Formally Unveils Plan To Beef Up War; House Approves Minimum Wage Hike; Iraq Will Likely Dominate 2008 Agenda
Aired January 10, 2007 - 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, Iraq buildup -- President Bush prepares to tell a skeptical nation he's sending more troops into battle. This hour, new details of his war plan and the growing opposition to it. The president's speech tonight could sway the race to replace him.
Will the new influx of troops keep Iraq on voters' radar screens well into 2008?
Plus, the tick tock in the White House -- in the House of Representatives, that is. Democrats make low wage workers their number two priority. We're tracking their progress in the first 100 hours.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Just hours from now, President Bush formally unveils his plan to beef up a war most Americans want him to end sooner rather than later.
Over at the White House today, a senior administration official briefed me and several other news anchors about Mr. Bush's Iraq plan. The president wants to deploy at least 21,000 additional troops to Baghdad and the Anbar Province over the next few months, maybe as many as 24,000. The first of five U.S. Army brigades could be in position in Iraq by the end of this month.
On Capitol Hill, top Democrats are lashing out at plans for a troop buildup. But they're still struggling with how far they should go to try to prevent it.
Our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is standing by.
But let's go to the White House, to our correspondent there, Suzanne Malveaux, with a look ahead to what the president plans to tell the nation tonight -- Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, of course, President Bush has been preparing for this speech, going over, reading the TelePrompTer. This morning he reached out to Iraqi officials, Sunni, Kurd as well as Shiite, and also hosted the Democratic and Republican members of Congress here at the White House.
Democrats quite displeased with all this. They said they felt that they were a prop for a dress rehearsal. Essentially, we have heard and we've seen this situation before, a public relations campaign.
And the big question -- whether or not this is going to be another pep rally or really a successful policy?
Here's what we're expecting from the president, that first and foremost, he will acknowledge failure. He will talk about how the current strategy is not working, that mistakes were made, not enough U.S. or Iraqi forces.
He'll lay out the plan, therefore talking about this increase in troops -- more than 21,000 U.S. troops. That is five Army brigades, the first one leaving from Kuwait perhaps as recent as within a week or so, the others to follow in February and the following month; as well as 4,000 Marines to the Anbar Province. That is an al Qaeda stronghold.
Now, the cost of all of this -- you're not going to hear numbers from the president today, but we were told from a senior administration official $5.6 billion for the military operation. That, of course, being requested for this -- to the budget supplemental. And then a $1 billion jobs program to try to put the Iraqis back to work -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Suzanne, the Iraqi government of Nouri Al-Maliki, they really have to come through now in order to make this new Bush strategy work.
What are they saying? What are you hearing that the Iraqis have agreed to?
MALVEAUX: Well, what the Iraqis have agreed to is an increase in troops, three brigades. So you're talking about one going in in the beginning of February, two other brigades February 15th to join with U.S. forces, that they are now going to take the lead in Baghdad to, of course, try to secure the capital city.
We've also been told that the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri Al- Maliki, himself, has given reassurances to President Bush that the rules of engagement here with troops are going to change, that they are going to be open to travel any part of Iraq, including Sadr City, to go after those dangerous militia -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Suzanne.
Stand by. We're going to be getting back to you.
Suzanne Malveaux over at the White House.
Let's go to Capitol Hill right now.
The growing opposition to a new deployment of additional U.S. forces to Iraq. The Democrat -- Democratic majority leaders still haven't come up with clear marching orders for their troops.
Let's bring in our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at the White House, they've been hosting lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, all week. But just this afternoon was the first time the bipartisan leadership went to the White House to speak with the president about his plan.
Democrats, for their part, came out and wasted no time criticizing it, first on the process, saying that they did not get the consultation that they said that they were promised. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid even mentioned the fact that the president was practicing the speech right before they got there.
But they also made clear on the substance, as they have been saying all week long, that they believe that the president's plan to send more troops is the wrong one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Members of Congress, Democrats for certain, questioned in some detail what the additional troops would do. And, again, speaking for me, I don't -- I am at a loss as to what's going to happen with these additional troops.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Now, Republicans, for their part, they came out and said, in the words of the House minority leader, that what they heard from the president was the best shot at victory in Iraq.
But Democrats, as you mentioned, are, of course, running could now. And they have been struggling with just how to not just criticize the president, but actually turn their words into actions now that they have the power here. And today, it appears, Wolf, that Democrats are coalescing around the idea, both in the Senate and the House, of having a test vote -- put the president's plan on the floor of the House, on the floor of the Senate and have a vote on it. That would be the initial plan.
But that might not happen until even after the State of the Union. That, of course, is January 23rd.
So what they're talking about is essentially a symbolic vote to get a sense, a marker, of where the support for the president is on Capitol Hill.
After that, at least in the Senate, they may -- may -- get to a vote on Senator Ted Kennedy's plan to have some kind of authorization of more troops and more money. But even Democrats who are really struggling we want to do here admit that might be too late, because at that point the president will probably have already sent many of the troops into the field and they're going to be in the position of having to say we're not going to support you in terms of money. And they have been unwilling to do that in the past -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Two more senators coming out, making their views abundantly clear. They don't support what the president has in mind.
Tell our viewers what we learned today.
BASH: You know, if you want to have any sense of just how much the political climate for the president has changed on Capitol Hill, you just had to look at the Senate floor today. You had a Republican senator, Norm Coleman from Minnesota, and, in addition, Democratic Senator Max Baucus, from a red state of Montana, where the president still is quite popular.
They both came out in a formal way, on the Senate floor, and said that they did not support the president's plan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. NORMAN COLEMAN (R), MINNESOTA: If Iraq is to fulfill its role as a sovereign and democratic state, it must start acting like one. It is for this reason that I oppose the proposal for a troop surge. I oppose the proposal for a troop surge in Baghdad, where violence can only be defined as sectarian.
SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), MONTANA: Mr. President, I believe it is time for our combat troops to come home from Iraq. America entered into this war with motivations that were clearly honorable, but they were mistaken.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Now, other Democrats, of course, have said that they regret their vote for the war in the past. That was the first time we heard today Senator Max Baucus say that and say that he thinks the war is a mistake.
For him, it's personal. He lost a nephew in Iraq in July. But, Wolf, it is also political. What you just heard is an early statement from both of those senators, even before the president gives his speech, both of those senators up for reelection in the next cycle in 2008 -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The political fireworks and the fallout only just beginning and the president hasn't even delivered his speech yet.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Dana, for that.
And remember to stay right here for complete coverage of the president's address to the nation. Our coverage will begin at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Paula Zahn will be joining me for a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. That's coming up later tonight.
In Iraq today, an influential group of Sunni Muslim scholars is blasting President Bush's expected increase of troop levels in Iraq. The group warns that many of those troops will die, and even more innocent Iraqis will die, as well.
In Iraq, another day of car bombings, ambushes and bloodshed. Ten Iraqi Shiites returning from the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, the pilgrimage there, they were shot and killed near the Iraqi-Saudi border. Sixty bodies were found dumped around Baghdad.
And the U.S. military death toll since the start of the war has now climbed to 3,018.
Let's return to Capitol Hill now, where Democrats are trying not to let all the emphasis on Iraq derail their first 100 hours of legislative business.
On tap today, a bill to increase the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade.
We'll turn to our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel -- Andrea.
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, and Democrats say that is the longest this country has gone without a raise since the minimum wage was first established almost 70 years ago.
KOPPEL (voice-over): It is the ultimate bread and butter issue, affecting millions of America's lowest paid workers.
California Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey used to be one of them.
REP. LYNN WOOLSEY (D), CALIFORNIA: Forty years ago, I was a single mother with three small children and although I was employed, I was forced to go on welfare.
KOPPEL: But when, as expected, the House signs off on boosting the minimum wage for the first time in almost 10 years, Democrats say that'll be a big step toward changing that, raising the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour, where it is now, to $5.85 an hour 60 days after it's signed into law. Then, a year later, it'll go up to $6.55. And, finally, it'll jump to $7.25 a year after that.
For the average worker currently earning $10,712 a year, that'll mean in two years they could take home over $15,000. That's still below the poverty level for a family of three.
REP. GEORGE MILLER (D), CALIFORNIA: Does it solve the economic stress?
No, it doesn't. But it changes their lives. For a family of three, increasing the minimum wage will mean an additional $440 a year, equaling 15 months of groceries or two years worth of health care.
KOPPEL: But Republicans complain to do so could hurt small businesses, who will be stuck footing the bill for those higher wages. REP. JOHN KLINE (R), MINNESOTA: Independent studies confirm that the proposal by the House Democrats to raise the minimum wage without including considerations for those who pay the minimum wage and their workers would halt the momentum of recent economic growth dead in its tracks.
KOPPEL: Democrats disagreed and suggested Republicans had a double standard.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The salaries of members of Congress have increased by $31,600 since 1997, while the minimum wage continues to earn just $10,700 a year.
KOPPEL: Now from here, the bill will move over to the Senate, where Democrats are negotiating behind the scenes with Republicans who want to include tax breaks for those small businesses, something that a Democratic leadership aide tells CNN is likely to be included. And, Wolf, is it something that President Bush himself has said must be included if he is to sign off on it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Andrea, thanks very much.
We'll watch that vote unfold in the House of Representatives, bring the results to our viewers as we get it.
Thanks very much.
Andrea Koppel, Dana Bash, Suzanne Malveaux, 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. Go to CNN.com/ticker.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty.
He's got The Cafferty File -- hi, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, across the pond, Brits can now register with their equivalent of the FBI and receive e-mail terror alerts. They can sign up with the M1-5's Web site to get these alerts from the government when there are changes in the nation's terror threat level. The British instituted a warning system this past summer that's similar to the one we use here in the U.S. the color coded system.
It's part of an effort by the British government to make information on possible threats more available to the public and to get the public's help in combating terror. The director general of M1-5 says that since the attacks on the London transit system in July of 2005, they have foiled five major terror plots.
So here's our question -- would you want to recover e-mail alerts the terror updates from the federal government?
E-mail us at CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.
Jack Cafferty in New York.
If you want a sneak preview, by the way, of Jack's questions, plus an early read on the day's political news and what's ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM, sign up for our daily e-mail alert. Simply go to CNN.com/situationroom. That's where you can do it.
Coming up, it's the key issue in the 2004 and 2006 elections and it looks like the war in Iraq will dominate the 2008 campaign, as well, at least right now.
But which party benefits?
Plus, does President Bush have a credibility problem with the American public?
I'll ask Republican strategist and former White House adviser Mary Matalin. She's standing by live to join us here.
And what about the Democrats? Are they divided over how to respond to the president's call for more troops?
I'll ask Senator Jack Reed. That's coming up in the next hour, all right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: When President Bush unveils his new Iraq strategy at the White House later tonight, he'll be writing another chapter of his legacy. He may also be defining the fight to take over his job.
Let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, President Bush's troop build-up means a substantial number of American forces will still be in Iraq next year.
Iraq will very likely dominate the 2008 agenda.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Iraq is becoming a defining issue for both parties. Democrats overwhelmingly oppose a troop build-up. Candidates have gotten the message.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: I met with the president last week and expressed my clear and unequivocal opposition to an escalation of troop levels in Iraq.
SCHNEIDER: Front runner Hillary Clinton's office tells CNN she does not support any escalation of the war in Iraq absent a broader and more comprehensive political solution that will start the overdue process of bringing our troops home.
Republicans support a troop buildup, though there are some signs of erosion -- 30 percent oppose more troops.
Potential Republican candidates are lining up with the president. On Wednesday, Mitt Romney released a statement saying: "I believe securing Iraqi civilians requires additional troops."
John McCain is leading the campaign for a troop build-up.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We will need a large number of troops.
SCHNEIDER: That will likely damage McCain's aura of bipartisanship. One Democratic contender is already taking him on.
FORMER SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I reject categorically what I call The McCain Doctrine, which is an escalation of this war and a surge of troops.
SCHNEIDER: At the moment, the Iraq issue puts Republicans on the defensive. The war is deeply unpopular. Independents, that is, swing voters, side with Democrats on Iraq.
Democrats are trying to be anti-Iraq without being anti-military.
OBAMA: I'm not going to create a situation in which troops who are already in Iraq might be shortchanged in some way because of restrictions on appropriations. So it creates a difficult situation for Democrats.
SCHNEIDER: Americans are still worried about a terrorist threat. They want a president who will end the war in Iraq but still protect the country.
SCHNEIDER: In 1972, Americans strongly opposed the Vietnam War. But the Democrats got soundly defeated when they nominated an anti-war candidate who the voters thought was too weak -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks for that, Bill Schneider.
Still ahead, some Republicans break ranks with the president on his plan to beef up U.S. forces in Iraq.
Are they giving aid and comfort to the Democrats?
James Carville and Bay Buchanan will square off. That's coming up in our Strategy Session.
And what would it take to convince Delta Airlines to go along with a buyout?
We'll get an update on a new offer that could affect your future flight plans.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Here she is, Carol Costello.
She's in New York.
She's got a closer look at some other important stories making news -- Carol.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: I do.
Hello to all of you.
The U.S. continues its hunt for al Qaeda in Somalia. Today, a Pentagon official tells CNN that a second U.S. air strike aimed at al Qaeda suspects was called off when the gunship lost track of its targets. That source also says that eight suspected terrorists were killed in Sunday's U.S. air strike in southern Somalia, but their identities has not been confirmed.
Somali officials say one suspect -- one suspect, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, is among the dead. But U.S. officials are not confirming his death.
Also, he often insults and antagonizes the U.S. government, but the U.S. is going to have to deal with him for six more years. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was sworn into a new six-year term after his landslide reelection. Chavez vows to press a radical socialist agenda today, saying: "Socialism or death."
In the meantime, U.S. Air seriously wants to merge with Delta, so U.S. Air is upping the ante. Delta rejected U.S. Air's $8 billion offer back in November. So today, U.S. Air threw in about $2 billion. Delta is trying to emerge from bankruptcy protection so the new $10 billion offer still has to be approved by Delta's creditors. The deadline for that is February 1st.
And after many steps forward, one painful step back. You remember Barbaro, the horse who shattered his right leg in last year's Preakness. Well, after a month of medical progress, doctors today say Barbaro is suffering a major setback. He's receiving from a condition called laminitis and he's being aggressively treated for pain. But doctors say Barbaro has beaten the odds against ordinary horses, proving he's a horse that "wants to live" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And let's hope he does.
Good luck to Barbaro. Thanks very much for that, Carol.
Up ahead, selling the plan -- does the president have a credibility problem? If so, how can he convince the American public and the U.S. Congress that more troops are the answer to stabilizing Iraq?
We'll ask Republican strategist and former West Wing insider -- she's still an insider -- Mary Matalin.
Also, a father laments the loss of his fallen son.
Will his family's sacrifice in Iraq be in vain if the U.S. doesn't finish the job there?
Our John King standing by to bring us a touching story of a family's loss.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, the president prepares to say what many Americans do not want to hear -- that he'll send as many as -- perhaps 24,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq over the next few months. That according to a senior administration official who briefed me and some other news anchors earlier in the day on several critical details over at the White House earlier today.
Will the commander-in-chief be able to sway Congress, specifically members of his own party?
Today at least one more Republican senator suggested he's growing restless. Norm Coleman of Minnesota says he does not support sending more troops to Iraq.
And what about public support?
The families of many American troops have some strong opinions on sending more American troops into harm's way. Our John King standing by. He's gauging public support and that of one family whose son died in Iraq.
I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Bush will certainly have his work cut out for him tonight. He must sell his new Iraq War plan to a war weary public, even to some members of his own party who are not yet on board with it.
But are past failures in Iraq giving the president a credibility problem?
Here to talk about that and more is Mary Matalin, former counselor to the vice president, Dick Cheney, a good friend of CNN, former co-host of "Crossfire."
Mary, thanks very much.
MARY MATALIN, FORMER COUNSELOR TO VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Thanks for having me, Wolf.
Happy New Year.
BLITZER: He's got a real serious -- Happy New Year to you, too.
He's got a serious credibility problem because of many of the failures.
What does he have to do tonight to convince the American public and a skeptical Congress that this time he's right?
MATALIN: Well, there's not a this time like it's just an add on, it's just additional troops. As you said to your lead-in not -- the president wouldn't just call -- and he hasn't just called, as you know, talking to a high ranking senior administration official. So this is just not adding troops, it's a fundamental change of mission. This is a different military mission where -- as we clear and we hold and rebuild so the Iraqis are buying in and changing their attitude about the political system.
BLITZER: But what is different? They have tried that at least once or twice before.
MATALIN: No, they have not. It's been done in Tal Afar. General McMaster did it up there. But what was the critical element was, the Iraqis have to hold and help build.
And Maliki has had a sea change. It wasn't only we who observed our election returns here. He's seen that, too. And Democrats and Republicans have delivered that message to him.
BLITZER: Do you think he's going to deliver, Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq?
BLITZER: Because, if this plan works, he's got to send Iraqi forces and U.S. forces, for example, into Sadr City, which is this Shiite stronghold. Muqtada al-Sadr, this 29-year-old radical Shiite cleric who hates the United States, he's going to have to crack down on him.
MATALIN: Well, as Maliki has said, Sadr is not going to run this country, as Maliki has committed to the president and to others that the rules of engagement, which were impeding our progress there, will be changed.
BLITZER: So, what you're saying, so much hinges on Nouri al- Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq? MATALIN: Being able to deliver.
And here's what's different here. There are -- call them timetables. Call them benchmarks. Call them whatever. We will be able to know sooner, rather than later, if Maliki can indeed deliver on the commitments he's made to the president.
BLITZER: Because I was told today, the president's patience is not unlimited when it comes to this guy.
MATALIN: Well, he can't -- they can't do without us. But we can't do it without them.
It has to be theirs to do. But we can't put them in a position where they can't succeed. And we have been doing that. But this new mission, it's -- people keep talking about the surges, if it's just a matter of numbers. The surge is merely a tactic to support a strategy that expands supporting the population, protecting the population, so the population can, in turn, isolate the insurgents.
The enemy continues to be the Sunni insurgents who want to tear down this democratically elected government.
BLITZER: But there's also Shiite death squads that are clearly an enemy of the United States as well.
MATALIN: Who are -- who have risen up, starting about a year ago, after the mosque bombing in Samarra, because they're -- and they have turned it into -- responded as the Sunni insurgents wanted them to, enabled by al Qaeda, to protect Shias.
When Maliki shows that we are able to protect the Shia in these joint operations -- we're staying, we're holding, we're building -- then he will have a tool, a political tool, to go back to the Sadrs and the Shia militants, and say, we can do this.
BLITZER: As you know, a lot of Democrats are opposed to this increase in U.S. troops, but, increasingly, Republicans speaking out as well.
Gordon Smith, Republican of Oregon, listen to what he said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. GORDON SMITH (R), OREGON: We have done 20,000 before. It has made no difference, because the Iraqis whom we have trained have simply not shown up for the fight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You agree with him on that? They haven't shown up for the fight in the past.
MATALIN: Well, it's -- this is -- again, it's a fundamentally different mission. It's a departure from the current light foot, where we were putting them in positions unable to be able to succeed. The way Senator Smith and others are describing the surge, or the additional troops, is different from what the president's going to say tonight. This is not just additional troops. It's how they're deployed. It's the -- how they're positioned. It's how they're working. It's that they're staying.
This is a completely different mission, when you go in, and you stay, and you set up 24/7 in the places that you're protecting, not scoot back to the Green Zone at night.
BLITZER: You know you have a serious problem -- you meaning the Bush administration -- when one of the Republicans, one of the president's best foot soldiers in the U.S. Senate, most loyal and supportive, Senators Norm Coleman, Republican of Minnesota, is now saying, this is not a good idea.
Listen to Norm Coleman earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. NORM COLEMAN (R), MINNESOTA: A troop surge in Baghdad would put more American troops at risk to address a problem that is not a military problem. It will put more American soldiers in the crosshairs of sectarian violence, create more targets. I just don't believe this makes sense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now, that's coming from Norm Coleman, who is not known as someone who -- who distances himself often from this administration.
MATALIN: Right. That's right.
You know what? It's not an illegitimate view. There are some who believe -- and there are more Democrats than Republicans -- who believe that security -- or that a political solution has to precede a security solution.
The president believes, Maliki believes, the troops on the ground believe, and most Republicans believe, that security is an essential precondition for a political solution. It's just a disagreement. But we will be able to know in the next six months, although the sustained effort has to take longer than six months. The president will be clear about that.
And he will speak of the consequences, which everyone, Republican, Democrat, anybody who takes issue with the president's policy here, has to discuss honestly with the American public the consequences.
BLITZER: It's really an uphill struggle for the president. You saw that "USA Today"/Gallup poll. Do you favor or oppose the president's plan to temporarily increase troops to stabilize Iraq? Thirty-six percent favor; 61 percent oppose. I have seen other polls where the numbers are even more lop...
MATALIN: Those are actually...
BLITZER: Yes. I...
MATALIN: ... that 40 percent of the people approve of it.
BLITZER: Thirty-six percent.
MATALIN: Thirty. All right, let's round up, Wolf.
MATALIN: But, OK, 36 percent approve before hearing what it is. It's not just adding additional troops. It's fundamentally changing the mission, from one of standing up an Iraqi government, to one of protecting the population to isolate the insurgents, very different military mission, very different political mission, and very different economic mission.
You will recall the original economic mission was infrastructure, big projects. Now, this will be jobs for people in these locations. It will be basic services. It will be incentivizing the population to get a better economic package, if they continue to help us isolate the insurgents.
BLITZER: Mary Matalin, former counselor to the vice president, thanks very much for coming in.
MATALIN: My pleasure. Thank you.
BLITZER: Thank you.
And stay right here for complete coverage of the president's address to the nation. Remember, our coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Paula Zahn will be joining me and the best political team on television for a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
Coming up: A father struggles with the death of his son in Iraq. Do we owe it to the fallen to keep fighting? John King has a special report.
And keeping track of the Democrats' 100-hour pledge -- the clock is ticking right now. We're going to bring you the story behind the rules of the timekeeper.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Many Americans who watch President Bush speak tonight won't necessarily respond to his plan for a troop buildup in Iraq in political terms.
For some, it will be very, very personal.
Our chief national correspondent, John King, has the story of one Ohio father's struggle.
John is joining us from across the border in Cincinnati.
John, tell us this incredible story.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as we dissect the president's plan, and as we watch the fascinating political debate now under way in Congress over what to do about it, we also thought it was important to retrace some steps we took about 18 months ago, and revisit some families.
For them, Iraq is not a faraway war, nor is it a bitter partisan divide. For the families of Lima Company, it is intensely personal.
KING (voice-over): The heroes of Lima Company are remembered in somber public memorials, and remembered 17 months later in the private shrines of parents, who still gasp when the doorbell rings, still hesitate to watch the news.
JOHN DYER, FATHER OF U.S. SOLDIER KILLED IN IRAQ: Every time I hear another casualty report, it's just -- it's like a knife going through me, because I know what that service person's family is going to feel like.
KING: Lance Corporal Christopher Dyer was 19 when he was killed by a roadside bomb in Haditha. Back then, the U.S. death toll was at the 1,800 mark. And his father, who had questioned the war, wrote the president, urging him to win it.
DYER: But, if that could happen, then I might be able to reconcile myself to the -- seeing that my son's death had contributed to something.
KING: Dyer still feels that way, but worries Iraq has become too political, and the war itself off course.
DYER: Because I don't think we're any better off in Iraq than we were a year-and-a-half ago, with another 1,200 servicemen killed. And, in some ways, we're worse off.
KING: Isolde Zierk's newsletter kept Lima Company families informed during their long deployment. Her son is back home now. So, talk of a troop surge hits hard.
ISOLDE ZIERK, MOTHER OF LIMA COMPANY MARINE: My son could be another one that's -- you know, has to go back, even though we are not slated to go. But you have to find 20,000 or 30,000 people somewhere.
KING: Zierk supports the war, but knows Democratic gains in last year's elections proves she's outnumbered.
ZIERK: The majority is not satisfied and wanted a change.
KING: The Lima Company deaths were a turning point for public opinion here in Ohio, the state where Mr. Bush began the march to war with such certainty.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The threat comes from Iraq. It possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Four years later, 72 percent of Americans disapprove of how Mr. Bush is handling Iraq, and 61 percent, in a "USA Today"/Gallup poll, oppose increasing troop levels.
DYER: In terms of his credibility, I think it's at an all-time low for most people.
KING: John Dyer keeps thinking, it's time to put most of this away.
DYER: This is obviously not even close to what we had in our dreams, or in his dreams.
KING: But he wants to believe Chris's death was not in vain, and will be listening to see if the president gives him hope.
DYER: Obviously, it's very depressing to -- sometimes, I can't even watch the news because of what's going on. But I just don't see an alternative to not staying and seeing it through. I'm trying to be hopeful and optimistic, but it is very difficult.
KING: Well, Wolf, what is most striking, in talking to these parents, is, they talk about the war in a much less black-and-white way, as we hear in the political debate back in Washington.
John Dyer, for example, says the president has made a great number of mistakes, and, in his view, should be very candid about those mistakes in his speech tonight.
But he also says that, in his view, tens of thousands of U.S. troops will be in Iraq for years to come, and that Mr. Bush will be the commander in chief for two more years. He wishes the Democrats and the Republicans could have a conversation about what to do next, not a political fight -- Wolf.
BLITZER: He's not ready to acknowledge or to say that his son may have died in vain?
KING: It's very difficult.
I was in this house 18 months ago -- back in it again. There is still a shrine to Chris Dyer set up in the house. And you can just feel this father's anguish. His son was a Kerry supporter back in 2004. This father voted for Bush, but thought the war was quite questionable.
But now he wants to be able to say that his son died as part of something valiant, something worthwhile, which is why he says he's willing to support a troop surge, as long as the president explains what it is.
But you can just sense, Wolf, he wants to be able to say that his son died for a reason. And he looks at Iraq nowadays, when he watches the news. It's quite painful. And he doesn't see the progress that he keeps hoping for.
BLITZER: What a moving report -- John, thank you very much.
John is going to be joining us later in THE SITUATION ROOM for our special coverage leading up to the president's address. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for House Democrats and their 100 hours of legislative business. Or is it?
If you visited the House majority leader's Web site this week, you will notice the official clock stops, then starts up again.
Let's get a better understanding of just how the whole clock thing is working.
We will bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, if you look at it now, it's going right now. But it will stop again after legislative business is done for the day. That's because it's controlled by a staff member in the majority leader's office.
It ticks only while the House is voting or debating on official business. The clock started up yesterday. It was supposed to start at noon. It eventually got going at 1:0. And then it ran yesterday for six hours and 46 minutes, while the House acted on 9/11 Commission recommendations, amongst other things. It's now up to almost 12 hours.
We have noticed some inconsistencies with when it runs. During debate yesterday on one resolution, it was ticking at one point, but not at another point.
The House -- you will find this clock at various places of the Web sites of the House Democratic leadership. The rate that legislation is going, the Democrats should complete their main goals well under the allotted time -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you, Abbi, for that. And remember to stay with CNN for the latest developments on the House Democrats' 100-hour agenda. We are going to keep you posted every step of the way. You will also find that clock periodically in the lower right-hand corner of our screen.
Still to come in our "Strategy Session," what does the president have to do to quell the Republican rebellion over his plan to send more U.S. troops into Iraq? We will tell you.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
In our "Strategy Session" today: President Bush prepares to unveil and sell his new plan for Iraq. But how might it be received by the American public, and by his own party?
Joining us now, our political analyst and Democratic strategist James Carville, and Terry Jeffrey, the editor of "Human Events."
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
Here's Dan Bartlett, speaking earlier today, the White House counselor, saying the president's going to make his case for the increase in troops.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "AMERICAN MORNING")
DAN BARTLETT, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT BUSH: President Bush would not make this commitment today if he didn't think those preconditions were set by the Iraqis that would change the fundamental failures of the past. This is a new course. It's a new strategy. And the increased troops is to support that strategy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right.
Well, what do you think.
BLITZER: It's a tough sell he's got.
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. It's a very tough sell.
I mean, the president's credibility -- I mean, honestly, as you pointed out earlier, the president's credibility has got problems. People are very skeptical about whether this would work. They're very shaky within the Republican Party. The people that are up in '08 are extremely queasy about this. And he's got to give people the confidence, even if this is the right strategy, that -- that he can execute it. So, he's got a big, big job tonight. We shouldn't underestimate the difficulty of the task ahead of him.
BLITZER: It's one thing, you know, for Chuck Hagel, even Gordon Smith, now Norm Coleman, all Republicans -- Sam Brownback now, Republican of Kansas -- he is going to be running for president -- he has just put out a statement, saying: "I do not believe that sending more troops to Iraq is the answer. Iraq requires a political, rather than a military solution."
He's got problems within his own Republican ranks.
TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, "HUMAN EVENTS": Well, there's no doubt about that, Wolf.
I'm a person, a conservative, who agrees with Sam Brownback on that point. But I will say this. The president needs to give a speech tonight that's 180 degrees different than the sort of speech he gave about Iraq before the election.
Before the election, he talked about it in partisan terms, simplistic terms. Tonight, he needs to give people a specific and detailed understanding of how he sees the situation on the ground in Iraq, who are the factions we are fighting, how this change in strategy, he believes, is going to get us to the political solution, the rapprochement between the Sunnis and Shias, that establishes the stability to get us out of there.
He has to do that compellingly and in detail.
BLITZER: I'm told it's going to be about 20 minutes, his speech. It's going to be in the residential library over at the White House. He's going to be standing. It's not going to be one of these formal settings, where he sits behind a desk or a table.
He wants to have more of a conversation with the American people. What do you think of this strategy?
CARVILLE: You know, they have got to try something.
I mean, in one sense, if you're over there, obviously, it's not working politically. It's not working militarily. It's not working there. And I don't think it really matters whether he gives it sitting down or standing up, or whether he gives it in the residence or in the Oval Office, or, you know, Franklin Roosevelt, a fireside chat.
I mean, they're constantly changing, that we're absolutely winning the war during the election. Now he's got to be candid with people. And, I mean, you just can't -- people -- public opinion doesn't work where you go from -- you go from zero to 60, back to zero, up to 100, back to 20.
I mean, it's herky-jerky. I think it's probably a pretty good idea, if I could defend him a little bit, to sort of do this in a more informal, conversational way. I don't have any problem...
CARVILLE: ... with that.
JEFFREY: In President Bush's most outstanding speeches, he's been able to communicate to people through the television a sense of real sincerity. This is something he truly believes in.
Also, it's something, when he has given an outstanding speech, that he clearly has thought through very carefully, looked at the options, and weighed the consequences. We know that Bush has been looking at this for a long time.
He needs to communicate those two things tonight: He thought this through carefully. He's very sincere about the way forward.
JEFFREY: Those are what people are going to be looking for.
BLITZER: He certainly has thought through this a great deal, going back at least the day after the election, when he unceremoniously asked Donald Rumsfeld...
BLITZER: ... to step down. He's been thinking about this for a long time, preparing this moment tonight.
CARVILLE: No, there's nothing -- I mean, you know, there's an old saying that there's nothing to get a donkey to think like hitting it over the head with a two-by-four.
Well, the voters hit him over the head with a two-by-four. And that forced him into this sort of reevaluation of his strategy. I don't know, you know, how long two months is to fix this or anything else. But he has got an awfully skeptical public, awfully skeptical Republican Party.
BLITZER: Here's the problem.
CARVILLE: That's his problem.
BLITZER: Here's the problem that this new U.S. strategy has. And I think I understand it fairly well.
The problem is, so much of it depends on Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, living up to what he has promised the president, when he says to the president: Trust me. I will get tough, not only with the Sunnis, but with my fellow Shiites.
That -- it sort of relies on this guy and his colleagues living up to their word.
JEFFREY: Well, that -- he's why I'm fearful it will not work, Wolf.
I don't think it puts enough pressure on Maliki. Maliki is a member of the Dawa Party, which is a Call to Islam Party. It operated in exile in Iran when Saddam was in power.
He's in -- his government, the leading party is the supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. I believe the Sunnis in Iraq look at these people, and they see Islamic Shiite fundamentalists, and they don't see the kind of concessions coming out of Maliki's government.
Another thing Bush needs to explain is how this strategy is going to put the pressure on Maliki and the Shiite Islamists in the Iraqi government to make the sort of concrete concessions that need to be made to the Sunni population, and have the Sunni population...
BLITZER: Well, one thing is also very clear to me now, based on the conversations I had at the White House earlier today. This president has rejected the recommendation of the Iraq Study Group, the Baker-Hamilton commission, to go ahead and engage in a dialogue with Iran and Syria.
He doesn't believe there's anything to talk about with those two countries right now.
CARVILLE: Basically, this is a president that doesn't believe in diplomacy. That is -- that -- he went into this war without exercising any diplomacy. That's been the hallmark of this administration. That is not surprising.
They have -- been consistency in that. I think it's fair to say that this is a group that doesn't play well with other people.
The other thing, in terms of Maliki, I think people just -- remember, Maliki was the architect of the Saddam Hussein hanging. And we know how successful that was, I mean, the only guy in the world who could make Saddam Hussein look sympathetic.
BLITZER: The president was -- the president was sick to his stomach, I'm told, when he saw that cell phone video of Saddam Hussein being hanged. It reminded him of the video of Abu Ghraib.
But that's another matter.
BLITZER: We have got to leave it right there, guys.
CARVILLE: Yes, sir.
BLITZER: Thanks very much...
CARVILLE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: ... for coming in, James and Terry.
Up next: "The Cafferty File." Would you want to receive an e- mail alert with terror updates from the government? That's his question. Jack with "The Cafferty File" -- coming up.
BLITZER: Jack has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Wolf, the British can now register with their equivalent of the FBI, and receive e-mail terror alerts from their government. The question is: Would you want to receive e-mail alerts with terror updates from our government?
Daisy in Circle Pines, Minnesota: "One, I have no reason to trust that Homeland Security people know what they're talking about. Two, I wouldn't do anything differently if there were an imminent threat from terrorists. And, three, living in fear is not really living. Besides, my in-box fills up fast enough."
W. in Rio Rancho, New Mexico: "Considering the efficiency of the U.S. government and their recognition and response to terrorism or natural disasters, it's probably better to either have the terrorists alert us or just wait until an event happens, and try to fend for ourselves directly. We wouldn't want to wake up the folks at Homeland Security or FEMA."
Ross in Richmond, Virginia: "No. The government would probably be the ones sending out some sort of worm or Trojan horse that would allow them inside our computers. And we wouldn't be able to do anything about it, because we signed up for their updates."
Nick in New York: "Yes. The government should use any form of data or media and take any measure necessary to combat terrorism. There are many people that don't look at the news or have access to TV or radio during the day. But they might have access to cell phones, PDAs, BlackBerrys, and computers."
Heather writes: "I already know when terror alerts will be issued: any time Bush doesn't get what he wants."
Charles in New York: "Jack, our e-mail in-boxes already serve as the perfect microcosm of American phobias: Is my mortgage too high? Is my credit rating too low? Could I be having better sex? So, why shouldn't the government get into the racket of daily spam, composed to scare distracted Americans?" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you.
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