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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

Democrats And Even Some Republicans Blast President Bush's Plan To Send Additional Troops Into Iraq; Congress Grills Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates over President Bush's New Iraq Strategy; a Democratic Proposal To Alleviate Cost Of Prescriptions Could Trigger Showdown in Congress; Interview With Michigan Senator Carl Levin

Aired January 11, 2007 - 18:00   ET

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


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight: new questions and rising anger over the president's plan to send 21,000 more of our troops to Iraq.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin, is among our guests here tonight.

And two of the country's most distinguished former military leaders join us here.

Local and federal law enforcement agencies working together in one community to remove criminal illegal aliens from their streets, despite protests by the illegal alien lobby and, of course, the federal government, could this be a model for the country? We will have a special report, and a great deal more, straight ahead here tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: news, debate, and opinion for Thursday January 11.

Live in New York, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody.

Democrats and some Republicans today blasted the president's plan to send more than 21,000 more troops to Iraq. Democrats said the troop increase would be a tragic mistake. One Republican said the president's plan is the most dangerous foreign policy blunder since Vietnam.

President Bush went to Fort Benning, Georgia, in an effort to build support for his plan. President Bush said the United States cannot afford to fail in Iraq. But a new poll shows nearly three- quarters of all Americans oppose the idea of sending those troops to Iraq.

Andrea Koppel reports tonight from Capitol Hill on the political battle over the conduct of this war. Suzanne Malveaux reports from the White House on the president's struggle to sell his proposals. And Jamie McIntyre reports from the Pentagon on whether the president's new strategy has any chance of success.

We begin with Andrea Koppel on Capitol Hill -- Andrea. ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lou, for several hours today, Secretary Rice took fire from senators. And, unlike previous hearings, it wasn't just Democrats who were throwing their fists.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL (voice-over): For President Bush, it was a stunning rebuke from members of his own party.

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH (R-OH), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I have gone along with the president on this, and I bought into his dream. And I -- at this stage of the game, I don't think it's going to happen.

SEN. NORMAN COLEMAN (R), MINNESOTA: Why put more American lives on the line now, in the hope that this time they will make the difficult choice?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I think this speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it's carried out. I will resist it.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please refrain, OK?

KOPPEL: One by one, at least three Republicans, including Vietnam vet Chuck Hagel, who may run for president in 2008, rejected Mr. Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq, and joined Democrats in venting their frustration at his secretary of state.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: What leverage do we have would provide us some assurance that, six months from now, you will not be sitting before us again, saying, well, it didn't work?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, Senator, the leverage is that we're not going to stay married to a plan that's not working in Baghdad.

KOPPEL: Senators on both sides of the aisle expressed skepticism Iraq's prime minister was up to the job. Rice assured them he was.

RICE: I have met Prime Minister Maliki. I was with him in Amman. I saw his resolve. I think he knows that his government is, in a sense, on borrowed time, not just in terms of the American people, but in terms of the Iraqi people.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Are you confident?

RICE: I'm confident.

KOPPEL: Senators also wanted to know about U.S. military plans for Iraq's neighbors, Syria, and, specifically, Iran, which the Bush administration has accused of arming insurgents. Delaware's Joe Biden told Rice, there is a red line the administration must not cross.

BIDEN: And, if they think they have authority to pursue networks or anything else across the border into Iran and Iraq, that will generate a constitutional confrontation here in the Senate, I predict to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL: Only one senator, Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, said Congress should use the power of the purse to cut off funds and force President Bush to bring U.S. troops home.

But, for now, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, has said that he wants to move for a resolution on the floor of the House as soon as -- floor of the Senate -- as soon as next week, one that would be mostly symbolic and would express congressional opposition to President Bush.

The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, Lou, says that he wants to filibuster such a move. But it's unclear tonight whether or not he has the 60 votes necessary to do so -- Lou.

DOBBS: Andrea, thank you very much -- Andrea Koppel from Capitol Hill.

President Bush today said, failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States. President Bush made his remarks in a speech to troops at Fort Benning, Georgia. President Bush's new plan means a combat brigade from Fort Benning will be going to Iraq earlier than had been planned.

Suzanne Malveaux reports tonight from the White House -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, of course, it's now all about selling this new plan of the president's.

It was classic White House stagecraft today, President Bush surrounding himself with U.S. troops, this time in Fort Benning, Georgia. Many of those men and women, of course, as you mentioned, will be part of those troops heading to Baghdad fairly soon as part of this troop increase.

Now, President Bush today made the case that this is a different kind of strategy, unique, because now the Iraqi troops are going to be on the front lines, of course, in control when it comes with to the battlefield. At least, that is what President Bush says Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has promised him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The government of Iraq must exhibit the will necessary to succeed. It's one thing to develop a plan; it's another thing to see it through. The prime minister and I have had some plain talking. I have made it clear that the patience of the American people is not unlimited.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now, Lou, as you know, many people see President Bush's faith, his investment in Maliki really as a leap of faith here, that Maliki, in the past, has broken numerous promises and pledges, including to send additional troops as well.

But White House insiders say that it was last week, during a conference call between President Bush and Maliki, that he reassured the president, reassured his confidence that he would, in fact, follow through.

Now, earlier today, I spoke with President Bush's former chief of staff, Andy Card, who has seen him in many meetings sizing up world leaders. And he argues, making the case today, that he thinks the president has made the right call.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW CARD, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: He's presented him with a real challenge. And I don't think that Maliki appreciated the challenge until the president really kind of laid it on him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: The president himself has called himself a gut player, someone who is confident in his intuition.

But, of course, as you know, Lou, he has had mixed results -- his first meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, an immediate bond, when the two of them joked that they shared the same toothpaste -- also, of course, his first meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin, when he said he looked into his eyes, gazed, and he saw his soul -- obviously, the two leaders certainly as not close as they were before, seeing a very different picture -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Suzanne Malveaux, from the White House.

The new secretary of defense, Robert Gates, today predicted the extra troops that the United States would send to Iraq would remain there for months, not years. Secretary Gates is confident that President Bush's new plan will work, unlike previous offensives in Baghdad.

The defense secretary did not say what the administration would do should the plan fail.

Jamie McIntyre reports now from the Pentagon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The new Iraq strategy is a last-ditch effort to secure Baghdad by correcting the two biggest failings of the old strategy: too few troops in the Iraqi capital, both U.S. and Iraqi, and too much political interference that has allowed Shia extremists to act with impunity.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The Iraqi military will be in the lead in these operations. Another is that no parts of the city will be immune, that -- that there will be no more calls from government offices to Iraqi or U.S. forces who have detained someone who is politically connected, demanding that they be released.

MCINTYRE: The strategy calls for putting an Iraqi commander in charge of Baghdad and dividing the city into nine sectors. Each would have an Iraqi brigade in the lead, several thousand troops, backed by a U.S. battalion, several hundred troops.

The Iraqi army and police would clear neighborhoods with U.S. help. But, unlike the last plan, U.S. troops would stay and help keep the peace.

While some American troops are already moving into Baghdad, the Pentagon stresses, the full deployment of more than 17,000 U.S. soldiers will be gradual, so there is time to determine if the Iraqis are really doing their part.

GATES: ... I think within a couple of months or so, whether this strategy is, in fact, beginning to bear fruit. It's going to take a while.

MCINTYRE: And it won't be hard to tell. If violence drops, the plan is working.

Gates says, the U.S. will be quick to adjust if the strategy fails. But no one in the administration is willing to say what would be next.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Senator, I don't think you go to plan B. You work with plan A.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: But that's not a plan B. That's a very critical issue.

RICE: You work with plan A, and you give it the possibility of success, the best possibility of success.

MCINTYRE: The Pentagon says, the plan was devised by U.S. military commanders, including generals like George Casey and John Abizaid, who, in the past, opposed sending more U.S. troops to Iraq.

GENERAL PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I have been the one who said, frequently, do not send extra troops just to do what the troops there now are already doing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: And, Lou, this is a new American strategy, but it really hinges on those Iraqi promises, specifically, to bring the most capable troops from around the country into Baghdad, because the loyalty and performance of those troops have really been in question in the past, and then to give them that free, no-holds-barred rein to go after anyone who is responsible for violence, including the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has been, the U.S. believes, behind a lot of the Shia violence in Baghdad -- Lou.

DOBBS: Let me ask you this, Jamie, as a longtime observer and, of course, a reporter on the demeanor of Pentagon officials, General Pace and now Secretary of Defense Bob Gates.

What struck you about their demeanor today, as they stood before the Senate?

MCINTYRE: Well, you know, I think they privately have a lot of reservations about this plan. But I think they think it's their best chance. On paper, it looks like it could work.

But we know that, from the past, that, when you take those plans and put them into action, lots of things can go wrong. You know, they feel like they have corrected the mistakes of the last strategy. They think it has a good shot. But nobody here is making any big guarantees.

And it will be very interesting to see how they adjust this plan over time, if it doesn't begin to produce some results very soon.

DOBBS: Jamie, thank you very much -- Jamie McIntyre reporting from the Pentagon.

In Iraq, insurgents have kill another of our troops. The soldier was killed by a roadside bomb outside Fallujah, west of Baghdad. Fourteen of our troops have been killed so far this month in Iraq, 3,019 of our troops killed since the beginning of the war, 22,834 of our troops wounded, 10,191 of them seriously.

President Bush today awarded the Medal of Honor to a U.S. Marine who gave his life to save his comrades in Iraq. President Bush presented the medal to the family of Corporal Jason Dunham at the White House. Corporal Dunham used his body to shield his fellow Marines from a hand grenade.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates today announced a significant and permanent increase in the size of the Army and Marine Corps. The Pentagon will recruit another 92,000 troops for the Army and Marine Corps over the next five years. Top military officials have said the Army and Marines are near the breaking point because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military analysts, for the most part, say the troop increase is long overdue.

Our troops in Iraq today detained six Iranian officials, one day after the president accused Iran and Syria of helping the insurgency. The Iranians were detained in the city of Irbil in northern Iraq. The U.S. military said the Iranians are suspected of being tied to what they termed activities targeting Iraqi and coalition forces.

More on the president's new plan for Iraq ahead here -- will the president's new strategy work politically, militarily? The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin, joins us.

And two of the country's top former military leaders join us as well.

Also here tonight: one community setting an example to the entire nation on how to tackle illegal immigration and our border security crisis. We will have that story.

And a showdown in the Congress over who should set prices for prescription drugs for some of this country's most hard-pressed middle-class families -- we will have that special report, all the day's news, still ahead.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Tonight, a rare cooperative effort between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials succeeding in the effort to deport illegal aliens -- but many local communities can't wait for the federal government to help them. And they continue to press ahead on their own.

Casey Wian tonight reports from Costa Mesa, California, where a new program is leading to the deportation of criminal illegal aliens -- and Bill Tucker tonight reporting on the difficulties faced by communities all around the country. Tired and frustrated, waiting for federal action, they're take on the task themselves.

We begin with Casey Wian -- Casey.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, here in Southern California, federal immigration officials say they're thrilled with the growing support they're receiving from local law enforcement in the effort to deport criminal illegal aliens.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN (voice-over): The newest addition to the Costa Mesa, California, jail is an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, whose full-time job is to find illegal alien inmates. His first month resulted in 46 illegal aliens taken into ICE custody, or more than 11 percent of Costa Mesa's jail inmates.

LIEUTENANT ALLEN HUGGINS, COSTA MESA, CALIFORNIA, POLICE DEPARTMENT: Every criminal that we can deport out of our community, and get them either in jail or deported from the area, it only makes our area safer for our citizens who live here.

WIAN: Costa Mesa is in Orange County, where the sheriff has implemented an even more ambitious program in his jail. Twenty-four deputies have been trained by ICE to identify illegal aliens, so every inmate processed in Orange County's jail will be screened for immigration status.

Because ICE is stretched so thin, only about 20 percent of Orange County's foreign-born criminals have undergone immigration checks in the past. Of those, three in four were found to be illegal aliens.

So, Orange County is expected to turn about 11,000 illegal aliens over to ICE for deportation this year.

Sheriff Mike Carona says, those with criminal records and prior deportations will serve federal prison time.

MIKE CARONA, ORANGE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, SHERIFF: We're now giving the federal government the opportunity for these people who are the career criminals to say, you're not going back anywhere. You are going to spend 20 years here, because we are going to make sure you're off the streets. And I think that's a real benefit to reducing crime.

WIAN: Some Latino advocacy groups are angry.

In a statement, MALDEF says: "The perception that law enforcement is working with federal authorities to effect deportations threatens law enforcement officers' relationships with the individuals they are charged to protect," and "ICE's teaming up with local law enforcement contributes to the targeting and racial profiling of all persons who appear to be illegal."

Local law enforcement say that's false, because they're checking the immigration status of all inmates, not just those who may appear to be illegal aliens.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: As for the argument that, otherwise, law-abiding illegal aliens will be afraid to cooperate with police, if they fear deportation, law enforcement officials say, that's ridiculous, because they're only deporting criminals, not crime victims or witnesses -- also, Lou, one law enforcement source here in Southern California telling me here tonight that he believes that Latino activists and some of the Spanish-language media have created an undo atmosphere of fear in their own communities -- Lou.

DOBBS: Casey, thank you very much -- Casey Wian reporting from Costa Mesa.

Well, Costa Mesa and Orange County aren't the only communities beginning to work with federal authorities, trying to deal with our illegal immigration crisis and border security crisis. Immigration and Customs Enforcement today said it's teaming up with Massachusetts to identify and to deport illegal aliens in their prisons.

And a Texas judge today blocked the city of Farmers Branch from implementing a law that would require landlords to verify the immigration status of their tenants.

The Farmers Branch case is the largest example of the significant opposition that many communities are facing, as they are forced to tackle the illegal immigration crisis on their own.

Bill Tucker reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In towns and cities across the country, officials are considering or have passed ordinances to penalize landlords who rent to illegals, and slap fines on employers who hire illegal aliens.

Covington, Kentucky, is one such community. The reason given is the same as in all of the communities.

STEVE MEGERLE, CITY COMMISSIONER, COVINGTON, KENTUCKY: It's definitely been a drain on our city resources. Our city, like a lot of other cities across the country, are facing tough financial times. And, you know, we want to get -- we want people paying taxes who are working in the city, and -- and people not to receive services who aren't paying taxes for their services.

TUCKER: But these laws are easier passed than enforced, as the communities in Escondido, California; Cherokee County, Georgia; Valley Park, Missouri; Hazleton, Pennsylvania; and Farmers Branch, Texas, know. All of those ordinances have been challenged by groups serving as advocates for illegal aliens.

And, in Escondido, they forced the town to abandon its ordinances.

JOHN TRASVINA, MEXICAN AMERICAN LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATIONAL FUND: What these cities and towns are asking people to do are -- and corporations to do, and -- and landlords to do -- are the things that the federal government is supposed to do, and has not been able to do.

TUCKER: In addition, the plaintiffs, like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the ACLU argue, such ordinances are unconstitutional.

The courts, so far, have granted restraining orders while the arguments are considered on their merits.

KRIS KOBACH, IMMIGRATION REFORM LAW INSTITUTE: People shouldn't interpret that as a surrender or as a backing down. In virtually all of those cities, they're continuing to litigate and continuing to press their case.

TUCKER: And, at the beginning of March, two important cases come to trial.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCKER: On March 1, a challenge to the Valley Park, Missouri, ordinances will be heard in state court.

And, on March 12, a challenge to the Hazleton, Pennsylvania, ordinances will be heard in federal district court in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

And, Lou, you can bet all of those trials will be very closely watched by people on both sides of this issue.

DOBBS: Well, certainly, we will be watching carefully.

Thank you very much, Bill Tucker.

Congressman Steve King of Iowa is suing that state's governor- elect for violating Iowa's English-only law. Congressman King says that governor-elect Chet Culver posted voting forms in a number of languages on his Web site when he was secretary of state.

Congressman King said, Iowa's law states all official government communication must be in English. A Culver aide rejected those charges, saying they have an obligation to help voters in register and voting. And, of course, fluency in English is required as a condition for eligibility to vote.

Mexico tonight may be finally cracking down on some of the drug cartel violence. Mexican soldiers have been deployed in the city of Acapulco, a popular vacation spot for Americans. But it is also the scene of bloody violence between warring drug cartels competing to control the drug trade.

In Tijuana last week, Mexican troops disarmed Tijuana's police force, some 2,000 strong, in the belief that many of them were controlled by drug cartels. Most of the illegal drugs, meth, cocaine, marijuana, and heroin, are smuggled into the United States from Mexico.

Up next here: alarming testimony about al Qaeda's resurgence and other terrorist groups threatening this nation. We will have that report.

Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joins us to talk about the president's plan to escalate the war in Iraq.

And the drug companies want to control how much you pay for prescription drugs. Congress wants to use your bargaining power to keep prices lower. We will have that report as well.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Despite early reports to the contrary, a U.S. airstrike in southern Somalia this week failed to kill three al Qaeda terrorist leaders wanted for the bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998.

Somali officials earlier had reported one of the suspects was killed in the attack. But a U.S. official in Kenya today said that was not the case. Up to 10 other terrorists were killed in the airstrike. And the U.S. military claims no civilians were killed.

A new warning tonight about the increasingly dangerous threat to this country from radical Islamist terrorists. The director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, said al Qaeda still poses the largest threat to this country.

But Negroponte also said Hezbollah may be planning attacks against U.S. interests.

Jeanne Meserve reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(GUNFIRE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Al Qaeda, back in business, and now more than an inspiration to terrorists around the world.

JOHN NEGROPONTE, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: They are cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders' secure hideout in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.

MESERVE: The plot thwarted in London last summer to blow up aircraft with liquid explosives, a top-down al Qaeda operation, experts say, and an illustration of the group's growing capabilities.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERROR ANALYST: This kind of idea that the problem we faced is -- was sort of self-starting, homegrown, ideologically-motivated people looking to al Qaeda as an inspiration, I think it's now pretty clear -- and has been pretty clear -- that al Qaeda, the organization, has regrouped.

MESERVE: Factors in al Qaeda's resurgence, the experts say: safe bases of operation in Pakistan and in Iraq's Al Anbar Province, also, new alliances with terror groups in countries like Algeria and Egypt.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Al Qaeda may not be as dangerous as it was at the time of 9/11, but I think everything we're hearing tells us that it's more dangerous this year than it was last year.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Al Qaeda isn't the only terrorist organization posing a threat. Negroponte says that Hezbollah has grown more hostile and may step up planning for strikes on U.S. interests -- Lou.

DOBBS: Jeanne, it was only last year that intelligence officers were telling us, and the president as well, that the United States was, in fact, safer, and that the al Qaeda threat -- it was often reported, as the administration said, two-thirds of al Qaeda's leadership eliminated.

MESERVE: Well, and that was mentioned today, that they have taken out a lot of the leadership. But the analysts we spoke to said, al Qaeda has shown itself to be very resilient and very appealing around the world.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Jeanne Meserve, for that report. (CROSSTALK)

DOBBS: Jeanne Meserve from Washington.

In tonight's poll, the question is: Are you confident that the United States government is sufficiently competent to represent and to advance the interests of the American people at home and abroad, yes or no?

We would like to know. Cast your votes at LouDobbs.com. We will have the results here later.

Time now for some of your thoughts.

Anthony in North Carolina: "I think I need a psychiatrist. First, the November elections made it clear that we want out of Iraq. Second, the study group came out against continuing in Iraq. Third, the former generals were opposed to increasing troop levels. This morning, I feel we're back to stay the course. What in the world is going on?"

George in Florida: "Lou, after Bush made his pitch on the war -- on his war last night, I believe those who agree with him should go right down and enlist to show their true support."

And Jim in California: "In his speech, the president said that victory in Iraq would form a democracy able to enforce its laws and guard its borders. Sounds great to me. I wish we had one of those."

Send us your thoughts to LouDobbs.com. We will have more of your thoughts here later.

Each of you whose e-mail is read here receives a copy of my book "War on the Middle Class."

Coming up next: Senator Carl Levin. He's the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. He joins us to give us his perspective on the president's plan for Iraq.

And we will be joined by two outstanding former military leaders. We will be talking about the military implications of the president's plan and we'll have reaction from our troops on the ground in Iraq.

And the Congress has a plan for lower drug prices, but the drug companies want a plan of their own. We'll have a report on which will better serve our middle class. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Now our top stories, President Bush today saying his plan to raise the number of troops in Iraq is vital to preventing a disaster for the United States. President Bush wants to send 21,000 more troops to Iraq, Most of them to Baghdad.

Democrats and some Republican senators today strongly criticize the president's new strategy when Secretary of State Rice gave her testimony on Capitol Hill. One Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, calling the plan the worst on foreign policy mistake since the Vietnam War.

And a rare cooperative effort between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials succeeding in the effort to deport illegal aliens. The program in Costa Mesa, California, could set an example for the nation.

In other important news tonight, the House of Representatives has passed a bill restoring taxpayer support of embryonic stem cell research. The stem cell legislation, the third bill to pass in the Democrats 100 hour agenda. But 253-174 vote fell short of the two- thirds' majority needed to overturn what has been a promised presidential veto.

At least one traffic related death is being blamed on Seattle's third bout with severe weather in recent weeks. An arctic blast swept over the region snarling traffic, closing schools, for another winter storm depositing up to two feet of snow in parts of Washington in November.

Last month, heavy rains and a powerful wind storm knocked power out for a million and a half customers in the northwest.

Terrorist scares at two Florida courthouses today after employees discovered mysterious white powdery substances. HAZMAT crews dispatched to the Palm Beach County courthouse, after a suspicious powder was found in a letter. Two judges offices and a library were evacuated and sealed off. At least five people were put through decontamination procedures.

And fire officials in Broward County confirming a granular white powder has been discovered in an envelope at a courthouse in Ft. Lauderdale. That envelope, contained a Boca Raton return address. Officials say three people were exposed to that powder, but tests for toxicity are negative.

No one has complained of any ill effects at this time.

Democrats in Congress are outraged by the amount the government pays for prescription drugs and it's taxpayers, that's you, who end up paying the ultimate price. But a Democratic proposal to alleviate the burden could trigger a showdown in Congress.

Lisa Sylvester reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Name-brand drugs like Fosamax, Celebrex and Zocor costs 60 percent more in the Medicare drug program than those provided to veterans. The difference? The Department of Veterans Affairs negotiates directly with drug companies, the Department of Health and Human Services does not.

RON POLLACK, FAMILIESUSA: The seniors are paying much too much, and for many it's unaffordable. And the taxpayer, who covers three quarters of the cost of this program, is being fleeced.

SYLVESTER: Legislation in Congress would require Medicare to bargain down prices, giving relief to struggling middle-class seniors. The House is expected to easily pass a bill Friday, but similar legislation is likely to get bogged down in the Senate where Republicans are threatening a filibuster.

Pharma, representing the megadrug companies has launched a lobbying blitz, saying it will restrict consumer choices. Other health experts point to a congressional budget office report that says under current proposals there would be little or no savings.

JOEL HAY, ECONOMICS PROFESSOR, USC: If Medicare tries to negotiate with the industry and doesn't restrict the list of drugs, the formulary, then they have no bargaining power. And so drug prices can't be lowered.

SYLVESTER: But supporters say the budget office is missing the mark. And common sense says the bargaining power of 40 million seniors will drive down prices.

SEN. BEN CARDIN, (D) MARYLAND: This is Economics 101. Just take a look at what's happened in Canada where you have the whole market through negotiated price. Forty million is a huge share of the market, particularly when you are dealing with people who use the most medicines.

SYLVESTER: Senate supporters remain confident that the bill will eventually pass because of public support. Four out of five seniors favor having the government negotiate for lower prices.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: And this is setting up for a big fight between Democrats on the hill and the Republican White House. President Bush has signaled that he would veto any bill that compels the federal government to negotiate directly with the drug companies -- Lou.

DOBBS: Lisa, thank you. Lisa Sylvester from Washington tonight.

Coming up next, Democrats criticizing the president's plan to raise the number of troops in Iraq. Senate Armed serves Committee Chairman, Senator Carl Levin joins us next.

And two distinguished former military leaders join us as well with the military perspective on this troop build-up.

And perhaps the most important reaction of all, what our troops serving in Iraq think about the presidents plan? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: More than 13,000 of our troops are in Iraq, some of them were able to watch the president's speech about his new strategy, many were able to watch at least reaction to that new plan. Arwa Damon now Baghdad now reports what our troops are saying about that plan. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to put eyes on the far side.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): During a brief pause in the battle for Haifa Street in central Baghdad, this young sergeant was willing to talk about what the president's plan would mean to increase U.S. troops here.

SGT. JASON DOOLEY, U.S. ARMY: I think it's a double-edged sword. In one way bringing in more troops could show a lot more force. It could either incite insurgents or make (INAUDIBLE) back off. You never really know because they do what they want to do. And that's what's so hard about fighting here.

DAMON: Hard on these men, the stateside debate about the war they are fighting, at times feeling that they are the pawns of politics.

STAFF SGT. ROY STARBECK, U.S. ARMY: I just saw a lot more of the responses to the presidential address than I actually saw of the presidential address. And it's just -- it's really aggravating, just listening to all of these people that have never been over here.

And half of them really don't even know what's going on over here -- just either not supporting the war because they don't like the president or not supporting the war just because they're Democrats or supporting the war just because they're Republicans. And none of them are taking the time or energy to find out what's actually going to over here.

DAMON: And what is going on over here is complex. Factions of hardcore extremists, nationalist fighters and militias, combined with a weak government and struggling Iraqi security forces. The result is ugly.

A change in tactics most U.S. soldiers agree is needed.

SGT. MICHAEL CASPER, U.S. ARMY: Trying out something new, another strategy. I mean if it work, it works. If not, we'll just have to figure something else out.

DAMON: From there their experiences fighting in Baghdad, the men say extra troops will be best used to help train Iraqi forces.

(on camera): But as these soldiers know from experience, the plan translates differently in the streets of Baghdad. And they also know that military power alone is not going to win this battle, despite their best efforts.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOBBS: Two of the country's most distinguished former military leaders join us now. General Paul Eaton served in Iraq in 2003 and 04, responsible for the training of the Iraqi troops and police. General David Grange, a Vietnam veteran serving in the infantry -- airborne, leading the Delta anti-terrorist.

And, gentlemen, good to have you with us.

General, let me begin with you. The president calling for 21,000 troops, most of which -- most of whom would be put into Baghdad. Do you think that's a responsible and effective and likely successful approach?

MAJ. GEN. PAUL EATON, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Lou, I think it's a compromise approach, given the number of soldiers we have available to the United States right now for deployment.

And what's really going to be interesting is how these soldiers are used and whether or not they embed these men into Iraqi formations to help -- help leverage numbers of Iraqis with the professionalism and the combat power that U.S. forces bring.

DOBBS: General Grange, the plan is, as the president put it forward, is to put Americans in battalion strength into Iraqi brigades and to begin the operations for securing Baghdad, ostensibly to disarm, particularly the al Sadr militia. What's your thought?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think that one reason the Americans bring, of course, the firepower, the command and control, the expertise, the experience -- and to make sure the Iraqi units do what they say they're going to do. It also gives them a little bit more of hope of accomplishing their mission, instead of feeling a little bit underdogs with the militia, who are doing quite well.

I think that if you don't take down the militia, if you don't do something with that and you don't provide the protection, the security for the people, you'll never have the loyalty from the people in Baghdad. So I think that's a must.

DOBBS: General Eaton, striking is that, while there is a great firestorm of protest about the president's plan, the additional 21,000 troops -- 4,000 of them being dispatched out of al Anbar province, the rest going into Baghdad -- that still puts us well below the height of the force levels in Iraq just about a year ago.

EATON: Lou, it does. And again, I think this is a compromise number that's been worked out between the Army leadership on their ability to produce numbers and a gauged bet that this will be below a certain radar line with the American people, not to -- not to exceed that which we can provide.

DOBBS: Yes, I was struck, General Grange, by the young soldiers and Marines that Arwa Damon talked with, their intelligence, their perspective. I think most -- many in Washington don't realize just how bright our troops are and the reaction that they have to witnessing the debate that is taking place around this new strategy and the conduct of this war. How would you judge its impact, if this is carried out, on overall morale? GRANGE: That's a great point because it's underrated, how well educated the American forces are. I mean, of all of the institutions in the United States, it actually has the most high school graduates. And many of them have some degrees -- degree of college. They're well trained, the best in the world, though training today is tougher than before because of resources.

I think that they're watching carefully about -- "Hey, look, if you have me do this mission -- whether you have me do the mission with what I have now or you add another 20-plus thousand, please resource me. Please support me to accomplish this mission or get me the hell out of here. Do one or the other but don't be wishy-washy about trying to win this thing if your heart is not into it."

And that's really what these G.I.s need and what they understand; do you or do you not support them and what you sent them into harm's way to accomplish?

DOBBS: Does the General Staff, General Eaton, understand that? Do they understand that we are in -- there are many complex elements involved?

But fundamentally, we're paying a tremendous price. And, of course, the troops we've lost and who have been wounded have paid a dear price for our choosing not to enter this conflict with overriding force and a commitment to achieving our goals as quickly, efficiently and as bloodlessly as possible.

EATON: Lou, our senior leadership in the armed forces fully understand what's going on. And what they should be gratified to have heard is the -- and we have to get into execution level detail on this -- but a leverage the diplomatic and political approach and the leverage against the current Iraqi leadership to get them motivated, to get them on line to produce; and the economic power of the United States brought to bear in the environment, so that we can provide a real build in the clear, hold, build environment of Baghdad.

DOBBS: This mission will mean greater burdens for our Reserves and for our National Guard.

General Grange, let me conclude with you. It will mean more strain on those troops, on all of the troops, but certainly the Reserves and the Guard who are carrying a heavy burden here. Are we taking them to the breaking point?

GRANGE: They're near the breaking point. But right now this next six months, this next year has to be a total effort -- a total effort to be successful. And it's going to take all that we have -- to include much more of the American people and the government in order to accomplish this. And we ought to do it -- to do it right because there's too many consequences if we don't.

DOBBS: Do you concur, General Eaton?

EATON: Absolutely. We've got to win this. This is not the loss of Vietnam. Loss in Iraq will have repercussions worldwide. DOBBS: Gentlemen, thank you very much for being with us.

General Eaton, General Grange.

Coming up at the top of the hour, the "SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer. And then I'll be talking with Carl Levin, the chairman of the House Armed -- the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Wolf, tell us about it.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.

Coming up at the top of the hour, President Bush increasingly isolated even in his own party as he struggles to salvage the war in Iraq. I'll speak about that. The Republican opposition that's growing with the White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.

Also, the dangerous reality on the ground in Iraq. We'll hear from the soldiers who have been there about what thousands more U.S. troops will soon be facing, some of them in a matter of weeks.

And what did Congress do to assert itself in the face of a determined commander in chief? I'll ask Democratic Senator Chris Dodd. He's now officially a candidate for president of the United States.

All that, Lou, coming up in the "SITUATION ROOM".

DOBBS: Well, thank you very much. Look forward to it.

Coming up hear next, Senator Carl Levin. He's the chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, a long-standing critic of the conduct of this war. He joins us.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: The Democratic response to the president's plan to raise the number of troops in Iraq, that response has been highly critical but just what action can they take to affect the president's direction in the conduct of this war?

Joining me now with some of the answers is one the most powerful Democrats in Congress. He's Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senator Levin, good to have you here.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES CHMN.: Great to be with you, Lou.

DOBBS: We have just heard two distinguished former military leaders tell us that this war has to be won in Iraq and that they have at least a moderate support for what the president is proposing. How do you respond to that? LEVIN: Well, it's important that we succeed in Iraq. The president's course is not on the road to success. It's on the road to failure because there's no political settlement inside of Iraq, which is the key to success.

And so what we need to do -- and this has been true for a long time -- is to press the Iraqis to take the responsibility for their own country and not just in terms of training their army, but more importantly, because the political settlement is absolutely essential if the violence is going to end, to force the Iraqis to reach a political settlement, and not to simply continue this security blanket which we've been providing them because, by the way, even their own prime minister says that it is the failure of the Iraqi political leaders to reach a settlement which is the cause of the continuing violence.

DOBBS: And I want to point out to everyone listening to you and watching you, Senator, that you -- Senator Levin has been saying this for some time. This is not his perspective that's just been arrived at a matter of hours after the president's call for a new plan in Iraq.

I want to turn to something Senator McConnell said, the minority leader, today, threatening a filibuster against any attempts by Democrats to hold a vote on the president's plan. Your reaction?

LEVIN: Well, first of all, hopefully, it's not going to be just a Democratic resolution. It will be, hopefully, a bipartisan resolution. A number of Republicans have spoken out very strongly against the troop increase.

And so the hope is that a resolution, which could be introduced, which says that we disagree with the troop increase, which the president has outlined, could be a bipartisan resolution. And I would think that there's less chance of a filibuster succeeding. In any event, he's got a right to filibuster. That's the rules of the Senate. And if there are 60 votes to overcome that filibuster, then so be it.

DOBBS: Senator, tomorrow you'll be holding a hearing in which Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff will be testifying. What answer, specifically, will you be seeking to mitigate any opposition you might have at this stage to the president's proposal?

LEVIN: Well, we had General Abizaid in front of us who testified that increasing troops in Iraq is going to make it harder rather than easier for us to succeed because it means the Iraqis will do less if we do more and those are his words.

General Casey has said something very similar publicly, that the more that we take on ourselves, the less likely it is that the Iraqis will reach a political settlement.

So I'll be asking him, given their military judgment, at least at the time they spoke a few months ago, why is it that we're not pursuing a political settlement, enforcing it, rather than pursuing a military strategy, which according to almost everybody is not able to succeed given the political differences that existing among the two sectarian groups.

DOBBS: And, Senator Levin, the issue of what is the result of any number of courses that can be followed here, from the president's proposal to raise the numbers of troops to what the Democrats are styling as phased redeployment, withdrawal, what is the effect?

If moved to either extremes of those choices, and that is full implementation of either, what is the result in Iraq? What is the result you seek and how does that comport to that of the president?

LEVIN: What we seek to do is to change the direction in Iraq to force the Iraqi political leadership to do what only they can do, is to accept responsibility for their own country. If they're going to have a civil war, it's got to be without us.

On the other hand, if they want a nation, they're going to have to do what they have promised to do repeatedly. And one of the problems with the president's speech is that he says he now has pledges from the Iraqi leaders.

We've had promise after promise from the Iraqi leaders which -- they have not kept promises to consider amendments to the constitution, promises to take responsibility in Baghdad, promises to produce a number of battalions that would go in with us in Baghdad. So the promises that have been made have not been kept.

We've got to force them, I believe. And the only way that we know how, to take responsibly. That's our goal. And it's -- the best way to succeed in Iraq is if the Iraqis recognize that the future of their country is in their hands and it's not our responsibility.

DOBBS: Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, thank you very much, sir.

LEVIN: Lou, good to be with you.

DOBBS: Still ahead, the results of our poll. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: The results of tonight's poll, 96 percent of you say the United States government is not sufficiently competent to represent and advance the interests of the American people at home and abroad.

Time for one last thought. B.J. in Florida saying, "Lou, Sandy Berger steals top secret documents, actually sneaks them out of the archive. He is punished by getting a slap on the wrist. Two Border Patrol agents shot a dope smuggler in the line of duty and goes to jail for years for protecting our country. The smuggler gets immunity. When does this insanity stop?"

Please go to our Web site tonight if you would like to send your thoughts and views on the treatment of those two U.S. Border Patrol agents. Go to LouDobbs.com. We love hearing from you and we thank you for watching.

"THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer begins right now -- Wolf.

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

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