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Top Democrats And Leading Republican Join Forces To Challenge President's Conduct Of Iraq War; White House To Allow Federal Court To Oversee Warrantless Wiretap Program; Members Of Congress Lashed Out At President Bush Over Inaction In Border Patrol Agent Case; Democratic Congress Passes Legislation To Cut Interest Rates On Student Loans By Half; Duncan Hunter Interview

Aired January 17, 2007 - 18:00   ET


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, President Bush is isolated and he is embattled. As eight Arab nations declare their support for an American troop surge in Iraq, Republican senator Chuck Hagel and top Democrats prepare a resolution they hope will stop any escalation of the war in Iraq.
We'll have live reports tonight from Capitol Hill and the White House.

And as two former U.S. Border Patrol agents report to prison for shooting a Mexican drug smuggler given immunity by the Justice Department to testify against them, Republican members of Congress are condemning President Bush as arrogant.


REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R), CALIFORNIA: The policies set down by this president is sending the defenders of our borders to prison while rewarding illegal alien drug smugglers.



REP. BRIAN BILBRAY (R), CALIFORNIA: This is an example of the lack of perception of just how out of control our frontier is.


DOBBS: Congressman Rohrabacher, Congressman Bilbray among our guests here tonight. Congressman Ted Poe joins us as well.

We'll have all of that, a great deal more, straight ahead here tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Wednesday, January 17th.

Live in New York, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody. Top Democrats and a leading Republican critic of the war in Iraq today joined forces to challenge the president's conduct of this war. Democratic senators Joe Biden and Carl Levin and Republican senator Chuck Hagel said the president's troop increase in Iraq is not in the national interest.

President Bush today, meanwhile, backed down in his battle with Congress over the use of warrantless wiretaps to monitor suspected terrorists. The Bush administration announcing that it has agreed to give a federal court the authority to oversee the program.

Andrea Koppel tonight reports from Capitol Hill on the rising opposition in Congress to the president's conduct of the war in Iraq.

Ed Henry reports from the White House on the president's efforts to quell the rebellion within his own party.

Jeanne Meserve reports from Washington on the president's retreat on the issue of those warrantless wiretaps.

We turn first to Andrea Koppel -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lou, even as President Bush sought to shore up support among Republicans for his plan to send thousands more troops to Iraq, Democrats went on the attack. Connecticut's Chris Dodd, who's already thrown his hat in the presidential ring, and Senator Clinton, who is a likely presidential candidate and someone who's just back from Iraq, both senators said that they plan to offer bills to try to block President Bush's plan for Iraq.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: First, it will cap the number of troops in Iraq at the levels they existed on January 1st and will require the administration to seek congressional authorization for any additional troops.


KOPPEL: Meanwhile, other Democrats and at least one Republican sought to offer another plan which would not only try to change U.S. policy in Iraq, but they hope will also try to isolate President Bush.


KOPPEL (voice-over): It was a picture of bipartisan unity: Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel standing shoulder to shoulder with two Senate Democrats. The three men united in their opposition to President Bush's plan to send more U.S. troops to Iraq, determined to send him a message.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: This is a serious resolution put forth by serious people who care about our country. There is no moral high ground that one group of senators has over the other. If there is a disagreement on policy, that's what a democracy is about. KOPPEL: But Senator Hagel aside, the question is, how many other Republicans are ready to sign on to a resolution which equate sending more U.S. troops to Iraq to escalating U.S. involvement? Among an estimated eight Republicans who have publicly said they, too, oppose the president's plan, several told CNN the word "escalate" in the resolution was a red flag they would not be able to support.

Only one, Maine's Olympia Snowe, told CNN she would likely vote in favor. While another, Ohio's George Voinovich, said he was reserving judgment until he's seen it.

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH (R), OHIO: I won't sign anything that smacks of politics or trying to embarrass the administration. I think my concern is genuine. I've expressed that to the administration and will continue to do so.

KOPPEL: Among at least five other rank and file leaning against the president's plan to send more U.S. troops, Virginia's John Warner told CNN he was trying to work out a constructive alternative to the president's approach. Even a Republican minority leader had to admit his party was divided.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: There are sort of a variety of different points of view in the Republican conference about the appropriate response to the president's decision to increase the number of troops in Iraq.


KOPPEL: Now, in the last hour, Senator McConnell had planned to meet with a number of members of the Republican Caucus to try to work out some of those opposing views, but we've already heard from Senator Biden, who said earlier today that they would be open to changing different parts of the plan, to different ideas out there, and including, Lou, that word "escalate." Senator Biden said, if necessary, they would be open to changing it -- Lou.

DOBBS: Andrea, I notice Senator Kyl behind the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, and Senator Trent Lott both had their heads down while he was speaking, McConnell. Have they enunciated a position here?

KOPPEL: Lou, I heard from one Republican source that Senator Kyl and another Democrat I've as yet to confirm this with plan to offer another competing resolution which would offer support for the president's point of view -- Lou.

DOBBS: All right. Thank you very much.

Andrea Koppel from Capitol Hill.

President Bush today met with a group of Republican lawmakers who are highly skeptical about his conduct of this war. President Bush is now trying to convince those lawmakers to stay loyal to his policies as the congressional battle over Iraq continues.

Ed Henry reports from the White House now -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Lou, there are growing signs tonight that a president who for five years has basically had a free hand to conduct the war on terror as he saw fit now under fire, facing a new political reality, as you just heard. About eight Republican senators indicating at least some support, likely support for this resolution opposing the president's increase of troops in Iraq.

That's why the president today called in a group of Republican lawmakers here at the White House to try to talk them down from this support for this bipartisan resolution circulating around Capitol Hill. Part of the case that you're hearing from the White House was enunciated today by the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, who's basically saying and warning lawmakers that they need to be careful about what message they're sending to terrorists and what message they're sending to U.S. troops.


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's probably worth asking, what message does Congress intend to give and who does it think the audience is? Is the audience merely the president? Is it the voting American public, or in an age of instant communication, is it also al Qaeda, is it Iraq? Is it players in Iraq, is it U.S. troops?


HENRY: Now, Tony Snow was asked whether he was suggesting that supporters of this congressional resolution are providing aid and comfort to the enemy. He said no, but here's what the political fear at the White House is.

Basically, some of these Republicans are opposing the White House now, Republicans like Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Gordon Smith of Oregon. They're up for re-election in 2008. Obviously the president does not have to face the voters again. And the real concern here, the alarm at the White House, is as they get closer and closer to that election, more and more Republicans are going to break with the president -- Lou.

DOBBS: The aid and comfort reference in talking -- Tony Snow talking about the message to the terrorists, the message to the troops, the issue of morale, these are rather old saws that this administration has put out before to blunt opposition.

Are they as effective as they have been in previous years, or are they ringing a bit hollow there?

HENRY: Well, they have not necessarily worked in recent years. And to be clear there, it was a follow-up question from a reporter asking Tony Snow whether or not he was suggesting that opponents of the president are providing aid and comfort to the enemy.

Tony Snow said, no, he is not suggesting that. But certainly throwing out there the idea that al Qaeda is listening to this debate is something that the White House wants to at least send some sort of a signal out there to the American people -- Lou.

DOBBS: I was -- I understood that it was a follow-up question. What I don't understand is what Tony Snow meant by that statement, a message to the terrorists, if he did not mean to suggest aid and comfort to the enemy.

HENRY: That's right. Well, I mean, when pressed on that point, he's saying that he is not saying that the opponents are providing aid and comfort to the enemy.

I think there's obviously a lot of skepticism about exactly what the message is. Certainly when you suggest that al Qaeda is listening close to this debate, that gets some ears to perk up. But Tony Snow is trying to say that that is not what he is suggesting -- Lou.

DOBBS: Did anyone ask Tony Snow there in that briefing if that is his concern, what kind of message it sent to al Qaeda and to the insurgents for the president of the United States to refer to the policies he's followed over the past year as gradual failure?

HENRY: That question was not asked, but certainly it's one that could come up in the future -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you very much.

Ed Henry from the White House.

Insurgents in Iraq have killed two more of our troops. They were killed in separate incidents in Al Anbar Province, west of Baghdad.

Twenty-two of our troops have been killed so far this month, 3,026 killed since the beginning of the war. 22,951 wounded, 10,218 of them so seriously they could not return to duty within three days.

Insurgents today also killed more than 30 Iraqis in a new series of attacks in Baghdad and other cities. The attacks came one day after insurgents killed 70 Iraqis in bomb attacks outside a university in the Iraqi capital.

The Bush administration's policies on domestic terrorism also suffering a major setback today. The White House today announcing what appears to be a reversal, saying it will allow a federal court to oversee its previously described warrantless wiretap program or, as it prefers, domestic surveillance.

It is a remarkable retreat for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the president. Gonzales has repeatedly said federal judges should defer to the executive branch on issues of national security.

Jeanne Meserve has our report.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is a stunning turnabout. For more than a year, the White House argued the president had the authority to conduct the program which allowed warrantless monitoring of U.S. citizens' phone calls and e- mails with people overseas if there was reason to believe one or more participants were linked to al Qaeda or an affiliated terror group.

Critics -- and there were many -- said authorization from a special intelligence court was required. The administration argued it wasn't, but now has gotten court approval.

SNOW: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court has put together its guidelines and its rules, and those have met administration concerns about speed and agility.

MESERVE: In a letter to leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called the court orders innovative and complex. Some members of Congress called them overdue.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: The issue has never been whether to monitor suspected terrorists. Everybody agrees with that. All Americans do. The question was, can we do it legally and with proper checks and balances to prevent abuses?

MESERVE: Justice Department officials indicate the court has not given blanket authorization but will require individual warrants for particular intercepts. Other specifics are scarce.

CAROLINE FREDRICKSON, ACLU WASHINGTON: We know extremely little at this point, and the devil is always in the details, particularly with this administration.


MESERVE: Why the reversal and why now? Some say it was time to preempt the newly Democrat-controlled Congress on the eve of an appearance by the attorney general. But the White House claims it's been working to get court authorization for two years, leading at least one senator to ask, "Why didn't you tell us that?"


DOBBS: An interesting question, and certainly a question that is -- or should be more than rhetorical.

This reversal, Tony Snow referred today to one FISA court judge in this arrangement. Is there reason to expect that this is broader than that one judge at this point?

MESERVE: I believe there is, Lou. Very few specifics about this have been revealed. However, there was a briefing with Justice Department lawyers, and they were very cagey about what they were saying.

This is a classified programs. The proceedings of the FISA court are usually conduct in secret. So we have very little real knowledge about the details here.

DOBBS: Well, hopefully it is -- it is what it both appears to be and what we're reporting here.

Jeanne, thank you very much.

Jeanne Meserve.

Thank you.

Still ahead, outrage on Capitol Hill as two U.S. Border Patrol agents report to prison for shooting a Mexican drug smuggler in this country illegally who was given immunity by the U.S. Justice Department to testify against those agents. Three congressmen who accuse President Bush of arrogance join us here.

And the Bush administration and corporate America in league, forming a North American union between and among the United States, Canada and Mexico without consultation, of course, of the United States Congress or American citizens.

We'll have that special report.

And lawmakers defying the Bush administration, trying to help middle class Americans struggling to pay for higher education.

We'll have that story and a great deal more straight ahead.

Stay with us.


DOBBS: Words of anger and outrage as members of Congress lashed out at President Bush over his inaction in the case of former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean.

Casey Wian has the story.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a sight supporters of former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean hoped they would never see, two brave men dedicated to so securing the nation's southern border ripped from their wives, six young children, and other grieving family members.

IGNACIO RAMOS, FMR. BORDER PATROL AGENT: And I have to be strong for my kids. They're all I've got.

JOE LOYA, FATHER-IN-LAW OF IGNACIO RAMOS: It's just heart- breaking. It's been a nightmare for 22 months.

WIAN: They began serving 11 and 12-year prison sentences for pursuing, shooting and wounding a Mexican drug smuggler and not properly reporting the incident.

REP. TED POE (R), TEXAS: Altercation on the Texas border. A drug dealer trying to escape with 700 pounds of drugs, a million dollars worth of drugs. He flees from law enforcement to try to stop him. There is a scuffle, shots are exchanged. The border agents don't know whether they shot the offender or not because he escapes back to Mexico.

And the next thing they know is the federal government now gets involved. They chose the enemy, the drug dealer.

Give him immunity. Has already said gave him immunity a second time after he picked up another drug case. Comes in and testifies against our border agents. And today, they're going to prison.

ROHRABACHER: Today is a day of infamy and disgrace. The policies set down by this president is sending the defenders of our borders to prison while rewarding illegal alien drug smugglers.

Shame on you, President Bush. You have betrayed us and our defenders.

BILBRAY: This is an example of the lack of perception of just how out of control our frontier is. That if the administration or anybody in Washington doesn't believe that these agents and every agent that's working down the border are in a battle zone, then they have to look at what's happening on the other side of the border, where police officers and prosecutors are being murdered and killed week by week.

WIAN: Federal judge Kathleen Cardone (ph) denied the agents' request to remain free on bond while their convictions are appealed. In her ruling, she found no exceptional reason exists to allow the agents to remain free, despite the facts that three jurors now say they were coerced to voting guilty, that federal prosecutors did not oppose the motion for continued bail, and that the agents' families are in financial and emotional ruin.

Scores of lawmakers and 250,000 Americans are demanding a presidential pardon. President Bush now faces a full-scale revolt from members of his own party.

REP. TOM TANCREDO (R), COLORADO: And over the Christmas break, the president of the United States pardoned 18 felons. Five of those people were drug dealers. Five drug dealers pardoned at Christmas, but we cannot even get a response to the letters we have sent asking him to pardon the Border Patrol agents.

What greater example of where this president's priorities are than that?

REP. WALTER JONES (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Well, Mr. President, look at your poll ratings. They will soon be less than 20 percent.

Certainly, Iraq is one factor, but another factor is the fact that you do not care about protecting our borders and our heroes who try to arrest a drug smuggler. Mr. President, I hope tonight as you sit with your wife watching TV that maybe you'll see the faces and the families of these two men as they enter federal prison and you've done nothing about it. WIAN: Supporters and the agents say they will continue to fight even from prison.


WIAN: U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton released a lengthy statement defending his decision to prosecute the agents and offer immunity to the drug smuggler. In part, it says, "Federal prosecutors cannot look the other way when law enforcement officers shoot unarmed suspects, then lie about it to their supervisors and file official reports that are false."

But there is conflicting testimony about all of Johnny Sutton's claims, conflicts that could be up to an appeals court to resolve -- Lou.

DOBBS: Conflicting statements indeed. As a matter of fact, it is clear that the U.S. attorney and the prosecutors in this case took the word of a drug smuggler, one caught red-handed, fleeing federal authorities, and who later was involved in a subsequent crime over that of the U.S. Border Patrol agents. It is a remarkable case.

WIAN: It certainly is. And as Ted Poe, the congressman from Texas, a former judge, has said, it's the most incredible case he's ever seen in his -- in his career, which includes 22 years as a judge in felony cases in Texas -- Lou.

DOBBS: Well, it's -- this is -- as a number of those congressmen said, this will not stand. The question is how justice will be ultimately served in this country. We have to hope that that is still a possibility.

Casey, thank you very much.

Casey Wian.

Congressman Rohrabacher, Congressman Poe and Congressman Bilbray will all join us here later in this remarkable display of a break with their Republican president, the leader, a titular leader of their party. This is also the subject of our poll tonight.

The question is: Do you believe President Bush should be ashamed, as Congressman Rohrabacher said today, for failing to pardon border agents Compean and Ramos? Yes or no?

Cast your vote at We'll have the results here later.

Up next, House Democrats keeping their promise, lowering student loan interest rates in a small victory in the war on the middle class but an important one.

We'll have that report.

It's unofficially known as the North American Union. Some, for some reason, suggest there's no such thing, that there is no plan to merge the United States and Mexico and the United States without the knowledge and approval of the citizens of those three countries. Well, tonight, you're going to find out that there really is such a thing and it's all part of a plan.

We'll have that special report coming up.

And the toll from harsh winter storms continuing to rise. Dozens are dead, hundreds of thousands still without power tonight.

We'll have the latest for you.

Stay with us.


DOBBS: The new Democratic Congress today making good on another of its promises, passing legislation to ease the burden on the country's middle class by cutting interest rates on student loans by half. Opponents of the measure, however, claim the cut will do little to help college-bound Americans.

Lisa Sylvester has our report.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Trea McPherson, a junior at the University of Connecticut, has been following legislation in Congress that would cut interest rates on subsidized student loans. The rates would drop from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent, phased in over the next five years. The change would not apply to his existing loans, but McPherson says it will help other students.

TREA MCPHERSON, STUDENT: That would greatly benefit my sister. She's a freshman at St. John's, so this will greatly benefit her over the life of her loans. And the interest rates will continue to drop while she's in school.

SYLVESTER: Democrats expect savings for 5.5 million middle class and low-income students. Republicans, including President Bush, oppose the bill, arguing expanding Pell Grants will do more than what Democrats are offering.

REP. HOWARD MCKEON (R), CALIFORNIA: It's not a student aid bill. It doesn't expand student access. And it doesn't enhance affordability of a college education.

SYLVESTER: Tuition at public colleges has increased 41 percent since 2000. Representative George Miller said it's ironic Republicans now are seeking to give students relief from soaring college costs when they did little when they controlled Congress.

REP. GEORGE MILLER (D), CALIFORNIA: The fact of the matter is, last year, when they had the Higher Education Act in front of them, the only thing they did was take $16 billion out of the student aid accounts and give it to pay for tax cuts to the wealthiest people in this country. SYLVESTER: The Democratic bill is the first test of pay as you go, a provision that says new spending has to be offset by cuts elsewhere. Democrats proposed trimming lender subsidies. The biggest loan providers, including SallyMae, oppose those cuts.


SYLVESTER: The bill passed within the last hour by a vote of 356 to 71. Now the fight moves over to the Senate, where Republicans and business groups and lenders are hoping to defeat this legislation -- Lou.

DOBBS: It is hard to see what standing -- as Congressman Miller pointed out, what standing Republicans would have on this issue having cut $15 billion out of student aid last year. That is a remarkable position for them to take. Only 71 did, I understand, but nonetheless...

SYLVESTER: Now they are trying to essentially say that they were fighting for students all along. But for those of us that covered this issue last year, we certainly remember how that debate went down -- Lou.

DOBBS: Absolutely, and that vote and the elimination of those billions of dollars that would be very helpful indeed to middle class families in this country.

Thank you very much.

Lisa Sylvester.

Startling evidence tonight on another front in the war on our middle class. Two new reports showing economic growth has become more skewed toward the top earners in this country.

A Bureau of Economic Analysis report showing that a historically high share of corporate income is going into profits and interest rather than employee compensation. And a Congressional Budget Office report showing more of the capital income going to the nation's wealthy than at any time since the Congressional Budget Office began tracking those numbers.

Let's take a look at some of your thoughts now.

Dean in California, "How many times do we have to win before we get a victory? We set out to topple a government. We did that. We set out to create a Democratic constitution for Iraq. Done deal. We wanted elections and a governing authority of there. We got 'em. We search for the terrorist leaders in Iraq, we kill them. I don't think we have a problem with victory. We've already won, again and again. I think it's time for the Iraqis to decide what victory is and start winning a few of those battles of themselves."

And Luis in Florida: "Lou, you need to get to facts correct. Illegal immigrants are not making this country worse. They are making it better. They bring new cultures, they work jobs that no one wants to do, they pay taxes as you and I. They even pay Medicare and they cannot use it. So no matter what the states are going to be doing, they are here and they are not going to anywhere. Let's give a work visa so that we can know where they are, how many there are. As a reporter, it is sad that you take one side of the history and don't even try to find all the facts. I am ashamed that you are American."

Well, I'm sorry you feel that way, but stay tuned. The facts are here each night. Watch, listen and learn. We'd appreciate it, as an American. E-mail us at We'll 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," and be sure to read my column today on and Federal wrongs and states rights, how they often unappreciated the tenth amendment in our bill of rights plays a considerable role in what we hope will be a resolution of a lot of critical issues facing the nation.

Up next here, the Bush administration isolated. Three of the nation's best political analysts join us, Republican members of Congress venting their anger and their outrage at this president over his indifference in the case of border patrol agents Compean and Ramos. Three of the congressmen, Dana Rohrabacher, Brian Bilbray and Ted Poe join us here. All of that and a great deal more still ahead, stay with us.


DOBBS: It's being called an outrage, a miscarriage of justice, former border patrol agents Compean and Ramos in federal custody tonight, going to prison for doing their duty.

Joining me now three of the congressmen who are trying to support these gentlemen. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, Congressman Brian Bilbray, both from California, Congressman Ted Poe of Texas, former prosecutor and judge. He's called this one of the most egregious miscarriages of justice he's ever seen.

Gentlemen, good to have you here. I have to say, I don't recall a time when congressional members of the sitting president's party have ever been so direct and so critical of that president. Congressman Rohrabacher, can you remember such a time?

ROHRABACHER: I don't remember any such time, but I don't remember where there was ever a time when the president of the United States was so out of sync with the national security interests of the American people.

And his policies are so wrongheaded that we end up putting the border patrol agents in such a horrible situation that now, what we find is these two border patrol agents who are heroes, putting their lives on the line for us, end up being charged with a crime while the drug dealer goes free. So, I don't ever remember a presidency as out of sync as this one.

DOBBS: Congressman Bilbray, what have you heard from your constituents? What is their thinking as they watch a president, as you gentlemen put it, just arrogantly ignore members of his own party -- congressmen in the House of Representatives, ignoring your entreaties, your letters, not responding in any way?

BILBRAY: Well, I was born and raised along the border and I guess the frustration is the administration, from the bottom up, just does not understand how out of control and violent the border is, the kind of environment that we're asking border patrolmen to work on.

Anybody that looks at the murder rate in Tijuana understands that law enforcement is being killed all along this frontier. And to sit there and second-guess people in a violent area and remember that this was an area where there was a major firefight with assault weapons not too long ago.

DOBBS: Right.

BILBRAY: And all I say is that Mr. President, if you're going consider Mr. Kennedy's amnesty for 12 million illegal aliens, couldn't you just add two more border patrol agents onto that list?

DOBBS: Congressman Poe, Texan, judge, prosecutor, you have watched this unfold in Texas and a number of viewers have said, you know, shame on Texas for permitting this. How do you react?

POE: Well, it is a bad situation that has occurred in our state. The border is out of control. The border agents did their job. The federal government chose to believe the drug dealer and prosecute the border agents. 30,000 Texans have asked the president through petitions to pardon these individuals.

Total number in the United States is almost 250,000 people have signed petitions asking the president pardon them. We want the president to do that. He's pardoned people in the past, over 100 people, some of those are drug offenders. And why not a pardon of two people, border agents? It will send a message, not only to the border patrol that we'll support you, but it will send a message to the drug dealers, don't bring drugs to the United States.

DOBBS: Don't bring drugs to the United States.

BILBRAY: Lou, Lou...

DOBBS: I'm sorry, go ahead.

BILBRAY: ... Lou, we're talking about a message that says that we're going to punish border patrol agents for trying to defend it. But then, we're also sending the message that if your drug smuggler, if you broke the law, you will not only get amnesty and protection, you can make up to $5 million by suing the people.

I mean, the signal and the message sent around the world is scary. This is not the American signal that we want to send. This is not the way we defend our borders.

ROHRABACHER: And the White House now is vilifying these two border patrol agents. The message coming out of the White House now is Ramos and Compean are really terrible human beings.

These are heroic individuals. One of them was up to be border patrol agent of the year right before this incident happened. If we care about our country, we have to control our borders. You know that, Lou. Everybody out that knows that. These agents have been put in a horrible situation because this president has some kind of a policy that we don't know about that, I believe it's an open border policy and it's untenable.

DOBBS: It's untenable, this issue is also a metaphor for, as you both, as you all have suggested. We're now approaching six months this year from September 11. The fact that that border is still, as you say, it is a battle zone across much of its breadth.

ROHRABACHER: I wish it was a battle zone, Lou, because you know what, that would mean we were fighting back. The policy of this administration, people have to understand this, and the reason these two border patrol agents are in trouble, is that they should not fire their weapons until they are fired upon, which means there is no control of the borders whatsoever.

No one will ever stop for a border patrol agents. That tells all the drug dealers and terrorists around the world that our border in the southern part of the United States is open.

DOBBS: Fifty-five congressmen sending a letter to the president on behalf of these agents. The idea that this president would not even respond, that none of his senior staff would respond, that Tony Snow, his White House spokesmen referred to your suggestion as nonsensical, is this, for each of you, is this a break with this president?

POE: Well, we'd think that when 55 members of Congress ask for a specific thing to occur from the administration, we'd at least get an answer. Even a no would be fine. We've had follow-up phone calls, follow-up letters and we have received no communication from the White House about this request.

And we wonder why we haven't even received correspondence in the form of a no. So it is concerning that there is a big disconnect between what occurs in Congress and what members of Congress are asking questions about and an answer from the administration.

BILBRAY: Lou, it's hard to get the message across to anybody in Washington about the conditions along the border. But the administration just needs friends that are willing to be persistent at opening their eyes to the reality of the situation.

ROHRABACHER: I'm going to disagree with you, Brian. I think this president knows darn well what's going on down at the border. He just has a policy that we don't know about. Maybe it's an unstated policy that's an open border policy.

He knows what's going on down there, Brian, but now that puts the Border Patrol in a totally untenable situation where they have to -- what, if the president says you can have an open border, that puts them on the line and now they try to enforce the law and they end up putting the Border Patrol agents in jail.

DOBBS: You gentlemen have described this as a betrayal by the president of these agents, and the responsibility to secure that border.

The lack of response -- I couldn't help but think, to tell it the truth, Congressmen, as you were talking about the lack of response from this White House, that you've just conveyed a feeling that is felt, according to our audience, by millions and millions of Americans in this country who feel they're just not -- their will is not being represented at all in Washington, D.C.

ROHRABACHER: I used to call the White House during the Clinton years and I would get a call back from high level administration officials or the president himself would call me a number of times. This president doesn't return calls and underlings, way down the line, return the calls of elected Congressmen. That's arrogance.

DOBBS: Well, gentlemen, thank you for taking up this cause and we wish you, obviously, all of the luck in the world.

BILBRAY: Thank you, and let's hope that it all works out for the agents and for Americans.

ROHRABACHER: Absolutely.

POE: Thank you, Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you, gentlemen.

A reminder now to vote in our poll. Do you believe President Bush should be ashamed, as Congressmen Rohrabacher charged -- should he ashamed for failing to pardon these Border Patrol agents? Yes or no? Cast your vote at

Up next, new resistance to the construction of a border fence along our southern border. Will that fence ever be built? One of the men responsible for offering that fence legislation, and one of the men whose chances to become president of the United States just improved markedly, will be our guest here next.

And President Bush under siege tonight from Democrats and some Republicans for his actions in Iraq and his inaction in this country. Three of the country's smartest political minds join me: Ed Rollins, Errol Louis, Robert Zimmerman. Stay with us.


DOBBS: Congressman Duncan Hunter's efforts to win the Republican nomination for president gaining some momentum this week, winning a straw poll for president in Maricopa County, Arizona, even beating out Arizona's favorite son, Senator John McCain.

Congressman Hunter is a strong supporter of securing the border and enforcing U.S. immigration laws as well. Congressman Hunter joins us tonight from Capitol Hill. Congressman, first of all, how helpful is it to you to have won that straw poll, beating out McCain, Governor Romney, Newt Gingrich?

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, Lou, obviously, that was good, that was a boost because I am considered to be a long shot. I don't have the money that a couple of those front-runners have but I've got good issues. And border security's one of those issues.

You know, I built the border fence in San Diego. It works. And I wrote the bill that extends it across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and I think Arizona was paying attention and that's why the elected Republican leaders in Arizona gave me that vote.

DOBBS: Well, Steny Hoyer and the Democratic leadership in Congress saying they're not too excited about that fence and they think it's a bad idea and they're taking it back under consideration.

HUNTER: I've got a little word for Steny Hoyer. It's the word shall. Now, I wrote the language on the border fence that we passed when Republicans took control in '94. It said that that 14 miles between San Diego and Tijuana shall be built, and the Clinton administration had to do it because it was the law.

We've now passed the law on this next big piece of fence which is more than 700 miles, and I put the same wording, shall. That's not a goal, that's not a suggestion, that's a mandate. It is law. The president signed it.

Unless the Democrats can reverse the law, and that's going to require reversing a 90-18 or 90-19 vote in the Senate and an overwhelming vote in the House, I don't think they've got the horses to do it, Lou.

DOBBS: Well, I don't know how many horses folks have right now in that town. I know one thing, some pretty good people are trying to do something for Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos. You heard Congressman Poe, a former judge, say it's an outrageous miscarriage of justice after investigating the case. I mean, are you as disgusted with this president as those people seem to be?

HUNTER: Well...

DOBBS: Leaders of his own party?

HUNTER: ... Lou, I'm disgusted with the jury that -- and the judge that gave these guys a 11- and 12-year sentence.

DOBBS: I agree, but are you disgusted with this president? Do you think he should be ashamed, as Congressman Rohrabacher said?

HUNTER: I'd like to think, Lou, that the president personally, because he's working Iraq day and night, and I've seen him working that, is not up to speed on this, that he -- unless he looks out the window and sees a press conference. Here's what I've done. I've asked the bureau of prisons...

DOBBS: Let me ask you this then, about Iraq. He is focused on Iraq. Do you support the president in increasing troops to 21,000?

HUNTER: Yes, I support the reinforcements 21,500, Lou, 4,000 to Anbar province and the rest of them to the Baghdad plan. I've looked at the Baghdad plan in some details. I think it's got a chance of working.

It's going to require the Iraqis to step up. If they don't step up, it won't work but we've already got some of those troops over there, and when you've got reinforcements on the way to a war...


DOBBS: Why should anybody, Congressman -- why should anybody who has watched the president conduct this war for nearly five years and to watch what he called gradual failure of his policy over the past year, suggesting a withdrawal would be quick failure -- why should anyone in this country watching what has been achieved in Iraq over the past year believe that this administration's policy would be any more successful than those of the past year?

HUNTER: Well, Lou, first, we were successful in two things, first getting rid of Saddam Hussein.

DOBBS: No, sir, I asked about the last year.

HUNTER: Well, I'm -- this is a continuing thing. The second thing we did is stand up the government. The third thing is to stand up the military and we haven't finished that yet.

Now, I think that the Iraqi government is going to hold on. You've got 127 battalions stood up now. I think that we've got a chance to be able to get them in shape where they can at least protect the government. They don't have to protect against an outside invasion. I think they're going to hold on.

And, you know, Lou, I pushed back against this idea that there was a smooth road in Iraq and if we just taken the smooth road, everything would have been fine. I think occupations by nature are tough. This challenge of setting up a free government's tough.

DOBBS: Absolutely, as has been demonstrated. Congressman Hunter, thank you very much and, again, congratulations on winning that straw poll.

HUNTER: Hey, thanks, Lou. Appreciate it.

DOBBS: Up next, President Bush under siege, isolated in battle. His failure to pardon those Border Patrol agents, his policies in Iraq, a host of issues which we'll ask three of the best political analysts to examine with us.

Stay with us.


DOBBS: Up at the top of the hour, the "SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.


Republican rebel, GOP Senator Chuck Hagel here in the "SITUATION ROOM". The former Vietnam vet calls President Bush's plan to send more troops into Iraq the worst foreign policy disaster since Vietnam.

Also, left-right alliance, evangelicals teaming up with environmentalists to combat global warming. How much influence will they have on the president's policy?

Plus, moments before a tragedy, the last seconds before a plane crash caught on tape. Hear for yourself how a routine flight took a terrible turn down the wrong runway.

And the tick-tock of the doomsday clock: how much closer are we to Armageddon?

That and much more coming up in the "SITUATION ROOM" -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you, Wolf.

Joining me now, Ed Rollins, former White House political director, Republican strategist; Errol Louis, columnist for the "New York Daily New", member of the editorial board; Robert Zimmerman, Democratic strategist, member of the Democratic National Committee.

Thanks for being here.

Let's start with the Ramos and Compean issue. Not a single Democrat standing up with those Republicans today. Why not?

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I can't give you an explanation. I find it a tragic, tragic story. And it's just -- it's not just a personal tragedy for the two Border Patrol agents, but the message to all of our Border Patrol agents is that they're not going to have the United States government watching their back. And I think it's a bipartisan disgrace that there weren't more Republicans and there weren't Democrats speaking out. I applaud those Republicans who did.

DOBBS: All right. And talk to a few Democrats, will you?


DOBBS: It is not too easy.

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The critical thing, though, is the president's letting three or four U.S. attorneys go across the country. The message would be loud and clear if he fired the one who first brought these charges and secondly pardoned these guys. No matter what they did, whatever minor infractions they may have committed, they don't deserve to go to jail. And the message to our people on the front line is very, very critical.

DOBBS: The prosecutor in this case, Errol, said to that jury that Ignacio Ramos and Compean had -- "turned against their people" is the way she said it, it clearly a racial remark. Yet, we haven't -- which was -- I mean, it's infuriating on its own. But the fact that they built a case around a convicted -- admitted drug smuggler with a million dollars in drugs, who then, upon getting immunity, committed another crime and built a case on that and took it to a jury. That is about as disgusting a prosecution as you could ask for.

ERROL LOUIS, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": You've got a series of laws down there and goals that are all in conflict.


LOUIS: For example, they've got ten-year mandatory minimum because there was gun involved. A very tough kind of...

DOBBS: They wanted to -- they wanted him up on murder.

LOUIS: Well, clearly in a case like this, you've got to have somebody step in and this is where the president comes in with mercy, with some sense of justice.

DOBBS: How about a prosecutor with enough sense to know that United States' interests are paramount here and that men and women serving the United States' interests, in this case the Border Patrol agents, have superiority over a drug dealer?

I mean, it's infuriating. And the arrogance, as these Congressmen referred to it, of President Bush in this case and in so many others...

ROLLINS: Well, he's going to pay a price. When 55 members of Congress, basically of his own party -- and he needs to pay attention to the election, there's a lot fewer of his own party there, who basically asked for him to pay attention to this thing, and the excuse is that he's got other things going on, this isn't important, is absurd.

DOBBS: Also members of his party, now eight identified, eight senators joining with Democrats -- likely to join with Democrats -- Senator Hagel has already done so -- on Iraq, saying, "Mr. President, basically, you're out of your tree. We're not playing anymore."

ROLLINS: Well, there's an evaporation. I mean, there's no question. He's done very little to bring his side together since the election and I think to a certain extent you're going to see daily evaporation of the support.

DOBBS: Senator Clinton goes to the theater. Comes back, says there's a cap. No more games. It's over.

LOUIS: With some troop increases in Afghanistan, as usual, sort of splitting the difference.

DOBBS: Right.

LOUIS: When you get this kind of micro-management, especially among the president candidates, I think it's going to be a formula for disaster.

DOBBS: Barack Obama says now only are we going to cap them, we're going to have staggered withdrawals.

ZIMMERMAN: Phased redeployment, Lou. And it's -- I would disagree with Errol. Not only is it an important step that Senator Clinton took, now only is it good politics, it's very good policy to finally create a bipartisan debate to in the Congress as to how to resolve the travesty of this Bush war. And I think it's important.

DOBBS: This is not only a Bush war. Let's be clear. This is a war that was a war authorized by the United States Congress.

ZIMMERMAN: The United States Congress authorized this president to go to war as a last resort. This president made it the first resort.

DOBBS: Well, I mean, we can go as far as you want. Why not have this Congress stand up, as they're suggesting, and have a resolution with clear direction, let there be a clear statement to the American people?

ROLLINS: Because they don't have a direction. They don't know what to do. And I think to a certain extent, the president has not articulated exactly what he wants to do, either. But the critical thing here is the one thing Congress can do is they can cut off funds. And they're not willing to do that at this point in time. So to me, it's a lot of rhetoric and not serious.

DOBBS: Well, eight Arab states today saying that they approve of the American reinforcements, or "augmentation", as Secretary Rice says...

ZIMMERMAN: Well, why shouldn't they? They're not paying for it.

DOBBS: ... the fact -- not only are they not paying for it, their troops aren't there to support. And the idea that the United States is suddenly becoming the tool of the Arab nations in the region that have done so little to resolve the crisis that is Iraq, doesn't that just make you sick to your stomach, Errol?

LOUIS: I mean, look, here you've got a situation where everybody, everybody who speaks on this has got their own plan and one eye on the polls and another eye on Iowa and another eye on New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada and all the early states. You've got ads running right now, Lou, in Iowa and in New Hampshire condemning McCain for supporting the president and the troop increase.

ROLLINS: Well, just think what Hillary could have done if she was there for four days instead of three.

ZIMMERMAN: Let me tell you something. She came back with an initiative that I think all -- I think you're going to see Republicans and Democrats unite upon it. She separated the issue of -- besides capping the troops, capping our funds to support the Iraqi government until they're prepared to step up. DOBBS: OK, let's refer to spouses here. The Democrats, I think appropriately, lauded for having in the House -- for moving ahead the chance to stop spousal lobbying. A dozen of them on Capitol Hill with their spouses lobbying like the dickens. What do you think? Should we stop that?

ZIMMERMAN: I think it should have been made retroactive. But I'll tell you something, Lou, in nine days, the Democrats have done more to fix the Congress than the Republicans have in 12 years.

DOBBS: We'll see. They've got a good start.

ROLLINS: As long as sons and daughters and spouses are able to walk up there and say, "I'm Mrs. Harry Reid" or "I'm the son of Harry Reid..."


LOUIS: Exactly.

ZIMMERMAN: Harry Reid, has stopped that, though.

ROLLINS: It's everybody. Absolutely, absolutely.

If they want to be serious and clean this thing up, then they basically all have...

DOBBS: And we know, don't we, Errol, they want to be serious.

LOUIS: Right now, they do.

DOBBS: All right, well, that has to be the last word.

Thank you very much, we appreciate it, Robert Zimmerman, Errol Louis, Ed Rollins.

As always, gentlemen, thank you.

The Results of our poll: just 97 percent of you say President Bush should be ashamed, as Congressman Dana Rohrabacher says, for failing to pardon Agents Compean and Ramos.

Thanks for being with us for the night. Please join us tomorrow.

For all of us, thanks for watching. Good night from New York.

The "SITUATION ROOM" begins now with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.


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