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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

Senate Committee Rejects Bush's Plan to Send Reinforcements to Iraq; Interview With Senator Webb; Texas Governor Sends National Guard to Mexico Border

Aired January 24, 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: Thank you, Wolf, appreciate it.
Tonight, a powerful Senate committee has rejected President Bush's plan to send reinforcements to Iraq one day after the president appealed to Congress for support. Has President Bush lost the political battle for Iraq? We'll have complete coverage.

And Democratic Senator Jim Webb, a highly-decorated Vietnam veteran, former secretary of the Navy, who gave his party's response to the president's address last night joins us here to discuss Iraq, the war on the middle class and other critical issues.

And one border state governor sending hundreds more National Guard troops to our border with Mexico to do the work that our federal government refuses to do. We'll have that report, all of the day's news and much more straight ahead here tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: news, debate and opinion. For Wednesday, January 24th, live in New York, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody. One day after the president appealed for unity on Iraq, a key Senate committee today declared President Bush's policy is not in the national interest. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 12-9 to repudiate the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq. One Republican senator supported the resolution, Senator Chuck Hagel.

As senators voted on the resolution, U.S. and Iraqi troops in Baghdad fought a fierce battle with insurgents just outside the heavily-fortified Green Zone. Our troops used heavy artillery to bombard enemy positions. Dana Bash tonight reports from Capitol Hill on the rising anger among congressional Democrats and some Republicans over this president's conduct of the war.

Ed Henry reports from the White House on the president's determination to ignore criticism of his Iraq policy and to press ahead. Jamie McIntyre reports from the Pentagon on the escalating battle for Baghdad.

We turn tonight first to Dana Bash -- Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Lou, today in that committee, it was the first time the new Democratic Congress tried to send a message to the president that they oppose his new Iraq plan.

It was a resolution, a nonbinding, therefore a symbolic resolution. But supporters say they at least hope it will get the president's attention.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Twelve hours after the president asked Congress to give his new Iraq plan time to work, he got his answer.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee began debate on a resolution opposing more troops in Iraq.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: And what it is, it's an attempt to save the president from making a significantly -- a significant mistake we regard to our policy in Iraq.

BASH: The non-binding resolution says a troop increase is not in the national interests of the United States.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: We'd better be as sure as you can be -- and I want every one of you, every one of us, 100 percent of us, to look in that camera. And you tell your people back home what you think.

BASH: The sole Republican who voted for the resolution challenged the entire Senate to engage in what he called an overdue debate about a mangled war.

HAGEL: Why are you elected? If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes.

BASH: Although nine out of 10 GOP senators voted against the measure, almost none said they support the president.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: I am not confident that President Bush's plan will succeed.

BASH: The committee's top Republican said he was voting against the resolution because it would send the wrong signal to U.S. troops and he said the White House wouldn't listen anyway.

LUGAR: This vote will force nothing on the president. But it will confirm to our friends and allies that we are divided and in disarray.

BASH: Four Republicans on the committee said they agree with Democrats that sending more troops to Iraq is a mistake, but said they're looking for what they consider less controversial language to support.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: I happen to disagree with the president on the search. I don't believe that that is the most effective way for us to move forward at this point in time. Do I feel disloyal in saying that? No. (END VIDEO TAPE)

BASH: Just two Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee came now the favor of the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq today. Both reluctantly said it was the best last hope to stabilize that country.

But, Lou, the really big test of course will be next week. This resolution and also one that is sponsored by Republican Senator John Warner. He's got at least three Republicans on board with his. Those are going to be debated on the Senate floor next week -- Lou?

DOBBS: These resolutions, in point of fact, as was clearly stated by Senator Lugar, will have no affect of any kind on this White House or the direction of this war though, correct?

BASH: In terms of policy and forcing the president to do something in terms of hard-core legislation, absolutely. And that's the argument that some of the Republicans, even those who oppose the president, were making today.

As you said with Senator Dick Lugar, he said look the bottom line is the president has made clear he's not going to listen to us. On the other hand, I will tell you that Senator John Warner, who I know was speaking on the Senate floor just a short while ago, I spoke with him again today. And he said look, the president invited us, invited members of Congress to have a dialogue with him and to tell him what other ideas we have. That's what I'm trying to do.

DOBBS: My question really goes to the issue a national dialogue and an honest, open debate about the consequences of policy choices in Iraq. Is that scheduled in the Senate?

BASH: What Democratic leaders have said is that this nonbinding, symbolic resolution is step one. And that after that, they promise they're going to have a debate on binding legislation. That is going to be quite a different situation because there are a lot of different and controversial and conflicting ideas on what to do about that. They promise. We'll see.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Dana Bash from Capitol Hill.

President Bush appears determined to move ahead with this plan to increase the number of our troops in Iraq no matter what Congress says. In an exclusive interview with CNN, Vice President Dick Cheney said the Congress will not stop the president from sending reinforcements to Iraq. The vice president told Wolf Blitzer that President Bush has made his decision. Ed Henry reports from the White House -- Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Lou, the Senate vote a big blow to the president tonight because it came less than 24 hours after he pleaded with Congress, give him more time to implement this new strategy.

Mr. Bush huddled right now here at the White House with joint chiefs of staff, as well as military commanders for an annual meeting, followed by dinner here at the White House. Some of those very commanders including General John Abizaid, the outgoing head of central command, publicly opposed sending more troops to Iraq.

At the top of this meeting with the generals, I asked the president react to this Senate committee vote today. The president did not answer my question. But in brief remarks, he did thank the commanders for his service and made clear, he's moving ahead with this new strategy. A sentiment shared by Vice President Cheney, as you noted in this exclusive interview today with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. He made clear the White House will not be stopped by the Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are moving forward. The Congress has control over the purse strings. They have the right, obviously, if they want to cut off funding.

But in terms of this effort, the president's made his decision. We've consulted extensively with him. We'll continue to consult with the Congress. But the fact of the matter is, we need to get the job done. I think General Petraeus can do it. I think our troops can do it and I think it's far too soon for the talking heads on television to conclude that it's impossible to do. It's not going to work. It can't possibly succeed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now when pressed on the criticism that the White House has lost credibility because of mistakes made in Iraq, the vice president dismissed that criticism as, quote, "hogwash" -- Lou?

DOBBS: Well, there are a number of temptations in response to that declaration by the vice president. Instead of responding to that as I'm really having to fight, to restrain myself here, Ed, I will say thank you, Ed Henry, from the White House.

HENRY: Thank you.

DOBBS: And remind our viewers that you can see more of Wolf Blitzer's interview with the vice president on "THE SITUATION ROOM" at 7:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

A graphic illustration today of the huge challenge facing our troops trying to secure Baghdad. American and Iraqi soldiers fought intensive battles with insurgents in the city's center. At one point, our troops used heavy artillery to blast enemy positions. Jamie McIntyre has the report from the Pentagon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: On Haifa Street, just north of Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone, U.S. and Iraqi troops are on the offensive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good job, good job! MCINTYRE: The Haifa Street neighborhood, a stronghold of Sunni insurgents, is being targeted in what U.S. military officials say is a shaping operation in advance of the new joint U.S.-Iraqi security plan, which has yet to start.

U.S. troops are still in the lead as U.S. commanders wait for additional Iraqi troops, one of the first benchmarks to measure the success of the new strategy.

DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. ARMY: Three to four of the battalions of the Iraqi commitment are actually already in Iraq -- or in Baghdad. And that they came in something like the 80 percent figure.

MCINTYRE: The military benchmarks are straightforward and easy to assess. Do the Iraqi troops report to duty? Do they have access to all areas of Baghdad? Is there no political interference?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Woo.

MCINTYRE: But the political benchmarks are, in many way, more crucial to getting the Sunni and Shia to stop fighting. They include an agreement to share oil revenues, setting up elections in the provinces, passing constitutional amendments on power-sharing and allocating funds for economic development and reconstruction.

And in congressional testimony, a U.S. official revealed the next National Intelligence Estimate will question if Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is up to the task.

THOMAS FINGAR, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NAT'L INTELLIGENCE: It would be very difficult for the Maliki government do this, but not impossible. We judge that Maliki does not wish to fail in his role. He does not wish to preside over the disintegration of Iraq. He has some, but not all of the obvious requirements for success.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: U.S. commanders are trying to lower the expectation there would be any quick results from the new strategy, but General David Petraeus, who just this afternoon won unanimous approval from a Senate panel for his nomination to take over, says he's asked for U.S. troops to be sent there as quickly as possible.

But still, Lou, it will be May before the operation is in full swing. The final vote, by the way, on General Petraeus before the full Senate is scheduled for next week.

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

Insurgents in Iraq have killed three more of our troops. A soldier killed in Baghdad today. Two of our Marines were killed in Al Anbar province. The number of troops now killed in Iraq this month, 62. 3,062 troops have been killed since the beginning of the war; 23,114 of our troops have been wounded, 10,278 of them so seriously they could not return to duty within three days. American troops have launched a new air strike against al Qaeda targets in Somalia. Military officials said an AC-130 gunship attacked a terrorist target along Somalia's southern border with Kenya. This is the second American air strike against al Qaeda targets in Somalia this month. There is no word on whether the air strike was successful.

Still ahead here, the federal government has failed to secure our southern border with Mexico. One state governor's had a bellyful, and he's taking action. We'll have that report.

And new evidence that many states are failing to implement legislation that would stop illegal aliens and terrorists from using fake identification documents.

And communist China accelerating its aggressive military build-up in what is a dangerous new challenge to U.S. interests. We'll have that report and a great deal more still ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Texas Governor Rick Perry is sending an additional 600 National Guard troops to the southern border with Mexico. Those National Guardsmen join 1,700 other Texas Guard troops already on the border. And apparently, these troops will be prepared to capture and arrest illegal aliens and drug smugglers, unlike other National Guard troops who have been deployed on the border. Casey Wian reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Texas Governor Rick Perry is deploying 12 armed National Guard platoons, about 600 new troops, to highly-trafficked crossing points along the Mexican border. Each platoon will be accompanied by a Border Patrol agent and a local police officer.

Border law enforcement officials welcome Governor Perry's help, because the violence from warring Mexican drug cartels is spilling over to the U.S. side.

SHERIFF LEO SAMANIEGO, EL PASO COUNTY, TX: We know it's a federal problem, but we can't just sit, you know, sit back and wait for Uncle Sam to do something about it.

WIAN: The Border Patrol says the National Guard has helped reduce illegal alien and drug smuggling. Apprehensions are down 34 percent since the Guard arrived on a support role on the border. But there are new concerns about orders preventing the Guard from arresting anyone. A prime example: The confrontation between Tennessee National Guard troops and four or five heavily armed men who crossed the Arizona border earlier this month. The National Guardsmen retreated after the illegal border crossers came within 35 feet of their observation post. The Guard troops called the Border Patrol, allowing the paramilitaries to escape back to Mexico.

WARDE NICHOLS, ARIZONA STATE HOUSE: They weren't following the protocol of normal coyotes that are smuggling humans across the border. With kevlar vests, night-vision goggles -- we don't know if these were terrorists checking the lines to see what the National Guard would or would not do. I mean, I think we are more at risk today than we were two weeks ago with the actions taken by the National Guard on the border.

WIAN: Nichols' Arizona Homeland Security Committee will question National Guard officials about the incident and about the Guard's rules of engagement at a hearing next week.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: Also next week, the Tennessee Guard troops will receive an award for following orders and retreating during the confrontation. A growing number of border lawmakers say they want those orders changed so the Guard can actually apprehend illegal border crossers -- Lou.

DOBBS: Excuse me? Who's giving them an award for withdrawing?

WIAN: The Tennessee National Guard is giving them an award. They say that these troops followed orders. They did what they were supposed to do, and they deserve an award for it, Lou.

DOBBS: Well, I have to say, the folks in Tennessee may be just a little upset that they get awards for obeying orders. That's sort of expected. One normally thinks, certainly in terms of military awards, that it's for going above and beyond the call of duty.

Be that as it may. Thank you very much, Casey. Casey Wian.

That brings us to the subject of our poll. Do you believe National Guard troops deployed to protect our southern borders should be authorized to arrest and apprehend illegal aliens and drug smugglers? Yes or no? Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. We'll have the results here later.

We should have worked something about an award into that as well.

Split reactions today to the president's State of the Union address from two leading groups advocating amnesty for illegal aliens and open borders. The National Council of La Raza said renewed interest from the president as well as the shift of power in Congress has created what it calls favorable conditions for amnesty legislation. But LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, absolutely unimpressed. The organization saying the president's speech contained nothing new, as they put it, and left the status of illegal aliens unclear.

I could help there. Their status is illegal.

The number of U.S. citizenships granted rose sharply last year. The U.S. Customs and Immigration system reports that more than 700,000 immigrants became naturalized citizens of the United States last year, 100,000 more than the previous year. A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service spokesman says fluctuations in year-to-year numbers are normal, and says the bureau had a program in place last year to eliminate delays in processing those applications.

Outrage tonight over a plan that would put driver's licenses in the hands of even more illegal aliens. While obtaining a driver's license is a right and privilege that is reserved for American citizens, many states have chosen to move ahead and have actually become quite lax in checking the identification of those who apply for those licenses. And they do so quite intentionally. Kitty Pilgrim reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New York Governor Eliot Spitzer made a campaign process -- if elected, all New York drivers would be able to get a license, even illegal aliens. Spitzer claims that poses no security risk.

Some are outraged, because New York state has one of the toughest I.D. requirements in the country for driver's licenses: A Social Security number validation check.

NEIL BERRO, SECURE DRIVERS LICENSE COALITION: Why would anyone, would any state executive, any state period, any state legislator, any elected official take us back to a time of weakened standards of identification? We simply can't afford it.

PILGRIM: New York and 35 states currently require valid Social Security numbers to issue a driver's license. New York suspended 7,000 licenses last summer because they didn't match up. But the Coalition for Secure Drivers Licenses say many other states still have relatively lax laws for driver's licenses.

MARTI DINERSTEIN, CTR FOR IMMIGRATION STUDIES: Many states are lax because they have been lobbied by people representing illegal immigrants who are not going to be eligible for a driver's license that has really secure identification.

PILGRIM: There are no uniform standards for the whole country. Yet the real I.D. act of 2005 called for national standards to be instituted across the country by 2008. But those national standards still haven't been met.

Theoretically, those would include special counterfeit, tamper- proof features and strict I.D. requirements for every applicant, which would cost a few dollars more to issue the license. The cost the state would bear.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Now many states say they can't tighten up their rules because it's too expensive. The New York governor's office told us today they're currently holding an exhaustive security review of whether the driver's licenses rules in New York state should be changed, saying that some of those rules may go too far, Lou.

DOBBS: What in the heck does that mean, may go too far? Is this the new governor, Spitzer? I thought he campaigned on doing exactly the opposite.

PILGRIM: He campaigned on perhaps lifting the strict rules in New York and now it appears he's a bit more cautious in going forward with that.

DOBBS: So you're saying that the governor wants to do what, either tighten the rules or loosen them?

PILGRIM: During the campaign he said he wanted to loosen them. And now he appears to be more cautious about doing that.

DOBBS: Good, all right. Thank you very much, Kitty Pilgrim. Driver's licenses for whoever wants them, why not? It's America.

Coming up here next, communist China's provocative behavior as technology advances, threatening America's interests around the globe. We'll have that report.

The president claims his education policy's working. He wants it renewed. Will Congress go along? We'll have that report.

And the hard-hitting senator from Virginia, Democrat Jim Webb, presenting a blunt and forceful rebuttal to the president's address last night. He's among our guests here. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Communist China tonight refusing to explain its motives for conducting its first-ever anti-satellite missile test. That test, the latest in a series of dangerous new challenges by the Chinese military to this country's interest. Beijing is rapidly modernizing its forces across an entire range of military capabilities. Christine Romans reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Defense experts see a pattern of behavior that highlights China's strategy to exploit American weaknesses and close the gap on American military superiority.

Behavior, like firing ground base lasers to blind a U.S. reconnaissance satellite and rapid progress toward a blue water Navy. In October, a Chinese song class diesel-powered submarine, like this one, stopped the USS Kitty Hawk, surfacing the U.S. Navy says, close to the carrier group. More recently, China destroyed one of its own low earth orbit satellites, a critical milestone.

MICHAEL PILLSBURY, PENTAGON CONSULTANT: Essentially it's catastrophic. I would use the word catastrophic in a crisis and China knows this.

ROMANS: Pillsbury wrote a report for the government on China's anti-satellite warfare programs. He says 90 percent of American military and intelligence traffic relies on satellites. PILLSBURY: How we coordinate our Air Force, how we pass messages around the world, everything goes through these space satellites that they have now shown they can shoot down within half an hour.

ROMANS: The United States asked for more transparency from China, but also emphasized...

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPT SPOKESMAN: ... I would say we have good relations with China.

ROMANS: Critics call that a weak response.

JOHN TKACIK, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: I think the Chinese basically laugh at this kind of response. It signals to the Chinese that we are not going to do anything. And I'm afraid that when the Chinese leadership is left with the impression that the U.S. is ambivalent, that the U.S. is agnostic on this, it gives them no incentive to change their behavior.

ROMANS: He says American policymakers refuse to recognize China's hostile intentions toward this country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: None of these advances should come as a surprise to Washington. China's military minds have all about laid out a host of new methods to counter the United States. A fascinating book by two Chinese colonels published back in 1999 advocates computer hacking, blinding satellites, disrupting stock markets in commerce and even advocates using the Internet to discredit elected officials -- Lou?

DOBBS: And the book is entitled "Unrestricted Warfare."

ROMANS: Right.

DOBBS: What other approaches do they have to attack the United States?

ROMANS: I love the idea of using the Internet to discredit American elected officials, to undermine our democracy, to bring our stock market to an end.

DOBBS: Do they think that they could do a better job of undermining our elected officials or criticizing, or putting them in disrepute than the conduct of those elected officials themselves and the bloggers? They're pretty effective. Christine, thank you very much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

DOBBS: Hundreds of Venezuelans protesting what they call a power grab by President Hugo Chavez. Those demonstrators pose efforts by Chavez to rule by decree -- an authority that he won from the legislature in Venezuela. Chavez now wants special powers. He has them, to enact his agenda which includes naturalizing power in energy companies, imposing new taxes. The protest came as the pro-Chavez national assembly put off a vote to approve the enabling laws.

Time now for some of your thoughts.

Jim in Ontario saying: "Apparently not only is the president living in a vacuum, his speech writers are as well. How could he possible make such an absurd statement regarding freeing up the border patrol agents to go after drug smugglers? Please. God help the USA."

And Patricia in New York: "He said we need to add more border patrol agents to protect us and pursue drug smugglers. I know where he can find two, already trained. This man is unbelievable."

And Smokie in Washington said: "In his State of the Union address, the president briefly touched on the subject of illegal immigration, apprehending illegal drug smugglers and letting the border patrol agents do their job. Like Compean and Ramos."

The two U.S. border patrol agents are now in prison after the U.S. attorney in Texas prosecuted them on the testimony of a drug smuggler, an illegal alien drug smuggler, given immunity to make that prosecution possible.

And George in Arizona: "Senator Webb was right on quoting President Andrew Jackson. Our government needs to stop measuring from the top and instead, start from the bottom."

Send us your thoughts at LouDobbs.com. Each of your whose e-mail is read here receives a copy of my book "War on the Middle Class."

Up next, the president asked Congress to renew and expand the controversial No Child Left Behind Act. We'll have a special report on that plan to fix our failing public schools.

And he's the outspoken freshman Democratic senator from Virginia who delivered the Democratic Party response to the president's address last night. Senator Jim Webb among our guests. And Congressman Michael McCaul, demanding details from the Department of Homeland Security's investigation into the case of border agents Ramos and Compean. Congressman McCaul joins us here, as well. Stay with us for all of that and more, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Democrats' efforts to raise the minimum wage stalling in the U.S. Senate today, senators voting down a bill that would raise the minimum wage for giving tax cuts to small businesses. House Democrats saying they will not support legislation that includes corporate tax breaks and welfare.

However, Senate Democrats lack the support to pass a minimum wage bill without those tax cuts, added by the Republicans.

The bill is the first from the Democrats' ambitious 100-hour agenda to be voted down in the Senate. Other elements of that agenda also facing heavy opposition and significant hurdles. The Education Department today laid out details of the president's plan to save the nation's failing public education system. The proposals call for more emphasis on science education.

But some of the president's other proposed changes are controversial, and it's certainly not clear how the Democrats in Congress will respond.

Bill Tucker reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No Child Left Behind has resulted in improvements in reading at the fourth grade level. Math scores for fourth and eighth graders are at all-time highs, and the achievement gap between black, Hispanic and white students has narrowed.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The No Child Left Behind Act has worked for America's children, and I ask Congress to reauthorize this good law.

TUCKER: Changes to the law are being proposed by the president. Science achievement scores will be added to the state accountability calculations. A proposal for an expanded teacher incentive fund to reward teachers who raise student achievement in needy schools. All ambitious goals, but...

RICHARD KAHLENBERG, THE CENTURY FOUNDATION: Right now No Child Left Behind is underfunded by an estimated $50 billion. And so, until we tackle that issue, we're not providing enough support for students to reach these new higher standards.

TUCKER: And in what is certain to be a controversial change, the president wants to give superintendents absolute power to restructure schools that continuously fail, including suspending collective bargaining agreements.

PAUL VALLAS, CEO, SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA: If you have a school that's specifically failing, you need to kind of, like, suspend the rules, suspend all those mandates, remove all those obstacles and allow a school improvement team to develop a solution for that school that will move the kids forward.

TUCKER: One of the most contentious issues is Bush's continued push for a voucher program. The president is proposing that vouchers be offered to low-income students in schools which have failed for five consecutive years, to allow them to transfer to private schools or to out of district public schools.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCKER: And there is an attempt to begin measuring schools against each other on a national standard. That would be done by requiring states to post not only their results of their state tests for which they can each set their own individual standards, but Lou, on the results of the national assessment of educational progress test, as well, which is a national test.

DOBBS: Yes, that's about as clear as mud. The idea that we don't have national standards in this country.

TUCKER: Right.

DOBBS: And the fact there is not full transparency on the testing by each state department of education, is an absurdity. It's a travesty for people who call themselves educators to permit that system and not to have greater transparency and directness for the parents and for all of us concerned about education in this country.

Bill, thank you very much. Bill Tucker.

Democrat Jim Webb ran a hard-hitting successful election campaign against the favored incumbent, Republican George Allen of Virginia. Last night, Senator Webb took on a key role for his party, bringing that same blunt, forceful style to the Democratic rebuttal to the president's State of the Union address.

Senator Jim Webb joins us now.

Senator, good to have you with us.

SEN. JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA: Good evening.

DOBBS: The reaction to your rebuttal last night there in Washington today?

WEBB: Seems to be pretty good. I've been working all day. I haven't had a chance to really hear much.

DOBBS: The -- the consensus amongst those that I've talked with, said that you did extraordinarily well in very short order.

Let me ask you: you took on the issue of Iraq. You were forthright in saying that this president led us into war recklessly in Iraq. You also suggested -- you intimated in that language that we have a lot of studying and consideration to do.

Do you expect to see a full -- and particularly within the Senate, not in terms of resolutions, but a full examination of the impact of the policy choices before the nation now?

WEBB: Well, first of all, just with respect to the speech, when you have such a short period of time, what I wanted to do was to try to find a couple of major themes where the two parties have been in pretty much in disagreement on a fundamental level, not simply on an issue level.

DOBBS: Right.

WEBB: One of them was the issue of -- that you have addressed so consistently on your show, about the inequality that is been being built into our economic system, the lack of fairness. And then with respect to Iraq, my entire campaign, when I ran on this issue, I tried to talk about the overarching issues of national security and not just Iraq. And I think that's where we need to go to answer your question in terms of how we address it here in the Senate.

The key failure of this administration, even from before we went into Iraq was that it never clearly articulated a strategy that had an end point. This is the same place we are right now. You get measurements for success. They talk about a lot of rhetorical issues but not clearly. What is it going to take in specific terms for us to decide that we are going to leave?

And for me it's, first of all, to have an international agreement in place of some sort. This is something that the Baker Commission's also talked about. And then to be able to say that American combat troops are no longer going to be on the streets of Iraq.

And we've had hearings since the very first days of the new Congress here in the foreign relations committee and the armed serves committee -- I'm on both committees.

DOBBS: Right.

WEBB: Going into the issues of somewhat accountability, but also on exactly where do we go from here and how do we get there? There have been some pretty informative hearings.

I think there's a consensus, at least in the intellectual community, and then the retired generals, people who don't have either a financial stake or a political stake in this that we do need to move into a regional diplomatic environment where we can resolve this issue with all the players at the table.

DOBBS: On one of those committees that you've just mentioned, moving to the other committee, and that is of course the Senate Armed Services Committee, General -- Lieutenant General David Petraeus, approved by the committee, and his confirmation expected.

Give us your assessment of the general and what you've heard from him as he prepares to take command of the troops in Iraq.

WEBB: Well, I was able to meet personally with General Petraeus for about an hour and then I participated in the hearing. And I think he's got great military credentials. He is a military officer who is being charged with carrying out the political directions of the country.

So there are two real questions here. One is, what are the goals, the national goals that he's going to be asked to carry out? That's above his pay grade. This is really where I think the most substantive debate is. And the other are his qualifications and how he sees what we are calling a strategy. I don't agree that this is really a change in strategy.

And the questions that I asked him in the hearings, related to, again, an end point. I asked him if he agreed with me that the end point to this strategy is not these measurement sticks they're putting out or the conditions of success but getting the American troops off of the streets of Iraq. That's -- that's the end point.

And is he committed to trying to get us there, and he said he is. And that is one of the reasons I decided to support him.

DOBBS: I wish we had more time, Senator. Let me ask you one last quick question, if I may.

General Petraeus, in his remarks in your committee, talked about hard, but not hopeless. He also talked about there are no guarantees.

The idea that we are engaged in a counterinsurgency, we're arrayed (ph) against an insurgency in Iraq, a civil war. And that a United States' general, commanding the most powerful military on this planet, can't make guarantees. First, I respect for candor. And secondly, I question because I just have a hard time accepting the fact that any general should ever have to say that.

WEBB: Well, you know my difficulty, since before we went in and certainly before '04 when I started talking for a regional solution is that you cannot solve Iraq simply inside the microscope of Iraq by itself. Because of what has happened and because of the history of that region, we can only solve it in a regional context.

So quite frankly, I am pessimist that any approach that does not include direct negotiations with all of the countries involved is ever going to work. And we are not going to ever see a political stability in Iraq as long as the United States is occupying that country. That's just historic reality.

So that's what he's up against. He's being asked to do a specific type of job. He's a very competent officer. I respect him. But I would have to share his viewpoint on this.

DOBBS: Senator Jim Webb, we thank you for being here. Thank you.

WEBB: Appreciate it. Thank you.

DOBBS: Still ahead, new criticism from Congress over the imprisonment of two U.S. Border Patrol agents. They were convicted of shooting a Mexican illegal alien, Mexican drug smuggler. Given immunity by the U.S. Justice Department to testify against those Border Patrolmen. Congressman Michael McCaul is seeking more information about the trial. Is he being stonewalled? Is there a cover-up? I'll be talking with him next.

And Senator John Kerry announces his decision on whether he will enter the crowded field of the presidential hopefuls. I'll be talking about that and a lot more with our political roundtable here next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: New calls tonight for an in-depth look into the case of two former Border Patrol agents sent to prison for shooting, wounding a Mexican drug smuggler, an illegal alien given immunity to testify against those agents.

Several Republican congressmen say they're being stonewalled by the justice and homeland security departments. One of those congressmen is Congressman Michael McCaul, a member of the homeland security committee.

Congressman, it is good to have you here.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), TEXAS: Thank you.

DOBBS: Why in the world will the inspector general not turn over to you that report on these agents and their investigations?

MCCAUL: Well, as you know when I was chairman of the investigation subcommittee committee, we -- when this came to our attention, we requested a meeting with the inspector general's office. He made several assertions as to the guilt of the agents. And then after which we requested the report of investigation.

They gave us assurances for months that this would be turned over. As we entered into the new Congress, he told me that my request had expired with the old Congress, that it would not be honored now and that the only way I could obtain the report was to go through the Freedom of Information Act.

DOBBS: Wait a minute, a U.S. congressman being told by the Department of Homeland Security, you have to file a freedom of information request?

MCCAUL: That's what we were told. And, Lou, this defies not only the homeland security committee; it defies the will of the Congress. And it defies the will of the people who are entitled to the truth in this case.

DOBBS: Congressman Culvertson said point blank he thinks it's a cover-up. What do you think?

MCCAUL: We don't know until we know all the facts and all the evidence. As a former federal prosecutor, I reserve judgment until we get the facts and the evidence. But you have to ask the question, why are they being so reluctant to turn over this -- such important information? And either it's total arrogance or it's gross incompetence.

DOBBS: Well, you're a former federal prosecutor. Let me ask you something and I think it's admirable. You're trying to get the facts. That's what we're all trying to do.

But the facts, as they're established right now, to the advantage of the prosecution, to the disadvantage of the defense, based on the testimony of an illegal alien, Mexican drug smuggler given immunity to testify against the agent. As a prosecutor, does that make any sense to you? MCCAUL: That's an extraordinary case. Typically you have someone plead guilty to change and then cooperate in an investigation in a case. So this is an extraordinary set of facts here. In addition, the judge not allowing the agents out on bond, in my view, when the real issue is risk of flight.

These were former -- these are law enforcement officers. There is no risk of flight. Where are they going to flee to, Mexico? That was an absurd result, I believe. And I think the judge should have let them out on bond.

DOBBS: Well, it's -- we're approaching three months since the Department of Homeland Security told you it would be just, what, about two weeks before you would have that report. The arrogance of the Department of Homeland Security as well as its overall incompetence is breathtaking. What do you do next?

MCCAUL: We have a constitutional responsibility for oversight in the Congress. That is what I'm exercising. I will relentlessly pursue the truth in this case until that haven't turned over.

I did meet with the new Democrat chairman of the subcommittee. He has sent a letter of demand to the department as of yesterday. We have still not received those documents. And if we don't, we're prepared to move forward with the subpoena and, if necessary, take the bold step of holding this department in contempt of Congress.

DOBBS: Well, I think that all of us interested in the welfare of this country and justice for these two agents certainly wish you all the best of luck. And thank you, congressman, for being here.

MCCAUL: Thanks, Lou.

DOBBS: Congressman McCaul.

Up next, the president's State of the Union address, a deepening divide within the GOP. Our political panel will be here next to tell us what it all means. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM". Coming up at the top of the hour, the vice president, Dick Cheney, like you've rarely seen him before. He's got a message for Congress and the administration's detractors on both sides of the aisle. The best of my exclusive interview, that's coming up.

And former President Jimmy Carter after enduring months of criticism over his controversial new book "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid", has he had a change of heart? We're going to have a report.

And is this the portrait a fall guy? The Scooter Libby defense team arguing their client took the heats of Karl Rove over at the White House wouldn't have to. We're going to bring you up to date on the Libby perjury trial. All that coming up in "THE SITUATION ROOM". LOU DOBBS TONIGHT returns in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Joining me now, three of the country's top political analyst. Former White House political director, Republican strategist, Ed Rollins. And "New York Daily News" columnist, Michael Goodwin. Democratic strategist, Democratic National Committee member, Robert Zimmerman.

Robert, you must have loved what the president said. Just about 80 percent of those surveyed saying they had a positive reaction.

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DNC MEMBER: You know, all I can say to you, Lou, is that it was a great history lesson for America last night. Not only did we have a Madam Speaker, but the president learned that we have a two-party system. And so I think from that perspective, it was a -- it was a unique evening.

DOBBS: That was a warm and, I think, just cordial embrace of the bipartisanship that is probably going to consume all of Washington.

Ed, let me give you an opportunity. Senator Jim Webb, a brilliant response, don't you think?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Brilliant response. I mean, he basically -- first of all, I think the president's speech was polite, uninspiring, met every expectation with a very hostile audience. But -- and Robert was in the audience. So he got to see the whole show up close.

But Webb, I think, laid out the Democrat position better than anybody else has. And if Bush wants any success, he has to counter that point by point, and that's very difficult to do.

DOBBS: And do you think that the president might take some counsel from Jim Webb? He spoke for five minutes. The president spoke for almost an hour.

MICHAEL GOODWIN, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": Right. You know, I think the president's promise is to consult with Congress are becoming a little hollow. And I think that's why he's facing his resolutions in Congress.

I think the real tragedy to what has happened in the last three months, Lou, is that the Baker-Hamilton report was an opportunity to build a political consensus over what we do next in Iraq.

DOBBS: That was the reason for it.

GOODWIN: Yes, and Bush's just thrown it in the trash. He's gone his own way. Cheney's comments to Wolf Blitzer earlier about the president has made his decision. No matter what anybody else says, it's ridiculous. You can't fight the war when the public is opposed to you. DOBBS: And the idea that the administration has lost credibility, the vice president said, that's hogwash.

ZIMMERMAN: You know, the real irony of that speech was it wasn't creative hypocrisy. It was an example of, not just arrogance, but just how detached this administration is from, not just the American people but from reality.

DOBBS: All right. Enough of your Republican bashing.

ZIMMERMAN: OK.

DOBBS: The Democrats went right out on minimum wage. It's dead in the Senate. What are you people doing?

ZIMMERMAN: The Democrats stood solemnly by all 51 Democrats. And I'm going to be very partisan on this. Democrats 51 strong. For minimum wage.

DOBBS: Departure for you.

ZIMMERMAN: But point is the Republicans through procedural measures required 60 votes to move the bill forward. We couldn't get it.

DOBBS: I understand. But if you can't get that, what's going to happen to stem cell research?

ZIMMERMAN: What's going to happen is the American people are going it make the Democratic majority bigger unless these Republican senators don't get the message. That's going to be the result.

GOODWIN: I think, though, Lou, everything is going to come back to Iraq. And I think -- and I think that all of these other things in a way are distracting. The way the president structured his speech was to distract to try to sort of push the reset button in this administration.

And it really doesn't work. Ultimately it's all about Iraq. And it's going to be about Iraq for the Democrats, as well.

DOBBS: Let me ask you, and Senator Webb and I talked about it earlier. There has to be -- and I think the Senator was very cautious and considered. Because he's not talking about an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. And yet we're not -- we're hearing this sort of partisan nonsense back and forth again.

And I think I would say to you that I think the president of the United States, exactly as Senator Webb said it, was reckless in entering this war.

That said, we've lost 3,000 Americans, 23,000 wounded. We have a responsibility, to go back to Colin Powell, having broken on the issue. We own it. When are we going to have a thoughtful debate about the proper strategy, the proper course of U.S. policy in the Middle East? ROLLINS: It's very critical we have exactly that. Because the problem here is Democrats want to pull out because that's the politically expedient issue. Republicans basically are going to hang as tough as they can with the president for as short a period of time as they can.

But at the end of the day, we do have a substantial number of troops there. And getting them out is not easy. It's not like blowing a whistle and saying all the kids out of the pool. I mean, the bottom line is just any exit strategy is difficult but more important, we've lost our prestige as a world power in the region of the country that's very critical we still have a presence.

ZIMMERMAN: If I can respond to Ed's very bipartisan conciliatory comment about the Democrats willing to pull out. I think what Democrats are advocating, clearly on the record, is a bipartisan approach; also encouraging this administration to engage in a dialogue, as Senator Webb pointed out.

There is not going to be a military victory. The Maliki government has acknowledged that. Our own leadership has acknowledged that. There needs to be a diplomatic resolution which requires all parties.

DOBBS: And I cannot allow us to leave this table this evening without talking about the president suggesting that the only way to secure the borders for the temporary -- now it's called a temporary worker program to quote/unquote, take the pressure off the Border Patrol agents so they can pursue drug smugglers and terrorists.

ROLLINS: I chuckled at that comment.

DOBBS: What in the...

ROLLINS: Just as long as you don't shoot them.

GOODWIN: I mean, but who's been president? Who's been president for the last six years?

DOBBS: And who's just put Border Patrol agents in prison and decided to prosecute...

ZIMMERMAN: His message is -- message is basically only to secure the borders is to abolish them. And that ultimately, is the type of lack of respect, and Clark Kent Ervin pointed this out as homeland security inspector general in his book "Open Target".

ROLLINS: The frightening thing is the only thing that may be bipartisan that he may get is the immigration bill which will be a bad bill.

DOBBS: Absolutely agreed. Gentlemen, thank you very much. We are out of time. I've got to run. We thank you very much.

Tonight's poll result, 98 percent of you responding that National Guard troops on our border with Mexico should be authorized to arrest and apprehend illegal aliens and drug smugglers.

Thanks for being with us here tonight. For all of us, thanks for watching. Good night from New York. THE SITUATION ROOM begins now with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lou.

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