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Is Fidel Castro on the Mend?; Interview With Arlen Specter

Aired January 30, 2007 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou. And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM and it's happening right now.
Breaking news, he's been seen only once in the past six months, until now, at least, new pictures of Cuba's Fidel Castro. Is he on the mend? We're going to go to Havana in a moment.

A tug of war over war powers -- who should put U.S. troops in harm's way? Who should bring them home? We're going to hear from a top Republican who warns the president that he's not the only decider. And we'll also hear from a leading Democrat who will try to cut off funds for the war.

From drought to flooding, the world's scientists offer an ominous new warning on global warming.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But we begin with breaking news from Havana. Cuba's ailing president, Fidel Castro, who hasn't been seen in months, has just shown up on television in Cuba. He appears with his ally, the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez. After dire reports on his medical condition, is Castro now on the mend?

Let's go straight to CNN's Morgan Neill. He's joining us from Havana. Morgan, tell our viewers what Cuban television has just aired.

MORGAN NEILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well that's right, Wolf. What we have just seen is the latest video since October showing the Cuban president. We see him in this video, which is said to have been shot yesterday, a meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Now Castro in the video is seen wearing a track suit. He's seen standing up.

He's not walking in the video and we see him only from the waist up. Now he does talk some in the video, but Chavez does do most of the talking here. Now, the Cuban leader looks obviously frail, does, as I say, a little bit of talking. As far as date references in the video, what we do see is in the hands of Chavez, we see a newspaper dated January 7.

Chavez goes on to say that the video was shot on yesterday, that is, the 29th. He says Fidel appeared to be in good spirits, appears to be recovering and goes on to say that the two leaders talked for some two hours about topics including an agreement between Venezuela and Cuba and what he called threats from the empire, that is to say the United States, these words from Chavez.

But of course, the big news, the latest video we have seen of Fidel Castro, this is the first since October and coming just a day before, tomorrow marks six months since he handed over power to his brother, Raul -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Morgan Neill, stand by. We're going to be getting back to you. I want to get some analysis now on what we have just seen on Carlos Lopez of CNN Espanol is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with us. I watched the Cuban broadcast. We saw the plane of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez arriving. And then the next scene, we saw the Cuban president actually meeting with Chavez.

Let's talk a little bit about these two pictures. Look behind you over there. You see the most recent January 27 picture, supposedly. And now October 28 -- the differences, obviously, you can tell some differences.

JUAN CARLOS LOPEZ, CNN ESPANOL: Of course, the sweatshirt is different. That's one of the big differences. We don't see Fidel walking, as he did last time, but in this shot we see today they're together. Now Chavez is the only leader who has direct access to Fidel Castro. And the video that was presented by Cuban TV follows the same script as it did before.

We have some very light music underneath the airplane when Chavez's airplane was arriving. They talk about global warming and they show an article from an Argentinean newspaper from Saturday, January 27. They discuss global warming. Fidel talks about the issue how Chavez remember when he came to the U.N. he criticized the U.S.

BLITZER: When you put up January 27, that's when the article appeared, but we're told this video actually occurred yesterday, the 30th.

LOPEZ: Yes, a two-hour meeting, and obviously...

BLITZER: The 29th, excuse me.

LOPEZ: Obviously with modern technology, anything is possible, but it does look legitimate and it does seem that Fidel Castro is alive...

BLITZER: And if you listen closely to what Castro was saying his voice, his appearance clearly frail, but you could make out what he was saying.

LOPEZ: In one part I think they were making a specific point of having him read. And you could tell that he's reading the headline in the article and then he's talking about the whole issue of global warming and the impact of the use of gasoline in the environment.

BLITZER: So they were shown to be having a substantive discussion. And clearly he's wearing a different sweat suit yesterday than he was wearing last October. LOPEZ: And he was drinking -- you see him with a glass in his hand. And he drinks the juice. He didn't do that before. There was a lot of speculation about the sweatshirt and what he had under. Obviously he looks better now. And this conversation -- what we're hearing right now the -- he's saying you're the first one to tell people about the excessive use of gas. They're talking about that issue in the article.

BLITZER: Let's listen to it a little bit in Spanish and then we'll translate.










BLITZER: It appears that Hugo Chavez is doing most of the talking in that conversation, but his voice sounded somewhat robust.

LOPEZ: He sounded better than we heard him last time and one thing the Cuban sources have told us is that they do consider Fidel Castro's health a state secret and they treat it as a state secret, but they say they will not lie about his health. They will not hide if he has something different than have been seen, so this is consistent with what they have said and what we have seen in the past and it seems Fidel Castro isn't as frail as we thought he was.

BLITZER: And it's interesting that they decide to release this video with Chavez, Hugo Chavez coming to Havana to meet the Cuban president as opposed to some other event, which clearly the Cuban government could have staged.

LOPEZ: And they have done it in the past. This is the way the world has seen Fidel in the last six months, has been with Hugo Chavez, and Hugo Chavez has been the one giving information about Fidel Castro's health.

BLITZER: And just to remind our viewers, that was back in October when the last video we saw of Castro. This is video that was taken yesterday, but just aired moments ago on Cuban television. Juan Carlos...

LOPEZ: And edited by the Cuban... BLITZER: And edited, obviously, but by all indications, it does seem -- based on what you saw, it does seem to be authentic.

LOPEZ: Yes, it does.

BLITZER: All right. Juan Carlos Lopez of CNN Espanol -- thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: We're going to continue to follow this story. Enormous ramifications, what is going on in Havana right now with Fidel Castro's health?

Other news we're following tonight, President Bush's claim that he's the decider under fire.

And a holy ritual in Iraq stained with blood. More than 50 people were killed in tit-for-tat sectarian attacks across Iraq today. Most were Shiite pilgrims targeted on this, the final day of the religious ceremony of mourning called Ashura. Against that deadly background, a Republican senator here in Washington is disputing President Bush's go it alone approach to the war.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: The president repeatedly makes reference to the fact that he is the decider. I would suggest, suggest respectfully to the president that he is not the sole decider -- that the decider is a shared and joint responsibility.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- a tough statement from Arlen Specter, a fellow Republican.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A tough statement indeed, and as Senator Specter made clear there, he was responding to something that the president said a few days ago, where he said that he is the decision maker when it comes Iraq, regardless of what Congress does in terms of resolution that they may pass, opposing his plan to send more troops to Iraq. And Specter made that statement at one of many, many hearings today, Wolf, on Iraq.

At that particular one, Democrat Russ Feingold said he is going to introduce legislation to stop the war by pulling back funds to Iraq. Now Senator Specter said to us, sure, that is possible. That is the constitutional prerogative of Congress if it so chooses, but he doesn't think it should go that far right now.

He said what he was simply trying do is get the president's attention and make it clear to him that it's not just exasperating Democrats here on Capitol Hill. It's what he calls friendly voices who don't necessarily agree with him, but want him to recognize that public opinion is opposed to what he is doing and sending more troops to Iraq and that it's time for him to listen to and engage with Congress -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're going to be hearing directly from Senators Feingold and Specter here in THE SITUATION ROOM this hour. Dana thanks.

Let's check in with Jack in New York for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well we all remember George Allen. That was the Virginia senator of macaca fame who lost in a very close race to Democrat Jim Webb. Analysts say he lost because of those comments that wound up circling the country courtesy of YouTube. Well reports Republican consultants are now trying to figure out ways for future candidates to avoid the same fate as Allen.

They're even using his name as a verb as in they don't want to be George Allen-ed. The chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee says he tells people you have to assume there's a recording devise of some kind on you at all times, especially now in the age of cell phones that can record embarrassing moments and the Internet that can disperse them faster than ever before.

Of course, it's potentially a long list of no-no's making jokes, falling asleep in public, scolding aides, ambushing an opponent at a news conference. You can think of your own list. Here's the question though.

Is it possible to train politicians not to say stupid things ever? E-mail us at or go to -- Wolf.

It's a tall order, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ever is a long time, Jack.


BLITZER: It's a very, very long time. Thanks very much, Jack.

Coming up, talk or fight -- we're going to take a closer look at American military options on Iran and global warming -- and a global warming as well in dire predictions. Some scientists say changes are happening faster than expected.

And is it time for Democrats to start cutting the funding for the war in Iraq? One Senate Democrat thinks it is and says his party leaders are timid on this question.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: We're getting breaking news, potentially a very, very significant story about that sneak attack on a military compound -- a U.S. military compound in the Iraqi town of Karbala that led to the deaths of five American soldiers in recent days. Could agents from Iran, Iran have been responsible?

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has the story -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, CNN has learned that military investigators are looking into the possibility that an attack on a Karbala compound January 20 that killed five U.S. troops may, may have been carried out by either Iranians or Iranian trained operatives -- this word coming from officials in more than one government agency.

One official saying quote, "people are looking at this seriously" -- officials emphasize this is only a preliminary look. That they have no final conclusion, but why are they looking out down this road? Why are they saying it is possible that Iranians were behind it? Officials saying it is the level of sophistication and coordination and how this attack was carried out that it is far beyond the capabilities, they say, of the foreign fighters or the Shia militia groups that they have seen operate in the past.

Some of the indicators they're looking at, the attackers appear to have spoken English fairly well. That helped them get past some of the checkpoints. How they got maybe U.S. style military uniforms, how they came into possession of vehicles similar to those used by U.S. troops. Five U.S. soldiers were killed in the attack, one at the site.

Four of them, however, of course, were taken away, two of them found handcuffed together in the back of one of the vehicles, shot dead. Another soldier found shot dead on the road, and another soldier found barely alive, but died on the way to the hospital -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr, very, very disturbing information. The ramifications potentially enormous if the U.S. government concludes that Iranian agents killed those five American soldiers, a lot of people believe all bets would be off. But this is a preliminary investigation, as Barbara has just mentioned.

A member of the president's war team, not just any member, the former director of national intelligence was in the hot seat today on Capitol Hill, on the question of Iraq and Iran. Let's turn to our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, John Negroponte's confirmation hearing for the number two post at the State Department essentially turned into a debate on the administration's policy toward Iran.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it the position of this administration that is possesses the authority to take unilateral action against Iran... VERJEE (voice-over): Grilled on Capitol Hill. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's new deputy jumped right into the line of fire on Iran. At his Senate confirmation hearing, John Negroponte says it's time for the U.S. to confront Iran.

JOHN NEGROPONTE, DEPUTY SECY. OF STATE NOMINEE: We don't believe that their behavior, such as supporting Shia extremists in Iraq, should go unchallenged.


VERJEE: Negroponte says Iran is making trouble throughout the region, not just in Iraq.


VERJEE: But in Lebanon and with Israeli/Palestinian peace efforts. The administration, he says, is in no mood to talk.

NEGROPONTE: We're reluctant to initiate a high level diplomatic dialogue with Iran until there's been some progress on this nuclear issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Other distinguished members of the committee...

VERJEE: In the same hall hours later, that approach was slammed. Lee Hamilton, the co-chair of the Iraq Study Group says the U.S. needs to talk to Iran. He called the U.S. policy of isolation a failure.

LEE HAMILTON, IRAQ STUDY GROUP CO-CHAIRMAN: What has happened? Iran has become the most powerful country in the region. It continues to support terrorist organizations. It's continuing to develop its nuclear potential. How can anyone say today that our policy towards Iran is working? It is not.


VERJEE: Negroponte's confirmation is likely to be a quick one, but Senator Joseph Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned Negroponte that his confirmation should in no way be considered an endorsement of U.S. foreign policy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain thank you for that.

So if the United States were to offer proof to back up its recent rhetoric on Iran's activities in Iraq, how should it punish Iran?

Brian Todd is standing by. He's looking at possible scenarios -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, one scenario that many are talking about, the possibility of a U.S. military strike against Iran. We spoke with a prominent expert about how that might unfold.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): The U.S. has recently deployed more firepower to the Gulf, including a second aircraft carrier, but finding the right targets in Iran, where aid to Iraqi militants could be coming from, might be a challenge. One alternative, according to war game expert Colonel Sam Gardiner, target Iran's nuclear facilities instead.

COL. SAM GARDINER, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): If the United States were to do that, that would probably be about a three-day air campaign with aircraft like to be two cruise missiles fired from ships and aircraft, and we would go after the facilities we know about.

TODD: Gardiner says attacking nuclear sites would be a two-for, punishing Iran for meddling in Iraq and setting back their nuclear program for a few years. But Gardiner and other military analysts we spoke to believe a full-scale conventional attack using U.S. ground forces is unlikely given the U.S. commitments elsewhere. But would Iran retaliate? Gardiner and other experts say Iran could step up their aid to militants attacking American forces in Iraq or even respond militarily themselves.

GARDINER: Iran has a relatively sophisticated chemical and biological warfare program. And they really do have the missiles to deliver them. Chemical weapons could go down on American forces on Iraq.

TODD: And there's another option.

GARDINER: They could use military force to restrict the flow of oil inside and outside of the Gulf. That's a big deal.


TODD: How big a deal? Analysts say by disrupting the global supply of oil, Iran could drive prices up to about $100 a barrel or more, a potentially devastating blow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian thank you very much, very disturbing developments on Iran. Just want to reiterate the breaking news we showed you at the top of this hour, Fidel Castro only moments ago he was seen on Cuban television with the Cuban -- with the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez. This is video that Cuban television says was taken yesterday, and it shows Fidel Castro appearing to be a little bit healthier than he was six months ago in the last video we saw of the Cuban president.

Still ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the growing showdown between President Bush and Congress over the war in Iraq. I'll talk about it with Democratic Senator Russ Feingold and Republican Senator Arlen Specter. He, by the way, is now saying the president is not -- is not the sole decider.

Plus, protesters storm Ecuador's Congress, sending lawmakers fleeing. We're going to show you the pictures.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Carol Costello is in New York, monitoring stories coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. What is crossing the wires right now, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Incredible pictures to show you, Wolf. Take a look at this. Ecuadorian lawmakers forced to flee as demonstrators storm the country's Congress building in Kito, rocks and bottles thrown, tear gas used. These were violent clashes with police. The protesters demanding a referendum on changing Ecuador's constitution. They support leftist President Rafael Correa, who issued a decree, calling for a March vote, but the country's electoral count -- court decided lawmakers should have a say. This is a developing situation. Of course, we'll keep following it for you.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is poised to gain sweeping new powers. The country's Congress set to give him decree authority, which he'll use to nationalize Venezuela's oil and utility industries. The vote was supposed to take place today, but it's being postponed until tomorrow so that in an unusual move, it can be held in the capital's main square, which would increase public exposure.

A paramedic and a firefighter called out to investigate a gas leak were among at least four people killed in an explosion that leveled a gas station at a convenience store in Ghent, West Virginia. Five people seriously hurt here. The explosion so strong, it knocked out power to buildings three miles away.

And remember this scene?


COSTELLO: Maybe you do. These protests almost derailed the 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle. Today, a federal jury decided the city violated the constitutional rights of some 200 protesters, specifically their Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. Now this could cost Seattle millions and millions of dollars. City attorneys say they will appeal today's verdict.

That's a look at the headlines right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Carol, very much.

And just ahead, should Congress block a build-up in Iraq by cutting off cash? I'll ask Democratic Senator Russ Feingold about charges that his plan will hurt the troops now in the trenches.

Plus, Fidel Castro shows he's alive, at least as of yesterday. We're following this breaking news. We're going to go back to Havana.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, breaking news we're following. We're seeing images of the Cuban president, Hugo -- Fidel Castro that is, for the first time in three months -- the Cuban president seen on Cuban television only in the past hour or so. The video shows Castro and his main ally in the region. That would be the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez. The video was reportedly taped yesterday. We're going to go to Havana in a moment.

In Iraq, are Iranians partly responsible for a recent sneak attack that left five American troops dead? Right now military investigators are looking into that possibility, that, according to U.S. officials who have spoken to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. It concerns the attack on a compound in Karbala on January 20. The officials tell CNN the attack may, may have been carried out either by Iranians or by Iranian trained operatives. We're watching that story.

Also a claim that some scientists were pressured to discount the effect of global warming -- that's what some said today at a congressional hearing on the issue here in Washington. Among the allegations, that the White House has watched and censored what federal scientists can tell the public about climate change.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Back now to the breaking news we're following from Havana. The Cuban President Fidel Castro ailing, has now shown up within the past hour in new video images shown on Cuban television after months without being seen in public. And there's a lot of speculation about his health. Castro appears with his close ally the Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

Let's go live to CNN's Morgan Neill. He's in Havana.

Update our viewers, Morgan, on what Cuban television has shown.

NEILL: Wolf, this video came out just about an hour ago now on a show called "Mesa Rondo" (ph), or "Round Table".

And what we've seen in this video -- it's the first that we've seen since October. And it comes just one day before the six-month mark since Castro handed over power to his brother, Raul.

Now, what we see specifically in the video, we see the Cuban leader wearing a track suit, a different track suit from that he wore in past videos. We see him from the waist up. He is standing at various points in the video but we don't see him walking. And he's talking to Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. Castro and Chavez talk about various topics -- climate change. Castro at one point reads what appears to be a press summary prepared for him. It includes an article from an Argentine paper on the 27th, just a couple of days ago.

But Chavez says this video was shot yesterday, yesterday afternoon during Chavez's visit. Castro also talks at one point in a weak voice about the fall that he took in 2004, saying to Chavez that the things seemed to have come one after the other. But, as I said before, this is the first new video we've seen since October -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Morgan, thanks very much.

Morgan, our man in Havana, is going to stay on top of the story for us.

Other important news that we're following. Let's get some more on the raging battle over Iraq and a serious question that many critics are asking: should Congress simply take the ultimate step and cut off funding for the war?

Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin thinks so.

Just a short while ago, I asked Senator Feingold what he thinks of criticisms that doing so would hurt U.S. troops in Iraq.


SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD, (D) WISCONSIN: Well, that's just another one of these red herring, false argument that's put out. Nobody's talking about taking anything away from the troops. What we're saying is there should be a timeframe to redeploy the troops. In other words, we don't say to somebody, "Hey, give us your rifle and give us your helmet. You're going to say here in Baghdad."

The fact is, our bill that I'm putting in tomorrow would say the troops have to be out within six months after the bill is passed. That's the safest thing for the troops, is to not be in Iraq.

BLITZER: In an interview with "", this new website, you told Roger Simon that you were upset about what you called the timidity of several of your fellow Democrats who refused to join you in using the constitutional power of the purse to stop the war.

FEINGOLD: Well, my concern has been in the past that sometimes Democrats have been too timid on this issue. There's a little bit of old habits dying slowly going on here in the Senate. But I'm optimistic. The non-binding resolutions that are coming up, Wolf, are ones that I can support as long as they are only the first small steps. What has to follow and what I hope Democrats and Republicans will follow with is a binding resolution that says, "This thing has to end, we have to get out of Iraq."

And I feel on the Senate floor just a few minutes that many Democrats as well as Republicans are realizing that we have to have a real strategy, not just resolutions.

BLITZER: In other words, you think that Harry Reid, your Democratic leader, the majority leader in the Senate, Nancy Pelosi on the House side, Hillary Clinton, among others, they're not doing what they should be doing right now, namely using the power of the purse?

FEINGOLD: Well, I think the proof will be in the pudding. What's being done now, the idea of having a resolution that says, "Look, this policy doesn't make sense and we shouldn't have the escalation."

That's good. And what they're doing is positive. It's just that it's a very small step. It's almost like a sideshow compared to what has to be the real step, what the American people asked for in November, which is we need to redeploy the troops from Iraq, not just stop the surge. The troops have to come out. This is hurting our national security. It's hurting our military. And I think the leaders of the Democratic Party in both the House and the Senate will come around on this.

BLITZER: Here's what Senator Clinton said in Iowa this weekend on this specific issue. Listen.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK: This president can veto whatever we pass and given his track record, can ignore what we do. So unless we get a very strong political consensus that includes Republicans as well as Democrats, we are not likely to change this president's policy.


BLITZER: In other words, to paraphrase, she seems to think that what you're suggesting, at least right now, given the lack of votes, would be a waste of time.

FEINGOLD: Well, that's just wrong. I mean, the fact is that if we are able to cut off the funding for the war, the president will not be able to conduct a war. And so what Senator Clinton's marks relate to are other issues like non-binding resolutions. It does not apply to the kind of bill I'm offering. And let's remember, these are some of the same people that told us we ought to go into Iraq in the first place. These are people that said, "You simply can't oppose a war like Iraq."

They were wrong on that and they're also wrong about this. We need to get out of here.

BLITZER: What they say, your critics, administration supporters, is that as bad as the situation in Iraq is right now, Senator, it could be a whole lot worse, the civil war could simply explode into not only ethnic cleansing, but genocide and infect the entire region. You've got a bad hand that you're dealt right now. What do you do in this kind of an environment?

FEINGOLD: Well, what they miss there and what they choose to ignore is the reality on the ground. The situation is already very much like what you just described. And I happen to think that the fact that our troops are there and in harm's way actually encourages this violence, not through any act of our own troops, because it's an environment that actually encourages people to act the way they are. The fact is, if we got out of there, it might get worse for a while for the Iraqis, but I also think it gives them a chance to try to figure out their own future without us standing there with a military force. But in the end what's most important is the security of the American people. As important as Iraq is, what really matters is that our people be safe. And Iraq is bleeding us of our strength. That has to end.

BLITZER: Here's what you said. I want to bring it back and put it up on the screen. You told the "Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel" back in November, November 10th, "Those who were there and came to the judgment the Iraq war was a good idea have to answer for some concerns I have about their judgment. That was a really bad judgment."

You voted against the resolution authorizing the president to go to war like Senator Kennedy. But Hillary Clinton voted for it, John Edwards when he was in the Senate for it, Chris Dodd did, Joe Biden. That's a pretty strong criticism of your Democratic colleagues.

FEINGOLD: Well, look, it's a criticism of anybody that bought into these arguments that somehow the Iraq war made sense after 9/11. To me, it was obviously foolish and didn't make sense. And so those who voted for it made a mistake, as most of them have admitted. That doesn't mean they can't do the job in the future, but I think it's an important test of judgment whether somebody realized that Iraq clearly was not the right move in the fight against those that attacked us on 9/11. And that has to be factored in when you consider somebody for the office of president of the United States.

BLITZER: Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

FEINGOLD: Good to be on your show.


BLITZER: And who should weigh in when it comes to committing troops abroad? Republican Senator Arlen Specter today offered a sharp response to the president's claim that he's the decider.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R) PENNSYLVANIA: I would suggest respectfully to the president that he is not the sole decider.


BLITZER: I spoke with Senator Specter just a little while ago about his strong rebuttal.


BLITZER: You did it respectfully, but you gave him a little slap, the president of the United States.

What made you decide that this was the time to speak up on this sensitive issue, the war powers between the legislative and the executive branch. SPECTER: Well, I didn't give him a slap. What I did was articulate the principle of the Constitution, very basic, and that is separation of power and checks and balances, and the way the Constitution is written, the president is not the sole decider. The Congress has a very loud voice. And I made the statements today in a Judiciary Committee hearing where we're examining the constitutional issues.

Look here, Wolf, I want the president and the Congress to come together. I think there can be an accommodation. There are other plans which are possible to have a much better chance of victory.

BLITZER: But you know the administration top officials are saying it doesn't make any difference what you guys in Congress do. They're moving forward with their strategy, they're moving forward with their plan.

SPECTER: Well, Wolf, the president has yielded. A few months ago, he said he wanted no additional troops. Now he's changed his mind.

He said he was opposed to a commission for 9/11. Changed his mind.

Didn't want a commission for weapons of mass destruction. Came around.

Wasn't going to put the terrorist surveillance program under the FISA accord. He came around.

The president called a group -- bipartisan group in. I met with him, met with a group of Republicans, with National Security Council, Hadley. The president's calling all of the Republicans in to have a meeting on Friday.

BLITZER: So what do you see him doing? Where is he changing his mind as far as this troop increase in Iraq is concerned?

SPECTER: Well, I think the president reads the election returns. I think the president sees the feeling of so many members of Congress.

And listen, these are friendly voices. I think the Democrats are friends, too. But there is an element of partisanship. But when Republicans speak out -- and I'm a -- I'm a friendly voice. I want to -- I want to work it out with the president.


BLITZER: Arlen Specter speaking with me just a little while ago right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Still ahead tonight, the violence in Iraq is stealing hope as well as claiming lives. A reporter's first-hand and very dramatic account of how so many of the best and brightest in Iraq have simply fled the country, putting democracy in greater peril. You're going to want to hear her report. And is climate change reaching the crisis point? Leading scientists from around the globe are about to sound the alarm. Stay with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. President Bush and apparently Democratic congressional leaders reaching some sort of agreement on Iraq. Let's go to our White House correspondent Ed Henry. What are you learning, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what CNN has learned is that the president and Speaker Pelosi, as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, this evening agreed to create some sort of a bipartisan working group that both sides are pledging will try to improve the dialogue on Iraq as well as the broader war on terror.

This came -- the breakthrough came, we understand, after a conference call late this afternoon between the president and those two Democratic leaders. Their first meeting is going to be next week. It's going to include those leaders here at the White House along with other Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

Separately, we've also learned tomorrow the president is going to meet with Speaker Pelosi and other lawmakers who, as you know, just came back from Iraq and Afghanistan, that fact-finding mission to figure out what's really going on on the ground.

What is the bottom line here? Both sides trying to show that amid all this partisan tension, they're trying to come together, trying to figure out the next steps in Iraq and beyond.

The bottom line is, is this is going to be another Beltway bipartisan panel that talks, but doesn't really affect any change, or is it going to be something with some real substance? That will be the $64,000 question, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ed, thanks very much. We'll watch this meeting tomorrow at the White House.

She first went to Iraq in the immediate weeks after the U.S. invasion and all -- and spent many, many months there. Sabrina Tavernise of "The New York Times" wrote a very gripping personal account this Sunday of how Iraq has simply unraveled, in large part because of the ruthless and relentless violence we see every, every day.


BLITZER: What an article you wrote Sunday in "The Times," Sabrina. Thanks very much, first of all, for writing it. But give our viewers a sense of how you began to realize that the hope is gone and despair has come about.

SABRINA TAVERNISE, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I guess it was -- kind of goes back to spring of last year, when a lot of the families I used to go visit and just spend time with and have lunch with in the afternoons started to ask me not to come and started to make plans to leave. And I think that, you know, as the months went by and the violence became worse and the death counts became worse, people just saw fewer chances for their children, they saw fewer chances for their lives and their futures, and middle class people, like teachers and doctors, people who would be building the democracy that we want, we wanted to have happen in Iraq, basically just chose -- chose to leave.

They didn't really see that they had very many options for their futures.

BLITZER: Because that's what -- you know, I keep hearing from so many reporters and others who spent quite a bit of time in Iraq that immediately after Saddam was overthrown, so many idealistic, well- intentioned Iraqis started coming back -- scientists from academia. They really had such high hopes, and so many of them now are either dead or they have become refugees. They're living in Syria or Jordan or elsewhere.

TAVERNISE: Yes, so many people had returned. And, in fact, you know, aid agencies prepared for a huge mass exodus. But, in fact, it was the opposite, a lot of people were coming back.

And, you know, I had -- one of the elements of my piece was my own cell phone, which has been the same for the most of the time I've been there. And I had so many families, so many middle class people, so many people I would go and talk to and understand what was happening in the country. And at a certain point some time last year, I realized so many of them were gone.

They were either dead, they were missing, or they had left because they couldn't -- they couldn't -- they just didn't see a future for themselves in the country anymore.

BLITZER: This is such a heartbreaking story for so many Iraqis, especially the Iraqi Sunnis, because so many of them think they have no future in Iraq.

TAVERNISE: Yes, it's hard -- I mean, it's hard for the middle class across the sects, definitely. But the Sunnis who even are lower or poorer classes really are -- they're obviously the minority, and the neighborhoods are slowly being squeezed and pushed by the Shiite militias. And the Shiites are obviously the ones in power, the ones in the government, the ones that ultimately will probably be really kind of running things in the city.

The neighborhoods have very few services. Sunnis can't go to the hospital. If your kid gets sick, you can't bring your kid to get his broken leg fixed in the hospital in the middle of the night. The ambulance won't come to your neighborhood to pick your kid up.

You know, you can't get the police to come to bring the bodies away that are dumped in your backyard. So it's a very different feeling for Sunnis families than it is for families in Shiite areas.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Sabrina Tavernise of "The New York Times," speaking with me just a little while ago here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Still ahead, it's expected to be an eye-opening report on global warming. Scientists the world over ready to unveil a major report on climate change. Might it be happening even faster than some thought? Mary Snow standing by with a live report.


BLITZER: A warning about global warming. It's expecting this week as scientists from around the world release a report based on the latest climate change research.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's watching this from New York -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, 2,500-plus scientists worked on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It's touted as the most comprehensive report on global warming. Some who previewed it paint a sobering picture.


SNOW (voice over): The signs are there, but climate changes like melting ice sheets may be happening faster than expected. That is according to leading scientists from around the world who are about to detail the effects of global warming in a major report later this week.

KENNETH DENMAN, AUTHOR, IIPCC REPORT: We're hoping that it will convince people that it's -- you know, that climate change is real and that we have a responsibility for much of it

SNOW: The report is expected to conclude that scientists are more convinced than ever humans are causing the increase in global temperatures. And they're worried.

CHRISTOPHER FIELD, CARNEGIE INSTITUTE: It's as if we're standing in swimming pool with the water up to our chest. When the temperature rises, now the water is up to our chin or our nose, and every little wave is going to mean that it's over our head.

SNOW: What will climate changes mean? Some scientists predict, for example, that sugar maple trees could vanish from New England by the year 2100 and coastal communities will feel the effects when melting ice leads to rising sea levels.

GAVIN SCHMIDT, NASA GODDARD INST.: If those sea levels are rising faster than we anticipate, then people who are living near the coast or you who have low-lying land properties, they'll see -- they'll start to see things like increased storm surge damage and increased erosion.

SNOW: Climatologist Gavin Schmidt reviewed the U.N.-backed report and says it's not time to panic, but people need to rethink things like the cars they drive.

SCHMIDT: The planet is going to warm, it's going to continue to warm. And there will be potentially very serious consequences should that be allowed to get out of control.


SNOW (on camera): Not all scientists remain convinced that global warming is being caused by humans. Some, although they are in the minority, claim global warming is part of a climate cycle -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Mary will continue to watch this story for us later this week.

Mary, thanks very much.

Let's find out what's coming up right at the top of the hour. Paula is standing by.

Hi, Paula.


We're going to shine a light on America's hidden secrets, bringing intolerance out into the open. Tonight we have discovered a disturbing trend among America's white college students: racist parties. Tonight, we'll show you another one filled with racist stereotypes thrown over the Martin Luther King holiday.

Also, the surprising and shocking number of conspiracy theories that accuse Jews of having a hand in the 9/11 attacks. Anti-Semitism out in the open and a whole lot more coming at you at the top of the hour, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right.

Paula, thank you very much. We'll be watching.

And still ahead here in the SITUATION ROOM, foot in mouth. Jack Cafferty wants to know if it's possible to train politicians not to say stupid things. He's taking your e-mail.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow.

In Havana, elderly women exercise under portraits of Fidel Castro and his brother Raul.

Iran, Shiite Muslims covered in mud beat themselves during a ritual for the holy day of Ashura. Iraqi soldiers celebrate the end of battle with a group called the Soldiers of Heaven. More than 200 militants were killed over the weekend in fierce fighting with U.S. and Iraqi forces.

And over at the Art Institute of Chicago, two workers try to fit an oversized Chicago Bears helmet over one of the decorative lions on the front steps. The piece of one of the helmets broke off.

And those are some of today's "Hot Shots", pictures often worth a thousand words.

Let's check back with Jack for the "Cafferty file" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are some strange people out there, aren't there, Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, there are.

CAFFERTY: Very weird. The question this hour is, "Is it possible to train politicians not to say stupid things, ever?"

Frank in Durham, Maine writes: "Maybe it would be better instead of training the politicians not to say stupid things to elect politicians who aren't stupid."

Ed in Port Aransas, Texas: "Sure it is. They can get lions and tigers to jump through fire. Just give me a whip and some politicians and I'll try my best. It might now work, but it would sure make feel better."

Gene in Johnson City, Illinois: "Jack, these questions are getting to be more fun as time goes on. Never try to train a politician not to say stupid things. It's like trying to teach a pig to sing. You'll never get the job done and it annoys the pig."

Gretchen in Denver: "Can we train anyone not to say stupid things? If so, let's start with celebrities."

Mike in Arkansas writes: "Stupid is in the eye of the beholder. You say many stupid things and I am sure you think the you think they are wise and witty."

Yes, I do, Mike.

Tim in Studio City, California: "It is far more likely that I could train my cats to use a can opener."

D.L. in San Diego writes: "Jack Cafferty needs to be careful what he asks for. If the elected elite didn't say and do stupid things, he's have to go to work as a freelance reporter, find a new job, or retire. Thousands would be out of work -- "The Daily Show", "The Colbert Report", all the late-night hosts, the Sunday talk show hosts, the newspaper political sections. Jack, please, the middle class has lost enough jobs."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to and read more of them online.

BLITZER: He makes a good point. Where would you and I be if politicians didn't say stupid things?

CAFFERTY: We'd be in Havana with those old women exercising under pictures of Fidel and Raul Castro.

BLITZER: I love those pictures.

Jack, see you tomorrow here in the SITUATION ROOM.

I'm sure by then we'll here some more stupid things from some politicians.

Jack Cafferty with the "Cafferty File".

Tomorrow here in the "SITUATION ROOM", among our guests, the former Secretary of State Madeleine Allbright. We'll talk about Iraq, Iran and lots more. Madeleine Allbright, here in the SITUATION ROOM tomorrow.

Until then, thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

"PAULA ZAHN NOW" starts right now -- Paula.


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