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THE SITUATION ROOM
Historic Vote in House Against President's Iraq Policy; Ralph Nader Wants Fight Against Senator Clinton; Medical Procedure for President Bush
Aired February 16, 2007 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, an historic vote in the House of Representatives against the president's Iraq policy. Now the Senate poised for a new showdown over the war. This hour, the life and death debate over a troop build-up.
Will it influence the commander-in-chief?
Plus, Ralph Nader is spoiling for a fight with Senator Hillary Clinton. The man many blame for costing Al Gore the White House may run for president again.
Will he do to Clinton what he did to Gore?
And what happens in Vegas won't stay in Vegas in 2008. We're getting an up close look at Nevada, now a high stakes presidential battleground for the Democrats.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Las Vegas.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're coming to you live from the famous Las Vegas strip, where so many people have dreamed of striking it rich. And it is this state, Nevada, where the Democratic presidential candidates are now hoping to win big in January of 2008.
We're here to see for ourselves why Democrats moved up the Nevada caucuses, squeezing them in between the traditional kick-off contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. Of course, this city is also the host to the NBA All Star Game this Sunday. And it's happening in the midst of a huge controversy about homophobia among pro-basketball players. We'll talk about it with the NBA commissioner, David Stern, and former NBA star, Charles Barkley.
That's all coming up.
But up first this hour, let's go live to Capitol Hill, where the House has just passed a non-binding resolution criticizing the president's Iraq policy.
Here is the moment when the final votes were tallied.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: ... hundred and forty-six. The nays are 182. The concurrent resolution is accepted without objection, a motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: This is the first time in almost four years, in the four years of the war, that the House has repudiated the president's battle plan. Seventeen Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the measure, fewer than some had predicted.
Let's bring in our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel.
She's watching all of this history unfold -- Andrea.
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, from the moment this debate first began on Tuesday, its outcome was never in doubt. The only question just how many Republicans would cross over in the first bipartisan rejection of President Bush's policy on Iraq.
Just a few moments ago, Speaker Nancy Pelosi celebrated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: Congress gave the American people an opportunity to hear -- to hear from, in a bipartisan way, why the president's escalation is not the way to go and heard in a strong, strong voice that we all support our troops and we, in our resolution, have stated that we will support and protect our -- the members of our U.S. armed forces. We'll support and protect them, those who have bravely fought in Iraq or who are fighting in Iraq now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KOPPEL: In various comments, speeches we've heard on the floor over the last four days, Wolf, over and over again we heard Democrats say the importance of today's vote is that it would be the first strong signal from Congress to President Bush that he must change course in Iraq -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What was the reaction among the Republican leadership and the rank and file, Andrea?
KOPPEL: Well, we haven't heard just since the vote. But before the vote, we heard Republican leaders echo what really have been their talking point of the last couple of days. And that is that while Democrats say this is the first course to changing course in Iraq, they believe that it's the first course to cutting off funds for U.S. troops in Iraq. This is the Senate -- the House minority leader, John Boehner, from earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), OHIO: Why don't we have the real debate and have the real vote and do it now?
Let's get out of the shadow boxing. Let's get away from the non- binding resolution. Let's get away from the slow bleed. Let's just have the real debate that the American people want us to have and bring it to an end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KOPPEL: As you know, Wolf, in both the House and the Senate, Democratic leaders have not allowed Republicans to bring an alternative resolution. Democrats, of course, deny that they're trying to cut off funds to the troops.
BLITZER: Andrea, this vote in the House now sets the stage for a showdown over in the U.S. Senate tomorrow.
Tell our viewers what we're likely to see there.
KOPPEL: What we're likely to see is more of the same. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday that the Senate would be adopting the exact same language of this House resolution, a very, very simple resolution. This is a procedural test vote that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats expect will pass. They need 60 votes, Wolf, so it will remain deadlocked, most likely, until at least later this month.
BLITZER: All right, the Senate obviously a much more cumbersome chamber to do legislation. That's the way the constitutional framers wanted it and that's the way it is right now.
Andrea, thanks very much.
The U.S. Capitol isn't the only place where lawmakers are venting their frustrations about the war in Iraq. There is a push by Democrats across the country to send a message against the troop build-up. One or both chambers of the state legislatures in California, Iowa and Vermont have now passed anti-war resolutions. Similar measures or letters criticizing the president's policy are in the pipeline in at least 19 other states.
Over at the White House, President Bush is pushing ahead with his new Iraq strategy, despite official statements of disapproval.
Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne, how is the White House reacting, first of all, to this resolution that has just passed the House?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we just got a paper statement from the White House. Producer Liz Flynn (ph) has a copy. She says it's four paragraphs. But she read the key passage to me and it says that the president believes that "the Congress should provide the full funding and flexibility our armed forces need to succeed in their mission to protect our country."
What you're hearing, Wolf, is essentially one thing here -- the president publicly saying look, this is a non-binding resolution. It doesn't really affect the mission here. But there is an I dare you factor, as well. The president saying I dare you to Congress to pass a binding resolution that would, in fact, impact the funding to the troops. That is what the president is doing here, sending a very clear signal and a message that despite this symbolic blow, he wants to see if they have what it takes, essentially, to back up those threats -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Andrea, what is the White House doing?
They're trying to do something almost on a daily basis, but what are they doing now to show progress in Iraq and Afghanistan?
MALVEAUX: Well, Wolf, there are a number of things that the president has done already today. He is essentially trying to show the American people look, there are some things that are working. He has reached out to allies, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia today, as well as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He also welcomed the new American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, here at the White House.
They had a video link conference call with the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Al-Maliki. And he said look, there are some benchmarks, some good things that are happening, that he is seeing those Iraqi troops move into position, that they're close to an oil sharing deal.
President Bush earlier today -- Wolf.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It should give people here in the United States confidence that this government knows its responsibilities and is following through on those responsibilities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: So, Wolf, the White House is desperately trying to show the American people -- convince the American people that there is evidence that this plan is going to work -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, a tough -- a tough job ahead in making that convincing case.
We'll see what they can do on that front.
Thanks very much, Suzanne Malveaux, Andrea Koppel. They are both part of the best political team on television.
And remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at cnn.com/ticker.
Carol Costello is monitoring the wires, keeping an eye on all the video feeds coming in from around the world into THE SITUATION ROOM.
She's joining us now live from New York with a closer look at some other stories making news -- hi, Carol.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Conflicting reports this afternoon about the head of Al Qaeda In Iraq. Remember yesterday the Iraqi government reported that Abu Ayyub al-Masri was wounded in clashes with police? A senior U.S. official tells CNN today the U.S. military believes the report is false.
But an Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman tells CNN the ministry is standing by its initial report. He also says al-Masri is now on the run.
The big three automakers could become the big two. "Automotive News" is reporting that General Motors is in high level talks to buy its struggling rival company, Chrysler. The auto industry trade publication cites unnamed sources in Germany and the United States. Reuters has issued a similar report. But spokesmen for both G.M. and Chrysler have declined to comment on the reports.
That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Carol, thanks.
We'll get back to you shortly.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty.
He's in New York with The Cafferty File -- Jack, Vegas -- it's a great place.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I've been there and I assume you'll enjoy yourself while you're out there.
President Bush lacks the authority to invade Iran without approval from Congress. So says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The speaker says she takes the president "at his word" when he says he supports a diplomatic resolution with Iran.
But Pelosi insists Congress needs to "make it very clear that there is no previous authority for the president to go into Iran."
Earlier this week, President Bush said there's no doubt the Iranian government is providing weapons to insurgents in Iraq. But he backed away from claims that the highest level of Iran's government is involved.
Critics say the president is just looking for a reason to go to war with Iran and they question the accuracy of the intelligence about that country.
So the question this hour is this -- does it mean anything when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says President Bush lacks the power to invade Iran without Congressional approval?
E-mail your thoughts to email@example.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile.
Are you going to do a little gambling while you're out there, Wolf? I mean besides in THE SITUATION ROOM today? BLITZER: You know, I'm not much of a gambler, so I don't think I'm going to do a whole lot of gambling. But they've got a lot of other things you can do here, a lot of good shows, for example. A lot of people come out to Vegas not necessarily to gamble. There's a lot of entertainment that goes on in Vegas -- good restaurants...
CAFFERTY: You should...
BLITZER: ... and it's also a big weekend for the NBA. So we'll be watching some basketball Sunday night, the NBA All Star Game.
CAFFERTY: You sound like you'd be on the chamber of commerce out there.
That was a nice little pitch for the...
BLITZER: I know. I...
CAFFERTY: ... for one of the good towns.
BLITZER: I spent some -- I spent some time with the mayor earlier today, Jack.
We'll have that interview coming up.
Thanks very much.
Nevada becomes a key player in the Democratic race for the White House.
But just who are Nevada Democrats?
Our John King standing by live right here in Las Vegas. We're going to bring John in, in a moment.
Also, will the political showdown over Iraq turn into a constitutional battle between the branches?
Bill Schneider is standing by to take a closer look at that.
And as we have been meaning, it's NBA All Star weekend here in Las Vegas.
But is the league having some problems off the court?
The commissioner, David Stern -- he'll join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
We're here live in Las Vegas at The Venetian Hotel. Beyond the glitz of the Vegas strip, Nevada is increasingly a diverse state, its growth fueled by a sizeable Latino community, as well. And that diversity is a key reason why Democrats decided to hold the Nevada caucuses very early in the 2008 presidential primary season.
Our chief national correspondent, John King, is here in Las Vegas. He's taking a look at this story.
It's fascinating that the Democrats decided to move Nevada up right in between Iowa and New Hampshire.
JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And they're not necessarily happy about that, Wolf, in Iowa and New Hampshire. But as you know from doing this over the years, I bet you could travel to every town in Iowa and New Hampshire and not find a mayor whose business card is a poker chip.
They have that here in Nevada. They also have something else here in Nevada that they don't have in Iowa and New Hampshire, and that is a lot of Latino voters.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
KING (voice-over): Sunday mass with his parents is a tradition that dates back to Ruben Kihuen's childhood in Mexico. Las Vegas is home now, Kihuen a member of the Nevada legislature and the young Democrat eager for his state to start a new tradition in presidential politics.
RUBEN KIHUEN (D), NEVADA STATE ASSEMBLY: so you have to go out to the swap meets and shake people's hands. You have to go out to the rodeos and shake people's hands.
KING: Retail politics like in Iowa and New Hampshire, but with a decidedly different look and flavor.
(on camera): To visit Kihuen's district is to see obvious signs of why this contest is so different from Iowa and New Hampshire. Nevada's Hispanic population is nearly 23 percent, compared to just 3.5 percent in Iowa, and barely 2 percent in New Hampshire.
(voice-over): So an early contest here guarantees greater focus on immigration, urban sprawl, gaming and other issues central to the Las Vegas service economy. And it guarantees the first opportunity for Latinos like Manny Barajas to have an early voice in the presidential campaign.
MANNY BARAJAS, WAITER, EXCALIBUR HOTEL AND CASINO: We are busboys. We are dishwashers. We are waiters. We are cooks. You know, but we impact a lot in the economy of the United States.
KING: Barajas' union is already a major player in Nevada politics. Now it's intensifying its voter registration efforts, in English and in Spanish, because of the new presidential calendar.
BARAJAS: It's a big motivation to all our members. We have a unique opportunity here to make a saying.
KING: An opportunity that convinced Barajas, after 35 years in the United States, to enroll in citizenship classes.
BARAJAS: That's what everybody is asking me, Manny, why are you being so long to become a citizen?
The thing is that I need to be accounted for. You know, I have to be able to vote. That was missing for me in all my dreams, American dream and Vegas dream -- me being able to express my opinion legally.
KING: Classes end in a few months and Barajas plans to cast his first vote next January, when the Democratic nominating contest makes its new early stop out west.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
KING: Let's bring in a long time observer of Nevada politics.
Jon Ralston is joining us.
He's from the "Las Vegas Sun," a columnist.
John King is still with us.
Jon Ralston, let me start with you.
It's not just the Latino vote that was attractive to Democrats in moving up the Nevada caucuses. It's also unions, which are not necessarily all that big in Iowa or New Hampshire, but they're huge here, especially in Las Vegas.
JON RALSTON, "LAS VEGAS SUN": And especially on the Las Vegas strip, where the culinary union is huge. It represents workers at most of these casinos, Wolf. Not, actually, at the one that we're sitting at right now, but almost every other casino. They are a huge political force in this state, in state and local politics.
BLITZER: And that plays a big role, unions. And a lot of our viewers may not appreciate how important the unions are to the Democrats.
KING: Well, they're hugely important to the Democratic Party. The teachers union, traditionally, is right now the most powerful labor force within the Democratic Party.
But what's very different about this, and Jon hit on it, is, you know, we have the service economy is the biggest booming part of the economy, not only here, but in most of the United States. It's a different set of issues -- health care issues, the minimum wage debate that's going on in Washington.
So the candidates will be first much more early on. The candidates will be forced to address -- there's a candidate forum here coming up in a few days -- those types of issues that, they're on the agenda in Iowa and New Hampshire, but not so personally.
And if they want the help of those activists, they're going to have to deal with them early here.
BLITZER: This is a whole new ball game for Nevada right now on the Democratic side.
Are they ready for the caucuses, the attention?
This is going to be a grueling ordeal for the Democratic Party in this state.
RALSTON: Well, they're excited, I can tell you that, Wolf. Whether or not they're ready, we're going to find out pretty soon. They don't even know exactly how it's going to work. There's no living rooms...
BLITZER: Iowa has got a whole tradition. They know how to do it.
RALSTON: Exactly. And as John pointed out, Iowa -- Iowans and New Hampshirites aren't too thrilled with us coming out here to the caucus -- coming out here. It's like heresy to be out here in Nevada, where there's gambling and where you can't just go into someone's living room. They don't -- they haven't erected the rules for this yet, Wolf. They don't know how it's going to work.
They just want to be considered as important.
BLITZER: Well, because Iowa and New Hampshire, they're really struggling to try to prevent this from happening.
But do they have any recourse or is this a done deal?
KING: It's a done deal now. They had hoped early on convince the candidates that if you came to Nevada, you would be penalized in Iowa and New Hampshire. But most of the candidates are coming out here. They're trying to say, well, it's only a caucus, it's not a primary, we can respect Iowa and New Hampshire and have Nevada.
If they pull it off with success -- and they've brought in people with experience in Iowa. They've hired some outside help, if you will, to pull it off. If the event goes smoothly and if the unions, the Latino voters, more African-Americans, have an influence on the process that the party finds helpful, this will likely cement its help.
Only a problem would go change it back.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the Democratic horse race for a moment.
You've got Senator Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards. You've got Bill Richardson from a neighboring state, New Mexico.
What does it look like here based on every -- because you're here on a day to day basis -- what does it look like?
RALSTON: Well, we mentioned the culinary union. And there's a lot of sense out here that the culinary union is going to determine the winner of this caucus. John Edwards is presumed to be close to labor nationally. The culinary union actually merged with a textile union, Unite, which John Edwards is close to.
But they're all coming.
John Edwards is going to be here tomorrow.
Barack Obama will be here Sunday.
And John mentioned the forum that's going to be next week in Carson City. They're all coming except for Obama.
So they're clearly paying attention.
Who's the favorite here?
I don't think anybody knows. You notice they're all trying to keep their powder dry. The culinary union doesn't want to say who they're favoring. Other interest groups don't want to say.
But I think you have to think that it's the same as it is anywhere. And that's what the people miss, Wolf. We're sitting in this crazy place, the Las Vegas strip, but Nevadans are like people in Iowa and New Hampshire. They have many of the same concerns. They're going to have many of the same favorites, I think.
BLITZER: We're going to be speaking to John Edwards. He's actually coming into Las Vegas later this afternoon. We'll be speaking to him during out 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour.
Guys, thanks very much.
RALSTON: You're welcome.
BLITZER: I suspect we're going to have a lot of these conversations between now and January of next year.
An unfolding legal and political story unfolding right now here in Nevada. The Associated Press reporting that federal authorities now confirm newly elected Republican Governor Jim Gibbons is under investigation.
Whether Gibbons played a role in the secret military contracts awarded to a Reno software company while he was in Congress, and whether he received any gifts or payments in exchange.
After initially disputing that he was under investigation, Gibbons now is quoted as encouraging the probe and saying he's done nothing wrong.
Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, John McCain heads out on the campaign trail and unveils a new look. That story when we get the situation online. Plus, the political showdown in Congress over the war in Iraq -- was the Democrats' strategy successful?
I'll ask two experts, Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett. They're standing by.
I'm live in Las Vegas and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: On our Political Radar today, Democratic presidential candidate Tom Vilsack is trying to get a higher profile by making an appearance on the late night talk show circuit. The former Iowa governor was a guest on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" last night. Vilsack joked about his less than famous face and the fact that he's often confused with a legendary basketball coach.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE TONIGHT SHOW," COURTESY NBC)
JAY LENO, HOST: Do you get recognized? Do people think they're recognizing -- do you get -- have you reached a point where wait, you're the guy?
TOM VILSACK, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not quite.
VILSACK: We're working on it.
VILSACK: There are a few people that get sort of mistaken for me, but...
LENO: Like who? Who would get mistaken for you?
VILSACK: Well, Bobby Knight.
LENO: Bobby Knight?
VILSACK: Bobby Knight. Yes, you know, a little chair throwing and that type of thing.
LENO: Have we got him?
Let's see. Put a picture up. Let's see.
Are they close?
Yes, apparently you're using the Just For Men hair coloring.
VILSACK: Well, yes. Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Not much of a similarity there. An influential Evangelical leader, by the way, is essentially writing off Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign. Richard Lance says if the former New York mayor wins the Republican nomination, he'll do it without social conservatives.
Lance says the Christian right just isn't comfortable with Giuliani's support for abortion rights and the fact that he's on his third marriage.
Also on our Political Radar, it was Senator John McCain who first exploited the Internet for fundraising back in 2000. Since then, Democrats have led the charge in online innovation. Now he's hoping that JohnMcCain.com will put him back on top.
Abbi Tatton has a closer look -- Abbi.
ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the site just launched this afternoon in time to stream live an appearance that Senator McCain is making in Iowa tomorrow, a town hall meeting there that will be viewed at the Web site.
Now, there's no way to submit a question to that event, but the campaign, through the Web site, is trying to get people to interact. They're inviting people to submit their questions to the senator by videotaping themselves, asking the question, putting it up on YouTube, and then the senator will be answering some of those questions, again, on YouTube.
And online video on this site, as it is on so many, is heavy. There are many, many online videos like this one I'm showing now, highlighting Senator McCain's accomplishments. This one backed by music that one conservative blogger today labeled as Rocky-esque.
In terms of social networking, there's less on this site than there is on some of the Democrats' sites, something that Democrats have been very high on. But the McCain team says there's more to come. Watch this space. They'll be rolling out more. A lot of it's in black and white. But one thing that appears in color on every page, the online donation sign. That's more important now than ever -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Abbi, thanks for that.
Up next, the political showdown over Iraq.
Will it move from the halls of Congress to the Supreme Court?
And in our next hour, is the war putting a tremendous strain on U.S. troops?
Our Arwa Damon caught up with the troops in Iraq to see just how they're coping.
We're live here in Las Vegas and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Happening now: an historic rebuke of the president's Iraq policy -- the House of Representatives just approving a nonbinding resolution against the troop buildup -- the vote 246 to 182. Seventeen Republicans sided with nearly all the Democrats in supporting the measure and opposing the president.
Now the Senate is set to hold a test vote on the House resolution in a rare Saturday session.
Former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader keeping the door open to another White House bid in 2008 -- Nader suggests he will run if Senator Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic presidential nomination. Nader has some sharp words for Senator Clinton. That's coming up.
Also coming up: A retired NBA star's declaration he hates -- that he hates gay people, does it speak to a trend among pro basketball players? I will talk about it with the NBA commissioner, David Stern, in our next hour.
I'm Wolf Blitzer, live in Las Vegas. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Congress is sending a very clear message to President Bush about his Iraq policy and his plans for a troop buildup. The nonbinding resolution approved just a short while ago could be just the beginning of a broader battle.
Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, the political showdown between the House of Representatives and President Bush could be headed for a constitutional showdown.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: A motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.
SCHNEIDER: The resolution passed by the House of Representatives is straightforward.
PELOSI: We, here in Congress, are committed to protecting and supporting our troops.
SCHNEIDER: They have got public opinion behind them. Americans side with the Democrats in Congress over President Bush on Iraq. But the resolution doesn't really do much to stop the president.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My hope, however, is that this nonbinding resolution doesn't try to turn into a binding policy that prevents our troops from doing that which I have asked them to do. SCHNEIDER: House Democrats insist they will not cut off funding for the troops, but they are talking about imposing tougher standards for training and equipping the troops. The idea is: Give the troops more support in order to stop the buildup.
REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: What we're saying, it would be very hard to find fault with. We're supporting troops. We're protecting the troops, but, on the other hand, we're going to stop this surge.
SCHNEIDER: That sets up a challenge to the president's powers as commander in chief.
STEPHEN HESS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: This starts to sound as if they're really trying to micromanage a war. And then the Republican argument will be: Hey, we have -- we have -- we have got troops on the ground. Are you really telling us that we can't replace them?
SCHNEIDER: Well, yes, if that will change U.S. policy in Iraq. But it could also provoke a constitutional showdown. Will it come to that?
HESS: The Senate knows how to put sand in the gears. And, of course, they have got the filibuster. If, by some strange way, they could get over that hurdle, then the president has his veto power.
SCHNEIDER: Democrats argue they're not undermining the troops; they are undermining the president's war power, because they believe that is what Americans voted to do back in November -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We will see how this constitutional showdown winds up.
Thank you, Bill, for that.
A showdown, by the way, tomorrow, once again, in the Senate over Iraq.
And, Sunday, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, and the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, they will be joining me on a special edition of "LATE EDITION." We will be live from here in Las Vegas. Our coverage begins 11:00 a.m. Eastern, 8:00 a.m. Pacific, "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.
Tomorrow's showdown in the Senate forcing some of the presidential hopefuls to change their travel plans. Senator Barack Obama is in South Carolina today and tomorrow morning. But he is heading back to Washington right after that for the Iraq vote. Then, he goes back on the trail in Virginia tomorrow night.
By the way, Obama will be out here in Nevada on Sunday. Senator Hillary Clinton starts tomorrow in New Hampshire. She is canceling an event and heading back to D.C. for the vote, before going back to New Hampshire Sunday. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Joe Biden, is in Iowa right now. But he, too, is heading back to Washington to vote. Biden then turns right around, goes back to Iowa to campaign.
Senator Chris Dodd is on the trail in New Hampshire today. But he, too, will return to Washington for the vote.
What about the Republicans? Senator Sam Brownback is in Washington for the vote, before campaigning in Florida. In fact, John McCain -- yes, John McCain -- is the only senator who is in the race for the White House who is not expected to make tomorrow's vote in Washington. He is in Chicago tonight, campaigning in Iowa all day tomorrow. We will see if he changes his plans.
Are senators running for president spending simply too much time on the road, and not enough time on Capitol Hill? A new Web site is tracking absentee congressmen. And a few 2008 hopefuls are making the list.
Jacki Schechner watching the story for us -- Jacki.
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Hi, Wolf.
The Web site just launched this week called Absent Congress -- and it tracks the voting record of all 100 senators.
Let's take a look at some of the '08 hopefuls.
Republican Senator Sam Brownback -- excuse me there -- missed more than half of the 39 votes in January, which puts his attendant rate -- attendance rate at 48 percent. He is the second lowest overall, second only to Democratic Senator Tim Johnson, who is recovering from a brain hemorrhage.
We talked to Brownback's office today. And they said that he missed a lot of the votes in January, because he was on a pre- scheduled trip to the Middle East. They would not directly comment on whether his presidential campaign schedule was at all affecting his Senate attendance.
Some of the other '08 hopefuls we want to take a look at, Senator Joe Biden had the lowest percentage of all the Democratic candidates, at 79 percent. Senators Clinton and McCain tied at 94 percent. And Senator Barack Obama has not missed a vote so far -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jacki, thanks for that. We will watch that Web site together with you.
Coming up in the next hour: Does the NBA have an anti-gay image problem? We will talk about it with pro basketball's commissioner, David Stern.
But, up next: Ralph Nader, he is no fan for Hillary Clinton's, and he's fixing for a fight, if -- if -- the New York senator gets the Democrats' nomination.
I'm live in Las Vegas, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Many Democrats still have not forgiven Ralph Nader for his 2000 presidential campaign, arguing it cost Al Gore the White House.
Now the former Green Party candidate is threatening to run once again. And his sights appear to be set firmly set on Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Let's check in with CNN's Mary Snow. She is in New York with the story -- Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he's been called a spoiler, but that doesn't seem to be getting in the way of consumer advocate Ralph Nader.
SNOW (voice-over): Could Senator Clinton be the tipping point for a Ralph Nader candidacy? The former Green Party candidate hinted to KGO radio host Ronn Owens that he is considering a run.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, KGO RADIO)
RALPH NADER, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We want to see what the Democrats come up with.
RONN OWENS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: If they come up with Hillary, I read that, if Hillary is the candidate, you're going to run.
NADER: She's just another bad version of Bill Clinton.
OWENS: Bad in what sense?
NADER: Flatters, panders, coasting, front-runner, looking for a coronation.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SNOW: The Clinton camp declined comment. But one Democrat who launched a campaign to persuade Nader not to run in the past says he will do it again if Nader runs in '08.
JOHN PEARCE, FORMER DIRECTOR, RALPHDONTRUN.NET: If Ralph Nader had not run for president in 2000, the world would look very different right now.
SNOW: In 2000, Nader won 2.74 percent of the popular vote nationwide. Democrats blamed him for siphoning votes from Democrat Al Gore, costing him the election to George Bush.
NADER: Our campaign...
SNOW: In 2004, Nader's support dropped to less than one-half of 1 percent. A documentary, "An Unreasonable Man," questions whether Nader's ego or his conscience is at work as a tireless consumer advocate.
STUART ROTHENBERG, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Fairly or unfairly, he is now regarded as a spoiler. And most Americans don't like that. And they don't like throwing away their votes.
SNOW: In a recent interview on "LATE EDITION," Nader spelled out his purpose.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER")
NADER: But I'm committed to trying to give more voices and choices for the American people on the ballot. That means more third parties, independent candidates, and to break up this two-party elected dictatorship.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: Now, political observers say, if Nader runs, they don't expect him to be much of a factor in 2008. But some Democrats say he will be more of a factor if the Democratic Party doesn't signal a clear change in direction -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Mary, for that -- Mary Snow reporting.
And, remember, CNN is a partner with WMUR Television and "New Hampshire Union Leader" for the first presidential debates of the campaign season. It will be this year, April 4, April 5, the first debates in the leadoff presidential primary state of New Hampshire.
Up next in our "Strategy Session": the showdown over Iraq. Now that the House of Representatives has spoken, is President Bush ready to listen?
And, in the next hour, the Las Vegas mayor, Oscar Goodman, he is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Does the mayor have a favorite in the race for the White House? That's coming up in the next hour.
We're live in Las Vegas, outside the Venetian Hotel, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: An historic vote today against President Bush's Iraq policy -- the House of Representatives voting overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution opposing his plan to send more than 21,000 additional troops to Iraq. Seventeen Republicans joined nearly all the Democrats in voting for the measure. Only two Democrats, in fact, voted against it, Gene Taylor Mississippi, Jim Marshall of Georgia.
Joining us now on our "Strategy" -- "Strategy Session," our two CNN political analysts. Donna Brazile is a Democratic strategist. William Bennett is a former U.S. secretary of education, host of "Morning in America." He is a Republican strategist.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
Let me start with you, Bill Bennett.
What does it mean now, this rebuke of the president and his policy?
BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's not good. It's not a positive thing for the president.
It's kind of an empty resolution. Joe Lieberman put it very well. It proposes nothing, it says. It is -- he said -- it's a -- it's a plan for neither victory, nor defeat. It says no, while our soldiers are saying yes.
But it's a rebuke. And you will read about it and hear about it in the pages of the paper tomorrow. And Al-Jazeera will make sure it gets everywhere in the Middle East.
BLITZER: Here is what Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, Donna, said in reacting to -- to this resolution.
Let me read it to you: "The House of Representatives has passed a resolution expressing disapproval of President Bush's plan to send reinforcements to Iraq. The resolution is nonbinding. Soon, Congress will have the opportunity to show its support for the troops in Iraq by funding the supplemental appropriations request the president has submitted and which our men and women in combat are counting on."
That's a statement from Tony Snow.
What -- what do you -- where do you see this debate unfolding right now, Donna?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, Wolf, as you well know, over 350 members had an opportunity today to debate this resolution. Seventeen Republicans joined the Democrats in supporting it.
The resolution, of course, supports the troops. But the Democrats now have an opportunity, with -- with oversight hearings, as well as the emerging supplemental bill, to perhaps put more binding constrictions on the president -- president's ability to carry out his troop surge.
So, this is the first step. The second step will come later, when Congressman Murtha and others begin the whole hearings on the supplemental.
BLITZER: There were, what, 17 Republicans, Bill, who bolted and voted with the Democrats on this resolution.
BLITZER: Were you surprised? BENNETT: No. I think we saw that coming. Some people thought it could be as high as 40 or 50. So, it wasn't.
I agree with Donna. The big action is ahead of us, Wolf, in terms of whether Murtha acts and whether many people support.
I got to say, looking ahead, if Murtha does make this proposal, should this proposal pass, which I don't think it will, I do not think it will redound to the credit of the Democrats. I think they will rue the day they did it. I think they will rue today as well in the long run, because a lot is going to happen in this world and in the Middle East.
And I think the American people, once they step back from this, are going to see this was a mistake.
BLITZER: Donna, what do you think?
BRAZILE: Well, first of all, I think Congressman Murtha will hold hearings, will determine whether or not the president's surge strategy will, you know, get us out of harm's way.
I also believe that Congressman Murtha and -- and Speaker Pelosi have indicated that they are not going to undermine our military. They're not going to undermine our troops. What they would like to see is a change of strategy, a new direction, and to transition our mission.
And, hopefully, with the -- with the financial benefits in this bill, the president will sit down with Speaker Pelosi and others and come up with a strategy that will get our troops home soon.
BENNETT: Well, we hear...
BLITZER: Tomorrow, the Senate -- Bill, I was going to say, tomorrow, the Senate is under pressure to do something, now that the House has acted. The Senate was supposed to act first. They couldn't get their act together.
What do you think of this -- this -- the pressure, the focus now shifting from the House to the Senate?
BENNETT: Yes, there will be pressure on the Senate. And you may not have this -- you may not have the filibuster. So, you may get cloture and a vote. And it may come down the same way, 53, 54, maybe 55 against -- against the surge.
Again, I think it will -- it's a mistake. But we are going toward high noon. This isn't high noon today. High noon is when we get to the Murtha proposals. And, again, I think it will be a terrible mistake if they pass. I don't -- I don't think they will.
BLITZER: Do you think the pressure on the Senate is -- has intensified, now that the House has acted, Donna?
BRAZILE: There is no question. Senator Reid is going to hold that -- that vote tomorrow. It's a procedural vote.
And, if they are able to get necessary votes, the -- the Senate will be -- go on record. I think it's important, Wolf, that the Democrats have gotten, you know, this debate under way. The Republicans had four years to try to change the strategy and help the president come up with a mission that would succeed.
But we're not asking our military to solve a political problem in Iraq. And that is why Democrats want to go on record right now opposed to this surge.
BENNETT: This proposal...
BENNETT: Yes, again, this proposal...
BLITZER: Go ahead, Bill.
BENNETT: This proposal does nothing. It's a plan for nothing. We shall see if they come up -- if they come up with a plan.
But be clear on this. The reckoning will be when there's a proposal, when there is a confrontation about funding. The Democrats say over and over again, Wolf: We support the troops. We support the troops.
They keep saying it. The mantra is wearing a little thin, I think.
BLITZER: Well, Bill, what do you think of Senator McCain's decision, apparently, unless he changes his mind overnight, not to come back and vote tomorrow on this procedural vote in the U.S. Senate? It looks like all the other senators who are campaigning for president will be back in Washington for that vote.
BENNETT: Well, there are people who believe, like Senator McCain and like Rudy Giuliani said the other day, this is not what the Senate or the House is paid to do.
The Senate and the House is paid to come up with actions, with plans, with resolutions, and to stand behind them with conviction, not to offer symbolic gestures which feed only the enemies of the United States.
BRAZILE: I think it's an insult not...
BLITZER: All right.
BLITZER: Donna, go ahead. BRAZILE: I think it's an insult not to come and show up for a vote.
This is a very important debate. And, for Senator McCain, who has been a staunch supporter of the president's plan, he should come up or and put up or shut up. But to -- to run away from the debate, and to say that this is meaningless is -- is -- is, in my judgment, cowardly.
BLITZER: All right.
BENNETT: John McCain knows the difference between the real and the symbolic.
BLITZER: We will -- we will see what happens, see if he does show up tomorrow. Right now, apparently, he is planning on staying out on the campaign trail.
Donna Brazile, Bill Bennett, thanks to both of you.
Still to come, we will have the latest on Anna Nicole Smith's will. Did the deceased celebrity fail to take the necessary steps to protect her little baby daughter? We will have a live report.
But up next: "The Cafferty File." Does it mean anything when the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, says President Bush lacks the power to invade Iran without congressional approval? Jack, with your e-mail, that is coming up next.
BLITZER: There is a development happening over at the White House.
Suzanne Malveaux is standing by.
What are you picking up, Suzanne?
MALVEAUX: Well, Wolf, we have just learned from one of the White House spokesmen, Scott Stanzel, President Bush, just two hours ago, had a procedure done here at the White House.
He had two moles that were removed from his face, the left temple, we are told. It was a five-minute procedure, happened at 3:00 this afternoon at the White House doctor's office. It was performed by Dr. Steve Krivda, a dermatologist from Bethesda, Walter Reed, as well as his normal doctor, Dr. Tubb.
And we are told that it's a routine procedure. And, according to the White House spokesman, he is saying directly that the doctors expect that both moles are benign. So, this is good news for the president, that this was a routine procedure, that it took all of five minutes, that both of these moles are benign. As you know, Wolf, the president has had some -- a history of skin conditions, because of sun exposure. But these two moles removed from his face this afternoon, we're told, are benign -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Suzanne, thanks for that -- Suzanne Malveaux with the latest from the White House.
Let's check back with Jack. He is in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour: Does it mean anything when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that President Bush lacks the power to invade Iran without congressional approval?
Jenny in New York: "It means Bush will invade Iran without congressional approval. Bush considers the Congress a mere inconvenience, and nothing more."
Edward in Cleveland: "No, it doesn't mean anything when Pelosi says anything. She has an inflated sense of self-importance and doesn't know what she is doing. Pelosi and her liberal-thinking pals in the House are going to lose the war and put this country in peril of future attack. If we look weak, then the enemy will see us as vulnerable. I hope they can live with the consequences of their actions."
William in Benicia, California: "Throw in Joe Biden's comments that a war with Iran without authorization will lead to a constitutional crisis, the meaning is plain and simple. Bush needs congressional authorization, or he will be impeached. A line in the sand has been drawn."
J. writes: "Nope. And I'm sure you will bitch about it."
Mary in Louisville writes: "It means a lot. I don't pretend to be an expert on the law or the Constitution, but I know the founding fathers would not have left America at the mercy of a bellicose fool like George W. Bush. They were also too smart to rule out that, eventually, one would be elected."
And Marty in Atlanta: "It has as much meaning to him as me telling my wife that the dog ate her Valentine's Day card."
BLITZER: Jack, thanks for that.
And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: A new security crackdown in Iraq, is it hobbling the insurgency or just sending terrorists underground? We will go on patrol, in the line of a sniper's fire.
Also: the White House reacting and upping the ante, after the House of Representatives passes its controversial resolution opposing the Iraq troop increase. We will show you where the next battle may unfold.
And a dark cloud hanging over the NBA all-star weekend -- a former player banished because of anti-gay remarks, but the controversy far from over. I will talk about the uproar with league commissioner David Stern.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
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