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THE SITUATION ROOM

Room for Gays in NBA?; Anna Nicole Smith's Will Unveiled; NASA Rocket Launch

Aired February 16, 2007 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: 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'll 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 Iraqi troop increase. We'll 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'll talk about the uproar with league Commissioner David Stern.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A major security crackdown happening right now in the Iraqi capital, along with President Bush's controversial troop increase.

Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, is joining us now live -- Jamie, do they have a new ploy?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's -- Wolf, the U.S. commanders in Iraq are touting this so far as a success. But it's only in the initial operation phase.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): After only a few days, the U.S. military says the joint U.S.-Iraqi security operation in Baghdad appears to be working, but conceded that may simply be because militia groups are keeping their powder dry.

MAJ. GEN. JOSEPH FIL, U.S. ARMY: There's an air of suspense throughout the city, expectation, if you will, and we believe that there's no question about it, that many of these extremists are laying low and watching to see what it is and how we do it. MCINTYRE: Among those lying low is believed to be anti-American Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is now thought to be in Iran and whose Mahdi Army is suspected in much of the anti-Sunni violence.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I don't think he went there for a vacation. I think they're very concerned about this operation.

MCINTYRE: Gates says he fully expected the violent elements would go to ground and that the strategy is designed to take advantage of that.

GATES: The question is during that space, can we move -- can we and the Iraqis provide enough security so the economic development, improvements in governance, political reconciliation can all begin to make real progress in Iraq?

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE: And progress in Iraq, though, is a relative thing. Today, an Iraqi military spokesman touted the fact that only 10 bodies showed up in the Baghdad morgue overnight, as compared to the usual 40 or 50. And that, he said, was a major progress in the war on terror -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A statement in and of itself.

Thank you, Jamie, for that.

And the situation across Iraq putting a tremendous, tremendous strain in U.S. troops there.

CNN's Arwa Damon talked to some of them to see just how they're coping.

She's joining us from Baghdad with the story -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is absolutely nothing that is easy about this mission. Not only does it take a physical toll on the soldiers here, but also a mental and emotional one.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

DAMON (voice-over): Any door could be booby-trapped, a sniper in any building, a roadside bomb in any pile of trash. Surviving is about controlling fear and staying alert.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's always in the back of your mind what could happen. But you try not to think about it right when you're out working.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you talking to me, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How far down the route?

DAMON: In a single morning, these soldiers held a brief memorial for one soldier and learned four more of their battalion had been killed. The toughest lessons of war are learned on the job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was just saying I was ready to come over here. But when you get here, it's different than what you think it's going to be, you know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before I came over here, I took for granted a lot -- family, you know, the luxuries of life. And then you come over here and it's -- who, it's crazy.

DAMON: Here on the base, a poignant reminder of those who have fallen in the battle for Diyala. While no one who fought with them will ever forget them, commanders say the toughest part is talking to their families and worrying about how they will fare. They say the two most common questions from loved ones are, "Did my son die alone?" and "Was he in pain?"

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We took a couple of shots at it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It didn't turn out to be anything.

DAMON (voice-over): The troops don't like to talk about it, but they admit privately that the mission here takes a massive emotional and mental toll. They say people back home can't understand, but what they share creates a bond between soldiers unlike any other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're like brothers. You know, we fight together, we move around together. We go through a lot of hardships together. So that type of environment fosters, you know, that bonding, you know, between the people in our unit.

All right.

DAMON: A bond strengthened with time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So this is my second tour. I feel better, safe, you know, kind of being trained up a little bit than the ones that's been here for the first time because this isn't easy.

DAMON: It's not easy, but they do it, even if some have doubts on the mission. They say they do it for each other.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

DAMON: The bonds that are formed on the battlefield also continue in what everyone here calls the real world. When these troops finally get back home and reintegrating into that real world is oftentimes one of the biggest challenges that they face.

The U.S. military does take this very seriously and offers various types of combat stress counseling -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa, thank you.

Arwa Damon in Baghdad for us. Meanwhile, there are new developments on Capitol Hill, where the House of Representatives now officially voicing its opposition to a troop increase in Iraq.

The issue?

A resolution slamming President Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq.

Our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is joining us now live with the latest details -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, House Democrats raced to the cameras to declare today's vote an issue that voters in November demanded from Democrats and from Washington in general, when they elected a Democratic majority.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The concurrent resolution is accepted.

BASH (voice-over): The House rebuke of the president's Iraq strategy was the first vivid display of Democrats' new power.

PELOSI: The stakes in Iraq are too high to recycle proposals that have little prospect for success.

BASH: But the resolution opposes the president's decision to send more troops to Iraq but has no force of law. Democrats insisted it's the message that matters.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL, (D), ILLINOIS: From the beginning, this war has been a saga of miscalculations, mistakes and misjudgments for which America will pay in many ways for years to come.

BASH: Four days of spirited and, at times, emotional debate.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), OHIO: What we have done in Iraq is worth any sacrifice.

Why?

Because it was our duty.

BASH: Seventeen Republicans joined Democrats to repudiate the president.

REP. WALTER JONES (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Our troops have done a magnificent job and they cannot afford to continue to be policemen in a civil war. It does not -- it's not fair and it makes no sense at all.

BASH: For the most part, Republicans who opposed the resolution did not defend Mr. Bush.

REP. STEVE CHABOT (R), OHIO: We all agree that this administration has made mistakes in Iraq.

BASH: Instead, the president's GOP allies warned against the Democrats' next move -- restrict funds for the Iraq mission.

REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MO), MINORITY WHIP: We've already heard the Democrats calling the debate this week the bark before the bite -- their so-called slow bleed approach is the bite that will surely hurt those fighting under America's flag overseas.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BASH: Now, what Republicans are referring to there is a plan by Congressman John Murtha, an anti-war congressman from Pennsylvania, to try to set conditions on funding for Iraq, with the goal of forcing the president to bring the troops home.

Now, today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was determined to stay on message about today's vote, would simply just say that, yes, the Democrats are thinking about setting benchmarks; but was very quick to say after that, that Congress would always support the troops -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, two Democrats bolted from their party, voted with the Republicans. Seventeen Republicans voted -- bolted from the Republican Party, voted with the Democrats.

Is that number lower than some had expected?

BASH: It is lower than some had expected. You know, it was -- Republicans insisted that they were not vote counting, so they never really knew. Privately, there were some predictions that it could be upwards of 30 to 40 Republicans.

But it was interesting to listen to even some Republicans who were clear that they didn't support this -- this mission, specifically to support adding troops. They were very careful to say that they were voting against this resolution because they simply thought that Democrats were politicizing it. And that may be part of the reason why there were fewer Republicans than many people thought, certainly the White House had feared.

BLITZER: And we'll see what happens on the Senate side tomorrow, Saturday.

Thanks very much, Dana, for that.

In other world news, what would happen if hundreds of thousands of Cubans all tried to sneak into the United States at the same time?

That's what the U.S. government reportedly fears.

The "Miami Herald" reporting the Defense Department will spend $18 million on a new facility at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. It would be used to shelter Cuban migrants picked up at sea.

There is no sign that a mass Cuban migration is being planned, the paper cites anonymous officials as saying. Instead, "The Herald" says it's contingency planning should Fidel Castro die and a mass migration follow.

Jack Cafferty is in New York with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's getting tough. After two weeks of trying to get the senators to debate and vote on an Iraq War resolution, Reid yesterday ordered the Senate to work on Saturday. And this is how Dana Milbank described it in the "Washington Post": "To the average American, this would be an inconvenience. To a senator, a Saturday vote is a hardship reserved for national crises such as impeachment or Terry Schiavo. Votes have been held on Saturday only five times in the past 10 years."

Nevertheless, attendance tomorrow expected to be good. In fact, all of the Senate presidential hopefuls plan to be there. Well, all except one.

Senators Biden, Brownback, Clinton, Dodd, Obama all expected to show up. The lone absentee, Senator John McCain. McCain plans to be in Chicago tonight and then go to Iowa tomorrow.

In his ongoing effort to be all things to all people, McCain has apparently decided if he doesn't bother to show up to vote, no one will be able to accuse him of taking a position on the issue.

Here's the question -- would Senator John McCain be making a mistake if he misses tomorrow's vote on the Iraq War resolution?

E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.

Up ahead, Nevada trying to assume the role of kingmaker in the race for the White House.

Is the state up to the task?

I'll ask the mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman.

And JetBlue's operations crippled by weather. We'll have details of the airline's nightmare and why it can't seem to wake up.

Plus, new fallout from a former basketball star's anti-gay tirade. Tim Hardaway banished from the All Star weekend right here in Las Vegas. I'll talk to the man who ousted him, the NBA commissioner, David Stern.

I'm Wolf Blitzer and we're reporting from The Venetian Hotel here in Las Vegas and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: What happens here in Vegas won't necessarily stay here in Vegas. Millions around the country will be watching a high stakes battle to see if one political party that's typically an underdog in the West can actually dominate out West.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

HOWARD DEAN: We're looking to make the West a reliably Democratic part of the country, and I think we can do that.

BLITZER (voice-over): At first glance, this looks like quite a gamble. The West was almost Republican red in the 2000 presidential race and it only got worse for Democrats in 2004.

But some are saying that the reality on the ground has changed and now Democrats have a real chance to turn it around in 2008.

TOM COLLINS, NEVADA DEMOCRATIC COMMITTEE CHAIR: The West has been ignored and the Republicans say oh, we've got them in our pocket, so we don't have to tell them nothing, they're going to vote for us anyway.

BLITZER: There is perhaps no better place to show how the demographics of the West are changing than right here in Las Vegas. Two subways of Las Vegas are in the top 20 fastest growing cities in the entire country. And that growth is fueled by people moving in. One study shows that only 2.9 percent of the local population was actually born here.

MAGGIE CARLTON, NEVADA STATE SENATE: We have a lot of transplants from California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona.

BLITZER: When she's not in the capital, Democratic State Senator Maggie Carlton waits tables on the strip. She knows that many of the new immigrants are anything but high rollers. They're service employees and union workers, voters willing to listen to Democratic candidates if they talk about the right issues.

CARLTON: They're kitchen table issues. You have to deal with traffic, you have to deal with not enough schools, you have to deal with the water issue and growth.

BLITZER: And national Democrats are listening. Their 2008 national convention will be in Denver instead of New York City, and Nevada has become a mandatory stop on the campaign trail.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: Nevada wants to have more say in who will become the next Democratic presidential candidate. The state has squeezed its caucus in between the Iowa caucuses and the first in the nation primary in New Hampshire. Nevada hopes it'll give many of its minority and union voters a louder voice in the process.

But will it?

And joining us now, the mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman.

Mr. Mayor, thanks very much for having us in your beautiful city.

MAYOR OSCAR GOODMAN (D), LAS VEGAS: It's great to have you here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Are you ready for this challenge?

Because, as you know, Nevada generally doesn't have such a high voter turnout. There's going to be a lot of people looking at your state. For the Democrats, it used to be Iowa and New Hampshire. All of a sudden Nevada comes up in between.

GOODMAN: Right. And we're ready for it. As a matter of fact, I just spoke to some folks this morning and they say that the interest in it has caused an awful lot of new registrations and people just can't wait for January the 9th of 2008.

BLITZER: Voter turnout in Nevada generally has not been as high as the rest of the country.

GOODMAN: Well, there's a reason for that, of course, because so many of the folks who come here are newcomers. We have a new person moving in every six minutes, into the Las Vegas area.

So, they haven't bothered to change their registration. They still think that they're from some place else. And then when they finally get here, they become part of the system.

BLITZER: Your friends in Iowa and New Hampshire not all that happy that all of a sudden Nevada is going to play an important early role in selecting the Democratic presidential nominee.

Let me read last year, David Yepsen, the columnist for the "Des Moines Register": "If Howard Dean and the Democratic National Committee want to turn to the land of gamblers and brothels for an early test of their candidates' strengths, maybe it's best to let them go ahead. Few may take it seriously."

GOODMAN: Well, you know, this is Americana here, because Las Vegas is a -- made up of many different fabrics. Nobody is born here, they say, which is not true anymore, of course.

But people come from all over. So this is a very good market. This is a test market for TV quiz shows and the like because they get a cross in the demography and the socioeconomics.

So this is a good test.

BLITZER: So what you're saying is this state may be more representative of the United States...

GOODMAN: Oh, absolutely.

BLITZER: ... as a whole, than Iowa or New Hampshire?

GOODMAN: I mean where's New Hampshire?

BLITZER: New Hampshire is up in the Northeast.

GOODMAN: No, no.

But I'm saying where's New Hampshire?

I mean with all due respect. Las Vegas and Nevada now, we're in everybody's eye. We're the darling, so to speak. And we have these folks coming in here. And this could -- this will very interesting.

BLITZER: Who do you like among these Democratic candidates?

GOODMAN: I like them all.

BLITZER: Do you want to endorse anyone?

GOODMAN: I'm going to wait and to see. I -- I've been asked to endorse, but I want to talk to everybody. I became friendly with many of the candidates when I was being romanced, so to speak, to run for the Senate. I went back there and met a lot of these folks. And they're good people.

I mean we've got some good choices.

BLITZER: Is the country ready for a woman like Hillary Clinton?

GOODMAN: Absolutely. And Nevada is ready for a woman. Nevada is ready for an African-American. We're very egalitarian here. There's no question that everybody has a shot. And they start off with a level playing field here.

BLITZER: Does Bill Richardson have a certain advantage because he's next door from New Mexico?

GOODMAN: No, I don't -- I like -- I like him very much. But I don't think he has an advantage. He may have a little bit of an advantage because of the ties with the Hispanic community. But I think everybody has to -- they have to pass the muster as far as impressing the folks at the caucus and prior to that time. They're supposed to be coming out this weekend and having a debate. And I hope that takes place. It may be canceled, for all intents and purposes, because of what's happening with Iran. But...

BLITZER: Because of the -- because of the vote in Washington on Iraq, you mean?

GOODMAN: Iraq. Pardon me.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the big issue here.

Nationwide, Iraq is dominating this debate right now.

What about here in Vegas?

GOODMAN: It used to be Yucca Mountain and the first thing the candidates have to do is they have to know how to pronounce Nevada, not say Nevada, because they'll lose half the people who live here. And don't say Yucca Mountain. It's Yucca Mountain, where the repository...

BLITZER: That's still a big issue here?

GOODMAN: It's a big issue. It's a big issue with those who live down here.

BLITZER: But what about the war in Iraq?

GOODMAN: I think the same as the rest of the country. I think that we're split. We -- nobody likes to see what's happening here. We've lost so many of our young men and women over there. I can't tell you how many funerals I've been to and how many families have come up to see me at city hall to talk about the issue.

I think it's going to weigh heavily on our constituents.

BLITZER: Do you -- and do you think any of the Democratic potential candidates has an advantage on this specific issue?

GOODMAN: I don't think anybody really has jumped out and hit anybody over the head so far with it. I think they're really going to have to take a very hard stand and be in the face of the president in order to get that kind of support.

BLITZER: What about the NBA All Star weekend?

It's the big game this weekend.

GOODMAN: It's...

BLITZER: You're -- you're anxious to get an NBA team in Vegas. The commissioner, David Stern, says, you know what?

That possible but you have to stop betting in Vegas on NBA games...

GOODMAN: Well...

BLITZER: ... and maybe that would happen.

GOODMAN: Well, I'm so happy because I had a meeting with the good commissioner on Tuesday. He came up to my office and we talked for about an hour and then spent the rest of the day together. And he has -- I'm not going to say he has weakened his stance on that, but I will tell you this, that he's thrown the ball in my court. He asked me to make a proposal.

We'll take it to the owners at their governor's meeting in April, April 23rd back in New York. And they'll make the decision. And I think that the gaming issue will really be a non-issue at the end of the day.

BLITZER: Will they stop gambling on NBA games here?

GOODMAN: No, I would never ask them to do that because I think it's good. I think gambling is good. I think... BLITZER: So how do you finesse that?

GOODMAN: I'm a smart guy. We'll do it.

BLITZER: Would you want to throw out an idea?

GOODMAN: Well, we had what was called the old UNLV rule, where you take the home team off of the boards and you allow bets on all of the rest of the games.

BLITZER: The University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

GOODMAN: Exactly. And I'm not even sure I want to go that far, but that's something that we're considering.

BLITZER: Mr. Mayor, thanks very much for coming in.

GOODMAN: It's great seeing you again.

BLITZER: And not just this weekend, but normally every weekend, Vegas is crowded with people hoping to strike it rich, and those gambling to become even richer. But the city wasn't always brimming with business.

One photo from back in 1973, shown here, shows the MGM Grand Hotel. You can see the hotel in the distance, but also plenty of undeveloped land.

Now, the Las Vegas strip in 1975, clearly more business sprouted up.

And here is Las Vegas strip now -- bustling with business, packed with people. Many people from around the world travel here for gambling, entertainment and relaxation.

Coming up, details now emerging of Anna Nicole Smith's will. It contains some surprising provisions likely to escalate the custody battle over her baby.

Plus, he sang at President Bush's first inauguration. Now Ricky Martin is changing his tune in a very graphic way.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Carol Costello.

She's got a closer look at some other important stories making news -- hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Wolf, those poor JetBlue passengers. JetBlue still dealing with flight cancellations and irate customers for a third straight day. Tomorrow, JetBlue canceled 97 of its 570 scheduled flights. On Wednesday, hundreds of passengers spent up to eight hours stranded on various planes because of bad weather. JetBlue says today's problems are the result of icy conditions and the backlog of stranded passengers and flight crews.

An Italian judge has indicted 35 suspected CIA agents and a U.S. Air Force officer in the alleged kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric who was under investigation for recruiting Islamist fighters. The cleric was abducted in Milan in 2003 and allegedly taken to Egypt, held there for four years and tortured. The indictment paves the way for Italy to put the Americans and several Italians on trial in June. But the Americans have all left Italy and insiders say it is unlikely they will be turned over for prosecution.

Ricky Martin was living la vida loco at President Bush's 2001 inaugural ball. He was the wildly popular headliner back then, but how times have changed. At a recent concert, Martin made an obscene gesture while singing about President Bush. Martin is defending that gesture, saying he was opposed to the Iraq War. He says he will always condemn war and those who promulgate it.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks, Carol, for that.

Coming up, controversy swirling in the NBA over anti-gay remarks. The commissioner, David Stern, taking dramatic action, but it's not over yet. I'll ask him what he plans to do next.

Plus, we'll have details of President Bush undergoing a medical procedure over at the White House.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, slamming the president's plan for Iraq. The House of Representatives has just passed a largely symbolic resolution rejecting Mr. Bush's plan for sending more U.S. troops to Iraq. The vote in the Democratically-controlled House, 246-182, 17 Republicans breaking ranks with their party to support the measure. Two Democrats broke ranks.

Also, a violent standoff in Iran. A bomb goes off at a girls' school in southeastern Iran. Then armed men opened fire on people on the scene. That's according to the Iranian media reports. Security forces reportedly have surrounded a house where they think the gunmen are hiding.

And President Bush has two moles removed from his face. It happened just a short while ago over at the White House. The five- minute procedure is described as routine. Doctors say both moles are benign.

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

Harsh words and strong reaction overshadowing this weekend's NBA all-star game here in Las Vegas.

CNN's Carol Costello is joining us now live in New York with details of the huge controversy raging right now over homophobia and professional sports -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Oh, it got really nasty really fast, Wolf. And it's spreading beyond pro basketball, where it started as one former player came out and another went off.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice over): John Amaechi never made the record books during his four-season NBC career, but he's making history now as the first former professional basketball player to openly say he's guy. He details his life in the sports closet in his autobiography, "Man in the Middle."

Reaction to the news was mixed and relatively muted until another former NBA player, Tim Hardaway, said this...

TIM HARDAWAY, FMR. NBA PLAYER: Well, you know -- you know, I hate gay people. So, you know, I let it be known. I don't like gay people. I don't like to be around gay people. I don't -- you know, I'm homophobic.

COSTELLO: Amaechi says he wasn't completely surprised by Hardaway's harsh remarks.

JOHN AMAECHI, FMR. NBA PLAYER: I was prepared through this process to hear some comments that I didn't like to hear.

COSTELLO: And Hardaway later apologized and apologized and apologized again today.

HARDAWAY: I'm very, very sorry about it. But, you know, a lot of people don't think so, but I am.

COSTELLO: But the damage has been done.

NBA commissioner David Stern banished Hardaway from the all-star weekend, saying his views are not consistent with the league's. And other current and former players are weighing in.

CHARLES BARKLEY, FMR. NBA PLAYER: But that's one of the stupidest things I've ever heard another person say. And especially coming from a black person.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It really is a lack of education.

COSTELLO: As for John Amaechi, he says pleased Hardaway was ousted from the all-star weekend, and he says he does not accept Hardaway's apology. AMAECHI: I think that his words of hate cannot be unsaid no matter how many apologies. The problem with his words is that they -- they ricochet around the corridors of schools, around workplaces, and make life ever more difficult for gay and lesbian people.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Amaechi is among only a handful of former professional athletes to come out. Everyone agrees there are certainly more gay pro athletes playing in every sport, but this controversy certainly shows why none has come out so far -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And there's clearly a shadow hanging over the NBA all- star weekend here in Vegas right now.

Carol, thank you.

The controversy already putting a very hot spotlight on the NBA as thousands of fans gather here in Las Vegas for this all-star weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joining us now in Las Vegas, the commissioner of the NBA, David Stern.

Commissioner, thanks very much for coming in.

DAVID STERN, NBA COMMISSIONER: Thanks very much for having me.

BLITZER: The timing is awful. I think it would have been awful anytime, but especially on the eve of the NBA all-star weekend here in Vegas.

Tim Hardaway saying this: "You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I'm homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States."

I mean, this is pretty shocking stuff.

STERN: It's not so shocking. Is it really?

BLITZER: You're not shocked?

STERN: No. Not...

BLITZER: That he would openly talk like that?

STERN: With respect to Tim, with respect to the fact that people have those views? It's not -- you know, for us, we believe we have to be leaders and social responsibility. And one of that leadership role includes talking about things like this.

And we now have the opportunity to get it out there and to say there were people that held views who hated Jews, blacks, Muslims, gays. You name any subcategory, and we have to deal with ignorant views on an ongoing basis.

BLITZER: Now, he's apologized for this. Is that enough?

STERN: Well, enough for what? I think it's good that he's apologized. He has to -- I think, anyone who holds views like that has to think about it, reexamine it, understand what changes there are going on in the world, and this gives us an opportunity to deal with that.

BLITZER: How prevalent is that view among the players in the NBA?

STERN: You know, to me, this is an issue that has driven America. There are constitutional amendments. There are local campaigns. There are presidential targetings and presidential campaigns.

To me, the issue is not how prevalent the view is amongst -- or the way a statement might be made by an NBA player who's 22 years old when someone sticks a mic in front of him. My guess is it's not very prevalent, but the opportunity here is to engage in another conversation. And if sports is the medium through which we engage in it, that's very good.

BLITZER: John Amaechi, the former NBA player who came out the other day and wrote a book announcing he's gay, he said this on Wednesday. He said, "I like David Stern, and we've spent time together talking about these issues. But to suggest the league is diverse when it is 80 percent black and zero percent openly gay, well, that is not diverse."

Do you want to react?

STERN: No. I mean, I guess he's right if the issue is just race. But the reality is, we're diverse in terms of our openness to all people, all countries, all, you know -- all, you know, orientations. And there you are.

BLITZER: But is there -- are there gay players in the NBA who are afraid to come out and talk about this because of the stigma?

STERN: I would say that there are lots of gay people in America and around the world who are not anxious to come out because of the stigma. And I wouldn't limit it to sports. And I think this is an issue where we're starting to get more comfortable as a society.

BLITZER: I know when you have new players coming into the league, you spend days with them helping them understand the pressures they're going to be under, the role model status that they're going to develop. Do you do sensitivity training to them on this issue, sensitivity to gays?

STERN: We do sensitivity training generally. Whatever it is that we've done, obviously, in coming sessions, we will be a little bit more focused on this issue because we're trying to help our players grow and understand how they may be looked to, to make statements, and they have to get in touch sort of with their own feelings on the subject, what's right, and how they can be helpful in the debate.

BLITZER: LeBron James said this. He said, "With teammates, you have to be trustworthy. And if you're gay and you're not admitting that you are, then you are not trustworthy."

He makes a -- he makes a point.

STERN: I don't think he makes a point. I mean, I think he's trying to be helpful in the debate, but if a person feels threatened by society and by the kind of publicity that is engendered -- here we are in THE SITUATION ROOM talking about the subject. Obviously you could understand somebody not wishing to come out.

BLITZER: Is this the situation like gays in the military, where there are close quarters -- the locker rooms in the NBA, these guys are all together. Is that an issue that is worrisome because of this -- this -- all of a sudden it's come up because of Tim Hardaway?

STERN: We'd have to have an hour for me to go and discuss that particular view with you. I don't think that that is going to change anything.

I think that the issue will ultimately become there will be people who are gay and people who are not gay. They'll be in the military. They'll be in NBA locker rooms. And hopefully we can focus on the fact that in the military, they're all members of the same team, ready to give their lives for their country.

And in the -- in a much less important pursuit, in the basketball game, they're teammates trying to win. I think that we shouldn't get carried away on the subject.

BLITZER: All right. You always have your hands full, Commissioner.

Thanks for spending a few moments with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

STERN: Thanks, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And still ahead, what and who is mentioned in Anna Nicole Smith's will? Her last will and testament was released today. We're going to have details.

And in Texas, an oil refinery burns. We're following the fire at the refinery that pumps more than 100,000 barrels a day. We'll have the latest on that as well.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from outside the Venetian hotel here in Las Vegas.

More on what's going on in Nevada. That's coming up. But let's go to some other news we're following.

It contains her dying wishes. Today Anna Nicole Smith's will was released.

Our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, is joining us from Fort Lauderdale with details.

Susan, what did we -- what does this will tell us?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the will seems to raise more questions than answers, actually. We know that it was written in 2001. And in it, not surprisingly, Anna Nicole Smith left all of her estate to her son Daniel.

But he's dead, of course. He died in September of an overdose. Except this -- she adds in the will that she omits leaving anything to any future children.

So some experts say this means that the will, in effect, is null and void. Of course, it will be contested in court.

BLITZER: And what has happened with -- with the body, the embalming process, specifically, Susan? What do we know about that?

CANDIOTTI: Well, it was supposed to begin, that process, this afternoon. The judge saying finally we will begin to let her rest in peace. But there was a delay because the funeral home, I am told by the medical examiner, was balking at the confidentiality agreement that the court and the attorneys wanted the home to sign. So therefore, reportedly, the process will begin, but not until tomorrow morning.

BLITZER: Enormous legal maneuverings going on.

Thanks, Susan, for that.

Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour.

Lou, what are you working on?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you very much. You look good out there in Vegas. Put $10 on black for me.

Coming tonight at 6:00 Eastern, more evidence of a Justice Department cover-up in the case of two U.S. Border Patrol agents sent to prison for shooting an illegal alien drug runner from Mexico.

What is this government trying to hide from us and why?

Also tonight, serious blunders within the Department of Homeland Security. Lack of oversight of contractors and shaky financial policies among the issues. And every day, an estimated 13,000 of our children and teenagers take their first drink. And every new drinker is a new customer for alcoholic beverage companies.

We'll have that special report on the war within and all of the day's news coming up in just a few moments. We hope you'll be with us.

Wolf, back to you in lovely Las Vegas.

BLITZER: Lou, before -- I'll get you $10 on black, Lou. But before I let you go, a quick thought from you on what the House of Representatives did today in passing this resolution critical of the president's plan to send more troops into Iraq?

DOBBS: Well, a non-binding resolution, it's an important symbolic gesture. It is hardly, however, a surprising gesture for the president. At issue now will be the direction to be taken by the Senate as well and the influence that will have over this administration in future policy in Iraq.

As you know well, Wolf, we are sitting, at this situation, four years into this, almost four years, without a clear, articulated strategy, without a clear, articulated mission for our troops, and much has to be answered. I hope with this nonbinding resolution, one likely to pass in the Senate, that we also hear a real debate about the possible policy options and the consequences of those options taken.

BLITZER: Do you think John McCain should make it back into Washington tomorrow for the vote in the Senate? He's apparently the only senator who's running for the presidency who's not going to be there.

DOBBS: Well, that's a question of his conscience, and it's a question of conscience that's going to hit every one of these people seeking to win their party's nomination for president. It's confounding to me that anyone in public office can devote more time to a candidacy for a job and an election two years hence than to the nation's business in the present day.

BLITZER: Lou, we'll be watching your show in a few minutes at the top of the hour.

Lou, thanks very much.

Today North Koreans are throwing a party. Several, actually. Thousands dancing in public in Pyongyang. Others threw a banquet. And there are arts performers and exhibitions across the country.

All of it honoring the birthday of the man followers call the "invincible, brilliant commander." That would be the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Il.

He's believed to be 65 years old. We don't know for sure. His birthday is one of the most important national holidays in that country.

Normally North Koreans receive extra food and other benefits on national holidays. But it's unclear if people will get that this year given the chronic food shortages. Not enough food, but apparently enough money to build nuclear bombs.

Up ahead in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. I'll speak with him about the war in Iraq and more.

And plan of attack. There's a new al Qaeda video showing terrorists planning their work and allegedly working their vicious plan. We're going to have details of that.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Final preparations now being made for a NASA rocket that will launch only moments from now. This is a live picture. Check it out from Cape Canaveral. The mission will study the colorful phenomenon known as the Northern Lights, hoping to protect future astronauts and spacecraft from dangerous solar storms.

Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, is standing by with more -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: That's right, Wolf, we are just minutes away from the Stemis mission launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida. And what NASA's going to do is launch a rocket into space with five different satellites inside.

This is animation of what this will look like. They say this is the first time that they've ever launched this many satellites in one rocket.

Now, what they'll do is they'll release simultaneously into each of their individual orbits. And then they're going to work together to study these storms that cause the colorful sky displays that we know as the Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis.

If you want to learn more about this mission, you can go on to NASA's Web site. They have images there of the northern lights as well. And you can watch the launch, again, just minutes from now on NASA TV on nasa.gov -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you for that, Jacki.

Let's go to New York and Carol Costello. She's watching some other important stories making news -- Carol.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Up next, Jack Cafferty wants to know this: Would Senator John McCain be making a mistake if he misses tomorrow's vote on the Iraq resolution? Jack with "The Cafferty File" when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

In Gaza City, a mass Palestinian militant leaps from a truck as he and others take part in a training display.

In Baghdad, a boy leans on his father as a reads a pamphlet from the U.S. military seeking help finding insurgents.

In northern Germany, two wild stallions frolic in a pasture before they're corralled.

And in Spain, a model displays a new design during a fashion show.

Some of this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth a thousand words.

Let's go back to Jack in New York -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Senator Harry Reid has called a rare Saturday session for the United States Senate tomorrow at which time he hopes to have a vote on the Iraq war resolution. Virtually all of the presidential contenders are planning to attend, save one. John McCain plans to be in Chicago tonight, Iowa tomorrow, and doesn't plan to be in attendance to cast his vote on the resolution.

So we asked if you thought that would be a mistake.

Bob in Florida writes, "John McCain has been making nothing but mistakes ever since he lost the presidential nomination and then hugged President Bush. How pathetic. So missing this vote just adds another hole to his political boat."

Timothy in Gainesville, Florida, "What happened to the maverick John McCain that we all knew and thought we loved? I'm a lifelong Democrat, and I considered voting for him. This is why I don't hold Obama's inexperience against him. McCain has become what we all hate about beltway politics. He's now the establishment."

Brian in Shelby Township, Michigan, "Jack, the senior senator from Arizona should concentrate on his responsibilities as a senator, if for no other reason that Rudy" -- as in Rudolph Giuliani -- "is pulling away from him in the polls for the Republican presidential nomination and is likely to be the nominee no matter what McCain does or doesn't do."

John and Carol in Michigan write, "It sounds to us like John McCain is cutting and running from the vote on Iraq." Richard in Phoenix, "No, everybody knows John McCain stands 100 percent behind the president's Iraq policy. He can't run away or hide from that, not even in Iowa."

B. writes in Alexandria, Virginia, "No, Jack, it doesn't matter if weather-vane McCain votes on the issue or not. He would flip-flop a dozen times regardless of his decision tomorrow. He should be thinking of retirement, not the presidential election."

And finally, Phil writes from Round Pond, Maine -- presumably named that because there must be a round pond in the area -- "McCain's job is to work for us, not to seek his coronation. He should get his hind quarter to D.C. on Saturday and vote."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, where you can read more of these online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

We'll be back here outside the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas in one hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Much more coming up with John Edwards. He'll be among our guests.

In the meantime, let's go back to Lou in New York.

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

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