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Bush Fires Back at Congressional Democrats; Interview With John Edwards

Aired April 3, 2007 - 19:00   ET


Happening now, President Bush fires back at Democrats in Congress, accusing them of a dangerous political dance, but is he stepping on risky ground himself in the showdown over the Iraq war funding.

Also this hour, our eye-popping new presidential poll from New Hampshire, one Democrat slips, another surges. I'll ask John Edwards for his take on his role in the shake-up in the "Granite State".

And the House speaker in Syria, flying in the face of the president's wishes -- tonight, the reaction to Nancy Pelosi's controversial trip from Damascus and from Mr. Bush.

Wolf Blitzer's off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, the political blame game over Iraq keeps getting hotter. President Bush is warning Democrats that any delay in war funding and any risk to the troops will be their fault. This a day after the Senate majority leader threatened a vote to cut off most of the war funding if Mr. Bush vetoes legislation that includes a deadline for withdrawal.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bottom line is this; Congress' failure to fund our troops on the frontlines will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the frontlines. And others could see their loved ones headed back to the war sooner than they need to. It is unacceptable to me, and I believe it is unacceptable to the American people.


MALVEAUX: Our White House correspondent Ed Henry and our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel are both here. Ed, obviously, when the White House is entrenched they put out the president for good P.R. points, but what is the strategy tonight?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, their strategy is bottom line, they think the Democrats are overreaching here. They think that Harry Reid has gone back on his word. If you remember right after the last election, what you heard from Harry Reid and other Democratic leaders is that they were going to turn the heat on the president now that they were in control of Congress, but that they would stop short of actually cutting off funding for the war.

What the president believes is that the Democrats have overstepped here. That while obviously the president not popular right now, the war's not popular, that it's too much to cut off funding for the troops. They think there's a political vulnerability there, some flip-flopping among the Democrats but the Democrats are emboldened here as well.

Harry Reid believes when you talk to his office that a lot has changed since Harry Reid made those communities after the election about not cutting off funding. That the situation has only deteriorated. You obviously heard just the opposite from the president in the Rose Garden today.

He insists that it just needs more time. Things are getting better on the ground. We'll find out who is right, but the bottom line is that both sides are digging in much deeper tonight, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK and let's listen to the pushback against the president today, this from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: He should become in tune with the fact that he is president of the United States, not king of the United States. And he has another branch of government, namely the legislative branch of government that he has to deal with.


MALVEAUX: So, he is saying he doesn't have imperial power here. Andrea, what's the Democrats' strategy?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The strategy, Suzanne, is quite simple, you don't give an inch. In fact, you go on the attack. That was this rapid reaction, q-and-a that you saw today in Nevada from Harry Reid, the same strategy the Democrats adopted before the elections in November. They are not going to give any ground on this. In fact, they're going to try to put the White House and the president on defense.

MALVEAUX: Thanks to Andrea Koppel and Ed Henry.

And meanwhile, how might this war fund battle affect efforts to calm Iraq's cauldron of violence. Earlier I spoke with CNN's Michael Ware in Baghdad who's covered this war since it began.

Thanks for joining us, Michael. Now, obviously, Congress as well as the administration they're at loggerheads over whether or not the troops should withdraw, whether or not they should withdraw funds as well and we've heard from the vice president, Cheney and President Bush saying, look, this emboldens the insurgents here. Do they pay any attention to this at all? Is that even true? MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what I can tell you from the outset, Suzanne, is, say, for example, by some bizarre political miracle, Congress was able to impose a real timeline, a real deadline on the U.S. presence here or on the funding for the war here, now, that absolutely would play completely into the hands of America's identified enemies, al Qaeda in Iran. That would be handing the entire advantage to them.

That's why that can never really happen. But in terms of the broader debate, in terms of, you know, taking the temperature of the American mood, of the American public, adhering to what's going on in Congress, looking at the congressional elections, absolutely do the insurgents, do al Qaeda and does Iran and its proxy organizations in Iraq pay attention? Yes, for sure -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Do you think the president as well as the vice president then are actually correct, they're accurate, when they describe to the American people, saying, look, all of this infighting is weakening our position overseas, specifically in Baghdad?

WARE: Oh, absolutely. I mean, it's very clear, it's been evident since the mid-term elections that America is in a period of strategic malaise. Essentially, America does not have one lock-solid strategy. There's no one clear way forward to U.S. victory. There's a lot of infighting.

There's a lot of debate. Now, in a pluralist democracy, that's seen as a healthy thing, but when you're fighting a war, you want a clear and concise direction. You want everyone on the same page and you want your enemy to know that you shalt not falter. Now, that's precisely the opposite message that America is sending to its opponents here in the region and, quite frankly, that's why America's rivals in the Middle East are becoming so much stronger and the concept of American empire or American presence is becoming so much weaker.

MALVEAUX: Thank you very much, Michael Ware from Baghdad.

And Jack Cafferty joining us now from New York -- Jack, what do you have on your plate?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Here's a bit of a surprise. Republican presidential wannabe Mitt Romney is the top fund-raiser in his party so far. He's raised almost $21 million in the first quarter of this year. That puts him in that rarefied atmosphere where people like Hillary Clinton reside.

He leads former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani who raised just 14 million and Arizona Senator John McCain who raised 12.5 million. Romney credits his fund-raising lead to his message. He says it's connecting with the American people. But the fact is the former Massachusetts governor ranks far behind Giuliani and McCain in the polls.

There are reports that Romney tapped into heavy hitters, Wall Street and the Mormon Church, to collect his bucks. Wall Street is expected to contribute heavily to all the GOP front-runners because Wall Street has a vested interest in having a Republican in the White House. No surprise there.

And, of course, the Mormon Church is going to support one of its own. But in the grand scheme of things, Wall Street and the Mormon Church alone are not enough to determine the outcome of the next presidential election and in fact, before it's over, Romney's religion could turn out to be more of a liability than an asset when it comes to winning the White House, so here's the question.

What does it mean if Mitt Romney is first in fund-raising but no higher in third in popularity among the Republican candidates for president? E-mail us at or go to -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: It'll be very interesting to see the outcome. Thanks, Jack.

And coming up, he suggests if President Bush is looking for someone to blame for the war funding impasse, he should try to look in the mirror.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I think is the president's dead wrong. He's just dead wrong.


MALVEAUX: John Edwards is blasting the man he hopes to replace. Edwards will be here to talk with me.

Also, since when is coming in first place not good enough? A look at Hillary Clinton's raise to blow out her campaign rivals.

And the speaker of the House flies in the face of the White House. She defied the president's wishes and met with some controversial Middle Eastern leaders.


MALVEAUX: Tonight, surprising new turns and tightening in the Democratic presidential race. We have a brand-new CNN/WMUR poll from the lead-off primary state of New Hampshire. John Edwards has narrowly squeezed into second place in the survey of Democratic primary voters conducted by the University of New Hampshire.

Hillary Clinton now stands at 27 percent. Edwards is at 21 percent. Barack Obama has 20 percent. Al Gore gets 11 percent even though he's not running. Since our poll in February, Clinton has lost eight points, Edwards has gained five points, and Obama has held relatively steady.

Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is in New Hampshire covering Senator Obama's visit there. Candy, we see this race tightening. Why is this happening? CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think if you just look at the map, what you find is that John Edwards has gone up five points and Al Gore has gone up three, Hillary Clinton's lost eight, so all of the support for those two men is coming from Hillary Clinton. Why? Well, in the past month, what have we seen?

We've seen the Oscars, where Al Gore's film won an Oscar and we've seen John Edwards out there with his wife, Elizabeth, talking about his cancer. What happens is that voters look up, they're reminded of who these candidates are and the poll shifts.

MALVEAUX: And, Candy, the Obama campaign, still no estimates on how much they're raising. Why the delay here?

CROWLEY: Well, the delay is really sort of to keep the intrigue up. They say, well, we're still counting. I seriously doubt they're still counting. If they are, it might be bigger than the 20 million than that "The New York Times" is reporting that they will say they have. Nonetheless, this sort of gives Barack Obama a chance to have the headlines for himself. If he came out on the same day Hillary Clinton came out when she said I've got 26 million, if he came out and said I had 20 million, it doesn't look quite as good as when you roll it out a couple of days later.

MALVEAUX: So you think they're kind of playing us a little bit here?

CROWLEY: Hardly ever happens, right Suzanne? Yes, just a little bit.

MALVEAUX: I apologize for mispronouncing your name, Candy Crowley.


MALVEAUX: OK, thanks.

Meanwhile, what could be better than coming in first place? That's what some are asking about Senator Hillary Clinton's record- setting fund-raising total. Our Mary Snow is in New York.

Mary, just as the campaign celebrates the fund-raising best, it looks like it could get even better.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Suzanne. And, you know, just all, everybody agrees that it is an impressive amount, but what some experts say is not so -- it's not so large of an amount that it will discourage support for other candidates.


SNOW (voice-over): She smashed the record, raising $26 million in the first quarter put Senator Hillary Clinton in the lead of the money race for the White House. That's on top of another 10 million she carried over from her Senate election in New York. So, why, with all that money, does she still have to look over her shoulder? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's impressive but it's not the knockout blow that they had planned.

SNOW: If raising $26 million in three months is not a knockout blow, you know we're in for a tough race. Newcomer Senator Barack Obama has reportedly raised 20 million, though his official numbers aren't out yet. Former Senator John Edwards isn't far behind with 14 million -- Senator Clinton's take on the competition.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's a real tribute to the American people and particularly to Democrats across our country that there's so much enthusiasm and energy behind this election already.

SNOW: But some political strategists say the biggest goal of bringing in lots of early cash is to convince contributors there's really only one good bet for their party, just like Al Gore and George Bush accomplished in 2000.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: That money had an impact. It convinced the big players in their parties that if they wanted to back a winner, they better get behind either Gore or Bush.

SNOW: This time given how many candidates are raising big money, the big players may have to hedge their bets.

THOMAS MANN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: This is not a coronation. This is a competitive contest for the nomination.


SNOW: The big question now is, can these candidates keep raising cash at the same pace for the next quarter? Some analysts say don't bet against it, given some of the surprises that we've already seen -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And Mary, why such high expectations? Do we think it's because of the "Bill" factor here? Is she ever going to be able to reach those expectations?

SNOW: Suzanne, Bill Clinton is certainly one of the big reasons why the expectations were so high and certainly, when he was campaigning for her in this first quarter, it was closely watched and certainly, whether or not they can keep up the momentum is the big question because this is really uncharted territory given all these candidates in the race.

MALVEAUX: Absolutely, thank you, Mary Snow.

Up ahead tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM, new developments regarding the standoff between Britain and Iran over those British marines still being held -- might Britain be a step closer to securing their release?

And parallels between this war and Vietnam -- is history repeating itself? Our Brian Todd has some fascinating insights. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Our Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Carol, you've got a lot on your plate. What are you seeing?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Have it right here, Suzanne. Efforts to secure the release of 15 British marines and sailors held in Iran have taken a fresh turn. Prime Minister Tony Blair's office says British officials have spoken with the chief Iranian negotiator and have urged direct talks to end the dispute. Iran has held the 15 British captives for 12 days now. The military personnel were seized by Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf on March 23 while patrolling for smugglers.

It is a story we've been following today just a little too close to home. We now know who was killed in a shooting just outside the Newsroom this afternoon. She was 22-year-old hotel worker Clara Riddles. Police say her alleged killer shot her during an argument at the CNN Center in Atlanta. A Turner security officer then shot the man. The hospital lists him in severely critical condition.

Also in Atlanta, the estate of Martin Luther King Jr. hopes to forestall the sale of a set of papers written by the slain civil rights leader. The faded green folder containing letters, notes and speeches is set to be auctioned off in two weeks. A woman said she received the papers in a debt settlement with a radio station nearly 40 years ago. The collection has not been authenticated.

A French train has broken the world's speed record for conventional rail trains. The black and chrome V150 equipped with a 25,000 horsepower engine flew on the tracks through the French countryside today at 357.2 miles per hour. It did not break the ultimate record though set by a magnetically levitated Japanese train back in 2003. That train went at the breathtaking speed of 361 miles an hour. That's a fast train, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Carol, we're going to get on that V-150, you and I. At some point in our lives, we're going to take that ride.

COSTELLO: We could and you're in Washington and I'm in New York, we could have dinner and then get back to work in time if we had that train.

MALVEAUX: Yes, like a one-minute commute or something. OK, thanks, Carol.

Just ahead, calling on Congress to get even tougher with President Bush.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This president has to be forced to change course. The Democratically-controlled Congress can do that. He's made mistake after mistake after mistake and he has to be stopped.


MALVEAUX: Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. Is he challenging Democrat Hillary Clinton for front-runner status? My one- on-one interview with Edwards is coming up.

Plus, the "Law and Order" factor -- if Fred Thompson jumps into the presidential ring, you might be seeing less of him on one of TV's most popular shows.

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



Happening now, President Bush calling on Americans to break what he calls their addiction to oil. He's urging Congress to pass mandatory fuel standards he's proposing, saying they would cut gas consumption 20 percent over 10 years.

Also, a sign of success for the U.S. troop increase in Baghdad. Officials there easing the curfew by two hours citing improved security. Iraqis can now stay on the streets of the capital until 10:00 each night.

And is Pakistan's capital the biggest rally yet protesting the removal of the country's chief justice. Four thousand people demonstrating against the move by President Pervez Musharraf with similar protests held across the country.

Wolf Blitzer's off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

If Congress does cut funding for the war, how would it impact troops already in Iraq? CNN's Brian Todd, of course, has been investigating that. There are a lot of numbers they're throwing around. What are you finding?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, for a few months, analysts say the troops should be able to fight like they are now. After that, it could be crunch time.


TODD (voice-over): If the money keeps getting delayed, military analysts say the first to feel the pinch will be those inside the Pentagon. Travel, contract work, other nonessentials, would be slashed. In an internal memo obtained by CNN, the Army Budget Office tells managers to get ready for that. But how would it eventually affect combat operations? Analysts say one scenario from the president is most realistic.

BUSH: Some of the forces now deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq may need to be extended because other units are not ready to take their places. LT. COL. ROBERT MAGINNIS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): We're going to cut back in training in this country, perhaps except for those units that might be on their way immediately to the battlefield. It does begin to drain you, physically as well as emotionally and, of course, you have to look at retention and stats.

TODD: And troops could feel another crunch.

BUSH: The Army will be forced to consider cutting back on equipment, equipment repair.

MAGINNIS: We don't have enough equipment to do what we're trying to do and so, as a result, we're trying to gin up as many as of the depots to put out as fast as they can working 24/7 all that equipment so it can go back.

TODD: But on one presidential prediction...

BUSH: The Army may also have to delay the formation of new brigade combat teams.

TODD: Analysts say that likely wouldn't happen immediately. If no new money comes in, an independent research arm of Congress says cash could be shifted around and commanders could run their combat operations until the end of July.


TODD: After that, the predictions get more dire. Two military analysts, retired officers who have dealt with these kinds of crunches, say a worse-case scenario is that commanders on the ground don't have the ammunition, gas and other crucial supplies to actually pursue the enemy -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Brian, thanks so much.

And the bottom line, political and military leaders are saying different things about when troops might feel the pinch without new war funding legislation. President Bush said today that by mid-April, the Army will be forced to consider cutting back on equipment and training among other things. Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace sees an even bigger crunch by mid-May with tours of duty possibly extended for troops now in Iraq.

But the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service estimates the Army has enough budget flexibility to pay for military operations through July. The Bush administration has blasted Congress for going on spring break while that war funding is still in limbo. But Mr. Bush is planning some downtime of his own in Texas. I asked Deputy White House Press Secretary Dana Perino about that.

Why should the American people, Dana, believe that the White House, picture the White House line here, that this is a fight between the Democrats and the troops in that if their legislation doesn't pass, somehow they -- they are not providing for the troops? It's ultimately the president who's going to veto that bill. DANA PERINO, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have told them for many weeks that the path they were going down was going to meet the president's veto.


MALVEAUX: So is he not the one who's actually denying the troops that money?

PERINO: Absolutely not.

MALVEAUX: He's the one who's putting that veto...

PERINO: Absolutely not. They have cobbled together these votes using mandatory withdrawal dates, which just tells the enemy exactly when we're going to leave so they can plot and plan. It mandates the failure of our troops. It -- they had to go and sell peanut storage and spinach growers' votes in order to cobble together a bear majority.

This president is standing on the side of the troops. He is the one who has gotten the money for them in the past and all he's asking for is that if they want to have other votes regarding peanut storage and spinach growers, have that in the typical budget process, a parallel process going on right now.

MALVEAUX: You're saying if he strips away the extras, he'll go ahead and sign onto the bill.

PERINO: The president said he wants the money to the troops in full, on time and without strings attach and that includes not handcuffing our generals on the ground.

MALVEAUX: Let's take a listen real quick to what majority leader Reid, what he said earlier today.


SEN. HARRY REID, (D) MAJORITY LEADER: We're not going to allow the president to continue failed policy in Iraq. We represent the American people's view on this failed war and we're going to continue to put pressure on the president so he will change course in this war that has been so bad for the American people.


MALVEAUX: Dana, the president uses the line often. He says, look, this is something that he -- the, members of Congress are going against the generals here. It's the will of Congress versus the will of the generals.

But members of Congress, if you listen to them, are saying, we reflect and we're reflecting the will of the people, the will of the American people, when you look at all the polls, they say they don't want to be in Iraq, they want to get out. Does the president understand that members of Congress are taking their message of the people, not necessarily going up against the generals here?

PERINO: I believe that Senator Reid's comments defy common sense.

MALVEAUX: Dana, the president emphasized earlier today a sense of urgency, getting that bill to his desk he is going to veto, then we move on to the next part of the process here. Why is the president going to Crawford? He's going on vacation. Members of Congress are on vacation. Why not call them back and say, look, let's get this done now.

PERINO: Members of Congress had plenty of notice that they were going to have to work on a bill the president could sign and they decided to leave town without even appoint being conferees. The president is taking a short weekend break at Crawford, but he's here working, he's been here working all week and he'll been working throughout the weekend.

As you know, Suzanne, and you've been there many times, those are working trips and the president is more than willing to talk to them.


MALVEAUX: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is now in Damascus flying in the face of the White House which accuses her of sending mixed signals with her mission to Syria. Pelosi's very controversial meeting with President Bashar al-Assad is now just hours away.

CNN's senior international correspondent Brent Sadler, of course, there. What is the latest report?

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Suzanne, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi touched off a political firestorm in Washington when she touched down here in Syria, drawing a strong rebuke from President George W. Bush, who lashed out at what he calls the minced signals a visit by such a high-ranking U.S. official sends to the Syrian leadership, a state sponsor of terror.

As the political heat intensified, Pelosi stuck to her agenda, shrugging off the tirade of White House condemnation, calling the mission instead an excellent idea. And heading straight for an ancient neighborhood of the Syrian capital.

She did what most visitors do here, browse the markets and toured the magnificent 1,300-year-old Umayyad mosque. Speaker Pelosi is not here to negotiate but to listen, she says, and gather facts to step up diplomatic dialogue with Syria regardless of what her opponents in the White House have to say, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Brent Sadler in Damascus. Pelosi is heading a bipartisan House delegation that includes Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim ever elected to Congress and one Republican, David Hobson, of Ohio.

Up ahead tonight, some Republicans think he's their best hope in '08 but a run for the White House by Fred Thompson could hurt his acting career. We'll explain.

Plus, a dramatic change in poll position in two key states. One presidential candidate surging ahead with new momentum. I'll talk about all that with John Edwards. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: Happening now, Democratic candidate John Edwards is holding a town hall meeting in Iowa. Dramatic changes in the Democratic race for the White House in a key primary state.

Take a look at this CNN/WMUR New Hampshire presidential primary poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire. It shows Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton losing ground but still in the lead. John Edwards is second but neck and neck with Barack Obama. And Al Gore, who's not even running, in fourth. So what does Edwards make of his new momentum?


MALVEAUX: Senator John Edwards. Thanks so much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Now a lot of people have really set up this race as one Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama but these poll numbers show you second to Hillary Clinton and neck and neck with Obama.

If Hillary Clinton and her folks are watching now and they see these poll numbers, what is the message you have for her today?

JOHN EDWARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, it's the same message I would have to anybody. I think it's pretty clear that this is a very competitive race. I've been moving up. We have some momentum now. I'm ahead in Iowa according to the public polls. I'm obviously right in the thick of things in New Hampshire. We have moved up significantly there.

So I think this is going to be a serious race where voters get a chance to look at the differences in our positions and our personal characteristics to be president.

MALVEAUX: Do you think the media has essentially written you off as number three a little bit too soon here? Because it looks like we've got a three way race and you're just climbing up close to Clinton.

EDWARDS: Oh, I think it would be a foolish mistake to write anybody off. We're very early in the campaign. I started in a strong place. We had a great fundraising quarter. I'm ahead in Iowa which is the place of the first caucus. Right in the midst of things, obviously, in New Hampshire and we've moved up there.

So I'm out there talking about the things that matter. Real, universal health care plan, changing the way we use energy and a real plan to get out of Iraq. MALVEAUX: And obviously another thing that matters to the American people is Iraq. Let's take a listen at what President Bush said today.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: Congress' most basic responsibility is to give our troops the equipment and training they need to fight our enemies and protect our nation and they're failing in that responsibility. And if they do not change course in the coming weeks, the price of that failure will be paid by our troops and their loved ones.

MALVEAUX: Now Senator Reid has actually gone as far as saying that he would support cutting off most funding for the Iraq War if the original legislation is vetoed. Do you think that that's gone too far? Should Senator Reid cool it at this point?

EDWARDS: No. What I think is the president is dead wrong. He is just dead wrong. He is just dead wrong. If the president vetoes the bill that provides funding for the troops, that President Bush is not providing support and funding for the troops because he is the one who stopped the funding and I think it's the responsibility of the Congress if he does that to stand firm, stand strong, send him another bill that provides funding for the troops by provides to start bringing the troops home.

That's what Congress should be doing. They should be strong.

MALVEAUX: So would you support Senator Reid's bill if it came to the president, if it came to Congress, saying we're not going to support most of the funding for the Iraq War, as he has suggested.

EDWARDS: I tell you what I support. What I support is sending a bill to the president that provides for a drawdown of the troops of Iraq.

If the president vetoes that bill, I would send him another bill that provides for a drawdown of the troops in Iraq. This president has to be forced to change course. The Democratically-controlled Congress can do that. He has made mistake after mistake after mistake and he has to be stopped and we have to be strong.

MALVEAUX: So you would not support Senator Reid's bill cutting off most of the funding for Iraq?

EDWARDS: I can't tell from the way you're describing it and from the description I've heard enough about the specifics. I think that what we ought to be doing is standing firm, standing strong and forcing this president to start drawing down troops.

MALVEAUX: I want to go to Syria here. As you know, Speaker Pelosi is in Syria. She is not traveling in any official capacity. She has no negotiating power. Some people look at this as simply political theater. A stunt.

Do you think that's right?

EDWARDS: I think that what America should be doing on the issue of Iraq is dealing directly with both the Syrians and the Iranians.

And I don't know precisely what Speaker Pelosi is going to do in Syria but we as a nation should be engaged with both the Iranians and the Syrians directly and to help him stabilize Iraq. Both countries have an interest in a stable Iraq. They don't want refugees coming across their border. They don't want economic instability and they don't want to see a broader Middle East conflict.

And I think it make sense to not - on some ideological basis not deal with them but to engage with both of them directly.

MALVEAUX: You're doing well in terms of poll numbers. You're also doing well in terms of fundraising.

How much of this do you think is the result of you being so forthcoming and all the well-wishes that have been given to your wife's recovery?

EDWARDS: Oh, I don't have any way of knowing that.

I suspect that there's been a lot of attention. I think people take their vote for president very, very seriously and I think a lot of what the attention has been is they've looked at both the things I want to do as president and looked at me and Elizabeth as human beings and made judgments and I suspect it's the result of that. Time will tell.

MALVEAUX: Thank you very much, Senator Edwards.

EDWARDS: Thanks for having me.


MALVEAUX: And there is more good news for Edwards in Iowa. White House -- sorry, whose early caucuses are key to every campaign. A University of Iowa poll shows Edwards at the top of the Democratic pack among likely Democratic caucus-goers with 34 percent leading Hillary Rodham Clinton and well ahead of Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, it may be just the political price of fame. If Fred Thompson decides to run for president, the "Law and Order" actor may have to deal with less TV time.

Our Carol Costello in New York, how would that impact the character that we see on television if he decides to make a run for it?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the character, Suzanne, just might go away. And that may not be good for Thompson. I mean, how many really remember his eight years in the Senate? But I'll bet you know him as the D.A. of Manhattan.


FRED THOMPSON, ACTOR AND FORMER SENATOR: She had an accomplice. COSTELLO (voice over): Some say Fred Thompson has that intangible thing, that no-nonsense, get-it-done persona he so effectively exudes on TV's "Law & Order".

THOMPSON: And accomplice means it's a game (ph).

COSTELLO: And some say his fictional D.A., Arthur Branch, is one of his strongest campaign tools.

MCCAIN: I often said, if I had his voice, I'd be president of the United States today.

COSTELLO: So, you've got to wonder, if Fred Thompson decides to run for president, how would his opponents feel about those "Law & Order" reruns seen by millions of Americans?

ANDREW JAY SCHWARTZMAN, PRESIDENT, MEDIA ACCESS PROJECT: Whenever there is a recognizable appearance on an over-the-air television station by a candidate for public office, the law applies, and equal time has to be given if opposing candidates request it.

COSTELLO: It happened to Ronald Reagan's campaign. It happened to "The Terminator". It even happened to Al Sharpton.

AL SHARPTON, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The real Al Sharpton, President Al Sharpton.

COSTELLO: Each one fell victim to the FCC's equal time provision. So, what about Thompson? There are nearly 400 "Law & Order" episodes that have already aired on NBC, with 109 featuring Fred Thompson as D.A. Branch, as well as his appearances in other "Law & Order" spin-offs.

If anyone of those episodes airs on NBC, the other candidates can request equal time. Or NBC can yank those episodes off the air. But, if they appear on cable, that's a little murkier.

SCHWARTZMAN: Cable operators are under no obligation to pull programming that appears on the satellite-delivered channels where "Law & Order" would appear.

COSTELLO: And that would leave those battling a possible Thompson run with few options -- petition the FCC, or take the battle to court, or hope that cable operators voluntarily pull those up episodes as California cable systems did when Arnold Schwarzenegger was running for office.


COSTELLO (on camera): Just a final thought. In the case of Reagan, Schwarzenegger and Sharpton, the networks decided not to air the shows rather than getting bogged down with providing equal time to other candidates.


MALVEAUX: So how would this equal time situation work if they said that's what we want?

COSTELLO: That's really kind of strange. Let's say Fred Thompson appears as the Manhattan D.A. in an episode of "Law and Order" for a minute and five seconds. Well, opposing candidates could request of NBC that they also be shown on the network for 1:05. So you can see why the networks often opt just to drop the programs and not have to deal with all of that.

MALVEAUX: OK. Great, Carol Costello, thanks for explaining it all.

Up ahead, the doubts and decisions of the Vietnam War era. Are there echoes in the past of the debate over today's Iraq War. A new look behind the scenes of a White House at war.

And next, "The Cafferty File." Jack Cafferty wants to know, what does it mean if Mitt Romney is first in fund-raising but no higher than third in popularity among Republican presidential candidates? Jack will have your e-mails. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: Jack Cafferty in New York. What are those e-mails saying, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Well, before we get to those, I made a mistake, Suzanne. Earlier in the program I said Mitt Romney had raised lots of money from the Mormon Church. I should have said members of the Mormon Church. The church itself does not contribute to political campaigns. I knew that, I just screwed up.

The question we did ask though is what does it mean if Mitt Romney is first in fund-raising but no higher than third in popularity among Republican presidential candidates?

Joe in Delaware writes, "It means he has got a lot of rich friends and that could be a problem if he's ever elected."

Doug in California. "If Romney has raised the most money but is still third in the polls it might mean that for a change money is not everything in the presidential election. It may finally mean the people decide the outcome, not big business. Let's just hope."

Ehh -

Richard in Ohio writes, "It means Republicans still don't have a candidate that appeals to their base. Fundraising means nothing if you can't be elected."

Ted in Texas. "He is very much a special interests Republican presidential candidate."

Jack in Cincinnati. "Hopefully it means some of the right wing's heavy funding will be diverted in the primaries and will be a little thinner by the time the Republicans pick someone else to run for the White House." Linda in Arkansas. "I'd say that it indicates that some big folks think that investing in Romney is a good investment in protecting the turf they have gained under Bush."

Paul in Massachusetts. "Mitt Romney is coming first in money and third in the polls because his money donations are coming from out of Massachusetts but the polls are reflecting the bull he is trying to feed the country about what he's done here in Massachusetts."

And Jenny writes, "It means he'll be the best funded loser in the Republican primaries."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to where we post more of them along with video clips of "The Cafferty File" and my baby pictures.

MALVEAUX: Jack, we look forward to seeing those.

CAFFERTY: All right.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Jack.

Let's find out what's coming up in the next hour on PAULA ZAHN NOW. Paula?

PAULA ZAHN, CNN HOST: Suzanne, he's been promising those baby pictures for years. Still haven't seen them.

Coming up at the top of the hour, is Senator Barack Obama's church racist? I'm going to tell you what a controversial blogger who asks why its commitment is only to the black community, the black family, the black work ethic.

Also, a story with pictures that will absolutely shock you, a dying trucker wanting you to see the result of a lifetime of meth addiction which is going up all over the country. I think any of us that are raising children, Suzanne, hope that our children see these pictures because, perhaps, it will scare them out of ever trying it in the first place.

MALVEAUX: Thank you very much, Paula Zahn, looking forward to seeing that.

And up ahead, we take you behind the scenes of a White House at war. The new insight about President Nixon and what it might mean for the current president. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: Our Carol Costello is monitoring all the stories coming in. What is the very latest, Carol? What do you have?

COSTELLO: A couple of things to tell you about.

The importer of the tainted ingredient of the massive U.S. pet food recall says none of it got into the human food supply. The CEO of ChemNutra Inc. says the Chinese wheat gluten all went into pet food. Nearly 100 brands of dog and cat food have now been recalled. The chemicals found in wheat gluten have been linked to kidney failure in animals across the United States. At least 15 have died.

And New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson will lead a private bipartisan delegation to North Korea this weekend. Their goal is to recover the remains of U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War. Richardson, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, is making the trip with the blessing of President Bush. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino says the delegation was invited by the North Korean government.

A look at the headlines right now.

MALVEAUX: So, Carol, kind of strange. We've got a lot of people overseas, North Korea, Syria, I mean, amazing.

COSTELLO: And why North Korea now extending this invitation to Bill Richardson, it's very strange.

MALVEAUX: Thanks again, Carol Costello.

Now, a revealing new look inside the White House. A portrait of a president putting on a brave face despite a faltering war. The year, 1969. Our Brian Todd is here with more about the episode and all of the, I guess the struggle that they went through.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Suzanne. A new book by historian Robert Dallek says at the height of Vietnam, President Nixon had serious doubts about the war but he kept them mostly to himself.


TODD (voice-over): A glimpse into a president's private thoughts. Was Vietnam winnable? In a 1969 phone conversation between President Nixon and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger, Nixon said, "In Saigon, the tendency is to fight the war to victory, but you and I know it won't happen. It is impossible."

Yet Nixon remained optimistic in public and even told aides that Democrats who said publicly what he was saying privately about the war should be lambasted as the party of surrender.

That according to the new book, "Nixon and Kissinger." Do these revelations hold any lessons for today? One former aide to Nixon and other presidents, says every wartime leader faces tension between public optimism and private realism including today's.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: It's absolutely clear that within the Bush administration today there are people who believe that there is no military solution, there is no military victory in sight. There are some who are still praying it can be turned around.

TODD: But President Bush himself is focusing on the positive.

BUSH: The reinforcements we've sent to Baghdad are having a impact. They're making a difference.


TODD: Still, Henry Kissinger is blunt in assessment of the current war in Iraq, telling the Associated Press on Sunday, "A military victory in the sense of total control over the whole territory imposed on the entire population is not possible."


TODD (on camera): The book also quotes the diary of a Nixon aide, H. R. Haldeman, saying Kissinger advocated a pullout from Vietnam in the fall of 1972, an election year, quote, "so that if any bad results follow they will be too late to affect the election."

Kissinger's office said he is traveling and cannot on the book, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: So Brian, we know that Bush rides his bike to alleviate stress of the Iraq War. What did Nixon do?

TODD: Well, this book portrays, it's full of interesting details about an insecure, manipulative President Nixon and his top aide and it portrays Kissinger as sometimes keeping Nixon in the dark about important developments.

For example, it asserts when the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1973, Kissinger delayed telling Nixon for more than three hours to keep him from intervening. Two weeks later, he and other aides raised America's military alert status to Defcon-3 but he didn't tell President Nixon until the next morning.

And that's according to this book.

MALVEAUX: Fascinating. Thank you very much.

TODD: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Brian Todd.

Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at the Associated Press.

On the West Bank, Palestinian militants dressed as suicide bombers marched to mark the fifth anniversary of the Israeli army's defensive shield operation.

In Ecuador, demonstrators supporting the president's idea to rewrite the constitution, protests outside the Congress building.

In Mexico City, a girl practices a synchronized swimming move during the opening day of Mexico City's first city beach.

And in San Diego, three Red River hogs run around in their enclosure at the zoo. These little guys are just one week old.

And that is this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth a thousand words.

Thank you for joining us. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. Among our guests tomorrow, DNC chair Howard Dean. And up next is PAULA ZAHN NOW.


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