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Interview with Major General William Caldwell, General David Petraeus Briefing Senators, Congressional War Funding Bill's Progress

Aired April 25, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, the top U.S. commander in Iraq on a mission here on Capitol Hill. And the House of Representatives nearing a final showdown on a timetable for withdrawal. I'll press the top U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad about new explosions of violence. That's coming up.
Also this hour, Congressional Democrats agree to put new heat on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Is it a case of subpoena fever?

Plus, Senator John McCain tries to make his experience count. He's officially launching his presidential campaign and hoping to revive it.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


This hour, the president's new Iraq commander, General David Petraeus, is briefing senators behind closed doors on Capitol Hill. His trip comes amid a new and bitter partisan battle over funding and ending the war.

Right now, the House is nearing a vote on the war spending bill that the president is planning to veto.

Our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is standing by.

But let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

She's on the Hill -- Dana, General Petraeus has been briefing members, I guess, for some time now.

What are you hearing?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he actually just left the House side and he went over to the Senate. He should be beginning his briefing with senators as we speak.

And we are just now getting, just moments ago, reaction from the House Democrats and House Republicans in terms of what they heard from the general and others in that briefing.

And not surprising, so far, at least, Wolf, each side is saying that the general and his assessment on the ground there backs up their political argument here.

Start with the Democrats. What the House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, did, is he came out and made clear that he believes that the bill Democrats are pushing, which is a funding bill which calls for troops to start coming home, is in keeping with the way General Petraeus portrayed what's happening on the ground.

Let's listen.


REP. STENY HOYER (D), MARYLAND: Our belief that we must hold the Iraqis accountable for achieving real progress and establish a timetable for the responsible deployment of American forces was also reinforced and General Petraeus specifically indicated that he is relating to the Iraqis that expectation of the American public.


BASH: Now, on the Republican side, again, they're actually still speaking about their reaction to this. But the Republican leader, John Boehner, he actually, not surprisingly, again, said that he thinks that the way General Petraeus portrayed the situation on the ground, that this timetable would hurt the cause of the U.S. mission in Iraq, that it would be counter-productive. That's what John Boehner heard.

But, actually, the Republican assessment of this briefing was a lot more sober than you would expect.

Listen to what Congressman Boehner said.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER: The general feels good about the progress thus far in the reinforcements that are there, in the performance of the Iraqi troops.

But there's a lot more that needs to be done.


BASH: Now, the one thing that we heard, which may -- we may get, hopefully, more information about as we talk to lawmakers about what General Petraeus said, Wolf, is that he apparently, according to a top Democrat, made clear that he will be able to really make an adequate assessment of the situation on the ground and whether his so-called surge is working by September -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What time do we expect the vote in the House, Dana? How soon before we know?

We assume the Democrats wouldn't allow it to come up for a vote if they didn't -- if they weren't pretty sure they had the votes to pass.

What time do they expect that roll call to take place?

BASH: We expect it early this evening, Wolf. But they -- I can tell you, they are working it very, very hard. They are expressing confidence that they have the votes, but they're not exactly sure. They are working it as we speak, to make sure, because last time they didn't even have one vote to spare -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash on the Hill.

She'll be watching all of this for us.

Some key points about General Petraeus. He took over command of the multinational forces in Iraq back in February. He oversaw the recent drafting of the U.S. military's manual on counter-insurgency.

His first major combat experience in Iraq was back in 2003, after serving in peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kuwait. He is a master parachutist. In 1991, he actually broke his pelvis when his parachute collapsed about 60 feet above ground. His surgeon, by the way, was a future United States senator. That would be Senator Bill Frist.

Coming up, I'll get a battlefield update from the top U.S. military spokesman on the mission in Iraq. Major General William Caldwell joining us from Baghdad.

Over at the White House, they're anxiously waiting for a final war funding bill to land on the president's desk.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry -- Ed, the president says he will veto it. Assuming he gets it, let's say, on Friday, how quickly will he veto it?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the timing of it is pretty interesting. The president's likely, actually, to get it after the weekend, on Monday. Top White House aides say he'll likely veto it pretty quickly, possibly as early as Monday. And what Democrats are keying in on, Wolf, and something to watch next week is the fact that if it's vetoed Monday, the following day, Tuesday, will be the fourth anniversary of the president's infamous "mission accomplished" speech. You remember those pictures of him getting into that flight suit. And Democrats are really going to tee off on that and say four years after that "mission accomplished" speech, the mission has still not been accomplished.

And they're also, of course, Democrats charging it's a civil war with no end in sight and they're going to try to point out the irony of the president vetoing this bill early next week, the same time of that fourth anniversary -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What are officials there saying about their suspicions involving the Democrats' timing?

HENRY: Well, there are a lot of questions, obviously, as to whether the Democrats were dragging out the timing here to try to coincide with this anniversary. White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino told me that she believes it's petty for the Democrats to sort of be celebrating the irony of this timing. She said: "It's the pinnacle of cynical."

But Senator Harry Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley, insisted to me that any timing here is coincidental. He acknowledged Democrats will play this up. But he said, basically: "The White House's finger- pointing is the pinnacle of paranoia and that I can't stop the fact that the president is about to veto a bill that Democrats think will bring a responsible end to the war."

I think the bottom line is all this finger-pointing about even the timing of when it will be vetoed and how it will be vetoed show just how far apart both sides are -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House.

Thanks very much.

Senator John McCain trying today to make a second first impression on voters. The Republican officially launched his presidential campaign in New Hampshire after running for months and months, and more recently, some critics suggesting, stumbling.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is in Portsmouth, New Hampshire -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it may seem to you that John McCain has been running for president for some time now and you would be right. But it never hurts to go at it again, especially if your campaign is in need of some juice.


CROWLEY (voice-over): Unsteady in the first quarter of this year, John McCain is looking for terra firma -- planting himself firmly atop his resume -- 25 years in Congress, five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, an expect on military and defense affairs.

"I am not the youngest candidate in the race," he said, "but I am the most experienced."

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know how to fight and I know how to make peace. I know who I am and what I want to do.

CROWLEY: In a speech half practical and half prose, McCain sought a balance somewhere between the ills of the country and its hopes, between supporting the war and criticizing its conduct, somewhere between not dissing the president and getting some distance -- no names mentioned.

MCCAIN: They won't accept the government's failure to deliver bottled water to dehydrated babies or rescue the infirm from a hospital with no electricity. They won't accept substandard care and indifference for our wounded veterans. That's not good enough for America and it's not good enough for me.

CROWLEY: Consistently running second in the polls and third in the money race, McCain often seems stuck in the middle between conservatives, who think he is too much of a maverick to be trusted, and moderates, who wonder where the maverick went.

His task is to define himself.

MCCAIN: When I'm president, I'll offer common sense, conservative and comprehensive solutions to these challenges. Congress will have other ideas and I'll listen to them.

CROWLEY: It is a long way from now to November of 2008, but there are only so many restarts a campaign can have. McCain strategists say they're not worried. "It's a marathon, not a sprint," said one. But as a supporter put it, "McCain needs to get in the game, show he actually wants to win this."


CROWLEY: When John McCain's 2000 insurgent campaign was the talk of the town, he described it as catching lightning in a bottle. The question is whether he can catch it again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Thank you.

Candy and Ed Henry and Dana Bash -- they are all part of the best political team on television.

And remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at

Let's go to Jack Cafferty.

He's in New York.

Did you notice -- Jack, that Senator McCain was wearing a crew neck sweater with a shirt underneath -- very casual for a formal announcement that he's running for president.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, how many announcements is he going to make?

BLITZER: Three or four.

CAFFERTY: There you go. I hope he has more than one sweater.

Call it the politics of fear -- President Bush used it to be reelected in 2004 and apparently Rudy Giuliani thinks it might work for him in 2008.

In a speech last night, the Republican frontrunner suggested if a Democrat wins the White House in 2008, the United States could be at risk for another major terror attack.

Where have we heard this stuff before? He said if a Democrat gets elected, quoting now, "We're going on defense. We'll wave the white flag on Iraq. We'll cut back on The Patriot Act, electronic surveillance, interrogation and we'll be back to our pre-September 11th attitude of defense. The Democrats do not understand the full nature and scope of the terrorist war against us."


Giuliani added, if a Republican wins, particularly him, terror attacks will be anticipated and stopped.

The Democratic presidential candidates all firing back, as expected. Senator Barack Obama says that Giuliani has "taken the politics of fear to a new low." He says, "when it comes to fighting terrorists, America is united."

And then there's this, since Giuliani's positions on social issues risk alienating some Republicans, the strategy of being tough on national security could help to sway those voters.

Here's the question -- will 9/11 politics help or hurt Rudy Giuliani in his race for the White House?

E-mail or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks for that.

Coming up, as you just saw live here on CNN only a few moments ago. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closes above 13,000 for the first time ever. We'll have more on that. That's coming up in a little bit.

Also, what did Condoleezza Rice know and when did she know it?

Democrats voting to slap the secretary of state and others with subpoenas.

Plus, street protests in Baghdad over security walls that authorities are putting up. Are the barriers for security or for segregation?

I'll ask the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq.

And later, why is Senator John McCain having such a tough time winning over conservative voters?

Bill Schneider is standing by with a possible answer.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: In Baghdad today, supporters of the radical anti- American Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, are taking to the streets to protest a security wall they call racist and oppressing. The U.S. and Iraqi militaries are putting up barriers around various Baghdad neighborhoods in hopes of protecting residents from insurgent attacks.

And joining us now from Baghdad, Major General William Caldwell, U.S. Army, the chief spokesman for the Multinational Forces in Iraq.

General, as usual, thanks for coming in.

One of the key sensitive issues right now this barrier that you're building in parts of Baghdad. The prime minister, Nuri Al- Maliki, said the other day, he said, "I asked that it be stopped and that alternatives be found to protect the area. I fear this wall might have repercussions which remind us of other walls which we reject."

But you -- you're going forward with this barrier, aren't you?

MAJ. GENERAL WILLIAM CALDWELL, MULTINATIONAL FORCES-IRAQ: Well, Wolf, we're putting protective barriers up across the whole city. We've put them up around marketplaces. We've put them up around government institutions here. We've put them out on key bridges and overpasses. And we've put them in the neighborhoods, too.

So it's -- it's part of an overall tactic, just like these joint security stations, to help better protect the people of Iraq.

BLITZER: You do it even though the Iraqi government has some reservations or some opposition to it? Can you just do that without their approval?

CALDWELL: Well, Wolf, we're working very closely with them. In fact, General Abud is the overall commander of Baghdad and anything that's being done inside of Baghdad is, in fact, being coordinated with his operations center. And they're very much aware of what's occurring and we're continuing to stay in dialogue with them to ensure that we're all in sync.

BLITZER: This surge, the new strategy, last night the president said he would expect to know by September or so whether or not it's working.

Could you define, from a military standpoint, success for this new strategy, this surge, as it's called?

CALDWELL: Well, you're right, Wolf, the -- once all the reinforcing elements are here, which will be in early June, clearly, as General Petraeus has said, some time in late August or early September, he plans to come back and talk to the political leadership in Washington and give them his honest assessment as to what's possible here in Iraq.

And for us in the military side of the house, if, in fact, we're able to bring the levels of violence down, if we're able to help better equip and train the Iraqi security forces to take on more of the responsibilities, then we're going to, in fact, find that we're setting the conditions that will allow that political process to take place.

BLITZER: So the success -- define success for me.

CALDWELL: Well, obviously success would be when the Iraqi people can determine their own future, when they can make those decisions about where they want to take this country and what they want to do themselves without outside, external influences and without elements like al Qaeda in here continuing to inflict, you know, horrific casualties upon the civilian population.

BLITZER: Are you frustrated, General, you and your troops, that the Iraqis themselves -- this, after all, is their country. They have hundreds of thousands of troops, nominally. They have a police force. We've given them hundreds of billions of dollars.

Are you frustrated that they can't get the job done themselves?

CALDWELL: Well, Wolf, I just spent the last two days up north visiting joint security stations, going to the oil refineries and watching a lot of our troops interact with the Iraqi security forces.

And they will tell you, on the ground, themselves, that they are seeing forward progress being made. It's, perhaps, not at the pace by which we would perhaps judge it ourselves, but they are encouraged and they do see the Iraqis taking on more responsibility each day and being willing to, also, to work with us so that they one day can take over it themselves.

BLITZER: Because we can't want peace and security for the Iraqis more than they want it themselves. And if they're AWOL, if they're not showing up in their military units to get the job done, the United States can't go on forever and try to do it for them.

CALDWELL: Well, no, and you're right, we can't, Wolf.

We can only help set the conditions to allow them to make those tough decisions themselves, both politically, but also militarily. And we do see the committed leadership.

I mean the losses in the Iraqi security forces, especially the Iraqi Army and police, you know, are four times greater than what we experience in our forces over here. They're out there on the front lines. They're doing the tough job. They're being involved.

We still have challenges -- and I don't want to underplay that and working on some things like loyalty and professionalism. But, in fact, we are making some steady progress in those areas.

BLITZER: General Caldwell, good luck over there.

Be careful and we'll talk to you next week.

CALDWELL: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: And General Caldwell also confirms, by the way, another chlorine truck bombing in the Baghdad area today. He says the vehicle blew up at a military checkpoint just west of Abu Ghraib. An Iraqi civilian working with the U.S. military at the checkpoint was killed. Two others were seriously wounded.

General Caldwell says this is but the latest tactic used by attackers to try to scare and intimidate, to terrorize people, in his words, inside Iraq.

Coming up, will today's formal announcement by John McCain help him jump start his presidential campaign?

I'll ask Paul Begala and Rich Galen. They're standing by for our Strategy Session.

Plus, check this out. You don't see it every day. We're going to tell you why President Bush was dancing over at the White House this afternoon. Look at this -- George W. Bush -- playing the bongos, too. All right, we'll give you the videotape, we'll give you the explanation.

All that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring the wires. She's keeping an eye on the video feed coming in from around the world.

She's joining us now from New York with a closer look at some other incoming stories into THE SITUATION ROOM -- hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, man, if you have investments on Wall Street, you are rejoicing today. For the first time ever, the Dow Jones Industrial Average soars past 13,000. The historic barrier fell barely two minutes into that session that ended a short time ago with a record close of 13,089.

The S&P and Nasdaq both at or near six year highs today.

Virginia State Police say Seung-Hui Cho used 170 rounds to kill 30 people at veteran's Norris Hall before killing himself. At a news conference today, the official leading the probe says it remains a mystery why Cho shot and killed two students in the dorm before he moved across campus to carry out his mass slaughter.

A man has been arrested in Chicago for allegedly targeting investment companies with crude mail bombs and threatening letters signed "The Bishop." federal law enforcement officials say John P. Tomkins mailed two such bombs and more than a dozen letters in an effort to drive up stock prices. Neither of the bombs exploded. The suspect is a machinist.

Heavily armed troopers surround a farmhouse in Upstate New York and search for a cop killer. A witness says he heard more than 20 shots during a morning gun battle that left one trooper dead and a second wounded. The suspect is identified as Travis Trim, age 23. He allegedly shot and wounded a trooper yesterday during a traffic stop.

That's what's going on right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks, Carol.

We'll check back with you shortly.

Right now, NASA is counting down to its latest mission. A specialized rocket is about to be launched from a jumbo jet already flying at nearly 40,000 feet.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi, when is all of this going to happen?

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, literally any minute now. We're just about to get into this launch window. It's seven minutes long. And this is not a traditional takeoff.

You're looking at live pictures right now of the underbelly of an aircraft. It's traveling at 39,000 feet and a Pegasus rocket is attached to the bottom of it. The rocket is going to be launching the Ames into orbit. It's going to be on a two year mission. And it's out there to explore mysterious ice clouds that dot the edge of space.

This is NASA animation of how this is all going to go down. Scientists know little about these ice clouds, other than they've grown brighter in previous years and they wonder if that's related to climate change.

All these pictures happening now at The aircraft took off just about an hour ago and we're expecting this rocket to be released any second now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll stay on top of this story together with you, Abbi.

Up next, House Democrats trying to force the secretary of state to testify about Iraq. But Condoleezza Rice isn't the only Bush administration official that may be slapped with a subpoena. Find out who else could be in the line of fire.

Plus, can Senator John McCain get his groove back as he tries to win the hearts of conservative voters?

I'll ask our own Bill Schneider.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Happening now, did Osama bin Laden plan an attack targeting the vice president, Dick Cheney?

It involves that recent suicide bombing at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, when the vice president was visiting. One man claims the world's most wanted terrorist was behind it.

Adding insult to injury -- Pat Tillman's family is still outraged over how they learned the truth of his death. Now there are claims one military commander may have insulted the Tillman family as they grieved.

And Rudy Giuliani has insulted many Democrats. The Republican presidential candidate suggests if a Democrat wins the White House, the nation will be at a greater risk for a terrorist attack.

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

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is bracing to be slapped with a subpoena. A House panel voted today to force Secretary Rice to testify about a key and false prewar claim used to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But the secretary isn't the only one who has a subpoena coming her way.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel.

Andrea, what's going on?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, today, Democrats issued five subpoenas, three of them in one committee alone, prompting Republicans to accuse Democrats of launching a partisan witch-hunt.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All those in favor signify by saying aye.

KOPPEL (voice-over): One by one...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have been slow-walked and stonewalled. And that is not acceptable.

KOPPEL: ... from one end of the Capitol to the other.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: We will begin with authorizations for more subpoenas.

KOPPEL: Democrats fired off a flurry of subpoenas, five in all, targeting officials at the Republican National Committee, the White House, as well as the Departments of Justice and State, for the first time singling out the secretary of state herself.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D-CA), GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I deeply regret that the secretary of state is giving us no choice but to proceed with a subpoena.

KOPPEL: At issue, California Democrat Henry Waxman's demand that Rice explain her role in the now infamous and controversial pre-war claim that Saddam Hussein sought to import uranium from Niger, a key justification for the U.S. invasion.

Rice has repeatedly refused to testify before Waxman's committee, insisting she's already explained it all. Now Waxman has thrown down the gauntlet.

WAXMAN: The American public was misled about the threat posed by Iraq, and this committee is going to do its part.

KOPPEL: Republicans called the move unprecedented, a waste of her valuable time, and politically motivated.

REP. TOM DAVIS (R), VIRGINIA: It's great headlines to bring the secretary of state in here and ask her to repeat something she said before, but I don't think it does us any good in terms of investigations at this point.

KOPPEL: Another person singled out for a subpoena, Monica Goodling, former counsel to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Over some Republican objections, Democrats also agreed to offer Goodling immunity to testify about eight fired U.S. attorneys, something she has so far refused to do.


KOPPEL: Now, all of these subpoenas today led Virginia Republican Randy Forbes to complain that Congress has become more about investigating than legislating -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I remember, during the Clinton administration, when the Democrats controlled the White House, the Republicans controlled Congress, there were a lot of subpoenas being submitted to the White House at that time. What are Democrats now saying?

KOPPEL: Well, Chairman Waxman said that, in his committee alone, the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, then Republican Chairman Dan Burton issued well over 1,000 subpoenas back when the Clinton administration was in power.

Now, compare that to the last six years, when you have Republicans on the Government Reform Committee. They didn't issue a single subpoena to the Bush administration -- Wolf.

BLITZER: With the majority comes the subpoena power ability.

Thanks very much for that, our congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel.

We have State Department reaction to the vote on the subpoenaing of Secretary Rice -- the deputy spokesman, Tom Casey, saying: "We note the committee's actions and will be consulting with the White House on this matter. The secretary," he says, "has addressed this four-year- old issue on many occasions. And the subject already has been exhaustively investigated" -- that statement coming in from the State Department.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM: White House hopefuls tend to flock to the leadoff presidential primary state. But we're now seeing a mystery case of New Hampshire holdouts. That story is coming up.

Also: The race for the White House as a reality TV show, would it get your votes?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: When Senator John McCain formally launched his presidential bid today, he chose New Hampshire as the backdrop.

But, when it comes to the leadoff primary state, are a couple of candidates suddenly becoming shy?

Let's go to our national correspondent, Bob Franken.

Bob, what's going on?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, even with the newly front-loaded Democratic primaries, the candidates have been crisscrossing New Hampshire so much that they almost trip over one another.


FRANKEN (voice-over): Hillary Rodham Clinton, her conversations are now part of the political din in New Hampshire. Barack Obama, he has brought his rock-star presence to the state.

So, one would think that the two leading Democrats would join John Edwards and the rest of the field for the first New Hampshire Democratic presidential debate in June. And one would be wrong.

So far, Senators Clinton and Obama are the only ones who have not committed. This debate is being hosted by New Hampshire's leading news organizations, WMUR, "The New Hampshire Union Leader," as well as CNN. It, however, does not fall under the Democratic National Committee's sanctioning calendar, which starts in July. The DNC set up this sanctioning process at the candidates' request.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What we have been trying to do is cooperate with the DNC's attempts to corral and focus the debate process. We have probably had invitations for 40, 50, 60 debates around the country.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: The MUR debate is a very important debate. We all want to be part of it. But we also agreed to support the process that the DNC is trying to bring about.

FRANKEN: However, Clinton and Obama are participating in this week's South Carolina debate, which is also unsanctioned. And some political experts contend, it's not nice to fool with New Hampshire.

STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": If Senators Clinton and Obama don't show up for this debate, I think it will create a good deal of controversy in the state. And they will take some criticism from New Hampshire Democrats, who say, look, we want to see all the candidates on the same stage at the same time. If others can show up, they ought to show up as well. FRANKEN: This might just push some political buttons in New Hampshire. Many in the state see the new front-loaded primaries as a threat to its first-in-the-nation cache.


FRANKEN: These debates have already been delayed once. And Republicans, by the way, take the stage June 5, all of them, Democrats, two days before, June 3, with or without the leading candidates, who might have more questions to answer if they don't show up.

BLITZER: Are -- these decisions by Obama and Clinton, they are not final that -- they still have an opportunity reconsider.

FRANKEN: No, they're just right now in the non-committed stage, non-committal, I suppose. They could still decide to join in a while.

BLITZER: Well, we hope they will. I will be moderating both of those debates in New Hampshire.

Thanks very much, Bob, for that.

It is no coincidence that Senator John McCain chose New Hampshire today to make his run for president official. He promised to offer what he calls conservative solutions if he's elected president.

As he formally launches his White House bid, the Republican is making a point of reaching out to the right.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Bill, it is no secret that John McCain really needs to get that right wing of the Republican Party behind him.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. He does have some problems with conservatives, but they're not primarily about the war in Iraq.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): John McCain's problem with Democrats and liberals is well known. He supports President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq. But McCain's support has been lagging among Republicans. That can't be President Bush or Iraq.

We asked David Keene, a leading conservative, what McCain's problem is with conservatives.

DAVID KEENE, CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: It isn't that he's liberal, because he's not.

SCHNEIDER: There are things conservatives like about McCain.

KEENE: Conservatives admire his biography, if you will, and his courage in many ways. SCHNEIDER: So, what's the problem?

KEENE: Conservatives don't trust him. They don't trust him for variety of reasons, but much of it goes to the McCain-Feingold bill.

SCHNEIDER: That's the campaign finance reform law McCain co- sponsored with Russ Feingold, a leading liberal Democratic senator. Among other things, the law bans private groups from running issue ads that promote a cause for 60 days before a general election and 30 days before a primary if the ad mentions the name of a candidate or political party.

Ironically, that ban is the subject of a case being argued now before the Supreme Court. Conservatives consider the law a violation of free speech.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They let the campaign finance lobby take away First Amendment rights. If I'm elected president, I will fight to repeal McCain-Feingold.

SCHNEIDER: What worries conservatives is not just that they disagree with McCain on some issues. It is that he picks fights with them.

KEENE: He creates an uncomfortableness among many conservatives, who think that, if he were president, he would try to remake the party in a way that would exclude them from the influence they now have.

SCHNEIDER: They worry about statements like this from McCain's announcement speech.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I expect us to argue over principle. But, when a compromise consistent with our principles is within reach, I expect us to seize it.


SCHNEIDER: Will compromise lead to sellout? That's what many conservatives believe happened with the McCain-Feingold law -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, reporting for us, thank you.

And, as Senator McCain prepared to formally launch his campaign today, he tried to showcase his sense of humor. But he faced some very serious questions about the troop buildup in Iraq on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart."

Take a look at this.


MCCAIN: I don't know that that strategy will succeed, but we do have a new strategy. It is a fact.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": All I'm saying is, you cannot look a soldier in the eye and say questioning the president is less supportive to you than extending your tour three months...

MCCAIN: Every American...

STEWART: ... when you should be coming home to your family.

MCCAIN: Every American...


STEWART: And that -- that's not fair to put on people that criticize.

MCCAIN: Jon...


STEWART: And you know I love you, and I respect your service, and would never question any of that.

And this is not about questioning the troops and their ability to fight and their ability to be supported. And that is what the administration does. And that is almost criminal.


BLITZER: Tough words.

And how about this? On the day that McCain announces he is formally running for president, Mitt Romney, one of McCain's Republican rivals, started running campaign commercials coast to coast. Romney's ads are running on national cable networks, including CNN and FOX. The former Massachusetts governor is the first 2008 presidential hopeful to run campaign ads at the national level.

Bill Schneider, Andrea Koppel, Bob Franken, they are all part of the best political team on television.

And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker,

Up next: John McCain's uphill battle.


MCCAIN: We face formidable challenges. I'm not afraid of them. I'm prepared for them. I'm not the youngest candidate, but I am the most experienced.



BLITZER: Senator John McCain and one of the biggest surprises of the presidential race -- as he officially enters the contest, the former front-runner is playing catchup.

Also ahead: President George W. Bush like you have never seen him before. Take a look at this. We will tell you what's going on.


BLITZER: Now that he's made in official, can John McCain energize a bid for the White House that has confounded some of his own supporters?

Joining us now for our "Strategy Session," Republican strategist Rich Galen, CNN political analyst Paul Begala.

Let me run a little clip of one part of McCain's speech earlier today.


MCCAIN: When Americans confront a catastrophe, natural or manmade, they have a right to expect basic competence from their government. They won't accept that firemen and policemen are unable to communicate with each other in an emergency because they don't have the same radio frequency.


BLITZER: It sounded like a little criticism of the Bush administration there, going back to Katrina and other elements.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And a criticism of Rudy Giuliani.


BEGALA: Rudy Giuliani -- firefighters -- you know, Rudy was one of the few major candidates for president who did not meet with the firefighters when they had their convention, because they don't like him.

They blame him, in part, for the un-interoperability. That's a tough word for a guy from Texas. Their radios didn't work. They couldn't communicate with each other on 9/11. They couldn't communicate with the cops. And John McCain is taking a shot dead at Rudy Giuliani. It shows you John McCain is now in second place.

BLITZER: The McCain camp says that that criticism there had nothing to do with Giuliani. That was not what he was thinking about at all.

GALEN: What did they say he was thinking about?


BLITZER: They just said that that was speaking for itself.


BEGALA: It wasn't Tom Tancredo.



BLITZER: Because...

GALEN: That Duncan Hunter, boy, we're after him. I will tell you that.


GALEN: Well, look, here's the thing about, I think, McCain's campaign.

They -- they made a strategic decision they were not going to chase Giuliani early on, unlike, I think, the decision that the Clinton campaign made -- and I think correctly so -- that they couldn't let Obama get too -- they couldn't let him get ahead at all.

And it is a long way to go. And I think the -- the McCain camp truly believes that they are in this for the long haul. They aren't going to run out of money. They aren't going to run out of ideas. They aren't going to run out on McCain. And they think, when it comes down to the crunch, he will be there standing at the end.

BLITZER: Here's Rudy Giuliani, speaking of another Republican presidential candidate, in remarks on Tuesday.

I will read it to you: "Any Republican is elected president -- and I think, obviously, I would be the best at this -- we will remain on offense. I listen a little to the Democrats. And, if one of them gets elected, we are going on defense."

He goes on to say: "We will wave the white flag on Iraq. The Democrats do not understand the full nature and scope of the terrorist war against us."

BLITZER: Those are strong and biting words, Paul, against Democrats.

BEGALA: Probably learned from Rudy's time in combat.

Oh, wait, no, he never wore the uniform of our country. He did, however, fail to equip his firefighters, as Senator McCain pointed out, which many firefighters blame him for deaths on 9/11. He also had the strategic brilliance of putting his command headquarters for emergencies on the 23rd floor of the World Trade Center, after the World Trade Center had originally been attacked.

Democrats, I really do hope that they -- they -- they watch this show, and I'm glad. Democrats have to stop giving in to the myth of Republican competence on 9/11.

In 2002 and 2004, when President Bush played the 9/11 card, Democrats rolled over. Democrats should stand up and say, it was the Republican president who ignored the CIA warning that bin Laden was determined to strike in the U.S. GALEN: All right.


BEGALA: No, this matters.


GALEN: We're not going to do this for five minutes.


BLITZER: All right.

BEGALA: It was a Republican president who allowed our country to be attacked.

GALEN: Right.

BEGALA: And Democrats should never again do anything...


BLITZER: Hold on one second, Rich.


BLITZER: Hold on one second.


BLITZER: I want you to respond.

But here's what Barack Obama said...


BLITZER: Here's what Barack Obama, responding to Rudy Giuliani, Senator Obama: "Rudy Giuliani today has taken the politics of fear to a new low. The threat we face is real and deserves better than to be the punchline of another political attack."

Go ahead. Make your point.


I want to make two points. One is that this is -- in Shakespearian terms, methinks thou dost protest a bit too much, as did you previous boss. You guys flare up at that, because you know you -- whether it is true or not, the American public believes it to be true, that you -- not you, but Democrats tend to be weaker on these sort of things than Republicans.

BEGALA: Was it a Democrat...

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: Hold on. Let him finish. Let him -- Paul, let him finish.


BEGALA: ... 9/11 while...


BLITZER: Paul, let him finish. Let him finish.

GALEN: You can't do that. You can't do that.

Number two is that, if you go to the rest of that statement, he did make the case -- Rudy did make the case that he felt that, no matter who was in the White House, we would ultimately win the war against terror. So, he did, as the statement went on, soften it, in real time. So, he didn't leave it at that...


BEGALA: Let me make...

BLITZER: Go ahead.

BEGALA: Rich's old boss Newt Gingrich, my old boss Bill Clinton commissioned a bipartisan panel called the Hart-Rudman Commission to take a look at the terrorist threat long before 9/11.

The Hart-Rudman Commission came back. They reported to President Bush. He ignored their warning.

Dick Clarke, the counterterrorism czar for Bill Clinton, George Bush and Ronald Reagan, came and warned about al Qaeda attacks. Mr. Bush ignored them again and again. He ignored the CIA briefing.


GALEN: And what did Mr. Clinton do?


BEGALA: And, then, when we were attacked, for five minutes after being told -- and I quote -- "America is under attack," our president sat frozen, panic-stricken in a classroom in Florida, while 3,000 Americans died.

BLITZER: All right.


BEGALA: Then he went and hid in a bunker in Nebraska.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Rich. Go ahead.

GALEN: Oh, stop it, Paul. (CROSSTALK)

GALEN: This isn't "CROSSFIRE." Just stop.

BEGALA: No. Do you know what this is?


BEGALA: This is life and death. And this is Republicans politicizing 9/11. Democrats should never put up with it again.


GALEN: You are conveniently leaving out eight years of the Clinton administration.

BEGALA: Well, we can talk about Clinton all you want.

Did George Bush -- did George Bush distinguish himself when he sat panic-stricken at Emma Booker Elementary school and read a pet goat story?


GALEN: We had...

BEGALA: Did he?

GALEN: We had Bill Clinton doing what? Nothing.

BEGALA: Yes. He launched cruise missile attacks against bin Laden, and Republicans attacked him.

BLITZER: All right.


GALEN: And killed an aspirin factory.

BEGALA: But Mr. Bush sat there and panicked for five minutes while our country was under attack.




BLITZER: All right, guys, we have got to leave it there.


BEGALA: ... made an attack ad out of that. The Democrats should have used that issue.


BLITZER: We have got to leave it there, but this discussion will continue.


BLITZER: We're getting some news in.

Paul Begala, Rich Galen, thanks for coming in.

GALEN: Sure.

BLITZER: Let's go back to Ed Henry at the White House. There is news happening on that front.

What's going on, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some breaking news here.

White House spokesman Tony Snow has just confirmed to CNN that he is now planning to come back to work next Monday and do the White House briefing, a comeback that's much sooner than a lot of people expected. You will remember, late last month, Tony Snow, it was reported here at the White House, that his cancer had recurred; it had spread from his colon to his liver, but Tony Snow telling me a moment ago -- quote -- "I am expecting to be back Monday to work."

He also said that he will start chemotherapy next Friday, but said that he expects to be working through the chemotherapy. He said, if he has any problems during that treatment, he will -- quote -- "dial it back." But he noted that the first time, several years ago, when he had colon cancer, he had chemotherapy for six months, and worked six days a week at FOX News, both on radio and TV.

He said that there are some isolated tumors, and they're trying to put them into remission with this chemotherapy. But he is now planning to come back to work on Monday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we hope his -- his treatment is successful. And we wish him only, only the best.

Thanks for that good news.

Still to come: Rudy Giuliani and the war on terror -- Jack Cafferty standing by with your reactions to Giuliani's harsh remarks about Democrats.

And in our next hour: Republican Lindsey Graham on the race for the White House and the official entry of his longtime friend John McCain.

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


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty in New York -- Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question is: Will 9/11 politics help or hurt Rudy Giuliani in the presidential race?

Michael writes: "The public is no longer fully convinced of the official story of 9/11. If Rudy expects to run on that story, he can expect incredulity. If the politics of fear is all he has, the public will abandon him, in favor of politics of values, hope, and truth."

C. writes, "Why doesn't someone remind the Republicans they were in charge when 9/11 happened?"

Eliot in Princeton, New Jersey: "Like Bush, Giuliani is a political beneficiary of 9/11. The careers of both were in limbo until it enabled them to both play Rambo. Both are one-trick ponies. Giuliani can be expected to shout '9/11' forever, because he has nothing else going for him."

Adam in Brooklyn, New York: "Rudy Giuliani guided New York City through the horrors of 9/11, displayed a sense of courage and leadership necessary for the presidency. Senator Obama might not like to hear it, but many Americans who are drawn to Mayor Giuliani's strength on national security issues are not well-assured that Obama has the experience to prosecute the war on terror."

John writes from Arizona: "I like Rudy. I find it very disappointing he's going to make use of the worst of President Bush's campaign tactics. The nation needs to move on from the disaster that President Bush has brought to America. And using his campaign tactics is not the way to achieve that."

Shirley writes from Atlanta: "Giuliani can't even get the support of its firefighters in New York City. When everyone sees exactly what he did and didn't do, his candidacy will be over. If the Republican Party thinks 9/11 and terrorism are the only issues, they're in for a rude awakening."

And Daniel writes: "It's not a question of whether 9/11 politics will help Giuliani or not. They already have, by getting him into this race" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks.

And, to our viewers, your in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: new claims that Osama bin Laden is planning new attacks. The Taliban says Osama bin Laden ...


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