Return to Transcripts main page
LOU DOBBS TONIGHT
Lowering the Bar: Redefining Success in Iraq; Cheney in Iraq; New Poll on Voter Concerns; Churches Offering Sanctuary for Illegals; Comprehensive Immigration Bill Reintroduced; Evangelicals Call for Immigration Reform; Controversy Erupts Over Al Sharpton Remarks on Mitt Romney
Aired May 9, 2007 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LOU DOBBS, HOST: Tonight, Reverend Al Sharpton facing accusations of bigotry after he made highly-charged remarks about religion, politics and a presidential candidate. In a debate with author Christopher Hitchens, Sharpton said true believers in God won't be voting for a Mormon candidate.
We'll have exclusive video on this broadcast of Sharpton's comments. Christopher Hitchens will join us here as well.
Also tonight, a startling new example of political adventurism by religious leaders in this country. A national coalition of churches saying that it will defy U.S. immigration laws, offer sanctuary to illegal aliens facing deportation. And one of those leaders saying our borders don't matter anyway.
We'll have the story.
And the U.S. Senate making another effort to impose massive illegal alien amnesty on American citizens. Democratic senators, the Bush administration, corporate America and socio-ethnocentric groups all demanding amnesty for as many as 20 million illegal aliens.
We'll have those stories, all the day's news, and much more, straight ahead here tonight.
ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Wednesday, May 9th.
Live from New York, Lou Dobbs.
DOBBS: Good evening, everybody.
We begin tonight with an astonishing statement by Defense Secretary Robert Gates about what constitutes success in Iraq. Secretary Gates today said success in Iraq does not require a significant reduction in insurgent attacks or violence.
Vice President Dick Cheney today was in Baghdad, trying to find out for himself whether success in Iraq is possible. A senior Bush administration official said, "It's game time for the Iraqi government to deliver on its promises of reform." But it is far from clear that the Iraqi government has the will, the power, or the capacity to take action. Jamie McIntyre tonight reporting on the Pentagon's new definition of success.
Ed Henry reports on the vice president's unannounced visit to Baghdad.
Bill Schneider reports on a new poll showing the war in Iraq remains the top issue for most Americans.
We turn first to Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon -- Jamie.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, you might think that a key indicator of whether what the military calls the surge strategy is working is whether if it stops the killing in Baghdad. But that's not exactly what the secretary of defense told Congress today.
MCINTYRE (voice over): The new Baghdad security strategy has yet to produce any measurable decline in violence, despite the fact that four of five additional U.S. combat brigades are now in place. That has the Pentagon lowering expectations for what will constitute progress when the strategy is reviewed at the end of the summer.
ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The goal in September is not whether the violence has been significantly reduced, or stability has been brought, it seems to me, but rather whether it has been reduced to a level that the political reconciliation process is moving forward in some meaningful way.
MCINTYRE: So, with no requirement for stability or a significant reduction in violence, almost any trend could be seen as justification for keeping the 30,000 extra U.S. troops in Iraq. And even as Gates promises an honest evaluation of the plan, which he says could set the stage for a U.S. troop reduction, the number two U.S. commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, is quoted by "The Washington Post" as saying, "The surge needs to go through the beginning of next year for sure."
SEN. JUDD GREGG (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: How do those two positions correlate?
GATES: I think the candid answer is they don't.
MCINTYRE: Contacted by CNN, General Odierno insists he was misquoted, that the latest rotation plan simply gives commanders the ability to maintain elevated troop levels through April, if that's the decision. And after signing deployment orders this week for 10 fresh brigades of 35,000 soldiers, Secretary Gates held out some hope all might not go.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: What are the prospects for having some light at the end of the tunnel?
GATES: Well, I think that the honest answer is, Senator, that I don't know.
MCINTYRE: Gates says whatever happens in September, it won't lead to what he calls a precipitous decision. But whether or not the strategy is working, Gates says it will point to a new direction. He's just not giving a hint of what that new direction might be -- Lou.
DOBBS: No hint of a new direction. A highly ambiguous, amorphous definition of success. Clearly, in contravention of any rational benchmark for progress.
What in the world is going on at the Pentagon?
MCINTYRE: Well, it appears, Lou, that what they are trying to do is set the stage for either keeping more troops there longer to build on whatever success they think they might have, or keep troops there longer to try to give it more time. One option that Gates doesn't seem predisposed to is bringing troops home, because he says leaving Iraq in chaos would be even worse than what's there now.
DOBBS: Jamie, thank you very much.
Jamie McIntyre from the Pentagon.
Our military today said attacks against our troops with deadly Iranian-supplied bombs were higher ever in Iraq last month. Officials said there were 69 attacks last month when insurgents used so-called explosively-formed penetrators. Those attacked killed 14 of our troops in April, 47 other of our troops wounded.
The military says the Iranian-supplied bombs can penetrate all American armored vehicles. Officials said those bombs are being supplied by Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
Insurgents have killed another one of our troops in Iraq. The soldier was killed by small arms fire in Diyala province, north of Baghdad. Twenty-nine of our troops have been killed this month, 3,380 killed since the beginning of the war. 25,245 of our troops wounded, 11,270 of them seriously.
A mortar today landed in the heavily guarded so-called Green Zone in Baghdad as Vice President Cheney met with U.S. and Iraqi officials. No one was killed nor wounded in that attack.
Vice President Cheney was in Baghdad to urge Iraqis to accelerate their political economic reform and achieve reconciliation.
Ed Henry reports from the White House.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Vice President Cheney delivered a stern message to Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki. Aboard Air Force Two, en route to Iraq, a senior administration official told reporters, "We've got to get this work done. It's game time."
A startling statement more than four years into the war.
LAWRENCE KORB, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: The administration is becoming increasingly desperate because they know time is running out.
HENRY: The vice president made clear U.S. patience is growing thin, especially with the Iraqi parliament planning a two-month summer break.
RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And any undue delay would be difficult to explain.
HENRY: Two years ago this month, the vice president said...
CHENEY: And I think they are in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.
HENRY: Based on his latest briefings, Mr. Cheney says the situation is getting better.
CHENEY: They do believe we are making progress. But we've got a long way to go.
HENRY: Indeed, during the vice president's visit, there was an explosion that rattled the windows at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Reporters were raced to a basement attack shelter before getting the all-clear signal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can go back up.
HENRY: The vice president's schedule was not interrupted, and he proclaimed himself impressed by the answers he got from Maliki.
CHENEY: I do believe that there is a greater sense of urgency now than I had seen previously.
HENRY: But last June, during the president's own unannounced trip to Baghdad, he expressed similar confidence in Maliki.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I appreciate you recognize the fact that the future of your country is in your hands.
HENRY: Now, today the White House also issued a veto threat over the latest Democratic plan to fund the war on a short-term basis. Tony Snow, the spokesman, charging that this would tie General Petraeus' hands -- Lou.
DOBBS: Thank you very much.
Ed Henry, from the White House.
The war in Iraq remains the number one concern for Americans, according to the latest CNN-Opinion Research Corporation poll. Fifty- one percent of Americans say in that poll that the war is extremely important to their upcoming vote in the presidential election. Terrorism, education, health care, gasoline prices, the next most important issues for voters.
Bill Schneider has our report.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice over): What matters in politics is not just how many people are on each side of an issue, but how much they care about it.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Other than Iraq and health care, there's no issue on the minds of the American people today, other than maybe gas prices, than immigration.
SCHNEIDER: Take the Iraq issue. Nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose the war. But do they care about the issue as much as war supporters?
Fifty-eight percent of those who oppose the war say the issue will be extremely important to their vote. Only 38 percent of war supporters feel that way. War critics don't just have the numbers, they also have the intensity.
Americans are divided over abortion. Just like some politicians.
RUDY GIULIANI (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In my case, I hate abortion. But I would respect a woman's right to make a different choice.
SCHNEIDER: But people who describe themselves as pro-life are twice as likely to say the issue will be extremely important to them than people who call themselves pro-choice. Abortion opponents have intensity on their side.
A solid majority of Americans favors allowing illegal aliens who have been living in the United States for a number of years to stay and apply for citizenship if they have a job and pay back taxes. Critics call that amnesty.
REP. LAMAR SMITH (R), TEXAS: It encourages even more illegal immigration, so it's not a part of the solution, it's part of the problem.
SCHNEIDER: Amnesty critics have intensity on their side. They are much more likely to say the issue will be extremely important to their vote than people who favor amnesty.
SCHNEIDER: That's why politicians pay so much attention to letters and e-mails and people who show up at town halls. They want to know who really cares about an issue. Intensity matters, not just numbers -- Lou. DOBBS: Bill Schneider reporting.
The White House tonight struggling to fill a number of top-level vacancies in the Bush administration, and a rising number. The most prominent among those posts? The job of war czar to coordinate U.S. efforts to conduct the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The White House is looking for a new deputy national security adviser. The White House also wants to appoint a new administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The Bush administration searching for a new assistant secretary of state to improve the U.S. image overseas, as well. And a replacement for the number three official at the Treasury Department.
These departures coming nearly two years before the president's term of office ends. In all, about 20 senior officials have either retired or resigned from the White House, the Pentagon and State Department in just the past six months.
Coming up here next, Christopher Hitchens, author of the new book "God is Not Great," will be here to discuss an unwelcome intrusion of religion into politics. And the latest example, insensitive remarks by the Reverend Al Sharpton during a debate with author Hitchens. Sharpton now facing charges he's a bigot. He says he isn't.
And whatever happened to the separation of church and state doctrine? Religious leaders now forming a national coalition, another one, to defy U.S. immigration laws.
We'll have that special report.
And fires and floods across the country. Firefighters battling infernos coast to coast. The nation's heartland hit by some of the worst flooding ever.
We'll be right back. Stay with us.
DOBBS: Reverend Al Sharpton, the man who so vocally, vigorously and righteously called for the firing of radio host Don Imus for making insensitive comments, tonight is being called a bigot for his insensitive comments.
Christine Romans reports tonight on the latest example, at least in my view, of an unwelcome and unrelenting intrusion of religion into politics.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The Reverend Al Sharpton debating author Christopher Hitchens earlier this week. Sharpton said true believers in God won't elect the Mormon candidate, a direct reference to Republican candidate Mitt Romney. REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: And as for the one Mormon running for office, those that really believe in God will defeat him anyway, so, don't worry about that. That's a temporary -- that's a temporary situation.
ROMANS: Romney called it a "... extraordinarily bigoted kind of statement."
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think Reverend Sharpton's comment was terribly misguided.
ROMANS: Sharpton responded that his attack was on nonbelievers, like Hitchens, who just wrote a book called "God is Not Great". "In no way did I attack Mormons or the Mormon Church when I responded that other believers, not atheists, would vote against Mr. Romney for purely political purposes."
And then Sharpton, who made the comments, blamed the victim -- in this case, presidential candidate Romney -- saying it's "... a blatant effort to fabricate a controversy to help their lagging campaign."
What it is is the latest example of the politics of God on the campaign trail.
ROBERT BOSTON, AMER. UNITED FOR SEP. OF CHURCH & STATE: There is too much emphasis on religion in our campaigns. And you hear the TV preachers, and you hear what you might call the religious right constantly stressing this issue. And as a result, it gets a lot more play than it probably deserves to get.
ROMANS: This spring, conservative evangelical leader James Dobson suggested author and former senator Fred Thompson is not Christian enough to ever be president, complimenting instead New Gingrich, an admitted adulterer who has been married three times.
ROMANS: In this case, Sharpton defends himself, saying believers will defeat Romney because he is Republican, not because of his religion. But on the tape, he doesn't call Romney a republican, he calls him the Mormon candidate.
The debate in its entirety will be soon be available for viewing, Lou, for anyone who wants to see the whole thing, from start to finish, with Christopher Hitchens, at fora.tv on the Web.
DOBBS: Now, Reverend Al Sharpton is basically denying -- straightforwardly, not basically -- straightforwardly denying he said what we just listened to him and saw him say.
ROMANS: And he says the person who attacked Mormons was Christopher Hitchens himself. So you can ask Christopher about that.
DOBBS: Well, I wouldn't be surprised if Christopher Hitchens attacked Mormons and every other sectarian group in the world. But the idea that he blames the victim here, a presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, who is a Mormon, for his statements, and then to deny it his statements that we just heard, I mean, that's...
ROMANS: He says it's a made-up controversy for political gain by the Mitt Romney campaign.
DOBBS: Blaming the victim. I wonder if Reverend Al Sharpton has thought about his rather righteous and vigorous comments about Don Imus after this misstatement by him.
Christine Romans, thank you very much.
We'll have much more on this controversy here later. Christopher Hitchens will be joining us here live.
Time now for some of your thoughts.
Irma in California wrote in to say, "Hi, Lou. As an African- American, it seems that the days of my sending e-mails to the networks that Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson do not represent me each time I see them coming to an end."
And Judy in Pennsylvania, "I completely agree with your article, 'A Call to the Faithful'."
That, by the way, my commentary on CNN.com today.
"As a life-long Catholic, I find myself often practicing what I've heard called 'the Catholic wink'. I go to church and receive communion, I am also pro-choice, pro birth control, pro death penalty in the right circumstances. It's frightening what George Bush and other ultra-right wing conservatives have done while invoking God as their justification. The founding fathers knew what they were doing when they separated church and state. Go get them, Lou."
And Gene in Florida, "I'll stop talking politics if they exempt me from federal taxes."
We'll have more of your thoughts here later in the broadcast.
Next, a rising number of religious leaders are threatening one of our most important constitutional principles, and one of this nation's fundamental doctrines, the separation of church and state.
We'll have complete coverage.
And firefighters battling to control fires on the East and West Coast. The Midwest facing some of the worst flooding ever.
Those stories, a great deal more straight ahead. Stay with us.
DOBBS: Firefighters in Florida and Georgia tonight are trying to contain wildfires that have burned more than 200 square miles. Dry weather and high winds worsening matters.
Florida remains under a state of emergency tonight as firefighters there battle more than 200 wildfires all across the state. Those fires have scorched as much as 18,000 acres in Bradford County. That in northern Florida. More than 250 homes evacuated. Smoke from those fires creating hazy skies as far south as Miami.
In southeastern Georgia, crews tonight are still fighting a massive wildfire burning in Charlton and Ware counties. The fire destroying more than 100,000 acres. Part of that fire now burning on the Florida border.
And in Los Angeles, firefighters there still at the scene of a wildfire in Los Angeles' Griffith Park. We showed the beginning of that fire here last nights. That fire has now scorched more than 800 acres.
For more on the fire, we go to Peter Viles, live in Los Angeles.
Peter, what's the very latest from there?
PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Excellent news today, this morning and this afternoon, on this fire, Lou. It was burning out of control last night, but now under control, according to the mayor. Fifty percent contained, according to fire officials. They think they can get to 100 percent containment within 24 hours.
Here's a very positive headline. Not a single house was lost in this fire.
Tremendous news reflecting a tremendous effort by firefighters, given the scene up here in Griffith Park last night. This fire was big, it was behaving radically. It was heading straight toward some of these suburban neighborhoods. And down in those neighborhoods below this par, people were terrified as they watched this fire approach.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was on the backside by the merry-go-round, and it looked like hell. And I've never been to hell, I hope I never go to hell. But if I ever went to hell, I bet it would look like that. It was just a wall of flames.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VILES: That wall of -- that wall of flame nowhere to be seen at this hour, Lou.
The most troubling aspect of this fire in many ways is the date. This is early May. We are not supposed to see these kind of wildfires until late summer or into the fall.
The problem, we're in a historic drought here in Los Angeles. We have had three inches of rain since last July. The average rainfall in that time period would be 15 inches.
But we did not have a rainy season this year. No rain to speak of January, February, March. That's the rain that usually makes us safe from wildfires for a couple of months.
We didn't get the rain. So, we are not safe from wildfires. So, Lou, this could be a preview of coming attractions.
DOBBS: Peter, thank you.
Peter Viles from Los Angeles.
More massive flooding in parts of the Midwest as rivers and other waterways continue to spill over their banks. A state of emergency in effect tonight in Missouri, where at least 20 levees have been breached.
Heavy rains earlier in the week causing massive flooding in several Midwestern states, including Kansas and Iowa. Missouri officials say their flooding could be amongst the worst in Midwestern history.
Another disaster in the Midwest has Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama explaining himself tonight. During a campaign speech in Virginia last night, Senator Obama drastically and dramatically overstated the death toll from the Greensburg, Kansas, tornado.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just in case you missed it, this week, this week there was a tragedy in Kansas. Ten thousand people died. An entire town destroyed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: And in case you missed it, the actual number of people killed in the town of Greensburg, Kansas, was 10. Two other people were killed elsewhere in the state.
Senator Obama corrected himself a few moments later, saying he made the mistake because he was, as he put it, tired.
Up next here, meddling religious leaders threatening the separation of church and state in this nation, stepping up their political campaign against immigration laws.
We'll have that special report.
And I'll be joined by one of those religious leaders here in just a matter of moments.
Also, the U.S. Senate renewing its efforts to award amnesty to as many as 20 million illegal aliens and throw our borders wide open.
We'll have a special report.
And charges of hypocrisy and bigotry after astonishing remarks by Al Sharpton about religion, politics, and the Mormon presidential candidate. Sharpton making those remarks during a debate with the author of "God is Not Great," Christopher Hitchens.
Christopher Hitchens among our guests here tonight. He joins us next.
Stay with us.
DOBBS: Many religious leaders in this country are ignoring the doctrine of separation of church and state and our laws by interfering in the debate over amnesty for illegal aliens. Evangelical and Catholic leaders today stepped up their efforts, announcing a new coast-to-coast sanctuary movement.
Casey Wian tonight reports from Los Angeles, where churches are defying federal immigration laws, providing sanctuary to illegal aliens.
Bill Tucker reporting on a unique gathering of faiths and of sanctuary movement in New York City.
We begin our reporting tonight with Casey Wian in Los Angeles -- Casey.
CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, they are breaking the law, and they admit it. Church leaders say they are offering sanctuary to illegal aliens to promote the cause of amnesty.
WIAN (voice over): First, there was Elvira Arellano, the fugitive illegal alien who has claimed sanctuary in a Chicago store front church for nine months. Now, religious groups from coast to coast are offering protection for illegal aliens who have been ordered deported by federal immigration authorities.
PASTOR CESASR ARROYO, ANGELICA LUTHERAN CHURCH: We want to respect the law. That is our first goal. But when the law takes other way, and the justice takes other way, we have the need to stand up.
WIAN: Arroyo's North Hollywood church is where this Guatemalan illegal alien, who gave the name Juan Sanctuario, will be defying his order of deportation.
JUAN SANCTUARIO, ILLEGAL ALIEN (through translator): I am here because the law is not good. They are separating many families.
WIAN: Organizers claim hundreds of Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders are participating in the so-called New Sanctuary Movement.
ALEXIA SALVATIERRA, NEW SANCTUARY MOVEMENT: And we can pray to the God of justice that we will find a comprehensive solution for the common good of us all. WIAN: They say it's modeled after a similar effort a quarter century ago, when thousands of Central American refugees arrived in the United States, fleeing war and death squads.
But so far, only a handful of illegal aliens have accepted the sanctuary offer, perhaps fearing that flaunting their presence in front of television cameras might not be the most prudent path to amnesty.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement released a statement, saying, "Those who willfully violate U.S. immigration laws face the consequences of their actions. ICE prioritizes enforcement efforts to best protect national security and promote the public safety of communities throughout the country. We carry out enforcement actions at appropriate times and places."
The churches offering protection admit they're daring ICE to enter their so-called sanctuaries and apprehend deportable illegal aliens. So far, ICE has refused.
WIAN: But immigration officials point out that U.S. law does not recognize the concept of church sanctuary. So, there is nothing stopping ICE Agents from entering a church and apprehending fugitive illegal aliens. Nothing, Lou, except politics.
DOBBS: And politics and religion definitely mixing today coast to coast, at least, in small numbers. Any idea of how many takers for a sanctuary as laid out by these church groups?
WIAN: So far, a grand total of five, Lou. They say that's because there are a lot of legal maneuverings they have to do, registering these folks. They're sending letters to ICE, but so far only five takers, Lou.
DOBBS: Sounds like a very complicated process. Thank you very much. Casey Wian from Los Angeles.
Religious groups in New York City also taking part in the sanctuary movement. Bill Tucker has our report.
BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The news conference in New York began with a prayer service.
REV. DONNA SCHAPER, JUDSON MEMORIAL CHURCH: Bless what we do. Let what is hidden come into the light. Let what is cold by fear be warmed by love.
TUCKER: Clergy from various faiths were then called to sign the pledge of the new sanctuary movement, a pledge made in the face of increased immigration enforcement, an action they called a humanitarian crisis of national proportion.
RABBI MICHAEL FEINBERG, GREATER NEW YORK LABOR-RELIGION COALITION: For us, sanctuary is an act of radical hospitality.
SAYKH T.A. BASHIR, THE HOUSE OF PEACE: Are these people criminals? No, they are not. What did these people do while they're here? They're working people.
TUCKER: The word "illegal" was carefully avoided, even though nothing about the new sanctuary movement would be necessary if it were a movement for and about legal immigrants.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No one is illegal in the eyes of God, and this is a religious movement.
TUCKER: In the eyes of the state, it's another matter entirely. Two families were offered sanctuary, families who are not yet deportable because their cases are under legal appeal. Joe and his wife entered the country illegally, using fake passports.
Gene was a legal permanent resident who served 11 years in prison on drug charges.
REV. GIL MARTINEZ, ST. PAUL THE APOSTLE: The law of God that says that there is no borders, that there are no borders, is the one that we're required to follow.
TUCKER: And so say the leaders of the new sanctuary movement, are positioning themselves, not only in opposition to immigration law, but also, the sovereignty of the United States.
TUCKER: And while the leaders spoke of the fear provoked by current immigration law, which would have people deported, they were very quick to invoke fear in their part of the argument, asking what would happen to the children that deported families would be forced to leave behind?
Lou, there is no law -- let's be very clear about this -- no law which would force them to leave their children behind. That would be a decision that would be made by their parents.
DOBBS: Absolutely. Without question. And, of course, all of this, resting upon the decisions of people who have made that very clear choice to enter this country illegally.
Bill Tucker, thank you very much.
I have to say, to listen to a Catholic priest say that -- let's -- let's be sure I quote him correctly. The law of God that says there are no borders is the one we are required to follow. That is breathtaking in its implications. Thank you very much, Bill Tucker.
Tonight's poll, our question is straightforward. Do you believe the political adventurism of our religious leaders is now a threat to our constitution and the doctrine of separation of church and state? Yes or no. Cast your vote at LouDobbs.com. We'll have the results here later in the broadcast. A new political effort in Washington to impose amnesty and open borders legislation on American citizens. Amnesty supporters in the Senate today reintroducing last year's failed comprehensive immigration legislation, because they couldn't come up with a new one.
Lisa Sylvester has our report.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The tone of the immigration debate is sharpening, as lawmakers kick into re-election mode. Listen to this YouTube clip of Senator Lindsey Graham. Graham was speaking before the National Council of La Raza. He clearly favors legalizing illegal aliens.
SEN. LINDSAY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We are going to solve this problem. We're not going to run people down. We're not going to scapegoat people. We're going to tell the bigots to shut up, and we're going to get this right.
SYLVESTER: Getting it right to Graham means giving millions of illegal aliens legal status. But an amnesty bill is not acceptable to many other Republicans and Democrats.
Senator Arlen Specter is among a group of lawmakers trying to push through legislation that would pass both the House and Senate.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I believe that there is a universal agreement that the immigration situation in the United States today is an unmitigated disaster.
SYLVESTER: Specter and other senators have been meeting since February three times a week for two hours at a time, trying to reach a consensus. But they don't have one yet, and time is running out.
Without that consensus, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has dusted off last year's Senate bill, and that will be the starting point for debate.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: How can we have anything that's more fair than taking a bill that overwhelmingly passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis and using that as the instrument to which we're going to allow amendments? It will be an open amendment process.
SYLVESTER: Even though that bill passed the Senate last year, support for it has since withered, and that legislation went nowhere in the House.
SYLVESTER: Senate leader Harry Reid says all options are on the table, and if there is compromise legislation reached by Monday, he will consider taking it up. Senator Arlen Specter said last year's immigration bill is unacceptable and warned Republicans could filibuster that legislation next week -- Lou. DOBBS: Lisa, that's incredible. And to listen to Senator Lindsey Graham, saying that he's going to move this ahead, they're going to fix it, and shut up all the bigots. Is he calling the senators with whom he serves bigots, who oppose amnesty?
SYLVESTER: What he is saying, and we called his office, and they're trying to clarify that statement, by saying that he was referring to Nazis and members of the KKK who are resurging in his state. He says that he was not referring to his colleagues in the Senate.
And he said there are some people on the side of the aisle who may not agree with him, but are not bigots -- Lou.
DOBBS: Resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and Nazis in South Carolina? That's a news headline, in and of itself. Thank you very much, Lisa Sylvester from Washington.
Up next, Reverend Derrick Harkins, a member of the Coalition of Evangelical Christian leaders, calling for so-called comprehensive immigration reform. He'll be here to discuss the -- what we see, and many others as a rising threat to the separation of church and state in this country.
And the man involved in the Sharpton/Romney showdown. Best selling author of "God is Not Great". Christopher Hitchens joins us to give us his eyewitness account, as well as his own unique perspective on religion and politics and presidential candidates. Stay with us.
DOBBS: Many of the nation's religious leaders are ignoring or pushing back or just simply -- simply negating the idea of a separation of church and state in the argument over our illegal immigration crisis. The Catholic Church, particularly the Los Angeles diocese, has been at the forefront of the push for amnesty. Now, a new coalition of more than 100 mostly evangelical Christians lobbying Congress for amnesty.
The Reverend Derrick Harkins is a member of the coalition, Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. He's joining us tonight from our studios in Washington, D.C.
Good to have you with us.
REV. DERRICK HARKINS, CHRISTIANS FOR COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM: Great to be with you.
DOBBS: Well, now, I got to ask you -- we heard today, we just heard one Catholic priest say that he's got to follow the law of God that doesn't recognize borders. How far are you all going to go here?
HARKINS: Well, I can't speak for the priest that you had on your piece, however, he might be very well talking about the fact that, you know, the gospel tells us that in Christ there's no Jew nor Greek, bond or free. I can't speak for him, but I can understand, at least, the sense of what he was trying to get at.
But I do think it's important to remember that, borders aside, human compassion is always front and center for the church, and it has been and should be.
DOBBS: Sure. Right. And I'm just wondering where your compassion is for those people who are watching their wages decline in the industries in which there is the greatest employment of illegal immigrants. Let's start out with leisure, hospitality, hotels, restaurants, landscaping and construction.
What does -- what is your moral position on behalf of American citizens who, after all, make you possible?
HARKINS: I think one of the best things that could possibly happen in those realms is comprehensive immigration reform, because it brings out of the shadows those people who are being paid without the benefit of medical coverage, without the benefit of other types of insurance, driving down the wage base and brings them into the light.
And meaning, therefore, that the overall base of wages will be a lot more equitable and fair.
DOBBS: Well, let me ask...
HARKINS: The best way to resolve that is to bring those from the shadows into the light.
DOBBS: So, you all, on religious grounds, have decided you're going to support whatever the Senate and the president put forward? Is that right?
HARKINS: No. I think what's important to do is to advocate for compassion, to advocate for understanding.
DOBBS: Hey, I'm with you. I'm compassionate. I bet everybody watching is compassionate. We've got a lot of folks to care about in this country, and I think we all care about every one of them.
HARKINS: But I think the church has every right, as well, to be in the public square, to try to help to inform that ongoing discussion.
HARKINS: And I think, therefore, whatever the president -- and it is absolutely the responsibility of the president, and the Congress, to come up with that legislation. Not the church.
DOBBS: What are the religious and moral responsibilities of the church when it comes to, say, border security? You don't believe in borders, you said?
HARKINS: I know -- well, you're not quoting me. I think that borders, obviously, are very much a reality, and they do...
DOBBS: Why is that important? Why is that important to you?
HARKINS: Well, we live in a world, unfortunately, where -- where the infiltration of borders doesn't simply mean the issue of illegal immigrants, but it also has implications as far as national security, et cetera.
DOBBS: What was the implication for the state of Israel, following your reasoning, that of the Catholic priest we just quoted?
HARKINS: Well, again -- again, you're coupling me with somebody who's made a very specific...
DOBBS: I'm coupling you with the idea that borders are important. I'm coupling you with the idea that laws are important.
HARKINS: Borders are important. But compassion, again, compassion and an understanding of how that compassion is extended to individuals, is really the front and center responsibility of the church.
DOBBS: Let me ask you a question. Do you know of a more compassionate nation or people on the face of the earth?
HARKINS: Absolutely the United States has -- has its mandate, its legacy of compassion. All the more reason for us to make sure the way in which we deal with this dilemma is done compassionately. All the more reason for the church to be a part of that discussion.
DOBBS: Well, you know, on that one, I would have to say to you, sir, you all are taking up just like any lobbyist. Do you think you ought to lose your tax exception, because you're directly involved in a political issue? If you are on moral grounds or religious grounds, you're involved in a political issue.
HARKINS: But there's a very big difference between being astute as to public policy issues and being partisan. The issue of immigration reform doesn't mean that anybody has to have a partisan stance in this.
DOBBS: Well, it sounds like you have lined up for amnesty here pretty clearly. That puts you in counterpoint and in opposition, it seems, to, based on the surveys I've seen, about 60 percent of the Protestant Church-going members, according to the Zogby poll last year, up about 65 percent against the membership of the Catholic Church.
HARKINS: Last month, the Zogby poll that -- excuse me, "USA Today"/Gallup poll indicated that 78 percent of Americans believe that some path, earned path to...
DOBBS: I thought that you would be more interested in the faithful. And I'm quoting a poll of the faithful.
HARKINS: Well, I would say to you that I dare say that that poll, also, the one that I just quoted, also no doubt reflects a significant number of persons who are part of churches. I think the church has that mandate, as the Bible says, to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. And in walking humbly, it means we've got to be prayerful about how we address a very difficult situation.
DOBBS: How humble it is, Reverend, when you start getting into -- you ignore separation of church and state in this country, one of our fundamental values...
HARKINS: I think one of the most...
DOBBS: How humble -- please, hear me out.
HARKINS: Sure. I'm sorry.
DOBBS: How humble is it when you move from saving souls to focusing on public policy?
HARKINS: Well, again, I would dare say that this is not -- when you say public policy, this is people policy. These are children, these are mothers. These are...
DOBBS: Reverend, all I can -- about all I can say here, being out of time, is hallelujah. We appreciate you being with us.
HARKINS: Well, God bless you, Lou.
DOBBS: Thank you very much. Reverend Harkins.
A reminder now to vote in our poll. The question is do you believe the political adventurism of our religious leaders is a threat to our Constitution and the separation of church and state? Yes or no. Cast your vote at LouDobbs.com.
We will be back in just a moment. We will be back with best selling author Christopher Hitchens. He'll join us for his perspective on the controversy that erupted from his debate with Civil Rights Activist Al Sharpton. Mitt Romney says Sharpton's remarks about his religion are bigoted. Christopher Hitchens, live here next. Stay with us.
DOBBS: The controversy over Al Sharpton's remarks about presidential candidate Mitt Romney's election and religion emanated from a debate at the New York Public Library, held with Christopher Hitchens.
Christopher Hitchens, of course, is the author of the brand new, best-selling book, "God is Not Great". He joins us here now, and we're delighted to have his perspective on this controversy.
Good to have you here. Congratulations on how well the book is doing. I know that's what was driving this discussion with Al Sharpton. Let's take, if I may. Before we start, let's remind everybody of what Al Sharpton actually had to say. So, could we hear that again?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: And as for the one Mormon running for office, those that really believe in God will defeat him anyway, so, don't worry about that. That's a temporary -- that's a temporary situation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOBBS: What was your reaction when he said that?
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, AUTHOR, "GOD IS NOT GREAT": Well, I -- as you can say, he's a bit of a crowd pleaser. In fact, that's one of the best-known things about him. And he was trying to be funny.
But he was reacting to a point that I made seriously, which was, it surprises me that Governor Romney is not asked more often, nor at all, about the fact that his church was officially racist until at least 1965. It only changed its so-called revelation...
HITCHENS: ... that black people were of a different species, and an inferior one, when the Civil Rights Act was about to pass. And they would have been in the same position at the Mormons of Utah were when they wanted to practice polygamy before being outside the law.
DOBBS: And then Reverend Sharpton, coming back to say, as the one Mormon. Those who really believe in God will defeat him.
DOBBS: Here's what he said in his statement, when this was brought to his attention today: "In a review of the transcript of the debate at the New York Public Library with author Christopher Hitchens, clearly indicates it was Hitchens that attacked the Mormons."
He then said, in response, Mitt Romney said this, "I can only, hearing that statement, wonder whether there's not bigotry that still remains in America." An extraordinary thing for someone to say. "Extraordinarily bigoted kind of statement. I find it really quite extraordinary."
A lot of extraordinaries.
HITCHENS: There's nothing ordinary for this. And, for Governor Romney.
Well, I must say I think it's bizarre that he finds the question surprising. And there is the fact of the matter. If you remember, Senator Byrd used to have to answer a lot of questions about the fact he used to be a Ku Klux Klansman, as you know.
The Romney family is not just -- members of the Mormon Church and senior people in it. For a long time, that church was officially racist. And there were some doubts as to the sincerity of its repudiation.
DOBBS: Well, how would you -- let me ask you this. Mitt Romney...
HITCHENS: If there's any bigotry, then, well, the question remains with the governor.
DOBBS: Is there -- are you suggesting that there are sufficient bigotry to go around? Did you -- that is, from your perspective, that Mormon Church, bigotry against women; and the Catholic Church, since they cannot hold the priesthood; bigotry on the part of Al Sharpton, because of his statement about true believers...
HITCHENS: He couldn't be a member of the Society of Jesus unless you could prove you hadn't got a Jewish great-great grandfather. There are all kind of -- for me, religion and bigotry are more or less the same thing.
DOBBS: And do you believe...
HITCHENS: And there's never more so when they're attacking another faith. They really -- when you see people of faith, as in this case, the so-called Reverend Sharpton, and an elder member of the Mormon Church. I don't know if he's actually an elder. A senior member for sure. You see how the Christians love each other, don't you?
DOBBS: Well -- well, Mitt Romney did say that he sees a battle of -- a warring among religions in this country. There has become such a blurring of lines now between the separation and church and state, from the standpoint of religion in this country, once a fundamental doctrine, that this is becoming a sectarian verbal violence, at the very least.
HITCHENS: Well, I don't see any sign of, any violence in the discourse, as yet.
DOBBS: Verbal violence.
DOBBS: When you start talking about bigotry. That gets to be to a pretty high level. And there's a certain righteousness. I mean, when you think about the misstatement that Al Sharpton made, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.
This is a man who just a short time ago was righteously and indignantly calling, because of the misstatement by Don Imus, the radio talk show host, demanding his ouster. And here he is, and making a statement in which he's accused of bigotry.
I mean, have we gotten overly righteous in this country?
HITCHENS: Well, I certainly think the row about Imus was largely preposterous. But it can't be denied that what he said was hateful and intended to wound. And it was not a small criticism, unbelievably -- not a small criticism at all. Unbelievably unfunny. So, you know...
DOBBS: And I didn't -- nothing struck you...
HITCHENS: Well, he was trying to be funny. But this is a question of what's the most he can be saying in this case, Sharpton, I mean? He's saying, which a lot of Christians say, Mormons are not really Christians.
HITCHENS: They have not no right to call themselves Christian, because they are founded by this very bizarre mountebank, Joseph Smith, who claimed to have had a later revelation than that of the Bible and one that transcends that. Now that, for a believing Christian, must surely be blasphemy.
It's not for me to arbitrate. But Hugh Hewitt has written a very interesting book on this subject, as you probably know, about the possibility of a Mormon candidate. And these are questions that all Christians in the south take very seriously.
DOBBS: A lot of people take these questions seriously. I approach it as -- from a very secular standpoint. Primarily concerned about, obviously the Constitution, separation of church and state. I think many Americans view it that way.
To hear a discussion, this early, in a presidential debate, about religion, one or the other, casting aspersions, or having aspersions cast against their faith when there are so many important issues. It's truly remarkable.
HITCHENS: Yes, it's the wrong way to phrase the question. I agree. To have people of other faiths denouncing each other, saying they're not really a believer, because in my book, all faiths are essentially the same. They all rely on an affirmation of something that can't be proven.
It's interesting, is it not, how much the religious people don't like one another and how many wars have been fought, not between atheists and believers, but between believers and believers.
DOBBS: And it looks like we're just getting warmed up during this presidential season, where religion is going to play a role, depending on your perspective. From mine, a very unfortunate role. I think perhaps, from yours, how would your characterize...
HITCHENS: My subtitle is that religion poisons things. And I think this is a very good case for saying so.
DOBBS: And before that subtitle comes the title of Christopher Hitchens' best-selling new book, "God is Not Great". Good to have you here.
HITCHENS: Very nice to of you to have me back.
DOBBS: Coming up at the top of the hour, "THE SITUATION ROOM" and Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Lou.
More and more U.S. troops in Iraq targeted with deadly high-tech explosives. Now, there are new warnings about the growing threat and Iran's connection to it.
Plus, new attacks and counter attacks over Iraq war funding. The House minority leader, John Boehner, and the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, Charlie Rangel, offered dueling takes on a new funding plan and the pull-out.
And a U.S.-funded television channel that's supposed to improve America's image in the Middle East now accused of actually stirring up more hatred.
All that, Lou, coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
DOBBS: Look forward to it, Wolf. Thank you.
Up next here, more on the rising controversy over the role of religion in American politics. Stay with us.
DOBBS: Religion playing a rising role in our political public life, as illustrated by those astonishing remarks by Al Sharpton about the Mormon presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.
Joining me now, Christine Romans, Lisa Sylvester, covering two of those issues today.
Lisa, let me begin with you and Senator Lindsey Graham. As Christopher Hitchens said, these folks are playing to audiences, and it's fairly clear, isn't it, that's what Graham was doing, as well?
SYLVESTER: This was a speech that was given before the Council of La Raza back in March. Clearly, he was speaking to his crowd. And he had very forceful words, essentially telling the bigots to shut up.
DOBBS: And those -- and, having to make it very clear, today, that he wasn't talking about his colleagues in the Senate, who are opposed to amnesty. He is running for re-election, right?
SYLVESTER: He is rubbing for re-election. He's up next year. He's now saying that he was referring to members of the KKK and the Nazi march that was back in his home state of South Carolina, and not his colleagues. And it is at a time when they need consensus right now. They're trying to get some kind of an agreement through Congress.
DOBBS: Yes. They need to fix the KKK, as well, and the Nazis, if they go into South Carolina. Christine, the same situation for Al Sharpton.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Interesting thing for Mitt Romney, as well, because somebody at the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State said he needs to have a JFK moment, where he stands up and says, "Hey, there is a constitutional guarantee that religion and politics are separate in this country."
But he also has to play to a religious base. So he's in a tough position.
DOBBS: One wonders if one has to play, as you put it, to a religious base. John F. Kennedy got elected not doing so, and a fairly good standard, as had been the case with a host of presidents, pretty good ones.
Thank you very much, Christine Romans, Lisa Sylvester in Washington.
The results of our poll tonight. Ninety-five percent of you say the political adventurism of our religious leaders is a threat to our Constitution and the doctrine of separation of church and state.
Thanks for being with us. Join us here tomorrow. For all of us, good-night from New York. "THE SITUATION ROOM" begins now with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com