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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

GOP Senators Threaten to Force Change in Iraq Policy; Deadlock on Amnesty Deal

Aired May 16, 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, a political setback for the pro-illegal alien amnesty movement and its supporters in the Bush administration and on Capitol Hill. Can the pro-amnesty lobby push through so-called comprehensive immigration reform?
We'll have complete coverage for you tonight.

Also tonight, troubling new evidence of the close clinks between the White House and corporate America as the war on our middle class continues.

We'll have that special report.

And the Southern Poverty Law Center at it again, making outrageous claims against me and our reporting on illegal immigration, accusing me of "fomenting anti-immigrant hysteria".

We'll set the record straight here tonight.

And two top officials from the Southern Poverty Law Center, Richard Cohen and Mark Potok, join me for what is sure to be a full and frank exchange of views.

We'll have all that, all of the day's news, much more, straight ahead here tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Wednesday, May 16th.

Live from New York, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody.

We begin tonight with the biggest Republican challenge so far to the president's conduct of the war in Iraq. Senate Republicans today tried and failed to win Senate support for an amendment to restrict U.S. aid for Iraq if the Iraqi government fails to meet political and military goals.

The Bush White House also facing powerful opposition to its pro- amnesty agenda on Capitol Hill today. Senators so far unable to agree on so-called comprehensive immigration reform that would give amnesty to as many as 20 million illegal aliens.

Dana Bash reports tonight from Capitol Hill on the rising criticism of the president's conduct of this war within his own party. Ed Henry reports from the White House on the Bush administration's strong defense of its policies in Iraq.

And Lisa Sylvester tonight reporting from Washington on the political deadlock over so-called comprehensive immigration reform or amnesty.

We turn first to Dana Bash -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, most Republicans may still be reluctant to set a deadline for troops to come home, but many are more and more eager to express their frustration that they're hearing from their constituents back home over the direction of the war. That is why the Republican amendment today that the Senate voted on was so significant.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice over): It was a milestone in the Iraq war debate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On this vote, the yeas are 52, the nays are 44.

BASH: For the first time, the vast majority of the president's fellow Republicans voted to directly challenge his Iraq policy.

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: The situation in Iraq changes almost daily. Our losses continue.

BASH: The GOP measure called for Iraqis to meet benchmarks, show military and political progress. It also helped held the president accountable, saying, if Iraqis failed to meet those benchmarks, the president would have to revise his Iraq strategy and Congress would cut off $3 billion in economic aid to Iraqis.

Republican leaders conceded the significant number of GOP votes was a sign of their growing impatience with the war.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: The Iraqi government, it strikes me, needs to understand that they're running out of time to get their part of the job done.

BASH: The GOP measure fell short of the 60 votes needed to pass. Most Democrats in search of a deadline of troop withdrawal voted no.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Very tepid. Very weak. A cup of tea that's been sitting on counter for a few weeks, Mr. President. You wouldn't want to drink that tea.

BASH: As for the Democrats, the Senate decisively rejected their measure to force an end to the war by choking funding for U.S. combat operations, but the proposal did pick up support from Democrats who had opposed cutting off money for Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Obama, aye. Mrs. Clinton, aye. BASH: Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, all under pressure to appeal to staunchly anti- war voters, reluctantly voted yes.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: We're not going to be able to change this god-awful war. This war is a disaster.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, all of these votes amounted to what one Republican aide called pressure release, a chance for both sides to express their varying degrees of frustration with the war before the really hard part starts, and that is going to be, Lou, bipartisan negotiations with the White House over a war spending bill that everyone agrees the president must sign by Memorial Day. And as you know, that's less than two weeks away -- Lou.

DOBBS: Vote after vote after vote, and so far this Congress has accomplished nothing in altering the direction of the U.S. conduct of the war. At any point, is it expected that they can be successful in doing so?

BASH: Well, if you talked to Democrats and, frankly, even some Republicans, they say that these particular votes, they were symbolic, yes, but they hope that it will give them negotiating position, a better negotiating position, when they sit down with the president over this war funding bill. They hope at least they can put some benchmarks in for Iraqis, force the president to have a little bit more accountability when it comes to the war.

That's the first step, they say.

DOBBS: Dana Bash from Capitol Hill.

The White House today declared the Bush administration remains fully committed to what it called success in Iraq. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said withdrawal on a timetable would have catastrophic consequences.

Ed Henry reports from the White House -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Lou, the president clearly under fire with an increasing number of Republicans on Capitol Hill, raising those sharp questions about his policy in Iraq. Republicans also now expressing confusion about the president's rationale for creating this new war coordinator.

Conservative Richard Perle today telling CNN that he thinks it's absurd for the White House to basically bring in an outsider to tackle their most pressing and urgent national security issue. White House Spokesman Tony Snow, as you noted, pushing back on that criticism, saying the president just wants one go-to person to cut through the red tape and try to deal with both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And also pushing back against these Senate votes on Capitol Hill, and once again repeating the familiar refrain about how the White House does not like withdrawal dates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Our allies think it's a terrible idea. The Iraqis think it's a terrible idea. And the long- term consequence -- and it is worth emphasizing over and over and over again -- simply withdrawing creates a vacuum that would lead to catastrophic consequences in terms of absolutely unacceptable bloodshed, horrific casualties.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now, the White House has another political headache tonight involving an architect of the Iraq war, Paul Wolfowitz. Administration officials telling CNN the White House has concluded that the World Bank president can no longer serve because of all the international concern about -- in the wake of him negotiating this generous pay package for his girlfriend.

A senior administration official telling CNN today the situation looks grim, adding, "We want it over one way or the other." And these sources telling CNN that Wolfowitz is now in talks with World Bank officials over -- trying to work out details for a resignation, but a board meeting at the World Bank just wrapped up moments ago with no resolution. They're going to have another board meeting on Thursday -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you.

Ed Henry from the White House.

In Iraq, the search for three of our missing soldiers continues for a fifth straight day. That search is focused south of Baghdad. U.S. and Iraqi troops have so far failed to find any sign whatsoever of those soldiers.

The military offering a $200,000 reward for information, and the military dropping 150,000 leaflets asking local Iraqis for help in the search.

As our troops focused on finding those missing soldiers, insurgents launched three more attacks in other parts of Iraq. At least 29 people were killed in a Shia town in Diyala province, north of Baghdad. Another 47 people were wounded there.

Insurgents also flying mortars at the heavily fortified so-called Green Zone in Baghdad for a second straight day. Two Iraqis killed, 10 Iraqis wounded. None of those casualties American.

Senators from both parties tonight also focusing on domestic politics and issues. They're still trying to break a deadlock on the so-called comprehensive immigration reform legislation. That deal would give amnesty to as many as 20 million illegal aliens.

Lisa Sylvester now reports on those last-minute negotiations.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Democrats and Republicans have agreed in principle to an overall framework, but a deal has not been finalized, and both sides are now proceeding cautiously.

REID: Our immigration system is broken and certainly needs to be fixed. But in the process, we don't want to make it worse than what it was to start with.

SYLVESTER: Here's what's on the table. The 12 million-plus illegal aliens would qualify for a new Z visa. They would have to pay a fine of $5,000 paid back over time. To seek a green card, they would have to return or touch back to their home country. Illegal aliens would be able to bring only dependent children and spouses into the United States, not extended family.

The guest worker program would be limited to 400,000 people. They could work for two years at a time for a total of six years. Their families would not be included.

The Z visa and guest worker programs would not be implemented until after enforcement provisions are in place -- 18,000 border agents, 370 miles of fencing and a biometric secure identification system.

SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), GEORGIA: So that's a good foundation and that's why there's optimism, but until the ink's dry and we've read the fine print, nobody is going to be fully supportive.

SYLVESTER: But the details have slowed the process, including limits on administrative and judicial reviews and information sharing between the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration.

Senate leaders are insisting the immigration debate wraps up by the end of next week.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: And we think this year's bill is going to be a thousand pages. That's not a little bitty matter.

SYLVESTER: Senator Sessions says nine days is not enough to study the implications of a thousand-page bill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: And just a few minutes ago, Senator Ted Kennedy described Thursday, tomorrow, as D-Day, because many of the members won't be here on Friday. So the pressure is on.

Senators are reportedly close to reaching a deal. Now, there is talk on Capitol Hill that they could see some of the wording and language as early as tomorrow, but even if they are able to hammer out some kind of a compromise, it could be Monday before they actually see the language of this bill. DOBBS: Lisa, the idea that last year's legislation, which Senator Reid, the majority leader brought to the Senate, those are 700 pages unread. Senator Isakson talking about reading the fine print, they need a little time to do that.

These senators didn't even read the big print in last year's legislation. There is still no fiscal impact statement here. There is still no agreement on chain migration or limiting amnesty in any way.

This is thoroughly, I would think, disgusting to anyone who's interested in good government, irrespective of the issue. And we also had a surprise yesterday. Congress actually stepping back on its toes and saying to the administration, your pilot program to bring Mexican truckers into the United States is not acceptable.

SYLVESTER: That is true. They did pass a bill. The House passed a bill, and that calls for new safety measures to be in place before these Mexican trucks could travel on the U.S. highways. That vote was 411-3.

The Department of Transportation responded today, saying it is time to stop delaying a program that will be good for the American economy and implement the law that Congress passed 14 years ago, referring to NAFTA -- Lou.

DOBBS: That's interesting because NAFTA, in point of fact, has nothing to do with this pilot program, and it is the transportation and this administration, again, arrogantly trying to proceed despite an overwhelming vote in the U.S. Congress against that pilot project. I mean, it is amazing, the arrogance and the incompetence of this administration when it comes to illegal immigration, when it comes to border security, and a host of other issues.

And Nancy Boyda, a congresswoman from Kansas, and a couple of others there in Congress showing great leadership in getting this legislation through. As you said, overwhelming, 411-3. You would think even this -- this arrogant White House would pay some attention to that expression of the people's will.

SYLVESTER: That should send a message, Lou, but we'll see.

DOBBS: Exactly. And I know what you mean by we'll see. So does everyone else.

Thank you very much.

Lisa Sylvester.

Coming up next here, border state governors have had a belly full of the federal government's failure to secure our borders.

We'll have that story.

New questions about the close ties between the Bush administration and corporate America. Should there be any question about that?

Our report on the war on our middle class will continue.

And imports of foreign fish from communist China are soaring, but our government is doing absolutely nothing to stop dangerous food imports.

That report.

And the Southern Poverty Law Center accusing me of spreading false information about our illegal immigration crisis. We'll find out whose information is false and whose is true.

Two top officials with the Southern Poverty Law Center, Richard Cohen and Mark Potok, join us to discuss whether or not I'm fomenting anti-immigrant hysteria, as they put it.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: New charges tonight that the close ties between the Bush administration and corporate America are a threat to our middle class. Michael Baroody was tapped to run the Consumer Product Safety Commission. One small problem. Baroody is currently the chief lobbyist for the National Association of Manufacturers, a problem at least in the minds of some. In addition, his former employer is giving him a huge payment before he leaves the service of the NAM.

Christine Romans reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The president's nominee to run the country's top consumer safety agency, a lobbyist, was already controversial, and that was before news that Michael Baroody will receive a $150,000 payment from the National Association of Manufacturers.

Joan Claybrook of consumer watchdog Public Citizen says the payout is the last straw.

JOAN CLAYBROOK, PUBLIC CITIZEN: He is not qualified for this job. He has a conflict of interest, because even if he didn't get this $150,000 severance, the fact is that he has represented these companies before the Consumer Product Safety Commission to get them off the hook.

ROMANS: The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned his confirmation "... could have serious consequences for children's safety."

The Consumes Union agrees.

SALLY GREENBERG, CONSUMERS UNION: It's very important to have a chairman of the commission who can be involved, who can exert the kind of leadership that we expect from the head of a federal safety commission, which has everything to do with particularly children's safety, children's toys, children's nursery products, children's clothing. All those items are regulated by the commission.

ROMANS: Consumer advocates concede the $150,000 is a legal "extraordinary payment" properly disclosed in his confirmation papers. The safety agency and the NAM referred all questions to the White House.

A White House spokesman said the president stands behind his choice. "He's taken the correct steps to avoid any conflicts of interest if he is confirmed to serve. We believe he'd be an excellent leader of the Consumer Product Safety Commission."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: Those correct steps the White House refers to, he will recuse himself from safety issues involving the NAM itself for two years, but he will oversee the safety enforcement of the many members of the NAM. And that, consumer groups say, is where there is a blatant conflict -- Lou.

DOBBS: So, is the White House listening at all to these complaints and concerns about a -- apparently a very effective lobbyist for one of the largest business organizations in the country being put in a position to police those businesses?

ROMANS: The White House says it stands behind its nominee. There is a hold on that nomination right now. There will be hearings next week -- Lou.

DOBBS: An excellent idea, if I may say.

Christine, thanks.

Christine Romans.

That brings us to the question tonight in our poll.

Do you believe the National Association of Manufacturers top lobbyist should be allowed to accept $150,000 payment while being considered to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission? Yes or no?

Please cast your vote at loudobbs.com. The results will be upcoming here.

Time now for some of your thoughts.

And Justin in New Mexico wrote in to say, "Al Sharpton is a hypocrite. I find it amazing that anyone can lead the charge for Don Imus' firing and only a few weeks later make the comments he made about Mormons. The double standard makes me sick. Sharpton shouldn't get a free pass on these kinds of comments and hypocrisies."

Todd in Indiana said, "I thought pastors and church members had the same First Amendment rights as all other citizens. According to Lou Dobbs, I'm mistaken."

Actually, according to what you've been told you're mistaken. I never said they shouldn't have free speech rights. In point of fact, what I've said is I just think that there's a little intrusion on the part of church and churches and religious groups, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, you know, all across the country getting involved in the national political agenda.

And it's a violation, in my opinion, of the separation of church and state doctrine.

Bobbi in Nevada said, "Lou, I'm surprised that so many people are missing your point on the church-state issue. The real issue here is that the church is endorsing something that's clearly illegal. Religion is good, but when it's used for political purpose, then we're in trouble."

"Come on, people. Lou never alluded to denying anyone free speech. Don't back down, Lou."

You've got my word.

We'll have more of your thoughts here later in the broadcast.

And by the way, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council is going to be our guest here next week, so I'm looking forward to that discussion on the separation of church and state.

And just ahead, the rising concern about contaminated toxic food from communist China forcing some states to do something the federal government won't do. This sounds a lot like illegal immigration. No, this is food safety for the citizens of those states, something the federal government isn't doing.

And governors from three border states are demanding urgent action from the federal government in our illegal immigration and border security crisis.

We'll have a full report on what they say needs to be done now.

Are you listening, President Bush, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid?

Those stories and more coming right up. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Four states are taking action to protect their public from contaminated fish from communist China because the federal government is doing absolutely nothing to protect our food supply. Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi now say catfish from China contains harmful drugs that may cause serious health problems in humans.

And as Kitty Pilgrim reports, most imports of Chinese-farmed fish are not inspected at all.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Mississippi issued a stop sale order on imported Chinese catfish and pulled it off the grocery shelves. Alabama tested 20 samples of Chinese fish imports and 14 were contaminated with the drug fluoroquinolone.

RON SPARKS, ALABAMA DEPT. OF AG. & INDUSTRIES: We're trying to send a wakeup call to the federal government, because, again, the only reason we know about this is because our Department of Agriculture is vigilant enough to inspect samples of foreign-made catfish, and because of that, they discovered 65 percent of them had an ingredient that was banned in the United States. And that's just catfish.

PILGRIM: In the past year, the FDA found four banned chemicals in shipments of Chinese fish, some causing cancer, bone marrow diseases, liver and kidney damage, nerve, muscle and heart problems. Yet, imports of Chinese-farmed catfish were up 400 percent last year.

REP. MIKE ROSS (D), ARKANSAS: I would encourage consumers not to buy catfish that's been raised in China and shipped to the United States.

PILGRIM: Congressional hearings questioned the head of the FDA if the problem was a national one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there Chinese catfish coming into other states.

DR. DAVID ACHESON, FOOD & DRUG ADMINISTRATION: Yes, I'm sure there are.

PILGRIM: The U.S. catfish industry trade groups say Chinese farmers routinely use antibiotics to kill diseases in their fish ponds. The pond water is sometimes polluted with industrial waste, or even human waste, so Chinese farmers have used heavy antibiotics to disinfect the fish.

But the Chinese have become the largest exporters of seafood in the world. Seventy percent of fish consumed in the world is grown on fish farms in China.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Now, there's no way to tell if catfish in the grocery store is from China or not. It's not labeled with the country of origin.

The head of the FDA's food safety program agreed more information to consumers would be helpful, but he said his agency has put out an alert to importers of Chinese catfish -- Lou.

DOBBS: What in the heck does that mean, he's put out an alert?

PILGRIM: That means -- yes. It's certainly not a way that a consumer could protect themselves, definitely. DOBBS: Well, good for these states. Again, the fact that this federal government, where it seems to be absolutely negligent, incompetent, in others it is simply indifferent. This is a remarkable, remarkable crisis of competency in government, whether it's this issue or any other.

Thank you very much, Kitty. That is a troubling, troubling report.

Kitty Pilgrim.

Coming up next, the Southern Poverty Law Center is accusing me of using what it calls "wildly inaccurate data" in our reporting here on the illegal immigration crisis. Two top officials of the Southern Poverty Law Center join me so we can sort out who's really accurate and who is inaccurate.

We'll also have a special report on the rising number of leprosy cases in this country. And that may not be the worst of it. In fact, it isn't.

And the federal government has failed to secure our borders, and border state governors running out of patience. We'll have the story about what they're doing and what they want done next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Drug-related violence continues to escalate throughout Mexico. Two high-ranking law enforcement officials among the latest to be killed in a wave of murders this week.

Those murders took place in Mexico City and Tijuana. Drug dealers are suspected of gunning down the new chief of a drug intelligence unit of the nation's capital, Mexico City. In Tijuana, a high-ranking police officer there was shot to death.

Mexican drug dealers are also suspected of killing another man. They wrapped him in Christmas gift paper before dumping his body.

That violence in Mexico is spilling over our southern border. Now the governors of New Mexico and Arizona are demanding the federal government do something to protect that border.

Casey Wian reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The governors of California, Arizona and New Mexico, states devastated by escalating violence and unchecked illegal immigration are demanding quick action by the White House and Congress. New Mexico's Bill Richardson and Arizona's Janet Napolitano wrote President Bush Tuesday stating, "very little is being done at the federal level to find a permanent, workable solution to the underlying immigration problem in our country."

The governors also say "no real action is being proposed" to deal with border violence. Plans to build a few hundred miles of border fencing are "inadequate" and "we are very concerned" the White House will pull National Guard troops off the border before Border Patrol agents are trained to replace them and the governors say "it makes no sense" to transfer 120 veteran border patrol agents to train border guards in Iraq.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, (D) NEW MEXICO: To train them those trained guards that are so hard to get and move them away from the American border for the Iraqi border, for Iraqi border issues, 120 of them is just the height of a lack of sensible priorities. It seems Iraqi security is more important than American security.

WIAN: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was more conciliatory in a letter Wednesday to U.S. Senate leaders saying border security should not be abdicated to state and local governments. President Bush, meanwhile, appears in no hurry to address border security, preferring to wait for Congress to pass a bill granting amnesty to illegal aliens.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm optimistic that we can get comprehensive immigration reform, one, that enforces our border, two, holds employers to account and three, recognizes we have got workers here who are doing jobs Americans aren't doing.

WIAN: The president took 33 seconds to explain his immigration reform vision. He devoted two seconds to border security.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: Now all three border governors support the idea of so- called comprehensive immigration reform, but they all make clear the federal government is not living up to the border security component of that plan, Lou.

DOBBS: Or frankly to any other component without enforcement of U.S. immigration law nor certainly securing our borders and our ports. As Senator Jeff Sessions said, this has all the makings, if I may paraphrase, of a very bad joke.

Casey, was there also an interesting report before those governors get too concerned about the withdrawal of those National Guard troops last week. The university -- the Arizona State University revealing in its research that the Border Patrol and Border Patrol agents and the National Guard, not the principal reason for the slowdown in illegal alien traffic across certain sectors of our border.

WIAN: Absolutely, the Bush administration has gone to great lengths, taking credit for its deployment of the National Guard to the border without the power to address anyone, and the economic factors such as the slowdown in the housing market, the construction industry now the leading employer of illegal aliens and probably the main reason why there are fewer apprehensions on the border, Lou. DOBBS: Casey Wian from Los Angeles. Thank you.

The mayor of the small Pennsylvania town that took on the illegal immigration crisis has won both the Democratic and Republican nominations for a third term in office. Mayor Lou Barletta gaining national attention when his town council passed measures cracking down on landlords who rent to illegal aliens and businesses who hire them. Mayor Barletta easily won not only the Republican vote winning 94 percent of that vote and he also won a Democratic vote, staging a write-in there as well. To our knowledge, that is the first time that has ever happened.

Coming up next, the facts about leprosy in America. Reported cases are on the rise. We'll have special report for you and what it means.

And the Southern Poverty Law Center has said that on this broadcast we've given legitimacy to what are called, quote, "wild, unsupported claims about immigration," end quote. That's just one of a few of what I consider to be wild and unsupported claims by the Southern Poverty Law Center made against me and this broadcast. We'll be setting the record straight when the leadership of the Southern Poverty Law Center joins us tonight is our guests. Stay with us for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: The number of reported incidents of leprosy in this country is rising and that isn't the worst of it. Some doctors who deal directly with that disease, also called Hansen's disease say many cases go unreported and that the actual increases and the total number of cases on the national registry may be even more significant. Bill Tucker reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dr. Bill Levis is one of the most respected doctors in the world on the treatment of leprosy or Hansen's disease as it's now known and he says the disease is on the rise.

Levis is the attending physician at the Hanson's disease clinic at New York City's Bellevue hospital. It is one of 11 such federally- funded clinics in eight states and Puerto Rico. Leprosy peaked in the United States 1983 when 456 new cases were reported according to the Department of Health and Human Services which attributes the rise to a large increase in immigration from Southeast Asia.

The number of new cases bottomed out in 2000, but the number of leprosy cases has more than doubled in the years since. Respected medical authorities say there are reasons to suspect those numbers understate the number of leprosy cases.

DR. WILLIAM LEVIS, HANSEN'S DISEASE CLINIC: In the last 30, 40 years we've had 7,000 by registry figures that are maintained, but it's likely to be significantly more than that because not all states require, including New York State, are requiring reporting of the disease. So it's underreported. So that's a minimal figure.

TUCKER: Forty years ago there were fewer than 1,000 people on the registry in the United States. Not only does New York State not require that doctors report cases of leprosy, neither do the states of Georgia, Maine, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, North Dakota and West Virginia.

Complicating the underreporting, many doctors don't even recognize the disease when confronted with it. Of the cases Dr. Levis sees in New York ...

LEVIS: Many of those cases have seen 10 or a dozen or more physicians before they're properly diagnosed.

TUCKER: Disturbing but not surprising because leprosy shares many of the same characteristics as T.B. and it's such a rare disease, it is not even taught in most medical schools.

Why the increases have been occurring since 2000 is not yet fully understood, but 75 percent of the reported leprosy cases today are found in people who were born outside of the United States. Of the new cases reported in America in 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the Department of Health and Human Services reports that the highest number of leprosy infections were found in people born in Brazil and Mexico.

California, Texas, Louisiana, Massachusetts and New York were the states with the highest reports of leprosy infections in 2005. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service requires that legal residents be screened for leprosy, but that screening is not effective if a person is not symptomatic. Of course, illegal immigrants are not screened at all.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCKER: Now, the good news is leprosy is a disease which is treatable and curable with modern multi-drug therapy, but of course, Lou, that requires that it be identified.

DOBBS: Absolutely. And as Dr. Levis points out. When people see as many as 10 or 12 physicians and go without diagnosis, correct diagnosis, that tells you how difficult the situation really is. Bill, thank you.

We want to show you now as I get ready to talk with Mark Potok and Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center, all of this originating in an excerpt from "60 Minutes" that profiled me two Sundays ago. Lesley Stahl talked in that report with Mark Potok of the southern poverty law center.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: The impression you get pretty strongly I think, day after day is that, you know, sort of all 11 million illegal aliens are bringing leprosy, they're bringing crime, they're bringing all these terrible things to the United States.

LESLEY STAHL, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: If these people have come into this country illegally, what is so wrong with somebody taking it up as an advocate?

POTOK: That does not sort of give one the go-ahead to say that, you know, these are a group of rapists, disease-carrying people who are coming to, you know, essentially to destroy the culture of this country. You know, I think that's a long leap.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOBBS: A long leap, the only question here is who made the leap? Here are the facts. Over the course of the past four and a half years, now recall Mark Potok said you get the impression day to day, we have done more than 750 reports on illegal immigration over just that past four and a half years. LOU DOBBS TONIGHT has reported exactly three times on disease among illegal aliens. Let me repeat that. In four and a half years we've only done three reports on disease among illegal aliens in this country, and those reports dealt primarily with drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Also in point of fact, of those almost -- you call them more than 750 reports, only three of them have dealt with rape or other sex crimes and two of those reports were centered on a national tax task force that was tasked with the job of rounding up child predators.

The dispute between the Southern Poverty Law Center and this broadcast and me centers on 31 words uttered in response to my question following Christine Romans' report on tuberculosis. We're going to examine those 31 words and what has ensued. Joining me now are Richard Cohen, he's the president and the chief executive officer of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Mark Potok and the intelligence project director. Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

RICHARD COHEN, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: Thank you for having us, Lou.

DOBBS: Mark, as we've just said, giving the impression that 11 million illegal aliens, how could we possibly do that with only three reports on disease, three on, basically, child predators over the course of four and a half years. Help me out.

POTOK: Well, Lou, I think that it is true. I stand very much by what I said ...

DOBBS: I thought you might.

POTOK: ... that if one watches your report from day to day, you do get this impression. It's about, you know, you say things like a third of the federal prison cells are filled with illegal aliens when that is not a provable fact. It is absolutely not known how many are, quote, "illegal aliens."

DOBBS: You guys do a lot of work in prison, Mark. POTOK: You talk about disease in a similar way. In one of your reports on sexual predators you talked about how, you know, there's this sort of terrifying trend of sexual predation by quote, "illegal immigrants" and you were basing that report in fact on 36 arrests in New York State. You know, I've not seen every single report you've done on sexual predators and related issues. Both those are the ...

DOBBS: Well, there are only three of them.

POTOK: I'm sorry?

DOBBS: If you would like we can get them to you expediently.

POTOK: The point is is that the criticism that we made of you over the leprosy claim which was certainly false. What you claim side there were 7,000 new cases of leprosy in a recent three-year period, in fact ...

DOBBS: Whoa! Whoa.

POTOK: When in fact that three year period is about 450 cases.

DOBBS: In point of fact. In point of fact, what we said was, and I think we really should go to that. We did not say there were new cases at any time. And not have you said that there, you've said in this e-mail -- well, let's go first to the ad that was placed in the "New York Times" and "USA Today" yesterday, and I want to tell our viewers, I want everybody to know I invited Mark Potok and Richard Cohen to join us last week, I believe it was last Wednesday to join us.

Now, in the ad placed in "The New York Times" and the "USA Today" yesterday, the Southern Poverty Law Center in an open letter to CNN, said, quote, "despite being confronted with undisputed evidence to the contrary, Mr. Dobbs says he stands 100 percent behind the claim that there have been 7,000 new cases of leprosy in the United States in recent years."

Mark, Richard, gentlemen, you know we never said they were new cases. What we said in point of fact was that there are 7,000 cases on the active -- active leprosy register. You also ...

COHEN: Lou, Lou, Lou -- you're letting yourself off too easy, Lou. Let's be serious here.

DOBBS: I'm sure that you would not permit that, Shirley.

COHEN: Just wait, Lou. Just wait. You said or your reporter Christine Romans said on may seventh that Hansen's was a disease so rare that in 40 years only 900 people were afflicted. Suddenly in the past three years America has more than 7,000 cases of leprosy.

DOBBS: Right.

COHEN: I think that makes it -- that's a pretty strong implication that the number has jumped from 900 to 7,000 or over 7,000 in a very short period of time. You were wrong to claim that.

DOBBS: Let's listen and I would ask you to listen as well along with our viewers to exactly what Christine Romans said and if we could roll that, please.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting because the woman in our piece told us that there were about 900 cases of leprosy for 40 years. There have been 7,000 in the past three years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOBBS: That report, as you gentlemen know, was done two years ago. In point of fact the up-tick in cases from 76, I believe in 2000 which was the low point of the number of cases began rising to about 166 and the most recent year reported, 2005, the year in which that report was made.

COHEN: Lou, you're not being fair. You're not being fair.

DOBBS: Please.

COHEN: Let me finish. Miss Romans repeated the same kind of outrageous claim on your show on May 7. The thing that -- leprosy cases haven't been going up in recent years, Lou, they've been bouncing around. You can see the figures, 133, 134, 131, you're looking at the same numbers I am. What has increased are the number of hate crimes against Latinos. It's a serious problem, Lou, and you ought to talk about it.

DOBBS: How much have they increased?

COHEN: Let me finish. Let me finish. The reality is that hate crimes occur because people demonize Latinos and other persons in our country. They spread false statistics about it. The 7,000 figure that you've done on your show is all over hate Web sites. You, Lou, unfortunately are one of the most popular people on the white supremacist Web sites. Let me finish. You can't -- you can't -- you're not responsible, Lou, for people who admire you, but you've got to ask yourself why the Council of Conservative Citizens considers you their favorite pundit.

DOBBS: Well, I will leave that to you to divine and as you have interestingly created some rather -- what I consider to be tangential discussion, I think you know, I certainly knows that Mark Potok knows that I think the CCC is a reprehensible organization based on its beliefs and its attitudes. I think you know that very well.

So I'm not quite sure what you're going to, but let me go back to something here because I don't want to let you off quite that easily, either. So we did not say we quite agree that there were 7,000 new cases. We said there were 7,000 on the registry. I want to talk to you about ...

COHEN: I didn't agree with what you just said. DOBBS: I'm sorry?

COHEN: I didn't agree with what you just said. Miss Romans on May 7, again there have been 400 cases for years and suddenly in the last three years there were 7,000 cases. I think that implies there's been an explosive growth and you have got the statistics in front of you. I heard you cite them. That's not the case.

DOBBS: Let me cite them for everybody one more time and if we've got that graphic I'd like to do that, which in, by the way, in your publication you said the cases have been declining. Since 2000, they have in fact been doubling, rising from 76 to 110, to 133 to 131, 166 and you just listened to one of the most foremost experts in Bill Tucker's report say to you that they are absolutely, absolutely understated and significantly so.

COHEN: And they've always been understated, Lou.

DOBBS: But let's go to the more important issue, here, if we may. You also took me to task for using the source that was in the report that Christine Romans did. Now, I want to be clear here. We're talking about 31 words uttered more than two years ago by Christine Romans in response to a question from me, just before going to commercial break. She did not ever, the report by Bill Tucker is the first report on this broadcast ever about leprosy in relation to illegal immigration and you gentlemen both know that.

POTOK: If I may make one point here.

DOBBS: The only person that has made anything of this has been you, gentlemen, and I can't imagine your motivation for doing so.

POTOK: It's certainly not true that we're the only ones who have made this point. As you know ...

DOBBS: Well, we certainly have not. We have done one 30-word expression at the end of a report on multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and you have talked about it endlessly in your newsletter, in your intelligence report, in your advertising, which, I don't know, does it spur fund raising? I don't know.

COHEN: You know, it's interesting, Lou, that the John Birch Society made the same claim against us that you just uttered. The reason we're taking you seriously ...

DOBBS: Now you've aligned me with the CNN and the John Birch Society. Is there anyone else you'd like to align me with.

COHEN: Lou, you're an important media figure, a very important figure and immigration is an important issue in our country. What we don't think should happen is the debate should be poisoned by misleading statistics about crime, about leprosy, about anything.

DOBBS: Let's get to the bottom line. We'll be back with Richard Cohen and Mark Potok from the Southern Poverty Law Center in just one moment. We're going to get to the bottom of this one right now. COHEN: Thank you, Lou.

DOBBS: Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: We're back with Richard Cohen and Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Just yesterday, the Southern Poverty Law Center sent out an e-mail to their mailing list, starting out with "Dear friend," and it repeats what I consider to be a rather tiresome charge, "mainstream journalists like CNN's Lou Dobbs are playing a major role in fomenting anti-immigrant hysteria."

Can I ask you gentlemen, we have just about four minutes left, have you ever once heard me say anything against immigration, failing to support higher immigration if it's a matter of public policy? Have you ever heard me be anti-immigrant even once or am I anti-illegal immigration?

COHEN: Lou, I think you've done it many times. I think that when you make false claims about immigrants that that's being anti- immigrant. I don't see any way around it. It's not the case that one-third of the persons in federal custody as you said are illegal immigrants to use your words. Twenty-seven percent of the persons in federal custody were born on foreign soil, some here lawfully, some not and only 12 percent of those were -- had committed violent crimes. So to suddenly say that 33 percent ...

DOBBS: I thought you said it was an unknowable statistic just a moment ago, Richard?

COHEN: No, I didn't say that.

DOBBS: I misunderstood you.

COHEN: You did. I said 27 percent of the persons in federal custody were born on foreign soil. We do not know how many are here lawfully and how many aren't but we do know that 12 percent of those ...

DOBBS: The federal prisons are not allowed to ask their country of either origin or their immigration status, correct?

COHEN: Right. That's right.

DOBBS: So those statistics you've just cited are rather interesting in light of that.

COHEN: Well, I don't know where you got the 33 percent of all -- everyone being an illegal immigrant, Lou.

DOBBS: Those are the estimates ...

COHEN: You were the one who made the claim.

DOBBS: Right. COHEN: You were the one who made the claim and I think it's a misleading claim, Lou.

DOBBS: Do you? To what end?

COHEN: The point is, Lou, that these are the kinds of claims we hear a lot. A few years ago one of your reporters also characterized the National Academy of Science's study of the effects of immigration on this country. Your reporter said with you, you know, nodding your sense, that what the report concluded was that there was an up to $10 billion annual cost -- I'm sorry, $100 billion and in fact what it showed on -- no, $10 billion, in fact what it showed is it was a $1 to $10 billion net positive.

DOBBS: Well, in point of fact your statistics are every bit ...

COHEN: These kinds of things outline the constant stream of misinformation.

DOBBS: Please. First, Professor Jorge Borjas at Harvard University as you well know has done extensive research on the cost in terms of suppressed wages in this country of excessive immigration, both legal and illegal. And in point of fact. That number is $200 billion.

COHEN: That doesn't justify mischaracterizing a government report.

DOBBS: That's $200 billion a year. In point of fact, the four principle industries in this country that are hiring illegal aliens, the largest among them, construction followed by landscaping, leisure and hospitality, hotels and restaurants, all have experienced declines in wages. There is no shortage of labor.

And in point of fact or otherwise those wages would be rising, and it has declined as a result of exploitive employers. So I'm going ask this question. Do you believe I'm anti-immigrant or do you believe I'm anti-illegal immigration?

COHEN: Lou, I hope you're not anti-immigrant. I hope that you only you know that, Lou. What I do think though ...

DOBBS: The record demonstrates it pretty clearly.

COHEN: ... (inaudible) the debate about it.

DOBBS: Well, gentlemen, your institution has a great tradition.

COHEN: Thank you.

DOBBS: I think that you can find perhaps in the record some basis for either declaring me either anti-immigrant or anti-illegal immigration, but I do think that using me and my name, frankly, as some sort of fund-raising tool is egregiously unworthy of both your tradition and your work in most areas and I do not for one moment comprehend it. I hope we can have further discussions. COHEN: Lou, I'm sorry you feel that way.

DOBBS: Sir?

COHEN: I'm sorry you feel that way.

DOBBS: Well, come back here and let's have a talk and see if we can get to the bottom of what's going on here. Are you gentlemen up for that?

COHEN: I appreciate you inviting us back, Lou, and I hope you're not lambasting us for ratings.

DOBBS: You know what? I can guarantee you I'm not. If I'm lambasting you, it's out of disappointment. Gentlemen, I thank you very much.

COHEN: Thank you for having us, Lou.

DOBBS: Mark Potok and Richard Cohen at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

POTOK: Thank you.

DOBBS: Thank you very much.

Up next at the top of the hour THE SITUATION ROOM with Wolf Blitzer. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Lou. A good discussion. There are new developments in the controversial deployment of Prince Harry in Iraq. Are British military officials doing an about face?

Also former President Bill Clinton sits down for a one-on-one interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper. Find out what role he says he plans to play in his wife's presidential campaign. That's coming up.

Also, White House hopefuls reveal their bottom lines, their financial disclosure statements are out and who is well off and who is super rich. All of that, Lou, coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

DOBBS: Wolf, thank you very much, coming up, the results of our poll. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Now the results of our poll. Ninety-nine percent of you say you believe the National Association of Manufacturers' top lobbyist should not be allowed to accept a $150,000 payment while being considered to head the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

We thank you for voting. We thank you for being with us here tonight. Please join us tomorrow. For all of us thanks for watching. Good night from New York. THE SITUATION ROOM with Wolf Blitzer begins now. Wolf?

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