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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Democrats Folding on Iraq War Funding?; Bush and Ahmadinejad on Collision Course Over Iranian Nuclear Program?

Aired May 24, 2007 - 20:00   ET

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


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: And thanks for joining us. Paula is off tonight.
We're starting with some important breaking news -- tonight, President Bush getting his war money. Is the Democratic Party getting a black eye, especially its presidential candidates?

Also out in the open: one of the worst attendance records of any U.S. senator. If John McCain wants so badly to be president, should he just resign from the Senate?

And you won't believe what's growing inside some quiet suburban homes. How many high-tech pot farms are in your neighborhood?

Well, we start with this hour's breaking news.

As we speak, the Senate is getting ready for a final vote on new money for the Iraq war. The House approved it just minutes ago, $120 billion, with no timeline included for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The Democrats are trying as hard as they can to spin this as anything but a major loss to President Bush.

What's going on right now not only affects the war, but also the 2008 presidential race.

Let's get straight to Capitol Hill and congressional correspondent Dana Bash -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, essentially, what happened just a few moments ago is that House Democrats, who say they were elected into the majority in the House by voters who wanted them to find a way to end the war in Iraq, they gave in to the president, and they allowed a war spending bill to go towards his desk that does not have a timeline for troops to come home from Iraq. The vote total was 280-142.

And what's noteworthy about that is that it passed with mostly Republican votes. In fact, two-thirds of House Democrats voted no. And that really exposed the split among Democrats on just how far to push the president when it comes to whether to withhold funding for the war in order to use that tool that they have to try to end the war.

Now, all day long, the angst among Democrats and Republicans really was palpable here. And it spilled out on to the House floor from both sides of the aisle. Sorry. I thought we had a sound bite there.

But I can tell you, Kyra, that the House Republican leader, John Boehner, got so emotional, he broke into tears. He was talking about 9/11 and talking about the need to keep fighting terrorists. And you saw Democrat after Democrat saying that they understood that this is not what they wanted to do. They do not, most of them, want to send the president a war funding bill without a specific plan to bring troops home.

But they say that they have to. John Murtha, probably one of the most ardent opponents of the war, he just went on the House floor and said, this is not a game. They, meaning the military, they're going to run out of money next week.

That's why they decided to let this go -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Obviously, the next move is the Senate -- all eyes on Clinton and Obama.

BASH: Absolutely.

This Senate vote is probably going to start within the next few moments. And that is really the bit of drama that we're all going to be watching for. Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, they, of course, are running for president, and they have not yet said how they are going to vote on this.

And here's why this is important. They both have made two perhaps conflicting promises. They both have said that they will not do anything to endanger the troops, meaning cut funding for the war. But they also have both made pledges to do whatever possible to end the war.

With this vote, they're going to have to keep one promise and probably break another. Neither has said how they're going to vote. We are certainly going to be watching that. Obviously, it is absolutely imperative to them, and probably one of the most important votes they're going to take, because, when it comes to running for president in the Democratic primary, they are going to be -- primary voters are going to be watching this very carefully.

And many of them, most of them, want both of these senators to vote no.

PHILLIPS: Dana Bash on the Hill, thanks.

And while tonight's vote is a big win for the president, it's only a short-term win. And the Democrats are forcing him to swallow a lot of things that he doesn't want.

For that part of the story, here's White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the war funding fight over, at least for now, President Bush has decided to sign the bill behind closed doors, forgoing a public ceremony.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As it provides vital funds for our troops, this bill also reflects a consensus that the Iraqi government needs to show real progress in return for America's continued support and sacrifice.

MALVEAUX: But, until then, Mr. Bush warned Americans of more bloodshed this summer.

BUSH: We're going to expect heavy fighting in the weeks and months. We can expect more American and Iraqi casualties. Yes, it could be a bloody -- it could be a very difficult August.

MALVEAUX: But Mr. Bush tried to reassure Americans, the fierce sectarian fighting is only short term.

BUSH: Certainly, there's been an uptick in violence. It's a snapshot. It's a moment.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush used a new tack to illustrate the terrorist threat he believes Americans will face if the U.S. fails in Iraq, by personalizing it for reporters.

BUSH: They are a threat to your children, David.

And it's a danger to the American people. It's a danger to your children, Jim.

MALVEAUX: Without naming names, the president accused his war critics of being uninformed. Yesterday, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards dismissed the war on terror as simply a Bush slogan.

BUSH: And this notion about how this isn't a war on terror, in my view, is -- is naive.

MALVEAUX: But recognizing that his view is losing public support, the president pointed to his top general in Iraq as the man who will decide whether the American strategy is working by a September deadline. The president has consistently opposed any deadlines, because he says it would signal U.S. strategy to the enemy.

BUSH: David Petraeus felt like that it was important to tell the White House and tell the Congress that he would come back with an assessment in September. It's his decision to give the assessment.

MALVEAUX: Even before that assessment, the administration is already planning for what comes after the troop increase, looking at possible U.S. troop reductions, increased diplomacy, and training of Iraqi forces.

The president was asked, in fact, whether it was a plan B. BUSH: Actually, I would call that a plan recommended by Baker- Hamilton, so it would be a plan B.H.

MALVEAUX: That would be the Baker-Hamilton plan, a strategy the president largely rejected when it was presented to him nearly six months ago, but is now being embraced, as the administration struggles to forge the road ahead.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And, Kyra, of course, the Iraq Study Group report, as well as what the president is calling this new reconfiguration in Iraq, they sound remarkably similar here.

And one example, of course, is what's going to happen on Monday. That is one-on-one talks with the American ambassador and the Iranian ambassador regarding Iraq. That was a suggestion in the report earlier that the president rejected -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Now, Suzanne, the House just passed the Iraqi spending bill. Does the White House consider this a victory?

MALVEAUX: Well, you know, it considers it a victory in the sense that there are no timelines for troop withdrawal. That was a big deal for the administration.

But they are certainly not gloating here. It is a short-term victory. Just a couple months away, Democrats are going to hold this administration once again accountable and challenge whether or not they're going to be funding additional troops for more and more months ahead.

Also, the president is saying, look, he thinks that there's going to be even more violence this summer. And one of the things we're seeing here, Kyra, is that the president is not going to be giving any kind of public signing ceremony. It's all behind closed doors. They know that they're depending on the Democrats and those moderate Republicans once again in a couple months who are going to challenge them to fund this war -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House, thanks.

Well, right now, I want to turn to two members of the best political team in television, chief national correspondent John King and senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.

Candy, let's start with this new CBS News/"New York Times" poll. And it shows that a majority of Americans want a timetable for U.S. troops to leave Iraq. Now, what do Democrats do with this, knowing that the president is going to veto any bill that mentions a timetable for withdrawal?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the problem with the poll as relates to this conversation is, it doesn't say, do you want a timetable if it means not funding the troops? So, that's what they're talking about here. What Democrats need to do, frankly, is what they're doing, which is incrementally move this along. Here's what they're counting on. They believe that this war is, if not over, at least getting worse. They believe that, as time goes on, they're going to be able to pick off Republicans to join them.

And what they need is Republicans to join them, so they have enough numbers to override a veto. So, they're doing this incrementally, all the while trying to explain that they don't have the numbers, but they're working on the numbers, and they want to hold this president accountable, and they have done what they can for now, but, every week, they plan to pound on him.

PHILLIPS: Well, do Democrats lose tonight, John, because, from the very beginning, they were talking about a timetable to pull troops out of Iraq?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they certainly had to blink in the end, so it's easy to call that a loss. And the Republicans are certainly calling that a loss.

And I think the effect of it, Kyra, is, they might confuse the American people. On the one hand, the president is going to get what he wants, which is going to anger the liberal base of the Democratic Party. They will be mad at their leadership for essentially giving the president the money without a timeline to bring the troops home. So, the base is mad.

And, if you're in the middle of the country, you're not an active Democrat, but you're just watching this party that was just elected to run the Congress, and that wants to assume the presidency in 2008, you're seeing mixed signals, both from the leadership.

Different members of the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate will vote different ways on this measure. And the question you were just discussing with Dana Bash, what do the presidential candidates do? Some of them will vote different ways.

So, in terms of clarity of message and purpose right now, the Democrats came into power saying, we're going to end this war. They don't have the votes to do it.

PHILLIPS: And, Candy, it could happen any minute now, within this hour. This will go before the Senate. And there are two people that a lot of people are paying attention to -- John mentions presidential hopefuls -- Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

CROWLEY: Yes. And it's going to be really interesting.

I will tell you what. I was asked yesterday how I thought the two of them were going to vote. And, at the time, I thought, well, they will probably vote -- go ahead and vote for this.

I woke up in the middle of the night thinking, no, you know what? They're going to vote against this. I think this is really a coin toss here. I'm not sure how the two of them will go. There is a lot at stake. I think it's hard to underestimate how important this vote is, as they go to face primary voters and court primary voters, the majority of whom, if not the -- all of whom, are very anti-war.

PHILLIPS: See, these -- these votes keep journalists up at night, too...

(LAUGHTER)

PHILLIPS: ... Candy, and you.

CROWLEY: That's true.

(LAUGHTER)

PHILLIPS: What -- what do you think? I mean, there's risks to how Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama vote.

KING: There are huge risks, because, in the primary campaign they're in right now, they have Senator John Edwards on the left saying, end this war. Do whatever you have to do. Lie down in front of the White House. Stop the president from getting the money. Do anything you can to end this war.

But whoever is the Democratic nominee is going to have to run in a general election at some point. So, if you're Hillary Clinton, you're the first credible woman candidate for presidency. And, fairly or unfairly, one of the spotlights on her is, are we ready to have a woman commander in chief? Not only are we ready to have that in a vacuum, but are we ready to have that when you're going to have 100,000 or more U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq when the next president takes office?

If you're Barack Obama, you're in your low 40s. You have been in the United States Senate just a few years. Is he ready to be commander in chief? If they vote against this, and one of them is the nominee of the Democratic Party -- Remember what happened to John Kerry, who was against it before he was for it, or for it before he was against it? -- the Republicans will pummel them, saying they did not support the troops; do not let them be commander in chief.

PHILLIPS: All right. You're here with me. Candy Crowley, I know, is on standby.

Thank you, both. This could happen within the next 20 minutes or so.

The Senate vote is expected to start at 8:25, to be exact. Of course we are watching that. We are going to bring you live updates.

The vote is so important that Capitol Hill may get a pretty rare visitor. Will Senator John McCain actually show up to do his job? Why aren't the other candidates missing half their votes? Should he just quit? Also out in the open tonight: new signs of defiance from the leader of Iran, and brand-new threats from President Bush. Are they on a collision course?

And when Muslims testify in court, should they be sworn in with a Koran?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: So, if you want to live in that big White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, shouldn't you spend more time on your job at the other end of the street? Stick around and see how much work Senator John McCain is missing.

A new Middle East crisis is out in the open tonight, and it could go nuclear. The question is, who will blink first, the leader of Iran or President Bush?

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisted today that Iran won't stop or even slow down its nuclear program. And he says Iran won't yield to pressure. No doubt, he means pressure like this, U.S. warships right now off his country's coast.

President Bush is trying to rally the world. Iran insists, it's purifying uranium for nuclear power plants. But, a lot of people, including President Bush, think it's for a bomb.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: They continue to be defiant as to the demands of the free world. The world has spoken and said, you know, no nuclear weapons programs. And, yet, they're constantly ignoring the demands.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Now the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is warning that Iran may be able to produce nuclear weapons in three to eight years, adding that the diplomatic situation is deteriorating and the world is moving toward a major confrontation.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is the only U.S. network reporter in Iran.

Aneesh, just how close is Iran to having nuclear weapons?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first, Kyra, we should say that the government repeatedly and vehemently denies it's pursuing a nuclear weapon, says it's pursuing peaceful civilian nuclear technology.

But, in this debate, the key number right now is 3,000. That's the number of centrifuges Iran says that it says. The IAEA says about half of those are operational.

But, in terms of progress, keep in mind, a few months ago, Iran had only had 300 working centrifuges. Now, why 3,000 is so important is that, when Iran reaches that capability, experts say, within a year, it could have the capability to produce one nuclear weapon. Again, Iran denies it's pursuing nuclear weapons. But the fact that no one outside the Islamic republican really knows where things stand on the nuclear program is the undercurrent of fear in the international community -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Nine U.S. warships carrying 17,000 sailors and Marines are patrolling the Persian Gulf off Iran's coast. Doesn't that put any pressure on the president?

RAMAN: It does, but, from this vantage point, I think it actually does more in the opposition direction.

The reason is this. When these warships are in the Persian Gulf, it once again puts into the Iranian mind that President Bush is all about regime change in Iran and nothing else. When that happens, President Ahmadinejad is first able to explain away failed domestic economic reforms by saying we face a greater threat.

And, also, the Iranian government grows more resolute in their positions, especially on the nuclear front. Iran feels, if it gives an inch, and if regime change is what Bush is all about, that will just be the beginning.

So, Ahmadinejad has been able to use this to rally the people around a threat to try and coalesce a coalition of reformists and hard-liners alike. So, I think, on the ground, with the people, it tends to do the opposite -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well, quickly, the Iranian people -- you're right there on the ground -- are they aware of the growing U.S. military presence, and, also, the sanctions that are looming over them?

RAMAN: They are.

You know, I have been coming into this country for about a year now. And this trip so far has stood out. It's been the hardest trip to get Iranians to talk to me, because times are so tense.

We went to a market the other day to talk about looming sanctions. Off camera, people said: The sanctions are having an effect. We don't know if this is the right course.

On camera, no one would say anything. The people are sort of caught in the middle. They have tuned out this whole nuclear issue, because they know that the government is going to push ahead. They believe in Iran's right. But the majority of Iranians, Kyra, want the U.S. and Iran to talk. And they feel that leaders on both sides are making that near impossible -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Aneesh Raman, thanks so much.

Well, we're still watching the U.S. Senate. The roll call on funding the war on terror should be starting any minute now.

We have also noticed something really interesting in the Senate. These three people are running for president, but guess which one shows up for work only half the time? It's out in the open next.

And later: When Muslims swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, should their hands be on a Bible or a Koran?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Out in the open tonight: A top Republican presidential candidate is coming under fire. Critics are attacking Arizona's John McCain for shirking his job in the Senate while he runs for the White House. They're upset that McCain has been missing in action for a lot of Senate votes this year.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS (voice-over): John McCain, back in Washington and back at his day job, U.S. senator from Arizona. But McCain hasn't been around Capitol Hill very much this year. Instead, he's been on the road, running for president.

And, because of that, he's missed about half of the Senate's scheduled votes. That's far more than the other five senators running for president -- that according to "Congressional Quarterly," which closely monitors Capitol Hill.

In fact, McCain's Senate colleagues Hillary Clinton...

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look at this.

PHILLIPS: ... and Barack Obama have barely missed any votes this year. The only senator to miss more votes than McCain in 2007, Tim Johnson, who's recovering from a brain hemorrhage he suffered in December.

So, what gives? McCain's playing catchup to rivals Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani in the crucial battle for campaign cash. Because of that, his campaign says the senator has increased his time fund- raising across the country. They say that gives McCain more of a chance to talk about the issues he cares about. But it also means he's missing vote after vote, a job he was elected to do.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The people of Arizona understand why I'm missing the votes.

PHILLIPS: The senator's office says McCain hasn't missed any votes where he would have been decisive.

We caught up with McCain today. He says he will make ever effort to get back any time his vote is crucial.

MCCAIN: I have assured the leadership I will do everything that I can.

PHILLIPS: In Arizona, political observers say voters are not thrilled McCain's missed all these votes. But, so far, there's no apparent widespread discontent. McCain is not the first senator to spend more time out on the trail than back on the Hill. Senators Joe Lieberman, John Edwards, and John Kerry also missed a lot of votes during the last presidential campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: Well, so, should Senator McCain resign if he continues to run for president?

Let's ask our "Out in the Open" panel, Lauren Lake, who is a criminal defense attorney, Joe Madison, talk show host for WOL Radio in Washington, and Robert Traynham, a Republican strategist.

Lauren, let's start with you.

I want to just take another look at the numbers here, when you -- when line them up. It shows how -- McCain's Senate voting record for the year, and how it compares to other senators that are running for president. We're talking about missing half the votes.

You got a problem with that?

LAUREN LAKE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes. This just doesn't make any sense.

(LAUGHTER)

LAKE: Who wouldn't have a problem with it?

I mean, Kyra, right now, you have to think about it. We're living in a culture where more people vote for "American Idol" than they do in presidential elections. It...

(CROSSTALK)

PHILLIPS: That's a little scary.

LAKE: It's scary.

(LAUGHTER)

LAKE: And it doesn't look good when our own senators aren't showing up for votes.

Now, he says he's going to show up when it's crucial. Isn't it crucial that the citizens of Arizona be counted as much as possible, be represented in votes? I think there's a problem with this.

PHILLIPS: Robert, what do you think? I mean, taxpayer dollars paying for him to be senator, to vote on important issues. He's not doing his job.

ROBERT TRAYNHAM, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, there's no question about it, that running for president and also being a sitting United States senator is very, very hard. Bob Dole had to resign back in June of 1996 when he was the presumptive Republican nominee. Look, this is really not an issue between you and I. This is really an issue between Senator McCain and his constituents. And the fact of the matter is, is that he has pledged that he will show up to vote when his vote is absolutely crucial.

The point here really is, is whether or not there's a double standard, if there's a double standard with Senator McCain missing votes or Senator Kerry missing votes when he was the Republican -- or the Democratic nominee. I think that's the real question.

PHILLIPS: And, Joe, let's talk about -- first, your quick reaction to the numbers, that...

JOE MADISON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, my quick reaction is that maybe he should take a lesson from Senator Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton. Both of them are out raising a lot of money. And they obviously are making the votes.

Now, my other reaction is that -- and I will try to fall somewhere in the middle of the two other guests.

PHILLIPS: All right, Joe -- Joe, hold that thought just for a second.

I'm coming right back to you.

Just real quickly, I want to let our viewers know. I want to take a live picture now from Washington, D.C. As you know, the Senate is taking up that $120 billion Iraq spending bill. It passed the House tonight. Now the Senate is voting.

We're going to take a live picture. We're monitoring this. We're going to keep this up and let you know how this goes and how the Senate votes.

So, I'm going to track that while I try and double-task here, and continue our discussion, all right?

So, Joe...

(CROSSTALK)

MADISON: Well, now the real question is, is Senator McCain there? That's...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

PHILLIPS: Well, let's see. Let's take a look at that live picture and see if we can see him there.

(CROSSTALK)

MADISON: Yes. Yes. Now, there's the critical vote. I mean, so, the bottom line is -- what I'm saying is that -- is that, look, the interesting thing -- and this is what people around the country need to understand -- when senators come, particularly freshmen, they're all told, don't even try to make all the votes.

Most of these votes are procedural votes. And it's not the number of votes. It's what they're voting on. That's really what you need to look at.

PHILLIPS: But -- but, Joe, McCain missed five out of seven votes on Iraq, the biggest story right now in our country. And that was over a six-week period. That's a lot, isn't it?

MADISON: But what were -- but what was he voting on? And, again, you can have a vote on Iraq or Iraq -- or what -- Iran, and it can be a procedural vote.

And, so, I -- but my bottom line is, hey, let's do this. What is -- I'm glad to hear that Obama and Hillary Clinton can do both. And maybe that's what the American people ought to be looking at.

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: I think the American people should be looking at the fact, when you're a child, your parents teach you to do your chores to prepare you later in life.

If you're a senator, and you can't make it to the vote, what are you making it to when you're president?

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: It's just a training ground to me. I look at it like that.

MADISON: But I would say to you -- I would say to you that, if you asked the people of Arizona, would they like to have a U.S. senator that tries to make every vote or a man who's going to be president of the United States, I bet you most of the people in Arizona would say, we would like him to be president of the United States.

LAKE: I will bet you most of the people in Arizona would say they would want both.

PHILLIPS: Robert, what do you think? Robert, what do you think?

(CROSSTALK)

TRAYNHAM: You know, Kyra, this is a very interesting conversation that we're having.

The fact of the matter is, is that running for president full- time and being a United States senator full-time is a big, big job. And, basically, you have to juggle. The last senator to become president was 47 years ago. And that was John F. Kennedy. It's very, very hard.

(CROSSTALK)

PHILLIPS: So, you're saying, no matter what, something will suffer, someone, whether...

MADISON: Of course.

(CROSSTALK)

PHILLIPS: ... it's constituents, whether -- and how do you weigh that out? I mean, this is someone that's -- that's running for president, so -- and you're talking about votes on Iraq. And you have his constituency. Of course, how he votes for Arizona makes an impact overall.

TRAYNHAM: Sure. Sure. There's no question about it.

And, look, Senator McCain has openly said that he needs to raise more money. He's lagging behind Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Romney. The -- the fact of the matter is, is that Senator McCain needs to go out there and raise as much cash as he possibly can, because we all know that cash is the mother's milk in politics here. And Senator McCain is far behind.

MADISON: And can I say this?

(CROSSTALK)

MADISON: Can -- you know, let me tell you something. This is the most unusual presidential campaign we have had. It's one of the longest presidential campaigns. So, it's only going to get worse for everybody.

PHILLIPS: And -- and the three of us will be talking about it, obviously, for weeks, months to go.

Lauren Lake, Joe Madison, Robert Traynham, thank you all so much.

We want to continue to keep an eye on the Senate vote right now on funding for the Iraq war. It's just begun right now in the Senate. Candy Crowley, John King, they're still with us. Stick around, and we're going to bring you the results live.

And we're going to move on also to a court ruling that's bound to be controversial. Here's the question. When Muslims go to court, should they be given Korans for the swearing in?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has been the practice to use the Bible throughout the history of this state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: "Out in the Open" next, a state where old traditions may be changing.

And later, a shocking new trend in the war on drugs. Could there be a secret? Indoor pot farms in your neighborhood.

And at the top of the hour, the master of insults. Comedian Don Rickles joins Larry King for the full hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Live pictures from Washington, DC. Right now, the Senate taking up that $120 billion Iraq spending bill. It passed the House. How will the senators vote? We're looking particularly at Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Presidential hopefuls. In addition to John McCain, is he there? We're following it. We'll bring you the results live.

Now "Out in the Open," a stunning ruling in a North Carolina courtroom today. A judge ruled you do not have to swear on the Bible. You can swear on the Koran or any other religious text inside. It's a decision that's certain to -- to unleash a whole lot of controversy. Kelli Arena uncovers the battle of the holy books in court.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Syidah Mateen always believed it was her right as an American and a Muslim to swear on a Koran in court.

SYIDAH MATEEN, PLAINTIFF: If you were going to court and you're Christian and the judge says put your hand on the Koran so that you can take an oath, what would you do?

ARENA: Appearing as a witness in a domestic violence dispute, she faced that very situation. But in reverse. Asked to take an oath on a Bible, she requested a Koran.

MATEEN: I actually thought they had them. It was just an innocent question.

ARENA: But the court didn't have any, so she went to her mosque and raised money to donate some. The donation was rejected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has been the practice to use a Bible throughout the history of this state.

ARENA: And today, the Korans sit unused on a shelf. Mateen says she was a victim of religious discrimination. And sued.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This country was founded on freedom of religion and that's freedom of all religions.

ARENA: North Carolina state law said that one way a person can be sworn is to, quote, "lay his hand upon the Holy Scriptures."

Two senior judges in Guilford County decided that "Holy Scriptures" meant the Bible. But today a superior judge ruled for Mateen, deciding that from now on, residents should be able to use other holy books. Civil liberties advocates were looking for just this kind of decision.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The government can neither favor any particular set of religious values nor can the government discriminate against other religions or people of different faiths.

ARENA: Mateen, who unintentionally landed in a controversy over one Koran now finds herself caught up in a much bigger one over religion in America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is just part of a larger war on Christianity as a whole, whether it be in the schools, in the courthouses, in the media, in the shopping centers.

ARENA: Mateen and her lawyers argue that's never been their intent, but they were simply looking for justice. Kelli Arena, CNN, Greensboro, North Carolina.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: Joining me now, two of the people you just saw in Kelli Arena's piece. Syidah Mateen, the woman who wanted to swear on the Koran instead of the Bible and Seth Cohen, one of the ACLU attorneys in this case.

Syidah, I want to ask you first, you heard the gentleman in Kelli Arena's piece saying this is a war on Christianity. Are you at war with Christianity?

MATEEN: No, I'm not at war with Christianity at all.

PHILLIPS: So tell me why you went forward with this case. Did you feel discriminated against?

MATEEN: Well, to a certain degree because of the limited text that they had in the courtroom. And I just felt like it was my right to take an oath on something that I hold sacred.

PHILLIPS: Now, you eventually -- your testimony was allowed with just an affirmation, not an oath or any prayer book. Since this option exists for everyone, why continue to follow along with the lawsuit?

MATEEN: Well, just by virtue of reading the -- the statute alone, and it says Holy Scriptures, I took that to say that -- that it encompasses different faiths. So that was my -- you know, my pull or my surge to go forward with this.

PHILLIPS: So, Seth, this ruling now, does it mean that anybody will be able to walk into this courtroom and say, well, you know, I'm a white supremacist. I'm going to bring in "Mein Kampf" and I'm going to swear on this. And then a Scientologist will come in and say I'm bringing in L. Ron Hubbard's "Dianetics," I'm going to swear on this. Can anybody bring in anything now? SETH COHEN, ACLU: No, absolutely not. In fact, Judge Ridgeway in his ruling today pointed out that judges in North Carolina and in fact throughout the country already have the authority to regulate their own courtrooms.

So, for example, if someone came in and said I want to swear on "Alice in Wonderland," for example, that's just silly. Everybody knows that's silly and the judge would not allow it.

So that -- the argument that this opens a Pandora's Box is not true. Judges make decisions every day and this will not be -- it won't be very difficult decision for a judge to make.

PHILLIPS: Seth Cohen, Syidah Mateen, thank you both so much. I'm sorry we have to cut this short. We have breaking news under way right now.

The Senate has voted on the funding for Iraq. That $120 billion funding bill. It has passed. Dana Bash on the Gill right now. First of all, Dana, let's talk about what this means. Obviously it has got to make its way to the desk of the president, but it looks pretty good considering he said I don't want to deal with troop withdrawal. That was taken out. What do you think? Will it all go forward?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. This was a final step. It will go forward. It's going to head down Pennsylvania Avenue to the president's desk probably tomorrow. What we're still waiting for, we do know the vote total, that it passed, that's not a surprise but we're still waiting for and we have the vote up right here is to see the last bit of drama here, which is quite a bit of drama and that's how the two leading presidential contenders who serve in the Senate, how they'll vote on this.

They have not yet voted. There is officially about two and half minutes left in the vote. I'm talking of course about Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama. They've been very cagey about whether they will, in fact, vote for this war funding bill that does not have a specific plan to bring troops home. A lot of pressure on them from the people they're trying to court the mostly anti-war voters in the Democratic primary. We still don't know how they're going to vote, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Dana, you're there on the Hill. Were you able to see if John McCain was in the room? Did he vote? Of course weevil been talking about the fact that he hasn't showed up to make half the votes, a presidential contender, obviously an important issue. We've been talking about it this evening. Have you seen him?

BASH: He is here. He did vote. He just -- no surprise, he did vote for this. He's not somebody who is -- is for changing the president's strategy much in general and certainly not somebody who would ever consider voting against funding for the war. So he did vote and he did vote yes. He certainly has missed a lot of votes, but this one he made sure to here for, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. John King, as Dana pointed out, we're watching Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, presidential hopefuls. Wondering how they voted. You're talking about the risks involve involved.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are risks involved either way. If they vote yes, which means give the president what they wants, the money with no timelines, they will infuriate the anti-war left. And Mrs. Clinton especially already has a problem with the anti-war left because she voted to give the president the authority to go to Iraq in the first place. Senator Obama was not in the Senate at the time although he says he would have voted no.

So that's one problem. If they vote yes, they infuriate the left. If they vote no, they leave themselves open to the charge down the road if one of them is the Democratic nominee that they're soft. That they didn't vote to support the troops. That they shouldn't be commander in chief. It's a very difficult issue. And one thing, Kyra, in talking to democrats today including speaking earlier to our Paul Begala, who is close to Hillary Clinton, knows her very well from the Clinton White House, he was critical of both of them saying they want to be president of the United States, they want to lead the free world. Why are they keeping this a secret until the end? Stand up and announce what you're going to do and defend it either way you're going to vote. Be presidential, not senatorial.

PHILLIPS: Candy Crowley, your take?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: My take is we still haven't seen what the story is. I mean, as Dana mentioned, we all knew this was going to pass. The suspense is great. I agree with John. I think a lot of people think there's some upmanship going on here. Is this voting chicken, that sort of thing.

I think that's what we're waiting for, really. And the lead of the story here will be what did Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton do.

PHILLIPS: And how do you think, Candy, that that is going to affect how voters go forward thinking about 2008, thinking about the presidential election?

CROWLEY: I think that it is -- that the person with the most at stake here, as John intimated, is Hillary Clinton. She is the one that gave an original yes vote on the war resolution. Barack Obama was not in the Senate, but said by the way, I was against it from the very beginning.

So she has already had some heat about her original yes vote. If she now votes yes, I think heat just gets hotter.

PHILLIPS: And you know what's interesting, too, John, the timetable. When will U.S. troops leave Iraq? This is such a hot button issue for politicians. They were constantly talking about this. Debating this. I just came back from Iraq. General Petraeus refuses to talk timetable. He said there's just no way that troops can leave right now. So that finally was negotiated, it was taken out of the bill and now we're seeing some action, something is finally happening here. KING: We're seeing something finally happen, which is that the Congress needs to pass a budget or deny the president the money for the war. They certainly have that power but it was clear that the Democrats were not going to do that. They simply don't have the votes. They are the now majority, the new party, the new power in Congress and they did come to power saying that they needed to stop this war but they don't have enough votes, Kyra, they simply don't.

And so the question going forward is number one, the president, as weak as he might be politically, is the commander in chief. And any president still has considerable power. This president has a lot of power in the middle of a war.

Number two, as many will question should the Democrats have had those other votes, saying look, we're trying to pass a timeline, we're trying to pass a timeline? Some will say they should have looked at the cameras and said we'd like to pass a timeline, but we don't have the votes. So we're not going to have procedural votes that we knew would get vetoed, we're not going to do this incrementally.

We're going to send it to the president. We wish we could do more but we can't.

That would put Senator Clinton and Senator Obama in a much more comfortable position tonight if the whole Democratic Party came forward and said we don't have the votes to do this, so we'll give the president the money.

PHILLIPS: And I know you're going to talk more about this. You're filling in for Anderson Cooper tonight. 10:00 p.m. Eastern. John King, thanks so much. Candy Crowley, Dana Bash, thank you.

A disturbing new trend in crime is "Out in the Open." Look at this. Drug dealers, well, they are buying nice suburban homes and they are turning them into, well, secret, high-tech pot farms.

Stay for us for a story you'll want to see because your neighborhood may be next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Live to the Senate floor. Once again, no surprise that it passed. We're talking about $120 billion Iraq spending bill that passed the House this evening. Now it has passed the Senate. But there is a surprise within this. How some presidential hopefuls voted tonight. Dana Bash on the Hill. Dana, bring us up to date.

BASH: Well, Kyra, we were talking about this suspense. About how Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama would vote on this war funding bill with no timeline for troops to come home. They both just voted and they both voted no. They both voted against sending almost $100 billion to troops to fund the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is quite a significant vote. And it will be looked back on certainly as we go through the 2008 political cycle as significant. Especially for Senator Clinton. As Candy and John were talking about before the break, for someone like Senator Clinton who voted to authorize the war and has since refused to say point blank she regrets that vote, this is a critical time for her. Because she understands that she needs to try as hard as she can to appeal to Democratic primary voters who are still not that thrilled with her when it comes to Iraq. That's what she just did.

Now if you look back at the 2004 election, at someone like John Kerry who voted a couple of different ways on the issue of -- of Iraq funding, during the primary and that got really pounded on it in the general election. That's something that certainly may happen still to Senator Clinton if she gets the nomination. But at this particular moment, she decided clearly that the most important thing to do was to send a signal to the Democratic base that she is fundamentally against this war, whether it means withholding money for the troops or not.

PHILLIPS: John King, are you surprised the way Senator Hillary Clinton voted?

KING: Am I surprised? No. Not my job to read minds but I'm not surprised given the intensity of the anti-war left. The anti-war left is driving, is the blood of the Democratic Party right now. It was the energy behind the election in 2006. It is the pressure and the energy on all of these candidates right now.

You can bet, Kyra, before the night is out, Republicans are going to be saying she was for the war before she was against it. They're going to be mocking Hillary Rodham Clinton. She's making the calculation that when you showed that poll earlier, 60-something percent of the American people want timelines, 60 something percent of the American people think the war is going badly.

She's making the calculation that anti-war sentiment more broadly in the country, not just among Democrats, will carry over next year and people won't punish her for this. But if she's the nominee of the Democratic Party, you can bet the Republicans will try to do to her what they did to John Kerry, saying she is not fit to be commander-in- chief because when troops are dying in Iraq, she wouldn't give them the money.

PHILLIPS: Candy Crowley, do you agree?

CROWLEY: Absolutely. I think that Senator Clinton took a look at this and went for the primary voter. I mean, that's the voter that's in front of her right now. That's the voter she needs to get to the nomination, and those voters are very anti-war across the board. Whether they're from the left wing of the party or the moderate wing of the party. Democrats are against this war. And that's what this vote was about.

You know, in some ways, it was also what I used to call -- I don't know if Dana does this, a free vote. The vote was so overwhelmingly in favor of the funding for the troops, that you can go ahead and vote in a way you'd like to because it really wasn't on the line. The funding was not on the line. It passed by a significant margin before either one of them voted. PHILLIPS: Candy Crowley, Dana Bash and John King, we'll talk more about this definitely at 10:00 Eastern. Thanks, you guys.

BASH: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: And we're about to meet a CNN Hero now who's dedicated her life to helping the victims of domestic violence. Stay with us and see just how one person can accomplish a tremendous amount.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Right now we want to shine a spotlight on someone whose passionate about ending a health crisis threatening women around the globe. The World Health Organization says that one out of every six women worldwide is a victim of domestic violence. But you're about to meet a woman who's working to change that. And she's starting in her home country of Mexico. That's why Lydia Cacho Ribeiro is tonight's "CNN Hero."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One more time looking at me.

LYDIA CACHO RIBEIRO, RUNS BATTERED WOMEN SHELTER: Mexico is my true country and if you understand that, you understand everything else. It's a cultural thing. Owning your wife and your kids is a cultural issue, and we are working on changing cultural views and that takes a long, long time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I would come home from work and he would say didn't I tell to you come at a certain time, and he would slap me or kick me. He even did it in front of the children.

CACHO RIBEIRO: The med (ph) work that is helping women be rescued from violence and even for death is our institution, we are their friends, their sisters, their mothers. We are here to tell them that we are not alone.

My name is Lydia Cacho Ribeiro. I am human rights advocate. We created a shelter for battered women, and this shelter is a high security shelter. When a woman comes to the center, we give them free services, social work, medical services, psychological help. They get trained for work, and the kids go to school. They are rebuilding their own lives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They rescued from where I was living. They have done so much for me after I had given up on myself.

CACHO RIBEIRO: We just decided that there was something needed, that was far beyond talking about violence and all the things. We had to do something about it. We have success. Last year the local congress passed a law in which violence against women is a crime.

It saddens me that it's seen as an extraordinary task because I believe that everybody else could do the same thing and Mexico would be very different.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: And there's more about Lydia and her organization on our Web site, cnn.com/heroes. That's also where you can nominate someone who you think should be recognized as a CNN Hero.

Time for a quick "Biz Break." On Wall Street the Dow was down 84 points. The NASDAQ lost 39 the S&P dropped 14. Mixed signals on the housing front. The government days sales of new single-family homes soared more than 16 percent in April. The highest monthly gain in 14 years. But the average price dropped by 11 percent in last month to just $229,000.

LARRY KING LIVE is just minutes away. Tonight Larry sits down for a no-holds-barred session with comedian Don Rickles. That's at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: The war funding bill on the way to the president's desk. More on AC 360. Larry King is next.

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

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