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Republican Support Fading for President Bush's Iraq War Strategy?; New Report Finds Dozens of DHS Job Vacancies

Aired July 9, 2007 - 15:00   ET

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


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: East is East, and West is West, and nobody's off the hook when it comes to the heat in July.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The Northeast hasn't matched the triple digits that are still baking parts of the Southwest, but you could call that cold comfort to the folks at Con Ed.

PHILLIPS: Hello, everyone. I'm Kyra Phillips at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien, in today for Don Lemon.

You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

At the White House today, an onslaught of questions about crumbling support for the war in Iraq -- with Senate votes looming on a possible troop withdrawal, the ranks of President Bush's Republicans are showing new signs of stress.

Not to worry, says the White House.

With the story for us live, CNN's Ed Henry.

Hi, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Kyra.

That's right, the president obviously facing new pressure, an increasing number of Republicans, as you noted, moving away from the White House on his Iraq policy. In fact, Republican Senator John Warner, one of the skeptics of the current policy, a very powerful Republican on the Hill, said a short time ago that he's hearing inklings from the White House that the president may be making some sort of a national address later this week to talk to the American people about the situation in Iraq.

The private buzz among Republicans is that perhaps the president is trying to stem the tide of GOP defections with some sort of a speech.

Now, White House spokesman Tony Snow insisted, among -- amid a lot of questioning, as you noted, that there's no prime-time address or national speech planned, but that the president may address the situation in Iraq, may address some of the concerns out there.

But Snow repeatedly insisted both that "The New York Times" story today about a possible White House call for troop withdrawals is not true. And he also took issue with the characterization from myself and other reporters that Republicans are breaking with the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There are substantial areas of agreement here.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) that the course you're taking is not succeeding in those endeavors.

SNOW: No.

(CROSSTALK)

SNOW: Again, we have just started the course. The course...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: But he's saying time is running out.

SNOW: I'm just...

QUESTION: But he's not a Democrat. He's a Republican.

SNOW: I understand that.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... saying time's running out.

SNOW: I understand that.

QUESTION: But is the White House in denial about that, then, that...

SNOW: No, the White House is not in denial about the fact. But I think you're in denial about the fact that in the overall contours there's just not that much disagreement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now, I had been asking Tony Snow about Republican Senator Richard Lugar's comments about the increase of troops to Iraq, and how it may not be working, and how there needs to be a change in course.

What you heard from Snow there is what we have heard from the White House before, even before these defections, which is that they believe they need more time, that Republicans and Democrats need to wait until mid-September for this progress report from General Petraeus.

But what Senator Lugar and other Republicans are now saying is, they can't wait that long, and that the president has to change course before then -- Kyra. PHILLIPS: White House correspondent Ed Henry -- thanks, Ed.

HENRY: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Breaking news now.

Let's go right to Wisconsin, a news conference under way as we speak. This is the latest now on the search for 22-year-old Kelly Nolan, a college student missing now for two weeks -- a body discovered.

Let's listen to authorities.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

JOEL DESPAIN, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, MADISON, WISCONSIN, POLICE DEPARTMENT: North of the village of Oregon, a few miles south of Madison.

At this time, a multijurisdictional forensic team is being assembled. That's a multijurisdictional forensic team being assembled right now that's going to be working with the Dane County coroner at the scene.

Detectives are telling me that this scene may take several days to process. In the meantime, Schneider Road (ph), for those of you out there who use Schneider Road, will be shut down. So, Schneider Road will be shut down for several days, as this multijurisdictional forensics team investigates further the body that was discovered at 8:45 this morning.

Unfortunately, at this time, we still have not made a positive identification. So, I'm not able to tell you who this person is. But, as I said earlier, the detectives who were first at the scene and those who have followed, all have told me that this is a homicide investigation. And we can't take a leap at this point and say that this is Kelly Nolan. We don't know that yet.

I will back up a little bit, for those who haven't been here earlier today. At 4:30 this morning, a mass search begun in a three- mile-square area north of the village of Oregon. We had 100 or so law enforcement personnel from both Wisconsin and Illinois.

We had canine teams, horse teams, and we proceeded, in a very meticulous fashion, to divide up this three-square-mile area and see what we might find. This began today as an article search, or an evidence search. And it followed information that was gathered over the course of the last eight to nine days that led us to believe that there could be things here reference the Kelly Nolan case.

Again, at 8:45 this morning, we discovered a body, and that's where the case is at this point.

I will take questions.

(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: Joel, Could you describe the earlier searches that took place of this area, when approximately they were, and how they took place?

DESPAIN: During the course of the investigation, several areas, including this one, came up as areas that we may want to search. In fact, this area generally was searched, but not to the extent that it was this morning.

Detectives decided, based on not finding anything to date in the areas they had searched on their own, without extra help, that they decided to call in and have a mass search in this area. But, again, this was not the only area we were focused on. This was one of several.

QUESTION: So, why a mass search at this spot?

DESPAIN: Again, they had information in the last eight to 10 days from tips that this would be an area to look at. We did look at it, didn't find anything. And it was determined in the last several days that a mass search was warranted in this area.

QUESTION: Is this a male or a female?

DESPAIN: At this point, I have not -- I have not been given the information about the body, other than to be told that the body is there. And I have not been told whether it's a male or a female.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... if it's a male or a female?

DESPAIN: I'm a civilian public information officer. I'm receiving information from the command post from those in charge of this investigation. They're giving me information that they think can be put out at this time without jeopardizing their case.

I should also say that it's up to the Dane County Coroner, John Stanley, to make a positive identification and release the name of this victim. But I can't do that until John Stanley does it.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... about a male or a female?

DESPAIN: Again, it's not information that has been shared with me, so I can't share it with you.

QUESTION: Now, Joel, initially, this whole search was for Kelly Nolan. All the cops are off the scene. There's nobody there. So...

DESPAIN: Again, you can read into that what you want.

She's asking, saying that people who were investigating for the article search for Kelly Nolan do not appear to be in the area. I can tell you that there are many, many investigators in the Schneider area road corridor right now. And they're continuing to investigate.

QUESTION: The family has been told. They were told a couple hours ago, right?

DESPAIN: If we're talking about the Kelly Nolan family, they have been apprised throughout the process, since the time their daughter was reported missing, of exactly what we're doing.

QUESTION: But, I mean, the family of the victim -- you had said initially, too, that they were in the process of locating the family of the victim.

(CROSSTALK)

DESPAIN: Once they -- once they make a positive identification...

O'BRIEN: We have been listening to Joel Despain. He is the public information officer for the Madison, Wisconsin, police, filling us in on what we know -- not an awful lot, but, basically this: 8:45 or 8:30 this morning, local time, a body found in the Madison, Wisconsin, area, this two weeks after the disappearance of 22-year-old Kelly Nolan, a University of Wisconsin-Whitewater student who disappeared after a night of drinking with some friends.

Her family says she was under stress at the time, but left it pretty much at that. As we say, they have described this scene as a homicide. Homicide could take you anywhere from suicide, all the way to a full-fledged murder scenario. But, at this point, we do not know much more than that, nor do we know if it is, in fact, the body of Kelly Nolan.

We will keep you posted on that.

The Department of Homeland Security needs to fill some top jobs ASAP. A new congressional report shows dozens and dozens of unfilled positions in the agency that's supposed to protect us from terrorism and other disasters, as you well know.

CNN's Kelli Arena joining us from Washington with more. She's had a look at that report.

Kelli, what does it tell us?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, bottom line, it says that nearly a quarter of the top jobs at the Department of Homeland Security are vacant, and it says that puts the country at risk.

And, as you said, Miles, this is the department that is responsible for protecting our nation's borders, responding to national emergencies like hurricanes, and making sure that the nation is on guard for whatever the terrorists are planning.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about what the response has been. The report was out. "Washington Post" had a piece this morning. Has DHS responded in any way?

ARENA: Well, they have.

A DHS spokesman responded by saying that filling those jobs are definitely a top priority, that, out of the 135 senior jobs that remain unfilled -- those are DHS numbers -- 97 of them are already in the hiring process.

What does that mean? Well, that means that they have already identified the candidates, that those candidates have accepted the jobs, but now they are going through a background check. And he also said that DHS got 73 new positions added back in March that needed to be filled.

O'BRIEN: I imagine it's a pretty significant background check, too, which delays things, of course.

ARENA: That's right. They take months.

O'BRIEN: Things do not -- move slowly when you're dealing with Washington. The question is, will this satisfy Congress? I know there are a lot of members of Congress up in arms over this.

ARENA: That's right. And it won't.

I just spoke with the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. And he says that, actually, this vacancy issue has been a chronic problem over at DHS and that the department needs to get its act together.

Here is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: A 24 percent vacancy rate is absolutely too high, unacceptable, for an agency that has to respond to emergencies in real time. Terrorists are not going to wait until we fill vacancies at the top. Hurricanes, floods, wildfires are not going to wait until we finish hiring people at the top.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ARENA: You know, Thompson says that Congress is sounding alarm bells now, because the situation is only going to get worse as political appointees at the department leave their jobs, ahead of the election, of course, in that transition period, Miles, after the president -- presidential election, and that then we're really going to be vulnerable.

O'BRIEN: With all due respect to the people at the top of DHS, these are not the foot soldiers, the actual people out there doing the job, trying to keep us safe. The question is, is there any way to quantify whether this really makes us less safe?

ARENA: Well, you know, I directly asked that question many times, and said, give me an example of exactly how -- lots of generalities, Miles, as we see.

You know, this is a political season here in Washington -- you know, lots of generalities being thrown back and forth. You know, Congress said, you know, this is a problem. It needs to be dealt with immediately.

And I said, what is the immediate threat? Couldn't get an answer. You know, go back to DHS, they say, oh, this is political hay. And I said, yes, but the fact is, you have got over 100 jobs, you know, at the top that are vacant. Isn't that a concern?

So, you really are not getting specific information at this point. The bottom line is, the jobs do need to be filled. DHS says that they're trying to fill them. Congress says they have been saying that for a long time. That's what you got.

O'BRIEN: All right, Kelli Arena, we're slightly mystified, but, with DHS, we're often that way.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: That's all right. We will talk about umbrellas, fans...

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Yes. Let's see what you got.

PHILLIPS: ... good-old A.C., right? We're all trying to keep cool, whether it's here in or in the nation's capital. The heat wave is moving east.

O'BRIEN: And the N-word, getting it out of the culture and into the ground -- the NAACP out in the battle against a racial slur.

PHILLIPS: And NASA and Miles getting ready for another big trip to Mars? The phoenix rises soon in the CNN NEWSROOM.

O'BRIEN: It's very exciting, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: It's cool stuff.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Three fifteen Eastern time, here's three of the stories we're working on in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Congress back on the Hill -- Iraq is back on the front burner, and the Senate takes up a military spending bill. A short time ago, Majority Senate Leader Harry Reid said lawmakers can't afford to wait for the Petraeus report in September to overhaul U.S. strategy in Iraq.

A British jury convicts four men in the failed copycat London transport bombings in July of 2005. Verdicts on two other suspects are pending.

Lots of interest in an emergency alert system at Virginia Tech -- three months after a student gunman killed 32 people in a campus rampage, the school says more than 4,300 students and staff have signed up to get phone, e-mail, and text alerts in the event of another emergency.

O'BRIEN: To the West we go, parched and burning from Arizona to Alaska. Wildfires are raging through tinder-dry forests. Hard to keep up on this, more than 50 fires right now. Each have burned more than 500 acres, are burning in 11 Western states right now.

In western Utah, it is one for the history books, the biggest wildfire ever in that state, still very much out of control. Help is on the way.

On the phone with us now, Jeff Surber. He's overseeing the firefight from the ground.

Jeff, good to have you with us.

First of all, this fire is, I read one figure, 300,000 acres. Try to put that in some perspective for us.

JEFF SURBER, OPERATIONS SECTION CHIEF: As far as length of the fire, it's probably 60 miles long and probably 10, 20 miles wide in places.

O'BRIEN: Huge fire. And this is having a ripple effect all throughout the state, kicking up all kinds of soot and pollution, which is making its way down to the more populated areas of Salt Lake City.

Tell us about the concerns about air quality.

SURBER: I'm sure there is air-quality concerns in the bigger cities. This fire is in a little bit more remote area of Utah. But, because of its size, I'm sure there's quite a bit of smoke drifting all across certain parts of the state.

Right now, the -- the main -- our main effort is controlling the smoke across Interstate 15.

O'BRIEN: Give us a sense of the kind of forces you have deployed against this fire.

SURBER: We have two heavy helicopters, which are basically the kind of helicopters that drop large-capacity buckets and use snorkels and dipped -- or tanks that drop thousands of gallons at a time.

We have air tankers to drop the retardant. And we have lots of folks on the ground, pretty much from dozers, to hand crews, to fire engines, to overhead people.

O'BRIEN: Two choppers for 300,000 acres, sounds like you need a little more help. SURBER: Yes, there is a lot of demand for resources West-wide, I'm sure. So, we just have to work the best we can with what we have.

O'BRIEN: Are you trying to get some more assistance? Is there any assistance nearby that can get to you?

SURBER: We do have resource orders out for additional assistance. But, based on the priorities right now, there's a -- there's groups that determine the prioritization of fires West-wide, and we work with what they can provide to us at any certain point in time.

O'BRIEN: All right, we wish you the best out there, as you continue your efforts fighting that massive fire in the state of Utah.

Thank you for your time, sir -- Kyra.

SURBER: Thank you, Miles.

PHILLIPS: Elsewhere in the country, the mercury's climbing, and cooling centers are opening. The heat has the East in its grip this week.

Jacqui Jeras, who is sweltering today?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Millions of people, Kyra, everybody from the Southwest to the Northeast really suffering, heat indices well into the triple digits expected this afternoon.

We're approaching that critical time of the day now, where, the next, two, three hours, things are going to be at their worst. Excessive heat warnings have been issued for the Philadelphia metro area. And here, where you see the yellow, that's where we have heat advisories. So, that's expected to be between maybe 100 and 105 degrees at its worst point this afternoon.

Right now, you can see we're looking at 92 in New York City. The temperature your body feels in Philadelphia is 96. And check it out. Who is taking the cake this hour? Washington, D.C., it feels like 100, just about as bad as it's going to get today.

And that's where we find our CNN meteorologist Reynolds Wolf, who is try not to wilt in the heat.

Reynolds, how is it feeling out there?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know that line from "Wizard of Oz," you know, the Wicked Witch, when she starts melting and shrieking?

(LAUGHTER)

JERAS: I'm melting.

WOLF: That's me right now, except without the pointy -- the pointy hat and the flying monkeys. (LAUGHTER)

WOLF: It has been just a roasting-hot day. And, you know, the humidity has been high here as well.

One good thing, though, has been, Jacqui, is that we have had, for the most part, a fairly steady breeze. And that really has taken a bite out of -- amongst the heat.

Now, we are standing -- we're right at Freedom Plaza, which is right along 14th Street, 13th Street, and Pennsylvania Avenue, we have got a temperature just above 110 degrees. But keep in mind why it is that warm and feels so warm is because we're right on top of these big granite slabs out here, which is kind of like a -- well, it feels kind of warm. You can actually cook up, you know, a burger, maybe some bacon. You could -- yes, wouldn't that be great food on a hot day like today?

We're expecting more of the same tomorrow, don't you know, with temperatures that will be returning to those mid to upper 90s. However, by midweek, we're expecting a bit of a break. We're going to see that front come through, temperatures cool down some 10 to 15 degrees, which will be great, not just for people in front of us, but everyone all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue.

And these folks have been out. They have dealing with it. And they are certainly waiting for those cooler temperatures that are going to come by midweek onwards. But, keep in mind, that's then. We are dealing with the heat today. We're going to deal with it again tomorrow. And people have been advised to really take it easy.

You mentioned the peak heating hours of the day, mainly the mid- to late-afternoon hours, early evening, from 3:00 to 6:00. That's when the heat really is going to wear on you. So, it's always wise to, well, drink plenty of water, take it easy. Don't go out there the cut the grass on a day like today. That's a goofy thing to do, goofy any time, as far as I'm concerned.

(LAUGHTER)

WOLF: But they do have many cooling centers that are open, which is really a wise thing to take advantage of, if you're not able to escape the heat.

You know, I believe we have some video of some kids who have really been taking matters into their own hands. They are not going to these cooling centers. They're going to different cooling centers, cooling centers as community pools. And they're enjoying themselves. Now, they have been diving in the water, having a great time, throwing water up in the air, throwing each other up in the air.

And I think I am going to be joining them before long.

(LAUGHTER)

WOLF: It should be a great, great thing. But there's no question, it is hot here in Washington, D.C. Believe it or not, we haven't come close to breaking any records. The record high for Washington, D.C., on this date was set back in 1936, with the temperature of 104 degrees. The all-time record -- not even close to that -- that was set back in August 6 of 1918 -- that high, 106 degrees.

(CROSSTALK)

WOLF: But, although it's not going to get that hot here, it sure feels like it.

JERAS: Yes.

WOLF: Back to you.

JERAS: Not such respite. You know, what's the difference in about maybe five degrees, right?

But a lot of people dealing with that. Thanks, Reynolds. Yes, a big wipe-off. Maybe get yourself a bottle of water here.

You mentioned, Reynolds, though, too, by the way, that no records here. But, even though we're not looking at any records, it's certainly uncomfortable. And the summer thus far really has been a bit on the cool side across the Northeastern Corridor. So, this is the real first shocker that we have had, the first big wave of heat.

There, you can see the forecast highs for some of the big cities here, not close to the records, but certainly not feeling good out there at this hour.

In addition to the heat, the air quality a big issue -- all these cities you see here listed are under ozone alerts today. And the air quality is unhealthy for sensitive groups, so the elderly, the very young, and people with asthma. Reynolds mentioned you don't want to be out there mowing the grass right now. You don't want to be out there jogging either.

A cold front is on the way. We have got some severe thunderstorms across interior parts of the Northeast. But we're going to have to wait, probably until Wednesday, before the complete front sweeps on through, and brings in some of that clean, beautiful air.

We want to see your pictures of how you're staying cool in this heat by sending us some I-Reports.

We have one I want to show you right now. Get ready to say wow, guys. This isn't from the heat, but this is from some storms offshore. Craig Patterson sent this to us from Lafayette, Louisiana. He works on a natural gas platform there in the Gulf of Mexico, about 100 -- 100 miles south of the coast.

Look at those three waterspouts. I have never seen anything incredible like this, three of them in a row, very unusual.

So, it's never been easier than now to send us an I-Report. Just click a pic on your cell phone, and e-mail it us at ireport@CNN.com.

Say wow.

PHILLIPS: I want you to explain the physics.

JERAS: Wasn't it wow?

PHILLIPS: Explain the physics, guys. Help me out here.

JERAS: Of a waterspout? It's a tornado over the water, basically.

(CROSSTALK)

PHILLIPS: No, I don't -- explain to me. Come on. Give me a little 101. You see something. Then you go, how can three happen at one time?

JERAS: That would be a pretty rare thing. I have never seen three together like that.

O'BRIEN: Things happen in threes, Kyra.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Here's what I want to know. When you're on a platform, hundreds of miles into the Gulf of Mexico, and you see that, where do you go?

PHILLIPS: Underground.

JERAS: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Yes, not good.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

JERAS: Yes.

PHILLIPS: I would go diving real quickly.

O'BRIEN: Not a good option. Get the diving gear on, I guess.

PHILLIPS: Right on.

JERAS: But then you have got to worry about lightning, if you see lightning out there in the water.

O'BRIEN: Well, I assume they have ways to protect them.

But, you know, anyway, all right, thank you, Jacqui.

JERAS: Sure.

O'BRIEN: The tarp takes off. Take a look at this picture. These tarps are heavy. And, when it's a little windy, they can be a little bit of a problem, as we saw here.

PHILLIPS: And, if you're claustrophobic, you're hosed.

O'BRIEN: Who says a rainout is no fun? This is entertaining.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: We will tell you all about it -- coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: All right, dial the way-back machine back to Christmas. Remember Christmas? Remember the Christmas season?

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: And it was the big battle between the Wii and the PlayStation, Wii vs. PlayStation. Wii won, big time.

And one of the many things that it had -- well, first of all, you could get one. Secondly, it was a lot cheaper. And now it's July, and Sony is waking up to the fact that they might not have hit the right price point.

Stephanie Elam is here with more from Wall Street.

Hello, Steph.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Miles.

I feel like we have picked stories just for you today, like we knew you were going to be there.

O'BRIEN: Yes. This is so up my alley.

ELAM: Yes, this is right up there.

O'BRIEN: We went Wii, by the way.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: We did.

ELAM: Yes, well -- well, the Wii has been winning, actually.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

ELAM: But the PlayStation 3, because of this, is now dropping 100 bucks off of its price, at least here in the U.S. Sony's gaming system will now cost $499, instead of the original $599. The company's also rolling out a new version of the PlayStation 3, which comes with a bigger hard drive and a free video game. That will cost $599, but it won't be available in the States until next month.

The price cut was widely expected, since PlayStation 3 sales have been lagging behind the competition, even though, last Friday, they were acting like they weren't going to do this. As of May, Sony had sold less than 1.5 million systems in the U.S., compared to more than three million Nintendo Wii units and 5.6 million Xbox 360s.

Let's keep in mind, Microsoft did have a year head-start on those guys with the 360. So, that's part of the reason why they have sold so many more, part.

O'BRIEN: Right. We have got to watch this one closely, because this is a little Trojan horse issue for a big battle, which is sort of the new Beta-vs.-VHS thing. This all about Blu-ray, isn't it?

ELAM: Right. That's right.

It's the high-definition format wars. That's what we will call it. But Sony's PlayStation 3, of course, includes that Blu-ray player. And, right now, Blu-ray appears to be winning in the battle for the new high-def disk market.

Some analysts say making Blu-ray disk players more affordable could actually help spur sales even more. And Sony is hoping that even though -- those who buy a PS3 just for the games just might give its Blu-ray feature a try.

From Blu-rays to the blue chips -- the Dow is staging a little mini-rally. And stocks overall are higher, too. Earning season gets under way right after the closing bell today, with Dow component Alcoa reporting its quarterly results. So, they're always the first one out the gate.

We are also watching shares of ConocoPhillips. They are up more than 3.5 percent, after the oil giant OKed a $15 billion stock buyback.

Let's take a look at the Big Board -- the blue chips are on the upside by 42 points. That's about a third-of-a-percent, at 13654, about 20 points within the all-time closing high set five weeks ago. The Nasdaq is on the upside by about five points at this time.

I will be back in about 30 minutes with the complete wrap of the trading day, and we will find out if the Dow can push itself past that record set five weeks ago -- until then, Miles, back to you.

O'BRIEN: All right, Stephanie, thank you very much. See you in a little bit.

ELAM: Sure.

O'BRIEN: Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Straight ahead: Iraq, a country at war, its leadership at the crossroads. A vote could force major changes and even more challenges -- that story straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BUSINESS REPORT)

PHILLIPS: Straight ahead, Iraq a country at war. Its leadership at the crossroads. A vote could force major changes and even more challenges.

That story straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Hello, everyone. I'm Kyra Phillips, live at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.

O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien, in for Don Lemon.

Spread the word, just don't say it. The word starts with "N," and we're getting word of its demise.

PHILLIPS: The NAACP spreading six feet of dirt on the n-word, hoping today's symbolic burial truly lays it to rest. Is that even possible? Is it a good idea?

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

At the White House today, an onslaught of questions about crumbling support for the war in Iraq. Chief spokesman Tony Snow insisting that President Bush hasn't lost Dick Lugar, a key Senate Republican senator now demanding a change of course.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There are substantial areas of agreement here.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But he's saying that the course you're taking is not succeeding in those endeavors. So...

SNOW: No, see -- well, again, we have just started the course. The course has just...

HENRY: Time is running out.

SNOW: I'm just.

HENRY: But he's not a Democrat. He's a Republican.

SNOW: I understand.

(CROSSTALK)

HENRY: Time is running out. So...

SNOW: I understand that, Ed. HENRY: Is the White House in denial about that then?

SNOW: No, the White House is not in denial about the fact, but I think you're in denial about the fact that in the overall contours, there's just not that much disagreement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Now, on Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats will try to force votes on a possible troop withdrawal. This afternoon, Majority Leader Harry Reid said the current course in Iraq can't be sustained any longer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The war in Iraq is headed in a very dangerous direction. The last three months of President Bush's surge have been the deadliest of the war, the entire war.

The surge was supposed to supply (ph) Iraq's political leaders the space to make the compromise necessary to unite this nation. It hasn't happened, despite the bravery of our troops. Democrats, military experts and the American people know the president's current strategy not working. And we cannot wait until September to act.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Well, for starters, Reid called on Senate Republicans to support a proposal to lengthen stateside time for U.S. troops. That alone would prevent the Pentagon from sustaining current force levels in Iraq.

O'BRIEN: Defense Secretary Robert Gates has scrapped a scheduled trip to South America. Instead, he will focus on Iraq.

Gates is quietly pushing, our sources tell us, for a phased withdrawal of combat troops from some of Iraq's most volatile combat zones. Gates is helping assemble a progress report for Congress on the current Iraq strategy. Today, a Pentagon spokesman conceded benchmarks set for the Iraqi government aren't being met.

PHILLIPS: The Iraq debate in Washington is a shadow of the dire political realities in Baghdad. The Iraqi government appears to be on the verge of collapse.

CNN's Hala Gorani has the latest now from Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Will the government of Nuri al-Maliki survive the summer? And with it, any hopes for the passage of crucial laws America wants to present as benchmarks of political progress in Iraq?

The Shiite prime minister is weakened and isolated. Two important political blocs, the Sunnis and those loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, are boycotting cabinet meetings and parliamentary sessions. Despite the visible cracks in Nuri al- Maliki's government, his spokesperson says all is on track.

ALI ALDABBAGH, SPOKESMAN FOR IRAQI PRIME MINISTER: We are quite sure we will do it, and, I mean, boycotting or not attending the cabinet won't stop the train to move. The train will move, but you may slow it.

GORANI: But say that to the country's Sunni vice president and the political battles within the government become apparent.

TARIQ AL-HASHIMI, IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT: I have been marginalized heavily, severely, in fact. It is not only myself, my colleague, my two colleagues in the presidency counsel, the president, as well as the vice president. This (INAUDIBLE) marginalized, in fact, and it is hardly saying that we were over the past year -- we were a partner and this is (INAUDIBLE).

GORANI: Contradicting weekend reports, al-Hashimi says there are no plans from his bloc to introduce a motion of no confidence against the prime minister, but he adds that if doesn't get guarantees that his party will be included in executive decisions, he will not hesitate to leave.

And the crisis extends to Maliki's former allies, officials from the party of Muqtada al-Sadr. They tell CNN the prime minister has turned against them and that his government is doomed to fall.

Meantime, even though the draft of a defining law on the sharing of oil revenues was approved by the cabinet, it was done without the presence of the Sunnis and the Sadrists, so laws could pass, but they will not be viewed as legitimate.

(on camera): It is crunch time here in Iraq. Nuri al-Maliki is expected to majorly reshuffle his cabinet very soon. And for the United States, a bloody weekend and a government teetering on the brink may be ominous warnings that there might not be quick-fix solutions in Iraq.

Hala Gorani, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: Iraq says more than 140,000 Turkish troops are gathered at Iraq's northern border. That's where rebel Kurds have bases and launch attacks on Turkish forces. Turkey's military has been urging the government to give the OK for a push into Iraq, but Iraq's foreign minister is warning against it.

O'BRIEN: The n-word, getting it out of the culture and into the ground. The NAACP steps out in the battle against the racial slur.

We'll have details for you in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) PHILLIPS: Well, I can tell you it's a funeral where few people will send flowers or condolences. The departed urged to rest in oblivion, not peace.

The n-word was plunked into a casket and buried in a symbolic ceremony in Detroit. This is how the NAACP is trying to get the word and its decades of racial baggage out of our mouths and minds.

Comedian Paul Mooney would probably have liked to have shoveled some dirt on that casket. This is what he told me last year after the whole Michael Richards debacle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL MOONEY, COMEDIAN: We're going to stop using the n-word. I'm going to stop using it. I'm not going to ever use it again, and I'm not going to use the b-word.

And we're going to put an end to the n-word. Just say no to the n-word.

We want all human beings throughout the world to stop using the n-word. We've got to take our power back. It's not an equal opportunity word, and it's not a very nice word. And we're going to end it. And we're going to start doing that today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Paul Mooney back with us in Los Angeles to talk more about the death of the n-word.

He's having a really hard time, ladies and gentlemen, dealing with the burial of the n-word.

You all right, Paul?

MOONEY: I'm OK.

PHILLIPS: You OK?

MOONEY: It's just a sad -- it's a sad today. They're burying...

PHILLIPS: And tell me, how have you been mourning? How...

MOONEY: Yes, I'm heavily in mourning because they are burying the n-word. And it's ended today. It's -- I'm -- I'm mixed emotions. I'm happy and I'm sad.

PHILLIPS: Tell me why you're sad.

MOONEY: Well, we're burying the n-word. And you have to -- you know, you've got to have your emotions connected with it. And it's goodbye forever.

It's gone forever, the n-word. We have to end this. And I'm glad they buried it. I'm glad. PHILLIPS: Now, let's not forget, you're the man that brought the n-word to the forefront when you went into the comedy clubs. You've taken a complete about-face.

Tell me why.

MOONEY: Well, I took an about-face because of Michael Richards. But that was yesterday. I mean, we're talking about today. And today we're burying the n-word.

We're not going to use it anymore. And it's not the only word. We're going to start burying all the words. We're going to bury the b-word. We're going to put a hit out on the b-word.

PHILLIPS: You're going to hire an assassin?

MOONEY: To kill the b-word.

PHILLIPS: I hope it's an A assassin to go after the B word.

But Paul, let me ask you, have people come up to you -- because obviously you've got a fan base, a large fan base, and it starts from the very beginning of when this was a popular word to use in the clubs. Are they coming up and saying, "I still love you, you're still funny, you're standing up for something"?

MOONEY: Yes, I don't use it. They're old black-white, different races. They've come up to me and said that they were very proud that I stopped using the word, and that they were happy that I'm not using it anymore.

And I did slip at the Lincoln Theater when I was working with Dick Gregory, and the audience went crazy. But it was out of habit. And it's hard to break old habits.

But that was just once since I've talked to you. I've only slipped once.

PHILLIPS: Wow. That's pretty good.

MOONEY: No -- cold turkey. You know?

PHILLIPS: Yes.

MOONEY: I was married to that word.

PHILLIPS: I'll tell you what, cold turkey's sometimes the best way to deal with things. That's a whole other story. It's like...

MOONEY: It is. I mean -- I mean, I haven't -- I haven't used it, you know. And...

PHILLIPS: Well, you know, we were talking...

MOONEY: ... I hope you haven't used it.

PHILLIPS: Are you kidding me? I only used it with you? You know? And then we...

MOONEY: Just me?

PHILLIPS: Are you kidding? I would never, never, never.

MOONEY: No, of course. Oh, no.

PHILLIPS: But let me ask you -- someone that apparently did use this word, somebody that we would probably never expect to use this word or maybe we -- maybe we have, Michael Eric Dyson took us back in time this morning. Listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, CULTURAL CRITIC: Martin Luther King Jr., the night he was killed, said to Andrew Young, "Little nigger, where you been?"

He used it as a term of endearment. Now, there's a difference because rap music has now made it accessible to the world because of its circulation throughout the country and indeed throughout the globe. But the point is to have I think a reductive and narrow and simplistic understanding of that term misses the use of it by history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Paul, MLK used that word?

MOONEY: Well, listen -- listen, no. Because you know why? A goat is a goat, whether you saute it or barbecue it. It's still a goat no matter how you cook it.

PHILLIPS: So -- but it is -- I mean, whether it's music -- I mean, it was interesting when I heard him bring up, you know, rap music and the culture, the black culture. It is a word that is ingrained. It's sometime used as an affectionate word. It's many times used as a way to express anger.

I mean, it is still a tremendous part of the culture. So, how realistic is -- even though we saw the big funeral today...

MOONEY: Yes.

PHILLIPS: ... and we're talking seriously about this. You've cut it out of your act. Really, what is the reality of this completely dying within the black culture?

MOONEY: It is a reality. I mean, there's a reality of -- I mean, hey, we don't even hear the word sickle cell anymore now, do we? Do we hear that anymore? That was a big deal once in the black community.

PHILLIPS: Sure. Sure.

MOONEY: Correct?

PHILLIPS: Well, yes, that's true. That's true.

MOONEY: And you know that comes from Africans that -- it was an immunity. It was an immunity in Africa against other diseases. But when we came here, it changed. So, it's all interesting.

I think the reality of the word that -- America can change. We change in a lot of ways, you know? At one time bell-bottoms were a big deal. You know? And they came back around. And now they don't exist.

PHILLIPS: What are you talking about? I still have six pairs in my closet.

MOONEY: OK. At one time -- at one time dinosaurs ruled the world. Do you see any dinosaurs? Do you see any?

PHILLIPS: And you know what? And obviously you're bringing the do rag back. You look very good.

MOONEY: Not only am I -- there is a word I'm going to keep.

PHILLIPS: You don't -- Don't get rid of the d-word, OK? Keep do rag.

MOONEY: No, not do rag.

PHILLIPS: OK. What is it?

MOONEY: I want Prada.

PHILLIPS: Prada?

MOONEY: You know what that is?

PHILLIPS: You're talking about -- well, I'm hoping you're talking about the shoes.

MOONEY: What are you talking about the shoes?

PHILLIPS: Or the purse.

MOONEY: No. That's the Creole word for white trash.

PHILLIPS: Oh. All right. That will be our next discussion. But I sure hope you are not throwing out this way.

By the way, love the jacket. Nice to see you bringing Michael Jackson's style back there, Paul.

MOONEY: It is his jacket. I stole it.

PHILLIPS: I believe it. The white glove comes later.

Paul, great to talk to you. All right.

O'BRIEN: A little bit of breaking news coming in to us right now.

The head of the National Hurricane Center, embattled for the past few weeks, Bill Proenza, is, in fact, stepping down. This, after virtually a mutiny by his own staff there, after, as he came into that job, made some comments about an aging satellite, which the staff disagreed with.

Proenza criticizing headquarters for not replacing a particular satellite. The staff disagreeing with him. And things devolving from there.

Proenza out, has resigned as head of the National Hurricane Center, right in the middle of hurricane season. CNN's John Zarrella has further details for us. We'll hear from him after a break.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Breaking news coming in to us. It was, in fact, much more than a tempest in a teapot. After a six-month stormy tenure, Bill Proenza is out at the National Hurricane Center.

CNN's John Zarrella tracking this story for us.

John, hello.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, you know, I believe that Bill Proenza will probably now go down as the first director of the hurricane center to not actually have gone through an entire hurricane season in something like 25 or 30 years.

The word today is that Bill Proenza, who became the director of the National Hurricane Center in January, replacing Max Mayfield, who retired, is out as director of the hurricane center. According to NOAA public affairs officials in Washington -- that's the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the parent agency -- they cannot for government reasons, because of government privacy, tell us exactly what his status is, other than Bill Proenza is still employed.

Has he been reassigned? Did he resign? Was he forced out? We don't know how it all transpired.

We do know that the acting director is Ed Rappaport, and Ed Rappaport was and has been for years, even under Max Mayfield's tenure, the deputy director at the National Hurricane Center. When the job became open when Max Mayfield resigned, Ed Rappaport did not apply for this position. He was not interested in it for personal reasons. But now he has been tapped to be the acting director of the National Hurricane Center to get them through the season.

Miles, as you know we're about three weeks away from the beginning of the heart of the hurricane season. So, this is something that had to be addressed very quickly by NOAA. And, in fact, it has been -- Miles. O'BRIEN: Well, it's good Ed Rappaport has his hand on the tiller. We can feel confident with that. He certainly is a seasoned veteran. And I assume he probably has the support of the staff here.

Let's -- a quick little bit of back story here on how Proenza lost confidence on both ends, his superiors and his employees. Both lost confidence.

ZARRELLA: Right. It started off fairly quickly after he got the job in January. First he criticized NOAA for spending lots of money on a 200th anniversary celebration for NOAA, which is this whole year of celebrations, at the expense of, according to Proenza, taking money out of his own budget for hurricane research and other budgets. So he went public with that.

Then he went public with his concern over QuikSCAT, which is a satellite that was put up in 1999. It was only expected to be used for a few years, but gives them tremendous data on hurricanes.

Well, it's outlived its life expectancy, but there is no replacement on the books. He thought he had NOAA's ear. He thought they were going to go ahead and do some things to get the satellite replaced. When they didn't, he went public with that.

And then, very briefly, his own people said that he made too much out of this satellite, that wouldn't have been one of their priorities, so he ended up losing the NOAA side, his bosses, and then his own people, who said, wait a minute, you're making too much of a big deal out of this satellite. So, that's where it all came down -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: He got caught up in all kinds of cross currents.

ZARRELLA: Yes, he did. Yes, he did.

O'BRIEN: John Zarrella in Miami.

Thank you very much -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. The closing bell and a wrap of action on Wall Street straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Trapped under a tarp. Colorado Rockies groundskeepers had no way out when a big gust of wind...

O'BRIEN: That is so much better than a baseball game, just for the record.

PHILLIPS: No, actually, I missed -- remember the brat (ph) that got clubbed by the player?

O'BRIEN: Oh, yes. I do remember that.

PHILLIPS: All right. Members of the visiting Philadelphia Phillies rescued them and helped secure that tarp.

A couple of umpires, a Rockies player pitched in. The rest of the team was already back at the clubhouse.

Now, that's what you call a team effort right there. Blowing in the wind.

O'BRIEN: That's right.

(CROSSTALK)

PHILLIPS: The closing bell about to ring on Wall Street.

(STOCK MARKET REPORT)

O'BRIEN: Let's go to "THE SITUATION ROOM" and Wolf Blitzer.

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