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LOU DOBBS THIS WEEK

Bush, Congressional Poll Numbers Dropping as Iraq War Opposition Grows; Congress to Look Into Border Patrol Agents' Incarcerations

Aired July 15, 2007 - 18:00   ET

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


KITTY PILGRIM, GUEST HOST: The political showdown over the war in Iraq escalates. But the Congress and the White House are failing to tackle other important issues to represent the will of the people.
And lawmakers prepare to hold hearings on what many call an outrageous miscarriage of justice. The imprisonment of former Border Patrol agents Ramos and Compean. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher will join us. That and much more, straight ahead tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS THIS WEEK. News, debate and opinion for Sunday, July 15th. Sitting in for Lou Dobbs, Kitty Pilgrim.

PILGRIM: Good evening, everybody. The political battle over the war in Iraq is about to reach a pivotal point. The Senate is likely to vote in the next few days on whether to withdraw our troops by May of next year. Now the vote comes as a rising number of Americans say they've had enough of both Congress and the president.

In fact, approval ratings for Congress are even lower than the ratings for President Bush. Joining me now, three of the members of the best political team on television, senior political analyst Bill Schneider, senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, and White House correspondent Elaine Quijano.

And thanks for being with us. Let's start with the USA Today/Gallup poll. Both President Bush and Democratic-led Congress seeing their lowest approval ever. Bush is at 29 percent. Congress is at 25 percent. Candy, let's start with you.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, I think what you're seeing is that voters are mad at the president for starting the war and angry with Congress for not ending the war. You add into that a healthy dose of a pox on everybody inside the Beltway and you get those kind of numbers.

PILGRIM: But this discontent is really at the lowest ebb. Is it all Iraq-related? Elaine, can I call on you for some analysis on that?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, certainly, the president's numbers have been at a low level for some time. And it is the Iraq War, surely, that hangs over this particular presidency. President Bush, when asked about this, has always said he does not govern by polls. He does what he thinks is right. But this is a White House well aware that this is an unpopular war.

In fact, officials of course time and time again say they understand that when the American people see the images coming out of Iraq of violence among the Iraqis, against U.S. forces, it is a very difficult thing for the American people to continue to see day in and day out.

Nevertheless, the president has remained firm despite the fact that the poll numbers continue to show he's at a very low level.

PILGRIM: You know, Bill Schneider, one would expect you'd see a little bit of a shift when Congress changed hands, but we didn't really see anything, did we?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we saw some shift. We saw some increase in hopefulness, some high expectations for the new Democratic Congress. Some feeling that they might be able -- they might be willing to stand up to the president, which they have done, but they don't have enough votes to overcome the president and stop the war.

That's the problem. It's not just the war -- it's mainly the war, but they were unable to do anything serious about immigration. Nothing could pass Congress. So a lot of people thought what they proposed to do was the wrong thing.

And then of course those gas prices, which Congress can't seem to do anything about. So there are lots of sources of this.

PILGRIM: The hope sort of fizzled quickly. Let's look at the poll numbers on Iraq, 62 percent of Americans say the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq. But President Bush has been really defending his position and saying, let's stay the course, let's wait until September to find out if the surge works.

And this is what he had to say about Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think Congress ought to be running the war. I think they ought to be funding our troops. I certainly am interested in their opinion, but trying to run a war through resolution is a prescription for failure as far as I'm concerned, and we can't afford to fail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PILGRIM: Candy, let's talk about Congress' role. We have senators Warner and Lugar with a proposal calling for change. We had four Republicans defect in the House on their vote. What are we seeing in terms of the Republicans and the Democrats on the war and are they becoming slowly to one mind on it? CROWLEY: Well, if you listen to the Democrats, they certainly are. I mean, this has been a very gradual process. You know, when they started out it was just Democrats. Now they've picked up not just some Republicans, but some Republicans, Senator Lugar, Senator Domenici, with some very big names who hold some sway.

Right now the president does seem to have held most of this off. He may get his chance to wait until General Petraeus has his report in September. But the fact of the matter is that slowly but surely this tide is moving against the president.

And what Democrats expect is that eventually they will pick up enough Republican votes to overcome the filibuster number, the 60 votes they need.

PILGRIM: Elaine, you know, President Bush made the case last week and again this week that the troop buildup was only completed last month. He said we really must wait until September to see if this works. Is that going to be something that is going basically be the position of the White House until September?

QUIJANO: Yes. We have not seen the president budge on this at all. There had been much speculation that perhaps there might be a change coming soon, but the president clearly, at his news conference a few days ago, stating point-blank that he wants lawmakers to hold off, that he thinks that assessment by not only General David Petraeus, but also Ryan Crocker, the ambassador there, to come back and give their report in full.

That is what the president is hoping for. And it does seem, as Candy was saying, that for now at least the Republican defections have been stopped, but the White House understands full well that the momentum certainly is there.

Eight weeks, they know, is not a long time at all, but for now officials here seem to be satisfied that at least that temporary GOP discontent that seemed to have been growing -- they're not necessarily thinking they'll get any additional voices until September, at least that's what they're hoping.

PILGRIM: Bill Schneider, we've been hearing this week a lot of references to al Qaeda, and even President Bush drawing a linkage between Iraq, talking about al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and his assertion that that same group is the one that attacked the United States in 2001.

We're seeing this al Qaeda connection drawn very broadly now in Washington. Is this an attempt to legitimize the war effort?

SCHNEIDER: He certainly is. The president mentioned al Qaeda many, many times, more than I've heard him talk about it in his press conferences. It's his way of arguing that the enemy we're fighting in Iraq is the same attacker that attacked us on 9/11.

That's a charge that war critics would very, very quickly dispute. Many of them argue, look, al Qaeda wasn't in Iraq until after the United States came there. And the longer we stay in Iraq, the more dangerous the situation and the threat will be to the United States.

So this is a new front that the president has really opened in the political war.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much for your analysis this afternoon. Bill Schneider, Candy Crowley, and Elaine Quijano. Thanks very much.

Still to come, Senator Hillary Clinton faces charges she's putting her presidential ambitions ahead of middle-class Americans.

Also, communist China prepares an all-out assault against American working men and women and what remains of our automobile industry.

Also, shocking new evidence communist China's failure to ensure the safety of food it exports to this country.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton speaking to the Indian Institute of Technology, repeated her call for an increase in the number of H-1B visas. Now Senator Clinton backs a plan that would raise the number of H-1B visas to 115,000 from the current level of 65,000.

But in that same speech, the senator also raised the concern that American workers are losing their jobs to outsourcing. Now, the senator is courting Indian American voters. They're exerting an increasing influence in U.S. politics and they have the highest average income of any group.

The senator is the co-chair of the Senate India Caucus. They have a total of 37 senators in that caucus, including 18 Democrats and 19 from the Republican side. And now over in the House of Representatives, 176 of our congressman belong to the India Caucus. There are 115 Democrats, 61 Republicans. Senator Clinton has been criticized for her ties to India, most notably by Senator Barack Obama's campaign staff.

Louise Schiavone now has more on the senator's Indian ties.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOUISE SCHIAVONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton describes herself as having close ties to the Indian people and culture.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is certainly for me a great honor to be the co-chair of the India Caucus in the Senate, and to work with so many of you on matters of mutual interest.

SCHIAVONE: Among the matters of mutual interest, increasing the number of H-1B visas where employers can seek and secure uniquely skilled help from other countries.

CLINTON: We must create more partnerships and relationships. And it begins with deepening the partnership with India.

SCHIAVONE: This weekend, in a video-linked speech to the Indian Institute of Technology 2007 Global Alumni Conference, Senator Clinton called for an expansion of the H-1B visa program, currently capped at 65,000. The program has been a boon to the Indian community. The Department of Homeland Security reports for 2005 roughly 48,000 Indians entered the U.S. with those visas.

Critics say it's just another immigration boondoggle.

REP. TOM TANCREDO (R-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They don't go home. There are probably 700,000 people in this country today who are still here, over-staying their visa -- their H-1B visa, which is a five-year visa. Nobody knows. We don't check. We have absolutely no way to check.

SCHIAVONE: The question is asked, what high-tech skills and training do Indians possess at this juncture that Americans don't?

STEVE CAMAROTA, CTR. FOR IMMIGRATION STUDIES: If a job outsources to another country, the Democrats aren't reluctant to say, hey, that's a problem, let's think about that. Do we want to do that? But if the job is lost to a foreigner who comes here, the Democrats are (whistles). They're not interested.

SCHIAVONE: A spokesman for Senator Clinton says the New York Democrat supports the use of H-1B visa fees to train American workers to eventually "cut back on the need for foreign workers."

(on camera): Telling your audience what it wants to hear is not a new political gambit, but it's transparently inconsistent to rail against outsourcing while at the same time telling businessmen with foreign ties that what the country needs is more of them.

Louise Schiavone for CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Another threat to our middle class workers, this one from communist China. China may soon be selling cars in the United States. The Chinese car company, Chery, has entered into a deal with Chrysler. Cars made in China by Chery will be sold in South and Latin America under Chrysler names. But as Bill Tucker now reports, Chery's cars will eventually be on America's highways.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the fireworks exploded over the Potomac River celebrating our nation's birthday, the ink was drying on a deal signed by Chrysler and China's largest automaker to begin exporting cars from China.

The Chery will not be made by Chrysler, only marketed and sold under the company's name. South and Central American markets will be first. The United States markets targeted for 2009. Critics of our trade policy are disturbed by the deal as it further shifts the manufacturing base of the economy offshore, but at the same time, they note, it's hard to blame Chrysler for cutting the deal.

PAT MULLOY, ALFRED P. SLOAN FOUNDATION: The Chinese clearly have figured out how to incentivize our corporation to increase their profits by doing what they're doing and helping China build its technology and industrial base. They're smart and we let them do it.

TUCKER: The Chinese enjoy an enormous advantage with their currency under-valued relative to the American dollar by some 40 percent. Combine that price advantage with the Chinese labor advantage, and there is no doubt that Chrysler will be able to stick to its goal of selling the Chery at roughly $10,000.

And that's not accounting for the fact that a U.S. car-maker selling a car in China faces a 25 percent tariff. While a Chinese automaker selling a car here would face a tariff of 2.5 percent.

PETER MORICI, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: Within 10 years, China could wipe out the lower end of the U.S. market. We let them in the WTO. We gave them free access to this market. They maintain high tariffs on automobiles there. They require U.S. automakers to make their parts there, to transfer technology, to teach their local companies how to make cars.

TUCKER: There is a certain irony in the timing of the deal. Not only was it done on July 4th, it comes amid increasing concern over products made in China. A concern underlined by this European crash test of a car made by a Chery competitor in China, the Brilliance Auto.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCKER: Chrysler says all of its cars will meet safety standards. A spokesman for the company also said the deal does not mean that Chrysler is getting out of the manufacturing business, but they do note that the deal allows them to get into the lower-priced market with far less of an investment, Kitty, than if they built the factory and then operated it themselves.

PILGRIM: And the low-priced market is in very great demand, isn't, Bill?

TUCKER: Exactly.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much. Bill Tucker.

Well, Congress acts on a long-awaited promise. There will be hearings on the prosecution of former Border Patrol agents Ramos and Compean. We'll have a report on that.

Communist China defends the safety of its wood exports. We'll examine the defense in a special report. And Venezuela's anti-American regime helping drug cartels. What is the U.S. government doing about it? We'll have an exclusive report. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Communist China again trying to reassure the United States that its food and other exports won't sicken or kill us. This is not an easy task after countless cases of poisonous food, toxic toothpaste, dangerous toys and faulty tires. But China's promised to clean up its act may be a promise it simply cannot keep.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM (voice-over): These are pictures China doesn't want you to see, literally billions of rats infesting crops in China. The country of fake pharmaceuticals, deplorable hygiene and contaminated food wants to clean up its image. A Chinese official defends Chinese products, saying: "isolated cases should not be blown out of proportion to mislead the public."

Fact, contaminated Chinese seafood is hardly an isolated case. From October, 2006, to May, 2007, over a period of eight months, the FDA repeatedly found Chinese fish contained chemicals banned in the United States. The Chinese official claims the case of a Chinese company engaging in illegal exports should not be exaggerated as the failure of the safety regime of the Chinese government.

Fact, China shut down 180 food manufacturers in China and executed the official charged with taking bribes to authorize the manufacture of dangerous drugs.

But a recent study by A.T. Kearney Management Consultants found it would take $100 billion to improve China's food safety standards.

JIM MOREHOUSE, A.T. KEARNEY: We've been talking in the wilderness for almost four years on this issue and it's delightful to -- that there's -- others are finally awakening to the fact that we need to apply some attention to food safety in China.

PILGRIM: The Chinese say the concern over Chinese toothpaste is due to the fact that different countries have different standards on the percentage of diethylene glycol allowed.

Fact, no diethylene glycol is allowed in North or South American countries, or in most countries in Asia. The State of Connecticut is still scrambling to clear store shelves.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, CONNECTICUT ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have now seized about 1,100 tubes of toothpaste at about 120 stores surveyed around the state.

PILGRIM: The Chinese claim that certain levels of diethylene glycol are quote "harmless."

(END VIDEOTAPE) PILGRIM: The Chinese pledged this week to crack down on manufacturers who use diethylene glycol. And that comes too late for 94 people in Panama who died last year after taking medicine contaminated with diethylene glycol imported from China. Another 293 deaths are still under investigation in Panama.

Now most Americans are concerned about food safety. And an overwhelmingly large number of us want to know where food comes from. A new study in Consumer Reports magazine says 92 percent of consumers want to know the country of origin of the food they're eating. Less than 1 percent of the food coming into the United States is inspected for safety. Now, there is a law that requires label of origin on some foods. But its implementation has been blocked by special interest groups and industry lobbyists.

Coming up, the Senate prepares to hold hearings on what many say is an outrageous miscarriage of justice: the imprisonment of Border Patrol agents Ramos and Compean.

Also, illegal immigration driving a huge population explosion in California. We'll have a special report.

And religion playing an increasing role in the presidential election campaign, raising new concerns about God and politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

PILGRIM: The State of California is facing a population crisis. New projections say California's population will jump 75 percent over the next 40 years. And Southern California's Riverside County can expect a population growth rate of more than 200 percent.

Casey Wian has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Higher Hispanic birth rates, as well as legal and illegal immigration, will add more than 25 million people to California by the middle of this century. The state's department of finance projects California's population will grow to nearly 60 million by 2050, an increase of about 75 percent.

The report foreshadows a looming crisis. California already faces water and power shortages, decaying infrastructure, education funding gaps, and a $92 billion debt. Urban planners say state officials need to wake up.

DOWELL MYERS, AUTHOR, "IMMIGRANTS AND BOOMERS: They've been asleep at the switch in past decades. We had a lot of growth before, in the '80s. And then they didn't do a whole lot to prepare for it. They were coasting on infrastructure that was put in place in the '60s. That many people requires more roads, it requires more infrastructure, it requires more housing. And it also generates a lot more business opportunities, too.

WIAN: And major demographic and cultural shifts. Here's how California's population appeared in 2000: whites, 47 percent; Hispanics, 32 percent; Asians, 11; and blacks, 7 percent.

Fast forward to 2050 and the state predicts Hispanics will make up more than half its population, whites only about a fourth. The percentage of Asians will increase slightly, while only one in 20 Californians will be black.

MARY HEIM, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FINANCE: For Hispanics, almost 80 percent of the growth is due to natural increase or the excess of births over deaths. And it's just about the opposite for the Asians. Almost 80 percent of their growth is due to people moving to California either from other states or other countries.

WIAN: Los Angeles County faces an even more dramatic projected shift. The white population shrinks to 1.6 million, while Hispanics swell to 8.4 million. Put another way, L.A.'s Hispanic and Asian population is expected to double by 2050, while the number of whites and blacks will be cut in half.

Hispanics will outnumber whites more than five to one in Los Angeles, two to one statewide.

(on camera): Some urban planners say that's a good thing, arguing aging Baby Boomers will benefit from higher Hispanic birth rates and immigration. Those young people will presumably help support boomers in retirement from paying Social Security taxes to buying their homes.

Casey Wian, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Imprisoned former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean will finally and finally have a congressional hearing on their prosecution. Senate and House committees will hold hearings on their prosecution. The Senate hearings will begin Tuesday, lead by Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Former agents Ramos and Compean have been in prison since January 17th for shooting and wounding an illegal alien drug smuggler, given immunity to testify against those agents by the Justice Department.

Now one hundred members of Congress, 95 Republicans, only five Democrats, are co-sponsoring Congressman Duncan Hunter's legislation calling for a congressional pardon for these agents. One of the agents' top supporters is Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California, and he and Lou Dobbs spoke about Tuesday's hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. DANA RORHABACHER (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, I'm very happy that not only the Senate is moving, but Senator Feinstein is a Democrat leader in the Senate and we have had just a little bit of help from the Democrats -- Bart Gordon from Tennessee and a few other Democrats. Most of the people active in this have been Republicans.

But now that Senator Feinstein is joining up, I think out of a sincere concern for justice in this case, this gives a great deal of momentum to the case of Ramos and Compean.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee that you sit on will also be holding hearings on the 31st of this month, correct?

RORHABACHER: That's correct. We will be holding hearings on the 31st. And I understand that the prosecutor, Mr. Sutton, has agreed to go to Senator Feinstein's hearing.

DOBBS: Correct.

RORHABACHER: We invited him to our hearing. Although he has been on television spouting off and smearing the two Border Patrol agents, we haven't received word yet whether he's willing to come and testify under oath to our hearing on the 31st.

DOBBS: Well, I'm pleased to tell you, Congressman, that U.S. attorney, Johnny Sutton, the prosecutor of this case, has agreed to be on our broadcast Tuesday evening. So we'll inquire as to...

RORHABACHER: Well, I hope he...

DOBBS: As to what his plans are on the 31st of July.

RORHABACHER: Well, I hope -- I hope that you'll hold him accountable. Do we -- what we have here...

DOBBS: We tend to do that here, Congressman.

RORHABACHER: Yes, you do. But I'll tell you, this -- we have a -- we have a prosecutor out smearing these two people. We have -- he's saying over and over again that they shot an unarmed man in the back who is -- and lied about it. And the fact is, we don't know if this man was unarmed.

And this wasn't a man, this was a drug dealer who was in the process of smuggling drugs into our country. They didn't shoot him in the back, which has been indicated by the report on the wound that the man received.

So I want to know why Mr. Sutton is lying about these two Border Patrol agents, calling them corrupt. Anyway, I'm upset about this guy's conduct as a prosecutor.

DOBBS: Well, there's another aspect of this that your committee and, obviously, the Judiciary Committee, next Tuesday that Senator Feinstein will be leading. There's another important question, and that's why federal officials, including the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, lied to members of Congress about these men and about the -- and their records and what they did and what they said.

It's remarkable. And Democrats and Republicans alike substantiating the lies of the inspector general.

RORHABACHER: We need to put people on the record answering why that sort of thing happened in this case. We also need to know, if it was that important they lie about this, who were they responding to?

Our hearing on the 31st will focus mainly on whether Mexico, as a government, is having an undue influence on our decisions to prosecute people, especially those people who are securing our borders. And we're going to delve into that. We need some serious answers.

And let me note, this administration has stonewalled all of our requests to try to track down what type of communications that the Mexican government had in determining whether these two men should be prosecuted.

DOBBS: And we appreciate your being here, Congressman. And we look forward to your hearing and the -- Senator Feinstein's hearing. It begins -- the Judiciary Committee's hearing begins Tuesday. We will be there. And we thank you for being here tonight.

RORHABACHER: Thank you, Lou. All the patriots in this country ought to be grateful to you for making sure we're focusing on Ramos and Compean and their terrible situation.

DOBBS: Well, thank you, sir. And we appreciate everything you're doing for them. And I know their families are deeply grateful. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Join us Tuesday for a special edition of "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" live from Washington. And we'll be covering the Senate's hearing on Ramos and Compean in a special edition of "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," "Border Betrayal."

Violent Mexican drug gangs are responsible for a scourge of drugs coming across our southern border, but drug smugglers have found a new, easy, reliable route to bring narcotics into this country. They take Colombian cocaine and ship it through Venezuela to the Dominican Republic on the island Hispaniola.

Kelli Arena reports from Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic in a report that you will only see here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a tourist's paradise, and a drug runner's haven.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Still retrieving bales from the water.

ARENA: Hispaniola boasts more than 800 miles of turquoise coastline used for snorkeling and smuggling. Cocaine, mostly, from South America to the United States.

PETER A. REILLY, DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION: There are not many beaches. There's a lot of cliffs. There's mountains along the coastline making it hard for the tactical response teams to get to the beach, to seize the drugs.

ARENA: Many of the drug flights come from Venezuela, officials say. That country's president, Hugo Chavez, outlawed U.S. anti-drug patrols over Venezuela, accusing DEA agents of spying. With no way to control the source, the DEA must try to control the transit points, like Hispaniola. It's an island shared between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

REILLY: One of the problems is the resources. They don't have the necessary resources to combat this problem.

ARENA: He wins for understatement of the year. Currently about 10 percent of U.S.-bound cocaine is now shipped through Hispaniola. Drug flights are up four-fold in the last four years. But the Dominican Republic has no radar to track drug planes.

The drug control agency does have eight Vietnam-era Huey helicopters, but they don't have night vision capability. And most drug drops are made at night. What's more, they can't fly too far from shore.

GENERAL RAMIREZ FERREIRA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC DRUG CONTROL AGENCY (through translator): If you had a water drop 20 miles out, that helicopter cannot respond.

ARENA: As bad as it seems, the country is still in better shape than Haiti. General Ramirez Ferreira just secured eight airplanes from Brazil to intercept drug flights and he has cleaned his ranks of about 3,000 corrupt drug agents, replacing them with young untainted agents right out of school.

The fruits of the new push, a closet full of drugs.

(on camera): The Dominicans have seized over a thousand kilos of drugs so far this year. Most if it, as you would suspect, is cocaine.

(voice-over): Baby steps for sure but the DEA is trying to help the D.R. get up and running by lending resources and personnel. This remote windy air strip was used by drug runners, but Dominican authorities didn't even know it existed until the DEA noticed a drug drop.

LT. COL. LUIS CASTILLO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC DRUG CONTROL AGENCY (through translator): We're about an hour away by land from the closest detachment we have in the nearest town.

ARENA: Hard to stop the drugs from getting in. And hard to stop them from getting out to the next stop in the drug pipeline, Puerto Rico, just 70 miles away.

Kelli Arena, CNN, Santo Domingo.

(END VIDEOTAPE) PILGRIM: The government of Venezuela disputes our report. It says there are no increasing amounts of Colombian cocaine passing through Venezuela, but on Tuesday, Venezuela's own justice minister called for a great national crusade against drug trafficking. And a recent United Nations report ranked Venezuela as the number three in the world for cocaine seizures.

Just ahead, lawmakers pass bold new legislation to help middle class Americans pay for the skyrocketing costs of higher education. We'll hear from the chairman of the House education committee, Congressman George Miller.

And John McCain, struggling to survive. I'll be joined by three of the country's best political analysts with that story and much more. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: The Senate is expected to vote this month on bold new legislation that helps middle class Americans pay for the skyrocketing tuition costs of our colleges and universities. Now, this week the House passed the biggest investment in higher education in more than 60 years. The chairman of the House Education Committee, Congressman George Miller, discusses how much the legislation costs and who benefits.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. GEORGE MILLER (D-CALLER: ), CHAIRMAN, EDUCATION COMMITTEE: Well, the beneficiaries are families and students that are struggling to pay for their education. We took $18 billion in excessive subsidies, which was an entitlement program for banks and lenders, and we recycled that money to help low-income students with an increase -- a dramatic increase in the Pell grant, and then to provide for a cut in the interest rates for middle-income families on the loans they take out for their students, and make it much cheaper for them to go to college.

They'll save about $4,000 on the average indebtedness of the student, which is about $15,000. It's a big, big day for middle- income families and low-income families.

DOBBS: And comes at a critical time, as prices are rising, as the student loan program, Sallie Mae, is in great difficulty.

Mr. Chairman, some of the opponents, including the ranking member of your committee, are saying that this bill does not provide enough relief in the form -- for students in terms of more money for Pell grants; suggesting it is too costly. Let's take a look at what the president had to say.

The White House today issuing a statement reacting to the passage, saying that "it fails to target aide to the neediest students currently in college and creates new mandatory federal programs and policies that are poorly designed and would have significant long-term costs to the taxpayer." What do you say?

MILLER: What do I say, is each and every one of these programs is paid for because we took an entitlement that was there for bankers and the lenders and we put it in place for middle-income families and low-income families. These programs are paid for.

When the Republicans had complete control of the government, they didn't do anything to help the Pell grant students. We put in a $500 increase over the next five years. The president promised a $5,100 Pell grant. He's never done anything about it. And now all of a sudden they want to do something about Pell grant to -- and hurt middle- income families, hurt low-income families, hurt, you know, policemen and firemen and other people that we give loan forgiveness to.

It's outrage that they come in it in the eleventh hour and now act like they care about these students. Last year, they took $18 billion away from the lenders and they gave -- they sent it to pay for the tax cuts for the wealthy.

DOBBS: Right. Very quickly, the students and beneficiaries, Sallie Mae, the private equity group led by J.C, Flowers, saying it may not carry out its $25 billion takeover of the student loan firm, blaming the legislation that may cut federal subsidies.

Your reaction?

MILLER: Sallie Mae told us that they could live with these cuts. I think what you're seeing is negotiations between a buyer and a seller who want to get a better price.

We have met with the small lenders, the big lenders, the nonprofit lenders. And all of them told us they didn't like what we were doing, but they could live with it. And that's the analysis of Wall Street, also.

DOBBS: Well, and the analysis on the part of working men and women and their families trying to meet these high prices.

MILLER: It's a big day for them.

DOBBS: I have to believe this is one battle won in the war on the middle class. Mr. Chairman, congratulations.

MILLER: Thank you.

DOBBS: Thanks for being here.

MILLER: Thank you.

DOBBS: George Miller.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Coming up, God and politics. We'll have a special report on how the presidential candidates are all trying to find the right mix of religion in their campaigns.

And down and out. Is John McCain's run for the White House on the verge of collapse? Three of the country's best political analysts will join me with that story and much more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Among the most sensitive subjects on the campaign trail is that of God and politics. Now, many Americans say religion is an important part of their lives, so it's up to the presidential candidates to figure out the right mix in their campaigns.

Bill Schneider has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Last November, two-thirds of voters who said they never go to church voted Democratic. That's only 15 percent of voters. Nearly half said they go to church every week. Most of them voted Republican.

Implication? Democrats better figure out a way to increase their appeal to church-goers. Do voters see Republican candidates as more religious than Democrats? No. Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Barack Obama topped the list of candidates the public sees as having strong religious faith. Obama seems comfortable talking about faith, partly because of his African-American heritage.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My moral commitments to that vision of a -- what Dr. King called "a beloved community" grows out of my faith.

SCHNEIDER: Who do voters see as least religious? The two national frontrunners. Democrat Hillary Clinton ...

CLINTON: I come from a tradition that is perhaps a little too suspicious of people who wear their faith on their sleeves.

SCHNEIDER: ... and Republican Rudy Giuliani.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For someone who went to parochial schools all his life, this is a very frightening thing that's happening.

SCHNEIDER: Many Americans see a downside to mixing religion and politics. The number of Americans who believe President Bush has used religion more to divide the country than unite it has grown from 27 percent in 2004 to 43 percent now. So it appears both parties have a religion problem.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Joining me now with more on the presidential race and much more, we're joined by Errol Louis, columnist with The New York Daily News; syndicated columnist Miguel Perez; and Diana West, columnist with The Washington Times.

And thank you all for being here. You know, Bill Schneider brings up an interesting point. The evangelical base, 55 million estimated, traditionally Republican. Should the Democrats be doing something more to try to win that base over, Miguel?

MIGUEL PEREZ, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, first of all, you have to consider that the country is really divided about what role government should have in religion or religion in government.

So, you know, it's a tricky question, how far do you go to reach out to the religious folks in terms of, you know, turning them off. So you have to balance both things out. Yes, the Democrats obviously have something -- some work to do. But, you know, Republicans also have some things to worry about.

From my perspective, looking at it -- at the Republican leadership in terms of the immigration issue, for example, I question, you know, their commitment to the teachings of Jesus Christ when they pounce on immigrants the way they do. How do they reconcile the two?

PILGRIM: It's interesting. Errol, should be look at this as a block of people that have the same viewpoints or are we making a mistake here?

ERROL LOUIS, THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: It is a block. It's not a unified block, but it one that's going to be in part up for grabs. I mean, one of the great ironies here is that the Republican candidates -- the leading Republican candidates I think are well on their way to losing a lot of these evangelicals.

When you look at somebody like a Rudy Giuliani who has been through three marriages and a couple of fairly public infidelities, when you look at somebody like Mitt Romney who, you know, any way you want to cut it, Mormonism is not a Christian religion.

It's going to, I think, sort of make some possibilities for Democratic candidates. Now, they, I think, are going to be very, very cautious about how they step into that because it can easily blow up in your face as we all know. But right now I think there's a real question about where evangelical voters are going to go and where their leaders are going to push them. It's just not clear at this point.

PILGRIM: Diana, where do you come down on this?

DIANA WEST, THE WASHINGTON TIMES: Well, it's interesting Errol mentioned the leadership. Because we've seen a change in leadership with the passing of Reverend Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, most recently, and I think there's a sense that this vote or this block is up for grabs. And very interestingly and not well-covered, really, there has been outreach from Arab countries to evangelical leaders.

And last week in Washington or a week or so before there was actually a meeting that brought in the children of the -- Jerry Falwell's children, some of the other leaders' children in to talk about where the evangelical vote -- not vote, support will go. And one of the big issues they're discussing is Israel.

Evangelical support for Israel has always been strong. And whether the Democrats can deliver on that, we don't know. But it's interesting that some of these Arab ambassadors felt like this was also maybe up for grabs.

PILGRIM: Interesting politics. Let's talk about Iraq. Big topic with President Bush this week. Let's listen to something that he had to say and then we'll discuss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I don't think Congress ought to be running the war. I think they ought to be funding our troops. I certainly am interested in their opinion, but trying to run a war through resolution is a prescription for failure as far as I'm concerned, and we can't afford to fail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PILGRIM: Now the House vote, 223 to 201. What do you think is happening here with Congress really exerting more and more of their say in the Iraq War, Miguel?

PEREZ: I think the president is going to have to continue resisting because he's playing with all his marbles. I mean, he has his whole -- everything is at stake here. The president keeps trying to tie al Qaeda to 9/11 -- al Qaeda in Iraq to 9/11. When, in fact, you know, the reason why al Qaeda is in Iraq is President Bush.

They wouldn't even be there to begin with. So he has a real problem trying to explain to the American people, look, we really have to pull out, but it's all my fault. There's going to be genocide if we pull out. I'm going to be blamed for it. How does he deal with all of that?

PILGRIM: President Bush says moving towards withdrawal now would risk mass killings on horrific scale. He's not mincing his words here, Errol.

LOUIS: Unfortunately, I think you've got the prospects of mass killings on a horrific scale under almost any scenario and that in fact is the day-to-day reality even with 160,000 troops in Iraq. So I don't even think that's the issue. I think the issue really is at what point, when do we pull back? It's going to happen. President Bush himself says it. Two years, five years, two months, four months. I think the question on the table is how?

The fact that there has been sort of a political stampede towards the exit, so to speak, on Capitol Hill, just legislators simply trying to get on the record that they wanted troops out is not just unpleasant, but in some ways really kind of dangerous. I mean, you know, we have until September. There's no need for...

PILGRIM: President Bush has pleaded for a little more time. We have senators Warner and Lugar with a proposal to try to exert more influence on the conduct of the war. Diana, where do you think this will lead? Are we divided?

WEST: We're very divided. And I think the problem -- the main problem right now is we're divided between two unworkable scenarios. Surge, which I'm calling tide in, or withdraw, tide out. And it's as if there's no other idea in the universe out there about what or interests are, how we might proceed.

Now I would say that Miguel is saying that al Qaeda in Iraq would not exist without our presence in Iraq. I don't buy that, at the same time I don't buy the president's oversimplification of our enemy in Iraq. And what I mean by that is we are looking all over the world at very jihadist forces. They are all motivated by the same jihad doctrine.

And I think the president really shouldn't be mincing words if he understands that and trying to sort of tie it up in a neat brand, if you will, of al Qaeda. So I think that -- I'm hoping that there will be more frank analysis of what is on the table, what is possible. But right now ...

PILGRIM: A nuanced discussion, actually, not just this polarized argument.

WEST: Yes. Not just this polarized argument that really doesn't take us anywhere except to more limited war that doesn't win anything.

PEREZ: But, Diana, you don't believe that al Qaeda is in Iraq at the level that it was during Saddam Hussein. I mean, they're actually training the whole world now in Iraq. They're training terrorists in Iraq like never before.

WEST: They're training them still in Afghanistan, they're training them in the Horn of Africa.

PEREZ: But it's new training ground that we created.

WEST: Well, you see, I would say that our response -- our defensive response to seeing resurgent Islam in the world took us to Iraq. And in response to that, we've seen more -- obviously more fighting back from these different forces. But al Qaeda in Iraq, I mean, it's an umbrella group that defines a lot of different kind of groups.

Plus we have Shiite Iranian forces which, you know, are -- will remain antagonistic to us whether we withdraw in defeat or come up with a better scenario. Plus the rest of the Middle East. So ...

PILGRIM: Thanks, Diana. We'll be right back in a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: We're back with our panel. Diana West, Errol Louis, and Miguel Perez.

Let's go straight to the campaigns. And we have some polls out. USA Today/Gallup poll. Republican choice for president, funny because one of them isn't even running yet, we have Giuliani at 30 percent, Fred Thompson at 20 percent and McCain at 16 percent. McCain campaign really out of money, dropping another person out of the campaign staff -- Miguel.

PEREZ: It's a real shame because I like Mr. McCain quite a lot. Of all of them, he was my favorite. And I don't think he has a shot right now. Things are really looking bad for him.

It's really interesting how Mr. Thompson has 20 percent without even running yet or declaring. That's really what's still up for grabs. I think what we still don't know, what's still very uncertain is what's going to happen once he declares. Is he going to become the number one contender?

LOUIS: It's amazing, six months ago you couldn't have anticipated this. He was the frontrunner, he was going to be the heir to Bush. He was in favor of the Iraq policy. He had this brand new immigration approach that was going to win over lots of voters.

And the whole thing just collapsed. It's amazing. But in politics, despite the cynicism of many voters, you know, you have to keep in mind that in the end, you really don't know what's going to happen.

PILGRIM: It's early yet. We keep saying it but we keep talking about it -- Diana.

WEST: Well, yes. I think that Thompson -- that that amount of votes for Thompson shows they're still looking for something.

PILGRIM: Yes.

WEST: And that's good. We're early enough so that's the right attitude.

PILGRIM: The field is still shaping up. Let's do Democrats, again, somebody in here who isn't even running, Clinton, 37 percent, Obama 21, Gore 16. Hillary Clinton still the clear frontrunner. Being challenged by Obama in fundraising, however not in the polls -- Miguel.

PEREZ: It's definitely Hillary's to lose, and I don't think she's going to. Mr. Obama perhaps has a better shot four years from now or certainly if Republicans take it this time, then Mr. Obama will have a great shot next time around.

PILGRIM: Yes.

LOUIS: She has got a great chance going into the primaries. And the primaries are going to start before you know it. The first round will be in -- you know, at this point less than six months. She has also, I think though, got a lot of momentum.

She has got a lot of people around her who I think are going to guard her from making the kind of amateuristic mistakes that even someone like a John McCain made, spending too much money, hiring the wrong people, not getting the camp together, letting feuds divide the campaign.

Clinton has been through that so many times and it looks like that discipline is really going to pay off.

PILGRIM: The experience does show -- Diana.

WEST: Well, you're both probably right, but the primary season is really different from this kind of never-never land time. So it will remain very interesting. I think we can all agree on that.

PILGRIM: Yes. Well, we'll be discussing it every week, I'm sure. Until then, thanks very much. Diana West, Errol Louis, Miguel Perez, thank you.

Thanks for being with us tonight. Please join us tomorrow. And among our guests, Michael Eric Dyson on his new book, "Know What I Mean?: Reflections on Hip-Hop." For all of us here, thanks for watching. Have a great week. Good night from New York.

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