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THE SITUATION ROOM

CNN/YouTube Debate: Chance to Make History; Senator Russ Feingold Scolds President Bush

Aired July 23, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, history in the making. And you have the chance to be a part.
We're counting down to our CNN/YouTube Democratic presidential debate. You asked the questions in videos on YouTube. We put them to the candidates. It appears many of you are not holding back.

YouTube is not just for fun, games and clever videos. It's now emerging as a powerful political force.

I'll speak about that with the site's political director. That's coming up.

And a senator takes on the president. Democrat Russ Feingold wants a public scolding of President Bush. The senator will be here to explain why.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Never before has anything like it been done. A new twist on a concept as old as democracy itself.

We're only hours away from our CNN/YouTube Democratic presidential debate. We're watching live pictures from the scene over at the citadel in Charleston, South Carolina.

All eight candidates will watch and answer questions from thousands of people all over the world, pressing questions about Iraq. What about health care from a woman with breast cancer?

Even a funny video about a serious topic. It shows a cat and a caption about protecting pet food.

Our reporters are watching it all from Charleston and elsewhere. John King is standing by. But let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching it. He's in Charleston right now.

Could tonight's debate, Bill, really shake up this Democratic race?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, nothing else has. But this is a different kind of debate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCHNEIDER (voice over): The democratic Dace has been pretty stable all year, according to the national polls. Hillary Clinton has maintained a steady lead. Barack Obama has stayed at number two. John Edwards trails at number three. All the other candidates in single digits.

The Clinton campaign has been trying to surround its candidate with the aura of inevitability. She's going to be nominated, better get on the bandwagon now. Other candidates have to challenge that assumption.

Some have criticized Clinton as too cautious and calculating. Especially on Iraq.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Senator Clinton and Senator Obama did not say anything about how they were going to vote until -- until they appeared on the floor of the Senate.

SCHNEIDER: But Senator Clinton has made sure not to leave any daylight between herself and her rivals on the war.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If the president won't end this war before he leaves office, then I will.

SCHNEIDER: Obama has discovered another way to challenge Clinton's inevitability -- cash. Democrats really have two front- runners, not one. Obama in fund-raising, Clinton in the polls.

Then there's the issue of her electability. Clinton gets high negative ratings from Independents and Republicans. But Democrats still believe she has a better chance than Obama or any of the other candidates of beating the Republican.

This debate may change things because it could attract a younger audience. And young voters are more likely to support Obama.

The debate is co-sponsored by YouTube. And the younger you are, the more likely you are to follow news about the election on the Internet. Whereas the older you are, the more likely you watched one of the earlier debates.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: This debate could expand the audience of young people who don't tune in to politics very often. But they do log on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

Bill's already down there.

South Carolina will be the first southern state to hold a presidential primary.

Let's go to our chief national correspondent, John King.

John, you followed along some of the candidates today down in South Carolina. What did you see?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a unique forum, as you noted, an unprecedented chance for people to ask questions directly of the candidates over the Internet. All of the candidates, of course, have high stakes, but especially those who are little behind in the Democratic race, those who aren't named Clinton or Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice over): Call this a chance to seize the driver's seat and the pre-debate spotlight. Senator Joseph Biden pushing his effort to rush more heavily-armored vehicles on to production lines and then off to troops in Iraq.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm here to say we better get the damn ball rolling.

KING: Biden lags well back from the Democratic field but hopes tonight's unconventional debate brings him a fresh look.

BIDEN: What the voters watching tonight will be looking for is two things. One, our command of the issues and, two, the projection of our authenticity, whether we really mean what we're saying.

KING: Taking a break from tossing the ball with son Jack, former senator John Edwards says he's looking forward to the unique format.

EDWARDS: The questions in general are in the same basic categories we get asked about all the time. There are a few more unusual questions, interesting questions, I think. So, and I think for those it's better to not be prepared, but just give a spontaneous answer on the spot.

KING: Edwards and Biden briefly crossed paths during their lunch hour campaigning, then joined their rivals in getting a firsthand look at the debate hall. Some 3,000 questions submitted in all. The topics ranging from the war in Iraq and the U.S. image overseas, to personal appeals about health care, gay rights and other issues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What will you do to revamp and restore Social Security for our upcoming generation?

KING: The eight Democratic contenders will field those questions here at McAlister Field House on the campus of the Citadel. Six months before a South Carolina primary critical to the nomination battle.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, how about a president that knows a little bit about foreign policy? How about a president that knows a little bit about energy?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: New Mexico governor Bill Richardson there also among the candidates behind in the polls, Wolf, who hope for some bit of a break through tonight.

Interesting when you ask the candidates how did they prepare for this unprecedented format. Some of the campaigns we know went online and looked at as many of the 3,000-plus questions as they could. Senator Edwards said he looked at a couple. Senator Biden told me he didn't look at any at all. He says he got briefing books from his staff, but he says he likes to, in his words, "drive them crazy" and then go by off by himself and do debate preparations all alone -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And John, what is John Edwards now saying about his wife Elizabeth's outspokenness?

KING: I asked him about that. He was at the fountain in Charleston playing ball with his son, a little pre-debate photo opportunity, no doubt. And I asked him about the controversy last week when his wife Elizabeth, as you well know, said Hillary Clinton won't talk about women's issues because she wants to be commander in chief, she wants to appear manly on the campaign stage. Obviously, Bill Clinton fired back.

I asked John Edwards about all of this and this is what he told me -- "Well, Elizabeth speaks her mind and she always has and always will. We've been married for 30 years. I don't expect that to change, and I'm proud of her" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, John King.

John and Bill Schneider, as you know, are part of the best political team on television.

Remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our "Political Ticker" at cnn.com/ticker.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty, part of that same excellent political team.

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Wolf.

It began as a whisper, but it's getting louder. The town of West Hollywood, California, is now the 80th city or town in the country to pass a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. The California city joined the likes of communities in Michigan, Ohio, Vermont, all across the country.

The City Council in West Hollywood unanimously passed the resolution. They cited what they see as abuses of power and violations of the Constitution, like domestic wiretapping and torture at Abu Ghraib. The mayor of West Hollywood said he hopes other councils in the Los Angeles area will do the same and put more pressure on the district's Democratic congressman, Henry Waxman, to take action.

Meanwhile, today, a group of about 200 activists descended on Washington. They said they delivered more than a million signatures to Congressman John Conyers, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, urging him to begin impeachment proceedings against both President Bush and Vice President Cheney. A spokesperson for the group said, "Impeachment's not a fringe movement. It is mandated in our Constitution. Nancy Pelosi had no authority to take it off the table."

So here's the question: What does it mean if 80 cities and towns have passed resolutions calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney?

E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@cnn.com, or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack, for that.

Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File".

We're less than three hours away from our CNN/YouTube Democratic debate.

Coming up, we're going to take you inside the Citadel, where the first-of-its-kind event will happen. Our Anderson Cooper standing by live for a preview. He moderates tonight's debate.

Also, YouTube is emerging as a powerful political force. I'll speak about that with the site's political director.

And this note -- you're going to want to stay tuned for our post- debate wrap-up, key moments from the debate, analysis, reaction, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM at a special time, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right after the two-hour debate.

And he says the Bush administration disregards the will of the American people and attacks the rule of law. That would be Democratic senator Russ Feingold. He wants a special scolding of President Bush.

Senator Feingold standing by to join us live, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Just what will happen is anyone's guess. We're counting down to the CNN/YouTube Democratic presidential debate less than three hours from now.

Never before has anything like it been done. You send in questions via YouTube, we'll show them to the candidates, get their answers. Try as they might, though, candidates can't fully prepare for what they'll hear.

CNN's Anderson Cooper will moderate from the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. He's joining us now from the scene.

Anderson, walk us through the format. What's going to happen tonight?

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "AC 360": Well, we've -- we were up very late last night watching the final videos as they were being submitted. We were getting videos up until 3:00 a.m. East Coast Time because of midnight on the West Coast. We even got some really good videos just at the last minute which we are including in the program tonight.

It's going to -- you know, we're not really sure what to expect, as you said. I mean, we're going to -- we're actually starting off tonight in a different way than we had planned based on a video that we got just at the last minute last night. So I don't want -- I can't give any details on it. But we -- as much as possible, we want this to be about the viewers. We want this to be about the YouTube questions and about the people that took the time to submit the questions.

So, I'm going to try to stay out of it as much as possible and try to get as many videos in as possible.

BLITZER: And so you'll direct the specific video to a specific candidate? Will they then be allowed to -- they'll obviously answer the question, or at least they'll try to answer the question, and then will other candidates respond?

How does that work?

COOPER: Well, some of the videos are directed toward a particular candidate already. That's what the questioner wanted. And in those cases we respect that and put to it a particular candidate.

I have the ability then to ask a follow-up question to that same candidate or to another candidate on that -- on that topic. If the topic's been raised by a YouTube viewer, I'll maybe try to keep the conversation going, or I'll use another YouTube video as a follow-on question to another candidate.

So, anyone who answers has about a minute to answer directly to a YouTube video. Follow-up questions get about a 30-second answer.

BLITZER: And there are, what, some 3,000 videos that have been submitted, more or less. And we've gone through all of them. But it's only CNN that's decided which ones will actually be used, is that right?

COOPER: Right. And there was some criticism. Some of the folks, some bloggers, were saying it's not democratic enough, it should be up to YouTube viewers to decide which questions get asked.

Our response has been, look, we'd love nothing more than to do that. But the fact is, all a candidate and all a campaign would have to do is have their supporters click on the questions that they wanted their candidate asked to manipulate the process. We've already seen some attempts by campaigns to sort of stack the -- or stock the voting booth, if you will, by having a lot of supporters ask the same question over and over again. So we wanted to try to eliminate that, and that's why we've ended up selecting the questions. But it's really been a bottom-up process. We've allowed the best videos to kind of surface to the top. And in watching these over and over again, it really became clear which videos should be asked.

BLITZER: Anderson, thanks very much. Good luck tonight. Have some fun during this two hours beginning 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Anderson Cooper will be moderating this debate, as well as a Republican YouTube debate. That's coming up in September.

Still ahead, we're counting down the hours until we make history with the CNN/YouTube presidential debate.

Also, new details on President Bush's health. We're going to tell you what his doctors are now saying they found after the president underwent that colonoscopy over the weekend.

Also, starting tomorrow, many Americans will instantly start making more money. It's all courtesy of the government. We're going to explain what's going to happen starting tomorrow.

And don't forget about our post-debate wrap-up with all the highlights, the key moments, the analysis, the reaction from the historic CNN/YouTube debate. A special SITUATION ROOM right here, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, after the debate.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Tomorrow many Americans will be getting a pay raise. We're only hours away from the end of the current minimum wage as we know it. It's $5.15 per hour right now, but tomorrow it jumps to $5.85 an hour.

A person earning the minimum wage will be making just over $1,450 more per year. And the law calls for two more minimum wage increases. It goes up to $6.55 an hour in July of next year, and up to $7.25 in 2009. Passing this law was a key goal for the new Democratic-led majority in Congress.

Up next, we're less than three hours, only a little bit more than two-and-a-half hours away from the Democratic presidential debate in Charleston, South Carolina, sponsored by CNN and YouTube. I'll have more on that coming up.

But first, Democratic senator Russ Feingold isn't holding back. He wants a congressional resolution censuring President Bush over the war in Iraq and illegal, he says, wiretaps. I'll talk to him about all of that. That's coming up.

And Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney drawing some flak after posing next to a sign lumping rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton with Osama bin Laden. Should he say he's sorry?

And don't forget about our post-debate wrap-up with all the highlights, all the key moments, the analysis, the reaction from the CNN/YouTube debate tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. A special SITUATION ROOM, right here after that two-hour debate.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, up close and personal with Vice President Dick Cheney. In a new biography, one of the world's most powerful men talks about mistakes made in Iraq and why he once called the vice presidential job "cruddy".

Former British prime minister Tony Blair is on a new peace- seeking mission in the Middle East. He's meeting with regional leaders to try to shore up the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas' fragile government.

And former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega wants to head home when he's released from a U.S. federal prison in September. His lawyers are asking a judge to block his extradition to France on money-laundering charges.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

He says the Bush administration has been disastrous. Democratic senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin says he'll soon offer two resolutions of censure of President Bush and his administration. Senator Feingold accuses the White House of disregarding the will of the American people and attacking the rule of law.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's joining us now from Capitol Hill.

Dana, what are these -- specifically, what are Democratic leaders saying in response to Senator Feingold's proposal?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is the one who sets the schedule around here, and he's making it crystal clear that he has no intention of actually bringing any censure motion up for a vote in the Senate. He says it's just because the schedule in the Senate is too jam- packed.

But he also is being very careful to compliment Senator feingold. He's calling him "brilliant" and also saying his idea reflects a growing frustration among the American people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The American people already know that President Bush is the worst president we've ever had. And I'm not sure we need a censure motion to confirm that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: And now it is important to note that it was just about a year and a half ago that Senator Feingold first pushed this idea of censuring the president. And back then, Wolf, Democratic senators could not run far or fast enough from this idea.

They've been answering questions about it. And although the leadership is making clear they're not going to bring it up for a vote now, that is not the case anymore. They are, as you just heard, much more complimentary of this idea that Senator Feingold is proposing.

BLITZER: And how are the Republicans reacting to all of this, Dana?

BASH: Well, they're not -- they are certainly trying to jump on this and really seize on what Senator Feingold is saying, and try to weave it into a narrative that we've heard more and more from the Republicans here, which is that they say the Democratic Congress simply isn't getting anything done. And they point out over and over, Wolf, that the Democratic Congress' approval ratings are even lower than President Bush.

And, in fact, I want our viewers to take a listen to what the Senate Republican leader told you on "LATE EDITION" yesterday. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: The American people are looking at this Congress and saying, where's the legislation? What are you going to do to make America better? I think Senator Feingold's suggestions are right in league with the all-night session the other night, which the American people are looking at with disbelief.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: So, as you just heard, Republicans are grabbing on to this, saying that this is part of the frustration the American people have with the Democratic Congress. And that, Wolf, is one of the reasons why the Democratic leadership at this time is saying that they are not going to bring this particular measure for a vote on the Senate floor.

BLITZER: All right, Dana. Thank you very much.

Let's speak to the man at the center of all this. That would be Senator Russ Feingold. He's joining us from Capitol Hill.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: You bet, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Well, first of all, I want you to respond to your leader, the majority leader, Harry Reid, who said -- and we played that clip just a second ago -- he's not sure we need a censure motion to confirm what he says the American people understand; namely, that he says President Bush is the worst president that we've ever had and it's unlikely he's going to let this come up for a vote.

What do you say?

FEINGOLD: Well, I want to return the compliment to the majority leader. He's a thoughtful man, too, and I've been very impressed with his open-mindedness.

You know, he was not for my bill having to do with ending the Iraq war and getting us to cut off the funding after we bring the troops home, but now it's called Feingold-Reid. So I've got some convincing to do.

And our majority whip, Senator Durbin, said on national TV yesterday that we ought to bring this up. So, there is interest in it. There is a recognition that we've got to do something to have a historical record of the terrible way this administration has treated us.

When I hear the Republicans, I'm reminded of "Saturday Night Live," where they used to just say "Never mind."

What are we going to do, have no record in the history of this country for our kids and our grandchildren that this administration used misleading statements to lead us into an awful mistake and keeps misleading us? Are we going to ignore the fact that they created illegal programs against the Constitution under the notion that they can just make up statutes and not worry about the law of the land? Are we going to do nothing about that?

I think we, in the waning days and months of this administration, have a job to have some kind of resolution and do something about it.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So, would this be designed -- assuming you can convince your colleagues -- that it's an appropriate thing to do to, what, publicly embarrass or shame the president?

FEINGOLD: This isn't about shame or embarrassment. In fact, it's not even personal.

It's about saying, wait a minute. When something is done by the president and in this case the vice president on the war and the attorney general with regard to the rule of law, that somehow we have to express the fact that there was wrongdoing, that there were misleading statements, that there was almost, it seems, an intentional desire to lead us into war and keep us in a war against all the facts and all the reality.

And the truth is many American troops died in a situation that doesn't make a lot of sense.

So, my question is, are we going to do nothing?

The purpose here is not to embarrass or shame, but to make sure that when our children and grandchildren look at this history of this, it doesn't look like we were silent in the fact of some of the worst acts that have ever been committed by an administration in the history of this great country.

BLITZER: A vote of censure is certainly not impeachment. Is that going too far? Because, as you know, some of your colleagues, especially in the House -- Dennis Kucinich comes to mind. He's introduced legislation to impeach the vice president, but there are a lot of others who would like to impeach both the president and the vice president.

FEINGOLD: Well, the motivation for impeachment makes a lot of sense to me. The fact is, both with regard to the war and with regard to the illegal wiretapping program, there could be impeachable offenses here. But we are not required to do impeachment in a situation like that.

We can say to ourselves, it would be too harmful and too difficult for the country to go through that process, especially in the late part of the Bush administration, and we have to consider whether this is the best way to handle this very serious problem.

I offer censure not to oppose impeachment, particularly, but to give an alternative, something that is more moderate, something that could possibly get bipartisan support, and something that might actually have a chance of prevailing, because I do agree with those who are concerned about the history of this administration.

There has to be accountability. The notion that somehow those senators and people on the Republican side are going to just ignore what this administration did and just move on to the next one is an abdication of our responsibility to speak to the history of this country, our traditions, and in particular, the need to uphold the Constitution of the United States.

BLITZER: When I spoke yesterday with the Republican leader, the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, in the Senate, he said it's precisely these kinds of what he would characterize as "stunts," political stunts, whether an all-night debate involving Iraq or motion of censure, which is why the approval number, the job approval number for the Congress is even lower than it is for the president of the United States.

Instead of focusing on substantive, he says, issues, you're focusing in on political theater. What would you say to McConnell?

FEINGOLD: The only stunt that's going on here is by Republicans in the Senate who have continued to fabricate excuses for this Iraq war, year after year.

They have been enablers of this tragedy. They have not shown the guts to stand up, in most cases, and vote to end this war. They will use every excuse, every slogan, every political trick to not let us end this war. So I would call that the stunt. And that's the stunt that's killing Americans, not what I'm talking about.

BLITZER: One final question. I want you to respond to your old friend Senator McCain, who strongly disagrees with you when it comes to Iraq. But a lot of our viewers out there remember McCain-Feingold, the campaign finance reform law that the two of you worked so closely on.

Listen to what he says, Senator McCain, about the war right now. As bad as it is right now, he says it could be a whole lot worse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was a joke and a waste of the taxpayers' money. The fact is that the Democrats want to set a date for withdrawal. There will chaos in the region, and there will be genocide.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He said the all-night debate in the Senate was a joke and a waste of the taxpayers' money.

You want to respond to your old friend?

FEINGOLD: Well, you know, I like John, but he and I look at Iraq and maybe see it with different eyes. What I see is chaos already. What I saw was the difficulties he even had getting around in Iraq when he was there on the last trip. And the fact is, that situation is already a terrible mess, and the only way it's going to get better is if we redeploy our troops and engage the other countries in the region.

So, I will respectfully disagree with him. We couldn't be more different on this issue, but we disagree agreeably.

BLITZER: Senator Feingold, thanks very much for coming in.

And still to come, we're counting down the final hours until the CNN/YouTube debate. YouTube wasn't even around during the last presidential election. Up next, a man you're going to want to meet.

And he's helping a brand-new technology turn into an important political tool. We will speak to that man. That's coming up.

All that in our "Strategy Session" as well -- it's absolutely vital. We're looking at what the candidates need to do differently tonight.

And don't forget about our post-debate wrap-up, with all the highlights, the analysis, the key moments from the CNN/YouTube debate, a special SITUATION ROOM, 9:00 p.m. Eastern tonight, right after the two-hour debate.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: From its very beginnings in a California garage, only two years ago, YouTube has had a meteoric rise to the top. Co- founders Steve Chen and Chad Hurley, along with Jawed Karim, who has since left the company, brainstormed an easy way for Internet users to share videos.

YouTube was officially launched in December of 2005. Soon, it became one of the most popular Web sites, and named -- quote -- "best invention of the year" by "TIME" magazine. Google took notice, buying YouTube -- get this -- for only $1.76 billion -- billion -- last November. Not too bad. In a single day, YouTube streams more than 200 million videos.

We're joined now by Steve Grove. He's YouTube's political director.

Steve, thanks very much for coming in.

Did you ever think, in your wildest imagination, YouTube, which was originally just supposed to share some cute, funny videos, or whatever, has become a political phenomena?

STEVE GROVE, HEAD OF NEWS AND POLITICS, YOUTUBE: Yes, I mean, certainly, YouTube never set out to be the world's largest town hall for political discussion. But essentially it's become that, because voters have used it to communicate directly with candidates.

So, you saw, in the 2006 election, a lot of voters making their own commercials, capturing candidates on the campaign trail in sometimes less-than-flattering moments. And now all the campaigns are there, as well. So, we have 16 presidential candidates who have channels on our YouTube '08 platform. They have made over 1,200 videos, been viewed over 13 million times.

And there's really a vibrant political discussion taking place on YouTube. In the debate tonight, we're going to see that happen, you know, in a live atmosphere from right here in Charleston.

BLITZER: And a lot of young people are watching all of that, key demographics for a lot of these candidates.

In general, who does a better job dealing with YouTube? Would it be the Democratic presidential candidates or the Republican presidential candidates?

GROVE: You know, I think it actually depends on the candidate.

Mitt Romney actually has done quite well on YouTube. He has over 200 videos posted to the site. And he's actually used it to respond directly to crisis situations that come up in terms of some gotcha videos on his abortion position.

You know, the very next day after that video came out on YouTube, he posted a video with his response, so that you could see where he stood on the issue.

And, on the Democratic side, I mean, I think a lot of people did interesting things. I think what is interesting, though, Wolf, is that some of the second-tier and third-tier candidates can use YouTube to get more of a boost than they might have otherwise been able to do.

It's free. It's easy to use. And, so, people like Kucinich, Dennis Kucinich, or Mike Gravel can use YouTube to get their message out there in a way that doesn't require them to by an expensive, you know, 30-second TV spot. They can put their commercial or their video on YouTube and -- and disseminate it right online.

BLITZER: It is not just positive images that are projected on YouTube. Opposition research, as they call it, is also projected there, the negative -- the negative images of some of the candidates put out by different campaigns.

Is that just something that goes with the territory, or is there a sense you're being used?

GROVE: Oh, I think it is something that -- that goes with the territory. I don't think any candidate at this point can expect there's not a cell phone camera or a video camera in an audience wherever they give a speech.

But I think the beauty of it is, with their only channels, they can immediately upload their own response to things that might take place. If a verbal gaffe takes -- takes place, they can upload a video response to it.

And, so, the gotcha moments do make our political process more transparent. What we hope it does is that it kind of brings a level of authenticity to the political dialogue that might not have been there before. There's something about video and there's something about the transparency of it that sort of strips away the political veneer.

And it's the voters and candidates talking directly to each other, instead of using, you know, the media or other channels. You know, with video, they can go straight to each other with their concerns and with their questions.

BLITZER: Steve Grove is the political director at YouTube.

Steve, thanks very much for coming in.

GROVE: Yes. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And, in the spirit of the CNN/YouTube debate, where you ask the questions, some Democratic candidates are making their Web sites as interactive as possible.

Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, is here.

Jacki, what are the candidates doing online? JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, because the candidates have no idea what's going to be asked tonight, some are committing to answering even more questions online after the debate's over.

For example, John Edwards is asking people to text-message or uplink video questions all day today. He says he's going to answer them after the debate online, live.

One of the other things he's also done is committing to answer the top two questions that have been voted on by one online community as their most popular question. The most popular right now has to do with the impeachment of presidents.

Senator Dodd, we have to give credit. He is flooding the zone online. In addition to streaming video and a chat room going on online, he's also going to be reintroducing the Dodd talk clock, which keeps track of how much they say the candidates each get, including the moderator, Anderson Cooper. He is going to be taking questions online from the spin room, not only from the mainstream media, but also from online supporters.

Also, Senator Biden's campaign is looking to find out whether or not the future of Iraq is addressed in this debate. It's a question important to them, Wolf.

We want you to weigh in, CNN.com/YouTubeDebate. Be our political pundit. Let us know what you think -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The spin room is where all the representatives of the various campaigns, they have representatives in there to tell the media that their respective candidate did great and won and all of that. That's the spin room.

Jacki, thanks very much.

Up next in our "Strategy Session": We're only a little bit more than two hours away from the CNN/YouTube debate. Why have so many people submitted questions on YouTube?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It represents to me sort of a shotgun marriage of the entrenched media, the new -- the -- the established media, and something that's totally new. It comes -- it kind of bypasses, you know, the middleman, which is you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, how do the candidates prepare for the CNN/YouTube debate? And does the format give any of the candidates an advantage?

And, on the Republican side, one candidate promises there are no YouTube moments in his past. Is it a subtle jab at the other GOP candidates? That's coming up. Donna Brazile, J.C. Watts, they're standing by in our SITUATION ROOM "Strategy Session." And don't forget about our post-debate wrap-up, with all the highlights, the key moments from the CNN/YouTube debate, analysis, reaction, tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As the Democratic presidential candidates prepare for tonight's groundbreaking CNN/YouTube debate, Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney is stirring up talk, after posing next to a controversial sign. He says he won't apologize for the sign, which lumps together Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Osama bin Laden.

Joining us now to talk about this and what we can expect in tonight's debate, CNN political analyst, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, former Republican congressman, J.C. Watts.

This picture, where Mitt Romney was out there, somebody raises the picture -- then he -- or raises it up himself -- let's show it to our viewers right now, so they get a sense of what is at the center of this flap. There it is.

It says, "No to Obama, Osama and Chelsea's Momma." He was asked about that earlier today, because it has caused somewhat of a controversy.

Listen to how Governor Romney handled that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: (AUDIO GAP) Osama bin Laden?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not -- I'm not -- you know what? Lighten up slightly. Lighten up. There's a little -- there are lot of jokes out there. I'm not responsible for all the signs that I see that I'm with. And just lighten up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We got that from TMZ, that video.

Is this a big deal, a little deal? What do you think?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, I think it's a big deal.

I mean, he's a front-runner in the Republican primary right now. He should disavow the sign. And -- and, by the way, I would give him some advice. Look at it before you hold it up and -- and post it all over the Internet. So...

BLITZER: That picture of him holding it up, basically, we got that from TMZ.

BRAZILE: I mean, suppose that was a naked woman. Come on. Would he hold it up and say, I'm not responsible? He should disavow it.

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think, sometimes, in campaigns, you take pictures and you get inadvertently caught in some positions that you don't necessarily like.

But, you know, that was a sign that he actually -- I -- knowing that we would be commenting on this, I -- I saw a picture, and he was actually holding the sign. So, I think that puts you in a little different posture than just inadvertently taking a picture with, you know, some -- some crazy language.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Right. He actually -- he actually -- he actually picked it up. And, if you make a mistake like that, and assuming it's a mistake -- I assume he doesn't want to really include Chelsea's momma with Osama and certainly not Obama with Osama.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: If you make a mistake like that, don't you just -- instead of just pretending that it's a joke and nothing serious is going on, you say, you know what, I made a mistake and let's move on?

WATTS: My...

BRAZILE: That would be presidential of him. But, then again, we now see his true colors. He wants to stand behind that sign. He has had ample opportunity to disavow it. And he should do it.

WATTS: Well, I don't think that's necessarily his true colors. But I think, if I was advising his campaign -- which I'm not -- I would say to him, hey, get this behind you. Move on. Admit it. I shouldn't have been holding the sign. You know, we have got bigger fish to fry.

BLITZER: All right, listen to Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, because he's getting wrapped up in this whole YouTube environment, the political environment of the moment right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's a combination of convictions that are consistent. People aren't going to find me in a YouTube moment from 10 years ago saying something substantially different than I'm saying today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: J.C., that seems like a little swipe at some of his Republican counterparts.

WATTS: Well, you know, Muhammad Ali said, it ain't bragging if you can do it. Well, you know, he can stand -- I'm assuming Mike feels like he can stand on those comments. And he's saying, hey, I'm prepared to go through the scrutiny that might come from me making these comments.

You know, some more advice I would give candidates, you know, get a position and stand with it. You know, if you're out there and you're all over the board, you know, with -- with -- with the electorate being as uneasy as they are about politics these days, I think that's a real -- that's a real hit.

BRAZILE: Well, I hope he's talked to his opposition research director, because we don't know what's out there. Everyone has been YouTubed, Googled, and just about every other thing.

So, I hope that he knows a little bit more than perhaps we know, because, if it's out there, it will come up.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the CNN/YouTube Democratic presidential debate tonight.

This "Washington Post" nationwide poll of registered Democrats or those leaning Democrats still has Hillary Clinton ahead at 39 percent, Barack Obama, 28 percent, Al Gore, who is not running, at 14, John Edwards at 9.

This has been consistent for Senator Clinton. Does it mean the other seven, though, are going to sort of go after her tonight to try to whittle away at her lead?

BRAZILE: She's done well in all of the debates up until this point. She comes across as presidential. She's poised. She can answer the questions.

I think, for Senator Obama, as well as former Senator Edwards, they must score tonight. Otherwise, Senator Clinton's lead will become a little bit more solidified, and she will be tough to beat down the road.

BLITZER: Among those Democrats in this "Washington Post" poll, J.C., who say their choice of voters favoring complete, immediate Iraq withdrawal, 51 percent of them say they support Senator Clinton. Twenty-nine percent say they support Senator Obama.

She does well with those who want a quick, immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

WATTS: Well, Senator Obama has taken that position. He was in that position before Senator Clinton was. I think the real challenge for Senator Obama right now is -- is to, somehow or another, break away, break out.

I think there's a theme that he has struck, that he's hit on that says, turn the page. You know, get a fresh start. I think that is a swipe at Senator Clinton, because we have had a Bush or a Clinton on the national ticket since 1980.

But experience, I think, is kind of hammering Senator Obama. So, he's got to do something to establish that.

BLITZER: Well, that's a -- that's -- that's a good point, because take a look at these two separate numbers in this "Washington Post"/ABC News poll. Voters favoring strength and experience, they go 51 percent for Clinton, 19 percent for Obama, 15 percent for Edwards. That's Democratic voters.

But, if you ask what the voters favoring a new direction or new ideas -- look at this -- Clinton and Obama both come in at 39 percent. So, I guess that, with a lot of Democrats, Senator Obama does bring that -- that new image forward, something that they like.

BRAZILE: Yes, but he's polling evenly with Senator Clinton on -- on his key asset, which is change and -- and a new direction. So, it's time for him to break out and provide the country with some -- some meat, so to speak, on what he would change and how he would lead the change, so that voters can follow him.

BLITZER: Very quickly, how aggressive should the Democratic candidates be tonight?

BRAZILE: Very aggressive.

BLITZER: In going after each other?

BRAZILE: Going after President Bush and the war in Iraq issue, they should be very aggressive.

BLITZER: No, no, no. What about going after the other Democratic challengers?

BRAZILE: Well, if -- if you're a second-tier candidate, this is your moment to break out. If you're a front -- a front-runner, like Hillary Clinton, stay the course.

BLITZER: Do you agree?

WATTS: Well, if -- if everybody plays well, Senator Clinton wins. So, somebody's going to have to get an edge on her tonight. And I think you have got to be aggressive and go after her.

BLITZER: All right, J.C. Watts, Donna Brazile, we will be watching, all of us, every second of that two-hour debate tonight.

Still to come: We're getting closer and closer to the CNN/YouTube Democratic presidential debate, now just a little more than two hours away.

Also, there are some surprising new details about the vice president before he became vice president. There's a new biography out on Dick Cheney. It even says he once thought being vice president was -- quote -- "a cruddy job."

And Tony Blair starts his tough new assignment as Middle East envoy. Will he be able to succeed where his predecessors couldn't? And don't forget about our post-debate wrap-up with all the highlights and key moments from the CNN/YouTube debate. That airs live right here, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right after the debate.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: What does it mean if 80 cities and towns around the country have passed resolutions calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney?

Hoyt writes from Ellijay, Georgia, "Jack, it means the citizens of those 80 towns and cities are a lot smarter than our congressmen."

Michael in Reno, Nevada: "I don't know what the people calling for impeachment of Bush and Cheney are trying to do to the rest of the American people. Not only is it a waste of time and money, but we would end up with Pelosi."

Albert, Las Cruces, New Mexico: "Jack, if only 80 cities and towns have passed resolutions calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, it means there are way too many slackers out there."

J.C. writes: "If 80 cities have already drafted impeachment resolutions, it means that, along with millions of others of us clamoring at the gates, Pelosi ought to listen to the people and do her job. Do the right thing."

Jonathan in Connecticut: "What do the resolutions mean? Nothing. Congress was given an order last November. They haven't fulfilled their duty. Those resolutions aren't worth the paper they are printed on. It's a nice gesture, but it's no less hollow than the congressional sleepover last week. This country is stuck with this administration, unfortunately."

And Jeff in Carmel, New York: "Maybe all these idiots should have exercised their right to vote, and ousted the administration in 2004, instead of waking up in 2007 and screaming about impeachment" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, what do you think of Russ Feingold's proposal to censure the president?

CAFFERTY: I -- you know, it's a nice way for Russ Feingold to get his name in the paper.

If there was any serious move to do something about the administration or to conduct any sort of a thorough investigation of what has been going on down there for the last six years, I think it would have gotten legs before now. I just think the rest of this stuff is a lot of hot air. BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: a groundbreaking presidential debate from we, the, people, to YouTube on CNN. This time, Democratic candidates will face questions from you submitted via the Internet.

Wounded warriors say they have been denied treatment and disability pay. Now Iraq and Afghan veterans are suing the federal agency that's supposed to take care of them.

And he's spent almost two decades in U.S. custody on drug charges, but Panama's former dictator, Manuel Noriega, is technically a prisoner of war. Will that spare him from new charges?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

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