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Chinese Toy Crisis Escalates; Recovery Efforts Continue in Minnesota; More Recalls of Chinese Toys for Lead Paint; House GOP Walks Out after Disputed Welfare Vote; Critics Say Barack Obama Inexperienced in Foreign Policy

Aired August 3, 2007 - 18:00   ET


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight: a rare walkout by members of Congress, furious Republicans accusing Democrats of rigging a key vote on illegal alien benefits. We will have that special report. The House minority whip, Roy Blunt, joins us.
And the pro-illegal-alien/open-borders lobby furious over a new government program against employers hiring illegal aliens. We will have the story.

And the crisis over dangerous contaminated toys manufactured in communist China and imported in this country is escalating. The federal government again doing too little, too late to protect American consumers.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: news, debate, and opinion for Friday, August 3.

Live from New York, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody.

We begin tonight with the aftermath of the bridge collapse disaster in Minneapolis. Rescuers now believe the number of killed in the bridge collapse is lower than originally feared. Officials today lowered the number of people reported missing to eight from what has been reports of as many as 30 people. Five people are confirmed dead tonight.

Investigators are studying a videotape of the bridge collapse to find out exactly what happened and hopefully why. They believe the videotape will make it easier to determine why the bridge broke apart and fell into the Mississippi River.

Susan Roesgen in Minneapolis with a report on the progress of the recovery operation tonight -- Susan.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, one of the people on that missing list that you mentioned was a woman whose car was found in the Mississippi River here behind me, but she was found today at her desk at work. That's the good news, not as many people believed to be missing or dead from this tragedy. However, the bad news is that the recovery is very tricky. The Mississippi may look calm behind me, but under water it is the big muddy. The divers say the visibility is almost zero. Divers have been in this river all day. They have checked several cars. So far they have not found any bodies. They say actually some of the car windows of the cars they found have been rolled down, suggesting that the passengers and drivers were able to swim out.

However, the search itself is a very slow and dangerous process.


TIM DOLAN, MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA, POLICE CHIEF: It's a very, very dangerous scene. We have got a lot of debris there. Things are very messy. And they -- and it's going to be a very, very tough and hard process.


ROESGEN: In fact, the divers say that what they try to do is, they try to get close enough to the vehicles to check out the license plates if they can make out the numbers.

They say that there are strong undercurrents, a lot of debris, Lou, a lot of concrete still falling from the bridge, and a lot of twisted, jagged metal underneath that might actually snag one of the divers, could seriously injure one of the divers.

I also heard today, Lou, at one of the press conferences a local reporter expressing some local frustration here in Minneapolis to the police chief, saying, why won't you give us the exact number of the missing? We want to know how big this tragedy has been.

And he said, I'm just not going to do it. I'm just going to say it's several people. He would not even confirm eight, Lou. He said, it's several people, but we are going to keep that number close to the vest.

So, as far as we know right now, we believe that only eight people are still missing, only five dead so far. One person died last night. That was the fifth. And we don't know how many more might be dead under the water -- Lou.

DOBBS: Susan, thank you.

That is surprisingly good news, welcome news. Is there any explanation as to why so few people? When one watches what transpired on that bridge, its collapse, the cars on that bridge falling into the river, slamming into the concrete as it fell, it's remarkable to think so few people were killed.

ROESGEN: Well, one thing to consider, Lou, is that the police chief says, look, some of those cars are on top of each other. Some cars are underneath, flattened, and there is no way the divers can check those. So, those the death toll may actually go higher.

DOBBS: OK. Susan, thank you very much. Susan Roesgen from Minneapolis, thank you very much.

Federal officials tonight stepping up their investigation into the bridge disaster, saying a videotape that shows the bridge collapse is already helping them determine what happened. Official say the investigation will also hopefully prevent future disasters.

Kathleen Koch has our report from Washington.


KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): National Transportation Safety Board investigators in Washington are already poring over the video of the bridge tragedy, trying to isolate where the collapse began. They're anxious to combine it with an exact computer model of the bridge created by a Federal Highway Administration employee as part of a doctoral project.

The NTSB says the two speed the investigation immeasurably.

MARK ROSENKER, CHAIRMAN, NTSB: We will be able to use this to actually in the computer model take parts of the bridge apart. A girder here, a particular element, a plate, and then watch how the actual bridge collapses and see when it matches the pattern that we have on the video. Then we can begin to focus in on those parts.

KOCH: Transportation Secretary Mary Peters has ordered federal engineers and other help be offered to all 50 states, so they can quickly inspect bridges similar to the one that collapsed.

MARY PETERS, U.S. SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: We want to make sure that those bridges are safe. And I have made federal officials available to assist with those inspections.

KOCH: The inspections are especially critical since a federal report last year found mistakes in weight-limit calculations and postings 25 percent of the time allow vehicles that are too heavy to cross structurally deficient bridges, jeopardizing their safety, that at a time when the aging bridges are already stressed by an explosion in traffic and truck size they were never designed to handle.

ANDY COATES, AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS: So, as -- as traffic increases, weights of truck increases, the cumulative damage to some of these bridges, fatigue and otherwise, is kind of rising at a high level.


KOCH: The federal government says it's getting a strong response from states when it comes to inspecting the 765 steel deck truss bridges that are similar to the Minneapolis bridge. The Transportation Department spokesman tells me, though, that, while there is no deadline to complete the inspections, that they do intend to make those results public, Lou, once they are done.

DOBBS: Kathleen, thank you very much.

KOCH: You bet.

DOBBS: Kathleen Koch from Washington.

Insurgents in Iraq have killed five more of our troops, three killed by a roadside bomb, the other two killed in what the military calls combat operations. Five of our troops have been killed so far this month; 3,664 of our troops have now been killed since the war began, 27,104 troops wounded, 12,180 of our troops wounded seriously.

Congress tonight working on legislation that would make it easier for our intelligence agencies to monitor terror suspects in Iraq and other nations. Officials say a special intelligence court has restricted our ability to eavesdrop on terrorists. The Bush administration says the ruling has created gaping holes in our intelligence capability.

Kelli Arena has our report from Washington.


KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S. officials say they fear they have missed vital intelligence that could help prevent a terrorist attack.

MIKE MCCONNELL, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The intelligence community is significantly burdened in capturing overseas communications of foreign terrorist planning to conduct attacks inside the United States.

ARENA: McConnell and others in charge of keeping the U.S. safe blame what they call an outdated law governing the collection of foreign intelligence.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER BOND (R), MISSOURI: It is absolutely critical for our national security that we change the law.

ARENA: The law in question, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, which was passed in 1978. There's general agreement that it needs an overhaul. But, given the current threat environment, there's one portion in particular that intelligence officials and Congress are trying to fix immediately.

Officials say the secret court that oversees FISA, housed in the Justice Department, issued a ruling this year that hurts the intelligence community's ability to eavesdrop on suspected terrorists in other parts of the world. Experts say it makes the U.S. much more vulnerable.

MATT LEVITT, FORMER FBI ANALYST: It's important to be able to conduct surveillance in the areas of the world where you know terrorists are active, where you know individuals that you have suspensions about are active.

ARENA: Investigators have always thought that they didn't need warrants to operate outside the United States. But because of new technology, it's sometimes impossible to tell where a person is actually located. And millions of overseas calls are sent through U.S. switching centers, creating a U.S. link. The way the law is written, if there's a U.S. connection, investigators need a warrant.

LEVITT: We don't have time to mess around with this issue, not in the threat environment in which we live today.


ARENA: But protecting the nation from terrorists while protecting civil liberties can be tricky. And, Lou, deals are especially hard to make when Democrats have so little trust in this administration.

ARENA: Kelli, thank you very much -- Kelli Arena from Washington.

President Bush today said the White House is working, as he put it, hard and with good faith with Democrats on new intelligence legislation. But President Bush warned that he will be veto any legislation that fails to give the intelligence community the powers it needs to prevent another terrorist attack.

Brianna Keilar reports now from the White House -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, President Bush was at FBI headquarters today. And he said that, when a bill does come to his desk, it comes down to one man, DNI Mike McConnell. And it is up to him to decide whether it is good enough.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Does this legislation give you what you need to prevent an attack on the country? Is this what you need to do your job, Mr. DNI?

That's the question I'm going to ask. And if the answer's yes, I will sign the bill. And if the answer's no, I'm going to veto the bill.


KEILAR: A short time ago, McConnell put out a statement saying that he looked at the House proposal for updated FISA legislation, and he called it -- quote -- "unacceptable."

So, at this point, congressional Democrats are in intense negotiations on Capitol Hill. Some of them are proposing a short-term fix, some interim legislation, and then coming back in September and figuring out permanent reform. But at least Senator, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, said -- quote -- "It is not acceptable to temporarily take away the legitimate rights of Americans."

Now, add to all of that this is the last day before August recess. And at this point Democratic leaders have said they are going to stick around and hammer something out that President Bush will sign, but at this point tremendous pressure and Democrats, Lou. DOBBS: Brianna, thank you very much -- Brianna Keilar from the White House.

A federal appellate court today ruled that an FBI search of Congressman William Jefferson's office on Capitol Hill was unconstitutional. The court ruled the FBI was not entitled to search his office last year because neither the congressman nor his attorney could protect privileged materials.

Federal prosecutors say Congressman Jefferson took more than a half-a-million dollars in bribes and tried to conceal the money. Congressman Jefferson denies any wrongdoing.

Up next here, the federal government promising a new crackdown on employers of illegal aliens. Will that crackdown work? We will have the report.

And presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama facing tough new questions from other Democrats about his foreign policy experience and views.

Uproar and chaos in the House of Representatives, a rare walkout by lawmakers. We will show you. We will be reporting to you on why. And we will be joined by the House minority leader here next.

Stay with us. We will be right back.


DOBBS: Presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama under fire from his Democratic rivals today. They charge he's naive and inexperienced when it comes to foreign policy.

And, as Bill Schneider reports, they are using the senator's own words to support their charges.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): First came the CNN/YouTube debate when Barack Obama said he would meet with unfriendly dictators during his first year in office.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them -- which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration -- is ridiculous.

SCHNEIDER: Hillary Clinton pounced.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I thought that was irresponsible and, frankly, naive.

(END AUDIO CLIP) SCHNEIDER: It's called a not-supposed-to. You're not supposed to say you would meet with such people without laying a lot of groundwork first.

CLINTON: Let's approach with some real careful planning and do it right.

SCHNEIDER: The implication? Obama lacks experience in foreign policy.

Obama's response?

OBAMA: It's time to turn the page on Washington's conventional wisdom that agreement must be reached before you meet, that talking to other countries is some kind of a reward.

SCHNEIDER: In that same speech on Wednesday, Obama got tough with Pakistan.

OBAMA: If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act, we will.

SCHNEIDER: Another not-supposed-to. You're not supposed to threaten an ally.

Chris Dodd, Joe Biden and Bill Richardson joined in the criticism, all touting their Washington experience. Get the idea? Obama lacks the experience of his rivals in world affairs.

In an interview with the Associated Press on Thursday, Obama was asked if he would use nuclear weapons to defeat terrorism and Osama bin Laden. "I think it would a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance involving civilians," Obama said."

Clinton's response?

CLINTON: I don't believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or non-use of nuclear weapons.

SCHNEIDER: The Obama campaign responded that: "Senator Obama would act and is confident that conventional means would be suggest to take the target down. Frankly, we are surprised that others would disagree."


SCHNEIDER: Now, his rivals are attacking Obama as inexperienced. And Obama is turning that around and arguing, my critics are prisoners of conventional wisdom. I'm fresh and new. I say things you're not supposed to -- Lou.

DOBBS: Well, maybe he's fresh and new, but is he basically just raw here?

SCHNEIDER: Well, that's exactly what his critics are saying, that he lacks the international experience. And they are all pointing to how much experience they have, because they don't say those things.

DOBBS: Well, apart from the issues of the Democratic rivals and their charges, the fact that a candidate for president would rule out of the use of nuclear weapons, would commit to talking with foreign leaders of states that are enemies of both the United States and actually in some cases the Western world, without conditions, this is reaching a level of incomprehensible, well, magnitude right now.

SCHNEIDER: And you're finding that the chin-strokers here in Washington are all stroking their chins, and saying, is this guy really prepared to be president? And he's trying to turn that around -- and there may be an audience for this -- and saying, I'm just saying things that ought to be said that no one else is saying.

DOBBS: All right, Bill Schneider, we thank you very much.


DOBBS: As always.

Let me ask you, since we are on the subject of politics and presidential politics...


DOBBS: ... John McCain, Senator McCain is now a flip-flopper on the issue of immigration. So say his critics. Is he?


SCHNEIDER: Well, what he says -- and we got in touch with Senator McCain's office. He said -- they say, John McCain is still dedicated to comprehensive immigration reform. Nothing has changed.

Well, something changed, because he now has signed on as a co- sponsor of a bill that would support a number of steps towards -- in the area of immigration reform, enforcement, border security, but it does not include any steps towards a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, something of course he was a strong advocate of.

Lou, this is very much like what you reported a few weeks ago, that there's an effort now to chop up comprehensive immigration reform, pass it in little pieces, relatively noncontroversial pieces. And that's what is in this bill.

And what Senator John McCain says, he hasn't changed his position. He describes this bill as -- notice the words -- an essential step toward achieving comprehensive immigration reform in the future. So, he says he hasn't given up his goal. This is just one step.

DOBBS: Yes, it is truly a head-of-the-snake strategy that is being undertaken by corporate America, the socio-ethnocentric interests, and in perfect alliance, of course, with the Democratic leadership of both the House, the Senate. It is -- again, I just find it unbelievable that, after witnessing the reaction of the American people to this Congress, they still are insulting, just saying straightforwardly, are they not, Bill Schneider, to the American people, you're too stupid to notice what we are doing?


SCHNEIDER: What they are doing really, in their defense, is to say, we are going to pass the relatively noncontroversial parts, like border security, an agricultural guest-worker program. And they are not talking about the stuff that really created the tremendous backlash that you accurately described.

DOBBS: Well, what you call noncontroversial, millions of Americans consider, well, just downright deceitful...


DOBBS: ... duplicitous, and absolutely unnecessary, particularly when Congress and this president are saying basically they are going to disregard their obligation to secure our borders and our ports.

SCHNEIDER: Certainly the guest-worker program, that has never been popular.

DOBBS: Absolutely not.

And the guest-worker program, as you refer to it, we should say the legislation's and the president's guest-worker program, because what the president and these advocates all don't want anyone in this country to know -- and perhaps the president himself doesn't know it -- we already have eight so-called guest-worker programs that would be perfectly useful for anyone who wanted to sign up.


DOBBS: Bill Schneider, thank you very much.


DOBBS: The Department of Homeland Security says it will intensify its efforts to keep illegal aliens out of the workplace. The Department of Homeland Security saying as many as 10 percent of all employees' Social Security numbers are now suspect in this country.

And DHS will soon introduce rules to force employers to fire illegal aliens with phony Social Security numbers.

But, as Casey Wian now reports, critics are skeptical.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Within two weeks, the Department of Homeland Security will publish new regulations requiring employers to fire illegal alien workers using phony Social Security numbers.

Current policy allows employers to ignore letters from the Social Security Administration, warning that a worker's number is not valid. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff demonstrated one eligibility verification system in June.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: What's bringing most of these people in is illegal work. And the only way to prevent that illegal work from being authored is to require the employers to use a system like this one.

WIAN: A Homeland Security spokesman, while refusing to discuss specifics, says the new legislations will lay out very serious consequences and eliminate any ambiguity over the responsibility employers have to verify Social Security numbers.

Skeptics say the system may encourage illegal aliens to steal identities, rather than use bogus Social Security numbers.

T.J. BONNER, NATIONAL BORDER PATROL COUNCIL: It's really naive to believe that people who are paying smugglers thousands of dollars, risking their lives walking across through our deserts are not going to pay a few hundred or perhaps even a thousand more in order to obtain these documents so that they can get the holy grail, a job in the United States.

WIAN: DHS says the new regulations will be combined with more frequent work site raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and give ICE another tool to prove an employer is fragrantly hiring illegal aliens.

Some employers complain restrictions on cheap illegal alien labor could drive them out of business or out of the country. The American Immigration Lawyers Association told reporters on a conference call, "It's a terrible choice that we're putting employers into."

The National Council of La Raza says, "Increased levels of immigration raids in workplaces and also in neighborhoods, separating parents from their children in many cases, it's a pretty ugly environment out there."

They predicted the crackdown will drive more illegal alien workers underground.


WIAN: Cecilia Munoz of the National Council of La Raza also says the Latino community is pretty angry about increased enforcement actions and the failure of so-called compromise immigration reform. She says Latinos are going to mobilize with voter registration efforts and by exposing what she called bigotry, adding, her community believes, Lou, the gloves really need to come off.

DOBBS: Well, they have made it pretty clear, Munoz herself referring to a wave of hate as the reason for the defeat of the legislation, now suggesting bigotry is behind the enforcement of existing U.S. immigration law.

This is absolutely absurd, the level to which La Raza -- and I spoke on this broadcast with Janet Murguia, who I respect, who I consider to be a rational advocate and spokeswoman for the interests of her organization. This is crazy.


WIAN: What's even crazier, I think, is, it's not just groups like La Raza. It's the Service Employees Union, it's the Catholic Church, it is the Immigration Lawyers Association, all on that same conference call with La Raza today, outraged that Department of Homeland Security would dare enforce immigration laws.

DOBBS: The American people had better realize that the immigration lawyers, La Raza, the Chamber of Commerce, the Catholic Council of Bishops all have a seat at the table in Washington, D.C., up on Capitol Hill, and that the American people are not represented -- well, almost unrepresented entirely -- at that table on the issue of illegal immigration and border security.

And, if the American people do not make their wishes and their views known, they are going to get rolled by every special interest, every corporate interest, every socio-ethnocentric interest in the country who care nothing about our laws.

It is -- the idea that an organization called La Raza would talk about bigotry and -- of any kind, when it it's -- when its title is La Raza, and to suggest that enforcement of U.S. law is somehow an abridgement of their rights, it's extraordinary.

Casey Wian, thank you very much, reporting from Los Angeles.


DOBBS: That brings us to the subject of our poll tonight: Do you believe the Department of Homeland Security will aggressively enforce workplace immigration laws, yes or no? Cast your vote at We will be back with the results here in just a moment.

But, first, a drug dealer linked to the case of former Border Patrol agents Ramos and Compean has pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges. The dealer was an alleged accomplice of the drug smuggler Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila.

Davila testified against the two former agents and received immunity for his testimony against them. The plea bargain may prevent the release of government reports that are believed to implicate him in another smuggling case while he was under immunity to testify against Ramos and Compean, information that, by the way, was withheld from the jury that decided the fate of the two former agents.

Up next: chaos in the House of Representatives, name-calling, charges of vote manipulation, a walkout. We will tell what you it was all about. And will talks with communist China do anything on the part of this administration to stop dangerous toys from being exported into the United States and bought by American consumers, of course? We will have the report. That story is next.

Stay with us.


DOBBS: The United States and communist China are discussing things, trying to agree on new safety standards for Chinese exports to the United States, this week in Beijing American health officials holding meetings with their Chinese counterparts, those meetings prompted by a series of recalls of contaminated, dangerous imports in this country, including millions of children's toys.

Christine Romans is here now with our report -- Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, a top-level administration delegation in Beijing working with the communist Chinese on new product safety agreements, one for food and animal feed, another for drugs and medical devices.

And, believe it or not, we already have safety standards the Chinese have agreed to for toys.


ROMANS (voice-over): There just shouldn't be lead in children's toys. Parents don't buy popular name brands from reputable retailers and think they are putting lead into their children's toy box. But these popular Fisher-Price toys, Dora, Elmo, Big Bird, Diego, had lead paint. So did these Thomas the tank engine trains. Lead is toxic for children, especially dangerous to kids under 2, who absorb lead more quickly than older children or adults.

DON MAYS, "CONSUMER REPORTS": We need to get it out of toys completely. It should have been out of there. And we need to get it out of jewelry and other products that kids come in contact with.

ROMANS: The Chinese government is resisting limits to lead in children's jewelry, even though lead poisoning lowers the child's I.Q. and causes developmental delays.

The Centers for Disease Control say there is no safe level of lead exposure for children and recommends that all kids be screened once a year, especially children from 6 months to 6 years old.

Most lead poisoning comes from the old lead paint in homes, banned since 1978. And our gasoline has been cleaned up, further reducing lead risks.

So in why in the world is there lead in the toy box?

CHRIS BYRNE, TOY INDUSTRY ANALYST: I know that on some level, people are trying to cut costs everywhere. And somewhere the standards fell apart and that the monitoring and the oversight, there is no decent answer for it.

ROMANS: No decent answer and plenty of imported product recalls: 967,000 Fisher-Price toys this week, 1.5 million Thomas the Tank Engines last month, millions of metal charms and trinkets.


ROMANS: Now, the CDC wants to eliminate childhood lead poisoning by 2010, and public health officials have made great strides, they say, in cleaning up our gasoline and the paint in our homes. The challenge now is getting lead paint off the shelves, Lou, at the toy store and out of the toy box.

DOBBS: It is absolutely inconceivable that this administration has people so stupid in our Treasury Department and consumer product in the FDA, in all of the consumer protection agencies of this government, that would feel that there was some responsibility to go to China to discuss what the sovereign nation of the United States will permit in its toys, in its food, in the imports that we bring into this country? This administration is out of its mind.

ROMANS: Advocates for children and toy safety say you can't have memoranda of agreement, a memorandum of understanding at this point. It's already...

DOBBS: Who do they think they are? Do they believe that the Chinese government, the communist Chinese government, should have a veto over American safety standards? It's extraordinary. Even by this administration's standards, if we can call them that.

Christine, thank you. Christine Romans.

Coming up next, a rare walkout by members of Congress. We'll have the special report. House minority whip, Congressman Roy Blunt, joins me.

And Congress facing demands to fix our crumbling infrastructure after the Minneapolis bridge disaster. We've been reporting on it for years on this broadcast. We'll be joined by three of the country's best political strategists and analysts.

Stay with us. We're coming right back.


DOBBS: There was chaos, angry charges of unfairness, a walkout, tensions boiling over in the House of Representatives late last night, Republicans shouting at the Democrats, "Shame, shame."

And as Lisa Sylvester now reports, Republicans today remained furious. They say Democrats tried to stop an effort to deny benefits to illegal aliens.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The floor of the House of Representatives disintegrated into a shouting match.

REP. MICHAEL MCNULTY (D), NEW YORK: ... to 214. The motion is unagreed to.

SYLVESTER: Angry Republicans erupted with chants of "Shame, shame."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shame, shame, shame, shame, shame!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shame, shame, shame, shame, shame!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shame, shame, shame, shame, shame!

SYLVESTER: The explosion happened as the House was debating whether to prohibit illegal aliens from receiving welfare benefits. Deciding Democrat Michael McNulty ruled that the vote failed.

Even though when the gavel came down, the official tally showed otherwise: 215 in favor, 213 against. Democrats then accepted additional vote switches, changing the final tally to 216 against, 212 in favor. Republicans walked off the floor.

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: Republicans won the vote to deny illegal immigrants welfare benefits, and the imperial Democrat majority changed the vote.

REP. BRIAN BILBRAY (R), CALIFORNIA: There are people in this town that are willing to break the rules and do extraordinary maneuvers just so that illegal aliens can get benefits.

SYLVESTER: Earlier in the week Republicans butted heads with Democrats over legislation that allows illegal aliens to participate in a children's health care program.

And it comes amid Republican complaints that Democrats are engaging in heavy-handed tactics to push their agenda.

REP. JEB HENSARLING (R), TEXAS: They said this would be the most fair, open and Democratic Congress ever. And they did not shoot straight with the American people.

SYLVESTER: Democrats offered apologies but were not willing to change the vote.

MCNULTY: I wish to express my apology to all of the members of the House for calling the vote prematurely.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: A misunderstanding occurred. An apology for that inconvenience was given. And now we're moving onto what's next.

SYLVESTER: The dust-up forced the House into recess for most of the morning.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SYLVESTER: And now we have a standoff. Republicans say until this issue is resolved, they will not proceed with any business. The only exceptions are two pieces of legislation: to respond to the Minnesota bridge collapse and action on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- Lou.

DOBBS: That is just outright. A vote 215-213 as the gavel fell. That's about as bizarre as anything I've seen in the House in a long time.

SYLVESTER: You know, even Democrats are acknowledging this was unfair to Republicans, but they are unwilling to change the vote.

The bottom line is, and you can review this tape, the gavel goes down, the count was 215 to 213, but it was called 214 to 214. And with Congress, that is essentially "does not pass."

DOBBS: Well, the niceties of Congress. Speaking of is that, Lisa Sylvester, thank you.

Those Republicans tonight are outraged. I'm going to be talking with one of the most outraged among those officials about the high- handed majority.

Joining me now is the House minority whip, Roy Blunt, who's been highly critical of the Democrats' conduct last night.

I want to point out here, Congressman Blunt, we also invited Democratic members of the House leadership to discuss this issue with us here tonight, and they declined. Good to have you with us.

REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MO), MINORITY WHIP: Good to be with you. I don't blame for them for declining. I think, as you said, Lou, this was a pretty clear cut and outrageous determination to do the wrong thing.

And the real losers here are American taxpayers and Americans who are competing in the marketplace today.

This was an amendment that said people who were in the country illegally couldn't benefit from housing programs and couldn't be employed under this program.

And the Democrats -- 17 of the Democrats agreed with us. You know, we don't have a majority. So 17 of them agreed with us. That's how we got to that 215 number. And it was clearly ignored and abused by the majority party yesterday.

DOBBS: Well, meanwhile, the Democratic Party's leadership are driving through legislation with benefits for illegal aliens in this country, expressly against the wishes of the people, as revealed by poll after poll and by, I'm sure, their own -- the Congress's own telephone system and e-mail systems.

But I mean, what looked to me like, Congressman, and I've got to declare myself here. I'm an independent populist. I don't have a dog in your hunt. I mean, I don't think much of the job Republicans did in Congress last year. I don't think much of the job Democrats are doing.

But to watch that vote, 215-213, I've got to be honest with you, that's the kind of conduct I expect from some sort of banana republic.

BLUNT: Well, it's bad conduct, and I hope that our friends in the majority pay a price for it and learn a lesson from it.

People can expect us to come here to debate, to solve problems, to be an example of democracy, not an example of the kind of situation you just talked about. It's outrageous. It needs to change.

Last week, as was said before, we took money away from seniors with a Medicare cut so we could add money to both legal and illegal immigrants in the Children's Health Care Program. We almost -- all the Republicans, all but five of the Republicans voted against that, too.

We're going to fight this fight. And it's an important fight to fight. But it's hard to fight when they change the rules at the end of the game.

DOBBS: I don't know what -- I don't know what difference any of your votes will make, frankly, at this point. If -- if the leadership can simply call, as Congressman McNulty did, a 215-213 vote. That's remarkable.

But also remarkable is the idea that Congressman McNulty, whom I don't know -- I do know -- Congress -- Speaker Pelosi, the crocodile tears they were shedding over their regrettable error, for which they did apologize but which they won't make right.

BLUNT: Well, normally, you know, one of our common members early this morning mentioned to me maybe we just ought to vote our burning cards. If it doesn't do any good, if it doesn't make any difference, maybe our protest should be just to permanently realize that they're going to do whatever they want to do.

That's why we walked away last night. If our votes don't matter, let's not stand here and let the majority pretend like they do. And that they are advancing an agenda that the American people agree with. Because they don't agree with this agenda. And you and I both, I think, know that, Lou, as you said.

Our letters and our phone calls and our town hall meetings would all give plenty of evidence that we need to secure the borders. We need to have people who are in the workplace, in the workplace legally, and they don't need to be working for the federal government.

DOBBS: Well, I guess it was a result of last night, one could almost say, that the law was broken in terms of counting that vote to help those who had broken the law. So perhaps there is perfect symmetry in what has passed.

BLUNT: I'm very offended, as I can tell you are, by what happened yesterday. And I hope -- I hope it creates enough concern that this system changes. This Congress is now the least popular in the history of the country, and maybe that's why.

DOBBS: Well, I got to tell you, I can't see them after this, popularity rising. For either party in this -- in this Congress and in this dispute.

Congressman Roy Blunt, we thank you for being here.

BLUNT: Good to talk to you (ph).

DOBBS: Up next, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama. He's trying to prove he's got foreign policy expertise, talking tough on terrorism. It's not making a lot of people happy, however. We'll tell you about his statements and his critics. We'll be talking with three of the best political strategists and analysts around.

Stay with us. We're coming right back.


DOBBS: Joining me now, three of the best political analysts in the country: Republican strategist, former White House political director Ed Rollins; Michael Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, "New York Daily News"; James Taranto, editor, Thank you all for being here.

Ed, let me ask you first of all, this -- calling Barack Obama naive and unsophisticated on the issue of foreign policy just because he rules out the use of nuclear weapons, says he'll talk with foreign leaders.

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Because he is naive and inexperienced.

DOBBS: I thought I'd give you that opportunity to -- defend him here, Michael.


DOBBS: ... take him a little on this?

ROLLINS: I think the bottom line is this guy's run a great campaign up to this point in time, and what often happens, as you get further into the battle, you start saying things that you don't know very much about. And he clearly has shown some real vulnerability here and at a point in time...

DOBBS: You've got to defend him here, Michael. Come on.

GOODWIN: It's going to be hard.


GOODWIN: I'll tell you what I think. I think -- I think he panicked. And I think what happens is that...

DOBBS: Oh, good. Now we can add panicked to naive, unsophisticated.

GOODWIN: Well, I think he...

ROLLINS: ... both occasions (ph).

GOODWIN: That's right. He didn't look good in that debate. And I think -- I thought he came out of that debate doing well, trying to spin his answer on the question of meeting with the foreign leaders.

But in this one, he's thinking out loud, stumbles into the nuke question, wants to correct himself. And I think Hillary just kind of zings him.

DOBBS: Here's what I don't understand, James Taranto. Here's a man that, as Ed said, he was on an extraordinary campaign. He's come out of nowhere to run well behind Senator Clinton, the clear, indisputed -- indisputable frontrunner.

But to not have advisors counseling him, what happened -- what happens to a campaign that that would occur?

JAMES TARANTO, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM: I think he's just lazy. I think he hasn't thought this stuff through. I think this would be scary if it weren't so hilarious. I mean, he wants to appease our enemies. He wants to invade our allies. He wants to swear off the use of nuclear weapons.

And don't forget: he said he would be willing to tolerate genocide in Iraq. The only saving grace is he didn't promise to use nuclear weapons.

DOBBS: Well, when you said he suggested he would use genocide. Would you like to give a little greater amplification to that?

TARANTO: Yes, he said he was asked by the Associated Press a couple of weeks ago if he thought that preventing genocide was a sufficient reason to keep people in Iraq. And he said no. He said...

DOBBS: That's quite a different statement than what you just suggested.

TARANTO: He said -- I mean...

DOBBS: I understand, but...

TARANTO: How is that different from saying that genocide is a price worth paying for American retreat. I think that's appropriately fair reformulation of what he said.

DOBBS: Let's go to another reformulation. That is the reformulation of public opinion. Let me just take a look at the public opinion toll. This may be my favorite opinion poll in some time: the UPI/Zogby interactive poll, if we've got that. I'd like to put that up.

President Bush with an approval rating in terms of the handling of the Iraq war, 24 percent; Congress 3 percent. That's pretty impressive. Don't you think?

ROLLINS: That's pretty high. Was there a third choice?

Interactive polls are not quite as accurate. Not -- I think there's way too...

DOBBS: This might be very accurate.

ROLLINS: It could be. But these -- these are not as scientific as others. There's way too many polls.

And the bottom line is the president has done a terrible job of leading this country and communicating effectively what his goals are. Worse than that, the Congress is absolutely -- you're seeing debacle after debacle.

DOBBS: Let's talk about the debacle last night. I mean, ringing down the gavel on a 215-213 vote and declaring the measure defeated and Congressman McNulty and Speaker Pelosi crying crocodile tears but saying, "I'm sorry, but we do have to press on."

GOODWIN: Again, I think we're sort of into the later innings. What you think are the weaknesses and the flaws. When the Democrats took Congress, there were all these hopes. Here we are, really just seven months later.

DOBBS: We into a banana republic, for crying out loud.

GOODWIN: Exactly. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, as you've said many times on this show, are disasters as leaders. I mean, you've got people running all over the place.

DOBBS: Hope you don't mind my saying this, James, but the fact is, I didn't think much of 110th Congress -- 109th Congress, and I don't think much of the 110th. It doesn't seem to matter whether it's a Republican or a Democrat leading that House or that Senate. It's -- this is just a preposterous way to conduct the people's business.

TARANTO: Yes. Or the 108th Congress or the 107th. I mean, the Republicans had one or two good terms before things fell apart, but the Democrats have fallen apart in record time.

ROLLINS: Pardon me. He had severe partisanship. This is an issue. From my perspective, I like the issue of the campaign strategist. I'm going to go -- I would go to the public if I had a candidate next -- next fall and talk about the Democrats basically doing everything possible to make sure that the illegal immigrants got welfare. And that would be my campaign.

DOBBS: They just gave them the opportunity and the issue.

ROLLINS: And they had to cheat to get it to that point. But that is a big, big issue.

DOBBS: I think there's another issue and I think that's -- this Congress is going to hear from the American people. They think that they're going to be able to move these little pieces along. It's going to be interesting to see the reaction of the public.

We're going to be right back with our panel here in just a moment. But first at the top of the hour, "THE SITUATION ROOM" is coming up with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.

She thought she was going to die as she rode her car into the Mississippi River. CNN's Mary Snow has one woman's remarkable tale of survival. You're going to want to see this.

Stark, scary and dangerous, but somebody has to do it. The divers searching the debris feel -- take on a grim task. We're going to speak with one of their leaders.

And steroids, dog fighting and the professional sports. What are America's pastimes coming to? I'll get the latest from some straight talk, in fact, from commentator Bob Costas, in a lively one-on-one interview. And I think our viewers are going to want to see.

All that coming up, Lou, right here in "THE SITUATION ROOM".

DOBBS: Speaking of straight talk, Lou, thank you very much. We're going to be talking about Senator John McCain, whether he's flip-flopping on the issue of illegal immigration and border security.

We'll have that and a lot more with our panel. We'll continue here in just a moment. Stay with us.


DOBBS: Well, we talked about Barack Obama and his critics. Let's talk about Senator John McCain and his critics, still. Now accusing the flip-flopping on illegal immigration and border security. What's going on?

TARANTO: Well, I guess I'll defend McCain here. I'm not with the other guys attacking him. Look, politics is the art of impossible. Clearly, he wasn't going to get it through...


TARANTO: He wasn't going to get a bill through with amnesty.

DOBBS: No, he sure wasn't.

TARANTO: But one can reasonably say let's do what we can do.

DOBBS: And the polls over the course of the past year -- I mean, he has -- he has -- this man has talked himself into representing all of the interests that are inimical to middle class America and the voting public.

GOODWIN: Well, look, he took a very strong position on immigration. He didn't just support the bill. He was one of the co- authors.

DOBBS: He and Kennedy.

GOODWIN: Yes, that's right. And he was out there all the time.

DOBBS: Bush kind of pushed him aside (ph).

GOODWIN: Remember the debates saying how this is a principle, this is the most important thing we can do. And it backfired. In the primaries, in particular...

DOBBS: And telling workers that they would take those $50 an hour jobs. That was an unbelievable.

GOODWIN: And his numbers in the Republican primaries consistently tanked.

DOBBS: Right.

GOODWIN: And I think in this case, this is more about immigration than it is the war in the primaries.

ROLLINS: John needs a lobotomy, and the word "immigration" needs to get out of his head. He's lost any leadership role in that front.

And the sad part is he's losing his role as a significant player. This campaign is over. He's going to go into debt. It's almost that pathetic at this point in time. And I think, to a certain extent, he ought to defend the war, which he really believes in and help our troops as much as he can. And that could be his legacy.

DOBBS: And the other Republicans in this race: Giuliani, Romney, Thompson? Who isn't in this race? What are their prospects?

TARANTO: Well, I think that Giuliani still looks very good. He's fallen a bit in the polls. If Thompson gets into the race, he could give him a run for his money. We'll see.

DOBBS: I guess the question there would be why.

GOODWIN: Yes, I mean, I don't know why Thompson's waiting. I mean, I guess -- I have a sense he's going to -- he's going to start to decline the minute he announces.

But I think what's interesting, Lou, is you go back to the beginning of the year. We're pretty close to where we were when this year started, which is Hillary Clinton has a big lead now in the Democrats.

DOBBS: Huge lead.

GOODWIN: And Giuliani has a nine-point lead, when you average all the polls, among the Republicans. So we're sort of back to the basics with the two races.

ROLLINS: You're going to have a three-way race. And I think McCain is gone. I think -- I think Romney is running a classic New Hampshire-Iowa. And he's got his own resources, so you can't count him out. Thompson, obviously, is filling a conservative base at this point in time, or at least -- conservative candidate. And Giuliani is a very unpredictable and a very effective candidate.

DOBBS: Well, speaking of unpredictable, as the independent on the panel, let me just say, Republicans and the Democrats have an interesting group of folks. Hillary Clinton as far as you said, out in front. Who knows who's going to prevail on the Republicans.

But there's a fellow out there who might create a little storm yet. He calls himself an independent. We'll find out if he is. And Michael Bloomberg. What do you think?

GOODWIN: He's got the money. And I think...

DOBBS: He's got that part.

GOODWIN: That's the only reason you can really consider him, is that if he's going to spend $1 billion, as he has told friends of his here in New York, he will spend $1 billion of his own money, which he won't even notice, he could make himself a player.

DOBBS: He will or he would?

GOODWIN: If he runs, he will. And I think he will run if he sees any opening whatsoever.

TARANTO: I'm guessing that he won't run. It's hard for me to say where there's grounds for Bloomberg outside of New York.

ROLLINS: Thirty-five percent of American, which is a plurality of voters today, consider themselves independent, and they're longing for an alternative to the two parties. Democrats are second; Republicans are a distant third.

I think if Bloomberg gets in and runs an effective campaign, there will be a lot of people that are going to vote for him.

DOBBS: And they're hoping and praying, I believe, at this point.

Ed, thank you very much.

Michael, thank you.

James, thank you very much.

Still ahead, we'll have the results of our poll. We'll be right back. Stay with us.


DOBBS: Ninety-eight percent of you say that you're skeptical about the Department of Homeland Security, that they won't aggressively enforce workplace laws.

Thank you for watching. For all of us here, good night from New York.

"THE SITUATION ROOM" begins now with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Lou.