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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

Congress Responds to Rising Anger Over Dangerous Imports; Is Virtual Fence Virtual Flop?

Aired September 20, 2007 - 18:00   ET

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


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, new evidence the Bush administration's plans to build a virtual fence along our southern border, those plans are deeply flawed. We will have a special report.
Also, a Phoenix police officer is murdered in cold blood in part because the federal government has failed to secure our borders.

And what may be the next Dubai Ports World scandal -- a foreign government wants a significant stake in one of the most important stock exchanges.

Also among my guests, two U.S. senators who have introduced new legislation to protect Americans from dangerous imports.

All that, much more, straight ahead tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: news, debate, and opinion for Thursday, September 20.

Live from New York, sitting in for Lou Dobbs, Kitty Pilgrim.

PILGRIM: Good evening, everybody.

President Bush today launched a new political offensive against the Democrats on the issue of Iraq. The president strongly defended his plan for a limited troop withdrawal from Iraq. President Bush also slammed Democrats who refused to criticize an anti-war ad questioning the integrity of the U.S. commander in Iraq.

The Senate today voted 75-25 to condemn that ad.

Now, we begin with a report by Ed Henry at the White House -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, the president feels strong that he has pushed back against Democratic efforts to take control of the Iraq war, and that's why, after -- for so long, we heard him saying that he would not become the pundit in chief. Well, today, he decided to take aim at the Democratic presidential candidates, saying they're scared to take on MoveOn.org.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice over): For the first time, the president publicly lashed out at the MoveOn. org ad that called his commander in Iraq General Betray Us.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought the ad was disgusting.

HENRY: Then Mr. Bush, who has repeatedly insisted he will resist the temptation to weigh in on the next presidential election, well, he couldn't resist.

BUSH: I was disappointed that not more leaders in the Democrat Party spoke out strongly against that kind of ad. Most Democrats are afraid of irritating a left-wing group like MoveOn. org, or more afraid of irritating them than they are of irritating the United States military.

HENRY: Mr. Bush's brash comments are a sign of a commander in chief feeling strong. On Wednesday, he again kept pivotal Republicans like John Warner from voting to change his Iraq policy. This left Democrats beaten again, trying to put the best face on coming four short of the 60 votes need to force Mr. Bush's hand.

SEN. JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA: I regret the defection of Senator Warner. But other than that, I think that we have been able to, again, establish that a majority of the United States Senate wants to see this kind of policy in place. And we're going to keep persisting.

HENRY: Attacking MoveOn.org also allows the president to shift the focus away from actual problems with the war itself. In January, Mr. Bush said he wanted the Iraqis to take over security in all 18 provinces by this November. The administration now says that will not happen until at least next summer, though Mr. Bush denied he's moving the goal post.

BUSH: No, the goals are the same. Achieving those goals have been slower than we thought.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Now, make no mistake about it. The president still has a long, hard slog in Iraq. But if you think back to the beginning of the summer, he had his back against the wall, a growing number of Republicans saying they wanted a shift in policy. But instead, Democrats now have not been able to convert that criticism into actual votes to change the president's policy. So, he's gotten some breathing room -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Very much so.

Thanks very much, Ed Henry.

Now, congressional Democrats tonight are struggling to come up with a new strategy to challenge President Bush's conduct of the war. Those Democrats are reeling from the Senate's lack of support for the legislation to restrict the amount of time troops can spend in combat zones. Democrats are also on the defensive over the MoveOn.org ad, as we just reported.

Dana Bash reports from Capitol Hill -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, the frustration among Democrats here really is palpable. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, said he tried so hard to find Republican votes on Iraq, he even called GOP Senator Larry Craig. And Democrats are also discouraged because their like-minded anti-war group knocked them off message.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): On the Senate floor, the war debate turned from Iraq policy to raw politics.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: General Petraeus or MoveOn.org, which one are we going to believe?

BASH: Republicans forced through a measure condemning that controversial MoveOn.org ad "General Betray Us." Democrats accused Republicans of hypocrisy and trying to change the subject.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: And we're going to be pretty busy in the United States Senate if we turn into the ad police.

BASH: But Democrats privately admit the ad hurt them and may have contributed to the quandary they still find themselves in. After nine months in power, Democrats still cannot find enough Republicans to change Iraq strategy.

SEN. GORDON SMITH (R), OREGON: The counterproductiveness of MoveOn.org had the effort of freezing all of my colleagues.

BASH: Republican Gordon Smith support the Democrats' troops withdrawal deadline. But he's lashing out at Democratic leaders for ending negotiations with Republicans looking for common ground on Iraq.

SMITH: I knew of a lot of senators who said, are you going to give me something that I can vote for this time? And I was working to that end. But that effort, the plug was pulled on that by the Democratic Senate leadership.

BASH: But the Senate Democratic leader insists he could not convince Republicans to support Democrats' withdrawal timeline and says he won't compromise just for compromise sake. "Our principle is that we need to change the course of the war in Iraq, not to have an amendment that we say will pass," said Senator Harry Reid.

Many Democrats agree.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No further compromise is needed. People want clarity. They want to see our military involvement come to a close because it's not making us safe.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Democrats have now settled on a strategy to stick to principle and blame Republicans for sticking with the president's unpopular war. But some rank-and-file Democrats are worried about that strategy because they say voters sent them here to change the course of the war. And it's up to them to try to find a solution, Democrats, that is -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Dana Bash.

In Iraq, the military today reported the death of another one of our troops. A soldier died in a noncombat incident in Al Anbar Province west of Baghdad. Fifty of our troops have been killed so far this month; 3,792 of our troops have been killed since the war began, 27,936 troops wounded, 12,537 seriously.

Coalition troops in northern Iraq today captured an Iranian special forces officer. Now, the military said the Iranian is a member of the Quds Force, part of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Officials say the Iranian was smuggling armor-piercing bombs to insurgents; 10 days ago, the U.S. commander of Iraq, General David Petraeus, told the Congress the Quds Force had all but left Iraq. But General Petraeus said Iran was still supplying weapons to the insurgents.

Well, the Pentagon tonight is urgently trying to clarify a statement by Defense Secretary Robert Gates about the U.S. invasion of Iraq four years ago.

"The New York Times" quoted Gates as saying that, with hindsight, Gates is not sure the invasion was worth it. Well, tonight, the Pentagon is saying that statement is not the message that Gates intended to send.

Jamie McIntyre reports from the Pentagon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Part of the charm of Defense Secretary Robert Gates is, he's not afraid to admit he doesn't know it all.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I don't know the answer to that.

MCINTYRE: But Gates' "I don't know" response to "The New York Times" about the wisdom of invading Iraq seemed to put him directly at odds with his boss.

BUSH: I'm absolutely convinced Secretary Gates knows that removing Saddam was the right thing.

MCINTYRE: After President Bush's public assertion, the Pentagon tried to put Gates' quote in a different context.

In the Wednesday op-ed, columnist David Brooks wrote: "I asked him whether invading Iraq was a good thing, knowing what we know now. He looked at me for a bit and said, 'I don't know.'"

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says Gates told him that's not what he meant to convey.

GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: He deliberately rephrased the question to get it to a point where he was comfortable answering it.

MCINTYRE: A Pentagon transcript has Brooks asking, "Now, do you think in retrospect, knowing about the WMDs, it was worth doing?" and Gates saying, after explaining he supported the invasion in 2003 -- quote -- "If I had known then what I know how, would I have done the same? And I think the answer is, I don't know."

The Pentagon says Gates meant he would have done the same thing, just not the same way.

MORRELL: He believed and still does believe that the right course of action was to topple Saddam Hussein.

MCINTYRE: Gates was asked the same question in his December 2006 confirmation hearing and gave a similar "I don't know" response.

SEN. MARK DAYTON (D), MINNESOTA: With that benefit of hindsight, would you say that invading Iraq was the right decision or the wrong decision?

GATES: Frankly, Senator, I think that's a judgment that the historians are going to have to make.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: Now, Gates has made it clear that he feels no responsibilities for any of the past mistakes of the Bush administration. Just saying last week that he's no record to defend and no agenda to promote.

And he's fond of saying that, whatever anyone thinks about how the U.S. got into Iraq, how the war started, he sees his job of making sure it ends right -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Seems like a very good goal.

Thank you, Jamie McIntyre.

Well, joining me now is General David Grange, one of the country's most decorated former military commanders.

General Grange, what do you make of Defense Secretary Gates' comments, and the fact that President Bush roundly defends the war in Iraq? Is this a mixed message from the administration?

BRIGADIER GENERAL DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I just think it's the way people interpret different answers. I believe that Secretary Gates may not agree with going in.

My personal view is, I supported the war going into Iraq, although with a different force makeup. I also believe that the strategy over the last several years has been flawed, and until now, which I think we have a decent strategy, if it has time to work out.

And I think, regardless of what the president says or the secretary of defense, the outcome, is it worth it or not, is going to depend on the sacrifices compared to the end state, what has been achieved. Then it will be measured and then we will know the answer.

PILGRIM: Talking about measuring successes, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, who is the commander of the multinational force in Iraq, today said that attacks across the country have diminished and the violence in Baghdad is down. And that, he attributes, to the surge.

Do you concur with that assessment?

GRANGE: I do. I think the surge is working, though slowly.

One general officer had made a comment, it's like a mosaic. You have pockets of success here and there at different levels. And the same with areas that are still very tough -- they still have problems. I had the option to talk about 40 colonels and generals two days ago for about three hours, that -- most of them had just returned from Iraq or Afghanistan, and they feel that this current strategy is in fact working.

PILGRIM: General Grange, the U.S. military has retained an Iranian Quds Force operative. And just last week, though, General Petraeus said to his knowledge, he believes that the Quds Force was largely out of Iraq, although they were still smuggling weapons. How do we assess Iran's involvement in Iraq right now?

GRANGE: well, I think many of them have left because of the pressure that was placed on Iranian personnel in Iraq itself. They do use surrogates, like Hezbollah, in places, as well as Iraqis they bring out of Iraq and train in Iran and send back in.

But having served in 1973 on the border of Iraq and Iran, at that time in Iran, many of these areas are conducive to smuggling munitions and people across the border. And it's very difficult to stop. And, so, part of Iran's strategy is to continue to do this to force us to leave or embarrass the United States.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, General David Grange.

Thank you, sir.

Still to come: new doubts about the Bush administration's plan to build a virtual fence along our southern border.

Lisa Sylvester will have the story -- Lisa.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, the federal government has given Boeing millions of dollars to build a virtual fence. But, after weeks of glitches and setbacks, it still doesn't work. It might as well be called the invisible fence -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks, Lisa. That report is coming up.

Also, rising concern about a possible security threat to one of our biggest stock exchanges and possibly our economy.

Also, buyer beware. The Congress responds to the explosion of anger over dangerous imports. And two leading senators with a plan to protect American consumers will join us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: A major setback to efforts to keep illegal aliens, drug smugglers and possible terrorists from coming across our broken borders. A project to establish a virtual fence of high-technology surveillance along the border with Mexico is now a virtual flop.

Lisa Sylvester reports on this critical blunder by U.S. security officials.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): The first high-tech virtual fence stretching for 28 miles in Arizona was scheduled for its grand debut in June, July, August. It's now September. And the program is still not ready for prime time. Communication glitches, border cameras that don't focus automatically, and fuzzy video connections in bad weather are just some of the problems plaguing the system. Some congressional lawmakers fear the virtual fence is becoming a virtual flop.

REP. MARK SOUDER (R), INDIANA: There's no sign it's going to work. It's a theoretical fence, when we have real illegals, real drug smugglers, real terrorists crossing the border while we're dillydallying around here, talking about a theory.

SYLVESTER: The systems manufacturer, Boeing, declined to talk about the missteps and missed deadlines, saying -- quote -- "It's inappropriate to comment about what legislators are saying about this program. You will have to ask the customer."

That customer, the Department of Homeland Security, has already paid Boeing $15 million, three-quarters of the contract amount. Secretary Michael Chertoff told a congressional committee, he's withholding the final payment until testing shows it works.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We should not accept something from the contractor and take responsibility for it unless we really kick the tires, and not only taken take it for a test drive, but really gotten to drive it around for a while.

SYLVESTER: But some critics believe the administration is putting too much faith in technology and not addressing other issues, like putting more boots on the ground to go after illegal aliens and cutting off the jobs magnet that draws illegal aliens into the United States.

T.J. BONNER, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL BORDER PATROL COUNCIL: I think all of these little half-steps that the administration is taking serve to delay the ultimate resolution of the problem, which leaves us very much at risk. Every day that passes that our borders remain insecure is another day that a terrorist can easily sneak across that border.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: The Boeing contract is a fixed price, which means, on any cost overruns, Boeing will have to pick up the tab. But the delays have gone on for so long, the Department of Homeland Security has not set a new completion deadline -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Lisa, any projections from Boeing on when this fence may be operative?

SYLVESTER: Well, Boeing has said, basically, ask the customer. And what the Department of Homeland Security had said is, they have testing that is scheduled for next month, they're optimistic, but they're not counting on anything either -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: That's quite reassuring. Thank you very much, Lisa Sylvester.

Well, a tragic reminder tonight of the consequences of the government's failure to secure our borders.

As Casey Wian reports, a Phoenix police officer is dead, killed while trying to arrest a once-deported illegal alien.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Phoenix Police Officer Nick Erfle was a two-time cancer survivor. But he did not survive his encounter with Erik Martinez, a criminal illegal alien who reentered the United States after being deported last year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has had several arrests in the past and is a documented member of a local street gang.

WIAN: The Phoenix Police Department says it happened like this. Tuesday, Officer Erfle and his partner saw Martinez, nicknamed "Droopy" (ph), jaywalking. Martinez gave the officers someone else's name, which turned up a warrant.

When Erfle tried to arrest Martinez, the suspect pulled a gun and shot and killed the officer. Martinez fled, took a motorist hostage, then was killed by other officers as he pointed a gun at the hostage's head.

PHIL GORDON, MAYOR OF PHOENIX: This individual that took our officer's life today is a perfect example, poster child, of the failed Washington policies in terms of securing our border.

WIAN: Initially, Martinez appeared to represent law enforcement success. After serving prison time for theft, Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported him to Mexico in March of last year. Then the system broke down, twice.

Martinez was able to sneak back into the United States illegally. He was soon arrested for assault by the Scottsdale, Arizona, Police Department, which never reported him to federal immigration authorities. An ICE spokesman says, if it had been notified, it would have sought federal prosecution of Martinez for felony illegal reentry, which carries a 20-year prison sentence.

Border security advocates are furious.

RUSSELL PEARCE (R), ARIZONA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Every day you pick up the paper or turn on the news, there's another citizen being killed by an illegal alien. I mean, this business of they're just coming here for jobs is garbage.

WIAN: At the place where Erfle was killed, federal officers mourned while a man scrubbed his blood off the street.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: Now, Scottsdale Police said in a statement, the immigration status of any individual is not contained in any of the criminal history checks that are routinely done on arrested individuals.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman says ICE has a good relationship with Scottsdale Police.

And, Scottsdale, Kitty, is not considered a sanctuary city for illegal aliens.

PILGRIM: Such a tragic story.

Thanks very much, Casey Wian.

WIAN: OK.

PILGRIM: Coming up: A Middle East country wants to buy a significant piece of a U.S. stock exchange. This deal is raising national security concerns. We will have a report on that.

And it's getting ugly on the campaign trial. Senator Clinton compared the vice president to Darth Vader. And she's not the only one getting personal. We will have a report.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: The government of Dubai plans to buy significant ownership of the Nasdaq stock exchange. That is raising national security concerns tonight. If the deal is completed, it would be the first time a Middle East government owns a large stake in a U.S. stock exchange. And it comes less than two years after a series of reports on this program sparked a national outcry that helped stop the Dubai Ports World from controlling American port operations.

Christine Romans reports on what's at stake, another case of the great American giveaway.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Before the ink was dry, Dubai's significant stake in the Nasdaq raised concerns on Capitol Hill. SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Dubai has previously been cited as a nexus for terrorist financing, money laundering and a potential crossroads for shipping and trading for Iran in its quest for nuclear materials and technology. How will that intersect with this new acquisition? We don't know.

ROMANS: Senator Chris Dodd, chairman of the powerful Senate Banking Committee, issued this statement -- quote -- "I believe that a careful review of the Dubai Nasdaq transaction is required to ensure that there are no negative security implications."

As part of the complex arrangement, Dubai's government will take a 20 percent stake in the Nasdaq, becoming the largest single shareholder. Dubai also receives a 28 percent stake in the London Stock Exchange.

BUSH: We're going to take a good look at it.

ROMANS: The president confident, he said, in the national security review process. But he cautioned:

BUSH: I am concerned about protectionism.

ROMANS: But Borse Dubai is wholly owned and controlled by a foreign government.

FRANK GAFFNEY, FOUNDER & PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR SECURITY I think it's prudent, not protectionist, to be using common sense when it comes to the acquisition by particularly foreign governments, but foreign entities as well.

ROMANS: Borse Dubai was created just last month from two other Dubai financial companies that are less than two years old. At the time, it put out a press release, announcing Dubai government launches Borse Dubai to reflect -- quote -- the vision of his highness Sheik Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, a company controlled by a foreign government, a month old on the verge of owning 20 percent of the Nasdaq stock market.

Still, the leader of the House was less concerned than her Senate colleagues.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think it's quite a different issue than the ports issue, because that really was a security issue. This is a marketplace issue.

ROMANS: The company volunteered for a national security review by the U.S. government.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: A Nasdaq spokeswoman stressed, the Dubai government's investment is a minority stake. The foreign government's voting shares will be capped at 5 percent -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Christine, the vice chairman of the Nasdaq is a former congressman. Certainly, he knows what kind of resistance can build up on Capitol Hill.

ROMANS: That's right. Michael Oxley is the vice chairman. But he says that he thinks this deal will go through. He said he doesn't think there's any reason to be upset or overly concerned about it. This is a new kind of global transaction, the next step in globalization.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Christine Romans.

Well, this story is also the subject of tonight's poll. We would like to know how you feel about it. Do you believe a Middle Eastern government should be permitted to purchase a U.S. stock exchange or a stake in it, yes or no? Cast your votes at loudobbs.com. We will bring you the results later in the broadcast.

Coming up: Senator Hillary Clinton calls Vice President Dick Cheney Darth Vader. We will have a special report.

Also, is Congress doing enough to protect Americans from dangerous imports from communist China? Two top senators will join me to discuss that.

And tens of thousands of demonstrators march in Jena, Louisiana. They protested against what they say are racially-motivated criminal charges in a school beating case. We will have a live report.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Tens of thousands of demonstrators from across the country are in Jena, Louisiana, tonight. Now, most are showing their support for six African-American teenagers charged with beating a white classmate.

The demonstrators filled the streets of this small Louisiana town, protesting against what they say are excessive and racially- motivated criminal charges.

Susan Roesgen has more on today's massive rally.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wave after wave of marchers walked a long, hot mile to Jena High School. There, with only a handful of police to stop them, they swept past the school's * PILGRIM: Tens of thousands of demonstrators from across the country are in Jena, Louisiana tonight. Most are showing their support for six African-American teenagers charged with beating a white classmate. The demonstrators filled the streets of this small Louisiana town, protesting against what they say are excessive and racially motivated criminal charges.

Susan Roesgen has more on today's massive rally.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) SUSAN ROESGEN, GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):

Wave after wave of marchers walked a long hot mile to Jena High School. There, with only a handful of police to stop them, they swept past the school's chain link fence and on to the school grounds.

STEPHANIE OZENNE, MARCHER: I just needed to feel like I'm a part, or just being a part of this, something that maybe a mother can see -- one of the mothers whose children are going through it, maybe she'll see that we all care. We are all there for them.

ROESGEN: They same to support the Jena 6 -- six black students who could each face more than 20 years in prison if convicted of charges stemming from the beating of a white classmate last December.

The racial troubles started earlier in the year when three white students hung nooses from a tree in the school courtyard. The boy who was beaten, Justin Barker, told me his family has gotten hate mail and death threats and they wanted no part of the rally.

National civil rights activist, Jesse Jackson, was one of the rally organizers.

REV. JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: There's a Jena in every state. More blacks in jail than college in every state. It's like the criminal justice system has collapsed on blacks. And there is some sense people coming, they're going back home to fight their own Jena, as we fight for equal protection under the law everywhere.

ROESGEN: In some ways, the march became more of a pilgrimage than a protest. At Jena High School, the marchers crowded a small patch of dirt taking pictures.

What was so special about this spot?

This is where the tree with the nooses stood, until school officials had it cut down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not a sense of revenge. It's not a sense of us getting back at anyone for this. But it is a sense of seeing the origin of what has sparked a nationwide movement.

ROESGEN: It's probably too early to say whether was really the start of a nationwide movement. But this small town will never be the same.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ROESGEN: And tonight, we are still waiting for the Louisiana State Police to give us their estimate of just how many people, Kitty, were actually here. We believe it really was tens of thousands of people. But if you can believe it, we have not heard of a single arrest -- not one single incident of any kind of violence or any kind of trouble in spite of all of those people marching through this tiny town today -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much.

Susan Roesgen.

Be sure to stay with CNN for more on the Jena 6 case and today's protest. A CNN special report, "Judgment in Jena" airs tonight at 8:00.

Turning to the election campaign, the battle for the White House is full of debates. With so debates on the schedule, can the candidates get away with not showing up?

Well, as bill Schneider reports, it depends on whether or not voters see a pattern.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Democrats have had seven major debates this year. Republicans have had five. At least 13 more Democratic debates and 10 more Republican debates have been scheduled.

STEPHEN HESS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: As debates multiply, and more and more groups ask to be part of the debates, it becomes, in a sense, easier to decline them. You can decline them with less political risk.

SCHNEIDER: But what does it mean when a whole group of candidates fails to show up?

HESS: When eight candidates stand together in one position, it usually means a lot more than when one or two candidates look on the -- something askew.

SCHNEIDER: When Democratic candidates refused to show up at debates co-sponsored by FOX News this year, they were making a statement about FOX News. Only one Republican candidate showed up at an NAACP forum in Detroit.

Was that a statement?

REP. TOM TANCREDO (R-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, thank you very much. But do you think that we should wait a few minutes to see if these other guys show up?

(LAUGHTER)

SCHNEIDER: John McCain was the only major Republican candidate to accept a debate invitation from Univision, a leading Spanish language network.

All the major Republican candidates have turned down an invitation to participate in a forum next week hosted by talk show host Tavis Smiley to discuss minority issues. The candidates claim they have scheduling contacts.

"Baloney," said Newt Gingrich. "For Republicans to consistently refuse to engage in front of an African-American or a Latino audience is an enormous error," the former House speaker said.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My advice to whoever will be our nominee is to reach out to the African-American community, as well as other communities.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Barry Goldwater once advised his fellow Republicans that since they were not likely to get many black votes: "We ought to go hunting where the ducks are."

Now, candidates may be concerned about becoming targets if they show up at what they consider unfriendly forums. On the other hand, if voters see a pattern of non-participation, they could read it as a statement that the candidates are indifferent to the group's concerns and willing to write off their votes -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: That's absolutely fascinating. You can make a political gaff when you don't even show up these days.

SCHNEIDER: Exactly.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much.

Bill Schneider.

Well, it is getting very ugly on the presidential campaign trial.

As Candy Crowley reports, with just three months to go before the first primary and caucus, the candidates and their surrogates are getting personal.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Clinton nixed Cheney. Vilsack skewers Giuliani and Edwards -- Elizabeth, that is -- hits Clinton.

The presidential campaign has succumbed to a mild case of the nasties. Closing in on that third quarter fundraising deadline, Hillary Clinton was in New York raising money, chatting up the crowd about how hard it is to win over Republicans on Iraq.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: You can always tell when the Republicans are restless, because the vice president's motorcade pulls into the Capitol and Darth Vader emerges.

CROWLEY: Kid stuff compared to the former governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack. He emceed Clinton's New York fundraiser and took her case to TV, laughing at the idea of a Giuliani candidacy.

TOM VILSACK (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can't even get into the number of marriages and the fact that his children -- the relationship he has with his children and what kind of circumstance New York was in before September the 11th.

CROWLEY: What does she think as using an opponent's personal life as a campaign issue?

CLINTON: Well, I'm not engaging in any of that.

CROWLEY: Moving south, Elizabeth Edwards, a pointed weapon in her husband's arsenal, pummeled Clinton for a recent Washington fundraiser, where $1,000 Clinton donors got to meet with powerful committee chairmen on Capitol Hill.

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, WIFE OF JOHN EDWARDS: What this is saying is she's willing to sell special access to the government if you just have the check.

CROWLEY: The Clinton campaign had no on the record comment. Just another day in the fall campaign.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

CROWLEY: The truth is the campaign trail has its own rhythm and September, as you have just heard, is the beginning of the season to step it up -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Apparently.

And we look forward to the whole campaign season with you, Candy.

Candy Crowley.

Thank you.

Coming up, more disturbing testimony today about dangerous toys imported from Communist China. We'll hear from one of the witnesses.

And what is Congress doing to keep Americans safe?

Two senators join me with their proposals to keep dangerous imports from flooding into the United States.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Oil prices today hit a record high, now over $83 a barrel. Storms in the Gulf of Mexico pushed the oil prices higher. The dollar plunged to a new low against the euro. It now costs $1.40 to buy a euro. And the dollar is now trading one to one with the Canadian dollar. That's the first time in 30 years.

Well, more Congressional testimony today about how Communist China is flooding this country with millions of dangerous toys and poisonous food products.

Lori Wallach with Global Trade Watch was one of the people who testified today on Capitol Hill and she joins us now. Thanks, Lori, for being with us.

You really do know your stuff on this issue. I've seen you on Capitol Hill many times over the past months. One of the things you say -- and you told the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection today is that the root cause of this is U.S. trade policy.

Can you explain that a bit for our viewers?

LORI WALLACH, PUBLIC CITIZEN: Basically, we've seen a series of trade agreements that resulted in good jobs out, bad products in. For instance, right before NAFTA was the peak of U.S. toy prediction at home. After NAFTA, the companies moved for the $6 a day wages. Then, in 2001, after Congress voted to let China into the WTO, all the jobs went to $1 a day China, to a point where now, literally, we have 25 percent of the jobs in the industry. So it's not surprising the production has been moved to countries like China, where there's no safety structure.

Are we shocked that then when those toys get sent back in, they're dangerous?

PILGRIM: Yes.

WALLACH: We've created a problem with our trade agreements.

PILGRIM: It certainly seems so.

We have some Peru and Panama agreements pending.

Will this make the problem worse, do you believe?

WALLACH: Well, if the definition of insanity is to do the same thing and expect a different result, these are some crazy ideas to expand NAFTA to Peru and Panama, which is what's at stake. So we're taking the NAFTA model, which both sets limits on safety standards and limits how much products can be inspected at the border, and we're literally incorporating the worst part of NAFTA and WTO and extending those failed agreements to more countries. It's a very bad idea.

PILGRIM: One of the things that you explained so very well is how the U.S. is limited in their inspections of foreign operations.

Why is that?

Is that built into the trade agreements?

WALLACH: So, trade agreements like NAFTA, like the NAFTA expansions to Peru and Panama, they have a rule that says you can't treat foreign goods differently than you treat your domestic goods. Now, in the case of imported food or toys, that's crazy because when you have a production in a place where -- the business guys call China the wild, wild east -- there's no regulation, then you need really tight inspection on the way back, versus in the U.S., there are many levels of inspection. The final check is the final touch. But under our trade agreements, we're required to keep domestic and foreign goods the same, even if we have a good reason, a serious safety reason based in fact to do otherwise.

PILGRIM: So these are written right into the agreements?

We agree to this up front?

WALLACH: It's crazy, but I always hoped members of Congress didn't know. But now they know and that's why they shouldn't vote for these Peru and Panama NAFTA expansions.

Now, the thing is we need to fix our trade agreements. We need to update our laws because, you know, the laws were written when a lot of this stuff was made here. We need to update our laws to take into account it's being made in places where there is no safety standard. And we need to get money from the importers to pay for the extra expenses of inspection in China and at the border.

They wanted to go for dollar a day wages and get rid of all those jobs, they should pay for the added costs to make sure the products they want to send back under those conditions are safe. Let's not add insult to injury.

PILGRIM: And yet they say they're raising prices in the interests of safety.

Is that a bit duplicitous?

WALLACH: Well, if you look at the profit margins of these companies that offshore jobs from the U.S., where they were paying union wages and benefits, to a dollar a day in China, where they're dumping their waste on the ground, etc. It's very duplicitous. They can -- they can take a nip out of the profits to make sure our kids aren't being exposed to dangerous kids, so that they can profit through race to the bottom trade agreements.

PILGRIM: Now, Lori, one of the things I love about talking to you is that you not only point out the flaws, you propose some suggestions.

So let me run through a few of yours.

Eighty percent of the toys sold in this country are made in China. In your testimony today, you urged a three-pronged approach. And we'll put this up so our viewers can take a look at it, too -- expand and improve authority of domestic inspection and safety agencies. You also say increase funding for U.S. imports both overseas and at the border. And after provisions of U.S. trade agreements are altered, alert provisions of U.S. trade agreements which limit border inspection of imports.

All three of those things have to be done simultaneously to actually remedy this problem.

WALLACH: Well, here's the crazy thing. Most Americans don't realize that by getting into trade agreements like NAFTA or WTO or this proposed expansion of NAFTA and CAFTA to Peru and Panama, we agree to make all of our domestic laws conform to the trade agreements. And when we have a law that's more safety protective, more pro-environment or health, we can get challenged in a foreign tribunal.

So here's the thing, if Congress did exactly all the right things with their domestic law -- increased inspection, put third party certification into the plants in China, etc. China, as a WTO member -- something Congress delivered with a vote -- has the authority to drag the U.S. to one of the WTO foreign tribunals and basically claim we have to gift get rid of our law because it's a violation of their WTO rights. It's outrageous.

We've got to change those provisions.

PILGRIM: Let me just bring out Nancy Nord, the acting chairman of the CPSC, had this to say about -- there are going to be new recalls and she had this to say about the situation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NANCY NORD, ACTING CHAIRMAN, CPSC: While it may appear that we're undergoing an epidemic of lead paint on toys, these recalls have served their intended purpose. Not only are they getting violative products off the shelves and out of consumers' hands, but they have caused the entire toy industry to change practices to prevent such violations from occurring in the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PILGRIM: We only have a few minutes, but there are expected more recalls.

So isn't this explaining the problem away a bit?

WALLACH: Well, first of all, recalls don't give back all the dangerous products. The trick is to not get them on the market. But listening to Chairman Nord, I have to say, she should be an export himself -- right out of that job. We need someone who actually is interested in protecting our safety.

What she's basically saying is trust the companies. But the fact that we have all these recalls is evidence the companies regulating themselves aren't cutting it. And all this stuff is getting out to our kids.

Plus, think of all the small companies. Think of the ones that don't have the fancy brand names. I bet the problem is a lot bigger than the recalls, because the only way we ever know anything is wrong is if a company fesses up.

There's no Consumer Product Safety Council inspector. There's no one watching what's going on. If the company didn't fess up, our children are probably playing with the stuff. That's why we need new government policies, change the trade agreements and more funding for inspection paid for by the companies that took off to the dollar a day unsafe venues.

PILGRIM: Lori Wallach, we are glad you're on the case.

And thanks for talking to us tonight.

WALLACH: Thank you.

PILGRIM: Lori Wallach of Public Citizen.

Thank you.

In a few minutes, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania will tell us what they're doing to protect Americans against unsafe food and other products.

A reminder now to vote in tonight's poll -- do you believe a Middle Eastern governments should be permitted to purchase a U.S. stock exchange-- yes or no?

Cast your vote at loudobbs.com.

We'll bring you the results in just a few minutes.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: A few moments ago, we heard an impassioned plea for better toy safety in this country.

Well, two Democratic lawmakers, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, are introducing new legislation to protect American from dangerous imports.

Now, Senators Brown and Casey say the Food and Product Responsibility Act would ensure accountability for product safety. I asked the senators who is to blame for dangerous imports flooding into this country.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: The government has cut the number of inspectors, USDA, the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, the Consumer Products Safety Commission. But the importers have not shown the kind of personal corporate responsibility they should show.

And we want to simply -- we want to be -- we want this to -- still to be a deterrent. We want those importers to be responsible and to be responsible for the products they bring into the country.

PILGRIM: Now you have legislation that would require producers to carry insurance, basically, for products that are a problem.

They'd have to be able to fund recalls and to cover liability, correct? SEN. BOB CASEY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Correct. And, Kitty, this is, I think, critically important for a concern the American people have. We're at a point now where just about three quarters of a trillion dollars worth of goods comes from China alone. The least that these companies around the world should be required to do is to maintain some financial responsibility, some kind of insurance, just like when you drive an automobile in this country. You can't just get in the car and drive.

BROWN: We want to use the market, the free market, simply to make this work. That's -- that means if you want to import, then you have insurance to protect the public and protect yourselves against a recall so that you can remain financially viable. This isn't a big government regulation. It simply says you are personally responsible, as a corporation, for making sure that the American public is protected.

So with -- this is not a surprise that all of this happened, when you look at the way it works. Mattel -- Mattel pushes its suppliers, its manufacturers, its subcontractors in China to cut costs. China cuts costs, makes products that are less safe because they're more cheaply made. Mattel sells them back into the United States. We need Mattel to be responsible for the products they're selling in this country.

PILGRIM: You know, I'd like to ask you a little bit about recalls, because right now the government agencies don't have the power of recall and you would like to change that.

Why don't they have the power of recall?

That -- that's insanity.

And, also, the fact is that some or these products that end up on the store shelves are pulled. But the ones that have already been sold and are in American homes aren't recalled.

Isn't that an outrage?

CASEY: It is an outrage. And that's why I'm so proud to have joined Senator Brown's legislation, because what this legislation does is, for the first time, give the authority to, for example, the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, to conduct these recalls, which as you said, they haven't had the authority.

I mean, why shouldn't the American people be protected? When you look at the list of products covered by this legislation -- auto parts, food, drug devices and cosmetics, biological products, consumer products, and especially meat and poultry and eggs.

All of these things that Americans are consuming should have some measure of protection built into that system.

PILGRIM: They certainly should.

Senator Brown, is our trade policy at fault here?

BROWN: We're trading under the wrong rules. When we import products from China, we're also importing Chinese labor standards, safe drinking water standards, clear air standards, consumer products standards. And it's a country that doesn't put a high emphasis on -- on safe drinking water and clean air and safe consumer products, safe toys.

And because of that, our companies that are importing from -- that are buying products from China and selling them in the United States -- are making them there and selling them here -- have to -- have to be responsible for making sure that those products are safe under our standards, to protect our children, to protect our families, to protect our food supply.

PILGRIM: Thank you very much for coming on the program.

BROWN: Thank you, Kitty.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

PILGRIM: Coming up at the top of the hour, "THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER" -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Thanks, Kitty.

Just ahead, fallout after Israeli warplanes hit a target inside Syria. Some are wondering if it was a nuclear weapons facility.

What are Israeli and U.S. officials saying?

A political collision course -- the name calling and the attacks flying fast and furious. In one corner, the liberal group MoveOn.org. In another, its critics. Today, President Bush said MoveOn.org has attacked the entire U.S. military.

With tears in his eyes, a Republican mayor who was against gay marriage is now for it. You may be surprised to learn his deeply personal reasons for changing his mind.

And Hillary Clinton says restless Republicans are huddling with Darth Vader.

But who is she comparing to the brutal enforcer of the dark side?

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

PILGRIM: Thanks, Wolf.

Still ahead, the results of tonight's poll and some of your thoughts.

So stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: We have this news just in.

The Associated Press is reporting that the FBI, working with an Alaskan oil contractor, secretly taped telephone calls with Senator Ted Stevens as part of a public corruption sting. Now, the A.P. says that's according to people close to the investigation.

So, again, the A.P. is reporting that the FBI secretly taped telephone calls with Republican Senator Ted Stevens as part of a public corruption sting.

We have the results of tonight's poll for you -- 97 percent of you do not believe a Middle Eastern government should be permitted to purchase a U.S. stock exchange.

We have a little bit of time for some of your thoughts.

And as we have reported, Lou had a tonsillectomy. And we're happy to tell you he's doing well and we do expect him back soon.

Now, we are receiving thousands of e-mails wishing Lou a speedy recovery.

Barbara in Georgia wrote: "Lou, your insights into our government and our world are so provocative, please keep on informing us in your own unique way as soon as you get well. We miss you."

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And B.J. in Arizona wrote: "Lou, I hope you're not being forced off the air."

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And Sharon in Michigan: "Dear Lou, I'm glad to know you're OK, but I was hoping you were away getting ready to announce your candidacy for president of the United States. You still have time to do so after your recovery, so what do you say, Lou?"

Thanks for being with us tonight.

Please join us tomorrow.

For all of us here, thanks for watching.

Good night from New York.

"THE SITUATION ROOM" starts right now with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

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