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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT
New York Governor Under Fire Over Driver's License Policy; Larry Craig Refusing to Step Down
Aired October 5, 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, President Bush says the economy is vibrant and strong, but is it? We will have a special report on middle-class Americans' struggle to survive.
Also, the backlash grows against the New York governor's plan to give driver's licenses to illegal aliens. We will have the very latest on that.
And rising outrage over the Mexican government's meddling in U.S. domestic policy. Will the Bush administration defend our sovereignty?
We will have that, much more, straight ahead tonight.
ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: news, debate, and opinion for Friday, October 5.
Live from New York, sitting in for Lou Dobbs, Kitty Pilgrim.
PILGRIM: Good evening, everybody.
President Bush today declared it's the government's job to find out information from terror suspects. The president strongly defended the interrogation methods the government agents used. He said those methods are not torture.
The Republican Party is also facing tough questions about the future of Senator Larry Craig. Many Republicans say Senator Craig should resign after a men's room sex sting, but Senator Craig is refusing to step down.
We begin with Suzanne Malveaux at the White House -- Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kitty, President Bush stepped forcefully into the debate, this because of two things, the ghost of Abu Ghraib, the prison scandal, the abuses there to come out hard against any kind of allegations that the U.S. has engaged in torture. And, secondly, this administration has always believed that if the American people understood the stakes involved that they would support harsh interrogation techniques.
MALVEAUX (voice over): Despite fresh accusations that the U.S. tortures suspected terrorists in its custody, President Bush insisted he will continue to do whatever it takes to protect the American people. GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When we find somebody who may have information regarding a potential attack on America, you bet we're going to detain them, and you bet we're going to question them.
MALVEAUX: But Mr. Bush insists the harsh interrogation methods he had signed off on do not amount to torture.
BUSH: This government does not torture people. You know, we stick to U.S. law and our international obligations.
MALVEAUX: But how do we know?
Thursday, "The New York Times" revealed a once-secret Justice Department memo from February of 2005 which alleged the administration approved harsh interrogation techniques, including simulated drowning, head-slapping, and exposure to extreme cold.
Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Jay Rockefeller, said that's a lot more information than he got when he and other committee members were briefed by the administration. Today he lashed out, saying, I'm tired of these games. They can't say that Congress has been fully briefed while refusing to turn over key documents used to justify the legality of the program.
The White House says they have been as open as they can.
DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What would make it better? What would make it better? That we should tell everybody exactly what we have?
You want to know the techniques that we use so we can tell exactly al Qaeda what we're going to do? That's absurd.
MALVEAUX: So, Kitty, does the U.S. engage in torture? It depends on how you define it. Those who know that definition are pledged to secrecy, leaving the American people to trust, not to know -- Kitty.
PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Suzanne Malveaux.
Well, the White House today declined to comment about the controversy about Senator Larry Craig. Senator Craig insists he will not quit Congress and will serve the remaining 15 months of his term. That's despite the restroom sex sting. Now, many Republicans believe Senator Craig's defiance could harm their election prospects.
Dana Bash reports from Capitol Hill.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the airwaves in Idaho, the verdict seems clear.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put me down as disappointed in his decision.
BASH: Nearly every call about Larry Craig to this conservative radio show goes something like this...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The honorable Senator Craig needs to go ahead and step down. It would be the honorable thing to do. All the good things he's done for the state are now being harmed.
BASH: Though many Idahoans wish Craig stuck with his decision to resign, especially after his bid to withdraw hi guilty plea was denied, Craig's fellow senator from Idaho is behind him.
SEN. MIKE CRAPO (R), IDAHO: Senator Craig has the right to pursue his legal defense of his case to its fullest extent. And I support his decision to do that.
BASH: But back in Washington, Senator Crapo is a lonely voice. Most of Craig's fellow Republicans who tried to force him out are furious he's staying. They're raising the possibility of public Ethics Committee hearings, hoping Craig will reconsider.
SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R), NEVADA: Putting the Senate through this kind of embarrassment, especially if they're public hearings, I don't think is good for the institution, Republicans or Democrats.
BASH: That's not likely to sway Craig. His attorney says he welcomes the Senate investigation. Since a Minnesota judge dealt him a legal blow, Craig sees the ethics probe as the last viable way to clear his name.
STANLEY BRAND, ATTORNEY FOR SENATOR LARRY CRAIG: I don't think there's anything in the public record -- and this entire case is in the public record at this point -- gives the senator pause or cause for concern were it to be aired in the Senate Ethics Committee. That may be the only place that he gets his day in court.
BASH: Now, Craig's attorney says the Ethics Committee would embarrass itself if it reprimanded a U.S. senator for a misdemeanor, something he says has never happened before. But right now the Ethics Committee is involved in a preliminary inquiry. It's not a sure thing it will become a full-blown investigation, much less public hearings -- Kitty.
PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Dana Bash. Thanks, Dana.
Turning to the war in Iraq, the military today reported the deaths of five more of our troops. Four troops were killed in combat. The fifth was killed in a vehicle accident. Now, six of our troops have been killed in Iraq so far this month; 3,814 of our troops have been killed since the war began; 28,093 troops have been wounded, 12,600 seriously.
The State Department today announced a major shakeup of its security procedures in Iraq. The shakeup follows the controversy over its Blackwater guards in Iraq. The Iraqi government says Blackwater employees killed as many as 20 Iraqis in a shooting incident last month.
Zain Verjee reports.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The State Department is under fire, accused of losing control of its private guards in Iraq.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is ordering tighter supervision, effective immediately. From now on, State Department employees, diplomatic security agents will ride along with each Blackwater contractor convoy protecting U.S. diplomats. Cameras will be installed inside vehicles and all radio transmissions recorded, keeping an electronic record of what happens on the road. Convoys will also keep closer contact with U.S. military units.
SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: And she wants to make sure that those people responsible for the lives of our diplomats are doing it in such a way that we actually further our foreign policy and national security interests.
VERJEE: The review was triggered by this September 16 shoot-out, involving Blackwater contractors that killed at least 11 Iraqis. The Iraqi government says Blackwater fired indiscriminately. Blackwater says it responded to hostile fire. Lawmakers want to get to the bottom of it.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D-CA), GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Is the government doing enough to hold Blackwater accountable for alleged misconduct?
VERJEE: There are at least three different investigations into the Blackwater incident, a probe into overall security. The FBI is also leading an investigation. And a joint U.S.-Iraqi commission, too, on the role of contractors is also in place -- Kitty.
PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Zain Verjee.
Well, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations today said the U.S. may demand international sanctions against Myanmar.
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Myanmar must cooperate with U.N. efforts to end the crisis there. The Myanmar government today broadcast a videotape of a meeting between the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and a U.N. envoy.
Now, the government also said it has freed about 400 of the 500 monks it arrested during the military crackdown. Both moves appear designed to reflect international criticism of that crackdown.
Still to come, the Mexican government is meddling in U.S. domestic policy again.
Bill Tucker will have the report -- Bill.
BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kitty, the Mexican government is taking on the role of lobbyist for illegal aliens. We will have the details coming right up -- Kitty.
PILGRIM: Thanks, Bill.
Also, a rising backlash against the New York governor's plan to give driver's licenses to illegal aliens.
And President Bush insists that that economy is strong, despite evidence our middle class is struggling to survive.
Stay with us.
PILGRIM: Mexico is intensifying its meddling in our affairs. Mexico's government says it plans to tougher its defense of Mexican citizens who illegally enter the United States.
As Bill Tucker reports, Mexico wants to stop the U.S. from enforcing immigration laws.
TUCKER (voice-over): This can't be stopped, says Mexico's president, Felipe Calderon, and so he wants America to respect -- quote -- "the right of workers to work wherever one can make the greatest contribution," because he says, immigration is "economically and socially inevitable.
Last month in San Francisco Mexico's ambassador to the United States defended illegal aliens by another name.
ARTURO SARUKHAN, MEXICAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Undocumented migrants are not a threat to the security of the United States. And in many ways, they are a powerful reminder of the potential synergies between Mexico and the United States.
TUCKER: At the end of September, one of Mexico's largest political parties held a formal meeting in Los Angeles to organize opposition to U.S. immigration law. That meeting followed on an earlier declaration by Mexico's president that -- quote -- "Wherever there is a Mexican, there is Mexico," while at the same time vowing to push for immigration reform in America, not his country.
GEORGE GRAYSON, COLLEGE OF WILLIAM AND MARY: The Mexicans are increasingly affirming their right to interfere in U.S. domestic policy. And President Calderon has said as much.
TUCKER: His talk being backed with money -- the Mexican government is increasing the budgets for some of its 47 consulates, especially in regions such as north Texas, where Mexican migration has been swift and plentiful, like in Irving, Texas, a city that the Mexican Consulate there recently warned illegal aliens to avoid for fear of arrest. The increase is meant for an aggressive defense of Mexican nationals.
DR. STEVEN CAMAROTA, CENTER FOR IMMIGRATION STUDIES: The fundamental question for the American people to ask is, why don't we have a government that pushes back and says, no, this is inappropriate by every understanding of how foreign governments are going to behave? The problem goes all the way up to President Bush. He will not represent the interests of the United States.
TUCKER: The U.S. State Department had no immediate response, but said that it would get back to us next week.
TUCKER: Now, there are a few to no politicians, Republican or Democrat, who have spoken out and said that the Mexican government should get its own house in order before attempting to get our house in order -- Kitty.
PILGRIM: Well, that seems fairly plain.
The other thing is, Bill, this seems to be accelerating, isn't it?
TUCKER: It does, indeed. It's interesting. You look at the comments, they go back to 2001. So, they're not new, but they are intensifying. They're becoming more rapid. And the Mexican government is making it very clear they don't like our policy and they want us to change it.
PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Bill Tucker.
Well, that brings us to the subject of tonight's poll. Is it appropriate for the Mexican government to interfere on U.S. policy on behalf of people who have broken U.S. immigration law? Yes or no. Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. We will bring you the results later in the broadcast.
And more and more U.S. politicians are publicly calling the border fence a terrible idea. Congress has authorized money to build 700 miles of fence to help secure our border with Mexico. Just last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the fence terrible.
Now presidential candidate and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson says he's also opposed to it. Here's what Governor Richardson had to say to CNN's Don Lemon today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No fence. It's not going to work. You have a 12-foot fence, you know what will happen? Thirteen-foot ladders. It's not going to work.
I had a border emergency in my state because there was a huge flow. It's technology. It's people, trained Border Patrol agents, the National Guard. But a fence is not going to work. It's a terrible symbol. Fences have not worked, the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall. That's not good among peoples, especially friends like the United States and Mexico.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PILGRIM: Well, ironically, Richardson need not worry too much about the fence in his backyard. Very little of the 700-mile-long fence will be built in New Mexico. And, according to the government's own figures, less than a quarter of the fence is actually completed.
Opposition to New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's plan to issue driver's licenses to illegal aliens, that opposition is spreading. A new ad campaign by conservatives condemns the plan. A Zogby poll shows 58 percent of New York voters oppose giving licenses to illegal aliens.
And New York's county clerks have overwhelmingly condemned the governor's proposal. Many, in open defiance, say they will not implement the plan.
Christine Romans has more on the story -- Christine.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kitty, it's been about two weeks now since New York Governor Eliot Spitzer decided that he would launch a plan to give illegal aliens New York state driver's licenses, and the backlash of that plan simply grows.
This new 10-second TV ad from New York State's conservative party.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)
NARRATOR: Along the Mexican border, we lock up illegal immigrants. In New York, Governor Spitzer wants to give them driver's licenses. Tell Spitzer he's wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROMANS: Yesterday, at an emergency meeting of county clerks, 30 voted against the Spitzer plan; 13 outright mutinied and said they would not give driver's licenses to illegal aliens.
One of those 13, Frank Merola of Troy, New York, today, he told us he expects more clerks to refuse to issue licenses to illegal aliens. And he says some clerks are waiting for legal advice from their county boards and county attorneys before proceeding.
PILGRIM: Now, Christine, the clerks are worried about national security, but they have a lot of other concerns about this problem.
ROMANS: They're worried about security at the airports. They're worried about voter fraud. So many of these clerks say all you need to go to register to vote is simply your driver's license. This is the de facto identity card in the state of New York. They're concerned about that. They're concerned about overall rewarding illegal immigration. And some of them worry that they might be in violation of federal law, federal law against aiding and abetting people in the country illegally. They worry about where that falls out.
PILGRIM: The federal law is Real I.D. Act, which is supposed to be fully implemented by 2013.
Bill, you were in Albany yesterday for this meeting with the clerks and had some fascinating experiences up there.
TUCKER: As Christine just mentioned, a lot of them are worried about being in violation of U.S. constitutional law and federal law, and several of them made note of the fact that while New York State is now going to require a residency requirement -- you have to prove your residency -- the state has no mechanism, no process for assuring that, in fact, you can prove you do live in the state of New York.
So, they're very concerned that -- that the whole process is flawed. And they were asking, why are you going ahead with this so quickly? Why are you trying to do this so fast?
PILGRIM: And verifying these documents from other countries.
Christine, Spitzer is not backing down on this, is he?
ROMANS: (r)MDNM¯No. On the contrary, he says that criticism to this or opposition to this is wrong. He says it's immoral. He says that he is going to get unlicensed drivers off the road, and that is going to help New York taxpayers for insurance rates.
He seems to think that, if you can get people a driver's license, then what is going to naturally follow is that they are going to get insurance and that is going to make just the roads a lot more safe. But there are some who say they're not convinced the people who are in the country illegally are going to automatically get insurance.
PILGRIM: The fact that they get a license doesn't mean that they are going to run right out and buy a car and buy insurance also.
ROMANS: That's absolutely right.
PILGRIM: Right, Bill?
TUCKER: Correct. Exactly.
PILGRIM: And the clerks are really objecting to that.
TUCKER: They are. They're saying just because you get a license doesn't mean you get insurance and just because you have a license doesn't mean you go buy a car or you necessary will, in fact, then go spend that money for insurance to drive it.
ROMANS: But he says the roads will be safer. His opponents say they won't. We haven't heard the last of this, I'm sure.
PILGRIM: Oh, this will go.
PILGRIM: Thank you very much, Christine Romans, Bill Tucker. Thanks very much.
Now, many of you have written in to express your outrage over Governor Spitzer's plan.
Terry in Illinois wrote to us: "Governor Spitzer is jeopardizing national security and national safety. He has no right to place our lives in harm's way for his political agenda. He must be stopped."
Nikita in Massachusetts writes: "I think it's a disgrace Governor Spitzer would even consider giving illegal aliens driver's licenses. Not only is it a security risk, but it's idiotic to reward law breakers."
And C.C. writes in: "Eliot Spitzer must have lost his mind. His actions while in office have been nothing but deceptive."
We will have more of your e-mail later in the broadcast.
And also up next, a dramatic court appearance, a tearful statement by an American Olympic superstar.
Also, President Bush declares, the economy is just fine. But America's middle class is anything but fine. We will have a special report.
And a legacy that's reduced to shame. Whatever happened to the Reagan doctrine of cutting spending and taxes? We will tell you when we return.
PILGRIM: President Bush today declared the nation's economy as vibrant and strong, but many don't buy the president's rosy statement.
And, as Lisa Sylvester reports, the latest job numbers are bad news for America's middle class.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Bush gathered his economic advisers together to tout the latest economic news. Job growth is up. The economy gained 110,000 jobs in September, on top of 89,000 jobs in August.
BUSH: It means that we have had 49 consecutive months of job creation, and that's the longest uninterrupted job growth on record for our country.
SYLVESTER: Some market strategists see this as a sign of better things to come. The news sparked a rally on Wall Street, but some economists don't buy Mr. Bush's upbeat assessment.
Look closely, they say, the credit crunch, the squeeze on middle- class families faced with losing their homes, and it's clear economic growth is not being spread to all income groups.
ALAN TONELSON, U.S. BUSINESS & INDUSTRY COUNCIL: I don't really know what President Bush has been talking about recently with that rosy scenario. Growth is clearly slowing down. Wages have been stagnant for a long, long time, going back beyond his presidency, to be sure. The average American, the typical American clearly hasn't been keeping up. And, so, that alone should tell us that something is very wrong with the economy.
SYLVESTER: Even though the country added more jobs in September, the pace of new job creation is slowing. And then there are the types of jobs being added and lost, another 18,000 manufacturing positions, 14,000 construction jobs gone. They're replaced by jobs in leisure, health care and professional services.
PETER MORICI, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: It's an hourglass economy. We're creating jobs for folks at the top with a very good education and people involved in, say, finance. And we're creating a lot of service jobs, working in restaurants and hotels and dry cleaners. But those solid middle-class-creating jobs for working Americans and manufacturing and construction continue to go away.
SYLVESTER: For Wall Street, the latest job numbers may be something to crow about, but for many middle-class families, those rewards haven't quite trickled down.
SYLVESTER: The American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition points out that the U.S. manufacturing sector has been absolutely hammered. Fewer than 14 million people now work in manufacturing in the United States, the lowest level since June 1950 -- Kitty.
PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Lisa Sylvester.
Well, new job losses in the meat industry today. The Topps Meat Company today said it is shutting down six days after it was forced to issue the second largest beef recall in history. Almost 22 million pounds of frozen hamburger meat were recalled. The meat may have been contaminated with E. Coli bacteria. Topps has been in business for 67 years; 87 employees will lose their jobs. Topps faces at least two lawsuits filed since the recall, and attorneys say the company's closing will not necessarily stop those lawsuits.
Coming up, Republican presidential candidates are fighting each other, not their Democratic rivals. We will have a special report.
Also, President Bush says the U.S. does not use torture against terror suspects. I'll discuss that and other issues with three top political analysts.
And a tearful plea by a disgraced track star, Marion Jones, after she admits taking steroids. We will have complete coverage.
PILGRIM: Track star and Olympic gold medal winner Marion Jones today admitted to using steroids and lying about it to federal investigators.
Jones is the only female track and field athlete to win five medals in a single Olympics. She is likely to have those honors taken away. And that may be the least of her troubles.
Allan Chernoff is live outside the courthouse in White Plains, New York, where moments ago Jones delivered an emotional statement -- Allan.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kitty.
Well, Marion Jones used to break records in track and field meets. Today, she broke the myth of her athletic prowess. In court, she admitted before a judge that she had, indeed, taken steroids to enhance her performance. She said, originally, in 1999, her coach gave her what he described as flaxseed oil. She later recognized that it was a performance-enhancing drug today she broke the myth of her athletic prowess. In court she admitted before a judge she had, indeed, taken steroids to enhance her performance. She said originally, in 1999, her coach gave her what he described as flax seed oil. She later recognized that it was a performance enhancing drug and she took it during the Olympics of 2000 and afterwards, as well.
She also admitted to lying about this to a federal agent.
In court, she was very calm, collected and spoke very firmly. But outside of court, she broke down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARION JONES: And so it is with a great amount of shame that I stand before you and tell you that I have betrayed your trust. I want all of you to know that today I pled guilty to two counts of making false statements to federal agents. Making these false statements to federal agents was an incredibly stupid thing for me to do and I am responsible fully for my actions. I have no one to blame but myself for what I have done.
To you, my fans, including my young supporters, the United States Track and Field Association, my closest friends, my attorneys and the most classy family a person could ever hope for -- namely my mother, my husband, my children, my brother and his family, my uncle and the rest of my extended family -- I want you to know that I have been dishonest. And you have the right to be angry with me. I have let them down. I have let my country down. And I have let myself down.
I recognize that by saying that I'm deeply sorry, it might not be enough and sufficient to address the pain and the hurt that I have caused you. Therefore, I want to ask for your forgiveness for my actions and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. (END VIDEO CLIP)
CHERNOFF: Jones faces a theoretical sentence of 10 years in prison, although, practically speaking, her sentence is to be far shorter.
She also, as you said, Kitty, is almost certain to lose her five Olympic medals -- Kitty.
PILGRIM: A very heartbreaking public confession.
Thanks so much, Allan Chernoff.
Now, the steroid Jones admitted to using is called THG. It's an anabolic steroid commonly called "the clear" and it earned the nickname because THG does not show up in standard drug tests. The steroid was allegedly produced by BALCO, the nutritional supplement company at the heart of the steroid scandal. A number of star athletes are alleged to have used BALCO products to enhance their performance.
Olympic officials are speeding up their investigation of Jones' use of steroids and those officials are likely to strip her of the three gold and two bronze medals she won in the 2000 Olympic Games. Jones won gold medals for the 100 meters, the 200 meters and the 1,600-meter relay. Her teammates in the relay will also lose their medals. And she took the bronze in the long jump and the 400-meter relay. The gold medals will go to the second place finishers, the bronze medals to the athletes that finished in fourth place.
Turning now to the political race for the presidency, the infighting among Republican presidential candidates is becoming more bitter every day with approaching primaries and the caucuses.
As Bill Schneider reports, the White House hopefuls are now using a new issue against each other -- taxes and spending.
SCHNEIDER (voice over): Fiscal conservatism -- that's been Republican gospel since Ronald Reagan -- a hero to delegates attending the Americans for Prosperity Conference, where Republicans candidates came to testify.
RUDY GIULIANI (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm a supply-sider.
SCHNEIDER: They argue Republicans lost Congress because they abandoned the faith.
GIULIANI: I believe one of the reasons we lost Congress is, unfortunately, our party in the Congress became just like the Democrats as far as spending money is concerned.
Shame on us!
SCHNEIDER: You even hear criticism of President Bush's signature program. SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Medicare prescription drug program -- an unfunded liability.
SCHNEIDER: A squabble has broken out between two Republican candidates, each accusing the other of straying from the gospel of fiscal conservatism.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mayor Giuliani sued the Republican governor to keep in place the commuter tax.
SCHNEIDER: Romney's Taxachusetts hypocrisy, the Giuliani campaign shot back, charging the former Massachusetts governor with increasing taxes on non-residents. Republicans hope to win by returning to the fiscal gospel and drawing a sharp contrast with Democrats.
FRED THOMPSON, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We know that the Democratic leadership and those who would have the Democratic nomination want to lead us down the road of more government and more taxes and more spending.
SCHNEIDER: Excuse me, says the Democratic front-runner. SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think if you don't put fiscal responsibility first, you're going to really make a big mistake, because we demonstrated in the '90s it had a lot to do with moving us toward solvency.
SCHNEIDER: Democrats preaching fiscal responsibility?
Which party do voters trust more to handle the federal budget deficit?
Democrats, by more than 20 points.
SCHNEIDER: Some voters may remember they there used to be something called a budget surplus in the late 1990s. And that was under a Democratic president working with a Republican Congress -- Kitty.
PILGRIM: Thanks very much.
PILGRIM: Still to come tonight, secret torture or harsh interrogations -- now, the Bush administration faces tough questions about the interrogation of suspected terrorists.
And a sex sting senator won't fade away. Hard Senate election battles are looming. A presidential veto of child health insurance is enough to turn GOP headaches into migraines.
Plus, we'll honor an American hero who risked his own life to save the lives of others.
PILGRIM: Joining me now are three of the country's best political analysts.
In New York, "New York Daily News" columnist Michael Goodwin; Democratic strategist and National Committeeman Robert Zimmerman.
We should also point out that Robert is a supporter of Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign.
And in Washington, Diana West, who's with "The Washington Times".
And thank you all for being here.
We spent a good bit of time on the broadcast and during the week talking about Senator Larry Craig and the problems that that's causing for Republicans.
I'd actually like to bring up a quote from the -- an editorial from the "Idaho Statesman". And it reads: "If Craig would have resigned as he promised, he could have ended this tragic story. Does he not recognize the setback this causes his own party? Democrats are cheering today."
Robert, I'd like to ask you, are Democrats cheering?
ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I don't think Democrats are cheering. I think it's a simplification. But the sad, tragic point is even if Larry Craig did resign today, the sad, tragic story would not end -- any more than it ended during the Mark Foley scandal or the Dave Vitter scandal or the corruption scandals of Duke Cunningham or Jack Abramoff or Tom DeLay.
The bottom line is the Republican Party, once a great conservative institution, has now become a victim of their own extremist rhetoric and their self-righteous behavior.
PILGRIM: Diana, is this going to cause problems for the Republican Party ongoing?
DIANA WEST, "WASHINGTON TIMES": Well, yes. I think that's exactly true. And I would just -- I think that for every name that Robert's mentioned we can come up with a Barney Craig, whose boyfriend was running a homosexual call boy service out of his house and he remains -- I mean we can go -- we can trade names. We have problems in Washington.
I think that the...
ZIMMERMAN: The difference is the Democrats are not calling names.
WEST: Excuse me.
ZIMMERMAN: Excuse me, Diana.
WEST: No. Nobody is calling names. I just wanted to finish. It -- the point is, is that Larry Craig has -- I think that if we still lived in a time when embarrassment and shame operated as influential factors on public life, he would have been gone, because this an unseemly scandal. And this is something that I think that Bill Clinton taught politicians -- to try to tough things out. And I think it was a good lesson because it worked.
PILGRIM: That's interesting.
Michael, go ahead.
MICHAEL GOODWIN, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": It's Bill Clinton's fault.
GOODWIN: Most things are.
PILGRIM: Oh, well...
GOODWIN: No, I do think, Howard, that there is a difference here between all the names that Robert mentioned -- people taking money, bribes, that sort of thing -- and, really, what is a personal failing on Larry Craig's part. I mean I think it -- I don't know if it's a tragedy. But, for him, it certainly is. And it ends a career that was otherwise unsullied by corruption.
So -- but I think it's not fair to put it with, you know, those who took bribes. It's a different kind of an issue...
ZIMMERMAN: At the end of the day...
ZIMMERMAN: At the end of the day, this about hypocrisy. Obviously, it's a personal tragedy for Senator Craig, but it's about the hypo...
GOODWIN: But hypocrisy is not bribe taking.
ZIMMERMAN: It's about the hypocrisy of extremists who ultimately had no problem denying rights for others while engaging in conduct certainly contrary to their public statements.
PILGRIM: All right.
I think we have hashed that out sufficiently that we can move on, OK?
ZIMMERMAN: Who cares? PILGRIM: I'm sorry.
Let's go to other people who are having trouble, which is President Bush and Congress.
The A.P./Ipsos Poll is out and the approval ratings are not wonderful. President Bush at 31 percent -- that's a new low -- and, also, Congress at 22 percent, even lower than President Bush.
This is not a good political season for a lot of people and when you have the president and the Congress both getting such low marks, this pretty much a disaster, isn't it, Robert?
ZIMMERMAN: Well, you know what's most fascinating to me when you look at these incredibly low numbers -- and you've got Democrats in Congress, by the way, agreeing that the public should be frustrated with Congress -- is the fact that every survey shows Democrats are expected to pick up seats in the Senate and pick up seats in the House. And, ultimately, it's because those defining issues in the electorate show that the country is certainly rebelling against the Republican Congress adopting the Bush administration's position. There was a poll out by "The Wall Street Journal". It showed that 48 percent of Republicans want a new president who is going to be different from the Bush administration.
PILGRIM: The Republicans are in a tough spot with some of the resignations and now with some people who are rerunning who are in trouble.
Diana, do you think the Republicans are going to hold on?
WEST: Well, I don't know. It's a very fluid situation.
But I would just like to correct Robert.
Isn't it the Democratic Congress we've got right now?
I thought that that's what the disapproval ratings were showing there.
ZIMMERMAN: Well, this is the...
ZIMMERMAN: What the polls don't show -- the polls show disapproval toward Congress, not toward the Democratic leadership.
ZIMMERMAN: If you look at the key issues...
ZIMMERMAN: The country certainly is standing with the Democrats on the children's insurance...
PILGRIM: He knows how to parse it. You have to give him that. He really knows how to parse it.
ZIMMERMAN: I just know how to read a poll.
ZIMMERMAN: I know how to read a poll.
And, Michael, anything to add to this?
GOODWIN: Well, look, I think that Iraq is still the big issue for the presidency...
GOODWIN: ...and for Congress as a whole. And I think the disapproval of Congress goes to the fact that Congress -- the Democratic Congress has not been able to really change the policy in Iraq, as they promised and as most Americans wanted. So I think that that's going to be the big issue -- Iraq, Iraq, Iraq.
Other things, like overspending, those sorts of things, corruption, I think they're secondary. Iraq is number one for both parties.
PILGRIM: The -- let's go to the president's comments about the issue of torture this week, which really was a big problem for the president. And he attempted to clarify the government's position.
Let's listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This government does not torture people. You know, we stick it U.S. law and our international obligations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZIMMERMAN: You know, it's such a tragedy for all Americans to even have to have this debate. We know that in 2005, the Department of Justice wrote two memos defending tactics that were torture, engaging in tactics that could be interpreted as torture. And, of course, we have Senator Jay Rockefeller who said at the top of the show that he was not -- he was not properly briefed by the administration.
Clearly, they're not being forthright with the intelligence leadership in the House and the Senate and, clearly, they have no credibility. And that's what it's about.
PILGRIM: Diana, this resonates in America against -- every cell of an American person in this country does not like to even discuss torture. WEST: Well, I'm not so sure. I mean I've always -- I've always been very puzzled by this whole debate, as though -- I may shock some of your viewers. I don't have a problem with our government torturing terrorism suspects. If there's serious information out there that needs to be gotten, I just don't have a problem with it.
So it seems like the president's policies -- he would like to be extracting information from seriously dangerous people or threats to our cities, our shopping centers, etc. And yet there is this notion that you can't torture.
So I find this whole thing very unfruitful.
PILGRIM: It's a tough debate, Michael.
GOODWIN: Well, it's a legalistic debate, ultimate, too, because what -- how do you define torture?
Many things that ordinary people might think are torture are clearly acceptable under most provisions of national and international law. So I think we're down -- we're down now to shorter strokes.
But, again, it is about the conduct of the war itself. If the war were going well, we would not be having this debate. But all of these things feed into the difficulties of Iraq. And, ultimately, I think Congress -- Henry Waxman and people like that -- want to make it a nice debate. You can't have a nice debate about war. It's not neat. Just like the Blackwater...
ZIMMERMAN: It's not about a debate, it about accountability. You know, this issue about what defines torture, the Geneva Conventions pretty clearly -- very clearly define torture. Alberto Gonzales called the Geneva Convention Accords "quaint," which tells you where the administration was coming from.
But to Diana's point, you know, your concept may work very well on a television series. But in the real world, we've had about 13 four and three star generals came together. And they said not only does torture not work as a tactic, because people give up false information, but ultimately it hurts our troops in the field when they're captured.
GOODWIN: Though, Robert, your candidate...
WEST: Well, it's...
GOODWIN: Your candidate has been on both sides of this issue in the last two months...
ZIMMERMAN: She changed her...
GOODWIN: ...several times.
ZIMMERMAN: She changed her position.
GOODWIN: Several times. ZIMMERMAN: She changed her position (INAUDIBLE).
GOODWIN: But I -- but I think that does show...
WEST: It depends on the television show.
GOODWIN: ...what a difficult issue it is to figure out.
What do you do in a time of war?
The question of if you know a suspect has information, a ticking time bomb kind of situation, what do you do?
How far do you go?
GOODWIN: These are not -- these are not things that can be nicely debated only in the halls of Congress. In the real world, it's a very tricky issue.
ZIMMERMAN: But, you know, Michael, we've had...
WEST: And we can also...
ZIMMERMAN: Go ahead, Diana.
WEST: Well, we -- well...
ZIMMERMAN: I'm sorry.
WEST: That's OK.
We can also find any number of three star, four star generals who have a different point of view about torture. I mean it's not settled law. It's not -- it seems to be that is that is the consensus on a certain strand of military thought. But this not a settled issue.
ZIMMERMAN: Actually, according to John McCain and according to almost every Democrat running for president...
WEST: Well, according to...
ZIMMERMAN: ...this is a...
ZIMMERMAN: ...this is...
WEST: Well, but that's my point, though...
ZIMMERMAN: ...and every Republican running for president, it is a settled issue.
ZIMMERMAN: And the idea that we would stoop to this level, ultimately, is a tactic that will not succeed.
GOODWIN: Well, no. Certain things are settled. But when -- these memos are apparently vague enough that it's not clear what exactly they are proposing. I'm not endorsing torture. I'm simply saying it's not a yes or no question...
ZIMMERMAN: But we do...
GOODWIN: ...as your candidate has revealed through her own flip- flops.
ZIMMERMAN: Well, actually, as every candidate has gone through this process...
GOODWIN: It's difficult.
ZIMMERMAN: ...and John McCain...
GOODWIN: It's difficult.
ZIMMERMAN: ...Hillary Clinton and others have come together recognizing that, in fact, torture is not a tactic that works.
PILGRIM: Let's take a moment in the middle -- a very interesting discussion. But let's look at the lineup on the candidates now. The Democratic choice for president in the current poll -- a "Washington Post"/ABC News poll for this week -- we have Clinton at 53 percent, Obama at 30, Edwards at 13 percent.
Let's bring up the Republicans also, if we have it.
Democrats -- Clinton, Obama, Edwards, we just went through.
If you'd up the Republicans, it would be helpful. And they will get that for us in a second.
Oh, here we are. Giuliani, Thompson and McCain -- 34 percent, 17 percent, 12 percent.
We're seeing Clinton pull way out ahead.
And let me go to Diana. I know you think that's great, so let me ask you...
PILGRIM: So let me ask Diana what she thinks about this lead that she's getting.
WEST: Well, it's a juggernaut, I mean -- but it seems like Senator Obama, the more we learn about him, the more naive he seems.
So I'm not surprised that there is this -- this widening gulf. And John Edwards can't seem to get anybody to pay much attention to him. But, again, we're going to be seeing a lot of things, I suppose, shake out in maybe closer terms in Iowa. PILGRIM: OK, Michael?
GOODWIN: Right. I think that's Obama's only hope, are some of the states -- to get some momentum going by doing very well in Iowa.
I'm also of the camp, however, that believes it's not over yet. I think these things can change very quickly, all right. Obama has the money to stay in the race. That's one thing that gives him staying power that Edwards certainly doesn't have.
PILGRIM: I guess he has $20 million as opposed to $27 million by Hillary Clinton.
GOODWIN: Right. And so he'll be on the air in Iowa. He'll be on the air, probably, in New Hampshire. That's a big advantage that Edwards doesn't have. So it is clearly a two person race now...
ZIMMERMAN: Michael's assessment is very correct...
GOODWIN: ...with -- Clinton is far out (ph).
ZIMMERMAN: He's right on target. These national polls -- and obviously they're encouraging for Senator Clinton and her supporters -- these national polls change depending upon how the primary process and the caucus process goes. And, ultimately, the best example of, of course, was John Kerry in 2004 and the way he emerged after being last in the national polls. I wouldn't put too much stock in them.
PILGRIM: All right. So we'll be discussing this again next week and maybe things will be different.
Diana West, Robert Zimmerman, Michael Goodwin, thank you very much.
GOODWIN: Thank you.
PILGRIM: Coming up at the top of the hour, THE SITUATION ROOM with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Thanks, Kitty.
A guilty plea and a public apology -- the Olympic gold medalist, Marion Jones, talks of shame and lies and a very tearful announcement to her fans.
A member of the president's cabinet is being investigated by the FBI. Tonight, the questions surrounding the housing secretary and what he has to say.
Plus, a blockbuster Hollywood film that takes on terrorism. Tonight, why the movie is creating controversy around the world.
All that and a lot more coming up right at the top of the hour -- Kitty.
PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Wolf. Just ahead, Heroes -- from medical administrator to combat medic, the story of Senior Chief Petty Officer Stephen Murray, next.
PILGRIM: And now Heroes. Tonight, the story of Senior Chief Petty Officer Stephen Murray. He spent much of his 20 years with the Navy as a medical administrator. But soon after his deployment to Afghanistan, all of that changed.
Philippa Holland has his story.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
PHILIPPA HOLLAND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Helmand Province is home to some of the most vicious fighting between coalition forces and the Taliban. It's also the heart of Afghanistan's opium industry.
In 2006, Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Stephen Murray volunteered to help train Afghan Army medics in that region. His base commander had another idea.
SR. CHIEF PETTY OFFICER STEPHEN MURRAY, U.S. NAVY: He said, well, you're a corpsman, right?
And I said, yes, I am.
He said well, I need a medic on my convoy team. So that was that. Within a week, we were down range and right in the middle of combat.
HOLLAND: On his first convoy -- just like this one -- the lead vehicle hit an IED.
MURRAY: It blew a Ford Ranger pickup truck about 30 feet in the air. I saw the rear end blew off to the right and two bodies blew off to the left -- probably -- they probably went about 25, 30 feet straight up.
HOLLAND: Murray made his way through a mine field to treat the wounded soldiers. The Navy credits him with saving six lives that day.
Three weeks later, Murray again he risked his life treating wounded soldiers when 200 Taliban fighters attacked his base in the middle of the night.
MURRAY: I'm at the bottom of the ladder and I looked up and all you can see is tracer fire. Now, you can't really tell -- I don't know how close -- I don't know if I stick my head right up out of that hole, is it going to get shot?
I don't know.
HOLLAND: A newcomer to combat medicine, Murray says he had to trust his training.
MURRAY: My fear, you know, aside from not being able to make it home to my kids, but I'd say a huge fear was to be a coward or to realize that your legs just won't move, you know, and you can't get up there and do what needs to be done.
HOLLAND: Murray says he saw for himself what his junior corpsmen encounter every day.
MURRAY: I've got 10 deployed from my clinic right now that are Iraq and Afghanistan. And these kids just do it and they come home and a week later, you know, they take a little bit of leave and they go see their family and then they come right back here and they're checking patients into sick hall or shooting an x-ray.
HOLLAND: The Navy recognized Murray's bravery in combat with a Bronze Star With Valor. Murray says he came to appreciate the importance of his work off the battlefield.
MURRAY: The small things are, you know, helping the soldiers that was with our group, making sure that they're drinking water every day and making sure that they're changing their socks and taking care of themselves. It's not just the actual life or death combat situations that make being a corpsman worthwhile.
HOLLAND: Philippa Holland, CNN.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
PILGRIM: A wonderful man.
Still ahead, more of your thoughts and the results of tonight's poll.
PILGRIM: Now, the results of tonight's poll -- 82 percent of you think it's not appropriate for the Mexican government to interfere with U.S. policy on behalf of people who have broken United States immigration laws.
Time now for some of your thoughts.
And Deanna in Texas wrote: "This big toy shopping granny in Texas isn't buying anything from China and I'm having a hard time finding anything made in the good old U.S. of A. Better luck next year, kids. It's U.S. savings bonds for now."
Stephen in Mississippi: "I am now a member of the Anti-Incumbent Party. I plan to continue my membership until an Independent candidate is announced. Please keep us advised."
And Richard in Louisiana: "Lou, please get well and hurry back. Your nightly discussions and pressure on Congress are one of the few bright spots that gives viewers hope. We need your voice to help more than you know."
We are glad to report that Lou is feeling better. He will be back Monday. Thanks for being with us.
Good night from New York.
"THE SITUATION ROOM" starts right now with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.
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